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

The Elephant Nose Fish is a freshwater species that’s unlike any other. Their unique and interesting look is something you can’t find in any other fish, and owners are sure to surprise guests who check out their aquarium.

We’re not sure if it’s their interesting look or the fact that these fish are quite popular, but there’s a lot of misinformation being passed around online when it comes to the Elephant Nose Fish.

Some people say they’re small and some say they’re large. Others say they’re aggressive, and others say they’re peaceful.

It’s probably quite confusing to any potential owners who are doing their research!

That’s why we put together this complete guide. It covers everything you need to know about Elephant Nose Fish care so you’ll be informed and prepared if you decide to get on yourself.

Let’s set the record straight.

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Species Summary

The Elephant Nose (Gnathonemus petersii) fish is a freshwater fish from African that sports a highly unusual look.

They go by a number of additional common names, but the most popular are the Long-Nosed Elephant Fish, Ubangi mormyrid, Elephant Fish, and Peters’ Elephant Nose Fish (named after the individual who discovered them).

These fish can be found in a multitude of rivers in Africa, but the most largest are the Niger River, Chari River, and Ogun River.

These waters are usually quite murky with low visibility. This is partly caused by the riverbed and debris that collect in the rivers, but also due to the very mild current they have.

In these rivers, the Elephant Nose Fish has to navigate a number of obstacles in order to find something to eat. There’s a large number of roots, logs, branches, and plants they need to find their way through.

Seems difficult right? Well, that’s where their long “nose” comes in handy.

Gnathonemus petersii schnauzenorgan up close

While the name suggests otherwise, this feature on their head is called a Schnauzenorgan and is actually an all-purpose navigating tool (among other things). It’s highly sensitive and connects to their mouth.

The Elephant Fish uses this as their primary method to feel their way around the dirty waters. But it does more than just help them physically reach out in front of their body while swimming.

This species is actually a master of electrolocation. All over its body, there are various receptors that can pick up on subtle electric currents that other animals emit. Their Schnauzenorgan is the main part of their body that utilizes this, and it’s quite a useful trick to have.

Despite their ability to pick up on feint electric emissions from other animals, the Elephant Nose Fish also has great low-light vision. This is something that you don’t see in other electric species like the Black Ghost Knife Fish.

Usually, fish like this end up having poor vision as a result of relying on their electroreceptors. This is just another thing that makes the Elephant Nose so unique!


The average lifespan of the Elephant Nose Fish is between 6 and 10 years. These fish can flourish and stick around for quite a while if you take care of them!

We’ve spoken to a couple owners whose fish are starting to push the 10-year mark (one has an 11-year-old at the time of writing this). The thing they both have in common is a relentless commitment to providing a great habitat and top-notch water quality.

Author Note: These fish can be a bit sensitive to subpar water conditions, so don’t expect them to reach the upper limits of their lifespan if you’re not prepared to give them the habitat they need.


We’ve touched on the purpose of their most striking feature (the Schnauzenorgan), but let’s cover their appearance as a whole.

The Elephant Nose Fish is quite a pretty fish that looks like a mix between a sword and an elephant. They have a long and thin body (width-wise) with some neat coloration and stripes.

Starting from the front, their long nose is rather thin and droops downward a bit. This connects right to their mouth which is about eye-level or midline on their body.

Their heads are thin and pointed with eyes on the side. Around the start of their pectoral fin this slope stops and their width continues all the way to their dorsal and anal fins.

Their dorsal and anal fins are very interesting because they’re almost an exact mirror of each other (both in size, color, and pattern). Each of these fins start tall and angle down to their caudal peduncle. The inner part of these fins are darker while the outer ridge tends to be light and semi-translucent.

The caudal peduncle on an Elephant Nose Fish is extremely thin compared to the rest of their body. It’s not very long either and connects to a thin forked caudal fin that’s mostly black.

