Elephant Nose Fish Care Guide

Elephant Nose Fish


The Elephant Nose Fish, scientifically known as Gnathonemus petersii, is a fascinating species of fish that originates from the rivers and streams of West Africa. This unique fish is renowned for its distinctive and elongated snout, which closely resembles an elephant’s trunk, hence its common name.

Unique Characteristics

The most notable feature of the Elephant Nose Fish is its long, tubular snout. This specialized organ is highly sensitive and plays a crucial role in the fish’s ability to navigate its surroundings and communicate with others. Using a specialized sensory system called electrolocation, the Elephant Nose Fish generates weak electrical pulses, allowing it to detect objects, locate prey, and communicate with conspecifics.

This species is also known for its adaptability to low light conditions. It has large, well-developed eyes that are specifically adapted for nocturnal activity. The Elephant Nose Fish can effectively navigate and search for food in dimly lit environments, making it a captivating addition to an aquarium with subdued lighting.

The combination of its unique physical features and remarkable electrolocation abilities makes the Elephant Nose Fish a truly intriguing species for fish enthusiasts and researchers alike.

Summary Table

Common NameElephant Nose Fish
Scientific NameGnathonemus petersii
Origin / DistributionRivers and streams of West Africa
SizeUp to 8 inches (20 cm)
Aquarium SizeMinimum 30 gallons
Water ParametersTemperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C), pH: 6.0-7.5, Hardness: Soft to moderately hard
Feeding FrequencyOnce or twice daily
TemperamentGenerally peaceful
TankmatesPeaceful species that won’t nip at its long, delicate tail
BreedingDifficult to breed in captivity
Lifespan5-8 years
Care LevelIntermediate
Unique Features / AppearanceLong, tubular snout resembling an elephant’s trunk
Conservation StatusNot evaluated (NE)
Additional NotesElephant Nose Fish are known for their ability to generate weak electrical pulses to navigate and communicate. They prefer a well-planted aquarium with subdued lighting. Provide hiding spots and open swimming space. Avoid keeping them with aggressive or fin-nipping tankmates.


The Elephant Nose Fish belongs to the following taxonomic categories:

  • Common Name: Elephant Nose Fish
  • Scientific Name: Gnathonemus petersii
  • Family: Mormyridae
  • Order: Osteoglossiformes

The common name “Elephant Nose Fish” is widely used to refer to this species due to its elongated snout resembling an elephant’s trunk. Its scientific name, Gnathonemus petersii, is a combination of the genus name “Gnathonemus” and the species epithet “petersii.”

In the classification system, the Elephant Nose Fish is part of the family Mormyridae, which is known as the elephantfishes. This family comprises various species of freshwater fish found primarily in Africa. The Elephant Nose Fish falls under the order Osteoglossiformes, which includes other notable fish species like arowanas and arapaimas.

Natural Habitat & Distribution

The Elephant Nose Fish is naturally found in the rivers and streams of West Africa. Its distribution encompasses various countries, including Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo. Within these regions, it inhabits freshwater ecosystems characterized by dense vegetation and slow-moving or stagnant water.

In the wild, the Elephant Nose Fish is typically found in habitats such as shallow pools, floodplains, and backwaters of rivers. These areas often feature a combination of submerged plants, fallen branches, and leaf litter, providing ample hiding places and suitable foraging grounds for the fish.

The fish is well adapted to low-light conditions, and it prefers environments with subdued lighting. This preference is attributed to its specialized sensory system, which relies on weak electrical pulses for navigation and communication. The dense vegetation in its natural habitat also aids in providing cover and creating a comfortable environment for the Elephant Nose Fish.

Understanding the natural habitat and distribution of the Elephant Nose Fish is crucial when setting up an aquarium to mimic its preferred conditions. Providing suitable vegetation and appropriate lighting can contribute to the well-being and overall health of this intriguing species.

Physical Appearance


The Elephant Nose Fish reaches an average adult size of up to 8 inches (20 cm) in length. While weight can vary, it is generally not the primary indicator of size for this species.

Coloration and Patterns

The Elephant Nose Fish exhibits a relatively plain but striking coloration. Its body is typically dark brown to black, providing excellent camouflage in its natural habitat. However, when viewed under proper lighting, a subtle metallic sheen can be observed on its scales.

