Elephant Nose Fish – Species Profile & Facts

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Whether you’re a novice aquarist or a more experienced fish keeper, it’s always a thrill to discover new aquarium fish species to add to your collection. This brings us to today’s species, the elephant nose fish.

I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of it because not a lot of people have. So, you can thank me for all the information you’re about to get.

What is an Elephant Nose Fish?

The elephant nose fish is also known as Peter’s elephant nose fish. This animal belongs to the elephantfish group in the Gnathonemus genus, and it’s almost impossible to describe.

You have to see it yourself to understand the fish’s anatomy and physiology.

As a general idea, the elephant nose fish has an aquadynamic, elongated body with an even more elongated nose.

The fish’s head looks like a combination of elephant and bird with small eyes and a narrow and sensitive trunk scanning the water.

Yes, scanning, because the elephant nose fish uses its fake trunk to search for food in its environment. The trunk acts like an extensible appendix that the fish uses to scan the sandy substrate in search of worms, insect larvae, and other meal opportunities.

Then you have the electrolocation abilities. The elephant fish contains a number of electroreceptors embedded in its body, especially the tail area.

The ones in the tail are active, meaning that the fish uses them to emit low electric pulses in its environment. These electric pulses detect living organisms lurking in the habitat, which the fish cannot detect by other means.

The rest of the electric receptors covering the fish’s body are passive and can detect electrical impulses in the water as the fish swims near their source.

This allows the elephant fish to detect predators and prey and navigate its environment more effectively.

It also doesn’t hurt that the fish possesses great low-light sight, allowing it to move uninhibited through its environment at night.

Elephant Nose Fish Requirements

It’s worth mentioning that the elephant nose fish is rather pretentious in terms of tank conditions.

The fish isn’t fully tamed, so you need to replicate its natural conditions as perfectly as possible.

Here are some fundamental markers to consider:

Tank Size & Setup

This is a rather sizeable fish, so you need at least 50 gallons to house it properly. Some people have claimed that the fish can easily thrive in smaller tanks, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

This fish can reach 9-10 inches at times and requires a lot of swimming space. The elephant fish is also rather shy, so it requires a lush ecosystem with plenty of live plants, driftwood, and other decorative elements that the fish can use as hiding spots.

Go for a sandy and fine substrate, given that the elephant fish likes to use its Schnauzenorgan (the trunk) to look for food in the substrate.

Water Requirements

The elephant fish is pretty sensitive to water parameters and overall water quality. Aim for water temperatures around 73-82 F with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0 and water hardness up to 10 dGH.

These are easy-to-achieve parameters, but it’s the stability that matters the most. Elephant fish prefer stable and healthy environments, so you need to invest in a heater and a good filtration system to keep the water parameters in the ideal range.

Water quality is also vital. These fish can get sick and stress out when water quality degrades.

A good maintenance system and regular tank cleaning and water changes are necessary to prevent that.

Feeding and Diet

Elephant nose fish are carnivorous and prefer live foods almost exclusively. Some people have tried and succeeded in feeding them flakes, frozen foods, or pellets, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

These fish haven’t adapted to eating anything other than live food and will most likely refuse anything else.

This can make the situation a bit tricky, especially for a novice aquarist. In this sense, you have 2 solutions at hand:

  1. Purchase your live food – This is the more comfortable solution, as it requires minimal effort on your part. You just purchase the food, separate it into portions, and feed your fish accordingly. The problem is that live food has a limited lifespan, and you can only store it for several days. Then you have to buy some more. This brings us to the second, better option.
  2. Live cultures – Live cultures are ideal when housing carnivorous fish that specialize in live food only. Live cultures are typically easy to set up and don’t require too much maintenance. You can also keep them for several weeks to a month or even more, during which they will provide a steady flux of fresh food for your fish.

You can feed your elephant nose fish a variety of live foods like shrimp, tubifex worms, bloodworms, insect larvae, earthworms, etc.

Go for 2 meals per day and adjust the meal plant based on your elephant fish’s appetite.

Do Elephant Nose Fish Need a Heater?

Yes, a heater is necessary. The elephant fish isn’t too pretentious in terms of water temperature, but it doesn’t appreciate fluctuations.

You need to provide the elephant fish with a stable environment, at which point the heater is a must-have.

Do Elephant Nose Fish Need a Filter?

Absolutely it does. The filtration system is the aquarium’s kidney, liver, and lungs, cleaning the environment and keeping the water well-oxygenated and fresh.

The elephant fish is rather sensitive to poor water conditions and can exhibit stress and health issues when housed in subpar conditions.

You also need to adopt a steady and regular maintenance program with weekly partial water changes and daily cleaning. The cleaning aspect refers to vacuuming the substrate and removing any food residues that the fish will ignore.

Live food can decay fast in the water, increasing ammonia and nitrite levels and degrading water quality as a result.

How Much Do Elephant Nose Fish Cost?

You can get a standard elephant fish for prices ranging between $25 and $50 with a wiggle room on both ends.

The fish’s pricing is influenced by its size, age, and overall looks, with some specimens being cheaper or more expensive based on these indicators.

