The Rope Fish, scientifically known as Erpetoichthys calabaricus is along with freshwater fish that can easily be confused with a snake or eel. This fish is a native of Central and West African Countries such as Nigeria and Cameroon. This fish prefers to live on stagnant or slow-moving waters that are on the warm side. They can comfortably do well in both fresh and brackish water, but most of the owners prefer keeping them in fresh and pure water. They are found in larger numbers along the Ogun River and Chiloango River since they have these ideal parameters. This fish has only become popular among aquarists in recent years, but they have quickly received a huge following in the freshwater aquarist community.

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They are very beautiful and appealing due to their attractive color and body shape and also due to tear peaceful nature. They are easy to take care of, and this makes them the ideal choice for someone who is looking for an easy fish to keep. Despite the fact that it is easy to take care of the Rope Fish, you need to be well informed about all you need to do in the process of taking care of them so as to raise healthy and happy fish. This guide seeks to give you detailed information about all you need to know and do in the course of keeping this fish.


Scientific NameErpetoichthys calabaricus
Common NamesReed fish, Snake fish, Rope eel
Diet                   Omnivores
Lifespan15-20 years
Tank size45 gallons
Temperature72 to 82 degrees F  
Size20 inches
PH6.5 To 8.0
Freshwater or SaltwaterFreshwater
Easy of keepingMedium


The first thing you need to understand is that the Rope Fish are not aggressive, but they can eat the other fish in the tank. You will have no difficulty with compatibility, but there are two things that you need to keep in mind. The first thing is that you should not keep any aggressive tank mates together with this species and the second one is that tank mates should be larger than the size of Rope Fish. This is because this species likes eating other fish, and if they can be able to fit into their mouth, they can easily be eaten. Once this fish starts hunting at night, there is nothing that can stop it from doing so. Some of the ideal tank mates include the following;

As we have said above, there are species that you need not keep in the same tank with this species, such as the small ones and the aggressive ones. Below are some of these species that do not make suitable companions to the Rope Fish:


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 Appearance is one of the most interesting things about this fish since they are likened to a snake or a rope, and that explains the origin of the name Rope. The Rope Fish has a long cylindrical shape body where its fins are reduced to the point of being absent. Just like the snakes, the bodies of Rope Fish can be changed into waves for the purpose of thrusting, and this enables them to move on land as well. The sexual differences are very small, and this means it is a bit difficult to tell the difference between a male and female by just looking at them. Some aquarists argue that the number of rays in the dorsal fin of the male is more than those in females, but it is difficult to count the rays one by one since they are so small. The dorsal fin of the Rope Fish comprises a series of well-separated spines, with each of them supporting a membrane and one of the several rays.

Both the caudal and ventral fins are almost negligible, but most aquarists argue that the body of this fish is a caudal fin by itself. The pectoral fin is also so small and are positioned right behind the head and are often mistaken for their ears. They also have very poor eyesight, and they depend on their sense of smell and touch. In the wild, there is a low supply of oxygen in the water they live in, and for that, the occasional get up on the water surface to breathe the atmospheric air. They have lungs which are critical in helping them breathe out of water for a while.

Generally, the body of a Rope Fish is greenish-yellow in color with a brown touch on it. It is entirely covered with diamond-shaped thick bony scales that help this fish to blend perfectly in dark areas. However, this greenish-brown coloration is mainly found on the upper side of his body but on the abdomen area, there is a beige-yellow coloration.


Compared to most aquatic species, the Rope Fish is generally bigger than most of them. The species can grow to a maximum length of 15 inches in captivity, but in the wild, they can grow up to a length of 20 inches. This fish can have a 70 percent growth within a year.


On average, a Rope Fish can live for a period of 15 to 20 years depending on the level of care and the general health of a fish? This is an impressive lifespan since you have all the time to create a relationship and have all the fun with your pet. However, this can only be attained through proper care such as right diet, tank condition, and proper water conditions, and failure to provide them your fish will not come close to that age.


