Rope Fish Care Guide

Erpetoichthys calabaricus

Minimum Tank Size50 Gallons
Water Parameters72-78 F, pH 8-8.4

Rope Fish are eel shaped, freshwater fish with a snake like personality. They love to slither around the tank, either on the substrate, rocks or glass. They are not aggressive towards other fish and are highly social creatures.

While juveniles may look small, their length grows quite rapidly into adult hood. They do not get much thicker, only longer.

Rope Fish Growth

The Rope Fish will grow to be over a foot long, with juveniles being no more than a few inches long. Over the course of a year you can expect to see about 70% of their growth take place. If you are planning on keeping the Rope Fish in a smaller tank and eventually getting a bigger tank, you will need to act within the first year. Even half grown Rope Fish will be uncomfortable in a standard 10 gallon tank.

As the Rope Fish does not get a thick and muscular body like eels, you will not need to reinforce your rock structure. Still these fish do slither up and down the rocks, occasionally bumping into them when startled. Avoid using any fragile rock structures that can be knocked over easily.

Tank Specific Needs

Ask any snake or eel owner about their lids and you’ll hear the same thing. Creatures with long, easily controllable bodies are masters of escape. Any tank intended to house a Rope Fish will need to be outfitted with a secure cover, which locks or weight on top of it, with no holes being anywhere near as large as the Rope Fish. If your set up requires an open area you can instead use a mesh net to keep the Rope Fish in the tank.

Even tanks with lower water levels, well below the top of the tank, are not safe without lids. The Rope Fish is capable of much higher jumps than other fish and can easily clear the aquariums glass sides.

Rope Fish can be shy and love to hide in holes, caverns and underneath live plants. Providing these forms of cover are essential for a stress free Rope Fish and help deter any aggression.

Rope Fish appreciate tank length much more than height. If you have the option to choose between a standard, tall and breeder tank, pick the breeder. This tank shape will also make working with the tank over all easier.

The final note here is filtration and cleaning. The Rope Fish can be a messy or clean eater, depending on what you feed it. It is also a much larger fish than most hobbyists are used to keeping. For these reasons you will need to either increase your tanks over all filtration or perform more frequent water changes. I prefer the second route, as it keeps the water clean, provides more nutrients for the plants and costs a lot less.

Diet & Feeding

While the Rope Fish is a predator, it will not attack anything larger than guppies or minnows. This means most tank mates will be safe with the Rope Fish.

The standard Rope Fish diet will include a variety of insects, worms, prepared foods and fish chunks. Feeding anything with a large body, such as crickets and worms, will often make a mess in the tank, making for much more frequent water changes. For this reason I highly advice you to stick to prepared foods and fish chunks.

When using pellets and tablets you should soak the food in water a few minutes before dropping it into the tank. When the pellets are too hard the Rope Fish runs the risk of choking on it. They may also refuse the food if it smells odd, which you can solve by soaking the food in garlic or the liquid created when using frozen fish foods such as blood worms.

Juvenile Rope Fish should be fed twice a day where as adults should be fed every day or two depending on their meal size. This is entirely up to your preference. I enjoy watching my fish eat and happily choose to feed them daily. Feeding them a larger meal when you will have to be away a day is a useful aspect of this fish that most freshwater fish don’t share.

Behavior & Aggression

As said before these fish will slither around on any surface in the tank, exploring and interacting with their tank mates constantly. While the Rope Fish is not threatening, he can appear so to other fish. Pick tank mates who are not easily startled and avoid guppies and minnows at all costs. Likewise other young fish may be inappropriate to introduce to the tank, as they may be seen as food.

Another set of tank mates to avoid are small, bottom dwelling fish, inverts and frogs. These guys make easy targets for a hungry Rope Fish and are often small enough to be on his menu. If you do want some of these in your tank, you will need them to be somewhat grown before introducing the Rope Fish. Remember the Rope Fish Uses the two extensions on its nose to smell around. The cover of night is no different than the day time when introducing new fish. This takes away the common aquarist trick of introduction at night.

The gender of the rope fish can be discerned via the anal fin. The males will be almost twice as wide as the females. Breeding these fish in captivity has not had any recorded success.

2 thoughts on “Rope Fish Care Guide”

  1. My Ropefish has a spot on its head that looks as if he may have bumped it. It is not Ich. Does anyone know about this?

    • The main issue I see with rope fish is when owners add new rocks for them to slither around. Still, not many people own rope fish so this issue is really uncommon. Check to make sure your pH levels haven’t changed. This could cause some minor swelling which could also be seen as bumps if the swelling is localized.


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