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The Red Rainbowfish

This spectacular species may be the “granddaddy” of all rainbows.

By Mike Wickham |

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The rainbowfishes of Australia and Papua New Guinea have become some of the most treasured fish in the hobby. They are noted for their many colors, high levels of activity and hardiness as citizens of the aquarium.

Perhaps the granddaddy of all rainbowfishes is the red rainbowfish (Glossolepis incisus), also called the red Irian rainbow. Glosso is from the Greek for “tongue,” and lepis is Greek for “scale,” referring to teeth on the fish’s tongue. Incisus also comes from Greek, meaning “deeply cut.” This probably refers to the crease that develops on mature males, between the head and nuchal hump.

This fish is spectacular, growing to nearly 6 inches in length. Females and juveniles have streamlined bodies with a sort of olive overcast, but the scales catch the light, reflecting silver. Males are much more impressive. The entire body and fins become flushed with color varying from dark orange to deep red, depending on the specimen and diet. Mature males also develop a nuchal hump. As males grow, the whole body appears to widen vertically — they get “taller” — until the streamlined shape is gone. What emerges is a fish shaped more like a freshwater sunfish with a pointy nose.

Want to read the full story? Pick up the June 2010 issue of Aquarium Fish International today.

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