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

Updated: December 17, 2022

Clown knife fish are an amazing freshwater fish that are perfect for beginner and experienced aquarium keepers alike.

While they are a bit on the large size, they are very easy to care for and make a great addition to any community tank.

Clown knife fish are also very unique looking, with their long bodies and distinctive color patterns.

If you’re looking for a fish that is both beautiful and low-maintenance, the clown knife fish is the perfect choice!

Species overview

The clown knifefish (Chitala ornata) is a freshwater fish that’s native to various parts of Southeast Asia.

They are most commonly found in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

This fish prefers slow-moving waters with a lot of vegetation. They are nocturnal creatures that use their electrosensory system to find food in the dark.

Clown knifefish are popular aquarium fish because of their unique appearance. They are long and slender with a bright white stripe running down their center.

These fish are also known to be fairly peaceful, which makes them a good choice for community tanks.


Clown knifefish

The Clown Knifefish is easily one of the most interesting freshwater aquarium fish in terms of appearance. These electric fish have a long and slender body that tapers off at the end.

They get their name from their long dorsal fins that start about two-thirds of the way back on their bodies. These fins can be almost as long as the rest of the fish!

The Clown Knifefish also has a very long anal fin that starts just behind their ventral fins. Both of these fins are tall and thin with a ragged edge.

Their caudal peduncle is very long and thin. This gives them an eel-like appearance that is further accentuated by their long pectoral fins.

Clown Knifefish are brown or black in color with a white or cream-colored belly. They have a dark stripe that runs along their body from head to tail. This stripe is bordered by a thin line of white.

Clown Knifefish are nocturnal predators that use their electric sense to find food in the dark. They are not very active during the day and will often hide among plants or in caves.


The average lifespan of clown knifefish is 5 to 8 years. However, there have been reports of these fish living up to 10 years in captivity.

Clown knifefish are relatively long-lived for freshwater fish. This is likely due to the fact that they’re not often kept in the home aquarium.

They’re more popular in public aquaria where they’re better cared for by professional staff.


Clown knifefish can grow to be up to 18 inches long, though they are typically only around 12 inches long. They are a bit on the larger side when it comes to aquarium fish, so you’ll need to make sure you have enough space for them. These fish are also known to be jumpers, so a covered tank is necessary.


Tank Size

The minimum tank size for clown knife fish is 100 gallons. If you want to keep more than one clown knife fish in the same tank, you will need at least 200 gallons for every additional fish.

Clown knife fish are not recommended for beginner aquarists because of their large size and specialized care requirements.

Water Parameters

Clown knife fish are a bit more delicate than other freshwater aquarium fish. They’re native to slow-moving waters in South America, so they prefer similar conditions in captivity.

You need to maintain stable water parameters at all times. These fish are very sensitive to sudden changes, even more so than other tropical fish.

It’s best to use a quality canister filter and perform regular water changes to keep the water clean and free of toxins.

Here are a few basic water parameters to help create a healthy clown knife fish environment.

  • Water temperature: 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 2 to 12 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4-8 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

Clown Knifefish are a species that’s a bit more difficult to keep than some of the others on this list. They’re not recommended for beginners since they’re a bit more delicate and require a bit more attention.

When it comes to setting up their tank, there are a few key things that you need to take into consideration.

The first is the substrate. These fish love to burrow, so you’ll need something that they can easily do that in. Sand is the best choice since it’s soft and won’t damage their bodies.

The second thing you need to think about is the plants. Clown Knifefish are known to eat plants, so you’ll need to be careful about what you put in their tank. We recommend using plants that are known to be safe for fish like Java Fern or Anubias.

You should also include some hiding places for these fish. Driftwood, caves, and rocks all make great choices. Clown Knifefish are a bit shy so they’ll appreciate having some places to retreat to when they feel scared or threatened.

Last but not least, you need to make sure the water in their tank is clean. These fish are very sensitive to water quality so you need to be on top of things. We recommend doing weekly water changes of 25-50%.

Common Diseases

The clown knifefish is a freshwater species that is relatively hardy and resistant to disease. However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t get sick.

There are a few diseases that these fish are susceptible to. The most common one is ich. This is a parasite that will attach itself to your fish and cause white spots to form on their body.

If left untreated, ich can be fatal. However, it is relatively easy to treat if you catch it early. Simply raise the temperature of the water in your tank and the ich will usually go away on its own.

Another disease that these fish can get is hole-in-the-head disease. This is caused by poor water quality and the presence of activated carbon in the tank.

It will present itself as one or two pits/holes in the skin of your clown knifefish’s head. While it’s almost always curable, it will usually leave some scarring on your poor fish!

The best way to prevent these diseases is to simply keep the water in your tank clean and of high quality. A well-maintained tank will go a long way in keeping your clown knifefish healthy and disease-free.

Behavior & Temperament

Clown knifefish are very active fish that love to move around their tank. They are also very curious by nature, so they’ll often explore their surroundings and check out anything new that’s been added to the tank.

Even though they’re curious, they’re not the type of fish to bother other creatures in the tank. They’re generally peaceful and get along well with other fish, as long as those fish aren’t too small. Clown knifefish have been known to eat small fish, so it’s best to avoid putting them in a tank with fish that are smaller than them.

One thing to keep in mind is that clown knifefish are nocturnal, so they’ll be most active at night. During the day, they’ll often hide in the shadows or stay close to the bottom of the tank.

Tank Mates

Clown Knife fish are not community fish. In the wild, they are known to be loners and will often only associate with other clown knife fish when it is time to mate.

For the most part, these fish are not aggressive but they have been known to eat smaller fish. They are also known to jump out of the tank so it is important to have a lid on their aquarium.

Clown knife fish are best kept as the only fish in the tank or with other fish that are the same size or larger. Some compatible tank mates for clown knife fish include:


Clown Knifefish are difficult to breed in captivity. They are mouthbrooders, which means that the female holds the eggs in her mouth until they hatch. This process makes it hard to protect the eggs and fry from getting eaten.

Clown Knifefish are also known to be very shy and skittish. This makes it hard to keep them in a breeding tank without stressing them out.

The best way to breed Clown Knifefish is to set up a large tank with plenty of hiding places. The tank should have a sandy bottom and some live plants. Keep the water quality high and the temperature between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

When ready, add a group of six to eight fish to the tank. The ratio of males to females doesn’t matter too much. Just make sure that there are more females than males.

The female Clown Knifefish will lay her eggs in a secluded area of the tank. Once she has done that, the male will fertilize them. The female will then pick up the eggs in her mouth and hold them there until they hatch.

This process takes about two weeks. Once the fry have hatched, they will be released into the water. The fry are very small and need to be fed live food. Baby brine shrimp are a good option.

As they grow, you can start to add other foods to their diet. Crushed up flake food and freeze-dried bloodworms are a good option.


Clown knife fish are an amazing addition to any freshwater aquarium. They’re relatively easy to care for, are very active, and have unique personalities.

They’re also a lot of fun to watch and will provide you with hours of enjoyment.

We highly recommend them to anyone who’s looking for a new and exciting fish to add to their tank.