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The Ropefish

*Erpetoichthys calabaricu*


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Kathy Erb

These fishes are confined in habitat to tropical Africa, and both have certain very unusual and unique anatomical features which are worth mentioning.

They have retained certain characteristics of their ancestors not found in most modern fishes. A swim bladder is present but it is divided into two sections, a small left and a larger right section, and both of these sections lie in a position similar to the lungs of higher vertebrates, and indeed it is used as an accessory breathing organ. In fact, if they are not allowed access to an air supply they will drown, although they still have fully operational gills.

*Erpetoichthys calabaricu*

They will eat small fish if they get hungry. Ropefish can grow to 15 inches or longer in the aquarium.

A Member is feeding them frozen bloodworms in addition to the fresh food, so I guess you can go either way. I assume tank mates would have to be fish that won't fit in their mouths unless you want to provide expensive snacks.

They are also really good at getting out of the tank, so you need a tight lid!

Another member states they eat frozen bloodworms, shrimp pellets, small fish, worms, beef heart. Peaceful fish suitable to community tanks as long as fish can't fit in its mouth. Likes to be with others of its kind. Tanks must have no holes in the top big enough for them to fit through or they will escape. They can survive for a few hours out of water due to their lung-like swim bladder.

Males have 11 to 14 rays in the caudal fin, females have 9.

The rope or reed fish really like Neons and Leopard Danio's with blood worms and tubifex worms on the side.

They get over fifteen inches long and need to live in a large tank.

I recommend strongly studying about an animal before attempting to buy and raise it.

There is another way to determine the sexes of reed fish, that I find easier than counting their spines. The males have a clearly broader anal fin, that doesn't 'blend in' with the caudal fin. The females have a pointed anal fin that smoothly joins the caudal fin. They are indeed a great fish, and better escape artists than my shrimp.

Common name Ropefish

Scientific name Erpetoichthys calabaricus

Synonyms Reedfish, Snake fish, Calamoichthys calabaricus (older name, not valid)

Size Up to 36" (90cm), usually smaller in aquaria.

Origin West Africa, Cameroon and Nigeria

Tank setup Large tank, with bogwood, rocks and a few plants for decor, sandy substrate

Compatibility Predatory, but fine with larger fish

Temperature 22-28oC (71-82oF)

Water chemistry Not critical, soft to medium hard, pH 6.0-8.0.

Feeding Carnivore, feed live foods and dead meaty foods

Sexing The anal fin of the male is larger and thicker than the female.

Breeding Eggs are attached to plants and other surfaces and hatch after about 3 days. The fry will feed on their yolk sac for the first week.


This is the only species in the genus. These fish are not aggressive, even with their own kind, and are best kept in groups. They may eat small fish, especially at night when they rest near the bottom, and this fish is more active. A tight fitting lid is necessary to prevent escapes from the aquarium. Occurs in fresh and slightly brackish waters.

I did a lot of research on the ropefish before we purchased them...I found several sites, thru diligent searching, there isn't a whole lot of information out there on them.

They can get up to 15 inches long or longer..and any and all tank openings must be completely taped up so they can't get out. Many people have had that problem, but we never have because i researched before we bought them...and we've had them for several months now. Many people have also had problems with them  disappearing and found them in their filter...they travelled up the hose and got in there that way.

Since we don't have small feeder fish or feeder guppies in our area to buy and add to the tank for food for them...we bought and added 7 neons a couple months ago and they are all gone now....but at $1.99 each, we can't afford to keep doing that.

Kathy Erb

More pictures

Stories about ropefish

Rope fish can be the best addition to any large aquarium with proper care. Rope fish should be in a minimum 300 liter tank, but a 200 L would suffice as well. Rope fish also enjoy their own species and would like some friends. They do best in groups of 5 or 6. They can grow to be 90 cm in the wild, but in capitivity there is none recorded pass 60 cm. They will do fine with any fish bigger than their mouths, anything smaller will most likely be eaten up! They can be fed a large variety of items: beefheart, bloodworms, earthworms, frogs, crabs, shrimp, feeder fish, etc...anything meaty. Two of my rope fish are confident enough to eat a piece of beefheart right from my hand. This is definitely an interactive fish and conversation starter. They will not, or should not, be tank mates with oscars, red devils, or any other predatory/territoral type large fish. Large goldfish and the same do well. Common names for the ropefish are dragon fish, reed fish and snake fish. Ideal temperature should be between 22-26°C but fair well in warmer temps, and pH level slightly acidic at 6.5-7.5. Rope fish are fairly hardy. There have been no recorded cases of them breeding in captivity, but I'm currently trying. They do require some hiding place like rocks, plants and caves. Also sexing ropefish is fairly easy. Males have more "spikes" on their top fins than females, and they appear to be more olive in color. Males generally have between 9-12 "spikes" and females less then 10 with a more of ochre color. There is still much unknown about the ropefish, they date back to the dinosaurs! They have been around a long time. One more thing, if you like ropefish, you may also enjoy Bichirs (pronounced "Bikers"). They are cousins of the ropefish and come from the same native waters, but are less "agressive" than the ropefish and require the same amount of space and food...another easy similar "sea serpent" to care for and enjoy! Hope this info helps!

Contributed by Carole Bernier

More stories about Ropefish

In conclusion

LATIN NAME:  • Erpetoichthys calabaricus

pH: 6.0 • 8.0

WATER TEMP: • 71-80 deg. F.

AVG. ADULT LENGTH: • 20 inches / 44 cm.


Do not place in tanks smaller than 75 gallons, 125+ gallons is preferred.

BREEDING: Egg-layers

FEEDING: Mainly Live Fish.Beef Heart, Lean Beef and Live Worms.

NOTE:  • They do best with thier own kind, Can grow very large.

LIGHTING:  • As dark as possible, never direct sunlight.

TEMPERAMENT:  • Needs a 100+ gallon tank, caution since it likes to eat other fishes.


• Definately a fish for the experienced keeper, needs a very large tank and is not dependent upon oxygen content of the water for breathing. Almost eel-like in appearance with the exception of a set of fins located just behind the gills.

• WARNING! These guys love to "climb" out of their tanks through any opening, no matter how small. So tape up those gaps around filter/skimmer tubes, heaters, etc!

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