Leaf Fish – Types, Care, Tank Mates, Feeding & Full Details!

Leaf fish belong to the family Polycentridae and genus Polycentrus. There are multiple species within the leaf fish category, with Polycentrus schomburgkii being the most popular among them due to its leaf-like appearance.

This species has a unique flattened body that resembles a fallen leaf, complete with a broad body tapering into a narrow, pointed tail.

An extraordinary example of nature’s mimicry, leaf fish have mastered the art of camouflage to such an extent that they can deceive even the keenest observers.

When it comes to size, these fish are relatively small, growing only up to 8 cm in length, making them a manageable species for home aquariums.

Hidden amongst the abundant underwater vegetation of the Amazon basin, a remarkable creature mimics the inanimate flora surrounding it.

It floats silently, merging perfectly with the rustling leaves carried by the ebb and flow of the water. It’s not a leaf, but a leaf fish, an enigmatic being, a master of disguise and one of the most enthralling wonders of the aquatic world.

With an intriguing physical structure, interesting behavior, and the ability to transform an ordinary aquarium into a mesmerizing spectacle, leaf fish have become an appealing choice for freshwater aquarium enthusiasts.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about leaf fish – from their natural habitat and behavioral traits to the specifics of their diet and the best practices for keeping them in an aquarium.

Whether you are a seasoned aquarist or a budding hobbyist, this detailed insight into the world of leaf fish will arm you with the knowledge to successfully introduce and care for these fascinating creatures in your own aquarium.

So, let’s embark on this exciting journey together!

Quick Stats About Leaf Fish

Family Polycentridae
Origin Amazon and Rio Negro Basins
Social Aggressive
Tank Level All
Minimum Tank Size 20 to 25 gallons
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Egg layer
Care Moderate to difficult
pH 6.0 to 6.5
Hardness 2 to 5 dH
Temperature 77 to 82 F (25 to 28 C)

Unique Appearance of Leaf Fish

The leaf fish is a truly remarkable creature, standing out due to its distinctive and meticulously crafted physical characteristics.

Mimicking a leaf, its body takes on a broad, flattened shape, with a narrow, pointed tail, thereby enhancing its camouflage capabilities within its aquatic habitat.

It flaunts a magnificent blend of colors from olive green to dark brown, brilliantly replicating the hues found in a leaf.

The ventral fins of the leaf fish resemble leaf stems, which not only add to its disguise but also assist in its effortless gliding through the water.

The fish’s dorsal and anal fins merge seamlessly with its body, further imitating the jagged edges of a leaf. From an unsuspecting prey’s perspective, a leaf fish would merely appear as an innocuous drifting leaf, making the predator’s task infinitely simpler.

Natural Habitat of Leaf Fish

Leaf fish are a testament to the adaptability of nature’s creations. They thrive in the Amazon basin’s water bodies, where the environment is ripe with thick vegetation.

The tropical, slow-moving rivers and creeks filled with submerged roots and leaf litter serve as the perfect home for them.

The water in these habitats is typically soft, acidic, and stained with tannins from decaying organic matter.

These conditions contribute to the leaf fish’s remarkable ability to blend in, as the dark brown water enhances their leaf-like appearance.

Furthermore, their natural habitat’s temperature usually fluctuates between 23°C and 28°C, a detail that becomes essential when replicating these conditions in an aquarium setting.

Origin and Distribution of Leaf Fish

As unique residents of the aquatic world, leaf fish have their roots in the vast, dense waters of South America. They are primarily found in the Amazon basin, which spreads across a multitude of countries, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

The leaf fish’s distribution across these regions is an affirmation of their adaptable nature. Despite differences in the micro-environment within each region, leaf fish have proven to be resilient, flourishing in various parts of the Amazon’s water bodies.

Their wide distribution paints a picture of a species that has successfully adapted to diverse environments while maintaining its inherent characteristics.

Growth, Size, and Lifespan of Leaf Fish

Leaf fish are not large creatures, but their size doesn’t undermine their appeal. Typically, an adult leaf fish grows up to a length of 8 cm, making it a manageable size for captivity in home aquariums.

While their growth may seem modest compared to other aquatic species, it is their uncanny resemblance to a leaf that truly sets them apart.

The lifespan of leaf fish is another testament to their hardy nature. With proper care and optimal conditions, they can live up to 5-8 years.

