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FAQs on Ropefish Behavior

Related Articles: Bichirs & Ropefish, Family Polypteridae

Related FAQs:  Ropefish 1, Ropefish 2, & Ropefish ID, Ropefish Compatibility, Ropefish Selection, Ropefish Systems, Ropefish Feeding, Ropefish Health, Ropefish Reproduction, & FAQs on: Bichirs 1, & Bichir Identification, Bichir Behavior, Bichir Compatibility, Bichir Selection, Bichir Systems, Bichir Feeding, Bichir Disease, Bichir Reproduction,


Questions on both reed fish <sys., beh.> and golden dwarf morays      6/4/13
Hey crew! Thanks for being the fantastic resource that you are. I've got a couple of questions that I would to ask.
I've had this reedfish that hasn't jumped for at least seven years now. As we speak, he's been swimming around in a open top metre square fish pond. I'm wondering if you know why this species jumps and therefore how to avoid it, as I'm looking to add more; knowing that they're communal.
<Are jumpers for sure... Need to keep the water level down a few inches AND make sure the top is entirely covered in fish tanks... no openings larger than the diameter of the Reedfish>
Secondly, I'd like to know if a golden dwarf moray, some Allen's damsels and clownfish would do okay at 28-30 degrees Celsius water temperature, with a nightly gradual drop to 24-25.
<Mmm, well, you should be okay; though 30 C., 86 F. is about the upper limit I'd feel safe with>
Thanks for all the help you've given!
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Re: Questions on both reed fish, sys.      6/5/13

Thanks for the quick reply. With regards to the rope fish, there are overhanging plants across the perimeter of the pond, do you think these might have given it an understanding of the water's boundaries?
<I do think so; but have seen these and Bichirs launch themselves out of all containers>
Correct me, but I don't think these fish will try to constantly escape from their larger residences in the wild for no reason.
<Spoke with a fellow from Nigeria at an Interzoo show one time who was involved in Erpetoichthys collection... he stated they climbed out of the reeds onto land at times; in the slow moving rivers when they were being gathered... Bob Fenner>
Thanks again,

Rope Fish Behavior    11/17/12
Hello there! I would like to start off by saying that I love your website, and I very frequently make use of it. That being said, I have poured over the Rope Fish section, and I cannot find anything quite like the situation I have. I have 3 Rope Fish in my 75 gal tank, as well as one Lutino Oscar,
<Must be hard to get food to your ropes past this Oscar>
 one African Knife Fish (Xenomystus nigri), as well as one recently introduced Albino Bichir. All of them appear to be very healthy; they eat well, have nice color, and behave as they should- with the exception of one of my female Ropes. She, like the others, has a healthy appetite, shows no sign of illness, and behaves as my other Rope Fish do, until they get fed. Whenever I feed my fish, she tends to get a little crazy- swimming very rapidly, swirling in tight circles, even swimming upside down (sometimes still swimming in circles.) This has been going on ever since I rescued her from poor conditions (starving to the point where her stomach was hollowed, in addition to Ich, and poor water quality. The poor girl was gasping upside down, on the brink of death when I received her.) It has been a couple months since then, and while her health has definitely improved, I was wondering if this is still possibly an illness?
<Possibly internal... this species can "come in" (all are wild collected) w/ quite a bit of parasite fauna>
 could she be perhaps a little brain damaged, or maybe it’s her personality showing?
<Could be either, all>
 Again, the only time she exhibits this behavior is when there is food in the tank, otherwise she appears to be the model Rope. My water parameters are kept vigilantly at 0 ammonia, 0 nitrites, and 0 nitrate
<Zero NO3? Wow>
and 7.0 ph (I do a 33% water change every couple days), temp is kept at a constant 76 degrees F. Diet of my fish include wet frozen bloodworms, wet frozen brine shrimp, the occasional beef heart, chopped earthworms, and my Oscar will switch between Hikari Staple cichlid pellets and Hikari Gold pellets. I will also rarely throw in one or two sinking shrimp pellets, as my Knife Fish will pick them up, and I rather surprised this morning to find that one of my Ropes was eating one as well. Any help is much appreciated, and I thank you in advance for taking your time reading/responding. –Kylie
<I would continue w/ your stated excellent maintenance routine (and keep an eye on these fishes, the top secure to prevent escapes). I would not try to "treat" the system, fishes w/ medicine/s w/o knowing more specifically what might be going on here. Bob Fenner> 
Re: Rope Fish Behavior  11/18/12

