Rope Fish Care Essentials: Tank Setup, Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases & More!

Rope fish, also known as Reedfish or Snakefish, are fascinating aquatic creatures that can be a great addition to a home aquarium. As an owner of rope fish myself, I can attest to their unique and captivating nature.

Rope Fish require a tank size of at least 75 gallons, with a temperature range of 76-82°F and a pH range of 6.5-7.5. They are carnivores and need a varied diet of high-quality frozen or live foods such as shrimp, krill, and small fish. They also require a well-decorated aquarium with plenty of hiding places and a soft substrate for burrowing.

Setting up a proper tank environment, providing a well-balanced diet, and finding suitable tank mates are crucial elements in ensuring the health and happiness of these elongated fish. In this article, I will share my personal experiences and insights to help you create the best possible environment for your rope fish.

Unfortunately, I once had to deal with an illness in my rope fish, which taught me how important it is to be aware of the potential diseases that can affect them. By being proactive and knowledgeable about their care, you’ll be better equipped to prevent such issues and provide a thriving habitat for your rope fish.

Erpetoichthys calabaricus rope fish

Species Summary


Rope Fish, also known as Reed Fish or Snake Fish, originated in Central and West Africa, mainly in the Congo River Basin and Niger Delta. I remember witnessing their unusual swimming style during a trip to West Africa, which sparked my interest in this unique fish species.


These fascinating creatures can live up to 15-20 years, provided they receive proper care and a suitable environment.


Rope Fish have elongated, snake-like bodies with a dorsal fin running along their backs, and their dark brown coloration allows them to blend in with their natural habitat.


They can grow up to 15-20 inches in length, which means they require a large tank to accommodate their needs.

Growth Rate

Their growth rate is relatively slow; it took more than a couple of years for my Rope Fish to reach their full size.

Behavior & Temperament

Rope Fish are generally peaceful, nocturnal creatures, preferring to hide and rest during the day. I find their inquisitive and playful nature to be quite endearing, as they often explore their surroundings and interact with tank mates.

Male vs Female

Sexual dimorphism is not obvious in Rope Fish; however, females tend to be slightly larger and rounder compared to males.

Tank Setup

Tank Size

When I first started keeping Rope Fish, I quickly learned that tank size is crucial for their well-being. Rope Fish need a minimum of 75 gallons, as they can grow up to 15 inches in length. Trust me, providing ample space will make for happier, healthier fish.


In my experience, Rope Fish don’t need any special lighting requirements. However, I found that they’re more active during dimmer periods, so it’s wise to keep lighting levels moderate. Remember, a natural day-night cycle helps mimic their natural habitat.

Filtration & Aeration

Rope Fish produce a lot of waste, so I always recommend a strong filtration system. A canister filter works wonders for maintaining water quality. Proper aeration is also crucial, and I suggest using an air stone or sponge filter to aid oxygenation.


As a tropical fish, Rope Fish require warm water. I maintain a temperature of 76-82°F (24-28°C) to keep them comfortable. A good aquarium heater and a reliable thermometer are essential for ensuring proper temperature regulation.


For my Rope Fish tank, I prefer a sandy substrate. It’s soft for them to dig in, and allows them to exhibit their natural burrowing behavior. You can also use a fine gravel substrate as an alternative.


When it comes to decorations, I’ve found that my Rope Fish love a variety of hiding spots. Providing caves, PVC pipes, and other hideouts creates an engaging environment. Just ensure they’re sized appropriately to prevent any entrapment.


Lastly, live plants add a beautiful touch and improve water quality. I’ve noticed that my Rope Fish appreciate the addition of plants, using them as cover to navigate the tank. But, be prepared for them to uproot more delicate species, so I recommend hardy plants like Anubias and Java Fern.

Water Quality

Water Temperature

When I set up the tank for my rope fish, maintaining the right water temperature was crucial. Rope fish thrive in water temperatures between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24 and 28 degrees Celsius). It’s essential to use a heater and a thermometer to keep track of the water temperature consistently.

Water pH

Another important factor in maintaining a healthy rope fish environment is the water pH level. Rope fish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water with pH levels between 6.0 to 7.5. When I added driftwood to my tank, it helped naturally lower the pH level. Make sure to test and monitor water pH frequently.

