With some 960-1200 species,(1,2) the characids, sometimes called characins,(1,3,4) are the fourth-most-diverse fish family.(2) These freshwater fish can be found from Texas, USA (1,3) all the way down to the northern part of Patagonia in Argentina,(2) in streams, rivers, and even underwater caves,(3,4,5,6) but the greatest variety of species occurs in the basins of the Amazon, La Plata, and Orinoco rivers.(2) The group’s diversity and the dispute over its delineation (2,7) make it difficult to state its defining characteristics; characids range in length from under 3 cm(1,3) to over 100 cm,(1) come in many different colors and patterns, and have varying habits.(4) Some, most notably some piranhas, are fierce predators.(4,7) Others often eat fruits that have fallen off of rainforest trees and disperse the seeds, unintentionally helping the trees reproduce.(4,6) Some characids are used as food sources by humans,(1,4) and some, such as the small brightly-colored tetras and the flying fish known as hatchetfish, are popular choices for aquariums.(1,3,4,7)
If you’ve ever been to an aquarium—or taken a dip in the Amazon River—chances are you’ve seen some characids. Also called characins,(1,2,3) characids are the family of fish with the fourth highest number of species:(4) between 960 and 1,200 (1,4). These freshwater fish are native to rivers, streams and even underwater caves(1,2,3,5,6) from Texas (1,2) all the way down to southern Argentina,(4) with the greatest variety of species in South American river basins such as the Amazon, La Plata, and Orinoco.(4) The group’s amazing diversity and the ongoing dispute over which exact species should belong in it (4,7) make it hard to list its defining characteristics; these fish range in size from less than 3 cm (1,2) to over 100 cm long,(1) and show a wide variety of colors, patterns, and habits.(3) Some of these fish, such as some of the famous piranhas, are fierce predators.(3,7) Others often eat fruits that have fallen off of rainforest trees and spread the seeds, unintentionally helping new trees grow.(3,6) Some characids are fished for food by people.(1,3) Others, such as the many kinds of brightly-colored tetras and the flying fish known as hatchetfish, are familiar faces in aquariums.(1,2,3,7)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Statistics of barcoding coverage
Specimens with Sequences:6402
Specimens with Barcodes:6289
Species With Barcodes:434
Characidae, the characids or characins is a family of freshwater subtropical and tropical fish, belonging to the order Characiformes. The name "characins" is the historical one, but scientists today tend to prefer "characids" to reflect their status as a by and large monophyletic group at family rank. To arrive there, this family has undergone much systematic and taxonomic change. Among those fishes that remain in the Characidae for the time being are the tetras, comprising the very similar genera Hemigrammus and Hyphessobrycon, as well as a few related forms such as the cave and neon tetras. Fish of this family are important as food and also include popular aquarium fish species.
These fish inhabit a wide range and a variety of habitats. They originate in the Americas, ranging from southwestern Texas and Mexico through Central and South America. Many of these fish come from rivers, but, for example, the blind cave tetra even inhabits caves.
This family has undergone a large amount of systematic and taxonomic change. More recent revision has moved many former members of the family into their own related but distinct families - the pencilfishes of the genus Nannostomus are a typical example, having now been moved into the Lebiasinidae, the assorted predatory species belonging to Hoplias and Hoplerythrinus have now been moved into the Erythrinidae, and the sabre-toothed fishes of the genus Hydrolycus have been moved into the Cynodontidae. The former subfamily Alestiinae was promoted to family level (Alestiidae) and the subfamilies Crenuchinae and Characidiinae were moved to the family Crenuchidae.
Other fish families that were formerly classified as members of the Characidae, but which were moved into separate families of their own during recent taxonomic revisions (after 1994) include Acestrorhynchidae, Anostomidae, Chilodontidae, Citharinidae, Ctenoluciidae, Curimatidae, Distichodontidae, Gasteropelecidae, Hemiodontidae, Hepsetidae, Parodontidae, Prochilodontidae, Serrasalmidae, and Triporthidae.
The larger piranhas were originally classified as belonging to the Characidae, but various revisions place them in their own related family, the Serrasalmidae. This reassignment has yet to enjoy universal acceptance, but is gaining in popularity among taxonomists working with these fishes. Given the current state of flux of the Characidae, a number of other changes will doubtless take place, reassigning once-familiar species to other families. Indeed, the entire phylogeny of the Ostariophysi - fishes possessing a Weberian apparatus - has yet to be settled conclusively. Until that phylogeny is settled, the opportunity for yet more upheavals within the taxonomy of the characoid fishes is considerable.
Subfamilies and genera
Genera incertae sedis
A large number of taxa in this family are incertae sedis. The relationships of many fish in this family – in particular species traditionally placed in the Tetragonopterinae, which had become something of a "wastebin taxon" – are poorly known, a comprehensive phylogenetic study for the entire family is needed. The genera Hyphessobrycon, Astyanax, Hemigrammus, Moenkhausia, and Bryconamericus include the largest number of currently recognized species among characid fishes that are in need of revision; Astyanax and Hyphessobrycon in the usual delimitation are among the largest genera in this family. These genera were originally proposed between 1854 and 1908 and are still more or less defined as by Carl H. Eigenmann in 1917, though diverse species have been added to each genus since that time. The anatomical diversity within each genus, the fact that each of these generic groups at the present time cannot be well-defined, and the high number of species involved are the major reasons for the lack of phylogenetic analyses dealing with the relationships of the species within these generic "groups".
