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Elephant Nose Fish: A Complete Care Guide

Elephant Nose Fish: A Complete Care Guide

The Elephant Nose Fish is a captivating creature with an unmistakable appearance and personality. With their “elephant-like” features, these fascinating fish can bring a unique and exciting element to your home aquarium. Their skinny bodies and “bumpy” heads make them stand out in any tank, but there’s more to this species than its looks.

Elephant Nose Fish require extra attention. They love brine shrimp and bloodworms but also thrive on frozen and live food. While they do prefer being in groups, they can be territorial. They are sensitive to water quality and should be in well-filtered tanks with regular maintenance.

These fish are active swimmers; they require plenty of hiding places and a large tank. In this guide, I will give you the information you need to care for an Elephant Nose Fish and help it thrive in captivity.

Elephant Nose Fish Characteristics

Elephant Nose Fish 'Gnathonemus petersii'

The Elephant Nose has some distinct physical characteristics, including its long snout and eyes at the tip of their face. 

Here are some of the unique features that this species possesses:

  • Long snout: The most obvious feature of the Elephant’s Nose is its long snout. This snout is an extension of their sensory organs, allowing them to feel, touch, and taste their environment.
  • Eyes at the tip of their face: These fish have eyes at the tip of their face, a trait that makes them stand out from other fish species.
  • Dark pigmentation: They have a dark pigmentation to their skin, helping them to camouflage in the muddy bottom of rivers and streams. This also helps protect them from predators.
  • Ventral fins: Elephant Nose Fish have two long ventral fins that help them with swimming and maneuverability in the water.
  • No scales: They have no scales, instead relying on their thick skin for protection.
  • Electric organ: Elephant Nose Fish have an electric organ which they use to sense their environment and detect prey.
  • Bumpy head: This species has a bumpy-looking head, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “Bumpy Head” fish.
  • Brain: They have a well-developed brain and possess the ability to learn. They are capable of comprehending objects and forming basic memories.

Elephant Nose Fish Profile

Here is a general profile of the Elephant Nose Fish that can help you determine if this species is right for your tank:


Elephant Nose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii) from the family of Mormyridae can be found in the slow-moving and murky waters of Central and West Africa, including the Congo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. They are a nocturnal species and usually stay hidden until nightfall when they hunt for food.

They are also known as the Ubangi mormyrid or the Long-nosed Elephant Fish. It is a freshwater fish popular among aquarists due to its unique appearance and behavior, often seen at the bottom of rivers, hiding among rocks and debris. 


As the name suggests, Elephant Nose Fish have an elongated snout similar in shape to an elephant’s trunk. They have sleek, torpedo-shaped bodies silverish or gray in color with black and brown stripes and grayish-white belly. 

They can grow up to nine inches (22.86 cm), although most stay closer to four inches (10.16 cm) in captivity. The eyes are located close to the tip of its snout at the front of its body.

These fish have two long, tactile organs on either side of their snouts called barbels or Schnauzenorganen, which they use to explore their environment and sense prey. They also have four antenna-like appendages around their snout, which they use to find food. 

These appendages help them detect movements in the water and changes in pressure, which allows them to locate prey even in murky waters. It is one of the few species that do not have scales but have leathery skin covered in mucus. 

This is an important adaptation for these fish, as it protects them from the muddy environments they inhabit. The mucus also helps them easily move through their environment and stick to surfaces if needed.

These fish have an interesting ability to produce electricity using special organs located near their eyes. They use this electricity to navigate murky waters, find food and detect predators. They also use electricity to communicate with other Elephant Nose Fish.

Unlike other fish where the rod and cone receptors are used at different times. As the rod receptors are for night vision and the cone receptors for the day, Elephant Nose fish can use both simultaneously, meaning they can see in low light conditions. The uniquely structured Retina of their eyes also allows them to spot movement in their surroundings.  

The brain of an Elephant Nose Fish is relatively large compared to its body size—this helps them remember its surroundings and the locations of food sources. They can also recognize their reflection in a mirror, one of the few species that can do this.


