Elephant Nose Fish 101: Care, Tank Mates, Diet & More (2022)

If you’re looking to give your tank a touch of originality, then elephant nose fish are the perfect choice. They are an unusual but beautiful species, and they do not look like any other fish, which is one of the many reasons why they are loved and admired by hobbyists worldwide. Unfortunately, they are not advised for beginners, because they are quite complicated to care for, and do require some special attention which will be discussed here. If you want to learn more about this fantastic creature then keep reading to find out more.

Elephant Nose Fish Basics

elephant nose fish basics

Elephant Nose Fish originate from Africa, and are typically found in the countries of Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically in the Congo Basin. They inhabit dark, muddy waters with a lot of plant life. This species is classified as mormyrids because in comparison to other fish, they have very large brains. It is said to be comparable to the size of a human brain in proportions, and as a result they are capable of finding food in the dark and are able to identify the different species of fish they are housed with.

Size: 5-9 inches

Lifespan: 6-10 years

Temperament: Elephant nose fish have been incorrectly labelled as aggressive in the past. They can become aggressive, especially when they are in the wrong environment, but aggression is not their dominant nature. In general, this species is timid, but they need to be kept in a school. A school of 3-4 is good, but 5-7 is even better. These fish feel more comfortable in a large school, and will therefore rarely demonstrate aggression. Keeping two males together is not a good idea though, because the dominant one will overpower the weaker one, and in some cases, they will kill.

What do Elephant Nose Fish Look Like?

Elephant nose fish have a gray or a very dark brown color, with some yellow-white stripes running along their side to the back of the fin. As the name suggests, they have a very long nose, similar to an elephants. The body is thin and long, with smooth features. In general fish are known for having perfect eyesight, but not this species, they can barely see at all. Instead they get around the tank by using electrical impulses.

These impulses make the fish aware of any objects that are coming up so they can maneuver around them. Due to the length of the nose and the way it points towards the ground, their appearance has also been compared to that of a sword. The nose is joined to the mouth, and there is no space between the two features. The head of the elephant nose fish is also thin and long, and the eyes are positioned on the sides of the head.

The elephant nose fish in its youth is typically around 3-4 inches in length, but they can grow to up to 9 inches long as adults.

Tank Conditions For Elephant Nose Fish

Elephant nose fish have a love for digging, so you will often find them at the bottom of the tank digging up the substrate. They are accustomed to having a lot of plants, branches, and other debris in their natural environment. You will need to replicate this as close as possible, and you can achieve this by making sure the bottom of the tank is covered in a thick layer of sand, with plenty of rocks, branches, and small plants.

With such items at the bottom of the tank, elephant nose fish can engage in their natural urge to poke and dig around things on the floor.

It is important to mention that what elephant nose fish lack in sight, they make up for in hearing. They’ve got excellent hearing, which makes them sensitive to noise and vibrations, so they will need to be kept away from anything that will startle them.

elephant nose fish in aquarium

Water Conditions:

Water conditions are very important for elephant nose fish, if these requirements are not met, they will become unwell. The water temperature needs to be between 73-82 degrees F. It is advised that you keep an eye on the temperature by regularly measuring it with a thermometer. You may need to invest in a water heater to ensure the temperature is properly regulated.

Elephant nose fish don’t do well in water that has an extreme pH level. It can’t be too alkaline, nor can it be too acidic. Set the pH level so that it remains between 6.5 and 7.2. This species also does well when the water hardness is close to their natural environment of 0-10KH.

These fish are sensitive to water parameters, and sudden changes are not good for them. It helps to use a water testing kit at least once a week, as this will let you know if you need to make any changes.

Elephant nose fish are most active at night, they don’t like bright lights, so you’ll need to make sure the tank is kept dim. You can create this by adding a lot of caves to the tank. They will hide in them during the day. Additionally, the tank needs a lid, because these fish can jump quite high and have been known to leap out of the tank.

It’s also important to mention that because elephant nose fish are so sensitive, the tank should be kept free of algae, and you will need to maintain a regular cleaning schedule. This cleaning schedule should include a 10 or 15 percent weekly water change if your tank is large. For a small tank, you’ll need to do a 25 percent weekly water change. Your nitrates should be 5 ppm or under, and your ammonia should be at 0 ppm. You can make these water changes easier by investing in a python. Additionally, elephant nose fish are sensitive to salt and medications, prevention is better than a cure, so just don’t try to fix it after the fact.

Plants for Elephant Nose Fish

You will need certain types of plants for the elephant nose fish tank. They should have a dense root structure, be capable of keeping light out of the tank, and they must be able to tolerate low light levels. These plants must also have the ability to grow on rocks, driftwood, and in sand. Here are some of the best plants for the elephant nose fish’s tank:

Plants for Elephant Nose Fish

Java Moss: This plant doesn’t need much care, they are sturdy and grow slowly. They create nice looking lush beds that fan out and float in the current.

