Rope Fish – Care, Tank Mates, Habitat and Full Details!

The African rope fish (Erpetoichthys calabaricus), a long-bodied freshwater creature often mistaken for an eel or snake, hails from Central and West African regions like Cameroon and Nigeria.

Renowned for its unique aesthetics, the rope fish, which thrives in standing or slow-moving warm waters, has been a freshwater aquarium mainstay for many years.

These fish, known for their hardiness, adaptability, and tranquil demeanor, are surprisingly straightforward to care for.

They possess both gills and lungs, enabling them to cope with diverse water quality levels, a trait that underscores their hardiness.

While you won’t often see them breaching the surface for air unless water quality is sub-optimal, this aspect makes them a fascinating addition to your aquarium.

The fascinating rope fish, known for its distinctiveness and grace, can add an extraordinary charm to your aquarium.

Let’s explore the world of this special freshwater fish, unraveling every facet of its care, diet, size, lifespan, and suitable tank mates!

Quick Stats About Rope Fish

Scientific Name: Erpetoichthys calabaricus

Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: Greenish-brown with yellow fins
Lifespan: 15-20 years
Size: Up to 15 inches
Diet: Carnivore
Family: Polypteridae
Minimum Tank Size: 45 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater with sand and caves
Compatibility: Large, peaceful fish

Appearance of the Rope Fish

To truly understand and appreciate the wonder of the Rope Fish (also known as the African Rope Fish or Reed Fish), one must first marvel at its intriguing appearance.

Unlike many of its freshwater counterparts, the Rope Fish has a long, slim, and serpentine form, closely resembling that of an eel or snake.

This captivating visual attribute has earned it its name, as it gracefully snakes its way through water, much like a rope unspooling.

From a front-facing perspective, the Rope Fish exhibits a subtly oval form, which is often overlooked due to its strikingly elongated shape.

This is complemented by a scale pattern that contributes to its fascinating appearance. Each scale is discernible, adding texture and depth to its overall look, creating a spectacle especially when the fish moves.

When it comes to coloration, the Reed Fish sports an earthy, dark yellow hue.

This color not only enhances its allure but also aids its survival in natural environments where the substrate and vegetation share similar color attributes, thus providing perfect camouflage.

Though largely devoid of fins, this fascinating species does have minuscule pectoral fins.

It also possesses what can be perceived as dorsal fins, which in reality, is more of a slight ridge, adding to its snake-like appearance.

Natural Habitat of Rope Fish

To ensure optimal care for a Rope Fish, understanding its natural habitat is crucial. Rope Fish are native to standing or slow-moving waters, displaying a preference for warmer temperatures.

These aquatic creatures flourish in both freshwater and brackish environments. However, most aquarists prefer to keep them in pure freshwater tanks for convenience and ease of care.

The natural habitats of the Rope Fish are rich with aquatic vegetation, offering them ample spaces to navigate and hide.

This creates an environment that not only mimics their natural habitat but also reduces stress, contributing to their overall well-being.

In these habitats, the riverbeds are generally soft, indicating that a sandy substrate is preferable over hard gravel that may potentially cause harm to the underside of this delicate species.

Origin and Distribution of Rope Fish

Rope Fish, scientifically named Erpetoichthys calabaricus, are native to Central and West Africa, with a significant population found in countries like Cameroon and Nigeria.

The Chiloango River and Ogun River are particular hotspots for these fish as these water bodies align perfectly with the Rope Fish’s ideal water parameters.

Their unique appearance and exotic origin often lead to assumptions that Reed Fish are difficult to care for, but contrary to this belief, Rope Fish are hardy, peaceful, and a delight to keep.

This species has both lungs and gills, allowing them to survive varying water quality levels, emphasizing their adaptability and strength.

Growth, Size, and Lifespan of Rope Fish

The Rope Fish boasts an impressive growth rate, reaching an average size of just over two feet when fully mature. This considerable size demands spacious living conditions to ensure their comfort and overall well-being.

This is a crucial aspect to keep in mind when planning to introduce a Reed Fish into your aquatic setup.

When it comes to longevity, Rope Fish are truly exceptional. With proper care, they can live for 15 to 20 years in captivity. This impressive lifespan makes the Rope Fish a long-term companion for aquarists.

It’s essential to note, however, that this is only possible when the fish are provided with adequate care, encompassing good water quality and a sufficient diet.

