African brown knifefish Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: November 27, 2022

The African brown knifefish is a nocturnal freshwater fish that is native to Africa.

They are a relatively new fish to the aquarium trade and are not commonly found in pet stores.

If you are looking for a unique fish to add to your tank, the African brown knifefish might be the right fish for you!

In this guide, we will go over everything you need to know about African brown knifefish care. We will discuss their diet, tank mates, tank size, and more!

Species overview

The African brown knifefish (scientific name: Notopterus notopterus) is a freshwater fish that is native to Africa. It is found in various rivers and streams throughout the continent, primarily in the southern and eastern regions.

The African brown knifefish is a nocturnal fish, meaning that it is most active at night. During the day, it will often hide among the plants and rocks in the water.

This fish is a carnivore, and its diet consists mostly of small invertebrates. In the wild, it will also eat the occasional small fish.

The African brown knifefish is a popular aquarium fish due to its unique appearance. It is long and slender, with a brown body and a white belly. It is also a relatively peaceful fish, making it a good choice for community tanks.


African brown knifefish

The African brown knifefish is a long, thin fish that gets its name from its knife-like dorsal fin.

This fin is tall and starts about two-thirds of the way back on the body. It extends almost to the end of the fish and is very thin.

The rest of the body is brown in color with a few darker spots. The belly is a bit lighter in color.

The pectoral fins are small and thin. The anal fin is also small and begins about halfway back on the body.

The caudal fin is forked and symmetrical.

The African brown knifefish has a long, thin body that is well-suited for swimming in fast-moving waters.


The average lifespan of an African brown knifefish is 5 to 7 years.

As with most fish, there are a number of factors that will impact how long your knifefish will live.

One of the biggest factors is the quality of the water they’re kept in. These fish are very sensitive to changes in water quality and will not do well in an environment that is not well-maintained.

Another big factor is diet. African brown knifefish are carnivores and need a diet that is high in protein in order to thrive. If they’re not getting enough protein, they will not do well and their lifespan will be shortened.


The African brown knifefish can grow to be up to 24 inches in length, but is more typically between 12 and 18 inches.


Tank Size

The recommended minimum tank size for an African brown knifefish is 50 gallons. If you want to keep more than one fish, you should add at least another 30 gallons per fish.

African brown knifefish need a lot of space to move around and feel comfortable. They’re also very active swimmers and will often swim laps around the tank. If you don’t provide enough space they can become stressed which can lead to health problems.

Water Parameters

The African brown knifefish is a freshwater fish that is found in the rivers and streams of Africa. These fish are very tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, making them a good choice for beginner aquariums.

However, it is still important to provide them with water that is clean and of good quality.

Here are some general guidelines for the water parameters of the African brown knifefish:

  • Water temperature: 74 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.8 to 7.8
  • Water hardness: 5 to 15 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4-8 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

African brown knifefish are a species that is known to be a bit on the shy side. They’re not going to be the fish that’s constantly out and about in their tank.

This means that you’re going to want to provide them with plenty of hiding spots. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, but we prefer using plants, driftwood, and rocks.

If you go with plants, make sure they’re not too big or bushy. These fish like to have a lot of open space to swim around in so they might not appreciate being constantly surrounded by leaves.

The substrate you use is also important. African brown knifefish are known to dig a bit so you want to make sure it’s not too sharp or abrasive. A soft, sandy substrate is ideal.

Common Diseases

African brown knifefish are relatively hardy fish, but they can still fall ill from time to time. The most common disease that these fish experience is ich, which is a very common freshwater parasite.

This disease will present itself as white spots on the body of your fish. If left untreated, it can be quite serious (even fatal).

The best way to prevent this disease is to maintain good water quality in your tank. African brown knifefish are also rather sensitive to changes in water parameters, so it’s important to keep a close eye on things.

If you notice anything out of the ordinary, consult your vet and begin treatment immediately. The sooner you act, the better the chance is that your fish will recover.

Behavior & Temperament

The African brown knifefish is a nocturnal creature that is relatively shy and reclusive. During the day, they prefer to hide in caves or other dark places. At night, they become much more active and will come out to hunt for food.

In the wild, these fish are known to be fairly aggressive. They will attack other fish and even smaller mammals if they feel threatened. However, in captivity, they are not typically aggressive unless they are provoked.

When it comes to tank mates, the African brown knifefish is relatively peaceful. They can be kept with other fish, as long as those fish are not too small. If the other fish are too small, the knifefish may see them as food and try to eat them.

Overall, the African brown knifefish is a relatively low-maintenance fish. They are not very demanding and can be easy to care for.

Tank Mates

African brown knifefish are best kept as the only member of their species in the tank. These fish are known to be cannibalistic, so it’s not a good idea to keep more than one together.

As far as other tank mates go, there are a few options. Other fish species that occupy the mid to bottom part of the water column tend to work well.

African brown knifefish are also shy fish. They prefer to stay hidden away, so tank mates that are more bold and out in the open might not be the best idea.

Some potential tank mates for African brown knifefish include:

  • Synodontis catfish
  • Loricariidae catfish
  • Tetras
  • Rainbows
  • Danios
  • Barbs


African brown knifefish are not the easiest fish to breed in captivity. They are notoriously difficult to sex, and their fry are delicate and difficult to raise. However, if you are up for the challenge, breeding African brown knifefish can be a rewarding experience.

The first step is to sex your fish. This can be difficult, as there are no obvious external differences between males and females. The best way to sex them is by looking at their anal fins. Males will have a longer, thinner fin, while females will have a shorter, thicker fin.

Once you have determined the sex of your fish, you will need to set up a breeding tank. The tank should be at least 30 gallons, and it should have a sandy bottom.

The water should be clean and well-filtered, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. The temperature should be between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

You will also need to add some plants and hiding places to the tank. African brown knifefish like to lay their eggs in dense vegetation, so the more plants you have, the better.

When everything is ready, you can add the fish to the tank. Start with two females for every male. The fish will start to pair off and establish territories.

Once the pairs have been established, you can begin feeding them live foods. This will help to trigger spawning.

When the fish are ready to spawn, the female will lay her eggs in the vegetation. The male will then fertilize them.

After the eggs have been fertilized, the male will guard them until they hatch. This can take anywhere from two to three weeks.

Once the fry have hatched, you can remove the adults from the tank. The fry will feed on microscopic organisms in the water. You can supplement their diet with live foods, such as baby brine shrimp.

As the fry grow, you can slowly start to introduce them to dry foods. Once they are big enough, you can move them to a larger tank.


The African Brown Knifefish is a great addition to any tank. They’re hardy, easy to care for, and add a unique look to your aquarium.

We think they’re a great fish for beginner aquarists and experienced fishkeepers alike.

If you’re looking for a new fish to add to your tank, we highly recommend the African Brown Knifefish!