Water Wisteria: It grows quickly and is great for keeping nitrates and ammonia under control. Water wisteria repels blue-green algae, contains antimicrobial properties, and will make a good shelter for your fish to hide in.

Anubias: These plants are great for low-tech setups, even with fish who like munching on plants. You will also find that they don’t melt as much as other aquarium plants.

Duckweed: Duckweed is unpredictable, it can either be a dream come true or your worst nightmare. This floating plant just doesn’t die, and it will quickly make a thick layer at the top of the tank. The only problem is that it’s difficult to get rid of once it’s in the tank. So, if you don’t want permanent plants in your tank, don’t buy duckweed.

Java Fern: This low light plant is very sturdy, and doesn’t need soil, Co2, or fertilizer. You can use it to create a jungle-like theme inside your tank.

Vallisneria: Vallisneria grows fast, and quickly covers the tank with thick forests similar to kelp.

Tank Lighting: As mentioned, elephant nose fish are nocturnal, and they don’t like light. Using plants to create a dim atmosphere works well, but if you ever want to see your fish, it’s a good idea to get yourself some adjustable lighting. You can either put the lighting on low, or use the red light during the day and keep the bright lights on during the night for the plants. The reason why it’s good to use red light is that elephant nose fish can’t see it, so it doesn’t bother them as much.

Tank Size: The best sized tank for the elephant nose fish is at least a 50 gallon tank because they are a large species. This will give them the space they need to swim around comfortably. The tank also needs to be big enough to fit extra items like plants, rocks, and branches as previously mentioned.

Tank Filtration: Filtration is really important when it comes to elephant nose fish. As mentioned, they don’t like changes in water parameters, and they are also large fish. Additionally, elephant noses are not keen on a lot of movement, but their oxygen needs are high. The options available to you are a sump, or a canister filter. Whichever one you go with, you will need a spray bar so that the flow stays at a reasonable rate. A spray bar will also keep the water well oxygenated and clean. But to be extra certain your elephant nose fish are getting enough oxygen, use an air pump that has an airstone attached to it.

Tank Mates

Elephant nose fish are very sensitive to water parameters; therefore, you will need to prioritise this when choosing their tank mates. Their tank mates should be of the same temperament, and capable of tolerating the elephant nose fishes’ water conditions. Here are some of the best fish to pair with the elephant nose:

Angelfish: In general angelfish have a peaceful temperament, though they can get aggressive towards each other, especially during spawning season. They are also known to eat fish that are smaller than them. But since they only grow to 3 inches in length, they are not a threat to adult elephant nose fish.

Black ghost knife fish: These fish are shy and not the most social. They have a preference for solitude and will get aggressive when housed with others of their own kind.

Pearl gourami: They are a peaceful species, but they need to be in a large tank, because if they feel their space is being violated they can get aggressive, no matter who they’re sharing a tank with.

Diamond Tetra: Diamond tetras are good for community tanks, but they do have a nipping habit when they’re in a shoal of more than 8. They mind their own business generally though, and they’re usually peaceful and get on well with their tank mates.

African Leaf Fish: African leaf fish like their own company, so if they’re going to live with other fish, compatibility is essential. They don’t move much, and float around like a leaf – hence the name! In general, African leaf fish are peaceful, but they will eat smaller tank mates. At only 3.2 inches in length though, they are of no threat to elephant nose fish.

Ropefish: You will also hear them referred to as snakefish, or reedfish. Like the elephant nose, they have a unique feature, and that’s in their smile. They are peaceful, but they’re known to eat other fish. Even though they grow to 36 inches in length ropefish are not considered big, because they’re very thin.

Sparkling gourami: This species is gentle and peaceful, they would rather avoid conflict instead of confronting it.

Small bichirs: These fish are predators, and they are moderately aggressive. When kept with smaller fish, they will bully them and do things like nip their fins, and they are also known to eat small fish. But again, elephant nose fish are a lot bigger than small bichirs, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Congo tetra: The Congo tetra is a peaceful and timid fish, they don’t like being around aggressive or overly active fish. They are also very tolerant.

Cory catfish: Corys are peaceful, calm, and nonaggressive. One of the main reasons why they make good tank mates for elephant nose fish though is because they are most active during the day, which means they will stay out of their way during the night.

Kuhli Loach: These fish are easy to keep, and they are known to be shy and very peaceful. They like swimming at the bottom of the tank.

Marbled Hatchetfish: The marbled hatchetfish also like jumping, this behavioral pattern is one of the reasons why they are compatible with elephant nose fish. They are peaceful, but easily startled, and this can make them jump.