The fish often has a white or pale yellow band that runs horizontally across its body, extending from the base of the pectoral fin to the caudal peduncle. This band adds visual interest and contrasts with the dark background color.

Body Shape and Fin Structures

The Elephant Nose Fish has an elongated, eel-like body shape. Its body is slender and laterally compressed, allowing it to navigate through dense vegetation and tight spaces with ease. The dorsal and anal fins are fused, forming a long continuous fin that spans most of the fish’s back.

The most distinctive physical feature of the Elephant Nose Fish is its elongated snout, resembling an elephant’s trunk. This specialized organ contains electroreceptors and plays a crucial role in the fish’s sensory perception and communication abilities.

Sexual Dimorphism

Sexual dimorphism in the Elephant Nose Fish is not easily discernible based on external physical characteristics alone. In general, males and females appear similar in terms of coloration, body shape, and fin structures. To determine the sex of these fish reliably, internal examination or observation of their breeding behavior is typically necessary.

Behavior & Temperament

General Behavior

The Elephant Nose Fish is generally known for its peaceful temperament, making it a suitable addition to community aquariums. It tends to exhibit a calm and non-aggressive demeanor. However, it is important to note that individual behavior can vary, and some individuals may display slight territorial or aggressive tendencies, particularly when establishing their own space within the aquarium. Overall, though, they are considered relatively peaceful fish.

Social Interactions with Other Fish

The Elephant Nose Fish is not a schooling species and prefers to be solitary or in small groups. They do not exhibit strong social behaviors or form tight-knit schools like some other fish species. Instead, they tend to be more focused on their individual territories and interactions with their environment.

Suitable Tankmates

When selecting tankmates for the Elephant Nose Fish, it is important to consider compatible species that share similar water parameter requirements and exhibit peaceful behavior. Avoid keeping them with fin-nipping or aggressive tankmates, as this can cause stress and potential harm to the Elephant Nose Fish.

Some suitable tankmates for the Elephant Nose Fish include peaceful community fish such as tetras, rasboras, dwarf cichlids, and peaceful bottom-dwelling species like Corydoras catfish. These species are generally compatible in terms of temperament and have similar environmental needs.

Always monitor the interactions between different fish species in the aquarium and be prepared to make adjustments or rearrange tankmates if any aggression or compatibility issues arise. Providing plenty of hiding places and visual barriers within the aquarium can help reduce stress and provide the Elephant Nose Fish with retreat options if needed.

Aquarium Requirements

Minimum Tank Size

The Elephant Nose Fish requires a minimum tank size of 30 gallons (113 liters) to provide ample swimming space and accommodate its elongated body comfortably.

Water Parameters

Maintaining suitable water parameters is essential for the health and well-being of the Elephant Nose Fish. Recommended water conditions are as follows:

  • Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)
  • pH: 6.0-7.5
  • Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water is preferred, with a range of 5-15 dGH.

It’s important to monitor and maintain stable water conditions by conducting regular water tests and making necessary adjustments when needed.

Filtration and Aeration Needs

Good filtration and aeration are crucial for the Elephant Nose Fish, as they require well-oxygenated water. A high-quality aquarium filter with efficient biological, mechanical, and chemical filtration capabilities is recommended to maintain water quality. Additionally, gentle water movement and the provision of adequate surface agitation help ensure sufficient oxygen exchange.

Substrate Preferences

When it comes to substrate, the Elephant Nose Fish does not have specific preferences. However, a fine-grained substrate, such as sand or small-sized gravel, is generally recommended. Avoid using rough or sharp-edged substrates to prevent potential injuries to the fish’s delicate undersides.

Lighting Requirements

The Elephant Nose Fish prefers subdued lighting conditions. Provide a lighting setup that mimics the dimly lit environment of its natural habitat. Use aquarium lights with adjustable intensity or consider incorporating floating plants or other forms of shade to create areas of low light within the tank.

