Elephant Fish Stats InfographicElephant Fish also known as Peters’ Elephantnose Fish, is an out-of-the-ordinary fish, best suited to experienced aquarists. This uncommon freshwater fish will make a unique addition to a large tank.

These fish are in demand in the aquarist hobby community due to their remarkable appearance and behavior. Fish keepers enjoy the challenge of caring for this fascinating fish.

The Elephant Fish has very specific care requirements since it is quite sensitive to water quality, temperature, and lighting. This resource contains information on water chemistry, a balanced diet, tank setup, and suitable tank mates to help you look after this fish.

Elephant Fish Stats

Scientific Name Gnathonemus petersii
Common Name Elephant Nose fish, Elephant Fish, Dolphin Nose fish, Long Nose Elephant fish, Peter’s Elephant nose
Tank size 44 gallons and more
Diet Omnivorous bottom feeder
Temperature 73 F 82 F
pH 6.0 7.5
Size up to 10 inches
Lifespan six to 10 years

Elephant Fish Origins and Habitat

The Elephant Nose Fish is a freshwater species that is widespread in regions of West and Central Africa. The Ogun River Basin and the Lower Niger River basin in Nigeria, as well as in the upper Chari River in the Central African Republic, form the natural habitat of this species.

Elephant fish lookThis fish is also indigenous throughout Benin, Niger, Mali, Chad, Cameroon, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia.

The water streams where these fish live are muddy, slowly moving rivers and pools with dense vegetation. They like a thick, silty substrate, lots of debris, and submerged branches that provide cover.


The Freshwater Elephant Fish is quite a pretty fish that has a very distinctive appearance. Their bodies are dark brown to nearly black but, in certain lights, they appear violet.

The Elephant Fish has a long, slender body that is quite smooth and velvety since there are no scales. Their heads are also long and thin. These fish have excellent peripheral vision due to their eyes being positioned on the sides of their head. The stomach is usually lighter than the rest of the body. These fish don’t have any abdominal fins.

Their long nose, which gives Long Nose Elephant Fish their name and characteristic appearance, is quite thin and curves a little downwards. The nose is below their round mouth, and there is no space between the nose and the mouth. This long pointed nose makes this peculiar fish look like a combination of a swordfish and an elephant.

Other Peculiarities of the Elephant Fish

An interesting feature is their anal and dorsal fins that mirror each other precisely in pattern, color, and size. Both fins are elongated and slope down to the caudal peduncle. These fins are semi-translucent at the outer edges of their bodies, while their coloration becomes more saturated proceeding towards the middle of the belly.

The caudal peduncle on an Elephant Nose Fish is very thin and short and ends in a thin forked caudal fin. There’s a thick yellowish-white stripe that runs in an arc between the dorsal and anal fins. They have a second, parallel white stripe that runs about one inch away.

A young Elephant Nose Fish measures about 3 or 4 inches, but an adult fish can grow up to 9 inches. However, the Elephant Fish growth rate is slow.

Elephant Fish Interesting Features

The Nose: A Sensory Organ

The Long Nose Elephant Fish’s nose, called the Schnauzenorgan, is covered in electroreceptors. As such, it is not exactly a nose, but a protruding part of the mouth. The schnauzenorgan, which is extremely sensitive to both touch and smell, helps them navigate their way around and search for food. This organ also warns the fish of any danger.

The Elephantnose Fish hunts insect larva at dawn and dusk, helped by an electric organ in their tail that releases electrical impulses. These fish have electroreceptors that cover the head, dorsal, and ventral areas. Their skin carries sensory organs that recognize objects in the water. The electrical discharges serve several purposes, like communicating, finding food and searchin for a partner when it is the time for breeding.

The Big Brain of the Elephant Fish

An interesting feature of the Elephant Fish is that the proportion of its brain size to body weight is higher than that of man. Its cerebellum is bigger than its front brain, and since their brain uses so much oxygen, they need a lot of oxygen.

The Elephant Fish and Water Quality

Water departments in Germany and the U.S. use the Long-nosed Elephant Fish to test the quality of drinking water due to its sensitivity to water quality. The fish releases more electrical pulses when the quality of the water deteriorates.

