The vast African continent has lots to offer in terms of flora and fauna. Its numerous water bodies are home to some of the most beautiful and extremely amazing fish species. Among the extraordinary ones is the African Leaf Fish.
Scientifically referred to as Polycentropsis abbreviata, this sea animal has some interesting characteristics that endear it to hobbyists. It is also a favorite freshwater fish of many beginners as it feeds on a variety of foods. It is therefore less demanding when it comes to purchasing its feeds.
The African leaf fish is native to West Africa. Countries that are original hosts of the fish include Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon and Benin. Since it inhabits slow moving rivers, the named countries have water bodies with suitable conditions for it. As a matter of fact, the waters are rich with submerged vegetation, creating ideal conditions for the leaf fish.
Appearance of African Leaf Fish
Just as the name suggests, the ALF has leafy patterns on its entire profile. The patterns extend from the head down to the tail. It often gets confused with the Leopard Ctenopoma. When purchasing therefore, it is imperative to pay attention to detail to be sure it is actually the A.L.F. Some characteristics describing the fish which would be helpful are:
- A sharp protruding mouth that extends outwards- almost resembling that of the gourami.
- The mouth looks a little small when closed but this automatically changes when the ALF opens its mouth to swallow its prey. It can devour prey that is almost its size. This is one reason some hobbyists stock the fish; to watch it eat a meal.
- It changes color to match its surrounding. This helps it best during hunting expeditions. Since it is an aggressive hunter that loves to eat live food, part of the tactics it employs is the camouflage.
- The fish takes quite some time to reach maturity. When completely mature, it can measure between 6-8 inches.
- It has an elongated body that stretches outwards.
- The anal fins, and even the dorsal, are almost the same length. Towards the tail however, there is extended elongation.
- On both sides of the gills are pectoral fins. These are slightly large and round.
- They live for quite a period of time. If well taken care of, the ALF can last for more than 10 years.
All types of fish kept in captivity thrive when the tank conditions mimic that of their natural habitat. For the African leaf fish to remain healthy, it is important to maintain the following tank conditions.
A 50 gallon tank would be ideal as it makes extensive movements mostly in search of live prey. Place plenty of rocks with crevices that mimic caves. The ALF stalks its prey from hiding positions and will spend a good amount of its time hiding.
The tank should be dimly lit. If for one reason or another very dim lighting conditions cannot be provided, plenty of plant life can be added to the tank. While at it, only throw in plants that are recommended as some plants do not provide a suitable environment for the fish. Echinodorus species can be a good addition.
Provide driftwood too, as this gives them some sense of security. Remember, while they are an aggressive species, at times they get nervous. Provide minimum water movement as this favors their predatory ways. Your tank should maintain temperatures of between 78 and 89 Fahrenheit. That is about 26 and 31Celcius. A pH of 6.0 to 6.5 is ideal and ensure the water hardness is from 1 to 10H.
As earlier said, the African leaf fish is a predatory fish that enjoys hunting for its prey. It can devour most types of small fish and even medium sized ones such as guppy and platy fish if these are stocked within the same tank. If possible, provide live feeds of mosquitoes and worms, though in small amounts these tiny animals could hardly satiate the ALF’s appetite.
While the ALF is more appreciative of live foods, there are many ways to offer it frozen feeds and flakes effortlessly. Hobbyists that have kept it say that when fish pellets are offered while the other tank-mates are having meals, the ALF is likely to eat without a hassle. The secret is to flick meals to the other tank-mates and it will have its appetite aroused. As soon as it moves closer, tubifex worms, shrimps and crickets should do.
One of the most amazing characteristic of the leafy fish is its ability to open its mouth widely as it eats. It has the capacity to eat a prey almost its own size. The fish reaches out wildly to grab its food before quickly flicking it into its mouth.
Like most other types of fish, the ALF does not easily breed in captivity. However, when dense vegetation is provided together with a lowered water level, a miracle may just be in the offing in terms of breeding. Other factors to consider include:
- Increasing the water temperature.
- Keeping the tank very dim.
- Feeding the two (male and female) with plenty of live foods. It is fairly easy to determine the male from the female. The females generally have a convex ventral line while the male has a straight ventral line.
For this fish species, the male builds the nest, choosing a place where vegetation is thick enough to provide protection. Before spawning, it can build several of such nests.
When the female is ready, it can squirt a number of eggs into the nests. These are then fertilized by the male. After between 48 and 72 hours, the eggs hatch. They can be fed on brine. Shrimp nauplii is also suitable for them.
The water temperature should be maintained, same to the pH. In case there are substances that may pollute the water, they should be removed to ensure the tank remains as safe as possible for the young fish.
As soon as the eggs hatch, the pair should be moved to another tank as they are likely to predate on their own young ones.
The African Leaf Fish is largely predatory and can eat smaller or medium-sized fish. Suitable tank-mates should be gourami, Bala shark, Silver Dollar and Pleco. Do not include cichlids in the same tank as they are aggressive too and may stir a war with the leafy fish. The African leaf fish can be a really cute addition to the tank.