This longevity, combined with their manageable size and distinctive appearance, makes leaf fish a desirable and long-term addition to aquariums for enthusiasts seeking a unique and enduring aquatic companion.

Types of Leaf Fish

Leaf fish is a common name that’s given to several species of fish, belonging to various families, due to their striking resemblance to a leaf.

This unique camouflage has evolved in multiple fish lines independently, giving rise to diverse species of leaf fish across the world’s tropical and subtropical waters.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most well-known types of leaf fish:

South American Leaf Fish (Monocirrhus polyacanthus)

The South American leaf fish is perhaps the most popular type of leaf fish among aquarium enthusiasts. This species is native to the Amazon Basin, where it’s found in slow-moving or still waters with plenty of leafy debris.

Its body is elongated and laterally compressed, with a pointed snout. It exhibits a remarkable leaf-mimicry, with a brown or reddish-brown body color resembling a dead leaf.

Asian Leaffishes (Family Nandidae)

The Asian leaffishes include several species, such as the ones in the genera Pristolepis and Nandus. These fish are native to Asia, found in countries like India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. They are typically brown or gray, with irregular markings that resemble the veins of a leaf.

African Leaffishes (Family Polycentridae)

The African leaffishes belong to the family Polycentridae, which includes the genera Polycentrus and Monocirrhus. These species are found in the slow-moving freshwater bodies of South America and West Africa.

African leaf fishes have a leaf-like shape with a broad body and an elongated, pointed head.

Each type of leaf fish, while sharing a common leaf-like appearance, possesses unique characteristics and behaviors that make them a fascinating addition to any aquarium.

Remember, each species has specific care requirements that should be met to ensure their health and happiness.

It’s always important to understand their needs thoroughly before deciding to add these intriguing creatures to your aquatic family.

Leaf Fish Behavior and Temperament

Leaf fish are solitary creatures that exhibit unique behavioral traits, chiefly driven by their natural instinct to mimic leaves. Their movements are often slow and calculated, matching the drifting motion of a leaf in the water.

They typically spend their time either floating in the water column or resting on the substrate, subtly aligning their bodies with the current.

Leaf fish are patient hunters, preferring to lay in wait for their prey instead of actively pursuing them. This strategy is perfectly suited to their camouflage, as they can lie unnoticed until a prey comes within their striking range.

Despite their seemingly laid-back demeanor, leaf fish are swift and efficient when attacking their prey.

One aspect to note about their temperament is that leaf fish are typically non-aggressive.

However, they can display territorial behavior, especially towards other leaf fish, which is why it’s advisable to maintain only one leaf fish per tank unless the aquarium is spacious enough to accommodate multiple territories.

Tank Setup for Leaf Fish

Creating the perfect habitat for your leaf fish within your aquarium is crucial for its survival and overall well-being. The goal is to replicate the conditions of their natural habitat as closely as possible.

Here are some essential factors to consider:

Tank Size

The tank size for a leaf fish should be sufficient to allow it to swim and maneuver comfortably. Given the small size of the leaf fish, a 20-gallon tank is usually adequate for a single specimen.

However, if you plan on adding more fish or creating a community tank, a larger aquarium will be required.


Given the leaf fish’s natural habitat, a dark-colored substrate is advisable. This can include river sand or fine gravel. Not only does it mimic the riverbed of the Amazon basin, but it also enhances the leaf fish’s camouflage.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Leaf fish appreciate a well-decorated tank that provides plenty of hiding spots. You can use driftwood, rocks, and a variety of aquatic plants to create a natural and engaging environment. Leaf litter can also be added to further simulate their natural surroundings.

Water Parameters

Maintaining optimal water conditions is crucial for the health of your leaf fish. The water temperature should be kept between 23°C and 28°C. The pH value should range from 6.0 to 7.5, mimicking the slightly acidic water of their natural habitat.

Filtration and Aeration

A good filtration system is essential to maintain water cleanliness and ensure the overall health of your leaf fish. Moreover, the water flow created by the filter should be gentle to replicate the slow-moving rivers that leaf fish are used to.


Leaf fish aren’t particularly fond of bright lights. Soft, subdued lighting works best for these species, as it closely resembles the light filtering through dense vegetation in their natural environment.

Tank Mates

Leaf fish are generally peaceful but can be territorial with their own kind. Therefore, suitable tank mates include species that are not small enough to be considered prey but also not large or aggressive enough to threaten the leaf fish. Tetras, corydoras, and similar-sized species are often good companions.


