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Shirlie Sharpe

Rope Fish

By October 2, 2003

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Occasionally seen in shops, the large eel like Rope Fish is an interesting and peaceful species to keep - if you have a large enough tank for it.


November 21, 2006 at 2:34 pm
(1) victor Geriba says:

i have a question i have a rope fish and is it safe for it to live in a 20 gallon tank of does he not have enough room to swim? its about 10 inches long.

February 21, 2008 at 12:55 am
(2) Tommy says:

i don’t understand why it has to be a 55 gallon tank, i mean i have a 20 gallon with fish that were “supposed to have a bigger tank” and they are fine and its not overstocked.

April 15, 2008 at 11:37 pm
(3) Jude says:

Replying to the comment by Tommy: Fish require specific tank sizes for various reasons. Sometimes they require large tank sizes based on their waste output (goldfish, koi and pacus are exceptional examples of this; each fish generally requires two and a half gallons per inch of adult length as opposed to one because they put off so much waste). Other times, it is to mimic their territory in the wild. Sometimes, it is because they need a certain horizontal footprint, and need a tank long and wide enough to provide that. With sociable fish, it is often to allow schooling. With active fish, it is to allow them to properly exercise their muscles. With territorial fish, it is to spread out aggression by using larger tanks to keep more fish and allow more hiding/territory areas. With large fish, it is to give them the proper room to move.

A good analogy is to compare a fishtank to a dog’s kennel, and say that the dog lives in the kennel its entire life and never leaves the kennel for anything. A dog can survive in a very small kennel, but it will not be happy. It will not interact with others outside its kennel as well and will most likely resort to self-destructive behaviors to keep itself entertained. In a very large kennel, perhaps with other dogs, it will find itself with room to exercise, play and establish boundaries in. The same goes for a fish tank. Simply because you can have a fish in a small tank and it will live for a certain period of time does not mean you should. There have been scientific studies done decades ago (which are accessible to the public incase you need proof of my claims) that prove that fish feel pain and boredom. A large fish bumping into the glass of its tank whenever it tries to turn will feel pain just as a fish in a tank too small to properly explore will feel boredom (and yes, there have been scientific studies done as well that show that fish have long-term memory). Larger tanks allow fish to exercise, interact with others, establish territories, etc. A good example of this is the often abused betta fish. Pet stores love to sell gimmicky tanks that can hold as little as a quart of water for betta to live in because they can survive in them. (There was even a nasty rumor started by Petco stating that they came from mud puddles in the wild; in actuality, bettas’ natural territories are the still rivers and rice paddies that litter Thailand and Malaysia.) However, if you take a betta from a small bowl and put it in a tank at least the recommended size (two and a half gallons) within a day or two you will notice that the fish will be more brightly colored, will interact more, will swim more and will generally appear healthier. Another example: It is not commonly known that goldfish require 10-20 gallons of tank space per fish for the fancy breeds (the short, generally rounded fish) and much more is required (I have heard up to 60 gallons per fish) for the common and comet breeds (the more aerodynamic fish). They are also very sociable fish. This is why the proper recommendation for a fancy goldfish tank is 60 gallons for four to five fancy fish (generally, a pond is recommended for common and comet varieties, since they are strong swimmers and need the larger room). In the proper tank size, goldfish will live between 20 and 30 years. In tanks too small, they will, with exceptional care, occasionally live up to around 10 years, just one third their natural lifespan. Why? Goldfish are large fish in the wild. When they are in tanks too small for them, two things can happen; either they will grow to their natural size (around seven to eight inches for most fancies and more than twelve for commons and comets) and poison themselves to death when the filter can no longer keep up with their waste, or their skeletons and skin will stunt themselves. In the latter case, their internal organs, including their brain, keep growing, leading to a slow, often painful death as they literally outgrow their bodies.

To relate this to ropefish, ropefish require at least 100 gallons of tank space because they are large, curious, sociable fish and do best in groups. I have heard of people keeping them in tanks as small as 50 gallons, but only keeping one to two fish in the tank. They can be kept in smaller tanks, much like other fish, but they do not do well in them, and will be more stressed, more prone to disease and most likely more prone to escaping to try and find a larger “pond.”

January 21, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(4) june says:

i have a rope fish, he is in a 90 gal tank with 2 fancy gold fish and a big irridecent shark. he is very active loves to eat and swims around rooting all the time. some times he sleeps floting on the top of the tank, and even hangs out under the gold fish while they are resting on the bottom. i am in the process of putting moss in the tank to get red shrimp. his mouth is not big but should i be concerned that he will try to eat them? i have even seen him eat flake food right off the top of the tank. i feed him every day with either live black worms or frozen brine shrimp, and he seems to be very happy all the time, the gold fish nor the shark realy like the worms or frozen so he doesent have to compete for food. could you give me some advice i would hate to have to give him up he is realy neet. thanks for your time

January 27, 2009 at 6:12 pm
(5) Nocila says:

I had a rope fish (he died today) and i was wondering how long their life span is, also, i have a 20 or 25 gallon tank that contained 3 angels, 2 plecos aka plecostomus, maybe a dojo loach (he disappeared for a month or 2 and i looked everywhere for him and then he appeared for a day and now he is missing again) 3 tetra, and a peakock eel with my rope fish, Bucephalus, the rope fish, never tried to escape and seemed rather content with all of the fish, the only fish ever to die were fine until after death when they were eaten, why is it that they got along in a small area with so many fish for a long time?

February 17, 2009 at 12:57 pm
(6) neil says:

i have one rope fish, but i have a box in filter and it lives in there is this safe? and also if i get another rope fish will this help him come out of the filter???