Water Hardness

Rope fish can tolerate a variety of water hardness levels, but they do best in soft to moderately hard water. Keep their water hardness between 5 to 15 dGH for optimal health. In my experience, using reverse osmosis water or mixing tap water with distilled water can help achieve the desired water hardness.

Water Changes

Performing regular water changes is essential for maintaining high water quality and managing the buildup of waste and toxins. I recommend a 20-30% water change every 2 to 3 weeks. By staying consistent with water changes, you’ll keep your rope fish happy, healthy, and stress-free.

Tank Maintenance

When I first started caring for my Rope Fish, I quickly learned that maintaining a clean and properly set up tank is crucial for their health and well-being. In this section, I’ll share some of my best tips on tank maintenance for these fascinating creatures.

First and foremost, ensure that the water quality is excellent. I perform weekly water changes of 25-30% to help maintain the right balance of chemical levels. This includes testing the water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, and adjusting accordingly.

It’s important to have a good filtration system in place. I use a canister filter to efficiently remove debris and harmful substances. Make it a habit to regularly clean the filter and replace the filter material as needed.

The substrate in a Rope Fish tank should be smooth and free from sharp edges. I use a combination of fine sand and rounded gravel to create a comfortable environment for my Rope Fish to burrow and explore. Regularly vacuum the substrate during water changes to remove built-up waste.

Establishing hiding spots and decorations is essential for Rope Fish. I utilize PVC pipes, artificial caves, and plants for my Rope Fish to rest, making them feel safe and secure in their environment. Regularly clean these decorations to prevent algae growth.

Lastly, keep a close eye on the water temperature and ensure it remains stable at around 75-82°F (24-28°C). I’ve had a situation where an issue with my heater led to a fluctuation in temperature, and it stressed my Rope Fish. Accurate digital thermometers come a long way in solving such problems.

By following these simple tips and incorporating them into your routine, keeping your Rope Fish tank well-maintained will be attainable, and your aquatic friend will thrive as a result.

Tank Mates

Compatible Fish Species

When I set up my rope fish tank, I found that they can live peacefully with various semi-aggressive fish species. Creating a diverse community tank, I added:

  • Bichirs: Both rope fish and bichirs are nocturnal, and they share similar needs and temperaments.
  • African Knifefish: I found that African knifefish would glide through the water harmoniously with my rope fish.

Remember that these compatible species should be around the same size as rope fish, so they don’t accidentally become prey.

Incompatible Fish Species

I learned that there are several fish species to avoid:

  1. Small fish: My rope fish are opportunistic feeders, so having smaller fish like neon tetras is a recipe for disaster.
  2. Aggressive fish: Cichlids or bettas are a bad choice since they might nip at rope fish’s long bodies and sensitive fins.
  3. Snails and peaceful bottom-dwellers: At first, I thought introducing snails would be a good idea, but rope fish tend to disturb slow-moving organisms.

Taking the time to research and create a harmonious environment is vital for your rope fish’s wellbeing, ensuring they have the perfect tankmates.


What To Feed

Feeding Rope Fish a varied diet is crucial for their health. I personally like to include high-quality pellets as a staple food, as they provide a well-rounded nutrition. Additionally, I provide live or frozen foods, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and tubifex worms, to give them the essential proteins they need.


Rope Fish have a healthy appetite, so it’s essential to feed them regularly. I’ve found that feeding them twice a day works well to keep them satisfied without overfeeding. Keeping a consistent feeding schedule ensures that their metabolism stays regulated and helps maintain their overall health.


When it comes to feeding Rope Fish, there are a few tips that can make the process easier and more enjoyable. Firstly, keep their food varied and high-quality, as this offers them the necessary nutrients. In my experience, using long feeding tongs makes it simpler to feed them live food without stress. Lastly, observe their eating habits to ensure they’re consuming enough food and avoid overfeeding. That way, your Rope Fish will stay healthy and thrive in your tank.

Common Diseases


In my experience, Rope Fish can be prone to a few common diseases:

  • Ich: Also known as white spot disease, it is caused by a parasite.
  • Fin rot: A bacterial infection that attacks the fins.
  • Skin flukes: Parasites that attach to the skin, causing irritation.


