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.
I 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.
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
This 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.