Decorations and Hiding Places

The Elephant Nose Fish appreciates a well-decorated aquarium with plenty of hiding places. Use live or artificial plants to provide cover and create a natural environment. Additionally, incorporate driftwood, rock formations, and other aquarium decorations to offer hiding spots and break up the line of sight within the tank. Providing visual barriers helps reduce stress and allows the Elephant Nose Fish to establish its territory.

Diet & Feeding

The Elephant Nose Fish is an omnivorous species, meaning it consumes a combination of plant matter and small invertebrates in the wild. Replicating a diverse and balanced diet in captivity is essential for their health and overall well-being.

Type of Diet

In terms of diet, the Elephant Nose Fish is considered an omnivore. It will readily accept a variety of foods, including:

  • High-quality commercial fish flakes or pellets designed for omnivorous fish.
  • Live or frozen foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and small insect larvae.
  • Fresh or blanched vegetables like spinach, zucchini, and peas. These provide essential fiber and micronutrients.

A varied diet is recommended to ensure that the Elephant Nose Fish receives all the necessary nutrients. By offering a combination of prepared foods, live or frozen foods, and fresh vegetables, you can provide a more balanced and enriching diet.

Feeding Frequency

Feed the Elephant Nose Fish small portions of food 1-2 times a day. They have a relatively fast metabolism and should be provided with enough food to satisfy their nutritional needs without overfeeding.

Tips for Providing a Balanced and Varied Diet

To provide a balanced and varied diet for the Elephant Nose Fish, consider the following tips:

  • Rotate between high-quality commercial fish flakes or pellets and various live or frozen foods to provide a diverse range of nutrients.
  • Supplement their diet with fresh or blanched vegetables, which add essential fiber and contribute to a more natural feeding experience.
  • Avoid overfeeding, as it can lead to water quality issues and potential health problems. Feed an amount that the fish can consume within a few minutes and remove any uneaten food promptly.

Observing the feeding behavior and adjusting the diet as necessary is crucial. Ensure that the Elephant Nose Fish is actively consuming the provided food and adjust the amount and frequency of feeding accordingly.

Tank Mates

Compatible Species

The Elephant Nose Fish can generally coexist peacefully with other peaceful community fish species. Some compatible tank mates for the Elephant Nose Fish include:

  • Tetras (such as Neon Tetras, Ember Tetras, or Rummy Nose Tetras)
  • Rasboras (such as Harlequin Rasboras or Chili Rasboras)
  • Dwarf Cichlids (such as Apistogramma species)
  • Peaceful bottom-dwelling species (such as Corydoras Catfish or Kuhli Loaches)

These species share similar temperament and water parameter requirements, making them suitable companions for the Elephant Nose Fish in a community tank.

Incompatible or Potentially Problematic Species

It’s important to avoid keeping the Elephant Nose Fish with aggressive or fin-nipping species, as they can cause stress, aggression, and potential harm to the Elephant Nose Fish. Some species that are generally not recommended as tank mates for the Elephant Nose Fish include:

  • Aggressive Cichlids (such as larger African or South American Cichlids)
  • Fin-nipping species (such as Tiger Barbs or Serpae Tetras)
  • Highly territorial or aggressive species (such as some species of larger Gouramis or African Knifefish)

These species may display behaviors that can intimidate or harm the Elephant Nose Fish, leading to stress, fin damage, or even injuries.

Recommendations for Creating a Harmonious Community Tank

To create a harmonious community tank with the Elephant Nose Fish, consider the following recommendations:

  • Research the temperament, adult size, and specific care requirements of potential tank mates before adding them to the aquarium.
  • Provide ample space and hiding places to allow each fish to establish its territory and reduce competition.
  • Avoid overcrowding the tank, as it can lead to increased aggression and stress among the fish.
  • Monitor the interactions between different species and be prepared to make adjustments or separate tank mates if aggression or compatibility issues arise.
  • Maintain good water quality, as clean and stable conditions help promote the overall well-being of all tank inhabitants.

By carefully selecting compatible species and providing appropriate tank conditions, you can create a harmonious and thriving community tank with the Elephant Nose Fish as the centerpiece.


Breeding Behavior

Breeding the Elephant Nose Fish in captivity can be challenging, and successful breeding is less common compared to some other aquarium fish species. The fish exhibits complex breeding behaviors that may require specific conditions and careful observation.