Elephant Nose Fish can be active creatures and should have ample space to swim about. If kept in too small of an aquarium, they can become stressed and exhibit aggressive behavior. You may also witness them chasing one another or begging for food.

But they tend to be quite shy and timid when they are on their own. Elephant-nose fish are also known for their curiosity and can sometimes be seen “tasting” the aquarium’s glass or its decorations with their long noses.

When kept in an appropriate environment and with the right care, they can be quite social creatures. They may even interact with their owners, swimming up to the glass for a closer look or following them when they walk by.

These fish are also known to be quite territorial, so if you keep more than one, make sure to provide them with plenty of hiding places and other decorations. This will help reduce the amount of aggression between the fish. 

Elephant Nose Fish Care Requirements

If you are thinking of adding an Elephant Nose Fish to your aquarium, it is important to know what these fish need in order to stay healthy and thrive.

Habitat and Tank Requirements

In their natural habitat, these fish live amongst densely rooted vegetation and muddy substrate as they search for small prey. In the home aquarium, it  requires a tank of at least 50 gallons, plenty of hiding places, and adequate filtration. 

Elephant Nose Fish prefer temperatures between 79 and 82°F with a pH of 6.0-8.0. The water should be kept clean with regular partial water changes of 25% every two weeks to maintain high water quality and ensure the health of your fish.

They prefer warm, slightly acidic water. The tank should also be decorated with a sandy substrate, driftwood, and plants to mimic their natural environment. A sandy substrate is recommended as they will often dig in and use it to hide. 

They are most active at night, and you may observe them foraging along the substrate in search of small prey. A thick layer of sandy substrate is also beneficial as it helps keep their sensory organs clean and functioning properly.

Elephant Nose Fish do not require special requirements as they naturally live in low-light areas in their natural habitat. A low-wattage LED or fluorescent lighting is sufficient for this fish and will help to show off their beautiful coloration in the aquarium.

They can be aggressive and territorial towards their own kind but do not mind company from other peaceful species. 

It is best to avoid keeping them with any active, aggressive fish or larger species known to view them as a snack. You can keep them with other fish with the same personality, such as the Angelfish, Corydoras Catfish, and some peaceful tetras like Congo Tetra. 

Smaller fish may become an easy meal for a larger Elephant Nose Fish. You should not keep invertebrates in the fish tank due to their habit of burrowing and digging in the substrate, which may disturb and harm them.

Tank Mates

When choosing tank mates for your fish, select species of the same personality and size. Avoid aggressive fish because they may nip your fish’s sensitive electrosensory organs on the nose and cause stress. 

Suitable tankmates include species of Mormyrids, Hatchetfish, and African Tetras. Because they are active swimmers and love to explore their surroundings, slow-swimming bottom dwellers like Corydoras Catfish or loaches may be the best choice.

If you plan on keeping more than one Elephant Nose Fish in a tank, add them simultaneously. This will allow all the fish to establish their territories and develop a social hierarchy. Adding a single Elephant Nose Fish to an established tank with existing species is not advisable as it may be bullied or overstressed. 

Keep any groups of four to six individuals, and provide plenty of hiding places so weaker fish can escape any aggression. If you plan on introducing live plants into the tank, choose tough species like Anubias, Java Fern, and Vallisneria that can withstand the fish’s digging. Also, some plants may be uprooted due to the fish’s curious nature.

Diet & Feeding

Elephant Nose Fish are carnivorous and will appreciate live and frozen food. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insect larvae, and worms in the wild. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of foods, including bloodworms, brine shrimp, blackworms, chopped shrimp, and krill. 

Frozen or freeze-dried versions of these foods are also suitable. Good quality flake food can be used to supplement their diet, but it should not be the primary source of nutrition. Note that Elephant Nose Fish are particular eaters and may refuse certain foods. 

You can experiment with different types of food to see what they prefer. While they enjoy live foods, it’s not recommended that they make up their entire diet. Variety will help ensure they receive all the necessary nutrients to stay healthy. 

Feed them small portions 2-3 times a day, providing just enough that they can consume it all in 1-2 minutes. Monitor your fish during feeding to ensure that they are getting enough and that any uneaten food is removed promptly. Overfeeding can cause health and water quality problems, so it is best to err on caution.