Thank you for the advice! My Oscar, LJ, rarely has an issue with the Ropes feeding.
<Ah, good>
 He/she was in my quarantine tank for a while (29 gal), separate from the Ropes/Knife, and in the meantime I had him/her feeding off of floating foods: pellets, and instead of thawing the beef heart or bloodworms completely, they would be partially thawed, so it would still float. Now, when they are all living together, he/she expects his food to float, and so while he/she is busy looking on the top, or when he/she has/her mouth crammed full of food, I pour the fully thawed food for the rest of the tank. LJ also won't touch beef heart, oddly enough. Rest assured I make sure everyone is happily fed!
<I too fed but up bits of beef heart to my Ropefish, many years back, as a lad, living w/ my parents>
All of my fish are still rather young; two of my Ropes being 9 inches, and the male just over 7, LJ is at about 4 inches now (I received him/her at 2-2.5 inches), my Knife is about 5 inches,
<About full size for Xenomystus>
and my Bichir is about 2.5 inches. Everybody seems to coexist very well. My Ropes are very sociable creatures, and my Bichir sort of joined their group. Now they all like to curl up together under the fake plants, or under the fake log decoration or even in the bubble curtain. All of my fish like to play in the bubble curtain. Dampe, the Knife, will stay in his cave most of the time, but will venture out every now and again. LJ will patrol his/her territory whenever he/she doesn't see me, or rearrange the decorations, or when he/she does see me, he/she will beg for food. No signs of nipped fins on any of my fish. Oh, yes, I also have one black apple snail that I'm rather surprised has not disappeared yet. I'm sure when LJ grows a little more, however, he will.
Morpheel, the Rope in question, was placed in my quarantine tank when I received her, and I started her with a salt/heat treatment for her Ich.
<A good treatment>
She wouldn't eat for about a week, and considering her stomach was already hollowed, I was afraid of the possibility of starvation. When she did start eating, and had filled out, and I was sure that the Ich had been taken care of, I placed her into my main tank. Do you think that she should still be isolated? This was about 5 months ago, and I had my other Ropes for about a month before she was introduced. Also, do you think that I will need a larger tank when my fish are matured?
<Possibly... what species is the bichir?>
I learned the hard way to make sure my top was secure.
 I used to have 4 Ropes, but while I was quarantining Morpheel, I went away for three days and entrusted their care to my grandparents. When I came back, I came back to my large male Rope dried onto my carpet. Lesson learned. RIP lil buddy.
I've had fish almost my entire life, starting with a little goldfish in a bowl (yikes!).
<How many, if not most of us got started>
I've learned a lot since then. I'm kind of a big fan of fish, and I only want the best care for mine. With that being said, I put a lot of effort into ensuring optimal health for my little guys, and I feel like I'm in like company here. Thanks again for the help! I really appreciate what you all do here. -Kylie
<Thank you for sharing your experiences, enthusiasm. BobF>