Behavior and Temperament of Rope Fish

Before diving into the world of Rope Fish, it’s essential to decode their behavior and temperament. The first thing to note is that these aquatic creatures are peaceful in nature.

They are not aggressive, and they tend to keep to themselves, steering clear of conflicts with other fish.

Reed Fish are nocturnal, meaning they are most active during the night. During the day, they are often found hiding, exploring their habitat in the dark.

They display a curious behavior when out and about, using their whisker-like barbels to investigate their surroundings.

Despite their solitary disposition, Rope Fish are social creatures and enjoy the company of their kind.

They thrive when in a group of three or more, displaying playful interactions that add a dynamic element to your aquarium.

Tank Setup for Rope Fish: Detailed Insights

Tank Size

One of the first steps in creating a suitable environment for your Rope Fish is choosing the right tank size. Given their significant growth rate, a large tank is a must.

At a minimum, aim for a 50-gallon tank. This ensures ample space for movement and exploration, enhancing the fish’s overall quality of life.


When it comes to substrate, rope fish prefer soft, sandy bottoms that mimic their natural habitats. Sharp substrates can harm them, so avoid gravel or other rough materials.

Sand also allows these fish to display their natural digging behavior, providing an additional source of enrichment.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

Creating a diverse environment with decorations and hiding spots is crucial for your Rope Fish. They are natural explorers and enjoy navigating through plants, rocks, and caves.

Providing several hiding spots is essential for their well-being, helping them feel safe and secure in their environment.

Water Parameters

Maintaining the right water parameters is key to your Rope Fish’s health. They prefer warm temperatures, ideally between 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit.

The pH should range from 6.0 to 7.5, and the hardness should be between 5 to 15 dGH. Regular monitoring of these parameters ensures a healthy, happy fish.

Filtration and Aeration

Rope Fish require a well-oxygenated environment, so a good filtration system is essential. A filter not only keeps the water clean but also promotes healthy aeration. Aim for a filter rated for your tank size or slightly above to ensure the best water quality.


Given their nocturnal nature, Rope Fish do not require intense lighting. Low to moderate lighting is ideal. Too bright lighting can cause stress, so consider dimmable lights or adding floating plants to naturally reduce the light intensity.

Tank Mates

Selecting suitable tank mates for your Rope Fish is crucial to maintaining a peaceful environment. They get along with non-aggressive species of a similar size. Smaller fish can be mistaken for food and should be avoided. Good tank mates include larger tetras, peaceful cichlids, and other bottom dwellers.


Lastly, feeding your Rope Fish a balanced diet contributes to their health and longevity. They are carnivorous and enjoy live or frozen foods such as shrimp, worms, and small fish. A well-fed Rope Fish is a happy Rope Fish, so ensure they have regular access to nutritious meals.

Rope Fish Tank Maintenance

A well-maintained tank is key to the health and happiness of your Rope Fish.

It’s more than just an enclosure – it’s their entire world! Here are some essential steps to keep your fish tank clean and safe.

Regular Water Changes

Rope Fish are sensitive to water quality. Hence, regular water changes are a must. A quarter to a third of the water should be replaced every week.

Use a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals and ensure the new water matches the tank’s temperature. This step helps keep the water clean, promoting the well-being of your Rope Fish.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Over time, algae and waste can build up in the tank and on decorations. To maintain a healthy environment, clean your tank and its adornments regularly.

Use an algae scraper for the tank walls and a gentle brush for decorations. Be sure not to use any harsh cleaning products as they can harm your Rope Fish.

Filter Maintenance

Your tank’s filter plays a crucial role in maintaining water quality. However, filters can become clogged over time, reducing their effectiveness.

To prevent this, make sure to clean the filter regularly – usually once a month. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure proper cleaning without damaging the unit.

Monitor Fish Health

Even with proper tank maintenance, your Rope Fish can occasionally face health issues. Regular monitoring of their behavior and physical condition is critical.

Watch out for changes in eating habits, color, or activity levels. If you notice anything unusual, seek advice from a vet or aquatic specialist. Remember, a healthy fish is an active and vibrant one.

In summary, taking care of your Rope Fish involves regular tank maintenance. From changing the water to cleaning the tank, each step contributes to the well-being of your aquatic pet.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure your Rope Fish lives a long, happy, and healthy life.

