Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii): Ultimate Care Guide


Common Name(s)Elephant Nose Fish, Ubangi Mormyrid
Scientific NameGnathonemus Petersii
OriginAfrica
Temperature79F – 82F
Water pH6.8 – 7.2
Adult Sizeup to 9 inches
DietCarnivorous

Elephant Nose Fish Facts

  • Elephant Nose Fish are quite extraordinary. They possess electrolocation. This is the ability to sense other fish in the water. They have receptors all over their bodies, but also in their long nose that is also called a schnauzenorgan.
  • Elephant Nose Fish are unique due to their ability to use their eyesight as well as their electrolocation. Usually fish who possess electrolocation have poor or no eyesight.
  • Elephant Nose Fish are impossible to tell the difference between male and female by just looking at them. The only reliable way to tell if the males and females are apart is by dissection.
  • Elephant Nose Fish do not readily breed in captivity, and most of the Elephant Nose Fish that you see for sale are wild-caught.
Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii)
Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii)

The Elephant Nose Fish was named for its particularly long and droopy nose. They even have gray colored bodies. They really do resemble an elephant, and they are very popular fish in the home aquarium for this reason. Elephant Nose Fish can be found in many different rivers in Africa searching for food among the murky waters. They use their long nose to help them navigate through the murky waters, and navigate their way through all of the debris. Even though Elephant Nose Fish are named after elephants for their long, trunk-like nose, their nose is actually a helpful sensory organ called a schnauzenorgan. Elephant Nose Fish stretch out this sensitive organ in front of them as they swim to help them find their way.

Elephant Nose Fish not only use their schnauzenorgan to navigate, they are also very adept with electrolocation. Electrolocation helps the fish locate and detect objects in their environment. Their bodies have receptors all over them that help to sense the subtle electric currents that other fish emit. Usually fish that have excellent electrolocation do not have good eyesight, but the Elephant Nose Fish is the exception. Elephant Nose Fish have great eyesight.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Intelligent?

Elephant Nose Fish are able to process information similar to how a human can. Scientists who have studied Elephant Nose Fish have discovered that they can switch between their electrolocation and their visual senses similar to a human going from seeing something to touching it. This ability was once thought to be a trait of more highly developed animals as the ability to do this is controlled by the cerebral cortex until it was discovered in Elephant Nose Fish who do not have a cerebral cortex of their own. Elephant Nose Fish can recognise human faces, and some owners of Elephant Nose Fish have trained them to eat out of their hands.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Blind?

Elephant Nose Fish are not only NOT blind, they also have amazing eyesight. Elephant Nose Fish are considered special for their ability to do this while also possessing electrolocation. Most fish that have electrolocation usually have poor eyesight or no eyesight at all. Scientists who have studied Elephant Nose Fish have found that they can even switch between using their eyesight and using their electrolocation similar to a human switching from seeing something to touching it.

Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii)
Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii)

Elephant Nose Fish Care

Elephant Nose Fish are not considered an easy fish to care for due to how sensitive they are to changes in their water parameters. It is recommended that you establish a regular cleaning routine as well as regular water changes and water parameter checks. If changes in their water parameters are not detected early, Elephant Nose Fish will quickly become ill. It is also important that you quarantine any new additions for at least 2 weeks before adding them into your home aquarium with your Elephant Nose Fish so that you do not risk spreading any contagious diseases into their aquarium.

Tank Requirements

Elephant Nose Fish require a tank that is at least 50 gallons. They should never be housed in a tank that is smaller than 50 gallons, and if you have the room for it, more space is even better. Elephant Nose fish are very sensitive to changes in their water. They should be kept in water that is 79F to 82F, and 6.8 to 7.2 pH. It is important to monitor the water parameters carefully so that you can catch any problems before they affect your fish. The health and happiness of these fish is directly related to how well they are being cared for. That is why it is important to establish regular water checks and changes so that you can catch any problems before they cause your fish issues.