Rope Fish Healthy Behavior? - 10/14/10
I have a question about Rope Fish behavior as a sign of health. I don't see any major concerns, but I don't want to be one of the people writing a question about my fish that just died. I have had the Rope for six days (9' long). The first three days it was very active and would swim all around the aquarium and then rest under something, and then do it again several times while I'm watching. The last three days it has been barely active. It rests under a plant/cave and only goes to the surface sometimes for a breath. I have seen it eat black worms three times, but yesterday it was not interested at all. It has no other signs of stress or disease other than it changed behavior. My main concern is that it was the same time my tank showed a reading of .02 ammonia. I did a 10-12% water change which brought it to zero for a day. Then again today it is at .01 and I will do another water change. Here is the background information. I have a 55 gal. tank that is fairly new. It has lots of hiding and live plants. I was cycling it with six Giant Danios. I never got any ammonia readings for two weeks. I then read that this could be what is called 'silent cycling', because the aquarium was heavily planted. I do not have any sort of air bubbling device, because I assume the filter dumping water back into the tank, and the plants would produce enough oxygen. So, now its tank mates are 6 Giant Danios, 1 Iridescent Shark, and 1 One-Stripe eel 7'(new at the same time). The water parameters are 77 degrees, PH 7.8, zero Nitrite & Nitrate, ammonia .01(the last couple days only). Is this just normal Rope behavior? Is the ammonia the problem? Should I use an ammonia binding agent, or just keep changing the water? Also, the Eel almost did the exact opposite. It mostly hid the first three days, and the last three has been actively swimming through the tank. I don't think they bother each other, because they will rest under the same cave together. Also, none of the other fish spend any significant time at the bottom of the tank. I have done tons of web searches before and after buying anything, however, if you could point me to a resource that lists healthy and normal behaviors for fish types, then I would at least know the difference between healthy and stressed. Your help is greatly appreciated.
<Hello Nick. In a nutshell, happy Ropefish lurk in caves in small groups, often with their heads poking out but otherwise bundled up together in a big ball. Yes, they will side-wind up to the surface periodically to breathe, but during the day they are essentially resting. They are most active at night, when they hunt, by smell, for small worms, crustaceans and insect larvae (these latter making up almost entirely their diet in the wild). Common stress factors in aquaria include lack of company (treat them as schooling fish, and keep at least three specimens); aggressive tankmates (some fish nip their fins); and lack of the right sorts of food (mostly wet-frozen insect larvae, chopped seafood, and the occasional earthworm). While ammonia isn't good for any fish, Ropefish are fairly resilient fish so should get through the next few weeks assuming regular water changes and careful feeding. In fact the usual sources of mortality are, in this order, escaping from the tank and starvation. Forget about plants as a source of oxygen: unless you have intense lighting, the overall impact of photosynthesis on oxygen levels in the tank will be trivial. A good canister or external filter should circulate water sufficiently well you don't need an airstone. Ropefish are air breathers anyway, and actually live in swamps, so the Spiny Eel and Danios will be stressed by lack of oxygen long before the Ropefish. Your Iridescent Shark is going to be a monster, and has no place in this aquarium. Please Google "Pangasius hypophthalmus" and take a look at how big these fish can get. Even under aquarium conditions you can expect this catfish to reach 20 cm/8 inches within a year, and 60 cm/24 inches within 2-3 years. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior? - 10/14/10

