Freshwater Fish

Calamite Snakefish (Erpetoichthys calabaricus): Aquarium Care Guide

The Loom Snakefish (also known as the African Ropefish or Pole Fish) is a very unique freshwater fish that adds a different dynamic to your tank’s aesthetic.

While they have become a bit more popular in recent years, rope fish have had an avid following in the freshwater aquarist community for quite some time.

They are visually stunning (both in color and body shape), peaceful, and easy to care for. This makes it a no-brainer for anyone looking to shake things up a bit!

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about caring for rope fish. Information such as tankmates, diet, lifespan, and size are here!

Species Summary

The rope fish (scientific name: Erpetoichthys calabaricus) is a long freshwater fish that is often mistaken for an eel or a snake. They are native to Central and West Africa in countries such as Cameroon and Nigeria.

They prefer standing or slow-moving water that is on the warm side. They thrive in both fresh and brackish water (although most owners keep them in pure freshwater tanks). The Chiloango River and the Ogun River are where a high concentration of reed fish can be found since these rivers perfectly meet the required water parameters.

Due to their location and unique appearance, many owners assume that rope fish are difficult to care for. This could not be further from the truth. These fish are friendly, hardy, and a joy to care for.

An interesting thing about rope fish is the fact that they have lungs and gills. This combination allows them to obtain oxygen at different levels of water quality (and is partly why they are so hardy).

As an owner, you probably won’t see them surfacing to breathe very often, as they only do so when the water quality is poor. This should never be the case while you are doing your job.

Life expectancy

The average life span of rope fish is 15 to 20 years in captivity. This is a very impressive time frame, which means you’ll probably have yours for a while!

It is important to note that this assumes your string fish is receiving proper care. If they live in poor quality water or have an insufficient diet, they will not live as long.

Author’s Note: This is one of the traps new owners fall into when they land a hardy fish. They think they can be a little lax and everything will be fine. While your rope fish won’t die right away in poor conditions, it’s not fair to the fish and will affect their lifespan.


The appearance of the rope fish is one of the main things that makes this fish so unique. They look like an eel or a snake and are often mistaken for them by people who have never seen one before.

This is why the name rope fish (or reed fish) is so appropriate. When you see them swim it is exactly what they seem! They have a slightly oval shape when you see them from the front, but it is very subtle.

While most people care about her long and skinny body type, we are big fans of her coloring and patterns. Rope fish have scales that are easily visible and create a very textured appearance. It has a very clean effect while they are swimming too!

These fish tend to have a dark/earthy yellow color which can help them remain hidden in their natural habitats where the substrate and surrounding vegetation share many of the same color properties.

Rope fish have small pectoral fins, but not much else. They technically have dorsal fins, but that shows up more like a little crest than anything else.


The average size of the rope fish can reach a little over two feet in length when fully grown. This makes for a great show while they swim and means you’ll need to provide them with ample space to keep them comfortable (more on this in the next section).

Author’s Note: For some reason, the size of the rope fish is something that many new owners underestimate. Be sure to do your research and be prepared to handle a fish of this size.

String Fish Care

Caring for rope fish is something that any hobbyist can handle, no matter how experienced they are. Many people think that due to their interesting appearance, they can require a lot of maintenance, but in fact, the exact opposite is true!

These fish are calm, peaceful and hardy. In fact, assuming you have a large enough tank, we think they make great beginner fish.

However, you still need to familiarize yourself with the basics of rope fish care before getting one. Although they can handle a wide range of parameters and environments, your goal should always be to help them thrive and live the best life possible.

tank size

The minimum recommended tank size for a rope fish is 50 gallons. These are big fish and they need enough space to be comfortable and live a stress free life.

If you decide to keep multiple string fish in the same tank, you need to add another 10-15 gallons for each additional fish. This will ensure that everyone has their own space and can stay out of each other’s way when necessary.

water parameters

Rope fish care is fairly lenient when it comes to water parameters. With that said, we always recommend aiming for the “sweet spot” to maximize your comfort and lifespan.

  • Water temperature: 72-82°F
  • pH levels: 6-7.5
  • Water hardness: 8-22KH

You should always make sure to do regular water level checks to make sure the conditions are right for your rope fish. While these fish are hardy and can handle a wide range of levels, they can be sensitive to changes within that range. .

Find your spot and do what you can to keep it as consistent as possible!

What to put in your tank

The basic requirements of what to include in your environment are pretty straightforward. Rope fish are not a species that needs a perfect combination of things to function, but you should try to make them as comfortable as possible to keep their stress levels low.

