Maximum size : 6.5 cm

Common Hatchetfish - Gasteropelecus sternicla : Complete Fish Profile & Care Guide

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Common Hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicla) are an intriguing and delicate shoaling species that boasts captivating behaviour and appearance. Native to regions of South America, particularly the Amazon River basin, these hatchetfish exhibit remarkable characteristics that make them a sought-after addition to freshwater aquariums. Their distinct body shape, resembling that of a hatchet, lends them their name and sets them apart in the aquatic realm. In the wild, Common Hatchetfish are known to gather in sizeable numbers, underscoring their social nature and preference for companionship.

In the aquarium setting, it is essential to maintain these hatchetfish in groups of 6 or more, with larger groups of 10 or more being optimal. This social arrangement provides them with a sense of security and allows them to exhibit their natural behaviours comfortably. When selecting tankmates, it is crucial to opt for small and peaceful species, as Silver Hatchetfish are easily susceptible to intimidation. Consider companions such as peaceful Tetras, Pencilfish, Corydoras Catfish, and Dwarf Cichlids like Apistogramma or Mikrogeophagus. Additionally, smaller suckermouth Catfish can be suitable companions in a well-thought-out community setup.

Creating a conducive environment for Silver Hatchetfish necessitates a mature and efficiently filtered aquarium. While maintaining gentle water movement, the addition of peat to the filter can aid in achieving soft and slightly acidic water conditions, mimicking their natural habitat. A carefully curated decor scheme involving dark elements, ample bogwood, strategically placed caves, and a mix of well-chosen plants, including floating species, will enhance their comfort and security.

Given their propensity for leaping, it is imperative to provide the tank with a tightly fitting lid to prevent any potential escape attempts. Furthermore, meticulous attention to water quality is essential, as Silver Hatchetfish can be sensitive to fluctuations in water chemistry and elevated nitrate levels. By adhering to these considerations and creating an environment reminiscent of their native habitats, aquarists can enjoy the captivating presence and behaviours of this remarkable hatchetfish.

Common Hatchetfish have deep, white or silvery bodies with a prominent, black horizontal line running through the centre of their body. Their mouth is situated close to the top of their head for feeding at the surface. The most striking feature of the Common Hatchetfish is their large, wing-like pectoral fins that propel them out of the water when startled. It is recommended to have a tight-fitting lid on the aquarium since they are known to jump to catch small flying insects. Despite their small size, these fish are easily recognizable by their protruding bellies, which resemble hatchets. 

Common Hatchetfish Photos

Sexual Dimorphism

Differentiating between male and female Common Hatchetfish is a challenging task. However, when viewed from above, the females are slightly larger and have a rounder body, particularly when carrying eggs.

Quick Facts

Scientific NameGasteropelecus sternicla
Year Described1758
Other NamesRiver Hatchetfish
OriginsGuyana , Suriname , Peru
Max Size6.5 cm
Aquarium LevelTop
DifficultyIntermediate - Advanced
Best kept asGroups 6+
Diet & FeedingOmnivore
ReproductionEgg Depositor
LifespanUp to 5 Years

Water Parameters

Water TypeFreshwater
pH 6.0 - 7.0
GH 2 - 15
TDS 18 -215
Ideal Temperature
73 - 81
22 - 27

Natural Habitat

In their natural habitat, Common Hatchetfish thrives in slow-moving waters, such as small streams, rivers, and swamps, that are densely populated with surface vegetation. You can find these fish in various regions of South America, including Guyana, Surinam, Peru, Venezuela, and Brazil's Rio Paraguay Basin. If you're looking for a visually impressive addition to your aquarium, the Common Hatchetfish is an excellent choice.


Despite their popularity in the aquarium trade, successful captive breeding of the Common Hatchetfish remains a challenge. Consequently, no established guidelines or documented reports are available for hobbyists interested in breeding this species in a captive environment.

Diet & feeding

In their natural habitat, Common Hatchetfish are primarily carnivorous and feed on a diet of worms, insects and crustaceans. However, in the aquarium, they can readily adjust to eating prepared foods, with micro pellets being one of the best options that can provide them with all their nutritional requirements. If they initially refuse to eat prepared foods, mixing them with frozen or live foods during feedings can help them get accustomed to it.

Although it may take some time, they should eventually accept the prepared food. Due to their carnivorous nature, it is important to include regular feedings of live or frozen foods in their diet. Excellent live foods for Common Hatchetfish include mosquito larvae, blackworms, wingless fruit flies, and daphnia. Similarly, bloodworm, brine shrimp, daphnia, and blackworms are all great options for frozen foods.

Other Hatchetfish of interest