Maximum size : 10 cm

Black Banded Rainbowfish - Melanotaenia nigrans : Complete Fish Profile & Care Guide

Table of contents


The Black Banded Rainbowfish (Melanotaenia nigrans) holds the distinction of being the inaugural Rainbowfish species to receive a scientific description. Discovered near Port Essington by an explorer named Gilbert, this species had already gained recognition among the local aboriginal people, who bestowed upon it the name Yalgunda. However, while the Black Banded Rainbowfish has gained popularity as a favoured aquarium species in Australia, its presence remains relatively scarce in other regions of the world.

Renowned for its robust and peaceful nature, the Black Banded Rainbowfish thrives harmoniously within a community aquarium alongside other small and tranquil fish. Alternatively, it can flourish in a dedicated species-only setup. However, it is essential to consider that its rapid movements and relatively large size may disrupt smaller or slower fish. Suitable tankmates include rainbowfish of similar proportions, characins, danios, barbs, Gobies, and Corydoras Catfish.

Creating an optimal aquarium environment for the Black Banded Rainbowfish requires careful consideration. A sandy or fine gravel substrate adorned with strategically placed aquatic plants serves as the ideal foundation. Providing open swimming areas and a gentle current emulates the natural habitat of these fish while ensuring clean, well-oxygenated water and ample water movement are crucial for their well-being. Remarkably, the species exhibits broad tolerance levels toward water quality parameters, minimizing the need for stringent monitoring.

Remarkable in appearance, the Black Banded Rainbowfish showcases a beautiful colouration. A prominent, very dark mid-lateral band stretches from the snout to the caudal peduncle, spanning approximately two scales in width. Above this distinctive band, the body shimmers with a silvery hue embellished by a delicate lavender iridescence. 

Below the mid-lateral band, a slender red stripe adds a touch of elegance to their visual allure. Along the belly, a narrow red band gracefully extends from the isthmus to approximately one-third of the caudal fin. The nape displays a pale luminous orange shade, while a vibrant red opercular spot catches the observer's attention. Pectoral fins exhibit a gentle, pale luminous orange colouration. 

Although females possess a similar body colour to males, their intensity is somewhat more subdued, emanating an understated charm. Notably, variations in colouration can be observed among geographically distinct populations. For instance, specimens from the Kimberley region display several lines of dots beneath the lateral line, accompanied by red fins. Additionally, certain populations exhibit intriguing blue colouration on their bodies and fins, further enriching the species' stunning palette.

Black Banded Rainbowfish Photos

Sexual Dimorphism

Distinguishing between male and female Black Banded Rainbowfish is a relatively straightforward process. Males exhibit a significantly brighter colouration compared to females, making them easily discernible. Additionally, the spines of the first dorsal fin in males are typically extended and have the potential to extend well beyond the origin of the second dorsal fin, particularly when not erect. Furthermore, the posterior rays of both the second dorsal and anal fins in males are elongated caudally, sometimes surpassing the origin of the caudal fin.

On the other hand, females possess shorter first dorsal spines that do not reach the origin of the second dorsal fin. Moreover, the posterior rays of the anal and second dorsal fins in females are not extended.

In some males, the spines and outer rays of the ventral fins may also be elongated, extending past the vent and the origin of the anal fin. Furthermore, as males age and grow in length, they may develop a pronounced nuchal hump and an angulated breast, resulting in an increased proportional body depth, a characteristic observed in certain Rainbowfish species.

Quick Facts

Scientific NameMelanotaenia nigrans
Year Described1843
Other NamesBlack Striped Rainbowfish, Black-banded Jewelfish
Max Size10 cm
Aquarium LevelMiddle - Top
DifficultyBeginner - Intermediate
Best kept asGroups 6+
Diet & FeedingOmnivore
ReproductionEgg Depositor
LifespanUp to 5 Years

Water Parameters

Water TypeFreshwater
pH 5.0 - 8.0
GH 5 - 15
Ideal Temperature
73 - 82
23 - 28

Natural Habitat

Immerse yourself in the captivating world of the Black Banded Rainbowfish as we unveil its extraordinary natural habitat. This remarkable species gracefully navigates the freshwater rivers and streams that meander across the majestic landscapes of northern Australia. From the untamed wilderness of Cape York Peninsula to the pristine coastal regions of the Northern Territory's northernmost coast and the eastern Kimberley, these waters serve as a haven for the Black Banded Rainbowfish.

You'll find them thriving in a diverse range of aquatic settings. These resilient fish can be spotted adorning the tranquil, slow-flowing backwaters, where time seems to stand still. They gracefully manoeuvre through the enchanting billabongs, their vibrant colours reflecting in the calm waters, creating a sight to behold. Venture further, and you'll discover their presence in the serene lily lagoons, rainforest streams, and heavily vegetated swamps.

The Black Banded Rainbowfish is a true ambassador of these diverse aquatic landscapes, adapting effortlessly to their unique intricacies. Explore their enchanting habitat and witness the harmonious coexistence between these mesmerizing fish and the pristine waters surrounding them.


Establishing an ideal breeding environment for Black Banded Rainbowfish necessitates the preparation of a separate, appropriately sized softwater breeding aquarium. Equipping this aquarium with a small air-driven sponge filter is recommended to ensure gentle circulation and filtration.

Begin by introducing a conditioned group of three females and two males into the breeding aquarium, following a careful acclimatization process. Next, furnish the tank with an ample supply of fine-leaved plants or clusters of Java moss, providing suitable spawning sites for the fish.

The breeding process typically initiates with a male displaying courtship behaviour in front of a female. Subsequently, he will guide the female over the plants, utilizing the entire tank length for their courtship rituals. The female will deposit a relatively large number of eggs, usually ranging from 20 to 30 per day, which are scattered over the plants.

It is important to note that Black Banded Rainbowfish are regarded as "continual spawners," meaning that spawning occurs over several days or even weeks. This presents a challenge for the aquarist, as some adult fish may consume the scattered eggs. However, this issue can be mitigated by ensuring the adults are well-fed. 

Alternatively, many fishkeepers have achieved success by employing strategies such as siphoning the eggs into a separate aquarium or utilizing spawning mops. The latter involves using a mop to collect a portion of the eggs, which can then be transferred to a separate tank. The mop can be replaced with a fresh one as each series of eggs is deposited.

Under favourable conditions, the eggs typically hatch within a period of 8 to 9 days, depending on the water temperature. Once the fry becomes free-swimming, they can be provided with infusoria as their initial food source, gradually transitioning to larger food particles as they develop.

Diet & feeding

Within their native habitat, Black Banded Rainbowfish display an omnivorous feeding behaviour, opportunely foraging across various substrates and surface waters, with a potential preference for lower depths rather than mid-water regions. Their diet primarily consists of aquatic insects, algae, and terrestrial insects. In an aquarium setting, these rainbowfish readily consume a diverse array of live foods and readily accept flake food as well. Their adaptability and willingness to consume various food sources contribute to their successful acclimatization within captive environments.

Other Rainbowfish of interest