You must be tempted at some point to put an eel or a snake inside your community tank just for the fun of it. But we know it won’t promise anything good.

But what about a snake or an eel that will not cause any problems for other fishes, and live with them peacefully? But is that even possible?

Well, let us introduce you to Ropefish, also known in some parts of the world as Reedfish. It belongs to the family of Bichirs but looks more like eels or snakes.

In this article, we will go through the ins and outs, tips and tricks, and how to properly take care of them if you ever decide to get one.

Generic Facts

About Ropefish
Scientific name Erpetoichthys calabaricus
Other popular names Reedfish, Snakefish, African Reed Fish
Family Polypteridae
Average Lifespan 15 years
Average size 20 in (50 cm)
Diet Carnivorous
Temperament Peaceful
Breeding Egg layers
Origin Africa
Type Freshwater/Brackishwater

Habitat and Origin

These sneaky Ropefish are found in many regions of West and Central Africa. They mostly dwell in shallow,slow-moving rivers, and flooded swamps or marshes, with relatively low oxygen concentrations.

Their natural habitat contains a high number of reed-like plants, and that’s why they are also referred to as Reedfish.

Ropefish has been considered Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Attributes and Size

As you may have surmised from their name, they are very slim and slender. They have more morphological similarities with marine snakes than fish.

However, they do have fins, but only one single pair of small pectoral fins, one anal, and a tail fin.

They also have numerous small dorsal fins, but they are more like vestigial appendages because they are not used much. Swimming is mainly done using their long, slender bodies.

And when it comes to their size, Ropefish can grow quite large. In the wild, the average size that is seen is around 20 inches. But in captivity, they can grow to approximately 37 inches.

Ropefish have tiny scales which resemble the scales of a snake and come in a few color varieties. Most of them are in a brownish-yellow shade, which helps them blend in.

However, these color hues and shades vary with the individual. Some may have a greenish-brown color similar to the leaves that fall and sink in the water bodies.

Life Expectancy

Despite their sizes, they happen to live longer than most fishes intheir category. Usually, it has an average life of 15 years, but some have reported 20+ years.

Keep in mind that the life expectancy of a fish depends a lot on living conditions and genetic factors. Some individuals have mutations in their DNA, which can make them susceptible to genetic disorders.

Male vs. Female

It is very difficult to distinguish between a female and a male Reedfish. Both have a surprisingly similar appearance.

Although there is a difference in the number of dorsal fins present. The average male has 13 to 14, while the average female has 10 to 12.

Another trait that can be used is using the anal fin. The male has a slightly bigger anal fin, which thickens during the breeding season.

It looks similar to the walking fin-like appendages that you see in a Bichir. In comparison to this, the female has a thin and smaller anal fin.

See also  Royal Gramma – Care, Diet, Breeding, and Tankmates


Ropefish is quite common in the fish market. You will find them in most online and in local stores. They are not very expensive, but they aren’t very cheap either.

Their price range varies between $20 to $30 depending upon the size and color of the scales. Some have contrasting colors, which goes for the higher price bracket.

Care Guide

Feeding Habits

Ropefish are carnivores. They eat small insects, larvae, crustaceans, and whatever aquatic creatures they can find dwelling in the swampy waters.

But they also eat small fish as well if it fits in their mouth. So this opens up an alternative if you want to feed them feeder fish.

Brine shrimps (live or frozen), tiny crustaceans, bloodworms, earthworms, nightcrawlers, etc. are among the mostpopular choices for many fish keepers.

Having said that, you can also slip some leafy vegetables into their diet. Even though they are carnivores, greens will provide beneficial nutrients which cannot be obtained from proteinaceous foods only.

The best way to feed them greens is by combining them with meaty foods. It is more about tricking them into eating vegetables without knowing it.

Insect larvae such as mosquito larvae are also quite popular because they are cheap and easy to come by.

On that note, if you wish to see them in action, it is preferred to give them live creatures only. They are inherently predators, so you may see some hunting behavior if you manage to turn off the lights during feeding.

You can also go for quality flakes or pellets, but Ropefish aren’t very fond of eating dry foods such as those.