African Butterfly Fish: This species are also jumpers, but in general, they don’t move much around the tank. Although they are peaceful, they do eat smaller fish, but their smaller size means they don’t pose a threat for adult elephant nose fish.

Orange Bushfish: Most people have never heard of the orange bushfish, not because they’re a rare breed, they’re just not popular. In general, they are a peaceful species, they get along with other fish but they can get aggressive with other orange bushfish.

Glass Catfish: You will also hear them referred to as ghost catfish. They make the perfect tank mates for elephant nose fish because they like being surrounded by plants and dim lighting. They are peaceful fish, and prefer to be in groups of their own kind.

Black Neon Tetra: The black neon tetra has no relation to neon tetras or the black tetra, the black neon tetra is a completely different species. They’ve got the same peaceful temperament as the neon tetra though, but without the health problems.

What to Feed Elephant Nose Fish

The elephant nose fish is carnivorous, they eat meat that is high in protein. In their natural environment they feed on insects and insect larvae. In particular, they love mosquitos and their larvae, so if they have a choice, that is their first pick. However, they also like whiteworms, bloodworms, and small earthworms. If you can’t get live worms, frozen worms will do.

Elephant nose fish will also eat pellets or freeze dried foods. You should also bear in mind that they hoover their food up, they don’t chew it. You will have a pleasant experience when it comes to feeding elephant nose fish, due to their high intellect, as after a while they will become accustomed to their feeding routine, so when it’s time to eat, they will make their way to the surface of the water and take the food right from your hand.

Breeding Elephant Nose Fish

elephant nose fish breeding

It is virtually impossible to breed elephant nose fish in a home aquarium, and this is due to their gender dysmorphism. You can not tell the difference between the males and the females, it is clear that breeding is not a problem for this species when they are in their natural habitat, but if you are looking for fish to breed, elephant nose fish are not advised.

Complications With Elephant Nose Fish

Apart from damaging their mouth on substrate, elephant nose fish rarely get sick. But there are a few conditions that show up more than others, and these include the following:

Tapeworm: These rice-like small worms can fall out of the fish’s anus without them passing feces. The worms break into very small pieces, which is why the condition is difficult to diagnose in fish. Tapeworm is passed on by other fish, and the symptoms include stunted growth, a caved in stomach, and difficulty thriving.

Fin Rot: Fin rot is a common condition, it’s an infection that targets the fins, but it can also affect other parts of the skin. It can also affect the organs in the body. Fin rot usually starts as a wound that has gone unnoticed and then becomes infected. The condition is characterized by a raised red, white, or pink spot on the fin. A water based treatment is not advised for elephant nose fish, because they alter the parameters of the water which can be bad for them.

The best treatment for fin rot is to improve the water c0nditions in the tank. Additionally, pay close attention to your fish to ensure they don’t have any nips, because not only do elephant nose fish like digging, but they’ve also got limited eyesight, and it’s easy for them to bump into items in the tank.

Fungal Infection: If you notice white or gray looking patches on your fish that look similar to cotton wool, they’ve probably got a fungal infection. If left untreated, the fungus will eat through the skin, and cause ulcers, and in some cases death. Large amounts of waste and decaying cause are the typical causes of fungus, so if you are cleaning your tank out on a regular basis, it is unlikely that your fish will suffer from a fungal infection.

Fungal infections are easy to cure, an anti-bacterial treatment from your local pet store will do the job.

Ich: Ich is another common disease in fish, you will also hear it referred to as white spot disease. It is a parasitic infection characterized by small white spots, and your elephant nose will look like it has had grains of salt sprinkled over its body. Your fish will also start hiding more than normal, they will lose their appetite, and they will start scraping their body against objects in the tank.

Complications With Elephant Nose Fish

The disease can kill your fish if it is not treated in time, because the parasite would have caused so much damage that the skin becomes resistant to medication. Don’t try and treat the condition yourself, get professional advice before going ahead with any form of treatment with this.


Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about elephant nose fish:

Are elephant nose fish hard to keep?

Yes, they need to live in very strict water conditions to survive. Therefore, elephant nose fish are not for beginners.

What do elephant nose fish eat?

They eat small worms, with bloodworms appearing to be their favorite. They also eat mosquito larvae, flakes or frozen foods.

Are elephant nose fish aggressive?

No, they are generally peaceful, but when housed with a single other elephant nose fish, they can get aggressive

How do you take care of an elephant nose fish? 

Elephant nose fish are unique, and a lot of care and consideration must go into looking after them. They need to be in the right water conditions at all times.

Final Thought

Considering the fact that elephant nose fish are so demanding, and because they are nocturnal, elephant nose fish are not suited for most home aquariums. Unless you’re an expert hobbyist, these fish are not ideal.