Food and Diet

When it comes to food, Elephant Nose Fish are not picky. They are a carnivorous fish that should be fed a high quality, varied diet that is rich in proteins. Bloodworms and shrimp, live or frozen are a great choice as well as earthworms and larvae. Elephant Nose Fish love to eat, and some owners have even trailed them to eat out of their hands. Since Elephant Nose Fish like to search the substrate for food, it is ok to let a few bits fall to the substrate during feeding time.

Elephant Nose Fish Size and Lifespan

In the wild, Elephant Nose Fish can grow up to 13 inches long, but in captivity they seem to stop growing at around 9 inches. It is possible for your captive Elephant Nose Fish in captivity to grow slightly larger, but this is largely dependent on how well you keep them. When cared for properly, Elephant Nose Fish can live from 6 to 9 years.

Tank Setup

The best way to set up an aquarium for Elephant Nose Fish is to first take a look at their natural environment. In the wild, Elephant Nose Fish live in murky waters that are full of debris and they navigate their way through it quite easily. They enjoy a heavily planted tank. Floating plants as well as Java Moss and Hornwort. Driftwood provides them with plenty of places to explore and hide or destress.

When placing plants and decor make sure to still leave them with plenty of space to swim about. For substrate, you will want to choose a fine, soft sand. Elephant Nose Fish spend a lot of their time at the bottom of the tank searching the substrate for food, and any coarse substrate could potentially injure their nose and cause them to become ill from infection. Low light aquariums are ideal for Elephant Nose Fish as the low light closely mimics the murky waters of their natural environment.

What is the Ideal Tank Setup for Elephant Nose Fish?

The ideal tank setup for Elephant Nose Fish is one that closely reflects their natural habitat in the wild. Elephant Nose Fish inhabit the murky waters full of plant debris and driftwood where they use their electrolocation as well as their eyesight to search for food.

Do Elephant Nose Fish Jump?

Elephant Nose Fish are excellent jumpers, and their tank will require a good fitting lid. Owners of Elephant Nose Fish report that they can jump out of even the smallest opening.

Elephant Nose Fish Breeding

Breeding Elephant Nose Fish in captivity is virtually impossible to do. There have been no successful attempts in the home aquarium. The main reason that it is so difficult to breed them in captivity is partly due to their aggressive nature towards fish of the same species. The second reason is because it is impossible to tell the difference between male and female Elephant Nose Fish. In the wild, they don’t have trouble breeding and distinguishing one another, but in captivity even the fish themselves are confused about which is the male and female. This is because they rely on their electrolocation sense to determine this, and it is quite distorted in the home aquarium. The only way to tell the difference between male and female Elephant Nose Fish is by dissection.

How Do Elephant Nose Fish Breed?

Scientists don’t know much about the breeding process of Elephant Nose Fish. All that is known is that Elephant Nose Fish build floating nests when they are ready to spawn. When the female is ready, she lays her eggs in the nest, and the male then fertilizes them. The eggs then hang out in the nest until they are ready to hatch. Once the fry hatch, they are free to go about and survive on their own. Elephant Nose Fish do not provide their offspring with any parental care.

Difference Between Male and Female Elephant Nose Fish

It is impossible to tell the difference between male and female Elephant Nose Fish without dissecting them. It is suggested that females are slightly more rounded when they near spawning time as they are full of eggs.

Elephant Nose Fish Disease

Elephant Nose Fish are susceptible to many of the same ailments as other freshwater fish. They are more susceptible to illness and infection if they are stressed out or being kept in inadequate water conditions. It is most important for the health and happiness of the Elephant Nose Fish is directly related to how well they are kept. Their long noses are also in danger of infection if they get injured.

Elephant Nose Fish can get bacterial and fungal infections as well as skin flukes and tapeworms. The best way to protect your fish from ailment is to keep them in a clean environment with a high quality, varied diet.

Elephant Nose Fish Tank Mates

If you are wanting to place Elephant Nose Fish into a community tank setup, you need to think of the needs of the Elephant Nose Fish first and foremost. The tank should be designed around their water requirements as they are highly sensitive to changes in their water parameters, and their health will rapidly decline if they are not being kept in the appropriate conditions.

