Beckford’s pencilfish

Golden pencilfish (lat. Nannostomus beckfordi, in English it’s Beckford’s pencilfish) is a very small an peaceful tank fish. The article has information on how to keep, feed the fish and what are the best tank mates.

Habitat in the wild

As for the fish habitat, this fish kind is widely spread in the rivers of Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana as well as in Amazon River basin on the East and in Amapa and Para states, Brazil.

Pish can also be encountered in the Madeira River, bottom and middle Amazon River basin up to the Rio Negro and the Orinoco River in Venezuela. At that, the fish appearance to a great extent depends on its habitat and some fish populations have been considered as separate genus of the fish till quite recently.

Golden pencilfish can be found in river tributaries, small rivers and wetland. The fish especially likes thickly planted areas with lots of snags and thick layer of fallen leaves on the bottom.

Though some fish species are still being exported directly from the wild, the vast majority of pencilfish sold in pet shops are grown on a commercial basis.


Nannostomus genus is from Lebiasinidae family and it is closely related to Characinidae representatives. The fish was described for the first time by Günther in 1872. The fish genus has over 15 kinds, many of which are endemic.

All the fish kinds of this genus have one thing in common – they have a black or brown horizontal stripe along their body. Nannostomus espei is the only exception in this case, since this fish has five large spots instead of the stripe.

Body is about 3-3.5 cm long, although in some sources you can see information that maximum body length of the fish is 6.5 cm.

The fish lifespan isn’t long – up to 5 years, but usually it’s about 3 years long.

Like most of the family representatives fish has a dark brown stripe along its body with a yellowish stripe above it. The fish abdomen is white.

Difficulties in keeping

This isn’t a large fish, so it can’t be kept is a small tank. Beckford’s pencilfish is not very demanding, but it requires some experience to keep it successfully in a tank.

Thus, the fish can’t be recommended for beginner aquarists, although I can’t say that this is a very challenging fish species to keep.

Care and keeping in a tank

In a tank pencilfish usually swims near the water surface or in the middle water layer. It’s desirable to have some fluctuant plants on the tank water surface (such as Riccia or water lettuce/Pistia), among these plants the fish feels comfortable and safe.

As for other tank plants, you can use tapegrass (Vallisneria) – both gigantea and common Vallisneria. In its thickly growing leaves fish feels secure and it can even lay eggs there.

However, don’t forget about some free space for the fish to swim in the tank. As for the bottom substrate the fish doesn’t care much about it, though it looks much better on a black background which emphasizes the fish coloring.

Optimal tank water parameters are the following: temperature 72°F- 78°F (22 to 26 °С), pH: 5.0 – 8.0, water hardness 18 – 268 ppm. Nevertheless, the fish adapts qiute well to various water parameters.

It is important to keep the tank water clean, so weekly water renew (up to 15%) is a must in this case. Golden pencilfish doesn’t appreciate strong water flow and renewing of sufficient amount of water.

The tank should be covered with a cover glass, since the fish may jump out of it.

Scientific nameNannostomus beckfordi
Common NameGolden pencilfish, Beckford’s pencilfish, red pencilfish, pencil fish
Tank size5 gallons (22 litres) and more
Temperature72°F- 78°F (22 to 26 °С)
pH5.0 – 8.0
Sizeup to 3.5 cm (3 in)
Lifespanup to 5 years


The food should be small grained, since has a small mouth even for its size. As for the live food, Beckford’s pencilfish eagerly eats brine shrimps, daphnia, drosophila, wiggle-tail, tubifex and small sized plankton.

The fish also eats dry food served as pellets or flakes that stay on the water surface for a long time, but this is true for those fish species, which weren’t caught in the wild.

Compatibility and tank mates

The fish is calm and peaceful. Because of its size you shouldn’t keep fish together with large, aggressive and predator fish species. Even just too active fish species like tiger barb, for example, won’t do as tank mates as well.

The fish gets along well with dwarf cichlids, for example, with Apistogramma ramirezi. This kind of fish doesn’t swim in upper water layers while Beckford’s pencilfish doesn’t eat its juveniles.

Rasboras and various small sized characines can be considered as good tank mates for the fish.

When buying fishes get 10 species and more. Since, the more species are in the school, the more interesting is to observe their behavior, the brighter is their coloring and their intraspecific aggression inside the school decreases as well.

Sex differences

Males have brighter coloring, especially during their spawning period. The females have a pronounced rounded abdomen.