Leaf fish are carnivorous, and their diet primarily consists of smaller fish and invertebrates. Live foods like brine shrimp, small earthworms, or feeder fish are often well-accepted. Providing them with a varied diet that closely resembles their natural intake is crucial for their health.

Tank Maintenance of Leaf Fish

Proper tank maintenance is crucial for ensuring a healthy and comfortable environment for your leaf fish. Remember, a clean tank not only contributes to the overall aesthetic of your aquarium but, more importantly, promotes the well-being and longevity of your fish. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the aspects you need to pay attention to:

Regular Water Changes

Water changes are essential to maintain a healthy tank environment for your leaf fish. Over time, waste and toxins can build up in the aquarium water, causing it to become harmful to your fish.

As a rule of thumb, you should aim to replace approximately 25-30% of the tank water every two weeks. This will help keep the water clean and the nutrient levels balanced, mimicking the water renewal that naturally happens in rivers.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

While changing the water, it’s also a good practice to clean the interior surfaces of the tank and the decorations. Algae and waste can accumulate on these surfaces over time, compromising the water quality and the overall aesthetics of the tank.

Use a soft cloth or a designated aquarium scrubber to clean these areas. Avoid using harsh chemicals or detergents, as they can harm your fish.

Filter Maintenance

The filter plays a critical role in keeping the tank water clean by removing physical debris and breaking down harmful chemicals. It is essential to clean the filter regularly to ensure it continues to function efficiently.

However, be careful not to over-clean or replace all filter media at once as it might remove beneficial bacteria that help in breaking down waste. Rinse the filter media in the removed tank water during a water change to maintain a healthy bacterial population.

Monitor Fish Health

Regularly observing your leaf fish is one of the best ways to ensure its well-being. Look out for any changes in behavior, eating habits, or appearance.

If your fish appears sluggish, refuses to eat, or shows visible signs of disease such as spots or discoloration, it may be a sign of stress or illness. In such cases, it is advisable to consult an aquarium professional or a vet specializing in aquatic animals.

By incorporating these maintenance practices into your routine, you can provide a clean, healthy environment for your leaf fish, ensuring that it continues to thrive and provide you with endless fascination.

Acclimating Leaf Fish

When introducing a leaf fish into your aquarium, acclimation is a critical process that shouldn’t be overlooked. It ensures that your fish can adapt to its new environment in a stress-free manner.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Float the Bag: Once you bring your leaf fish home in a sealed bag, place the bag directly into the aquarium to float. This allows the water inside the bag to gradually match the temperature of the aquarium water, ensuring a smooth transition for your fish.

  2. Gradual Introduction of Aquarium Water: After about 15-20 minutes, open the bag and start introducing a small amount of aquarium water into it. Repeat this process every 10 minutes for about an hour. This step allows the leaf fish to slowly get used to the water chemistry of your tank.

  3. Gently Transfer the Fish: After the acclimation process, gently use a net to transfer the fish from the bag to your aquarium. Try to avoid transferring the water from the bag, as it may contain elements from the fish store’s tank that you don’t want in your own.

  4. Monitoring: Once the leaf fish is in the aquarium, keep a close eye on its behavior. It’s normal for the fish to be slightly stressed and hide for the first few days. However, it should start exploring and showing normal behavior once it gets comfortable with its new surroundings.

Leaf Fish Diet and Feeding

Leaf fish are carnivorous by nature, with their diet primarily consisting of live foods. Providing them with a varied diet that closely resembles their natural intake is crucial for their health.

Here are some details to consider:

Natural Diet

In the wild, leaf fish feed on smaller fish and aquatic invertebrates. Their patient ambush hunting technique allows them to stay hidden and strike when the prey least expects it.

Feeding in Captivity

When keeping leaf fish in an aquarium, their diet should reflect their natural feeding habits.

Here are a few points to consider:

  • Live Foods: Live foods are the most preferable choice for leaf fish. This could include brine shrimp, small earthworms, or small feeder fish. Not only do these options provide necessary nutrients, but the movement of live food also triggers the hunting instinct of leaf fish, keeping them active and engaged.

  • Frozen Foods: If live foods are not readily available, frozen alternatives can be used. Ensure that they are thawed properly before feeding.

