Rope Fish 101: Your Ultimate Care and Compatibility Guide

rope fish in substrate
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: May 18, 2024
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Exploring the balance within your aquarium ecosystem could make selecting the ideal companions for your rope fish an intriguing puzzle. Dive into this in-depth guide about Rope Fish care, crafted to clear up uncertainties regarding their compatibility, dietary requirements, and other factors. Whether you’re new to aquaristics or a seasoned hobbyist, this article offers insights that will enhance your underwater habitat.

Article Summary

  • Rope fish are peaceful and can coexist with non-aggressive tank mates, making them ideal for community aquariums.
  • They have a long lifespan, often exceeding 15 years with proper care.
  • Recreating their natural habitat in the aquarium is important, including ample swimming space, plants, and hiding spots.

Species Overview

Rope fish, also known as reedfish or snake fish, belong to the Erpetoichthys genus. Their scientific name is Erpetoichthys calabaricus. These fascinating creatures are freshwater fish found in the rivers and swamps of West Africa.

The African Rope fish has an elongated body that can grow up to 3 feet in length. This makes them one of the larger aquarium species that enthusiasts can keep. Their slender shape resembles a rope, hence their common name.

They have a long lifespan compared to many other fish species. With proper care and a suitable environment, ropefish often live for more than 15 years. This longevity allows aquarium owners to enjoy their captivating presence for an extended period.

When setting up an aquarium for rope fish, it’s important to recreate their natural habitat as closely as possible. They require ample swimming space and appreciate the presence of plants and hiding spots within the tank.


The rope fish, with its striking appearance, captivates anyone who lays eyes on it. Its unique body shape is cylindrical and covered with scales that resemble overlapping rings or ropes, giving it a distinct look. The earthy/dark yellow coloration of the rope fish adds to its charm, while the visible scales create an interesting pattern along its body.

These fascinating creatures have a dark brown or black coloration with lighter bands running horizontally along their bodies. These bands give them an appearance similar to that of ropes tied together. With subtle pectoral fins and a small dorsal ridge, rope fish effortlessly glide through the water with grace.

In terms of size, rope fish can grow quite large, often exceeding two feet in length when kept in suitable conditions. Their elongated bodies make them perfect for exploring narrow spaces within their aquatic habitat.

They exhibit vibrant colors during certain stages of their lives or when displaying specific behaviors. For instance, during breeding season or when excited, they may showcase brighter hues and patterns on their bodies.


One interesting behavior exhibited by rope fish is their ability to breathe air using a specialized lung-like organ called a labyrinth organ. This adaptation enables them to survive in low-oxygen environments such as stagnant waters or during droughts when oxygen levels decrease in their natural habitats.

One notable feature of the rope fish is their small eyes located near the top of their heads. This adaptation allows them to breathe air at the water’s surface, making them capable of surviving in low-oxygen environments. Their poor eyesight compensates for their ability to breathe air, relying more on their other senses to navigate their surroundings.

Whether in nature or captivity, these creatures prefer areas with ample cover such as submerged vegetation or rocky crevices. They use these hiding spots not only for protection but also as vantage points from which they can ambush unsuspecting prey.

Despite their impressive appearance and predatory nature towards smaller tank mates like guppies and neon tetras, rope fish are generally peaceful fish that coexist well with larger tank mates in community aquariums.

Tank and Water Requirements

Rope fish are fascinating creatures that require specific tank and water conditions to thrive. In order to provide them with a suitable environment, there are several important factors to consider.

Tank Size

Due to their size and active nature, rope fish need large tanks with plenty of swimming space. A single rope fish should be housed in a tank size of at least 75 gallons.

However, it is crucial to remember that additional space is needed for each additional individual. This ensures that they have enough room to move around comfortably and exhibit their natural behavior.

Water Temperature and Quality

Maintaining the right water temperature is vital for the well-being of your rope fish. The ideal range is between 75°F and 82°F (24°C – 28°C). It is essential to use a reliable aquarium heater and thermometer to monitor the temperature consistently.

In addition to temperature, maintaining good water quality is crucial. Regularly test the water parameters such as pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels using appropriate testing kits. Rope fish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water conditions with a pH range of 6.5-7.5.

To ensure optimal water quality:

  • Perform regular partial water changes (around 25% every two weeks) to remove accumulated toxins.
  • Use an efficient filtration system suitable for the tank size.
  • Avoid overstocking the rope fish tank as it can lead to poor water conditions.

Tank Setup

Creating an ideal tank setup for rope fish involves providing hiding spots and suitable substrate choices. Rope fish are freshwater fish that enjoy having places where they can retreat when they feel stressed or threatened.