Sometimes your fish may face difficulty finding food, especially in a tank with other active fish. Ropefish do not have good eyesight. So they rely on their senses to find food items that sink to the bottom.

Author TIp- The best possible solution will be to manually feed them, or put food that sinks very fast, so it can reach the fish faster than others can eat them.

Behavioral Patterns

Reedfish are peaceful fish species and can fit easily into a community tank. They do not show aggression and have no territorial dominance behavior.

However, they are nocturnal hunters and show the most activity during the night. If you have a subdued setting in your tank, you will surely see them more active, especially after the lights have turned off.

They use their barbels to hunt. They are highly sensitive organs and are used to detect taste and movement in the water.

If you can put big insects or feeder fish in the tank, you can definitely witness them hunting. It is spectacular to see such behavior.

However, they will show much more shyness if put in a community tank with bigger fish. They will stay hidden most of the time, especially during the daytime.

In a tank, you will see them stay near the bottom part of the tank. But they are not bottom-dwellers by nature.


Ropefish are egg layers,but the main problem that occurs is breeding them successfully in captivity. There aren’t many cases where people have successfully bred and raised babies.

There were a few instances where a fishkeeper managed to breed, and hatch the babies, but they died soon after.

This complexity occurs in many fishes belonging to this family, Polypteridae.

Even though some expert breeders have successfully managed to mate them in an artificial environment, their results are always inconsistent.

See also  Bolivian Ram Care: Detailed Guide to Follow

However, if you wish to try to breed them, here are some steps you could follow. If you are lucky, you might be successful, but caring for the babies is a much more difficult task.

  • Increase the temperature a few degrees above the recommended water temperature to mimic natural settings.
  • Maintain a high-protein diet for a couple of days.
  • Isolate the couple in a separate breeding tank if possible.
  • Another important aspect is to increase the vegetation density of the breeding to simulate their wild habitat.

If you get lucky, you will see a mating ritual between the male and the female. And, after a while, a handful of fertilized eggs.

It is better to separate the eggs from the parents as the adults may mistake them for food.

After several days of incubation, the eggs will hatch into tiny worm-like babies. It is very crucial to keep the water as clean as possible for their better survival.

You can feed the babies Infusoria, Brine Shrimp larvae, Artemia, Daphnia, and Green Water till they are big enough to eat adult food such as flakes and stuff.

Note- Powdered high-quality fish flakes or pellets can also be given, but live, andnatural food are a much better choice because of more bioavailable nutrients than processed food.


Ropefish share the same fate as other fishes regarding freshwater/brackish diseases and infections. But some are more common than others, such as Ich.

Tank Recommendations

Tank Overview
Minimum Tank Size 50 gallons
Temperature 79°F to 82°F
pH Level 6.0 to 7.5
Hardness 8 to 22 KH
Substrate Sandy
Plants and vegetation Well planted tanks
Lighting Requirements Subdued to moderate

Tank Size

If you really wish to buy the perfect tank for your Reedfish, make sure the longitudinal width is much, much more than the vertical.

These fish require a lot of swimming space and stay near the bottom. A tank with agreater height will be useless as they hardly go up. They will feel freer if the tank is wider.

However, these species are very large and thus require a very big tank. If you only want to keep one, you should get at least a 50- to 55-gallon tank.

And if you want to keep a mating pair, 100 gallons is the minimum you should consider. Although a 120-gallon tank would be better overall.

Another thing, a good quality tank cover is very important. African Ropefishare fond of jumping out of the water if they see an opportunity.

This is their basic instinct, and it’s no one’s fault, but you might one day find them out of the tank, and on the ground if you are not careful.

Even though they have lungs and can breathe out of water for several hours, it is not ideal to be in that situation.

Tank Setup


The best substrate for the Ropefish is sand. They have a tendency to dig, and sand will be much more suitable than pebbles or gravel.

In the wild, Ropefish usually dig to ambush their prey or hide from a bigger predator. Therefore, they will dig into the substrate even in captivity.

So, make sure to buy good quality sandy substrate with fine particles so it doesn’t hurt thefish.