The Rope Fish originates from West Africa. The habitat stretches from Cameroon to Benin, and this fish is most often encountered in the Niger River delta. The Rope Fish prefers living in freshwater rivers and lakes, but they can also be found in brackish water basins. These fish are active during the night, which is a rule of predator fish. They mainly prey on insects, worms, and other small animals. They use the sense of smell and touch to prey on these food sources due to their poor eyesight.


When it comes to behavior, this species is interesting, to say the least. They are relatively active, especially during the night since they are nocturnal. This species prefers dwelling on the bottom section of the tank, but they are not pure bottom feeders. This is because they occasionally move to the water surface in order to breathe some atmospheric air. However, this only happens when there is a necessity, and it is rare. It is interesting to watch them as they swim around the tank due to their long body. A lot of aquarists have said that in the instances where this species is not active, they seem as if they are active because the times that they decide to swim really stand out.

This fish is generally peaceful, and they do not bother the other fish in the tank unless when they are small, they might eat them. They will always be minding their business in the tank. It is important to keep them with bigger species so as to avoid them being eaten since they confuse them for food.


It is important that any species that you put in your tank feel safe in that environment. You also need to ensure that the natural habitat conditions are reciprocated in the tanks much as possible. Below are some of the conditions that are needed so that your open fish can thrive and live a happy life.’


As we have discussed above, this fish is generally large in size compared to the common fish. Therefore, the ideal tank that can house this fish adequately should be 45 gallons. As you select a tank, you should go for a rectangular one so they can have enough floor space since they are bottom dwellers. With each Rope Fish you add to the tank, you should increase the size by 10 gallons so that they have enough space to swim without feeling overcrowded.


The Rope Fish is an excellent escapist, and that is why it is important to secure the tank by using a lid. This lid should also have a lock or weight on it to ensure even when the fish hits it, and it cannot open and leave the tank exposed. Also, the lid should have no hole in which the Rope Fish can escape. You should close every part that you spot on your tank using a hard sponge. They have the lungs, and therefore they are equipped to survive on land for a period of time and therefore do not risk having a tank with no lid.

Some tend to assume that the level of water in the tank is so low and therefore they cannot reach the top of the tank, but you should always remember that they are excellent jumpers, and they can easily jump their way out of the tank. As you transfer them from one tank to the other, try not to leave them unattended, for instance, when you are cleaning the tank. You can get someone to keep a close eye on them as you do the cleaning.


The Rope Fish are famously known for collecting a lot of organic water and litter around them. This is why you need to provide a good filter in the tank. You need no air pump in the water to keep the water moving since they prefer living in dormant or slow-moving waters while in the wild.


This species is a bottom dweller and loves slithering through the substrate; therefore, you need to provide substrate in the tank. You should ensure that the substrate you provide is snot rough or contains some sharp substances. The rough substrate might be very dangerous to the fish since they might get scratches and end up getting injured. Ensure that you provide a fine-grained sandy substrate.


The Rope Fish can survive under any lighting conditions. However, you need to know that the fish can thrive best in an environment that mimics its natural habitat. So if you opt for bright light, ensure there are some corners of the aquarium that are left dark so as to mimic their natural habitat.


The Rope Fish loves hiding, and due to this fact, you need to provide the environment in which they can have enough hiding spots within the tank. You can provide some caves, rocks, and other decorations that can serve as shelter or hiding spots. You should ensure that these decorations do not have any sharp edges that might injure your fish as they move around. Also, ensure they do not have some toxic color, and you should ensure they are clean from any toxic substances.


These fish are carnivores, and therefore, there is no risk of your plants getting eaten by this species. Therefore, you can go ahead and have some aquatic plants in the tank, such as Java fern and Amazon sword. Do not plant so many plans in the tank and end up blocking their swimming space.


