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African Leaf Fish | 13 Facts About Amazing Leaf Like Fish |

African leaf fish is a unique, beautiful, and ferocious freshwater fish suitable for experienced enthusiasts.

These fish are a rare addition to the fish-keeping industry, which makes them expensive too.

Caring for African Leaf Fish requires lots of know-how and time. So, If you are determined, you better do your research well before buying this fish.

This is a comprehensive guide for African Leaf Fish care. By reading this guide, you can learn everything you need to keep this fish in your aquarium.

African Leaf Fish

What is African Leaf Fish?

They are unique fish native to West and Central Africa. Scientifically named Polycentropsis abbreviata, this fish is well known for its camouflage and hunting ability.

Although it’s an incredible fish with many interesting characteristics, you need to know that this species is not suitable for most aquariums. 

They inhabit swamps, pools, creeks, and slow-moving rivers. They often live in submerged vegetation of freshwater habitats.

Appearance-wise, these fish will look like a dead leaf. It has an oval structure with a pointed head and tail.

It’s a dull brown with brighter, darker, and black blotches that might be random or form a marbled pattern.

Dark bands or stripes go from the base of its head through its eye area and to its dorsal fin. Several of its fins are translucent, notably the anal and caudal fins.

As these fish has a somewhat similar look and hunting behavior, they are often confused with Leopard bush fish.

But Leopard bush fish has brighter and more distinctive spots than African leaf fish.

How big do African Leaf Fish get?

They are small fish species that have a shape of a dead leaf.

The size is also the same as a typical dead leaf. The maximum length of this fish is about 3.2 inches.

Is African Leaf Fish aggressive?

They are not aggressive fish but, it is carnivore fish.

These fish are primarily piscivores. So, when they find any fish almost their size, they will eat them.

Otherwise, these fish can get along well with larger community fish. They don’t get aggressive with smaller fish, either.

These fish have a unique hunting behavior without chasing off the prey, which we will explain in a minute.

African Leaf Fish behavior

They are piscivore fish that hunt for fish most of the time. They are opportunistic feeders, so they will approach it in a unique style when they find any food nearby.

African Leaf Fish have a fascinating hunting behavior. They use their physical appearance to trick other fish into thinking like a dead leaf that floats around.

They have a unique stalking pattern of stalking head down to imitate drifting leaves.

These fish use the water current to drift down rather than their fins. By using this technique, the target gets deceived by their leafy appearance.

While drifting down, they use their transparent fins to direct toward the prey strategically. 

Finally, when the African leaf fish is within striking distance of prey, its mouth protrudes outward.

This forms a tunnel through which the unsuspecting fish is sucked. It consumes the prey entirely, usually head first, and does so in a fraction of a second.

Surprisingly, this fish can swallow any fish that is almost as big as itself, which isn’t common in many fish types.

Fish enthusiasts mostly prefer to observe this behavior. Therefore, they stock up a fish tank with other smaller-sized fish.

How long does African Leaf Fishs live?

Despite their smaller size, they have a longer life span of 10 years in captivity.

However, as we said before, they have specific requirements that a beginner aquarist may not be able to provide.

One look care guide

Scientific namePolycentropsis abbreviata
Common nameAfrican leaf fish
Care levelHard
Native toWest and Central Africa
Type Freshwater fish
Color dull brown with brighter, darker, and black blotches
Tank size30 gallons
Preferred temperature79 – 88°F
Other water parameters (ammonia, etc.)pH level: 6-6.5
Water hardness: 1-10 dGH
Preferred salinityNo salinity
Size3.2 inches
Life spanTen years
Temperament Non-aggressive
Recommended tank matesLarge peaceful fish
Preferred foodLive food such as small fish,
Brine shrimp, etc.
Feeding frequencyTwice per day
BreedingRare in captivity, bubble nesters, egg spawners

African Leaf Fish care

Caring for them requires expert-level knowledge because these fish need specific water conditions and specified feedings.

If you are a beginner aquarist, then it is wise to think twice before buying these fish.

Fish size

African leaf fish is a small fish species that have a shape of a dead leaf. The size is also the same as a typical dead leaf. The maximum length of this fish is about 3.2 inches.

Tank size

They require a minimum of 30 gallons aquarium. However, more space is better, like with any other fish species.

How many Fish should be kept together?

They are not sociable fish. However, they are not aggressive towards their own species either.

When kept together, they seem to get along well with others. However, these fish prefer solitary most and will not show any schooling behavior.

So, as you see, you can keep more than one African leaf fish in your aquarium if the space allows it.

Tank setup

In the natural habitat, they live in submerged vegetation. Therefore, you should mimic these conditions in your aquarium.

Pristine water conditions are MUST with these species.

So, whatever you put into your tank, you must clean them thoroughly with rinsing water and disinfect them before adding them to your aquarium.


Since these beautiful fish prefer densely planted surroundings, adding a nutrient-rich substrate made for plants can be good.

It will provide a perfect home for your African leaf fish and support healthy plant growth.

However, if you are using artificial plants, you can choose any substrate you want. Good choices are sand and gravel.

Filter system

Having a sound filtration system in place is a must when it comes to keeping African leaf fish. You can use sponge filters or box filters.

Box filter is a better option since it can easily handle water flow and will not disturb the fish.

Water current

These fish do not prefer strong water currents. So, when you set up your equipment, be sure to lower the power to minimize water currents.

Lighting system

These fish do well with dim lighting. However, you can increase the light intensity if using live plants because these fish can get enough shelter from your plants.

Plants and decorations

They require plants to hide in between. But, these plants can be artificial ones because they don’t mind.

If you are using live plants, just be sure to choose plants that are not poisonous to these fish.

