Characins are not only among the most numerous, but are also the most morphologically diversified Group of Amazon fishes. They have been classified into 16 (now 13) extremely diverse Families. The characins include the oddly elongate leporinus, the almost round pacu and the streamlined but broad shouldered dorado, almost running the gamut of piscine body shapes. Their behavior and habits are just as diverse. The predatory fast water payara, the flower eating pacu and the scavenging piranha are all characins. Characins are found only in Africa, Central and South America (with one exception in southwest Texas - the genus Astyanax). Of the approximately 1500 species identified, the great majority are found in the Amazon.
Characins have long been extremely important fishes for several economic reasons. Many species, especially the large fruit and flower eaters are highly valued food fishes. Tambaqui are so highly prized, that they are now being raised in fish farms for the marketplace. Aquarists place great value on these fishes as well. Tetras, piranhas and pacu have long been staples of the aquarium trade. The characins are also among the world's greatest sportfish. Dorado have long been a favorite quarry of South American anglers. The payara, one of the world's ultimate fighting fish, has more recently become a highly respected gamefish and the wolfish and pirapitinga are just now being discovered as superior sporting fishes. Anglers around the world (Africa's tigerfish is also a member of the group) are recognizing that characins include some of the toughest, fiercest and strongest of all freshwater gamefish.