Elephant Nose Fish can stress easily, but they do not want to live with other fish that could potentially disturb them. It is important to house them with fish that are roughly the same temperament so that they are not overwhelmed or stressed. You will want to choose fish that have similar requirements and dietary needs to the Elephant Nose Fish.

Good tank mates for the Elephant Nose Fish are Cory Catfish, Gouramis, Angelfish, and Discus. With all fish, you should monitor them when they are new to ensure that there are not any problems. Different fish seem to have different temperaments, and they may not always get along. It is up to the discretion of the owner if they should be removed from the tank or not. There are ways that you can decorate your aquarium to give it more boundaries or house your fish in a much larger tank to give them as much room from one another as possible. When it comes to Elephant Nose Fish, you will want to be extra cautious as they can stress and become ill quite easily.

Compatible and Incompatible Tank Mates for Elephant Nose Fish

Elephant Nose Fish should only be kept with other fish that have the same water parameter requirements as well as temperament. If you are planning on keeping Elephant Nose Fish in a community setup, you will want to make sure that the aquarium is designed around the needs and comfort of the Elephant Nose Fish. They are prone to stress easily, and when they are stressed, their health will quickly deteriorate. You should not choose any fish that are much larger, territorial, or aggressive towards the Elephant Nose Fish.

Fish that would make for great tank mates are fish that require the same water parameters and have roughly the same temperament. Good tankmates include Angelfish, Cory Catfish, Discus, and some Gouramis. It is important to monitor any new additions to your tank so that you can remove or correct any issues before they become an issue.

How Many Elephant Nose Fish Should Be Kept Together?

In the home aquarium, Elephant Nose Fish seem to have difficulty with their electrolocation sense. The aquarium distorts the information they receive. Elephant Nose Fish in the home aquarium have trouble distinguishing males from females. This is also the reason why they do not breed in captivity. Elephant Nose Fish should not be kept with other Elephant Nose Fish as they are territorial with their own kind. They are even territorial around other closely related species. When paired with other species of roughly the same temperament, they do just fine. It is possible that two Elephant Nose Fish can be kept together as long as the tank is large enough.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Aggressive?

Elephant Nose Fish, in some cases, have been labeled as aggressive fish. Online you can find many varying accounts of owners with aggressive Elephant Nose Fish and peaceful Elephant Nose Fish. It is important to know that Elephant Nose Fish do not do well with other Elephant Nose Fish, and some closely related species to Elephant Nose Fish. Elephant Nose Fish tend to be rather mellow and peaceful on their own, but it is still possible to house them with other Elephant Nose Fish if they are given the appropriate setup with lots of space for them to claim their own territory.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Suitable For Community Tanks?

Elephant Nose Fish can be suitable for community tanks as long as their needs are considered above all others. They are very touchy when it comes to changes in their water parameters, and this automatically rules out some fish for appropriate tank mates. There are fish that do quite well with Elephant Nose Fish such as Discus, Angelfish, and some Gouramis. With all community tanks, you need to monitor the interaction between fish to ensure that they are getting along without issue. Since Elephant Nose Fish are so sensitive, it is important that their needs are considered before the needs of other fish in their aquarium, and remove any fish that could possibly cause your Elephant Nose Fish to be stressed.

Where Can I Find Elephant Nose Fish For Sale?

If you are wanting to purchase Elephant Nose Fish for your home aquarium, then you will be happy to know that you can find them for sale online for around $35 each. They are not readily bred in captivity, and most of the Elephant Nose Fish that you see for sale online are wild-caught. Make sure that you quarantine any new fish or decor away from other fish for at least 2 weeks so that you can be sure that you are not carrying over any contagious ailments into your aquarium.

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With decades of collective fishkeeping experience, we are happy to share the fish care tips that we've picked up along the way. Our goal at Fish Laboratory is to keep publishing accurate content to help fishkeepers keep their fish and aquarium healthy.

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