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Characidae.|
- FishBase (2011)
- Characinae, recently narrowly defined, covers only twelve genera and 79 species closely related to Charax (George M.T. Mattox, Monica Toledo-Piza, "Phylogenetic study of the Characinae (Teleostei: Characiformes: Characidae)" Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 165.4:809–915, August 2012).
- Nelson (2006)
- Oliveira, C., Avelino, G.S., Abe, K.T., Mariguela, T.C., Benine, R.C., Orti, G., Vari, R.P., & Correa e Castro, R.M. (2011): Phylogenetic relationships within the speciose family Characidae (Teleostei: Ostariophysi: Characiformes) based on multilocus analysis and extensive ingroup sampling. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 11: 275. doi: 10.1186/1471-2148-11-275
- Malabarba, L.R. & Jerep, F.C. (2012): A New Genus and Species of Cheirodontine Fish from South America (Teleostei: Characidae). Copeia, 2012 (2): 243-250.
- Netto-Ferreira, A.L., Birindelli, J.L.O., de Sousa, L.M., Mariguela, T.C. & Oliveira, C. (2013): A New Miniature Characid (Ostariophysi: Characiformes: Characidae), with Phylogenetic Position Inferred from Morphological and Molecular Data. PLoS ONE, 8 (1): e52098. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052098
- Mattox, G.M.T., Britz, R., Toledo-Piza, M. & Marinho, M.M.F. (2013): Cyanogaster noctivaga, a remarkable new genus and species of miniature fish from the Rio Negro, Amazon basin (Ostariophysi: Characidae). Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters, 23 (4) : 297-318.
- de Lucena (2003)
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2011). "Characidae" in FishBase. October 2011 version.
- de Lucena, Carlos Alberto Santos (2003): New characid fish, Hyphessobrycon scutulatus, from the rio Teles Pires drainage, upper rio Tapajós system (Ostariophysi: Characiformes: Characidae). Neotropical Ichthyology 1(2): 93-96. PDF fulltext
- Géry, Jacques (1977): Characoids of the World. ISBN 0-87666-458-3
- Nelson, Joseph S. (2006): Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-25031-7
Serrasalmidae is a family of characiform fishes, recently elevated to family status. The name means "serrated salmon family", which refers to the serrated keel running along the belly of these fish. Fish classified as Serrasalmidae are also known by these common names: pacu, piranha, and silver dollar. These common names generally designate differing dental characteristics and feeding habits.
Serrasalmids are medium- to large-sized characiform fishes that reach about 1 m (3.3 ft) long, generally characterized by a deep, laterally compressed body with a series of midventral abdominal spines or scutes, and a long dorsal fin (over 16 rays). Most species also possess an anteriorly directed spine just before the dorsal fin extending from a supraneural bone; exceptions include members of the genera Colossoma, Piaractus, and Mylossoma.
Serrasalmids inhabit all major and some minor Atlantic river systems in South America, but have been introduced to other areas. Species range from about 10°N latitude south to about 35°S latitude.
The diets of the various serrasalmid fishes include seeds, fruits, leaves, and various invertebrate and vertebrate prey, as well as fish flesh, scales, and fins. To emphasize the diversity of diets, authors commonly highlight the fruit- and leaf-eating pacus and the highly carnivorous piranhas. Most in the family other than piranhas are primarily herbivorous. In contrast, piranhas long believed to be strict carnivores. Many species change diets depending on age and resource availability.
Serrasalmidae were recently classified as a subfamily of Characidae. The relationship of Serrasalmidae to other characiforms has yet to be determined. The taxonomy and systematics of piranhas and their relatives are complicated and much remains unsettled. Consequently, both species identification and phylogenetic placement of many taxa are problematic.
However, the ongoing classification of these fish is difficult and often contentious, with ichthyologists basing ranks according to characteristics that may overlap irregularly (see Cladistics). DNA research sometimes confounds rather than clarifies species ranking. Ultimately, classifications can be rather arbitrary.
Despite this, Serrasalmidae are relatively well understood, and agreement is wide on the genera and species included.
The fossil record, particularly for piranhas, is relatively sparse. Most known fossils are from the Miocene, although a few unidentified forms are considered Paleocene and two reportedly date to as early as the Late Cretaceous. Fossils of a living species of Colossoma from the Miocene have been described, suggesting a very conservative history for a specialized herbivorous fish. All serrasalmine genera had originated by the middle Miocene, with the possible exception of three of the four piranha genera (Pygocentrus, Pristobrycon, and Serrasalmus).
Relationship to humans
Piranhas are generally less valued, although they are commonly consumed by subsistence fishers and frequently sold for food in local markets. A few piranha species occasionally appear in the aquarium trade, and, in recent decades, dried specimens have been marketed as tourist souvenirs. Piranhas occasionally bite and sometimes injure bathers and swimmers, but serious attacks are rare and the threat to humans has been exaggerated. However, piranhas are a considerable nuisance to commercial and sport fishers because they steal bait, mutilate catch, damage nets and other gear, and may bite when handled.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2013). "Serrasalmidae" in FishBase. April 2013 version.
- Magallanes, Frank (2006-04-06). "Subfamily Serrasalminae" (Website). Oregon Piranha Exotic Fish Exhibit.
- Freeman 2007, p. 3
- Freeman 2007, pp. 6–7
- Nelson, Joseph S. (2006). Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-25031-7.
- Freeman, Barbie; Nico, Leo G.; Osentoski, Matthew; Jelks, Howard L.; Collins, Timothy M. (2007). "Molecular systematics of Serrasalmidae: Deciphering the identities of piranha species and unraveling their evolutionary histories" (PDF). Zootaxa 1484: 2. Retrieved 2009-06-25.
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