Side profile illustration of an Elephant Nose Fish

These fish are usually black or dark brown with a white line that runs between the front ridge of the dorsal and anal fins. There’s often another white stripe about an inch back from that. Their bellies are often lighter than their primary color as well.


The typical maximum size of an Elephant Nose Fish is around 9 inches in length. There have been reported instances where this species has exceeded this number by 2-3 inches, but that’s very uncommon.

Author Note: This is an area where there’s a bit of misinformation being passed around. We’ve seen some aquarists on various forums suggesting these fish are only 4-5 inches long, but that’s usually how big they are when you buy them initially.

At that size, there’s still a lot of growing left to be done!

Elephant Nose Fish Care

Elephant Nose Care is not terribly difficult if you know what you’re doing, but it’s not a species you can keep on autopilot either. The reason for this is they’re relatively sensitive to suboptimal habitat conditions.

Water quality, parameters, lighting, temperature, you name it. If it’s not in their ideal window their health will quickly suffer.

That means if you’re someone who’s just getting started and isn’t comfortable maintaining a highly stable, reasonably-sized tank then it might be a good idea to hold off for now. You don’t have to be an expert to provide excellent care to your Elephant Nose Fish, they’re not very beginner-friendly.

Tank Size

The recommended Elephant Nose Fish tank size is 50 gallons. This is assuming you have only one of these fish in your aquarium.

We’ve seen some resources online say that a tank slightly smaller than 50 gallons is fine, but we urge you to aim for 50. These are relatively large fish and any extra space you can give them will be greatly appreciated. It will also help reduce the likelihood of aggressive behavior.

Author Note: Another benefit of getting a larger tank is that it will enable you to include more plants and driftwood without crowding your fish. That can make a big difference in reducing stress levels and helping this species thrive long term.

Water Parameters

Water parameters are the area you’ll be paying the most attention to when it comes to Elephant Nose Fish care. These fish can be very sensitive to water conditions and parameters that don’t meet their baseline requirements and suffer serious health complications as a result.

Your job as an owner will be to maintain great water quality and keep the parameters we’ve listed below stable and consistent.

  • Water temperature: 73°F to 82°F (the middle of this range is ideal)
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.2 (6.9 is a good target)
  • Water hardness: 0-10 KH

Because Elephant Nose Fish requires a lot of stability when it comes to water parameters, it’s important to run frequent water tests. Invest in a high-quality and accurate aquarium testing kit that you can rely on. This will enable you to make tweaks and adjustments with confidence.

What To Include In The Tank

When it comes to decorating this species’ habitat you should use their natural environment as your guide.

As we mentioned earlier, the rivers these fish come from are full of debris like wood and plants. Elephant Fish expect to see these objects and are used to navigating them (or using them as a place to hide).

The aquarium should be relatively well-planted with a lot of vegetation for these fish to interact with. You have a lot of options, but we recommend plants like hornwort, Java moss, Anibias, and staurogyne repens. You can even experiment with some floating aquarium plants as well.

An Elephant Nose Fish hiding at the bottom of the tank

Feel free to scatter some driftwood around the tank as well. Don’t add so much that the fish can’t swim comfortably, but a decent amount is recommended.

Since this fish spends a lot of time at the bottom of the tank it’s important to choose the right substrate as well. Something soft and sandy is a good choice because it won’t cut or scrape their nose (which can lead to infection).

Disease Potential

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about any species-specific diseases when it comes to the Elephant Nose Fish. But that doesn’t mean they’re invincible!

These fish can get any of the classic freshwater diseases that bother other species. By this, we mean Ich, fin rot, parasites, etc.

The best way to avoid these is to simply maintain great water quality in the tank and make sure there’s no way your fish can get injured. Injuries typically come from pairing them with incompatible tank mates, or a rough substrate that leads to an infected cut.

If the water parameters shift outside of the acceptable limits (or even shift too drastically within them) there’s a chance your Elephant Fish will get sick from that as well. Recovery from this varies on a case-by-case basis.