I’ve seen some telltale signs of these diseases in my own rope fish:

  • Ich: Small white spots on the fish’s body and fins.
  • Fin rot: Fins appearing ragged or frayed and, in more advanced stages, red or inflamed areas on the fins.
  • Skin flukes: Fish rubbing against objects in the tank, redness or inflammation on the affected area.


I’ve had success treating these diseases with the following methods:


  1. Increase water temperature to 86°F (30°C) for 3-5 days.
  2. Use a fish-safe ich medication, following the instructions on the label.

Fin rot:

  1. Make sure water parameters are in check, improving water quality if needed.
  2. Use an antibiotic medication specifically for fin rot, following the instructions on the label.

Skin flukes:

  1. Treat the entire tank with a medication that targets skin flukes, following the instructions on the label.


To help prevent these diseases, I always:

  • Maintain proper water parameters and cleanliness.
  • Quarantine new arrivals for 2-4 weeks before adding them to the main tank.
  • Provide a varied and balanced diet to bolster their immune systems.

Signs of a Healthy Rope Fish

As an experienced rope fish keeper, I can confidently spot a healthy rope fish. In this section, I will be sharing key indicators of a well-maintained rope fish.

First and foremost, a healthy rope fish will display vibrant colors. You’ll notice their dark green bodies contrasted with their beautiful yellow-tinted undersides.

Another sign of excellent health is their activity level. They are curious and active creatures, often exploring the nooks and crannies of their tank. I was always amused watching mine play hide-and-seek among the aquarium plants.

A healthy rope fish should also have a hearty appetite. They eagerly feed on a variety of live or frozen foods like worms, shrimp, and small insects. I often catch my rope fish munching on tasty bloodworms.

Their eyes should be clear, and their scales should be free of any spots or discoloration. This indicates a rope fish free from diseases or parasites.

Finally, you want to keep an eye on their social interactions. Healthy rope fish get along well with their tank mates, coexisting peacefully with other non-aggressive aquatic life.

Taking care of your rope fish and meeting their needs will ensure they live a long, happy life. My own rope fish have been thriving for years under proper care and attention.

Signs Your Rope Fish is Sick

When I noticed my rope fish acting differently, I knew something was off. Here, I share my experience and key signs to help you identify a sick rope fish.

One sign is a change in behavior. My rope fish became lethargic and spent more time lying on the tank floor. If you see this, it may be a cause for concern.

Another indicator is loss of appetite. My usually voracious eater stopped showing interest in food. If your rope fish refuses food for more than a day or two, it’s a red flag.

Discolored or damaged skin can also signal trouble. I noticed patches of lighter color on my rope fish’s body. This could be due to a fungal or bacterial infection.

Keep an eye out for difficulty swimming. My rope fish started struggling to swim, which can be caused by internal parasites or swim bladder issues.

Lastly, check for labored breathing. When I saw my rope fish breathing heavily, I knew something wasn’t right. This can be due to a respiratory infection or poor water quality.

Remember to monitor your rope fish’s behavior and appearance regularly. Early detection can make all the difference in helping them recover from illnesses.


Breeding Setup

When I decided to breed my rope fish, I set up a separate breeding tank specifically for them. The tank was around 40 gallons, with plenty of hiding spots and live plants such as Java moss. I also added a sponge filter to keep the water clean and maintain a gentle water flow. The temperature was maintained at 78°F, and a dim lighting setup was used to mimic their natural habitat.

How To Breed

Before attempting to breed your rope fish, it’s essential to ensure that you have a mix of males and females. Males tend to be shorter and slender, while females are longer and more robust. When I observed mine, I could tell they were ready to breed as they exhibited more active and playful behavior.

I conditioned them with high-quality food, including bloodworms and blackworms, to help increase their chances of successful breeding. The key for me was patience, as it took several weeks for them to become comfortable in their new environment and start the breeding process.


During the breeding process, I closely monitored the tank and the rope fish, making sure to maintain water quality and remove any debris. After the eggs were laid, I kept an eye on them, watching for any signs of fungus that could threaten their survival.

