Fishkeeping is becoming more and more popular, and aquarium enthusiasts around the world seem especially drawn to the more unique-looking species available.
And one of the most unique fish you can find for your aquarium is the rope fish—with the appearance of an underwater snake, unique and quirky personalities, and very gentle dispositions, the rope snake is a great choice for aquarists.
But what does keeping rope fish entail? Let’s take a closer look at everything you need to know about rope fish and how to care for these adorable underwater friends.
What Are Rope Fish: Origins And Appearance
Rope fish are a unique looking freshwater species that, though carnivorous in nature, can abide peacefully with other large fish in a tank. Their particularly serpentine appearance makes them a favorite with fish keepers, as they add an interesting dimension to an aquarium.
Where Do Rope Fish Come From?
Rope fish are originally native to the slow-moving, tropical waters of West and Central Africa and are also known as reed fish, belonging to the Polypteridae family. Because of their difficulty to breed in captivity, many domestic rope fish are still sourced from their natural habitat for aquarists to purchase.
However, because their native rivers are slowly degrading due to pollution, deforestation, and industrialization, rope fish are currently classed as a nearly threatened species, and domestic fish keeping can help preserve the species.
What Do Rope Fish Look Like?
Known for their snake-like appearance, rope fish have serpentine bodies that can grow quite long. They also have a large, spade-like head and diamond-shaped scales across their entire body, generally dirty green or yellow in color.
They have both gills and lungs, but their fins are hard to spot as the dorsal fins run very close to the body and typically do not stick out. The pectoral fins can be noticed if you look carefully for the dark spot that decorates their base.
How Long Do Rope Fish Get?
Rope fish will grow quite long for a typical freshwater aquarium fish. For healthy adults, by the time they finish growing they will be around 15 to 20 inches long, with a thick, cylindrical body, making them one of the larger species of aquarium pets.
This can surprise some new fish keepers, as rope fish are typically purchased when they are smaller juveniles, and will continue to grow very fast. For instance, in one year of having a rope fish, you can expect to see about 70% growth in their size if they are not already fully grown.
Because of their size, rope fish require a larger tank set up to accommodate their activities comfortably. And, if you want to keep other fish with your rope fish, they need to be larger in size as well to avoid any accidental rope fish snacking.
Rope Fish: Lifespan
How long do rope fish live? The answer to this question might surprise you. Rope fish have a good amount of longevity, with lifespans often lasting between 15 and 20 years. This is typical for rope fish kept in a healthy tank and without major health issues.
Thus, it’s imperative that if you are considering a rope fish for your aquarium that you are prepared to care for them for their entire lifespan. This can be a challenge though, as rope fish are one of the longer-lived aquarium fish, and they require a dedicated fish keeper for such a long span of time.
Rope Fish: Behavior
Despite their size and sinuous appearance, rope fish are among some of the most tranquil and docile fish that you can have in your aquarium.
Rope fish are typically nocturnal, preferring to do much of their movement when the tank is dark. However, if you feed them routinely during the day then your rope fish will become more active in the daytime hours, and you can observe them better.
They are calm and gentle, spending a lot of their time at the bottom of the tank, in the substrate, or weaving in and out of long plants in the aquarium. But you will see them travel to the top of the tank for breaths of air every now and then!
When interacting and socializing with other fish species, the rope fish is fascinating to watch. Their movement is graceful and fluid, and they like to mingle peacefully—though fish keepers will notice sparks of unique personalities come out in their rope fish.
They are known to have a slight mischievous streak, including hiding from their keepers only to pop out from a cave or plants, and their impressive jumping skills, which means that you need a tight lid and fast reflexes to keep a rope fish.
Rope Fish: Compatibility
Some fish prefer to be the only ones in the tank, while others need a wide group of finned fellows to mingle and thrive with. Where do rope fish fall on the sociability scale? Let’s discuss the compatibility of rope fish and discover what their social needs are.
Are Rope Fish Community Fish?
In short, yes—rope fish are community fish. Though their appearance can be somewhat frightening to some people, rope fish are very tranquil and social. Rope fish will thrive when placed with different kinds of fish in a tank, so long as the others are also peaceful in nature.
