Rope Fish Care Guide: Simple Steps for a Happy Aquatic Pet

Rope fish, also known as African rope fish or reed fish, are unique freshwater creatures that can add a different dimension to your aquarium. With their eel-like appearance, these peaceful carnivores are great additions to both species-only and community tanks.

As an aquarium enthusiast, you may be considering the idea of adding rope fish to your collection. To ensure their health and happiness, it’s essential to understand their care requirements and create a suitable environment for them to thrive.

In this care guide, we will be exploring the essential aspects of rope fish care, from tank setup and feeding to ensuring compatibility with other aquatic life. This comprehensive guide will help you provide the best possible care for your rope fish while creating an enjoyable aquatic environment for you and your finned friends.

Species Profile

Rope fish are fascinating creatures that can bring excitement to your aquarium. They are native to Central and West Africa in countries like Cameroon and Nigeria, and they thrive in standing or slow-moving warm waters. Caring for rope fish is not difficult, but it’s essential to ensure their needs are met.

They are known to reach a length of up to 2 feet, so it’s crucial to have a large enough tank to accommodate their size. Rope fish are also bottom-dwellers, meaning they prefer to spend their time in soft substrates. Keeping the water temperature between 72°F and 82°F with proper filtration and water flow, as well as maintaining suitable water chemistry, is important for their overall health and well-being.

Property Details
Scientific Name Erpetoichthys calabaricus
Common Names Rope Fish, Reed Fish, Snake Fish, African Rope Fish
Distribution Central and West Africa (Cameroon and Nigeria)
Size Up to 2 feet in length
Diet Carnivore
Minimum Tank Size 50 gallons (for one rope fish)
Temperature 72°F – 82°F
pH 6.0-8.0
Water Hardness Soft to medium-hard
Care Level
Filtration/Water Flow
Water Type Standing or slow-moving
Breeding Difficulty

When designing their habitat, it’s essential to create hiding spots, such as caves and dense aquatic plantings, to help them feel secure. Additionally, providing a diet consisting primarily of live foods and meaty foods will ensure proper nutrition. By following these basic guidelines, your rope fish should thrive in your aquarium.

Rope Fish Basics

Origins and Natural Habitat

Rope fish, scientifically known as Erpetoichthys calabaricus, are unique freshwater fish originating from Central and West Africa, specifically countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria. They naturally prefer standing or slow-moving water with warm temperatures.

Size and Shape

These intriguing fish can grow up to 2 feet in length and have a snake-like appearance, which often leads to confusion with eels. As bottom-dwellers, rope fish spend most of their time near the substrate, navigating their environment with their elongated bodies.

Color and Markings

Rope fish exhibit a beautiful combination of colors and markings. They typically have a base color of brown or olive green, while their markings often include cream or yellow patterns running along their bodies. These features contribute to their eye-catching appearance and make them a popular choice for many aquarium enthusiasts.


With proper care, rope fish can live for a relatively long time. They have an average lifespan of 10-20 years, making them a long-term commitment for any aquarist. By providing them with the right environment, including an adequately-sized tank, stable water temperature (between 72°F and 82°F), and a soft substrate, you can ensure your rope fish will thrive in your aquarium.

Diet and Feeding

Rope fish are carnivorous creatures that require a nutritious and varied diet to maintain their health. To keep your rope fish happy and healthy, feed them live or frozen prey items such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and small feeder fish. Rotate between different food types to ensure they receive a balanced diet.

Aside from live or frozen foods, you can also offer them high-quality pellet food designed specifically for carnivorous fish as a supplemental meal. Be careful not to overfeed, as this can lead to health issues. A good feeding routine would be to provide small portions twice a day, adjusting the amount based on your rope fish’s appetite and activity level.

Don’t forget to provide ample hiding spots and proper tank conditions to help reduce stress during feeding. This will allow your rope fish to comfortably hunt and eat without any disturbances, promoting a better dietary experience and overall well-being.

Behavior and Temperament

Rope fish (scientific name: Erpetoichthys calabaricus) are known for their calm and peaceful nature. They originate from Central and West African countries like Cameroon and Nigeria, where they are often found in slow-moving river basins. In your aquarium, they can coexist with other large, peaceful fish, making them a great choice for community tanks.

These fascinating creatures, often confused with eels or snakes, are nocturnal animals. As such, you’ll find them more active during the night, and they may even swim with a serpentine motion, mimicking their eel-like appearance. It’s important to provide them with plenty of hiding spaces, such as caves or plants, to make them feel secure during the day.

In terms of feeding, rope fish are carnivorous, and they will require a diet consisting of meaty foods like shrimp, worms, or small fish. Keep in mind their size; as they grow, they might try to eat smaller tank mates.

To ensure a harmonious tank environment, avoid keeping rope fish with aggressive species, as they may get bullied. Proper care and an understanding of their behavior will help your rope fish thrive in their aquatic home.

Care and Tank Requirements

Tank Size

To accommodate your Rope Fish’s needs, provide a minimum of a 55-gallon (210 liters) long aquarium, allowing them to stretch out and explore. If you plan to add tank mates or more Rope Fish, opt for a larger tank.

