The Striped Headstander will practically “stand on its head” to graze on algae and tasty morsels below!

The Striped Headstander Anostomus anostomus is distinct in both appearance and behavior. This moderately large fish can grow to about 6 1/3 inches (16 cm) in length, though some specimens can reach over 7 3/4 inches (20 cm). Its elongated, somewhat rounded body is shaped much like a cigar, so it is also known as the Anostomus Cigar Fish. With a small, tapered head and an upward pointing mouth, it spends a good deal of its time in a “head-down” position at an angle of 45° or more. This allows it to graze on algae and pick at tasty morsels in the substrate and is also how it gets the name “headstander.”

There are currently 5 species in the Anostomus genus, but only the Striped Headstander and its cousin, the Red Mouth Headstander Anostomus ternetzi, are well-known in the aquarium hobby. Though very similar in appearance, these cousins can be distinguished from one another by their coloring, unless they are washed out due to stress. The Striped Headstander has a pale peach to pinkish background color with three broad, black horizontal stripes and bright red on the fins. The Red Mouth Headstander A. ternetzi has a similar striped pattern, but the light stripes are a more intense yellow, and it mostly lacks red tinting on its fins. A. ternetzi is also smaller, reaching about 4 3/4 inches (12 cm), can live a couple years longer in captivity, and is less territorial than the Striped Headstander. It is less sensitive to aquarium conditions as well.

The Striped Headstander is a fairly hardy fish as long as the water is kept clean, but it is best kept by an aquarist with some fish keeping experience. This handsome species will add a unique interest to any moderate-sized or larger aquarium. This fairly large, active fish needs a larger aquarium of 50 gallons or more. This fish tends to be shy when first introduced to the aquarium, so it will prefer some planted areas, some layered rocks, and a darker gravel. Though generally calm, like all headstanders, it is sensitive to shadows, and it likes to jump. Be sure to keep the aquarium covered.

This headstander species is mostly a peaceful community fish, but it is territorial and can be slightly aggressive. The Striped Headstander makes a good companion with other peaceful tankmates that are the same size or larger, but it may nip the fins of long-finned fish and sometimes the scales of other fish. It can be kept alone or in a group of its own kind, but if the group is small, they become quarrelsome and fight with each other. Keeping at least 7 or more in a group will cut down on aggression.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Characiformes
  • Family: Anostomidae
  • Genus: Anostomus
  • Species: anostomus
Striped Headstander – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Striped Headstander Anostomus anostomus was described by Linnaeus in 1758. It is found in northern South America where it is widespread throughout the Amazon and Orinoco river systems in Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, Columbia, and Peru. This species is not listed on the IUCN Red List. Other common names it is known by are Striped Anostomus and Anostomus Cigar Fish.

About the Anostomus Genus:

This species is a member of the Anostomidae family, commonly called Anostomids, which contains about 150 species. These are freshwater fish found in nearly every major body of water in South America, except for the upper regions of the Andes Mountains. They occur from the Río Atrato in the north down to central Argentina, with a few found west of the Andes mainly in Colombia and Venezuela.

The Anostomids have a moderately elongated and somewhat rounded body with the head tapering to a rather long, straight snout. They mostly grow between 5 3/4″ to 23 1/2″ (15 – 60 cm) in length, but a few can reach a maximum size of 31 1/2″ (80 cm). They are considered an edible fish, and some of the larger species are regularly caught for food.

Many Anostomids are referred to as “headstanders” because they habitually swim with their heads pointing downwards, angling from 45° to 90°s. The scientific name, Anostomidae, describes their mouth opening. Derived from ancient Greek, the term “ano” means “up” and “stoma” means “mouth.” Their small, upturned mouths are located at or near the tip of the snout. Most graze on plants and algae near the bottom, but some also pick up detritus and tiny invertebrates living in the substrate. Actually, a number of other fish species from South America are known as headstander fish. There are also headstanders from the Chilodus genus of the Chilodontidae family.

Within the Anostomidae family, this species is placed in the Anostomus genus. The Anostomus genus currently has 5 recognized species, though only the Striped Headstander A. anostomus and Red Mouth Headstander A. ternetzi, are well-known in the aquarium hobby. This small genus of fish are found in the Orinoco and Amazon Basins, as well as various rivers in the Guianas. Large shoals are typically found along the shores of rivers and streams. They dwell in nearly vertical rocky fissures in shallow areas, where the water is fast-moving and the algae is at its best.

