Valencia toothcarp (Valencia hispanica)

GenusValencia (1)
SizeFemale length: 71 mm (2)
Male length: 67 mm (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1).

An attractively coloured, diminutive freshwater fish, while the Valencia toothcarp has a history of popularity in the aquarium trade, today its wild populations are perilously close to extinction (2) (3). The common name of this species is a reference to the fact that the jaws bear small conical teeth, used for catching and holding prey (3). The body is robust and elongated, with rounded fins and large eyes, reflecting the importance of sight for this species when hunting. The dorsal and anal fins are set well back on the tail, while the pectoral fins are large and enable this species to manoeuvre efficiently between dense vegetation (3). The colouration is generally brownish-green on the top becoming lighter towards the lower parts, with greyish-blue colouration exhibited on the sides of the adult males. A series of narrow, vertical brownish bars runs along the flanks, and the borders of the pectoral and caudal fins are yellow-orange (2) (4).

Wild populations of the Valencia toothcarp occur at just ten sites along the Valencian region of the eastern Spanish coastline (2).

The Valencia toothcarp mainly occupies small coastal freshwater bodies formed from spring water upwellings, known locally as “ullals” (2). It may also inhabit wetland regions such as coastal lagoons and swamps with dense vegetation, providing cover and an abundance of invertebrate prey (2) (3).

The Valencia toothcarp occurs amongst dense vegetation, possibly in small loose groups, where it feeds upon small, aquatic invertebrates (2) (4). Feeding activity varies seasonally, with less feeding occurring in the winter. The main source of prey is gammarid amphipods, tiny, shrimp-like freshwater crustaceans which swim rapidly through the water column. Freshwater insects and larvae are also taken, along with terrestrial insects that fall into the water (4) (5).

The Valencia toothcarp breeds between April and July, during which time the males become more brightly coloured and defend small territories from rivals. When a female enters a male’s territory, the male conducts a courtship dance involving swimming in a semicircle and sideways head movements. Females may mate with different partners during a single breeding season, spawning several, small batches of eggs (typically 10 to 30) that adhere to vegetation by means of sticky filaments (4) (6). Hatching usually takes place after around one week (4). This species grows slowly, and has a relatively long lifespan, with females reaching over four years, and males over three years (6).

The population of the Valencia toothcarp has undergone a decline of more than 80 percent in the past 10 years, which is mainly attributable to the introduction of a non-native species, but also as a result of habitat loss and degradation (1) (7). In the early 20th century the eastern mosquitofish Gambusia holbrooki was introduced to the Iberian Peninsula in order to control malaria. The fish were not only successful in preying upon the mosquito larvae found in the wetland water bodies, but were also more efficient at foraging than the native Valencia toothcarp. The invasive fish were therefore able to out-compete the Valencia toothcarp for resources during periods of scarcity, and have promoted the native species’ decline (7). This has been compounded by the increasing habitat loss and degradation, predominantly fuelled by the fact that the Valencia toothcarp’s range is a popular tourist destination. Many areas of this species’ wetland habitat have been drained to make way for development and to reduce mosquito breeding grounds (3), while the remainder are affected by urban and agricultural pollution (1). At present the Valencia toothcarp is perilously close to extinction, with just ten wild populations, of which only five have favourable conservation status (2)

The Valencia toothcarp is listed in the Annexes II and IV of the European Union Habitats Directive and in the Appendix II of the Bern Convention, both of which require that efforts are made to protect this species and its habitat (1). In order to fulfil this requirement, three European action programmes have been developed to create a reserve network within this the Valencia toothcarp’s range. In addition, since 1993, extensive reintroductions have been carried out, restocking regions from which this species was previously extirpated. Nevertheless, further protection is still required for the remaining wild populations, along with the continuation of reintroductions and implementation of educational programmes to raise awareness of this threatened species’ plight (2).

To learn more about conservation of European freshwater habitats visit:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2009)