The Powerful Senses of the Elephant Nose Fish

Another advantage that helps the Elephant Nose Fish in their natural habitat is their excellent eyesight, especially in poor light conditions. This is very useful since these fish live in dark, murky waters where there is a lot of debris in the water. Elephant Nose Fish also have excellent hearing that allows them to perceive even the smallest noise or vibration.

Elephant Fish Lifespan

The Elephant Nose fish can live anywhere between six and 10 years if they receive good care and optimal living conditions.

Elephant Fish Behavior

The Elephant Nose Fish behavior may seem erratic, as these fish are calm and peaceful at times, and aggressive at others. If you observe these fish closely, you will notice that they are mild and easygoing if they are left alone and can swim peacefully around the tank. They are not hostile towards the other fish in the aquarium.

Elephant Nose Fish are schooling fish that like to swim around in groups. However, each fish in the group needs their territory. As a result, they are only suitable for the largest home aquariums. An average-sized aquarium will just not do.

It is not advisable to keep Elephant Fish in pairs in a small space. Problems can arise when you introduce another Elephant Nose Fish to their tank. These fish are highly protective of their territory, and they will be unfriendly towards the newcomer. If the second Elephant fish is smaller than the first one, the bigger Elephant Nose Fish will constantly bully it. It would be advisable to keep Elephant Fish in groups of three or five and provide a large space.

Elephant Nose Fish are active fish. They are bottom-feeders, so you will see them spending much of their time in the lower part of your tank. However, they are curious too, so they will go off to investigate other areas of the tank before moving back to the bottom, where they like to dig around in the substrate or among the plants, searching for food.

Elephant Fish Care

Elephant Fish care is demanding in that their requirements are very strict. In fact, these fish are very sensitive to even the slightest changes in water parameters. You will need to be very vigilant and pay great attention to water parameters since these fish will not thrive unless they have optimal water conditions. If the water quality and chemistry, temperature, or even the lighting are not ideal, it will affect their health.

This species is nocturnal and must have several hiding spots scattered throughout the aquarium. It is crucial that you only have a sandy bottom in your aquarium. The Elephantnose fish likes to dig in the substrate, and since their nose is very sensitive, gravel can injure the fish or cause infections. Elephant Nose Fish have excellent hearing and are very sensitive to noise and vibrations, so it may be best to keep the tank in a quiet place.

Elephant Fish Water Parameters

Water temperature: 73 F to 82 F
pH levels: pH levels:
Water hardness: 0 10 KH

Elephant Fish need stable water conditions, so it is vital to monitor them regularly. If the water chemistry doesn’t meet their basic requirements, it can impact their well-being and have severe consequences for their health.

The best water temperature for an Elephant Nose Fish is between 73 F and 82 F. It would be preferable if you could try to keep it in the middle range, at about 78 F. We suggest you use a thermometer to always keep the temperature in check. You may also like to get a water heater for the tank to maintain the temperature.

This species does not tolerate extreme pH levels, so water that is either too alkaline or very acidic is not good for these fish. You should maintain the pH levels between 6.5 – 7.2, with 6.9 being your target. Finally, try to maintain a water hardness of 0 – 10 KH to try and recreate the natural environment of these fish.

The Elephant Nose Fish picks up any changes in its water parameters, and it does not respond well if there are sudden variations. Therefore, you will find it very helpful to use a water testing kit. A reliable, quality aquarium testing kit will enable you to maintain the most stable conditions for your fish. We also suggest a regular cleaning schedule to keep the tank free of algae and other harmful bacteria.

Elephant FishTank Size

Elephant Nose Fish size is 9 or 10 inches, so it is quite a big fish. We suggest an aquarium that is at least 50 gallons, if not bigger, to satisfy the needs of this fish. This should provide adequately to their need of swimming around.

The tank should also be spacious enough for you to keep the logs, plants, and rocks necessary to make this fish feel comfortable and at home.

Elephant Fish Tank Setup

Elephant fish feedingThe Elephant Nose Fish aquarium should replicate its natural environment as much as possible. They are used to having lots of things like branches, plants, logs, or rocks since the rivers these fish come from are full of debris. This species likes to dig and poke around in the soft sandy riverbed and hide from other fish.