Once the fry hatched, I provided them with appropriate food like infusoria and baby brine shrimp, making sure they received the nutrition they needed for healthy growth. As they matured, I gradually introduced them to their parents’ diet, with a focus on small worms and insect larvae.

By following these steps and paying close attention to the needs and behaviors of my rope fish, I was successfully able to breed them in captivity. It was a fascinating and rewarding experience, one I’d recommend to any aquarist looking for a different challenge with these unique, beautiful creatures.

Product recommendations for Rope Fish:

  1. Aqueon Aquarium Fish Tank Starter Kit: This kit includes everything you need to get started with keeping Rope Fish, including a tank, filter, and heater.
  2. Tetra Whisper Bio-Bag Cartridge: These filter cartridges can help keep the water clean and clear in your Rope Fish tank.
  3. Seachem Prime: This water conditioner can help remove harmful chemicals from tap water and make it safe for your Rope Fish.
  4. API Aquarium Test Kit: Regular water testing is crucial for maintaining a healthy environment for your Rope Fish, and this test kit can help you monitor the levels of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in your tank.
  5. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum: This substrate is specifically designed for planted aquariums and can provide a natural-looking environment for your Rope Fish.
  6. Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets: These pellets are specially formulated for carnivorous fish like Rope Fish and contain high levels of protein and other essential nutrients for healthy growth and vibrant coloration.
  7. Hydor Koralia Nano Aquarium Circulation Pump: This compact and efficient pump can help improve water circulation in your aquarium and provide your Rope Fish with a more natural environment.
  8. Zoo Med Laboratories AquaSun LED Aquarium Hood: This energy-efficient LED hood can provide ample lighting for your Rope Fish tank and help promote healthy plant growth.
  9. CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate: This substrate is specifically designed for planted aquariums and can provide a natural-looking environment for your Rope Fish.
  10. Omega One Freeze-Dried Bloodworms: This tasty treat can provide your Rope Fish with a high-quality source of protein and help promote healthy growth and coloration.


In summary, rope fish are fascinating creatures that require dedicated care and attention. With a well-planned tank setup, a diverse diet, and suitable tank mates, they can thrive and showcase their unique behaviors. I once introduced rope fish into a community tank, and their unusual appearance instantly grabbed the attention of my guests.

It’s crucial to remain vigilant for signs of potential diseases and address them early on, ensuring your rope fish remain healthy and happy. Remember that monitoring water quality and taking necessary precautions when introducing new tank mates are vital for maintaining a safe environment.

Caring for rope fish might be a bit challenging for beginners, but the reward is worth the effort. Observing these captivating creatures move elegantly through the water can be a truly mesmerizing experience. With dedication and proper care, rope fish can be an exceptional addition to your aquarium journey.


What size tank do I need for Rope Fish? I recommend a minimum of a 50-gallon tank for one Rope Fish due to their size and swimming needs. However, if you plan to include tank mates, go for an even larger tank.

What water parameters are best for Rope Fish? Rope Fish prefer a water temperature of 72-82°F, a pH level of 6.0-7.5, and a KH level of 4-15 dKH.

What tank mates are suitable for Rope Fish? Rope Fish thrive with peaceful, similarly-sized tank mates. Some suggestions are:

  • Congo Tetras
  • Bichirs
  • Cichlids (non-aggressive)
  • Rainbowfish
  • African Knifefish

What should I feed my Rope Fish? They eat a diet of meaty foods, such as:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Earthworms
  • Chopped fish
  • Krill

You can offer these in frozen or live forms. Once, I fed my Rope Fish live shrimp and it devoured them voraciously!

How do I deal with diseases in my Rope Fish tank? Maintain proper water parameters and cleanliness to prevent most diseases. If your Rope Fish shows signs of illness, consult a vet or pet store for appropriate treatment.

How often should I perform water changes? Regular water changes are crucial. I perform 25% water changes every two weeks in my Rope Fish tank to maintain optimal water quality.

Reference: Wikipedia.


Hi there! My name is Jacob, and I'm the founder of this Pet people blog that talks all about aquarium and fishkeeping. I've been passionate about fish and aquatic life since I was a kid, and I've spent countless hours learning about different species, their habitats, and how to create the perfect environment for them to thrive in.

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