  • Feeding Frequency: Leaf fish should be fed once a day, with enough food that they can consume within a few minutes. Overfeeding can lead to obesity and other health issues, as well as compromise the water quality.

  • Variety is Key: Offering a variety of foods helps ensure that your leaf fish is getting a balanced diet. It also helps to keep them interested in feeding.

In conclusion, the key to a healthy leaf fish is a proper diet and feeding routine.

By mimicking their natural feeding habits and providing them with a variety of nutritious food options, you can ensure your leaf fish remains healthy, active, and thriving.

Leaf Fish Tank Mates

Choosing appropriate tank mates for your leaf fish is an essential part of ensuring its well-being. Given their peaceful yet predatory nature, some species can coexist with leaf fish, while others should be avoided.

When selecting tank mates, consider the size and temperament of the potential companions.

Suitable tank mates include:

  1. Corydoras Catfish: Their bottom-dwelling habits and similar size make them less likely to be seen as prey by the leaf fish.

  2. Cardinal Tetras: These vibrant fish are active and fast, making them difficult targets for leaf fish.

  3. Hatchet Fish: Being top dwellers, hatchet fish are generally out of reach from leaf fish, reducing the risk of predation.

  4. Plecostomus: Their size and armored bodies make them undesirable prey for leaf fish.

  5. Rasboras: These agile and quick fish are difficult for leaf fish to catch, making them suitable tank mates.

  6. Dwarf Cichlids: They share a similar temperament and environmental requirements with leaf fish, making them a good match.

  7. Siamese Algae Eaters: Their active nature and size make them less appealing to leaf fish.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Avoid any fish that are small enough to fit into the leaf fish’s mouth, as well as any larger, aggressive species that could intimidate or injure the leaf fish.

Some fish to avoid include:

  1. Neon Tetras: Their small size makes them an easy target for leaf fish.

  2. Guppies: These are likely to be seen as prey due to their size and slower movement.

  3. Shrimps: Most freshwater shrimps would easily fall prey to leaf fish.

  4. Betta Fish: Their aggressive nature could lead to unnecessary stress and potential harm to leaf fish.

  5. Angelfish: Larger species like Angelfish might bully or harass the leaf fish.

Breeding Leaf Fish and Fry Care

Breeding leaf fish can be quite a challenge, given their specific requirements. However, with careful planning and diligent care, successful breeding is possible.

Preparation for Breeding

Before you can breed leaf fish, you need to correctly identify a pair. Unlike many other fish species, leaf fish don’t have obvious physical differences between the sexes. Males tend to be slightly larger and more colorful, but these differences are often subtle.

Once a pair has been identified and they’ve shown signs of readiness to breed (like increased activity and more vibrant colors), they should be placed in a separate breeding tank. This tank should mimic their natural habitat, with plenty of hiding spots and leafy vegetation.

Spawning and Egg Care

Leaf fish lay eggs, usually depositing them on a flat surface like a leaf or the side of the tank. After spawning, the male will guard and aerate the eggs until they hatch. During this time, it’s important to maintain optimal water conditions to ensure the health of the eggs.

Fry Care

Once the eggs hatch, the fry will require meticulous care:

  1. Feeding: Initially, the fry can be fed infusoria or finely crushed flake food. As they grow, they can be introduced to baby brine shrimp and then gradually moved on to larger foods.

  2. Water Quality: The breeding tank’s water should be kept clean and stable. Regular water changes are essential, but make sure the new water’s parameters closely match the old to avoid shocking the fry.

  3. Safety: Protect the fry from potential predation by removing adult fish from the tank if necessary.

  4. Growth Monitoring: Keep a close eye on the fry’s growth and development, ensuring they are feeding well and showing normal behavior.

In summary, breeding leaf fish and caring for the fry can be a rewarding but demanding experience. It requires patience, attention to detail, and a thorough understanding of the species’ unique needs.

Signs of Stress in Leaf Fish

Just like any other creature, leaf fish can experience stress, and it’s crucial to recognize these signs for their wellbeing. Stress in fish can be caused by a variety of factors, including poor water quality, improper diet, bullying by tank mates, or illness.

Here are some signs that your leaf fish might be stressed:

  1. Decreased Appetite: If your leaf fish starts eating less or shows no interest in food, it might be stressed.

  2. Lethargic Behavior: If the fish is spending more time hiding or isn’t as active as usual, it might be a sign of stress.