Acclimating Rope Fish

Introducing a Rope Fish to a new tank requires patience and precision. The acclimation process should be slow and steady to avoid stress and ensure a smooth transition.

Follow these steps:

  1. Keep the bag in which your Rope Fish arrived floating in the tank for about 15 minutes. This allows the water inside the bag to match the temperature of the tank, making the change less drastic for your new pet.

  2. Open the bag and gradually mix some tank water into it. Repeat this step every five minutes for around 20-30 minutes. This gradual introduction to the tank water helps your fish adjust to any differences in water chemistry.

  3. After the acclimation period, use a net to transfer your Rope Fish into their new home. Try to avoid introducing water from the bag into your tank.

Rope Fish Diet and Feeding

When it comes to feeding your Rope Fish, variety is key. Their diet in the wild includes a mix of different foods, and you should aim to replicate this in captivity.

Here’s a comprehensive guide to keeping your Rope Fish well-fed and healthy:

Live and Frozen Foods

Reed Fish love live foods. Feeding them live prey, such as earthworms, bloodworms, and small crustaceans, stimulates their natural hunting instincts and provides essential nutrients. As an alternative or supplement, frozen versions of these foods can also be used.

Pellets and Flake Foods

While live and frozen foods should be the bulk of your Reed Fish’s diet, high-quality pellets or flake foods can supplement their nutritional needs. These are particularly useful as they sink to the bottom of the tank, where Rope Fish like to feed.

Feeding Schedule

Reed Fish are nocturnal, so it’s best to feed them in the evening or at night. Offering food once a day is typically sufficient, but you can also split the daily portion into two smaller meals. Watch their behavior to determine what works best for them.

Observing Your Fish

Keep an eye on your Reed Fish’s eating habits. If they leave food untouched, it might mean you’re offering too much, or they’re not fond of that particular food. Adjusting the quantity or type of food can help ensure they’re getting the nutrition they need.

In conclusion, a balanced diet and careful acclimation process are essential for the health and well-being of your Rope Fish. By following these guidelines, you can help your new pet adapt to their home and thrive in their new environment.

Rope Fish Tank Mates: Friends and Foes

When choosing tank mates for your Rope Fish, you should consider species that thrive in similar conditions and have peaceful temperaments.

Let’s dive into some ideal companions and some you should steer clear of.

Ideal Tank Mates:

  1. Bichirs: Like Rope Fish, Bichirs are bottom-dwelling species that enjoy similar water conditions. They’re peaceful and large enough not to be seen as food.

  2. African Butterfly Fish: While Rope Fish occupy the bottom, African Butterfly Fish stay near the surface, reducing competition for space.

  3. Congo Tetras: These are peaceful, mid-water dwellers that won’t intrude on the Reed Fish’s territory.

  4. Giant Danios: Fast swimmers and larger in size, Giant Danios can coexist well with Reed Fish without becoming prey.

  5. Clown Loaches: With their peaceful nature and preference for the bottom of the tank, Clown Loaches make great companions.

Tank Mates to Avoid:

  1. Small fish: Tiny fish like Guppies and Neon Tetras could easily become a meal for a Reed Fish.

  2. Aggressive species: Cichlids, Red-Tailed Sharks, and Tiger Barbs could stress or injure your Reed Fish.

  3. Large predatory fish: Species like Oscar Fish or Piranhas can harm or kill your Reed Fish.

  4. Crustaceans: Crabs or large shrimp might be seen as food by your Reed Fish.

  5. Territorial species: Plecos, which can become territorial, might compete with your Reed Fish for hiding spaces.

Breeding Rope Fish and Fry Care

Rope Fish are challenging to breed in captivity due to their unique reproductive behaviors. However, it’s not impossible.

Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Sexing: Unlike many fish species, male and female Rope Fish look quite similar. Experienced aquarists suggest that males may have a slightly broader head and a more pronounced anal fin.

  2. Breeding tank setup: Provide a quiet, dimly lit tank with plenty of hiding spots and ensure the water conditions are optimal.

  3. Spawning: Rope Fish tend to breed at night. The female will lay eggs in a secluded spot, after which the male will fertilize them.

