Elephant Nose Fish 101: Everything You Need To Know

While elephant nose fish are not yet common in aquariums, they have been quickly gaining popularity among hobbyists thanks to their unique look. By adding these fish to your collection, you can be sure they will capture the attention of anyone who checks out your aquarium.

If you are planning to get the elephant nose fish, it’s critical that you learn everything about them to ensure their well-being. Let’s dig deep into the care, diet, tankmates, and more about the elephant nose fish.

Scientific Classification

Scientific Name: Gnathonemus petersii or G. Petersii
Common Names: Elephant fish, nose fish, dolphin nose fish, Peter’s elephant nose fish, and Ubangi Mormyrid
Genus: Gnathonemus
Family: Mormyridae

Species Overview

The Mormyridae family contains over 200 species of weakly electric fish, with G. Petersii being one of its most popular members. The fish is known to have quite a large brain for its body size, making it unusually highly intelligent. The species holds the record for the highest brain-to-body weight ratio among all known vertebrates.

Analyzing the etymology of the scientific name of this species, Gnathonemus Petersii, the genus name Gnathonemus is a combination of two Greek words: “gnathos,” referring to the jaw, and “nema,” referring to the filament. Petersii is a Latinized version of the name Peters (mainly relating to Wilhelm Peters, a German naturalist and zoologist).

Natural Habitat and Origin


The elephant nose fish is a freshwater fish endemic to Africa’s tropical region. Their natural habitat is the freshwater rivers of Western and Central Africa, such as the Congo and Niger River basins, with the former having the largest schools. They can also be found in the Ogun River basin and the Chari River.

G. Petersii have also been sighted in Lake Tanganyika, although school sizes have yet to be confirmed. There are also unconfirmed reports that the fish live in the Cuanza River.

Countries that have recorded some populations of elephant nose fish include Angola, Niger, Benin, Zambia, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Cameroon, and Nigeria.

The fish prefer living in slow-flowing waters and pools covered with partially submerged branches. The pH range of the water is typically 6.0 to 7.2, and the dH range is often 5 to 15. The pH scale expresses the alkalinity or acidity of a solution, while the dH scale expresses the softness or hardness of the water. The temperature in this tropical region ranges from 22°C to 28°C.

Elephant Nose Fish Lifespan

Nose fish have a life expectancy of 6 to 9 years. How long your’s life will depend on how well you take care of them. Providing the fish with optimal water conditions will enable them to live longer.

Several hobbyists have been taking care of their elephant fish exceptionally well, and they have managed to live for over ten years. However, like humans, otherwise healthy fish can suffer unexpected health complications that can cut their lives short.


As their name suggests, elephant nose fish have noses that resemble elephant noses. They have elongated noses attached to long gray or brown bodies. Their distinctive, peculiarly shaped bodies make them popular aquarium fish, even with their dull colors. The nose has a subtle curve and is connected to the mouth, enabling the G. Petersii to reach into deep crevices and cracks to find food.

The long nose of the fish is called a Schnauzenorgan, and it also serves as a navigation tool. The mild current of the rivers they live in makes the water quite murky, with low visibility. The fish use their long nose to feel ahead as they swim. They combine the Schnauzenorgan with electrolocation to find their way in the murky waters. The fish have receptors all over their bodies that can pick up on mild electric currents emitted by other animals.

Notably, elephant nose fish have excellent eyesight, unlike many other fish with the same abilities.

The fish commonly have one or two white vertical stripes encircling their nearly scaleless, skinny body near the tail. Furthermore, they possess two dorsal fins, one fin with a protruding spine, and massive pectoral fins. The gills are in front of the pectoral fins on either side of the fish. Elephant nose fish also possess long and narrow tails.


The average length of a fully grown elephant nose fish is 9 inches. Some specimens have hit 12 inches in length, but this is very rare. Male elephant fish typically mature at around three years, while females mature at 4 to 5 years.

How to Take Care of Elephant Nose Fish?

Although elephant nose fish have a unique appearance, caring for them isn’t as challenging as you might imagine. However, you will still need to be more involved in their care than with most other fish, as they are pretty sensitive to poor habitat conditions. If water quality, lighting, temperature, and other parameters aren’t within the fish’s ideal window, their health will quickly deteriorate.

This implies that if you are a beginner who isn’t ready to commit to maintaining a highly stable, fairly-sized aquarium, you should hold off on getting elephant nose fish until you are prepared. You don’t require any special skills to keep these fish; it’s just that they aren’t beginner-friendly.