Thank you so much for a thorough and incredibly quick response.
<Glad to help.>
The Pangasius cat was a mistake.
<Quite possibly.>
I wanted something smaller than a Pleco, so they pointed out some other options at Petdumb. They said 12' max for this guy. I immediately saw on the web, after introducing to my tank, that they are giants.
<Indeed. They are food fish, prized for their rapid growth rate. To be honest, many do indeed get to about 30 cm/12 inches before they die for one reason or another, but they can and often do get very much larger.>
Update: yesterday after work my Rope fish was again swimming actively all over, and it ate really well. Maybe it just swims a lot when it is really hungry, and otherwise it just sits at the bottom. Isn't my tank too small for another two 6-12' Rope fish? (55 gal)
<Not too small at all. I would encourage you to shift the Pangasius and add the extra Ropefish.>
I'm planning on a bigger tank in the future, but not for at least a year. Is it possible that the Rope is comforted by the Spiny
<Possibly, but my guess is that because they want the same thing, they hang out in the same place. Is the Spiny Eel Macrognathus aral? Most Macrognathus species are quite gregarious as well, and well worth keeping in groups.>
It likes to stay near it sometimes. Out of curiosity, if my plants (regular pond weed) grew 6' in the last two days, does that mean lots of photosynthesis and oxygen?
<Yes, to some degree, but remember plants use up oxygen too, and at night they aren't photosynthesising, so their net effect is to pull down oxygen levels. Also, the amount of oxygen produced per plant isn't that great. So while plants help a bit, and they do absorb ammonia and nitrate, both of which actions improve water quality, they don't really do a huge amount in terms of oxygenation. At least, not unless there's a lot of plants, a lot of light, and a very small loading of fish.>
Thanks again,
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior? - 10/14/10
I would be happy to add Rope fish if I can find them, but I was concerned by all of the web resources stating no more than 1' of fish per gallon of water.
<That's a benchmark, and not a terribly accurate one. For a 55 gallon tank, you shouldn't have any problems at all keeping three Ropefish, two or three medium-sized Spiny Eels, and a school of suitable dither fish. Maybe even a Bristlenose Plec to help with the algae. All I'd recommend you do is ensure good water quality via generous filtration. I happen to like canister filters, but anything will do, provide the water turnover is brisk, 8 times the volume of the tank per hour. Because these fish are mostly carnivores, don't overfeed, and feel free to skip a day per week. Do 20-25% water changes per week.>
I already have 37' of fish with the 6 Giant Danios, 1 Pangasius, 1 Macrognathus aral, and 1 Rope fish. And all my fish aren't even adult size yet.
<Ropefish get to about 30 cm/12 inches or so under aquarium conditions, and they're pretty thin. Many books say they get to 90 cm/3 feet long, but that appears to be based on an erroneous scientific record. The biggest ones I've seen are maybe 40 cm/15 inches.>
Yes, my eel is Macrognathus aral, but everything I read on Spiny eels state that they don't like each other when they are adults. Is that incorrect for this particular
one, and can you give me a link to that research?
<Here's the deal. There are two genera in the trade, Macrognathus and Mastacembelus. Mastacembelus includes things like Tyre Track Eels and Fire Eels, and yes, these are territorial when mature. But the genus Macrognathus includes mostly smaller species that don't seem to be territorial, and happily hang out in small gangs. It's worth noting that it's this genus that includes all the species bred in captivity.>
Also, if I get rid of the Pangasius I won't have anything eating the food that drops to the substrate. Any suggestions for a compatible cleaner fish?
<Would strongly recommend an Ancistrus, i.e., a Bristlenose Plec, since these are the right size and temperament, and unlikely to compete strongly for the food you want the Spiny Eel and Ropefish to eat. Other catfish and loaches will be too competitive.>
I've heard some suckers will damage eels by sucking their slime coat off?
<Correct. Ropefish and Bichirs are both prone to this, and cichlids will also peck at their fins. Again, Ancistrus, being herbivorous, tend to ignore even delicate tankmates, making them especially good choices and very different to the standard common Plec species. Spiny Eels tend to get damaged because of abrasive rocks and the use of gravel. So long as you use smooth, lime-free sand (pool filter sand appears to be popular in the US) instead of gravel, this shouldn't be an issue. But once Spiny Eels get damaged, they quickly develop skin infections and then die.
The bigger Mastacembelus are a bit more resistant to damage from gravel, but I'd consider sand essential when keeping Macrognathus.>
<Good luck, Neale.>

Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior? -- 10/20/10

Update on my Rope Fish condition. It has become increasingly reclusive,
which I know is how they are supposed to be, but it used to swim all over the place. Also, it appears to have tiny white bumps all over it.
Yesterday they were just on its head, and now go down it's body. It looks almost like salt. I know that this must be some kind of disease. Please
<Sounds like Whitespot/Ick to me. Treat using the salt/heat method. Two grammes per litre should do the trick, but Ropefish tolerate brackish water so you can go up to 6 grammes/litre if needs be, and this level would be good for treating Velvet and certain other infections.
Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior? -- 10/20/10
I have read through the article, very informative. Will 2 grammes/litre harm any of the other inhabitants? Six Giant Danios and one Macrognathus aral.
<No. In fact the Spiny Eel species will probably be healthier if maintained this way, though the Danios wouldn't like it for more than a few weeks.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior?   10/26/10