Ideally, you want to acquire a juvenile elephant fish, no larger than 3-4 inches. This is to allow the fish the time it needs to adapt to its environment, given that adult fish are less flexible in this sense.

Also, make sure you investigate the seller properly before getting the fish.

These are sensitive creatures, and many fish shops keep them in subpar conditions, often overcrowded and under or overfed. You don’t want to purchase an already sick fish.

What is the Lifespan of Elephant Nose Fish?

Elephant nose fish usually live up to 10 years in captivity, although their lifespan varies dramatically based on a number of factors.

These include diet, water quality, and water parameter stability. As I’ve already mentioned, elephant nose fish are sensitive to poor water conditions.

If you want your elephant nose fish to be around you for as long as possible, make sure you’re ready to work for it.

How Big do Elephant Nose Fish Get?

The elephant nose fish can grow up to 9.5-10 inches in captivity. Naturally, most fish won’t reach those sizes, so expect something closer to 6-8 inches.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Aggressive?

The elephant nose fish ranks as semi-aggressive, but its temperament can vary depending on the situation. The fish is particularly violent and territorial towards other members of its own species.

You should only have one elephant fish per tank to prevent these problems and keep your fish calm and peaceful. Increasing the tank size to accommodate 2 elephant fish won’t work because they will get violent when meeting anyway.

That being said, the elephant nose fish can join a community tank, but the situation can be volatile at times. So, let’s get into that!

Elephant Nose Fish Tankmates

It’s not too difficult to find viable tankmates for your elephant nose fish, but it isn’t easy either. Allow me to unconfuse you. The elephant nose fish is generally peaceful, so long as you pair it with equally peaceful tankmates.

We’re talking about medium-sized fish that like to keep their distance and won’t bother the elephant fish too much.

This should be easy work in theory since there are a lot of species that fit this profile. The actual problem boils down to tank layout and overall setup.

A community tank is an environment that caters to all fish equally. The situation is vastly different, with an elephant nose fish in the picture.

In other words, your elephant fish should be the star here. You aquascape the ecosystem to satisfy the elephant fish’s needs and take fish that can adapt to those requirements.

You don’t mold the environment based on other fish’s needs and hope that the elephant fish adapts to that.

The elephant nose fish is sensitive and pretentious about its environment, so you need to cater to its needs first and foremost.

With that out of the way, you can start looking for compatible tankmates like Congo tetras, angelfish, some species of gouramis (sparkling, honey, pearl), discus fish, Corydoras, etc.

You should also monitor the ecosystem regularly to make sure everything is stable and optimized.

Your elephant fish have the ability to turn violent if water quality isn’t top-notch, they’re overcrowded, or food is insufficient.

Are Elephant Nose Fish Good for Beginners?

No, they are not. Elephant nose fish are pretty calm and easy-going for the most part, but there are 3 issues that make them unfit for novice aquarists:

  • The degree of care necessary – Elephant nose fish are notoriously tricky to keep given their high sensitivity to poor water conditions. These fish can get stressed and sick quite rapidly when kept in unfit conditions. You must regularly clean their habitat to preserve water quality and keep your fish happy and healthy.
  • The dietary problem – These fish haven’t adapted to captive-specific fish food. You need to provide your elephant fish with fresh live food for a balanced and nutritious diet. Otherwise, your fish will exhibit aggression and stress and experience nutritional deficiencies that will considerably shorten its lifespan and decrease its quality of life.
  • The tricky community life – We’ve already discussed this point, but it’s worth mentioning it again. Elephant nose fish do just fine solo but have problems adapting to that community life. You can make it work, but it requires precise planning, constant monitoring, and logistics work to ensure the social ecosystem’s stability.

In other words, the elephant nose fish is simply too much work for a novice aquarist to handle.

Caring for the fish gets easier with time, as you get more accustomed to its requirements and temperament, but there’s a steep learning curve to get through before reaching that point.

I only recommend elephant nose fish to more experienced aquarists with several successful aquatic projects under their belts.

How to Tell if Elephant Nose Fish is Male or Female?

You can’t. There is currently no known way of differentiating between elephant nose males and females, which makes breeding them next to impossible.

The situation appears even more bizarre if you consider that the fish themselves have difficulties in this sense.

That’s right, it seems like even elephant nose fish themselves can’t differentiate the gender of their companion. This is why they fight so aggressively when placed in the same tank.

Apparently, this is a problem that the fish only face in captivity. They obviously have no problems differentiating each other’s gender in the wild; if they did, the species itself would’ve stopped existing long ago.

How do Elephant Nose Fish Breed?

This is still an enigma for the most part. The breeding process in these fish is most likely standard, although we haven’t observed it firsthand so far.

It’s worth of mentioning that elephant nose fish don’t breed in captivity. Violence is the only thing these fish have to offer each other when placed together.

So, don’t try to breed them at home; especially since you won’t be able to tell their gender.

All elephant nose fish on sale today are wild-caught.


The elephant nose fish is a peculiar specimen that falls in a niche of its own. The fish is obviously difficult to keep and maintain, but it makes for quite the asset once you get accustomed to its requirements and needs.

Especially since this species can live up to 10 years in good conditions.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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