About the Striped Headstander:

The Striped Headstander, like others of its genus, inhabits the shallow rocky shores of rivers and streams in areas of fast-flowing water. They occur in large shoals and graze on algae and stalked plants. They also feed on detritus and tiny invertebrates near the bottom, including worms, crustaceans, and insects.

A single specimen can be kept in a community with other peaceful medium to large fish. Although they live in large groups in the wild, in the aquarium they will become aggressive with conspecifics if kept in a small school. They will tolerate each other, however, when kept in groups of 7 or more in larger aquariums.

  • Scientific Name: Anostomus anostomus
  • Social Grouping: Groups – They occur in large shoals in the wild.
  • IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed


The Striped Headstander is an elongated fish with a rounded, pike-type body. This fish is characterized by its small, tapered head and upward pointing mouth. True to its name, it will spend a good deal of its time in a “head-down” position at an angle of 45° or more. This fish is fairly large, generally reaching up to about 6 1/3 inches (16 cm) in length, though some specimens can reach over 7 3/4 inches (20 cm), and it has a lifespan of 3 to 5 years in captivity.

Three dark, horizontal bands run the entire length of its body, from the snout to the caudal peduncle, with pale peach to pinkish stripes between them, and the middle and lower bands have zigzag borders. The dorsal fin is red, and a strong red arc shape at the base of the tail fin gradually fades, becoming transparent at the tail’s end. The pelvic and anal fins are transparent with red striping.

  • Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm) – They average about 6.3″ (16 cm) but some can reach up to 7.87″ (20 cm).
  • Lifespan: 5 years – They have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years in the aquarium.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Striped Headstander is a fairly hardy fish as long as the aquarium is well maintained, but it is best kept by an aquarist with some fish keeping experience. The tank needs strong filtration that provides good water movement to simulate its natural environment. It is shy, so for best results, keep it in a covered tank with lots of hiding places provided by rocks and driftwood with some algae to feed on. A planted aquarium works great, too, but make sure there is plenty of algae, or the Striped Headstander will nibble on the plants.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

In the wild, the Striped Headstander will feed on algae, aquatic plants, insects, detritus, and small invertebrates. In the aquarium, these omnivorous fish will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance, give them a high quality flake food every day along with a good spirulina formula fish food or algae wafer. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat.

They will also enjoy other vegetable matter, such as chickweed, watercress, crushed lettuce leaves, and spinach leaves. They may nibble on the soft shoots and leaves of aquarium plants, especially if there is not enough algae growth in the tank. They do best when fed several times a day. Offer only what they can eat in 3 minutes or less at each feeding.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day – Offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less with multiple feedings per day.

Aquarium Care

The Striped Headstander is not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems, and regardless of size, all need some maintenance. Over time, decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever-changing conditions, water should be replaced on a regular basis, especially if the tank is densely stocked. At least 25 to 50% of the tank water should be replaced every other week.

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly – Change 25 to 50% of the tank water every other week.

Aquarium Setup

The Striped Headstander is generally a peaceful schooling fish when kept with a community of similarly sized fishes. It can be kept as a single individual or in a group of at least 7 or more of its own kind. Don’t keep them in smaller groups, however, or they will become quarrelsome and aggressive with their conspecifics. This fish gets pretty big, so a single specimen will need a 50 gallon (189 L) aquarium, and a group of 7 to 8 will need a tank that is 65 gallons (246 L) or larger.

The tank should have a powerful filtration system that will simulate the strong currents found in the wild. A River Manifold system can be installed to give this fish a good current. Alternatively, a canister filter and powerheads can be used in place of a manifold system if preferred. Make sure the tank has a tight fitting cover as these fish are great jumpers.

The Striped Headstander tends to be shy, especially when first introduced to the tank. It will need a spacious, well planted tank with a decor that offers plenty of hiding places and a darker substrate. Once acclimated, this fish will lose its timidity with appropriate hiding places.