Also, make sure to not use Aragonite sand. It will single-handedly increase the alkalinity of the water, which is undesirable.


Even though the Ropefish require a lot of swimming space, they are more comfortable in dense vegetation than sparse.

So feel free to decorate your tank with a variety of plants such as Anubias, Java ferns, Water Wisteria, floating plants, etc. However, don’t plant too many because they’ll need some swimming space to move around.

See also  Silver Tip Tetra – Care, Breeding, Diet, and Tankmates

Grassy plants would fit the theme much better than leafy plants. and would also add to the aesthetic value of the tank.


Giant rocks with holes or hollow mossy driftwood would be the best kind because the fish can hide inside if it gets stressed out.

You can even put artificial decorations,but make sure they do not have sharp edges that could hurt the fish in any way.

Ropefish have bad eyesight and are destined to bump into objects a lot. When they get scared of something, they tend to spurt away with haste, bumping into objects and getting hurt.

Filtration & Apparatus

Filtering equipment is not necessary for them because they live in dirty, murky waters in the wild.

The presence of lungs enables Ropefish to gulp air from the atmosphere, thus helping them survive in low-oxygen conditions.

However, having a canister filter would be great, but a normal filter will do fine. A strong filter is much more preferred as it can produce a minimal current which is liked by the Ropefish. It provides a more natural feeling.

Suitable Companions

The peaceful nature of the Ropefish opens up a lot of options for potential companions in a community tank.

Don’t put small fish such as Tetras or Cory with them because they will definitely be eaten. Remember, Ropefish are naturally predators in their natural habitat.

Here is a list of suitable tankmates that you can keep with them without any question-

  • Large Goldfish varieties
  • Loaches (Kuhli, Clown, Yo-Yo)
  • Plecos
  • Gouramis
  • Siamese Algae Eater
  • Angelfish
  • Sharks (Bala, Rainbow)
  • Catfishes (Pictus)

Refrain from putting any sort of aggressive fish like big Cichlids (especially Jack Dempsey and Green Terrors), Oscars, etc., or else your pet will get harassed constantly.

Explore in detail about Green Terror behavioral patter.

Also, avoid any sort of crabs or shrimp because they will share the same fate as the small fishes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long can Ropefish go without food?

If it is an adult, it can go without food for a few days. But if it’s in an early developmental stage, or juvenile phase,it needs food and essential nutrients on a daily basis.

Will Ropefish eat guppies?

Yes, it will definitely get eaten by Ropefish. The guppy is among the smallest fish species and is considered by many as a feeder fish breed. Guppy will be the first to get eaten, among other small fishes.

More on

Does Ropefish eat frogs?

Yes, they do feed on frogs in the wild if they can fit them in their mouth. It is not specific to amphibians only, they will eat crustaceans, fish, lizards, and whatever they can hunt.

Are Ropefish escape artists?

If by escape artists you mean running away or jumping out of the water, then yes,they are pretty good at it. Their slender, smooth bodies are perfectly designed for sneaking and hunting. Just like a snake, they have strong muscles that enable them to glide faster.

Thought: Are they worth the trouble?

African Rope fish are very eccentric and are a great addition to big tanks. They have a very unique appearance and look no less exotic than other fishes.

They are easy to care for, even if you are a beginner, and have never seen them beforehand. All you have to prioritize is a nutritious diet and clean water conditions.

Just remember to give your fish a sturdy, high-quality cover so they don’t jump out. Cover all the holes and gaps, and make sure there aren’t any sharp edges sticking out from the underside. Or the fish might hurt itself while attempting an escape.

For more details about different tank setups, lighting, food, plants, and substrates, don’t forget to visit other sections of our site. If you have any queries, you can mail us through the Contact section page.

About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

Bachelor of Science in Animal Behavior and Welfare

  • University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK (2014-2018)

Writing Experience

Victoria has done ghostwriting for many aquarium and pet websites in the past. She has also worked for Canada's largest natural health magazine- ALIVE, with 300,000 monthly circulations as a freelancer. She had six published articles on animal behavior and welfare during her graduation for her thesis.

View All Articles