Valencia toothcarp (Valencia hispanica)

Valencia toothcarp
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Valencia toothcarp fact file

Valencia toothcarp description

GenusValencia (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).

Female length: 71 mm (2)
Male length: 67 mm (2)

Valencia toothcarp biology

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).


Valencia toothcarp range

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


Valencia toothcarp habitat

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).


Valencia toothcarp status

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

IUCN Red List species status – Critically Endangered


Valencia toothcarp threats

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)


Valencia toothcarp conservation

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).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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Anal fin
In fish, an unpaired fin on the under surface of a fish, behind the anus.
Caudal fin
The tail fin of a fish.
Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
Dorsal fin
The fin found on the back of the body of a fish.
Iberian Peninsula
A region located in the extreme south-west of Europe, which encompasses Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar and a very small area of south-west France.
Animals with no backbone.
Pectoral fins
In fish, the pair of fins that are found one on each side of the body just behind the gills. They are generally used for balancing and braking.
Areas occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (October, 2009)
  2. Oliva-Paterna, F.J., Caiola, N. and Torralva, M. (2009) Threatened fishes of the world: Valencia hispanica (Valenciennes, 1846) (Valenciidae). Environmental Biology of Fishes, 85: 275 - 276.
  3. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. (2001) Endangered Wildlife and Plants of the World. Marshall Cavendish, New York.
  4. Ciprinodóntidos Ibéricos / Iberian Cyprinodontids (October, 2009)
  5. Caiola, N.A., Vargas, M.J. and de Sostoa, A. (2001) Feeding ecology of the endangered Valencia toothcarp, Valencia hispanica (Actinopterygii: Valenciidae). Hydrobiologia, 448: 97 - 105.
  6. Caiola, N.A., Vargas, M.J. and de Sostoa, A. (2001) Life history pattern of the endangered Valencia toothcarp, Valencia hispanica (Actinopterygii: Valenciidae) and its implications for conservation. Archiv für Hydrobiologie, 150: 473 - 489.
  7. Caiola, N.A. and de Sostoa, A. (2005) Possible reasons for the decline of two native toothcarps in the Iberian Peninsula: evidence of competition with the introduced Eastern mosquitofish. Journal of Applied Ichthyology, 21: 358 - 363.

Image credit

Valencia toothcarp  
Valencia toothcarp

© Juan Manuel Borrero /

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