Rope fish can live in schools with others of their own kind easily, as they are non-aggressive and friendly. Aquarists have been known to keep up to six rope fish in a group together with no issues. However, the size of the tank required will increase with each rope fish you add to it, due to their length.
They are carnivorous, so that needs to be taken into account when placing them in a communal tank. But rope fish are not known for attacking other fish while there is plenty of other food available, so it would only be as a last resort.
With that being said, most tank mates for rope fish should be on the larger size, just to account for the size of rope fish and to avoid any unfortunate prey-trigger incidents.
Best Tank Mates For Rope Fish
What are the best options for rope fish tank mates? Let’s meet some of the choices you have when building a community tank around your rope fish. As previously mentioned, these fish will be larger species, so the tank size for a communal aquarium with a rope fish will necessarily increase, too.
Some of the best tank mates for your rope fish include the following species:
- Bala Sharks.
- Clown Loaches.
- Dwarf Gouramis.
- Glass Catfish.
- Pictus Catfish.
- Rainbow Sharks.
- Siamese Algae Eaters.
- Yo-Yo Loaches.
Worst Tank Mates For Rope Fish
Rope fish are carnivorous, but they typically do not display aggression towards other fish, or use them as a go-to food source. However, if their tank mates are particularly small, you might notice a few going missing during the night as rope fish snacks.
Additionally, due to their easy-going nature, rope fish need to be kept separate from particularly aggressive fish species. Rope fish are unlikely to defend themselves from an attacker, and they can get hurt quite easily when mixed into a tank with aggressive or territorial fish that will harass them.
Here are some kinds of fish that are unsuitable as rope fish tank mates:
- Convict Cichlids.
- Flowerhorn Cichlids.
- Harlequin Rasboras.
You should also shy away from adding any small invertebrates to the mix, for the same reason that smaller fish species should be avoided.
In their natural habitat, the diet of rope fish includes small prey like shrimp and snails, so having them in your aquarium may turn it into an accidental rope fish buffet, unless they are explicitly there as a food source anyway.
Rope Fish: Habitat And Tank Requirements
Rope fish are among some of the best fish to keep in your home aquarium. However, their size and care requirements mean the tank needs to be maintained closely to keep the rope fish healthy. Let’s take a closer look at the tank requirements for proper rope fish care.
Rope Fish Tank Size
As mentioned previously, rope fish are surprisingly big for a freshwater fish species. Because they are a larger species, they need a sizable tank—about 45 to 50 gallons at minimum for one rope fish. And with each additional rope fish you add, you should increase the size of the tank by 10 gallons.
They should have a rectangular-shaped tank with plenty of bottom space, instead of a tall one. You want to give your rope fish as much substrate room as possible so they can hide and feel safe.
Rope Fish Water Requirements
Rope fish originate from the tropical waters of African rivers, so imitating those conditions is essential to keeping them healthy in your aquarium. As such, water temperatures for rope fish need to be kept warm, with a neutral pH.
Use a heater to keep the water between 72 and 82°F for the optimal conditions for rope fish. Water hardness levels should be maintained between 4 and 18 dH.
Additionally, you should keep the pH levels in the range of 6.7 to 7.8. Because rope fish are susceptible to fluctuations in their conditions, it is important to keep these levels consistent and not allow them to change.
Rope Fish Tank Setup
Rope fish need plenty of hides and plants in their tank so they feel comfortable. As shy, nocturnal fish, they need the ability to vanish when not feeling social. Additionally, they require soft substrate on the tank bottom to rest in during the day.
These fish are known for their jumping ability and antics, so ensuring that your tank has a well-fitted lid is essential for keeping your rope fish safe. However, keep an eye on that lid, as rope fish have been known to make their way past even a closed lid!
Aeration is not required for your rope fish, but they do need access to the tank’s surface, as they breathe air as well as use their gills. If they are not able to access oxygen on the surface of the water it will suffocate them, so make sure there is room.
Filter systems are necessary for rope fish, as they create a good deal of waste due to their diet. But you need to ensure the filter system is not large enough for them to get stuck in, as rope fish are adventurous.
Rope Fish: Diet
As previously mentioned, rope fish are carnivorous, but they are known to be somewhat picky about their diet in captivity. To avoid having any of your smaller fish becoming a snack for the rope fish, make sure to feed them a varied and structured diet of their favorites.
