Ropefish Care – The Complete Guide


Ropefish are found in the slow-moving rivers and lakes of West and Central Africa, particularly from Benin to Cameroon. They inhabit areas such as the Niger River Delta and are present in countries like Nigeria and the Republic of the Congo. They’re also found in the Ogun and Chiloango Rivers.

These fish prefer warm, standing, or slow-flowing freshwater, but can also tolerate slightly brackish conditions. They become more active at dusk, feeding on small animals, insects, and worms. Ropefish are peaceful and can coexist with other large, non-aggressive fish.

Known as living fossils, Ropefish have primitive characteristics similar to early fish species. They’ve long, snake-like bodies adapted for navigating murky waters and possess both lungs and gills, enabling them to survive in low-oxygen environments and briefly on land.

Despite their adaptability, Ropefish habitats are threatened by human activities such as agriculture and urbanization. Nonetheless, they continue to live in their native regions and are popular among aquarium enthusiasts.

Ropefish Appearance and Lifespan

Ropefish stand out in aquariums due to their serpent-like bodies, which can grow up to 15 inches. They have a fairly long lifespan of up to 20 years.

Their skin is greenish-brown with yellow accents near their small pectoral fins, and their head is flat and snake-like. They’re often mistaken for eels or snakes, due to their appearance.

Ropefish have a dorsal fin, but it isn’t prominent. This fish’s body shape allows it to gulp air from the surface, enabling it to survive in low-oxygen environments.

Ropefish typically live longer than most aquarium fish, with lifespans ranging from 15 to 20 years with proper care. They’re predators and suitable for living with other large, non-aggressive fish, but may eat smaller fish.

They’re nocturnal but may be seen during the day. Adding Ropefish to an aquarium provides a long-lasting and interesting feature.

Physical Characteristics of Ropefish

Ropefish have distinct physical features. They have a long, slender body, typically reaching up to 15 inches in length, and a dorsal fin that’s close to their back. Their body shape allows them to navigate through dense plant life in their native African habitats.

The color of Ropefish is typically a subdued greenish-brown, which serves as camouflage among the vegetation. They’ve small, yellowish pectoral fins near their head that help in their movement.

The head is flat and snake-like, with small eyes and nostrils suited for a submerged lifestyle. Ropefish are equipped with gills for underwater breathing, distinguishing them from snakes.

Despite their eel-like appearance, Ropefish aren’t related to eels. Their dorsal fin, though not prominent, indicates their classification as fish.

The physical attributes of Ropefish are important for their survival and aren’t merely decorative.

How to Set up An Aquarium for The Ropefish?

Setting up an aquarium for a Ropefish requires a minimum of 50 gallons for one fish and an additional 75 gallons for each additional fish. The tank should have a secure lid to prevent escape. Also, you can mimic their natural habitat with warm water temperatures and a gentle flow.

Use a sand substrate and provide hiding places like caves for these nocturnal creatures. Suitable tank mates are larger, non-aggressive fish to avoid predation. Ropefish are sociable and thrive with others of their species if space permits.

Ropefish Diet

Ropefish need a diet of meat-based foods to match their carnivorous nature. In their natural habitat, they eat various live prey. So in an aquarium offer them similar nutrition. Suitable food items include live or frozen blackworms and wax worms, which provide essential nutrients and stimulate the fish due to their movement and scent.

Additionally, bloodworms, tilapia, and silversides are appropriate for Ropefish. Occasionally, earthworms and live insects such as crickets can be given to fulfill their hunting instincts. Small shrimp and chopped meats are also acceptable, provided they’re the right size for the Ropefish to eat.

Ropefish generally don’t eat flakes and may not always eat pellets. They rely on their sense of smell for feeding due to poor vision, so foods with a strong scent are recommended.

Feed Ropefish 2 to 3 times a week. Ensure that they can eat all the food within a few minutes to avoid overfeeding and potential health and water quality problems. Maintaining this feeding routine will help keep your fish healthy and active.

Behavioral Characteristics of Ropefish

Ropefish exhibit nocturnal behavior, being most active at night and requiring hiding places such as plants or caves for daytime rest. Despite their nocturnal habits, they may occasionally be active during daylight hours due to their curiosity.

These fish display a unique swimming motion similar to serpents, necessitating a spacious aquarium to accommodate their exploratory nature. Ropefish have an organ akin to a lung, allowing them to survive temporarily on land, which is reflective of their ability to traverse between water bodies in the wild.

Consider these key points about Ropefish:

  • They may prey on smaller fish, so tank mates should be chosen with care.
  • Active primarily at night but can show daytime activity.
  • Ropefish are curious and like to investigate their surroundings.
  • They need a large tank for their serpentine swimming.
  • Can survive brief periods out of water, so a secure tank lid is essential.

Ideal Tank Mates for Ropefish

When selecting tank mates for a Ropefish, choose species that aren’t small enough to be eaten. Dwarf Gouramis are suitable due to their calm nature. Pictus Catfish, which are also nocturnal, can coexist well with Ropefish. Siamese Algae Eaters are peaceful and help maintain tank cleanliness.

Tinfoil Barbs, Glass Catfish, and Bala Sharks are also compatible due to their gentle behavior. Kuhli Loach can provide interesting visuals with movements similar to the Ropefish.

Hatchetfish, Rainbow Shark, Angelfish, Honey Gourami, and Clown Loach add variety to the tank without causing disruption. Mollies are large enough to avoid predation and are known for their peaceful behavior.

Cory Catfish and Bristlenose Pleco are bottom dwellers that won’t bother the Ropefish and contribute to tank cleanliness.

How to Breed Ropefish?

There are several key steps for breeding Ropefish that should be followed to increase the chances of success.

  1. Reproduce their habitat with appropriate substrate and vegetation. This involves using soft substrates like sand and adding tall plants to mimic their natural West Central African environment.
  2. Increase water temperature or adjust pH to trigger spawning. Adjusting the water quality by slightly increasing the temperature or altering the pH can mimic the conditions of the rainy season, which may encourage the Ropefish to spawn.
  3. Protect eggs and offspring by isolation. Eggs usually hatch within 70 hours, and it’s critical to separate the young from other fish to avoid predation. Keep the breeding pair isolated and move fertilized eggs to a different tank for safety.
  4. Create dry season conditions for young fish. For fry survival, lower the water level to simulate the dry season or raise them in a paludarium with a low water level and increased pH. This will provide an environment that is suitable for the young Ropefish to thrive.
  5. Identify genders by dorsal fin count and other characteristics. Gender identification is based on dorsal fin counts. Males typically have 12 to 15 and females have about 9 dorsal fins. Other physical features can also help differentiate the genders.

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