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Barred Pencilfish

Scientific Name: Nannostomus espei
Family: Lebiasinidae, Sub-Family Pyrrhulininae

About the Barred Pencilfish

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Characins

Care Level: Moderate. May tolerate only a narrow range of water parameters, have specific dietary requirements including frozen or even live foods, may have behaviors that severely limit potential tankmates or may require a specialized aquarium setup.

Origin: Mazaruni River basin, Guyana. Found in small slow-flowing creeks and streams.

Compatibility/Temperament: Very peaceful, suitable for a soft acidic water aquarium of similar small peaceful characins, small catfish and loaches, rasbora, dwarf cichlids, rarer (small) gourami. Active tankmates will make it nervous and it may not eat.


One of the rarer pencilfish, difficult to catch in its habitat. Must be kept in a group of at least six but preferably more, with a good ratio of females to males to avoid males driving the females too hard. Males will challenge each other with no damage. The species prefers the middle and upper levels in the aquarium, swimming and browsing plant leaves.

Females are stockier than males, and the golden stripe has less "sparkle" than on the male. Spawning will occur in very soft acidic water in a well-planted tank, and follows the standard characin method. Adults will eat the eggs if not removed.

Nannostomus espei possess an adipose fin (not all pencilfish do), and it shares with all pencilfish a small terminal mouith that is always open. It differs from other species in that it retains its colour pattern day and night. The other known pencilfish species all have a diurnal colour pattern; during darkness, the horizontal line breaks up into a series of dashes comparable to the permanent pattern of the subject species.

All pencilfish are found in the tribe Nannostomini in the subfamily Pyrrhulininae. The subject species was originally described as Poecilobrycon espei (Meinken, 1956) until Weitzman (1966) established it in Nannostomus, and subsequently combined the three then-existing genera into the single genus (Weitzman & Cobb 1975); Gery (1977) separated them into two genera, Nannostomus and Nannobrycon, largely on the basis of the swimming position. Weitzman & Weitzman in Reis et al. (2003) combined the species into the single genus Nannostomus which now includes all described pencilfish. The genus name Nannostomus comes from the Greek meaning "small mouth."


Gery, Jacques (1977) "Characoids of the World," TFH Books.

Reis, R.E., S.O. Kullander & C.J. Ferraris Jr. (2003), "Check list of the freshwater fishes of South and Central America."

Weitzman, Stanley H. & J.S. Cobb (1975), "A revision of the South American fishes of the genus Nannostomus Günther (family Lebiasinidae)," Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology No. 186.

Barred Pencilfish Diet

Carnivorous, it will accept most prepared foods such as flake, insects, frozen daphnia, brine shrimp. Wingless fruit flies would be a treat.


Attains 1.33 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

24 inches in length

Ideal water parameters for Barred Pencilfish

Soft (hardness below 10 dGH) acidic (pH below 7.0) water, temperature 22-26C/72-79F.

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