What Do Rope Fish Eat?
Rope fish are content with a diet consisting of pellets or flakes that is well supplemented by prey treats. This includes shrimp, snails, insects, larvae, or even frozen bits of meat. For instance, if you give your rope fish one or two large shrimp every day, on top of fish pellets, they will be very pleased.
Rope fish need to be fed twice a day when they are growing, and once a day when fully matured, although once mature they can go up to two days without food if necessary.
Breeding Rope Fish
Breeding these fish in captivity is a very difficult task, and even fish experts have been known to have issues with its success. This is because natural rope fish habitat conditions are nearly impossible to replicate sufficiently for breeding to occur naturally.
When breeding rope fish, they typically need hormonal injections done by a professional. However, this can be difficult as well, due to troubles in telling the males and females apart. Some aquarists have had success in at-home breeding, though.
To encourage mating, the water temperature in the tank should be raised slightly, and you should ensure that you have tall plants on the bottom of the aquarium, such as Water Wisteria or Vallisneria.
After swimming together with the male during courtship, the female will go to the bottom of the tank and remain motionless within the plants while the eggs are fertilized. Then, the eggs themselves will stick to the surrounding plant fronds until they are ready to hatch, usually within 70 hours.
It is advised to separate the parents from the newly hatched rope fish fry, as they might mistake them for a food source and eat them. Keep them separated until the babies are matured sufficiently to no longer be in danger.
Rope Fish: Diseases
Though a hardy species, rope fish can develop illnesses during their long lifespans. These include cottonmouth, dropsy, popeye, and velvet, but the most common disease is called ich, shown by white spots on the body.
If you keep their tank clean and the water conditions consistent, you can generally avoid illnesses within your rope fish population. However, if you see any strange markings, change in colors, or reduced movement, take your fish to the veterinarian to help diagnose and treat them.
Do you have further questions about rope fish and their care? Let’s dive into some of the most common queries that fellow aquarists ask about keeping rope fish.
Do Rope Fish Eat Other Fish?
While rope fish can eat other fish, as they are carnivores, they do not tend to harm their tank mates. They prefer to eat insects, crustaceans, or worms in the wild, and in captivity will not attack other fish unless other food is not provided to them, as they are a docile species.
So, as long as you keep your rope fish fed and happy you should have nothing to worry about when it comes to tank mates!
Is A Rope Fish A Snake?
Rope fish are not a type of snake. Though their appearance does give them a particularly serpentine look, rope fish are elongated freshwater fish, and not a kind of reptile. Rope fish even have lungs as well as gills, which makes them able to thrive in oxygen-poor water and take in air from the surface.
Do Rope Fish Lay Eggs?
When breeding, rope fish do lay eggs. Generally, these eggs are laid in the protection of plant life and stick to the surfaces around them. Rope fish eggs will hatch quickly—within around 70 hours, when they will use the yolk sac for further nourishment.
How Big Do Rope fish Get?
Among other popular aquarium fish, rope fish are a surprisingly large species, which can catch new aquarists off-guard. Rope fish can reach lengths of nearly two feet when they are fully grown, typically ending their growth at around 20 inches.
Because of this, rope fish need a good-sized tank with plenty of room to move around in, among any tank mates you might place them with.
What Fish Can Go With Ropefish?
Rope fish can have a variety of other fish in the same tank, thanks to their gentile and easy-going nature. Other fish should be large in size and equally tranquil in temperament for the best fit. Fish that pair well with rope fish include the following:
- Clown Loaches.
- Glass Catfish.
Rope fish are an interesting-looking fish that has recently become more popular with aquarists looking for a unique addition to their at-home setup.
These fish are fascinating to watch, fairly simple to care for, and because of their long lifespans will be a good companion to you for many years to come. This makes them an ideal aquarium inhabitant for you and other scaly tank mates!
Hi, my name is Adam and I’m an aquarium enthusiast! I didn’t discover the joys of being an ‘aquarium fanatic’ (as some of my friends call me!) until I was in my 20’s. When I first started out I found it difficult to find all the information I needed so I started this website to compile all the useful information I can think of. Enjoy!