For this reason — and for protecting the sensitive nose of this curious fish — it is essential to have a soft sandy substrate in your tank. The Elephant fish aquarium should be well planted with a lot of foliage. Don’t worry, there are several species available on the market that go well with the Elephant Fish. However, since this species is nocturnal and likes a dimly lit tank, you will need hardy plants that grow in sand. Plants should also do well in low lights.

Plants That Do Well With Elephant Fish

We suggest plants like Java moss, Hornwort, and Anubias. Some other suitable plants that would grow well in these conditions are Staurogyne repens, Vallisneria, Java fern, and Water wisteria. You could add some floating aquarium plants as well since these would provide shade.

If you wish to keep a school of Elephant Fish, you will need to provide plenty of cover as well as smooth rocks, driftwood, overturned flower pots, pipes, caves, or tubes and logs so each fish can establish its territory. This will help the fish feel safe and reduce the possibility of aggression.

This species is nocturnal, so you must keep the lighting in the tank dim. You will also need to install a good filtration unit to keep the water clean and well-aerated, as this fish needs lots of oxygen. However, Elephant Fish dislike water movement, so you could use an adjustable canister filter or a sump with a spray bar to keep the flow rate low.

Elephant Fish Diet

Elephant Fish diet is carnivorous and they eat meaty foods rich in protein. In their natural habitat, this species eats various insects and larvae that live in shallow waters. You will need to replicate their diet as closely as possible.

These fish need a diet that has a high protein content. Their favorite foods seem to be bloodworms and brine shrimp, but you could offer them tubifex worms, chopped-up earthworms, and larvae.

Elephant Fish enjoy these foods, especially worms of any kind. These fish are mostly not picky and will happily eat dried, frozen, and live foods. They can even learn to eat out of your hand.

This fish eats with their nose, which acts essentially like the trunk of an elephant. The Elephant Nose fish picks up food with their long nose and flicks it inside their mouth, which is quite an interesting sight.

Elephant Fish Diseases

The Freshwater Elephant Fish is not known to have any diseases or infections specific to their species. However, these fish do not react well to most medications. If they get any of the common fish diseases, it would be wise to consult a vet.

If you have these fish in a community tank with other fishes that need regular treatment, it would be safest to transfer the Elephant Nose Fish to another tank.

Elephant Fish Tank Mates

Elephant Fish Compatibility needs to be carefully considered when choosing tank mates. These fish are quiet but tend to be territorial. Therefore, you should keep them with other species that are not particularly active or aggressive.

The Elephant Fish is timid and will not compete for food with other fish. It is also not a good idea to keep these fish with other mormyrids. Some suitable tank mates include African species such as:

You could also choose tank mates from peaceful cichlids like Satanoperca, Geophagus, and Angelfish.

If you wish to keep a group of Elephant Fish, you’ll need a large spacious tank with many hiding places. Buy at least five fish to disperse aggression within the group.

Elephant Fish Breeding

Elephant Nose breeding has not been done successfully in aquariums since it is very challenging. Oftentimes, it is difficult to differentiate between males and females.

The male and female Elephantnose Fish look alike, and there are no features that can help distinguish between them. These fish can also be aggressive with other Elephant Fish.

At present, we do not know much about the breeding habits of Elephant Fish exactly because identifying the males from females is not easy. Scientists believe the organ responsible for electrical impulses often gets reversed from the male to the female fish.

Therefore, the Elephant Nose Fish is only known to reproduce in the wild, and the fish available for sale have been caught in their native habitat. Apart from that, even experts don’t know much about their breeding habits. Some studies show they build a floating nest when they are ready to breed, but that’s about it. The female lays her eggs inside this nest, and fry feed on the remains of the eggs in the first few days of life.


The Elephant Fish is an unusual fish that will intrigue your visitors with its remarkable features. You will also enjoy interacting with it. Here you can find a few highlights of what you have learned in this article:

  • Elephant fish dietThe Freshwater Elephant Fish is quite pretty
  • They are nocturnal fish
  • These fish grow to nine or ten inches
  • The Elephant Fish is carnivorous
  • This species does not breed in the aquarium
  • The Elephant Nose Fish has excellent eyesight
  • These fish can learn to eat from your hand

If you are looking for a fish that will challenge you with its care requirements, then the Elephant Fish is right for you.

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