Recommended Food and Diet

G. Petersii are carnivorous fish that consume various meaty, protein-dense foods. In their natural habitat, they primarily feed on insects and larvae, and it’s crucial that you try to replicate this diet as best as you can while keeping them in captivity.

The fish seem to like brine shrimp and bloodworms, but you also have other food options. You can mix up their diet by feeding them tubifex, mosquito and black fly larvae, and chopped earthworms.

Not only do these foods provide an excellent source of enrichment, but the fish also enjoy eating them. You should feed them several times a day, providing sufficient food (not too much or too little). Investing in an automatic feeder can help feed them correctly. You can train the fish to eat from your hand for entertainment purposes.

While some owners opine that the fish will do fine if you feed them pellets and flakes, they usually don’t respond well to these foods.

Tank Size

It’s best to keep the elephant nose fish in a fairly-sized tank; the larger the tank, the better. The recommended minimum tank size is 50 gallons, assuming you only have one nose fish. While you can keep the fish in a smaller tank, the limited space will likely stress it. This fish is somewhat large; thus, it needs a lot of space.

The extra tank space can also aid in minimizing the fish’s aggressive behavior. Moreover, settling for a larger tank means adding more driftwood and plants, providing the fish with a perfect environment to thrive.

If you have a large enough tank, the shape doesn’t matter. However, keep in mind that circular tanks typically have less swimming space compared to similarly sized square or rectangular tanks.

Water Parameters

When keeping elephant nose fish, it’s critical that you regularly keep tabs on the water parameters. They are known to be very sensitive to water parameters and conditions that fall below their baseline requirements, resulting in severe health conditions. Your primary role as a nose fish owner is to maintain excellent water quality and ensure all the parameters are stable and consistent.

The appropriate temperature to keep the fish is 73°F to 82°F (23°C to 28°C), the middle of the range being the ideal temperature. While the elephant nose can survive in water of varying hardness, it prefers entirely neutral or slightly acidic water. The perfect water pH level for the fish is 6 to 7.2. Like most other ganoid species, the fish is sensitive to alkaline chemicals, including salt. The ideal water hardness range for the fish is 5 to 15 dH.

Remember that the elephant nose fish’s big brain requires a lot of oxygen. Therefore, you must ensure that the water has a high oxygen supply.

To ensure that you consistently provide your fish with the best water parameters, you must do regular water testing. Invest in a reliable, high-quality aquarium water testing kit that’s accurate. The kit will allow you to confidently make adjustments and alterations to the water parameters.

If you have a small tank, you must do 25% water changes weekly. For larger tanks, 10%–15% weekly water changes will do. These water changes will prevent ammonia from building up in the tank. The ammonia levels in the tanks should always be 0 ppm, and the nitrates and nitrites below five ppm each. If you have a larger tank, you will have an easier time doing the weekly water changes if you invest in equipment like Python.

What to Put in The Tank?

If you create an excellent environment for your elephant nose fish, they will be less likely to get stressed. It’s essential that you decorate your tank to mimic the natural habitat of the fish. The rivers in their natural habitat are filled with debris like plants and wood. Elephant nose fish use these to navigate and hide. Thus, you should include:

1. Plants

The tank should have a relatively balanced plant population. The collection should include plants that can handle low light, create canopies in the water but lack dense roots, and thrive in sand, rocks, and driftwood. Anubias, Duckweed, Water Wisteria, Java Moss, Java Fern, and Vallisneria are excellent plant options that meet these criteria.

2. Decorations and Hiding Spots

While decorating the aquarium, you should also add pots and pipes, as they can serve as perfect hiding spots for fish. The number of hiding spots in the tank should always exceed the number of fish you have. Use these hiding spots to break them up and distribute their space.

Scatter a decent amount of driftwood around the tank as well; don’t overdo it, as this can interfere with swimming. A hollow log will be an excellent addition to the tank.

3. Lighting

The natural habitat of the elephant nose fish has poor lighting conditions, and the fish are naturally shy and nocturnal. The aquarium should be dimly lit if you are only keeping this species. If the nose fish is sharing the aquarium with other animals, try to balance out the lighting conditions so as not to disadvantage them. You can try to keep one half of the aquarium dimly lit and the other half reasonably lit.

You can make the entire aquarium well-lit, given that some hobbyists have successfully trained nose fish to be comfortable in this condition. However, you should have many more plants and hiding spots.

4. Substrate

Most of the nose fish’s natural behavior is influenced by the sand in its natural habitat. You must have sand or a similar substrate in your tank. They are always poking their noses into the sand; without it, they will hurt themselves.

You should avoid adding pebbles or rocks to the tank, as this can easily damage their noses and cause bacterial and fungal infections.