March 12, 2009 at 9:49 am
(7) Jenise says:

My ropefish is crazy I see it listed as a non-aggressive fish mine has issues he went into the tank and of course my oscar nipped at him well my rope fish didn’t like that much and went to the otherside for my 55 gal. tank and got speed and ramed himself down the oscars throat well a little while later my rope fiswh saw the oscar come by again and bit his bottom lip needless to say my oscars don’t mess with him anymore, but I have a glass vase for him to hang out in and when I put his food in there it tried to come out so I poked it back in there and he decided I was a threat and chomped on my finger. Whats with that why is he aggressive…

August 14, 2009 at 1:20 am
(8) PEter says:

Most rope fish if properly cared for from 3-5 inches(baby’s) can last up to 10-15 years respectively. with proper water conditions they can last even longer. these fish can and will live in murkey water(natural habitat). but is better to live in cleane water. i have 4 ropes in my tank all over 1 ft in length. they are very active and can be trained to get food straight from your hand and are able to be held after a bit of training, since there scales are much more like a snakes hide there isnt as much of a possibility of infectious desease. if threatened the rope fish will protect him self. But as in other fish if it can fit into his/hers mouth they will try to swallow it. i feed mine tetras, guppies and other live food including shrimp.

October 10, 2009 at 5:46 pm
(9) mike says:

I have 1 rope fish we got and it was fine for a few days then started acting funny. So we bought another thinking it was a social fish. Well the second rope fish is acting same way. They are laying up side down and looks like they have trouble breathing. Tank is clean and proper temp. Any ideas???

December 21, 2009 at 3:22 pm
(10) Harlan says:

I have 2 rope fish and I have seen them do the upside down thing, and they seem to really like poking their heads out from a covered area. To me it looks like the same behavior as a moray eel waiting for prey. They eat frozen blood worms and brine shrimp, and seem to love these orange feeder fish, but have left the smaller, clear ones alone. I think that the orange fish feed near the bottom more and the clears tend to be in the middle to high portion of the water column. Lately, they like to race around the tank up and down. The water quality is excellent, so I am not sure what this behavior is from.

January 7, 2011 at 11:56 pm
(11) jason says:

I keep my ropefish in a 20 long and he does just fine with my community fish in there. They might prefer a large tank but they don’t NEED it.

July 22, 2011 at 9:35 pm
(12) Candice says:

I have a question my rope fish is just floating ate the top of my tank he escaped once and found his way into the filter once now he just allows all my fish even the placo to nip ate him he sometimes trys too swim but seems like he cant anyone have an answer

January 4, 2012 at 8:53 pm
(13) Victoria says:

My little buddy Jake (called that because I thought the ropefish resembled a snake) died on Jan.30th, after 16 years with me. The little guy lasted through grad school, 3 moves to different apts, and a lot of my life. He was full-grown too, when I got him. I highly recommend ropefish, but keep in mind their lifespan, and the commitment involved. I was lucky to have my little jakey as long as I did. I’ll miss him.

October 14, 2012 at 2:29 pm
(14) Timbra says:

Jason a 20 long is in no way an ok home for a ropefish. Sure u can say they like a bigger tank but they don’t need it unless they want to avoid a shortened and brutal life. Stunting of fish is a horrible thing. And I wish that people like you would either do more research on caring for your animals or just not keep them in the first place unless your gonna do it right.

July 1, 2013 at 1:08 am
(15) Swoope says:

Hi I have a 80 gallon long tank with a dragon goby elphant nose sand goby purple spotted goby 2 sengal bichirs and one rope fish is this ok?

July 3, 2013 at 3:38 am
(16) the tick! says:

Swoope, some of these comments seem a bit bonkers to me amigo, personally i think the only thing you may have to worry about is later when everything starts getting jumbo sized. I’m willing to put money on at least a couple you listed getting to a substantial size evetually. well one more actually the bichirs will get to a decent length and girth and with size comes attitude cuz more things are able to fit in the mouth, i personally have a polypterus retropinnis, or a Zaire Green bichir, and what my i gathered was that he may get big enough to kill my rope fish – probably not until hes fuckin mondo-big but still something to keep in mind.
My lil girl has lived through multiple oscars which all grew to be at least 10″ before i got rid of them, a large clown knife&oscar and eventually was hanging out at the surface of the water, peacefully and happily right along side a 32″ (almost 3 foot long) Silver Arowana.
Now she lives with 2 brackish water morays, 2 bushynose plecos, zaire green bichir, black ghost knife, mottled eel, clown loach and the ever growing Emperor ID, or Iridescent Shark. And on that note someone way up at the top of these said ‘that they will NOT tolerate salt’ – thats bullshit, my water has plenty of salt (proper marine salt too, not the “aqaurium salt”) in it and even my non-scaled fish like my emperor id shark and morays have never had any stress related disease from water salinity issues. Just dont be fuck-witted and do proper reading if brackish is a direction anyone wishes to go, or fuck if you just wanna add some minerals to brighten up your fish.

July 23, 2013 at 4:44 pm
(17) joseph says:

I used to keep a rope fish he was in a 50 gallon tank.I recommend at least this size tank they can get to up to 2 feet and 11 inches since they are peaceful he wont bother your fish unless it fits in his mouth or he is provoked to attack.With there large size they have a large lifespan too generally they live to 10-15 but with some really good care they can live to be 20 years old!

January 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm
(18) Toohigh2care says:

Tommy read up on fish.. They grow internally to a certain size even if the rest of their body doesn’t… This is extremely bad and painful for your fish.. Do research before you subject innocent animals to your torture.

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