African leaf fish: The Ultimate Guide

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The African leaf fish is not found very often in the aquarium hobby. You often won’t find them in commercial tanks either. However, this fish is unique. 

They are unlike any other freshwater species you are likely to come upon. You may need to purchase them from a website instead of your local store.

For the right hobbyist, they can be a wonderful addition to the right community tank or a fun choice for a single species tank. Simply put, this is a compelling fish worthy of consideration.

What’s the African leaf fish?

Simply put, the African leaf fish (Polycentropsis abbreviata) is a fascinating freshwater fish. It is also a good species for beginner hobbyist thanks to the wide variety of foods it is willing to take.

On the other hand, it can be challenging for new keepers because you are limited in the tank mates it will not eat. On the other hand, it is usually peaceful with fish it can’t consume.

Native Environment

In its native west and central Africa, the African leaf fish lives in slow-moving rivers, often in a dimly lit habitat.

In case you might be asking yourself why this species is called the African leaf fish, the name will be made clear as soon as you look at this fish. It has leafy patterns across the entire body.

Other Names and Mistaken Identity

There has also been confusion about which family it belongs to. It may also be known as the leopard Bush fish.

Turns out, this fish is often mistaken for the Leopard Ctenopoma. It has some distinctive differences from this other fish. Its head has a sharply extending mouth distinctive of cichlids. It also has an elongated body.

Good for the Beginner?

There is some debate as to whether this fish is a good choice for new hobbyists.

  • Consume just about anything, but are peaceful with whatever they can’t devour.
  • Tend to be quite hardy in regards to conditions. However, the water must be kept clean and the pH low.

While this may be a good fish for the beginner hobbyist, it can still take some effort to search out.

African Leaf Fish Requirements

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Tank size

The west African leaf fish is a relatively small fish, so it does not need a huge tank. This fish usually only grows to a size of three inches.

You see, its growth is quite slow as well. You may have time to keep it in a smaller aquarium if you buy this species very young.

However, in our experience, this fish is very active. This is one of the reasons it is such a fun species to keep in captivity.

It moves around the tank quickly looking for prey. Therefore, a mature fish typically does best in a tank of around 50 gallons.

Bottom line: How Big Do African Leaf fish Get?

The fish can slowly grow up to 3 inches and has a reported lifespan of up to 10 years, if well taken cared for.

Aquarium Conditions

The African leaf fish is the perfect species for a Planted Aquarium. And the good news? They tend to be fairly hardy in captivity.

You may not need larger than a 50-gallon tank. However, filters should be changed regularly. We recommend the following conditions:

  • Dimly lit aquarium. You can accomplish this with low lighting or by using lots of plants to obscure the lighting.
  • Lots of driftwood. This fish is an ambush predator that prefers to attack by hiding out in holes and popping out to grab worms, small fish, and other live options so they appreciate lots of nooks and crannies in which to hide. Driftwood can also lower the pH to the ideal of around 6 to 6.5.
  • Temperature between 78 and 89 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a warm water species that prefers a tropical tank.
  • Ph between 6 and 6.5. In their native Africa, this fish lives in very soft water, so you’ll want to replicate that water quality in captivity as well.
  • Hardness from 1 to 10. The African leaf fish is fairly versatile in their hardness requirements.


In our experience, the African leaf fish will consume a diet containing a wide variety of live foods. They devour just about anything smaller than their head, and much that is bigger.

Feeding can also include carnivorous pellet diets, but live foods are highly recommended.

Bottom line: What Do African Leaf Fish Eat?

Best Live Options. What does this mean for you? The African leaf fish will readily accept the following options:

  • Brine shrimp
  • Little fish, such as guppies
  • The eggs of snails and other fish
  • Shrimp
  • Worms

Many more live food options may also the available for feeding depending on what you have. There is no reason not to have some fun experimenting with your African leaf fish diet.

You may be amazed by the size of live foods that the African leaf fish can devour. They have the ability to open their mouth very widely when they eat. This can enable feeding on fish nearly as big as itself.

You can stock the tank with a number of little fish for the African leaf fish to prey upon as they like. Anything in the family of guppies or other livebearers works well.

We’d like to comment that since these fish tend to reproduce readily, you may find you have plenty of food available for free.

Best of all, you can also stock the environment with copepods, which will reproduce and provide plenty of free chow as well as making the environment more like this fish’s sluggish streams of origin.

Bottom line: Do Leaf fish Eat Fish?

Yes, they’ll eat whatever will fit in their mouth, and since they can fit something nearly as big as themselves in their mouth, that is a lot of different fish. However, they aren’t aggressive towards fish they don’t see as food. They aren’t territorial, in other words.


The African leaf fish can consume incredibly large live food options. Turns out you may be somewhat limited in the tank mates you can keep with this fish that won’t fit in its considerable mouth.

Whatever fish you choose should also enjoy lots of plants in the aquarium and a low ph. Keep in mind that African leaf fish will eat many smaller fish like neon tetras.

The African leaf fish may not get along well with other aggressive fish like most aggressive cichlids. And the good news? They are not typically hostile towards fish that they cannot eat.

On the other hand, they can get along fine with a family of other fish. Here are some options to consider:


We have to comment that breeding is not necessarily easy for this fish, as is true with many species. The water quality, temperature, and environment must be ideal for them to breed. Filters must be cleaned regularly and other species should be removed from the habitat.

On the other hand, when conditions replicate the slow-moving rivers of their origin, breeding is possible. Here are some other conditions to meet to improve your chances of successfully breeding them:

  • Increase the temperature to the upper range of what they prefer
  • Make sure the tank is very dim
  • Provide lots of prey to keep both males and females as healthy as possible
  • House them in an aquarium with water less than 10 in

Turns out, it is quite easy to tell the male from the female African leaf fish. The female has a convex ventral line. The male has a straight ventral line.

When they are ready to breed, the male builds a bubble nest. Males choose an area with lots of vegetation.

The female can be quite selective and the male may build several nest options for her to choose from.

When she is happy, she will squirt eggs into the nest, which the male will then fertilize. This will conclude the breeding process.

Eggs will hatch within the next several days. They can be fed on brine shrimp. Both male and females can be kept with the eggs until they hatch.

After the fry hatches, the adults should be removed so they will not prey upon their young. Typically, even very young leaf fish can be fed relatively easily.

Do not increase the gallon per fish until they get bigger, so that they can more easily search out morsels. They are very sensitive, so be sure to clean the tank frequently.


Simply put, this fish is fascinating to watch in captivity. They have an aggressive eating style.

They appear to drift along with the current as they wait for prey to come close enough to grab the prey animal with their surprisingly largemouths.

They can also change coloration to match the vegetation in the water around them. When they are ready to eat their prey, their open mouth protrudes out from their head. The mouth becomes a tube by which they can swallow the entire prey animal.

Should You Invest in an African Leaf Fish?

What does this mean for you? These fish are extremely interesting.

We have found that it may be hard to find them at your local fish store. Turns out, you will likely find a website from which you can purchase them.

It’s a good idea to join an online community where you can comment and find more information about keeping these fish.

In some ways, they can be a good option for the committed beginner hobbyist. However, despite being warm water fish, they aren’t a good option for every community tropical tank.

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