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A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 1

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here.

The subjects of this article are often sold in pet stores as “curiosities” to be added to aquariums housing typical tropical fishes.  Unfortunately, due to their unique dietary requirements and feeding methods, none do well in such situations.  As most hobbyists are unaware of their fascinating behaviors, tanks are rarely set up solely for these creatures, and most perish in short order. 

ElephantNose FishesI recently set up a tropical West Africa themed exhibit for a public aquarium, based on similar tanks I have maintained at home and at the Bronx Zoo.  It was a big hit and generated many inquiries from visitors who wished to have a similar aquarium in their homes. 

The aquarium I’ll describe here is similar to that exhibit.  It houses animals from the same region of Africa, and includes two of the pet trade’s most interesting and overlooked fishes, a social shrimp and an active, aquatic frog.  All follow different lifestyles and utilize unusual feeding methods, yet they co-exist very well.

General Considerations

The animals described below hail from West Africa, and all prefer heavily planted aquariums maintained at 78-80 F.  They are quite sensitive to water quality, so be sure to choose a filter that is of an appropriate size for your aquarium, but avoid strong currents (from the filter’s outflow) within the tank.  A comprehensive water test kit  should be used regularly to assure that pH is held between 6.8 and 7, and that the water is moderately soft (water softness is not a major concern, but is best monitored).

Due to the feeding habits of the elephant nose (see below) and the desirability of establishing a lush growth of plants, I suggest that you use Porous Clay Gravel as a substrate.

Peter’s Elephant Nose or Elephant-Nosed Fish, Gnathonemus petersi

ElephantNose FishThis first recommended member of the aquarium is truly interesting in appearance and behavior.  It uses the greatly extended lower jaw from which its common name is drawn to root in the substrate for aquatic worms and insects, its main food source.  Organs near the tail discharge electrical impulses that allow the elephant nose to navigate, hunt and, according to recent research, to communicate (please see the article referenced below).

Feeding and Observing the Elephant Nose

The elephant nose is a confirmed live food specialist, and rarely feeds before nightfall…hence it is always out-competed for food when kept with swordtails, platys and other typical community fishes.  A heavy growth of live plants will encourage it to move about by day; Moonlight Bulbs  are great for use in observing nocturnal behavior. 

Although only small specimens are usually seen in the trade (adults do not ship well at all), the elephant nose can reach 10 inches in length – a group of adults foraging in a large aquarium is a very impressive sight.  Live blackworms can form the foundation of their diet, but you should endeavor to include live bloodworms, glassworms and other such invertebrates regularly.

Click: A Community Aquarium for Fishes, Shrimp and Frogs – West African Oddities – Part 2, to read the rest of this article.

Frank Indiviglio.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.