Having a decent amount of plants in the tank is something we recommend. In their natural habitat, they are used to navigating through vegetation and using it as a hiding place, so having it in your tank is a good idea.

You’ll also want to make sure they have a good amount of rocks and hiding spots available. Rope fish like to squeeze into thin places for protection. Rocks, caves, and other decorations are a good idea (without making things too crowded).

Lastly, go with a sandy substrate in his tank. The rivers and the slow waters from which they come always have a smooth and pleasant bed. Anything hard like gravel can scratch or chafe your bottom.

Possible common diseases

Rope fish are a hardy animal and are not affected by any species-specific diseases. That said, you can get many of the usual diseases that affect other freshwater fish (such as ich).

It’s smart to periodically inspect your rope fish to make sure you don’t see any warning signs of disease. Stains, discoloration, or a sudden change in behavior may indicate that something is wrong.

You should also do your best to keep the water conditions constant. Although rope fish care is fairly easy when it comes to parameters and levels, these fish are prone to health complications if there is a significant change.

Food and Diet

Rope fish are carnivorous, which means you ‘ll need to feed them meaty foods as a staple in their diet. This will ensure that they get an adequate amount of protein and nutrients (as well as enrichment).

Some of the best foods to give them are bloodworms, ground beef, meat-based frozen foods, insect larvae, and beef hearts. Some owners will give them flakes and pellets to supplement their diet, but rope fish that have lived longer have generally been fed a meaty diet.

Sometimes you may want to sprinkle some live food into their diet as well. We like to do this for the sake of enrichment from time to time. While not the most convenient option for you as an owner, it is something your fish will appreciate.

Since rope fish are nocturnal, we prefer to feed them once a day just before bedtime. Some owners have conditioned their fish to feed during the day, but we like the idea of ​​keeping things in line with their natural feeding rhythm.

behavior and temperament

Rope fish are an interesting fish when it comes to behavior. They are relatively active (especially at night, as they are nocturnal), but they also like to laze around.

These fish like to hang out near the bottom half of the tank, although they are not pure bottom feeders. This is because they are comfortable swimming to the surface to breathe when needed (you won’t see this behavior that often).

Due to their long body type, they can be a treat to watch swimming around in your tank. Many owners say that even on days when their fish aren’t particularly active, it looks like they’re busy because the times when they decide to swim really stand out.

In terms of temperament, rope fish are a peaceful species. They do not want to cause any trouble with other fish and will usually mind their own business.

Author’s Note: The only time you may see them chase other fish is if they think they are food. Rope fish are carnivorous and while they won’t eat a fish to be malicious, they will if they think it’s on the menu.

That’s why it’s important to know the right stringfish tankmates to make sure this doesn’t happen (see section below for tankmate recommendations).

String Fish Tank Mates

There are a number of string fish tank mates that you can choose from if you want to keep these fish in a community tank.

Here are some great tank mate options:

  • rainbow sharks
  • bullet sharks
  • pictus catfish
  • dwarf gourami
  • Angelfish
  • kuhli loaches
  • honey gourami

This list is just a small sampling of potential string fish tank mates that we recommend. As long as you don’t try to keep them with very small fish (such as neon tetras or embers), they won’t mistake them for food.

It’s important to make sure you don’t pair them with aggressive fish either. Since rope fish are peaceful and just want to mind their own business, large aggressive fish can definitely hurt them. Fish like African cichlids, Oscar fish, or Jack Dempsey fish are good examples of tank mates to avoid.


Breeding rope fish is something that basically never happens in a home aquarium. That said, it doesn’t stop people from trying it from time to time.

If you’re going to try this, you’ll need to increase the water temperature to mimic the warm seasons when rope fish naturally breed. Nothing in this section is something you can skip, you’ll need all the help you can get!

Make sure the breeding tank is also well planted. You need to send as many signals as possible, so including tall plants like Hornwort or Water Wisteria will help.

You will see the male and female begin to interact by exploring the tank together and staying very close to each other. This will continue until the female is ready to lay her eggs for the female to fertilize.

If you are successful and the babies hatch, you should make sure to remove them and place them in another tank to ensure their safety.

Author’s Note: It is worth noting that many of the successful rope fish breeding attempts have involved hormone supplementation. If this is more than just an experiment for you, you’ll want to look into it to significantly increase your success rate.


Rope fish are incredibly unique and fun freshwater fish to own. They are easy to care for, look amazing, and won’t cause any problems in your tank.

We recommend them to anyone looking to add a different look to their tank. Watching these long fish swim never gets old!

If you have any questions about rope fish care or the species in general, be sure to reach out to us through our contact page or on social media. We reply to everyone, but we love to talk about interesting fish like this!

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