Consider incorporating the following elements into your tank:

  • Hiding Spots: Provide caves, driftwood, or PVC pipes as hiding spots for your rope fish.
  • Plants: Include live or artificial plants in the aquarium as they offer additional cover while also enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal.
  • Rocks: Arrange rocks to create caves or crevices where rope fish can explore and take shelter.


Choosing the right substrate is essential for rope fish as they are bottom-dwellers. A sandy substrate mimics their natural habitat, providing a soft and comfortable surface for them to burrow into. Avoid using sharp gravel or substrates that may injure their delicate bodies.


Rope fish, also known as reedfish or snakefish, are generally hardy creatures that can adapt well to different environments. However, like any living being, they can be susceptible to certain diseases if their care requirements are not met.

One common ailment that rope fish may encounter is ich, also known as white spot disease. This is a parasitic infection characterized by the appearance of small white spots on the body and fins of the fish.

To ensure the optimal health of your rope fish, it is essential to maintain a clean and stable aquatic environment. Regular water changes and proper filtration play a vital role in achieving this goal.

These reed fish thrive best in well-oxygenated waters with low ammonia and nitrate levels. By keeping these factors in check, you can help prevent the onset of diseases and promote your pet’s overall well-being.

Monitor and Observe

It is crucial to monitor your rope fish closely for any signs of illness. Loss of appetite is often an early indicator that something might be amiss.

If your rope fish shows disinterest in food or appears lethargic, it could be a cause for concern. Keep an eye out for abnormal swimming behavior such as excessive hiding or floating near the water’s surface.

Inspecting your rope fish’s body regularly will allow you to identify any visible parasites or abnormalities promptly. Look out for tiny white spots resembling grains of salt on their skin or fins—a telltale sign of ich infestation.

If you notice anything unusual during these inspections, it is advisable to seek professional help from a veterinarian experienced in treating aquatic species.

In order to provide an environment similar to their natural habitat, consider replicating some aspects of their native waters. Rope fish originate from slow-moving freshwater rivers and streams within Africa’s Congo Basin region where they dwell among submerged vegetation and fallen branches. Adding plants or artificial structures like coral reefs to their tank can create hiding places while mimicking their natural environment.


Rope Fish, also known as Reed Fish, have specific dietary requirements that need to be met in order for them to thrive in captivity. These carnivorous creatures primarily feed on live or frozen foods, which mimic their natural diet in the wild.

Stress can significantly impact a rope fish’s appetite and overall health. Ensure that you maintain stable water conditions within appropriate temperature ranges (around 75-82°F) and avoid sudden fluctuations that could cause stress..

Protein Rich Diet

These fascinating fish have a preference for small fish, shrimp, worms, and insects. These protein-rich food sources provide the necessary nutrients for their growth and overall well-being.

It is important to note that rope fish are opportunistic predators, meaning they will eat whatever prey is available to them. This makes it crucial for owners to offer a varied diet to ensure they receive all the essential nutrients.

While live or frozen foods should make up the majority of their diet, some rope fish may also accept high-quality pellet or flake foods. However, it is essential to remember that these should serve as supplemental options rather than the main course. The nutritional content of commercially prepared foods may not fully meet their dietary needs.

Nocturnal Feeding Habits

It is important to consider their nocturnal behavior. These creatures are most active during the night when they actively hunt for food.

Therefore, it is recommended to schedule their feeding sessions accordingly. By offering food during nighttime hours, you can simulate their natural feeding pattern and ensure they consume an adequate amount of nutrition.

To create a suitable habitat for your rope fish’s feeding habits, provide plenty of hiding spaces where they can retreat during daylight hours. Rope fish prefer dark environments with ample coverage at the bottom of the tank since this mimics their natural habitat among reeds and vegetation.

close up profile of rope fish

Temperament and Tank Mates

Rope fish, known for their unique appearance and fascinating behavior, are popular aquarium fish among enthusiasts. Understanding their temperament and suitable tank mates is crucial to creating a harmonious aquatic environment.

Rope fish, or the reed fish, generally possess a peaceful temperament, making them excellent community tank mates. However, it’s important to note that they can exhibit territorial behavior towards their own species.

To avoid any conflicts, it’s recommended to keep only one rope fish per tank or provide ample hiding spots for multiple individuals.

These intriguing creatures are relatively active, particularly during the night when they become more lively. Observing them slither through the water with their elongated bodies is truly captivating. Rope fish have a preference for the bottom half of the aquarium, often exploring caves and crevices in search of food or shelter.