  4. Fry Care: If you manage to successfully breed your Rope Fish, caring for the fry is the next challenge.

Here are some tips:

  • Remove the parents: Adult Rope Fish may eat their young, so it’s best to remove them once the eggs have been laid and fertilized.
  • Fry diet: Newly hatched Rope Fish are tiny and require microscopic foods like infusoria or freshly hatched brine shrimp.
  • Water changes: Regular small water changes are necessary to keep the fry healthy.
  • Grow-out tank: Once the fry start to grow, they will need more space. A larger grow-out tank will help them develop fully.

Remember, patience and attention to detail are key when attempting to breed Rope Fish.

It’s a challenging task, but can be a rewarding experience for the dedicated aquarist.


Signs of Stress in Rope Fish

It’s crucial to watch for signs of stress in your Reed Fish to ensure its health and happiness. Stress can lead to disease, so knowing what to look for is vital.

  • Lack of Appetite: A stressed Rope Fish may stop eating or show less interest in food.

  • Erratic Swimming: Watch for unusual swimming patterns, such as darting around the tank or floating near the surface.

  • Change in Color: The vibrant color of a healthy Rope Fish may fade if it’s under stress.

  • Hiding More Than Usual: While Rope Fish naturally like to hide, spending excessive time in hiding spots may signal stress.

Common Health Issues and Treatments

Like all aquarium fish, Rope Fish can experience various health problems. Here are some common ones and their treatments.

  • Ich: Ich, or White Spot Disease, is a common issue. Look for white spots on the skin. Treating the tank with a commercial Ich remedy should help.

  • Fin Rot: This disease manifests as fraying or loss of fins. Antibiotics can typically treat Fin Rot effectively.

  • Bacterial Infections: Rope Fish can suffer from various bacterial infections, causing symptoms like lethargy or loss of color. Antibacterial treatments are available at pet stores.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

To ensure a thriving tank environment for your Reed Fish and other inhabitants, follow these tips:

  • Maintain proper water conditions. Regularly test the water for pH, hardness, and ammonia levels.

  • Clean your tank regularly. This includes removing uneaten food and waste and cleaning the tank’s sides.

  • Keep a suitable diet for your fish. Diverse, nutritionally balanced meals contribute to healthy fish.

Should You Get a Rope Fish for Your Aquarium?

Deciding to add a Reed Fish to your aquarium is a choice requiring thought and preparation. These unique fish are peaceful and have interesting behaviors that make them a joy to observe.

However, they need a specific environment and diligent care.

If you are ready for the commitment of providing the right tank conditions and a proper diet, a Rope Fish can be an excellent addition to your aquarium.

But remember, their size, nocturnal nature, and potential longevity mean this is not a fish for beginner aquarists.

The world of Reed Fish keeping can be challenging, but also rewarding.

If you’re up to the task, these fascinating fish can make your aquarium a captivating display of underwater life.


Conservation Status

As of my knowledge, The Rope Fish doesn’t have a specific conservation status with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

But like all aquatic creatures, their population is influenced by factors like habitat destruction and climate change. To support conservation efforts, always ensure your Rope Fish comes from a sustainable source.

Availability and Pricing

Rope Fish are moderately common in the aquarium trade and available in many pet stores and online retailers.

Prices can vary based on size and health, but you can generally expect to pay between $10-$20 per fish.

It’s worth noting that these fascinating creatures may need additional investments like a large tank, quality filtration, and a secure lid to prevent escape attempts!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common queries that potential Rope Fish owners often have:

Q – Can Rope Fish Live Alone?

Ans – While Rope Fish can live alone, they often do better in groups as they are social creatures.

Q – How Long Do Rope Fish Live?

Ans – Rope Fish are known for their longevity and can live up to 15-20 years with proper care.

Q – Are Rope Fish Aggressive?

Ans – Rope Fish are generally peaceful, but they may eat smaller fish. They are best kept with similarly-sized tank mates.


Rope Fish are fascinating creatures with their snake-like bodies and playful demeanor. They make a unique addition to a suitable aquarium, providing endless intrigue and delight. However, they come with specific care requirements that need diligent attention.

Before deciding to get a Reed Fish, consider their needs, your ability to provide for them, and the long-term commitment they entail.

If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find great joy in observing and caring for these captivating underwater serpents.

In the end, the choice to add a Reed Fish to your aquarium isn’t one to be taken lightly, but it can certainly be a rewarding experience for those ready to embark on the journey.