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Freshwater Barracudas – Predators with a Need for Speed

The word barracuda immediately conjures images of a sleek and powerful fish with a mouthful of dagger-like teeth. While most people associate the name with large, open-water marine predators, it is several different species of freshwater fish also carry this as their common name. The majority of these come from the genus Acestrorhynchus.

With around 15 species described, this is an interesting group of fish. Also known as pike characins, all of them come from the rivers of South America. They are all extremely specialized piscivores (fish that eat other fish). Depending on the species, these fish range in mature size from under 4 inches to over 10 inches in length. They all have very similar body structure – elongated, silver bodies that are made for speed and power. These fish stalk their prey and make a lightning-fast strike to catch the fish. Needle-like teeth fill their mouths and allow them to grasp their prey.  Most are solid silver with glittering scales and have a yellow, orange, or red tail.

One of the most common species available is Acestrorhynchus falcatus – the Red Tail Barracuda. These fish can easily exceed 6 inches. They have enlarged eyes and a hydrodynamic body, typical of all the fish in the genus. The namesake red tail is punctuated with a black spot on the caudal peduncle. A powerfully built fish, the Red-tail Barracuda is an impressive species.

The Yellow-tail Barracuda (Acestrorhynchus falcirostris) is another common import. This fish is a bit more dainty than the Red-tail, with a very slender body and somewhat elongated dorsal and anal fins. The upper jaw has a slightly hooked shape, giving the Yellow-tail Barracuda a very unique look.

No matter which species you want to keep, general care of barracuda is pretty much the same. You must keep in mind that these are open water predators that hunt in schools in their natural environment. Their preferred prey is live fish, but as with most piscivores, you must be very cautious when feeding live foods. The risk of introducing parasites into your barracudas through feeding live fish is a real possibility. Quarantining the feeder fish is recommended if you must feed live food, or better yet, get your barracudas to convert over to frozen foods or floating dry foods.

Most species are very skittish and edgy. While they can be kept singly, when not kept in a group an individual will startle easily. Even in a group of 6 or more, these fish can still be nervous. A dimly lit aquarium with a well-fitting lid may help you to avoid any unfortunate incidents. When keeping either of the species listed above, a tank of at least 55 gallons is recommended, preferably larger and longer. The natural tendency of these fish to shoot across the tank when startled or feeding will require plenty of space, otherwise trauma to their jaws could result from collisions with the glass. An injured jaw on one of these fish could doom this fish to an early demise.

The svelte appearance and pure speed and power of these fish when feeding is really something to see. As individuals or in schools, they can be really fascinating fish to keep. These fish can really move!


  1. avatar
    Discus Fish Breeder

    I used to have a few yellow tail barracudas in a 200 gallons fish tank. I loved the way they “ran” to the food. I never gave them live food, because of the parasite problem you mention.

  2. avatar

    yeah i love this website cuz it didnt give me any info on wat i was looking 4!!!!

  3. avatar

    Do the juveniles red tailed have slightly yellow on tail??

  4. avatar

    Hi Jeremy, Yes, juvenile Acestrorhynchus falcatus may have a slightly less red and more yellowish color on the tail. The color on the tail of juveniles doesn’t reach the tips but will still have the black spot in the center and is more orange in color than the deeper red of the adults. This species also has a thicker body than the more slender “Yellowtail Barracuda” also discussed here, Acestrorhynchus falcirostris.

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