During the breeding process, male Elephant Nose Fish may engage in a courtship display, which includes flaring their fins and displaying vibrant colors. Males may also produce clicking sounds using specialized muscles associated with their swim bladder. This acoustic communication is believed to play a role in courtship and spawning.

Ideal Breeding Conditions

Creating ideal breeding conditions can increase the chances of successful breeding. Consider the following factors:

  • Provide a spacious breeding tank of at least 30 gallons (113 liters) with plenty of hiding places and subdued lighting.
  • Maintain water parameters within the recommended range: temperature around 79-82°F (26-28°C), pH between 6.5 and 7.5, and soft to moderately hard water with a hardness of 5-15 dGH.
  • Simulate the rainy season by performing partial water changes with slightly cooler water and adjusting the lighting schedule to mimic natural light cycles.
  • Feed the breeding pair a varied and high-quality diet to ensure they are in optimal health and condition for spawning.

Raising Fry and Specific Care Requirements

Raising the fry (offspring) of the Elephant Nose Fish can be challenging, as the parents may not provide parental care, and the fry have specific care requirements. Consider the following guidelines:

  • After spawning, separate the eggs or fry from the parents, as they may eat their own eggs or fry.
  • Transfer the eggs or newly hatched fry to a separate rearing tank with gentle filtration and subdued lighting.
  • Feed the fry small live foods such as baby brine shrimp or microworms, gradually transitioning to finely crushed flake or pellet foods as they grow.
  • Maintain excellent water quality and stability, as young fry are sensitive to changes in water conditions.
  • Monitor their growth and adjust feeding and care routines accordingly to promote healthy development.

Breeding the Elephant Nose Fish can be a challenging and rewarding experience. Patience, observation, and providing the right conditions are key to increasing the chances of successful breeding and raising healthy fry.

Health & Disease

Common Diseases and Their Symptoms

The Elephant Nose Fish, like any other fish species, is susceptible to certain diseases. Some common diseases that can affect them include:

  • Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis): Symptoms include white spots resembling grains of salt on the fish’s body and fins, increased scratching or rubbing against objects.
  • Fin Rot: It is characterized by fraying or deterioration of the fish’s fins, which may appear ragged or discolored.
  • Bacterial Infections: These can manifest as ulcers, sores, or lesions on the fish’s body, along with other symptoms such as lethargy, loss of appetite, and abnormal swimming behavior.
  • Parasitic Infections: External parasites like fish lice or internal parasites like worms can cause various symptoms such as irritation, redness, weight loss, or changes in behavior.

Prevention and Treatment Strategies

To prevent diseases and maintain the overall health of your Elephant Nose Fish, consider the following strategies:

  • Provide a clean and well-maintained aquarium with proper filtration and regular water changes to ensure good water quality.
  • Quarantine new fish before introducing them to the main tank to prevent the spread of diseases.
  • Avoid overstocking the aquarium, as overcrowding can lead to stress and increased disease susceptibility.
  • Maintain stable water parameters within the recommended range and provide a suitable environment that mimics their natural habitat.
  • Feed a varied and nutritious diet to boost the fish’s immune system and overall health.

If you notice any signs of disease in your Elephant Nose Fish, it is important to take immediate action. Consider the following treatment strategies:

  • Isolate the affected fish to prevent the spread of the disease to others.
  • Consult with a qualified aquatic veterinarian or experienced fishkeeper to diagnose the specific disease and recommend appropriate treatment options.
  • Treat the fish in a separate quarantine tank using medications or treatments specifically designed to target the identified disease. Follow the instructions carefully to avoid harming the fish or negatively affecting the aquarium’s biological balance.

Early detection, prompt treatment, and a proactive approach to maintaining optimal water quality and fish health can help prevent and mitigate the impact of diseases on the Elephant Nose Fish and other aquarium inhabitants.

Care Level

The care level for the Elephant Nose Fish is generally considered intermediate to expert. While they are not the most challenging species to care for, they do have specific considerations and requirements that may require some experience and attention to detail.