Water Parameters

Keep the water temperature between 72-82°F (22-28°C) for your Rope Fish, and maintain a pH range of 6.0-7.5. Regularly monitor and maintain these parameters to ensure a healthy environment for your fish.

Tank Setup and Decorations

Create a comfortable habitat with a soft sand substrate and add driftwood, rocks, and live plants for hiding spaces. Ensure there’s enough open swimming area and keep the water on the warmer side, as Rope Fish prefer standing or slow-moving waters.

Filtration and Aeration

Install a strong filter system to maintain good water quality and an air pump for sufficient oxygen levels. The combination of an efficient filter and proper aeration will contribute to the overall well-being of your Rope Fish, ensuring their optimal health and longevity.

Suitable Tank Mates

When choosing suitable tank mates for your rope fish, it’s important to select species that can coexist peacefully. Since rope fish are predators, they may snack on smaller fish. Keeping this in mind, you should look for larger, non-aggressive fish that won’t compete for resources but are also not small enough to be eaten.

Here’s an unordered list of compatible tank mates for your rope fish:

  • Bichirs
  • Cichlids
  • Plecos
  • Catfish
  • Gouramis
  • Larger Tetras

Remember to provide ample space for all of the tank’s inhabitants, as well as hiding spots for the more timid fish. A long tank with plenty of floor space is ideal for rope fish to stretch out and explore. Monitoring the behavior of your fish to ensure compatibility remains crucial, and make adjustments as necessary. By carefully selecting tank mates and providing a suitable environment, you can enjoy a harmonious and thriving aquatic community with your rope fish.

Breeding Process

Breeding rope fish can be challenging, but with patience and the right conditions, you can achieve success. Follow these steps to encourage breeding in your tank:

  1. Create a comfortable environment: Provide your rope fish with hiding spots, caves, and plants to replicate their natural habitat. A lower water flow and dimmed lighting can help encourage breeding behavior.

  2. Maintain water conditions: Regularly test your water quality and keep the temperature stable around 76-82 °F (24-28 °C). Perform partial water changes as needed to ensure clean and stable water parameters.

  3. Feed a varied, nutrient-rich diet: Offer a variety of live and frozen foods, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and earthworms, to promote good health and reproductive readiness.

  4. Sexing your rope fish: It can be tricky to determine the sex of rope fish, as there are no visible external differences. But, females tend to be slightly plumper than males, particularly during breeding times.

  5. Increase your rope fish population: To increase the likelihood of successful mating, maintain a group of 5-6 rope fish to allow for better chances of finding a suitable mate.

  6. Observe for signs of breeding: Look for your rope fish displaying mating signs, like chasing each other around the tank or intertwining their bodies.

Remember, patience is key. It might take some time before you see any breeding activity. Good luck with your rope fish breeding endeavors!

Common Diseases and Treatments

Rope fish are generally hardy, but they can be susceptible to some common diseases. To keep your rope fish healthy, monitor the water conditions and provide a balanced diet.

Ich: Ichthyophthirius multifiliis, also known as Ich, is a parasite that causes white spots on the skin and fins of your rope fish. If you notice these signs, treat the aquarium with an Ich medication and raise the water temperature to 82°F for a week.

Fin Rot: Poor water conditions and infections can lead to fin rot. If your rope fish suffers from this, improve the water quality and consider treating the tank with an antibacterial medication.

Skin Infections: Wounds or stress can cause bacterial or fungal infections. Treatment depends on the specific infection but may include antibacterial or antifungal medications.

Remember to prevent diseases by maintaining proper water conditions, adequate filtration, and a stress-free environment for your rope fish. Regular water changes and monitoring the water parameters are essential to ensure the well-being of your aquatic friends.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do rope fish eat?

Rope fish are carnivorous and enjoy a varied diet. In the wild, they primarily feast on insects and small aquatic animals. In your aquarium, you can offer them a mix of live or frozen foods, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, daphnia, or earthworms. It’s essential to provide a well-balanced diet to maintain their health.

How long do rope fish live?

Rope fish can live for quite some time with proper care. Their average lifespan is between 10 to 15 years in captivity. To ensure your rope fish live a long and healthy life, maintain optimal water conditions, provide a proper diet, and give them a suitable habitat with plenty of hiding spots.

Which tank mates are suitable for rope fish?

Rope fish are somewhat timid and peaceful, so it’s important to choose compatible and non-aggressive tank mates. Some ideal companions include larger tetras, gouramis, catfish, cichlids, and rainbowfish. Avoid aggressive species or those that might be small enough for rope fish to consider as a snack.

What is the optimal tank size for rope fish?

Rope fish can grow up to 2 feet in length, requiring a spacious home to accommodate their size. A suitable tank size for a single rope fish should be at least 50 gallons. To house additional rope fish, ensure you add 10-15 extra gallons per fish, providing sufficient room for swimming, hiding, and exploring their environment.

Do rope fish prefer sand or gravel substrate?

Rope fish appreciate a substrate that allows them to burrow without causing harm to their delicate skin. A combination of smooth sand and small, rounded pebbles is an excellent choice. This not only provides a comfortable surface for your rope fish but also helps maintain their well-being by preventing potential injuries.