Remember that their long noses are vital to them, as they also use them for navigation and probing for food. The best substrate for nose fish is the HTH pool filter, which is perfect if you also keep Pygmy Corys in your tank.

Potential Health Problems


While the nose fish isn’t known to contract most ailments easily, they can be sensitive to medication used to treat other fish in the aquarium. Before medicating other fish in the tank, move them to a separate tank for the duration of the treatment.

Some of the few ailments that can affect nose fish are:

1. Bacterial Infection

This ailment originates from a group of bacteria brought about by various sources and can manifest with varied symptoms. This makes the diagnosis pretty tricky, adding to the fact that the fish can be affected by internal or external bacteria.

Some symptoms you should look out for are popeyes, bloating, red ulcers, and streaks of red. Bacterial infections can be treated with broad-spectrum antibiotics.

2. Fungal Infection

Like bacterial infections, fungal infections are challenging to diagnose because a broad range of species cause them. Moreover, the infections have similar symptoms to bacterial infections. If you are unsure which of the illnesses your elephant nose fish has, treat it with 100% Erythromycin and Inch X. The two medications can safely be used simultaneously to treat fungal and bacterial infections.

3. Skin and Gill Flukes

These are parasitic worms that bite into the skin and gills of fish. They are tricky to diagnose as they aren’t visible to the human eye. Flukes will always be in every aquarium and are safe under ordinary conditions. However, when their population explodes, that can be problematic.

The parasites will suck oxygen from the fish, leading to oxygen starvation. Symptoms of an overblown fluke population include loss of appetite, rapid breathing, lethargy, and rubbing against rough surfaces. You can use Praziquantel to treat fluke.

Behavior and Temperament

The behavior and temperament of elephant fish are fascinating, thanks to their massive brains. As they are bottom-feeders, they spend most of the time at the bottom of the tank, occasionally going up to investigate whatever catches their attention.

When nose fish are on their own, they are usually mellow and peaceful, doing their things. They become aggressive and territorial when they share a tank with another member of the same species. The stronger fish can constantly torture the weaker one to death.

To prevent this, you should never only keep two nose fish in your tank. The smallest school you should have is 3 to 4 members, and one with 5 to 7 members is even better. The more individuals of the same species live in one tank, the less likely one member will be singled out and bullied by the strongest fish.

Best Tank Mates

When picking tank mates for elephant nose fish, you should remember that their water parameter needs should always be met first. Therefore, you should pick tank mates that can live in the same water conditions and parameters as them. Additionally, ensure the tankmates are peaceful, as nose fish don’t bother other species.

Taking these factors into consideration, Bichirm Cory Catfish, Congo Tetra, Black Ghost Knife Fish, and Dwarf Gourami are among the best tankmates for nose fish. You can also go for Discus, Angelfish, Pearl Gourami, Honey Gourami, and Sparkling Gourami.

Remember that some members of the named species can be more aggressive than the rest. When introducing new tank mates to your aquarium, be watchful of their behavior and separate aggressive ones.

Is Breeding an Option?

Nose fish are a challenging species to breed in captivity. So far, no records show that the fish have ever been bred in a home aquarium. One of the contributing factors to this situation is that determining the gender of the members of this species is highly challenging. Dissection is the only accurate way to confirm gender.

The fish also appear to struggle to recognize each other’s gender in captivity. There’s likely something unique that helps them mate and reproduce in the wild. Therefore, all nose fish available for purchase are captured in the wild.

Final Thoughts

So, are you getting elephant nose fish for your aquarium? Before making a decision, consider their unique requirements and honestly assess your ability and willingness to offer them. Nose fish aren’t low-maintenance fish, and their care never gets easier, even for experienced aquarium keepers. However, if you are willing to commit to caring for them appropriately, keeping nose fish can be a gratifying experience.


Is elephant nose fish aggressive?

Yes, but only towards members of their own species. They never seem to bother other fish species in the same aquarium.

Are elephant nose fish hard to keep?

Yes. They aren’t the kind of fish you put in an aquarium and forget about them. They have unique and strict requirements to ensure their well-being.

How many elephant nose fish should be kept together?

You should always have at least three nose fish in the same tank. Keeping 5 to 7 nose fish is better if you have a larger tank.

Can elephant nose fish live with cichlids?

No. Cichlids aren’t the ideal tankmates for Elephant Nose fish because they have different water pH and DH parameters. Cichlids thrive in water of pH 7.8 to 8.5 and dH 10 to 15, while nose fish require water of pH 6 to 7.2 and dH 5 to 15.