  3. Rapid Breathing: Leaf fish normally breathe relatively slowly. If you notice rapid, labored breathing, it’s likely a sign of distress.

  4. Change in Color: Leaf fish can change color as a response to stress. Any dramatic changes should be noted.

  5. Erratic Swimming: If your leaf fish is swimming erratically or seems unable to maintain balance, it’s a clear sign of stress.

Common Health Issues and Treatments for Leaf Fish

Leaf fish, like any other species, can encounter health problems. By promptly identifying and addressing these issues, you can increase the likelihood of your fish’s recovery.

Some common health issues include:

  1. Ich: Ich is a common disease in aquarium fish, identifiable by white spots on the fish’s body. It can be treated with commercially available ich treatment products.

  2. Fin Rot: This disease is usually caused by poor water quality and results in the deterioration of the fish’s fins. It can be treated by improving water conditions and using antibacterial medications.

  3. Dropsy: This condition, often characterized by a swollen abdomen, is usually a sign of kidney failure. While difficult to treat, broad-spectrum antibiotics can sometimes help.

  4. Bacterial Infections: These can manifest in many ways, from ulcers to discoloration. Treatments usually involve antibiotics.

Remember, prevention is better than cure. Ensuring optimal living conditions for your leaf fish can prevent most health problems.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

Maintaining a healthy aquarium is more than just keeping the water clean.

Here are some additional tips:

  1. Regular Testing: Regularly test your aquarium water for pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels to ensure they’re within the appropriate range.

  2. Quarantine New Fish: Always quarantine new fish before adding them to your main tank to prevent the spread of potential diseases.

  3. Diet Variation: Providing your fish with a varied diet can ensure they receive all necessary nutrients.

  4. Observe Your Fish: Spend time watching your fish daily. Observing their behavior can help detect any potential problems early.

Should You Get a Leaf Fish for Your Aquarium?

Deciding whether to get a leaf fish for your aquarium depends on various factors such as your experience level, the time and effort you can commit, and the type of aquarium environment you want to maintain.

Leaf fish are fascinating creatures, known for their unique leaf-like appearance and predatory behavior. They can bring diversity and intrigue to your tank.

However, they do require specific care in terms of water parameters, diet, and tank setup.

If you’re willing to put in the effort to meet their needs, a leaf fish can make a great addition to your aquarium.

But remember, each leaf fish is a commitment to providing a healthy, safe, and stimulating environment for the duration of their life. Choose wisely and responsibly.

Conservation Status of the Leaf Fish

Leaf fish, primarily living in relatively remote and undisturbed habitats, don’t currently face significant threats in the wild and thus are not classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, this does not diminish our responsibility to ensure their populations remain stable.

Efforts should be made to maintain their natural habitats and limit pollution, as these factors can profoundly impact their survival.

Availability and Pricing of Leaf Fish

Leaf fish are available at most well-stocked aquarium stores and online vendors. Their price can vary based on size, coloration, and availability. On average, a leaf fish might cost between $10 to $30, depending on these factors.

However, remember that the initial purchase of the fish is just a part of the overall investment. Other costs include setting up an appropriate aquarium, ongoing care, and maintenance.

Frequently Asked Questions About Leaf Fish

What do Leaf Fish Eat?

Leaf fish are carnivores and prefer a diet of live food, including small fish and invertebrates.

How Big Do Leaf Fish Get?

Leaf fish can grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) in captivity, with males generally being larger than females.

Are Leaf Fish Aggressive?

Leaf fish are peaceful but also predatory. They don’t typically bother fish of a similar size, but will attempt to eat smaller fish.

How Long Do Leaf Fish Live?

With proper care and optimal conditions, leaf fish can live for 5-8 years.


The leaf fish is a unique and fascinating addition to any aquarium, admired for its intriguing camouflage and graceful movement. However, like any pet, it requires care, commitment, and understanding.

Keeping leaf fish provides an opportunity to witness a slice of nature’s wonder right in your home. However, it’s essential to provide them with the care they need, from a suitable habitat to a well-balanced diet.

Remember, our role as pet owners is to create a mini ecosystem where our aquatic friends can thrive.

As we conclude this comprehensive guide, we hope you are now equipped with the necessary information to keep your leaf fish healthy and happy. In the realm of aquarium-keeping, knowledge is the key to success.

Keep learning, stay curious, and enjoy the rewarding journey of fishkeeping!