African Arowana | 16 Facts That Nobody Told You About |

African Arowana is one of the most difficult Arowana species to rare in an aquarium. They grow up to almost four whopping feet and are troublesome when keeping them in a tank and when feeding.

Their look is different than Asian Arowanas but still are interesting-looking fish due to their size.

If you insist on caring for African Arowana in your aquarium, please keep in mind that you can only keep these fish in their Juvenile age.

Once they start to grow massive, you either have to make a giant pond or give it away to a public aquarium.

Keeping these factors in your mind, let’s dive into this guide on African Arowana Care.

African Arowana

What is African Arowana?

African Arowanas (Heterotis niloticus) are freshwater living bony tongue fishes native to Eastern Africa.

The species belongs to the family Osteoglossidae, which is closely related to the genera Haplochromis and Heterotilapia.

Also known as Nile Arowana, African Arowanas are more closely related to Arapaimas, which is a large bony tongue fish native to South America.

These freshwater fishes are widely found in the water bodies of Africa, such as rivers and lakes.

They prefer to stay on soft mud or sand along with aquatic plants for their habitat. Their average adult size is around 100cm, but still, they may grow more in the wild.

African locals catch these fish for food, but they are also popular as pet fish in the aquarium trade.

However, they are not suitable in home aquariums. African Arowana is more suitable in large aquariums with more open swimming areas.

How big do African Arowana get?

These teleost fishes can grow up to almost four feet in length, which is extremely large for an aquarium fish.

They can adapt in the wild but keeping them in your tank becomes complicated when they grow big.

African Arowana Appearance

African Arowana has an elongated body with large scales. They have a round head and a downward-pointing mouth, which aids in sifting food through the sand.

They have a laterally compressed body, which helps them to swim in water with ease.

Their dorsal fin and anal fin are set far back on the body. Their caudal fin has a rounded shape. 

The color of their skin varies according to the habitat where they live.

Still, generally, African Arowana has brownish-black color on its backside while silver or white on the belly area. Other possible colors are grey or bronze.

Is African Arowana aggressive?

African Arowanas are fairly aggressive species. They do not become aggressive towards fish that they can not swallow. However, they are super aggressive towards their own species.

Even at their juvenile age, African Arowana can become aggressive if you keep more than one together or with any other Arowanas species such as Asian Arowana. 

African Arowana behavior

African Arowanas are fairly aggressive fish that will get along with other similar size fish if they don’t get too close to them.

However, they do not prefer living with their own species, even other Arowanas.

They are known to jump out of the tank, which often results in death due to injury or stress.

When kept alone, African Arowana becomes aggressive towards other fish if they get too close for comfort.

This is why their best companions are bottom-dwelling invertebrates like crayfish and snails that stay on the bottom and do not mind swimming in open areas.

African Arowanas have quite an appetite. So, they will wander around searching for food all the time.

This is not surprising due to their vast size, and you will have to feed them often, about every 5 to 6 hours.

How long do African Arowanas live?

Generally, Arowana lives over 20 years, but this is not the case with African Arowanas. They only live up to about 15 years if you can manage them well in your tank.

If you want them to live long, you will have to release them to a large pond or a lake.

One look care guide

Scientific nameHeterotis niloticus
Common nameAfrican Arowana
Nile Arowana
Care levelDifficult
Native toAfrica
Type Freshwater fish
Color Grey, brown, or bronze
Tank size120 gallons for young fish
250 gallons minimum for matured fish
Preferred temperature75-86°F (24-30°C)
Other water parameters pH level: 6.7-7.5 (7.0)
Hardness: 4-12 dH (9)
Preferred salinityNo salinity
SizeUp to 4 feet
Life spanUp to 20 years
Temperament Fairly aggressive
Recommended tank matesSimilar sized peaceful fish
No aggressive fish
Not small fish
No other Arowanas
Preferred foodlive foods like crustaceans and other invertebrates, insects, worms, or lance fish
Feeding frequencyEvery 5 to 6 hours
BreedingImpossible in captivity
egg-laying nest builders

African Arowana care

First of all, we should remind you again that you will only be able to house these fish in your home aquarium in their juvenile age.

When they grow, you will have to provide giant space like a pond or lake. Otherwise, you will have to give them away to a public aquarium.

African Arowana size

The African Arowana grows up to almost four feet long in the wild, which is far bigger than most aquarium fish.

They can adapt in the wild, but maintaining them in your tank might be difficult as they get larger.

African Arowana tank size

You will have to provide at least 120 gallons for young fish, but you will have to increase the tank size as they get older.

For mature African Arowana, you should provide a minimum of 250 gallons, but they may not be comfortable living in that small space.

This species is easily frightened, and if startled, may fling itself against the aquarium glass.

How many African Arowana should be kept together?

You can not house more than one Arowana in a tank. They are not good at living with their own species, even other Arowanas. However, African Arowanas can adjust in massive community aquariums with other similar-sized fish.

Tank setup

Unlike Asian Arowanas, African Arowanas require lots of swimming space in their surroundings.

They are easily spooked and get panic attacks often, causing them to throw themselves against the tank glass.

Therefore, providing adequate hiding places such as plants, rocks, bogwood, and driftwood is essential. The tank glass should also be solid and sturdy.

You will have to use the medium to medium-fine gravel as the substrate because these fish are sand-sifters that look for food in the substrate.