Difficulty of Care

The Elephant Nose Fish may pose some challenges for beginner fishkeepers due to their specific needs and behavior. Their sensitivity to water conditions, specific dietary requirements, and potential territorial or aggressive tendencies make them more suitable for intermediate to experienced fishkeepers who are familiar with maintaining water parameters, providing varied diets, and managing tank dynamics.

Special Considerations or Requirements

When caring for Elephant Nose Fish, it is important to consider the following special considerations or requirements:

  • Water parameters: The Elephant Nose Fish prefers soft to moderately hard water with a pH range of 6.0-7.5. Maintaining stable water conditions is crucial to their health and well-being.
  • Tank size and environment: Providing a spacious tank of at least 30 gallons (113 liters) with ample hiding places, suitable lighting, and subdued lighting conditions is necessary to accommodate their unique body shape and behavior.
  • Diet: Offering a balanced and varied diet that includes high-quality prepared foods, live or frozen foods, and fresh vegetables is essential to meet their nutritional needs.
  • Tankmates: Careful consideration should be given to selecting compatible tankmates that share similar temperament and water parameter requirements to ensure a harmonious community tank.
  • Disease susceptibility: Elephant Nose Fish can be susceptible to certain diseases and parasites, requiring vigilant monitoring of their health and proactive steps to maintain optimal water quality and prevent disease outbreaks.

Providing the appropriate care and meeting the specific requirements of the Elephant Nose Fish will contribute to their overall health, well-being, and longevity in the aquarium.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii) according to the IUCN Red List or other sources is not evaluated (NE). This means that there is currently no comprehensive assessment of the species’ conservation status available.

It is important to note that while the specific conservation status might not be evaluated, responsible aquarium trade practices and efforts to protect aquatic habitats are crucial to support the long-term sustainability of fish species like the Elephant Nose Fish.

Regarding legal restrictions on keeping the species in captivity, regulations can vary depending on the country or region. It is recommended to consult local wildlife and fisheries authorities or relevant governing bodies to determine any specific legal requirements or restrictions associated with keeping the Elephant Nose Fish in captivity.

Responsible and sustainable practices, such as obtaining fish from reputable sources, avoiding wild-caught specimens, and prioritizing captive-bred individuals, can contribute to the conservation of the species and the overall well-being of aquarium fish populations.

If you have any further questions or need more information regarding the conservation status or legal considerations of the Elephant Nose Fish, it is advisable to consult local authorities or relevant organizations in your area.

Additional Information & Fun Facts

Here are some additional information and fun facts about the Elephant Nose Fish:

  1. Electrical Sensitivity: One of the most fascinating aspects of the Elephant Nose Fish is its ability to generate weak electrical pulses and sense its surroundings. They have specialized electrical organs called electroreceptors that allow them to navigate, communicate, and locate prey in dark or murky waters.
  2. Nocturnal Behavior: The Elephant Nose Fish is primarily active during the night, exhibiting nocturnal behavior. They are well-adapted to low-light conditions and have excellent night vision.
  3. Unique Courtship Behavior: During courtship, male Elephant Nose Fish engage in an interesting behavior known as “clicking.” They produce clicking sounds by contracting specialized muscles associated with their swim bladder. These clicks are believed to play a role in courtship and spawning.
  4. Elongated Snout: The Elephant Nose Fish gets its name from its long, tubular snout resembling an elephant’s trunk. This specialized organ is used for both electrolocation and probing the substrate in search of food.
  5. Sensory Abilities: Along with their electrical sensitivity, Elephant Nose Fish also have excellent hearing abilities. They possess a unique structure called Weberian apparatus, which enhances their ability to detect sound vibrations.
  6. Limited Breeding Success in Captivity: Breeding the Elephant Nose Fish in captivity can be challenging. Successful breeding and raising fry (offspring) require specific conditions, and it is less common compared to some other aquarium fish species. Hobbyists and breeders often share their experiences, strategies, and techniques for successfully breeding this intriguing species.
  7. Personal Experiences: Many hobbyists find the Elephant Nose Fish captivating due to their unique appearance, behaviors, and sensory abilities. Some have reported observing their intricate courtship displays, while others have shared anecdotes about their curious nature and interactions with tankmates.

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