Diseases and Illness

Elephant Nose Fish are generally hardy, but they can become ill due to various things. For example, if the water temperature and pH levels are not properly monitored or receive too much stress from other tank inhabitants, they can become susceptible to common fish illnesses. 

This can range from fungal infections and gill flukes to bacterial infections. They are sensitive to medication, so they should only be given medications formulated explicitly for freshwater fish. If you notice any signs of illness, it is best to consult a veterinarian immediately. 

Remember to keep the tank clean and properly maintained. Regular water changes and proper filtration will help keep your Elephant Nose Fish healthy and happy.

1. Gill Flukes

Gill flukes are parasites that inhabit the gills of fish and can cause severe stress to your fish. Symptoms include rapid breathing, lethargy, and a decreased appetite. If you suspect your fish may have gill flukes, take it to the vet immediately for medication and treatment.

2. Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are common in many aquarium fish, and they can also affect Elephant Nose Fish. Symptoms include cloudy eyes, white spots on the skin, or fraying of the fins and tail. If left untreated, fungal infections can be fatal. 

Fortunately, they are relatively easy to treat. Start by changing the water in your tank and adding a specialized anti-fungal medication. You’ll also want to move your fish to a quarantine tank, as the infection can spread to other fish. 

Remember that the water parameters in your quarantine tank should closely match those of your main tank so as not to stress the fish. Monitor your Elephant Nose Fish carefully, and consult a vet if it doesn’t seem to be responding to treatment. 

In some cases, you may need to increase the temperature of the water or add aquarium salt to help speed up the recovery process. You should also increase the oxygen levels in the water, as fungal infections can be made worse by lower oxygen levels. 

3. Bacterial Infections

These fish are prone to bacterial infections, especially if they live in less-than-ideal water conditions. Signs of infection include discoloration, swelling, and difficulty breathing. You must act quickly if you spot any of these signs in your Elephant Nose Fish. 


Elephant Nose Fish is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of patience and dedication to get them spawning in their tank. There are no records of any successful captivity attempts so far. It’s hard to identify the male and female in this species. They can easily identify their mates in the wild, but in captivity, there are very few cues to help.

What To Look For in an Elephant Nose Fish

When looking for an Elephant Nose Fish, it is important to find the right one. These fish have different sizes and color variations, so it’s important to find one that fits your needs.

  • Alert and active: The Elephant Nose Fish is a very active and intelligent species. They should be seen to be constantly swimming around the tank, exploring their environment, and reacting quickly to changes. If the fish appears to be lethargic or sluggish, this could be an indication of poor health. Look for one that is alert and active when you are purchasing.
  • Size: These fish come in different sizes, so buy one that will fit well in your aquarium. They can grow up to four inches (10.16 cm) long, so consider the size of your tank when looking for one.
  • Bright coloring: A healthy Elephant Nose Fish should have bright, vibrant coloring. The fish’s fins should be free from tears or damage, and their eyes should be bright and clear. If they seem dull or lackluster, it could be a sign of sickness.
  • Healthy skin and fins: Inspect the fish closely to look for signs of disease. Their skin should be smooth and free from any marks or discolorations, and their fins should be intact and undamaged. While inspecting, look for any visible parasites or signs of infection.
  • Appetite: A healthy fish should have a hearty appetite. They should eagerly eat food when offered, and their stomachs should look full when done eating. If they seem uninterested in food or look malnourished, there could be an underlying illness.
  • Behavior: Pay close attention to how the fish behaves in the tank. If they seem disoriented or swim erratically, it could be a sign of health issues. They should be peaceful and content, floating gently in the water column or exploring the bottom of their tank.

Final Thoughts 

The Elephant Nose Fish is a unique and special fish that can bring joy to any tank. However, they require special care and attention to keep them healthy and happy. Right water conditions, a good diet, and regular monitoring of their behavior and health are all keys to giving your pet fish a long, healthy life.

I’m Elle, the founder of FishHQ. I created this website to share knowledge, tips, and inspiration for beginner hobbyists to help them create a healthy, happy, and vibrant environment for their fish to thrive. Read more...