Since large fish produce excessive amounts of waste, strong filtration is necessary to keep the water clean.

Use diffused lights in the aquarium because these fish prefer a darker environment. Setting up a darker theme in the aquarium helps a lot in keeping these fish in peace.

Most importantly, cover the top of the tank with a tight-fitting lid. These fish are known to jump out of the tank when startled.

Water quality condition

The ideal water chemistry for African Arowana is the same as other Arowana species. They require tropical freshwater conditions in captivity.

However, these fish are evolved to survive in oxygen-depleted water with their air-breathing organs on their branchiae.

So, we can assure that they are hardy enough to survive small water changes.

The ideal water conditions for these fish are as below.

  • pH level: 6.7-7.5 (7.0)
  • Hardness: 4-12 DH (9)
  • Temperature: 75-86°F (24-30°C)

Additionally, 25% weekly water changes are necessary to maintain water quality for your fish.

African Arowana breeding 

Breeding is impossible in the aquarium as they grow to a pretty large size and need more space like ponds or natural lakes.

Additionally, they require specific habitat conditions to build their nests to breed. They are nest-building egg layers that lay their eggs to specially made nests.

Since it is not possible to provide this environment in captivity, breeding these fish is impossible.

African Arowana needs a large, circular nest to breed in nature.

The construction process takes four or eight days and is done by both parents at the beginning of their spawning season.

This amazing structure reaches up 10 inches (25 cm) out from the pool’s bottom!

The nests are deep enough for water not to dry out while incubating their young; it is built with plants and mud and has a circular shape.

The female enters and lays her amber-colored eggs along the inner walls of a nest. She exits, leaving it up to the male fish to fertilize it.

African Arowanas are good parents. The female fish care for the eggs and fry until they can live alone.

Fry feed on plankton like tiny food items and eventually learn to prey on small fish when they become juvenile fish.

Special tips

To keep African Arowana healthy and happy, you must give it a spacious aquarium with several hiding places to make it feel secure. 

Many people report that acclimating these fish into the new aquarium is hard, and they are troublesome to feed.

So, you’ll need to have patience until they settle down. However, once they are acclimated, these fish are generally hardy.

How to feed African Arowana?

As mentioned above, African Arowanas are super active fish that will search for food all day long.

So, their diet must consist of high protein and fat to support their active lifestyle. They are plankton and filter feeders by nature.

So, they prefer live foods like crustaceans and other invertebrates, insects, worms, or lance fish.

If they were acclimated at the juvenile stage, they might also accept fish pellets as food. 

Their intensive search for food will promote the growth of your African Arowana and, at the same time, makes them hardy by developing a strong immune system to fight against diseases easily.

When they have the space to move around freely, They can be really active hunters who will often jump out of your tank for food.

You should feed them every 5 to 6 hours to promote the healthy growth of these fish.

African Arowana Tank mates

They are best kept in solitary in a large aquarium enough for the fish to grow well.

However, these fish can live in community aquariums with other large peaceful species of similar size like Cichlid, Oscars, or Channel catfish

They are known to attack and swallow any small-sized fish they can get their mouth on due to their aggressive nature.

They are also known to eat small turtles or frogs that can fit into their mouths, so it is essential to avoid these as tank mates if you have any in your aquarium with African Arowana.

It is essential not to house African Arowana with other aggressive species such as larger cichlids since aggression towards each other may lead to injuries and death in some cases. 

African Arowana tank mates should either be quick or able to defend themselves.

They usually don’t mix well with other types of fish in the same setting but can coexist if each has its own private space and defensive capabilities.

Some suitable African Arowana tank mates are,

  • Larger Mormyrids, Haplochromis, and related cichlids
  • Xenomystus
  • Synodontis
  • Astronotus
  • Anostomus
  • Leporinus
  • Hemichromis
  • Cichlasoma
  • Pacus
  • Silver Dollars
  • Pimelodids
  • Loricariids
  • Knifefish

Related Questions 

Are African Arowanas rare?

African Arowanas are not rare like Asian Arowanas. They are widespread throughout Africa, including Congo, Guinea, Nigeria, and Cameroon.

They are commonly seen in the basins of Ouémé, Niger, Corubal, Volta, Bénoué, and Nile Rivers, and  Lake Chad and Lake Turkana.

These fish are also introduced to Madagaskar, but some reports say that it negatively impacted the local ecology.

Are African Arowanas banned in the USA?

No. African Arowana are listed as “Least Concern” in the IUCN Red List. And they are widespread in Africa.

Although many Arowana species belonging to the Asian Arowana family are prohibited in the US, African Arowanas are not banned in the USA.

However, these fish are not considered home aquarium fish.

What is the difference between African Arowana and Asian Arowanas?

African Arowana (Heterotis niloticus) and Asian Arowanas (Scleropages formosus) look similar in their general features, but they are not related.

They belong to different genera, so it’s a wrong notion that they are related to each other.

What is the difference between African Arowana and Arapaima?

Arapaimas (Arapaima gigas) also belong to the same family as African Arowanas, but still, there’s a significant difference in their physical characteristics.

They have an elongated body like African Arowanas, but Arapaimas have almost rounder bodies. Arapaimas are also larger than African Arowanas.

Credit to: Josh’s Fish
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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.