The lifespan of the fish, as said earlier, is greatly affected by the cleanliness of the tank, and therefore the tank needs to be cleaned regularly and all the decorations in it. Ensure that you scrape the algae off the decorations and the interior walls of the tank to ensure there are no leftover foods and debris left in the tank. It is advisable to not use any soap-based products or any chemicals to clean the tank but rather use a piece of cloth and warm water. This is because these chemicals or soap might remain stained in the walls and end up polluting the water, which will be harmful to the fish’s health at last.


The water that you are using in the tank should meet some conditions. You, therefore, need some equipment such as thermometers and heaters to keep monitoring these conditions. They include;


The Rope Fish prefer residing in slightly warmer water, and the average temperatures should be between 72 to 82 degrees F.  To keep track of the water in the tank, you can use a submerged thermometer and a heater so as to keep regulating the temperatures.


The average Ph. level of water in the tank should be between 6.7 to 7.8. You also need a Ph testing skit to keep monitoring it on a regular basis. These kits are available in the market.


The water hardness should be maintained between 4 to18 dGH.


Water replacement is one of the most important things in maintaining the health of the aquarium. It also ensures your fish is healthy by providing a safe and healthy environment. However, water should be changed with intervals, and you should not change it in its entirety. This would kill the beneficial bacteria in the water while destroying the ecological balance of the tank. The interval in which you change your water will determine how much water you are going to change. You can choose to change on a weekly basis, fortnightly, or monthly.

The new water that you have brought in in the tank should have the same conditions as those with the water in the tank. From temperatures, ph. and hardiness. Below are the water procedures that you can follow. You need to choose one and follow it throughout.

  • Weekly you change 10 percent of water
  • Fortnightly you change 20 percent of water
  • Monthly you change 40 percent of water


The Rope Fish are naturally carnivores. This means that they feed on fresh based foods and no plants. In the wild, they mainly feed in insects, crustaceans, and worms. They also feed on fish, but this is usually the last option. This, therefore, means that if you keep small fish as tank companions, they will definitely be eaten by this species. They are nocturnal, and this means they are active during the night, and they will spend most of the time resting during the day. However, in captivity, they will easily adapt to your feeding routine, and they will also start feeding during the day.

Despite the fact that they do not feed on vegetation, there are some lots that you can feed them. The easiest food to give to the Rope Fish is store-bought pellets and flakes foods. However, you should note that this fish does not always accept dead food. Also, you can feed them on meaty frozen foods. The small fish will often feed on mosquito larvae, bloodworms, brine shrimps, among others. Once they are bigger enough, you can now move to feed them on bigger shrimps such as Mysis shrimps, earthworms, and prawns.

You can also introduce live foods to your fish. They are good since they are engaging with your Rope Fish, and this encourages some natural behaviors. To find food, this species majorly rely on the sense of touch and smell since they have poor eyesight. This means that if you keep them with other carnivore species in that same tank, they can sometimes go hungry. Feed them just before turning out their light. In the wild, the Rope Fish can survive for a long period without food, but in captivity, you should ensure that they are on a steady diet. You can choose f to feed them on a little portion of food every day or give them a larger portion every day. The choice lies with the pet owner.

Other foods you can feed on them include

  • Insect larvae
  • Calamari
  • Chopped meat
  • Mussels


The breeding of Rope Fish is so rare and difficult to hear about since it is mostly done through hormonal injections. This should only be performed by experts. It is also very challenging to identify the difference between a male and female in order to pair them. However, there are some aquarist who may want to try it out, and this is the procedure;

 First, you need to trigger the breeding, and you can do so by slightly increasing the temperatures in the tank and also providing some tall plants in the tank, such as wisteria. During courting period, the male and female swim in the tank together, and when the female gets ready, she will sit without moving till the eggs have been fertilized. The eggs are self-adhesive, and they will stick themselves on the decorations such as rocks as they wait for the male to fertilize them. They can also stick to the plants.