These fish prefer plenty of hiding places, especially caves. So, be sure to add some hiding places like driftwood and caves in your aquarium.

Water quality condition

In order to make leaf fish habitat comfortable for both them and us, we need to provide them with water conditions that match their natural habitats in Africa.

They require pristine water conditions with warmer temperatures and soft and acidic water conditions. A slight change in water conditions can make these fish sick or die.

Ideal water conditions for these fish are,

pH level: 6-6.5

Water hardness: 1-10 dGH

Temperature: 79 – 88°F

Since these fish are sensitive to water conditions, using a good quality water filter and heater for the African leaf fish is mandatory. Also, if you can provide them with live plants as a shelter, it will be great.

Frequent water changes are essential in an African leaf fish tank. Do at least 25% water changes weekly to keep clean water parameters so that your fish do not get stressed.

African Leaf Fish breeding 

Reproducing these fish is difficult in captivity. However, it is not impossible as some aquarists have successfully bred these fish in captivity. But, it is rare.

African Leaf Fish male or female identification

These fish show sexual dimorphism, but the differences are not distinct. Only experienced breeders can differentiate male from female.

Females, according to Baensch, have a convex ventral line, whereas males have a straight line; however, this is unproven. The female fish develops a lighter patterning When they spawn.

Identify pregnant African Leaf Fish

They are egg layers. So, technically, the female fish can not be pregnant.

However, when the female fish is ready to spawn, her underbelly area becomes bigger than usual.

Again, it will not be easy to identify this difference because of their camouflage appearance.

African Leaf Fish breeding

Breeding of this fish is rarely achieved in captivity. But, with proper care and planning, it is possible to breed these fish in captivity.

You first need to induce breeding by providing their spawning environment.

  1. They spawn around highly vegetated areas. So, heavy vegetation around the surface is a must.
  2. These fish spawn in shallow waters. To imitate this condition, lower the water amount to less than 10 inches.
  3. They require hot water conditions in order to spawn. So, mimic this condition by raising the temperature above 80°F.
  4. They prefer darker surroundings to spawn. So, keep your tank dimly lit.

Additionally, you can condition them by providing a high-quality diet with more feedings than before.

African leaf fish are bubble nesters. When ready to spawn, the male fish build a bubble nest and anchor it among the surface vegetation in the densest regions.

He may create more than one nest before spawning. The pair spawn vigorously and lay about 100 or more eggs into the bubble nest.

The eggs take about 48-72 hours to hatch. The hatchlings are free-swimming and can feed themselves.

At this time, you should remove the parents from the breeding tank because they may predate on the fry.

How many babies do they have?

African leaf fish lay about 100 or more eggs at one spawn. So, you can expect around 100 or fewer fish fry in one breeding session.

African Leaf Fish fry care

Free-swimming fry can feed themselves, so you need to provide them with live foods such as nauplii or baby brine shrimp.

Like the adults, they will not eat any other food than live foods. So, ensure your feedings are alive at the time of your feed.

To protect the fry, you should remove the adult fish from the reeding tank as soon as they lay eggs (or eggs hatch).

Otherwise, adult fish tend to eat their own babies like much other egg-laying fish.

African leaf fish fry is very sensitive to water quality. Therefore, you must ensure pristine water conditions in your breeding tank.

Special tips

African leaf fish are very fragile with the water quality condition. Therefore, you must keep your tank clean for them to thrive.

This is not something that a beginner aquarist can achieve. That is why these fish are not recommended for beginners.

How to feed African Leaf Fish?

African leaf fish are not your typical aquarium fish that accepts any food you offer. They are exclusively carnivores and will accept only live food.

So, you will have to feed live food like bloodworms, earthworms, nauplii, or baby brine shrimp. They will not touch anything else.

Sometimes, you may be able to acclimate your fish to eat frozen and freeze-dried foods.

However, you will still have to cheat them by moving the food through the water column. A stick or a feeding pipette may work with this.

If you do not mind live fish being eaten while you watch, then stocking your tank with small fish would be the best choice for African leaf fish.

They will appreciate your effort because they are primarily piscivores.

Good tank mates of African Leaf fish?

African leaf fish prefer solitary most and will not show any schooling behavior. They can peacefully coexist with their own species and other large peaceful fish.

What comes to their tank mates, they are piscivores. So, it would be wise NOT to have small fish as tank mates since the African leaf fish will prefer them over any other type of food.

For this reason, many people claim that African leaf fish are not suitable to be kept with other small fish species because if there is another small fish within striking distance, the African leaf fish will go for it.

Unless you want your small fish to become a meal, avoid keeping African leaf fish with other small species.

If you have a large tank and can provide a hiding place for other fish, you may be able to keep the African leaf fish with mid-sized or large non-aggressive fish.

African leaf fish are non-sociable. But, they can get along well with their own species. So, these fish will do best in a species only tank.

Related Questions 

Is African Leaf Fish rare?

African leaf fish are not rare in their natural habitats. But, they are not common in aquarium hobby because of their difficulty in care. Despite its rarity, this fish has created some consternation in the fish-keeping world.

How long does an African Leaf Fish live?

If you maintain their water condition as close to natural as possible and ensure a proper diet, they will live more than ten years.

However, this is not considered an easy task! They can be challenging to breed and care for.


African leaf fish are rare fish species in the aquarium trade as they are challenging to care for.

They require pristine water conditions and a specific diet. Providing these conditions is not easy for beginner aquarists.

African leaf fish are not an advisable addition to your community tank. If you have a large aquarium or house only African leaf fish, they will be a great addition to your tank.

If you can take the risk, give African leaf fish a chance, and they will amaze you with their unique hunting behavior.

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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.