Author Note: Because of their sensitivity to changes in the water, the Elephant Nose Fish can be difficult to treat as well. The addition of medication to the water can actually make things worse if you don’t do it correctly.

That’s why we highly recommend you find a trusted vet you can talk to if you plan on owning these fish for yourself.

Diet & Food Recommendations

Elephant Nose Fish are carnivorous and eat a wide variety of meaty, protein-rich foods. In the wild, this usually means various insects and larvae, and you’ll be replicating this rather closely in captivity as well.

Bloodworms and brine shrimp seem to be their favorites, but you have other options as well. Mixing in some chopped up earthworms, tubifex, and larvae is a good idea as well.

Not only are these foods in their normal diet, but they also provide a good source of enrichment. Elephant Nose Shrimp seem to get a lot of enjoyment out of eating these foods and will even eat out of your hand if you train them!

Author Note: Some owners have had success feeding pellets and flakes to this species, but that’s not very common. These fish typically don’t accept these foods which means if you were planning on just feeding them the easy stuff, think again!

Behavior & Temperament

The Elephant Nose Fish is a very interesting species when it comes to their temperament. These fish tend to be very mellow and peaceful when they’re on their own. They don’t like to cause trouble and simply want to do their own thing!

However, they can get aggressive and territorial when housed with another fish of the same species. Their normally peaceful nature will disappear and the stronger fish will likely torment the weaker one.

This means their temperament is very dependant on the kind of tank mates they have. We cover this in the section below.

As far as their general behavior in the aquarium is concerned, Elephant Nose Fish are quite active. Since these fish are bottom-feeders you’ll often see them swimming around in the bottom half of the tank investigating the substrate.

They aren’t afraid to leave the bottom area and check out something interesting higher up too. Chances are they’ll investigate what caught their eye and move back to the bottom half of the tank when they’re done.

Elephant Nose Fish Tank Mates

When it comes to choosing between your options for Elephant Nose Fish tank mates, there’s one thing you need to remember first:

These fish need water parameter priority.

What this means is you should plan around the needs of this species first. The water parameter requirements of your Elephant Nose should never change.

If that means another fish you want doesn’t fit within their parameters, too bad. If you attempt to find a middle ground that isn’t within the recommended range for an Elephant Fish you (and your fish) will pay for it later.

You’ll also want their tank mates to be peaceful. Elephant Nose Fish don’t want trouble with other species, so you want to pick fish that have the same temperament.

Here are some good options:

Author Note: Remember that even if you pick from the list above, there are always situations where things might not work out. Certain individual fish can be feistier than others, and it’s your job as the owner to recognize when they need to be separated.


Breeding Elephant Nose Fish is something that’s extremely hard to do. There aren’t any records or reports about aquarists being able to breed this species in a home aquarium.

One of the main reasons for this is that it’s basically impossible to identify the gender of this species. The only reliable way to do this is through dissection (which isn’t an option of course).

In captivity, there also seems to be an interesting element of confusion that these fish go through. While this obviously isn’t a problem for them in the wild, Elephant Nose Fish in captivity have trouble identifying the gender of one another.

As you can probably guess, this puts a wrinkle in the whole breeding thing. If new information comes out about how to breed this species successfully we’ll make sure to update this guide.

So, Are You Getting One?

Now that you know the fundamentals of Elephant Nose Fish care, it’s time for you to decide if they’re right for you.

Take some time to think about their unique requirements and do an honest assessment of your willingness to provide them. If you’re a beginner this is probably not a good fish for you, and if you’re experienced but want something low-maintenance you should pass as well.

But if you have a little experience under your belt and want to keep a unique and rewarding freshwater creature, the Elephant Nose Fish is definitely right for you.

There’s something about this species that you just don’t get used to (in a good way). They’re so different from the vast majority of other fish that the process of ownership will continue to stay interesting for years to come.

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