 The eggs take around 70 hours to hatch, and the fries do not feed on anything until they are three weeks old. They usually sustain themselves from the nourishment they receive from the York sacs. At this stage, it is advisable to separate the fries from their parents since they might be eaten by them. It is, however, advisable not to breed them forcefully, but you should let the experts do it. This is because you might end up breeding and bring up some unhealthy fish that might have a short lifespan.


As mentioned earlier, the Rope Fish are long-living fish with an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. This is generally determined by the healthy and the conditions you will provide. Poor living conditions and diet will lead to diseases that might be fatal to your pet. Therefore, as a dedicated aquarist, you need to take proper care of your fish to avoid such premature deaths from the diseases. Some of the diseases that the Rope Fish are prone to include;

  • Cotton Mouth

This is a bacterial infection that mainly stays around the mouth of the fish. One of the signs of this infection is a cottony fungus-like growth on the lips and around the mouth of your Rope Fish. Another sign is the drop in appetite or no appetite at all. This disease can be very dangerous if not taken care of in time, and therefore, you need to consult a professional vet once you notice these signs in your fish.


This is a bacterial disease, and as the name suggests, the bacteria make the eyes protrude from the head. You may also observe the eyes being cloudy. Poor water or food can cause this disease. This disease is so dangerous and difficult to treat, but you can use an appropriate antibiotic.


This is a parasitic disease that can be fatal if left untreated. The symptoms are aggressive swimming by the fish, difficulty in breathing, and some white or yellow powder on the body. To deal with this disease, you can raise the water temperatures slightly for a while or add some little sea saltwater. If this does not work, you can now resort to commercial medication to cure this disease.


This is a common disease that affects the Rope Fish. Some of the noticeable signs include; Loss of balance while swimming, abnormal swimming, and lethargy. This disease is mostly fatal since there are no formal means of curing this disease. If you notice or suspect a fish to be having this disease, you should quarantine them from others until they have fully recovered. This will help in stopping the spread of the disease to the other fish.


This is a bacterial disease that occurs when the tank conditions are poor. This disease makes the fish appear bloated due to the excess release of body fluids. Immediately you notice some signs of this disease, and you need to treat it because it can be fatal with time. You can buy some commercial medications in pet stores or in specialist stores.

Whenever you are bringing in a new fish in the tank, you need to ensure they are safe from any kind of disease so as to protect the ones in the tank already. First, you need to quarantine them for a few days, and you closely observe them for any signs of illness. Once you have quarantined them and made sure they are safe, you can put them in the community tank; else, you can treat them from a separate tank.


Are Rope Fish freshwater fish?

Yes, the Rope Fish are freshwater fish that originates from some parts of West Africa, such as Cameroon and Nigeria. They prefer living in standing or slow-moving waters that are a bit warm and with low dissolved oxygen content.

Can Rope Fish Survive out of water?

 Yes, this species can survive out of water temporality. This is because they have lungs that help them breathe when they are out of water.

Can the Rope Fish Live with other Fish?

Yes, the Rope Fish is peaceful community fish. They will live in peace without bothering their tank mates. However, the tank mates hold be bigger than them in size since they might confuse them for food and end up eating them. The tank mates should also be peaceful so as not to stress out the Rope Fish by displaying aggressive behavior towards them.


Rope Fish is an interesting fish that is popular due to its swimming prowess and curious nature. It has beautiful colors. They are peaceful and social species that do not attack others. Apart from the fact that they cannot be kept with other small species since they will eat them, they are generally great fish that are easy to take care of. If you are a beginner aquarist looking for an interesting and peaceful species, then this is the ideal choice.

 Remember, they are excellent jumpers and can escape out of the tank if the tank is not secured well; therefore, you need to ensure the tank is well secured by a lid before bringing in the fish. We hope this guide has given you extensive information about all you need to know and do regarding the care of the Rope Fish.

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