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Gymnotus sp.jpg
Gymnotus sp.
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Gymnotiformes
Family: Gymnotidae
Genus: Gymnotus
Linnaeus, 1758

Gymnotus is a genus of Neotropical freshwater fish in the family Gymnotidae found widely in South America, Central America and southern Mexico (36th parallel south to 18th parallel north).[1] The greatest species richness is found in the Amazon basin.[2] They are sometimes referred to by the English name banded knifefish,[1] although this typically is reserved for the most widespread species, G. carapo.[3][4] Overall Gymnotus is the most widespread genus in the order Gymnotiformes.[5]

Although not commonly eaten by humans, some members of this genus are used locally as fishing bait,[6] and occasionally kept in aquariums.[7]


Gymnotus occur in virtually any freshwater habitat in their range, even those with little oxygen (survives by breathing air directly from the water surface), areas affected by pollution,[4] and for a period on land if their aquatic habitat dries out.[8] Large species tend to live near floating vegetation along the edges of large rivers or floodplains, while smaller tend to live among leaf-litter or near banks of small streams.[9] The genus includes both widespread and common species that occur in many different habitat types,[4] and more restricted and rare species that occur in fewer habitats.[10]


Gymnotus species are nocturnal and mainly feed on aquatic insects, crustaceans, small fish and other small animals,[9] but may also take plant material.[8] Being electric fish, they generate weak electric fields used in for navigation, finding prey and communicating with other individuals of their species.[8][11][12] At least some species are highly territorial and will react aggressively if detecting the electric field of another individidual of their species.[12] The electric signal is species specific, and tends to differ between males and females.[1] However, Gymnotus are not able to generate a strong electric field that can be used for incapacitating prey or enemies, like the related electric eel.[9]


Gymnotus are generally brownish with a banded pattern, but this can also be more mottled or spotted in some species. Small scales are always present on these fish. The mouth is superior, meaning it is turned upwards. The anal fin terminates at a point near the tip of the tail.[5][9] The largest Gymnotus are up to 100 cm (3.3 ft) in total length.[5][9] Most species reach less than one-third that size and the smallest only around 10 cm (4 in) long.[3][4][9]


There are currently 43 recognized species in this genus:[3][13]


  1. ^ a b c d e Craig, J.M.; V. Correa-Roldán; H. Ortega; W.G.R. Crampton; J.S. Albert (2018). "Revision of Gymnotus (Gymnotiformes: Gymnotidae) from the Upper Madeira Basin of Bolivia and Peru, with descriptions of two new species". Zootaxa. 4413 (1): 111–132. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4413.1.3. 
  2. ^ Albert, J.S.; R.R. Miller (1995). "Gymnotus maculosus, a new species of electric fish (Chordata: Teleostei: Gymnotoidei) from Middle America, with a key to species of Gymnotus". Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington. 108 (4): 662–678. 
  3. ^ a b c Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2018). Species of Gymnotus in FishBase. May 2018 version.
  4. ^ a b c d Craig, J.M.; W.G.R. Crampton; J.S. Albert (2017). "Revision of the polytypic electric fish Gymnotus carapo (Gymnotiformes, Teleostei), with descriptions of seven subspecies". Zootaxa. 4318 (3): 401–438. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4318.3.1. 
  5. ^ a b c Nelson, J.S. (2006). Fishes of the World. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. ISBN 0-471-25031-7. 
  6. ^ Medeiros, M. (translator) (12 September 2017). "Research identifies fish species used as live bait in Pantanal". Embrapa. Retrieved 11 May 2018. 
  7. ^ "Gymnotus carapo". SeriouslyFish. Retrieved 11 May 2018. 
  8. ^ a b c Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2018). "Gymnotus carapo" in FishBase. May 2018 version.
  9. ^ a b c d e f van der Sleen, P.; J.S. Albert, eds. (2017). Field Guide to the Fishes of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Guianas. Princeton University Press. pp. 332–334. ISBN 978-0691170749. 
  10. ^ a b Giora, J.; L.R. Malabarba (2016). "Gymnotus refugio, a new and endangered species of electric fish of the Gymnotus pantherinus species-group from southern Brazil (Gymnotiformes: Gymnotidae)". Zootaxa. 4066 (5): 581–590. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4066.5.6. 
  11. ^ a b Rangel-Pereira, G.S. (2014). "Gymnotus capitimaculatus, a new species of electric fish from rio Jucuruçu basin, northeastern Brazil (Ostariophysi: Gymnotiformes: Gymnotidae)". Vertebrate Zoology. 64 (2): 169–175. 
  12. ^ a b Davis, E.A.; C.D. Hopkins (1988). "Behavioural analysis of electric signal localization in the electric fish, Gymnotus carapo (Gymnotiformes)". Animal Behaviour. 36 (6): 1658–1671. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(88)80106-4. 
  13. ^ Eschmeyer, W.N.; R. Fricke; R. van der Laan (11 May 2018). "Catalog of Fishes". California Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 11 May 2018. 
  14. ^ Milhomem S.S.R.; Crampton W.G.R.; Pieczarka J.C.; Shetka G.H.; Silva D.S.; Nagamachi C.Y. (2012). "Gymnotus capanema, a new species of electric knife fish (Gymnotiformes, Gymnotidae) from eastern Amazonia, with comments on an unusual karyotype". Journal of Fish Biology. 80 (4): 802–815. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2012.03219.x. 
  15. ^ Cognato, D.P., Richer-de-Forges, M.M., Albert, J.S. & Crampton, W.G.R. (2008). "Gymnotus chimarrao, a new species of electric fish (Gymnotiformes: Gymnotidae) from Southern Brazil". Ichthyologial Exploration of Freshwaters. 18 (4): 375–382. 
  16. ^ Craig, J.M.; L.R. Malabarba; W.G.R. Crampton; J.S. Albert (2018). "Revision of banded knifefishes of the Gymnotus carapo and G. tigre clades (Gymnotidae Gymnotiformes) from the Southern Neotropics". Zootaxa. 4379 (1): 47–73. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4379.1.3. 
  17. ^ Maxime E.L.; Albert J.S. (2014). "Redescription of the tuvirão, Gymnotus inaequilabiatus Valenciennes, 1839, using high-resolution X-ray computed tomography". Copeia. 2014 (3): 462–472. doi:10.1643/ci-13-054. 
  18. ^ Rangel-Pereira (2012). "Gymnotus interruptus, a new species of electric fish from the Rio de Contas basin, Bahia, Brazil (Teleostei: Gymnotiformes: Gymnotidae)" (PDF). Vertebrate Zoology. 62 (3): 363–370.