I have been using the salt and heat method to cure my rope fish of the Ich for six days now. The rope fish has had zero spots for a couple of days and there are only about three spots total on one of the other fish. Thank you for the assistance in saving my fish.
<Cool. Remember, the salt isn't killing the spots; it's killing the free-living stages they produce.>
However, I have a new question. Can either salt or a temperature of 86 degrees cause Giant Danios to go blind?
During morning feeding time they are usually lightning quick and splash at the surface as they scarf down food. But, today they knew it was feeding time and went to the surface, but just swam around with their mouths at the surface until they happened to run into some food. Sometimes they would just swim right past it and keep trolling around. Really weird.
<Indeed. But if the eyes aren't cloudy, I doubt they're blind. Giant Danios are quite jumpy though, and if they hit the hood, they can damage their eyes.>
Another change in the aquarium is that my Nitrites are at .5, and have been at least measurable for three days.
<More of an issue.>
Can Ich cause blindness?
<Unlikely, but not beyond the realms of possibility. When the white cysts burst they leave holes in the skin, and these holes can become sites for secondary infections. The cornea isn't a favoured habitat for Ick
parasites, but I'm sure it can happen. But still, if the cornea was damaged, I think you'd be able to tell.>
<You're welcome. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Rope Fish Healthy Behavior?   10/26/10
Thanks, I guess it remains a mystery. It is almost just like they swim around at night with the light off, just hoping to eat something at the surface. Just usually in the day with the lights on, they make quick and direct hits on the food. I have never seen them jump into the lid though. Nitrite doesn't cause blindness either does it? Half the responses on WetWeb suggest people frequently change their water to dilute the nitrite, and the other half say to stop water changes so that the bacteria can grow sooner. Do you have any suggestions? Also, what is the 'freak-out' level of nitrite when I should panic and move the fish to anything including pots and pans?
<Fish go off their food when water quality drops, so I'd concentrate on establishing why you have non-zero ammonia and/or nitrite levels. Sometimes newly established tanks go into a mini-cycle weeks after you think cycling finished. In itself not a disaster. Stop feeding, do 20% water changes every day or two, and check the filter is properly configured and maintained. Common problems include clogged media and overfeeding. So long as nitrite stays below 0.5 mg/l, your fish are not in any imminent danger, generally, but some fish are more sensitive than others. Cheers, Neale.>

Rope Fish Acting Weird   10/11/06 Hi, I have had my rope fish for a couple years now and it has always done great. But for the last couple of days it has been acting weird. Sometimes it acts normal and swims around normal but then it just kind of floats at the top of the tank. I am worried about swim bladder disease and wanted to know what I can do to help it. Thank you. Toni <Do a 50% water change, vacuum the gravel and clean the filter. Try feeding him some live washed earthworms and see if he perks up. These fish are pretty tough but when they do get sick they get really weird diseases that are tricky to cure.-Chuck>

Ropefish head pores I was checking out my roper and noticed some very small holes (pores) along the sides of its head. These seem to be symmetrical and don't look bad. Are these normal for Ropefish or is mine diseased? <Good observation. These are lateral line pores... part of a low vibration sensory apparatus of fishes. Unless they become enlarged, infected (likely not here) there is nothing to worry about. Bob Fenner>

Ropefish Help.....I have had a Ropefish for 3mths now... I have no clue how to properly take care of it. I am really not 100% it is a rope fish... (can you send a picture) <They're pretty distinctive, will post one on our website's article on their family (Polypteridae: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/bichirs.htm Give me till tomorrow>  It is acting very strange... one sec it is floating or sinking very still and it does it for some time then it swims wildly for 2or 3 sec.s... then back to floating or sinking for a period of time.. is it dying?... <Probably not... many Ropefish (Erpetoichthys (formerly Calamoichthys) calabaricus if memory serves) perish from the travails of collecting and shipping initially... but you've had yours three months? It's likely just "checking things out" or even respiring and resting at the surface... they're facultative aerial respirators...> I was told at the Pet Supermarket that it was a Ropefish... it looks like the description on the web page. I have feed it what they told me . Tropical flake food and Freeze Dried Tubifex Worms. This is what we were told.. Please reply.. and no he does not have any bused areas marked areas and the tank is very dull... no other fish.. just it. and a piece of pvc pipe at the bottom covered in rocks so he can swim thru it... please e-mail me at yahoo.com or at hotmail.com thanks > <Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

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