Rope Fish Tank Mates

When selecting rope fish tank mates, it is essential to consider their compatibility with other species. They should be housed with similarly sized fish that do not display aggression or have a tendency to nip fins.

Some good rope fish tank mates include larger tetras like Buenos Aires tetras or Congo tetras, which add vibrant coloration to the rope fish tank while coexisting peacefully.

Gouramis also make excellent companions for rope fish due to their calm demeanor. Species such as dwarf gourami or pearl gourami can create an aesthetically pleasing display alongside your rope fish.

Catfish like Corydoras catfish, duckbill catfish, or Plecos can thrive together with rope fish as they occupy different areas of the aquarium and share similar peaceful tendencies.

It is crucial to avoid keeping rope fish with smaller species that may be seen as prey. Their elongated bodies make them susceptible targets for aggressive fin-nipping behavior from certain types of freshwater fish. Aggressive species like cichlids should also be avoided due to potential conflicts arising from territorial disputes.

When introducing new rope fish tank mates, closely monitor their interactions for any signs of aggression. Ensuring a peaceful and stress-free environment will contribute to the overall well-being of your rope fish. Remember, providing ample hiding spots and maintaining suitable water conditions are essential for their thriving.


Breeding rope fish in captivity can be quite challenging due to their specific requirements. These unique creatures require a separate breeding tank with appropriate hiding spots to ensure successful reproduction.

It’s important to consider their natural environment. Rope fish are native to slow-moving rivers and streams in West Africa, where they reside among dense vegetation. To mimic this environment, provide your breeding tank with plenty of plants and other structures that offer hiding places for the fish.

It’s worth noting that rope fish can display aggressive behavior towards each other, especially during breeding and territorial disputes. To minimize aggression, ensure the breeding tank is spacious enough to provide ample swimming room for all individuals. Providing plenty of hiding spots will help reduce stress and potential conflicts.

Rope Fish Breeding Process

In order for breeding to occur, it is essential to have both male and female rope fish present in the tank. Rope fish are known as schooling fish, meaning they prefer living in groups rather than being solitary. Therefore, having multiple individuals will increase the chances of successful mating.

During the mating process, the male rope fish will exhibit an interesting behavior. He will wrap himself around the female as part of courtship rituals. This behavior not only helps establish a bond between the pair but also stimulates egg-laying in the female.

After mating has taken place, it is crucial to monitor the tank closely for signs of egg deposition. Female rope fish typically lay their eggs on surfaces such as plants or rocks within the tank. Providing suitable substrates like broad-leaved plants or flat rocks can encourage egg-laying behavior.

Rope Fish Fry Care

Once eggs have been laid, it’s important not to disturb them as they develop into fry. The incubation period varies depending on factors such as water temperature and conditions but generally lasts around 5-7 days. During this time, maintaining stable water parameters becomes crucial for ensuring successful hatching.

As fry begin to hatch from their eggs, they may initially rely on their yolk sacs for nutrition before transitioning to small live foods such as baby brine shrimp or micro worms. It is essential to provide appropriate food sources during this stage to support healthy growth and development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are rope fish aggressive?

No, rope fish are not typically aggressive. They are known for their peaceful and non-confrontational nature, making them suitable tank mates for many other fish species. However, it’s essential to keep them with compatible fish of similar size and temperament to ensure a harmonious aquarium environment.

Are rope fish freshwater?

Yes, rope fish are freshwater creatures. They originate from various freshwater habitats in Africa, including slow-moving rivers, streams, and swamps. When kept in captivity, they thrive in freshwater aquariums that closely mimic their natural habitat conditions.

Do rope fish like sand or gravel?

Rope fish often prefer sand substrate in their aquarium habitat. Their eel-like bodies are adapted for burrowing, and sand provides a soft and comfortable substrate for them to dig into. While they can adapt to gravel, providing sand substrate is recommended to cater to their natural behavior.

Can rope fish live with bettas?

In most cases, it is not advisable to house rope fish with bettas. Betta fish are known for their aggressive tendencies, especially towards long, slender fish like rope fish. The betta’s fin-nipping behavior can lead to stress and injury for the rope fish. It’s generally best to keep rope fish with peaceful and non-aggressive tank mates to ensure their well-being.

What do rope fish eat?

Rope fish are carnivorous and primarily feed on live or frozen food. Their diet consists of various aquatic creatures, including small fish, insects, crustaceans, and worms. In captivity, they can be fed a diet of high-quality pellets, live or frozen brine shrimp, bloodworms, and small feeder fish. Offering a diverse diet ensures they receive essential nutrients and stay healthy in the aquarium.

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