This fish does well in a biotype tank setup. For this type of setup, the substrate should be a soft river sand and well planted. Include piles of rocks and driftwood to create shelters at mid-height. Make sure the decor offers a lot of surfaces to encourage the growth of algae, which will be a great supplemental food. A bright light will also help encourage algae growth. Keep in mind that if you add plants to the tank, fish may eat them, especially the new soft shoots and leaves.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gal (189 L) – A group will need a 65 gallon (246 L) aquarium or larger.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Small Gravel – This fish appreciates fine, dark gravel or sand.
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting – Bright lighting is needed to produce good algae growth for this fish to graze on.
  • Temperature: 73.0 to 82.0° F (22.8 to 27.8&deg C)
  • Breeding Temperature: 77.0° F – These fish spawn between 77 and 82° F (25 – 27° C).
  • Range ph: 5.8-7.5 – They will prefer a pH of 6.5.
  • Hardness Range: 3 – 18 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong – A strong current will imitate their natural environment.
  • Water Region: Middle – These fish will swim in all areas but primarily at the bottom and middle of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Striped Headstander is generally a peaceful schooling fish, but it can be slightly aggressive at times. They can be kept singly or in a group. Individual fish will mark out territories, however, and if a group is too small, they will become quarrelsome and fight. To cut down on aggression, keep at least 7 or more of their own kind.

These are good for a community aquarium with other peaceful fish that are the same size or larger. At times, they may nip at the fins and scales of other fish, so avoid species with long, flowing fins. Also, avoid fish that demand the same foods as the Striped Headstander may not appreciate competition. For example, it may not do well with catfish from the genus Hemiancistrus, the Chinese Algae Eaters of the Gyrinocheilus genus, or freshwater sharks from the genus Epalzeorhynchos.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful – Though generally peaceful, individuals may be territorial and slightly aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They are aggressive in small groups but can be kept in groups of 7 or more in a larger aquarium.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – A good community fish with tankmates of the same or larger size.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor – They may eat soft plants and shoots if their diet does not provide sufficient vegetable foods.

Sex: Sexual differences

Mature females grow slightly larger and tend to be rounder-bellied than males.

Breeding / Reproduction

In nature, headstanders are spawning fish that shed their eggs after pairing at the surface. Distinct pairs of the the Striped Headstander will breed in densely grown, weedy places, and the males tend to stay near the nesting site.

Breeding Anostomus has been accomplished in captivity, and the Striped Headstander is bred on a commercial basis in both South America and Asia, but no firm data is available. Breeding them in the home aquarium is very rare, and no method has yet been proven effective. Some reports indicate that the diet of the fish plays a very important role in initiating a spawn.

For a chance at successfully breeding them, separate the males from the females. Condition them by feeding them live foods. Provide a large spawning tank that is at least 3 1/3 feet (1 m) long with a sandy bottom, a few roots and stones with algae, and some peat filtration to add a touch of acid. Suggested water parameters are a pH between 6 and 7, a hardness of 10° KH, and a temperature that matches their regular tank.

Introduce the males and females into the prepared tank and gradually increase the temperature to between 77 and 82° F (25 – 27° C). Cover the top with a towel, creating a darkened environment to help trigger the spawn. Pairing should occur quickly just below the surface of the water, with 3 to 5 eggs being shed. Remove the parents from the tank once the eggs are shed as they have a tendency to eat them. Feed the newly hatched fry brine shrimp nauplii, Cyclops, and algae.

The method above is a compilation of suggestions, including information from authors Dr. Rudiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch in their book, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 1 (1991). In the breeding section of the species Anostomus anostomus, they point to breeding of the closely related Spotted Headstander Chilodus punctatus. The spawning tank decor and parameters above are derived from the breeding of C. punctatus in an account by Geisler, originally published in the West German Magazine DATZ. For a general description of breeding characin fish, see Breeding Freshwater Fish: Characins.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult

Fish Diseases

The Headstanders are hardy, and disease is not usually a problem in a well-maintained aquarium. That being said, there is no guarantee that you won’t have to deal with health problems or disease. Anything you add to your tank can introduce disease. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so as not to upset the balance.

A good thing about Headstanders is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if dealt with at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs can be noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Striped Headstander the proper environment and a well-balanced diet. The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. Stressed fish are more likely to acquire disease.

As with most fish, they are prone to skin flukes, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), ichthyobodo infection, parasitic infestations (protozoa, worms, etc.), bacterial infections (general), and bacterial disease. Aquarists should read up on common tank diseases. Knowing the signs, and catching and treating them early, makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Striped Headstander is moderately expensive and occasionally available in pet stores and online.