Caring for Your New Clown Knife Fish
The inside scoop from Aqualand on Notopterus chitala

 
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Clown Knife Fish Factoids

Origin

Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra  

Maximum Size

18 inches (3 feet in the wild)

Housing

Larger the better

Security

Loves planted aquaria and caves

Temperature

Prefers 75 to 85o

Attitude

Big eater.  Jumper when scared.

Foods

Loves live foods

Water

Prefers pH around neutral.  Add salt.

LA Pic
Striking looking clown knife fish at 18 inches.

LA Pic
Royal clown knife fish at 12 inches.  Very striking fish.

LA Pic
Same royal clown knife fish 10 weeks later.  Looks even better.

LA Pic
This guy likes to pose ...

LA Pic
Called a pom pon clown knife fish.  Not a very attractive knife fish.  Does not want to pose.

Origins:  In Southeast Asia where clown knife fishes come from, they grow to three feet long – eating size.  They regard them as a menu item.  You could eat yours also, but the cost per pound will kill your appetite.

LA Pic
Actually, all 18-inch clown knife fish are striking, but some tanks display them better.

Name Origin:  Noto” means back.  Pterus” means feather.  Also called feather backs, the clown knife fishes keep their feather-back name in Latin.  The “clown” part comes from their usually circular dot pattern.  The dots increase with age (and size).

 

Water Conditions:  Although they come from soft acid water originally, clowns adapt to most water conditions.  Just keep their water clean -- not always easy as they eat huge amounts.

LA Pic
Good looking clown knife fish.   Note his eye.  It's turning white.  Fairly common.  Nice setup.

Appeal:  Some aquarists like clown knife fish for their unusual shape and swimming practices.  They even swim backwards.  Others like them for their huge appetites.

LA Pic
At two inches, the baby clown knife fish look very little like the adults -- except for their eyes.

LA Pic
That eye really denotes the clown knife fish.

LA Pic
A too large for food female guppy elbows onto center stage.

LA Pic
Three-inch clown knife fish are still on the fragile side.

LA
Young clown knife fish prefer to hang in schools.

LA Pic
Six-inch clown knife fish snacking on a tasty goldfish.

LA Pic
Another six- inch clown knife fish looking for a snack..

LA
This six-inch clown knife fish found Nemo.

LA
Ten-inch gold clown knife fish out in front.  Not at all shy.  People oriented.

LA
This gold clown knife fish likes to pose.

LA
He likes to pose almost ...

LA
... almost as much as he likes to eat.  This is his second course.

LA
Vary your clown knife's diet.  Don't let yours get locked onto ONE food.  

LA
Very pretty gold clown knife fish.  He was even prettier when he was alive.

LA
Six-inch gold clown knives.

LA
Four-inch albino clown knife fish -- not often seen.

Size:   In aquariums, you rarely see clown knife fish larger than 18 inches.  They grow double that size in the wild (where they get more room and food).

 

Jumpers:  Yes, they jump.  Keep them well covered.  Put weights on top of the lids of the big ones.  Otherwise, they’ll knock their lids off.  One key jumping time – when you turn on their lights.  A cover of floating plants helps a lot.  It discourages jumping and reduces the light.  Clown knife fish prefer darker tanks.  They cruise in the twilight times.

LA Pic
Royal clown knife fish.  There were eight in this tank.  These guys are just showing up again.

LA
Only three royal clown knife fish in this tank.  All getting along together.

Schoolers:  Clown knife fish school when small.  Larger ones get territorial and start whomping on other knife fish.  They get along fairly well with other larger fishes.  If picked on, they pick back – especially at night.

LA Pix
Are these clown knife fish smiling at each other?

Breeding:  Forget it.

LA Pic
Dead, of course.  We took this pic to show his mouth.

LA
Here's the mouth on the deceased gold clown knife fish shown earlier.  Cute teeth.

LA Pic
Moving too fast to focus on, he grabbed this goldfish by its hard to swallow butt end.

LA
When he flips it around, it slides down fast.

LA
These large sun catfish will zip in there and rip badly grabbed goldfishes right out of his mouth.

Foods:   Unless you can provide live foods at first, don’t start with these guys.  Guppies, goldfish, and California blackworms work best at first.  Clown knife fish convert to plankton and krill as they grow older.  Try different foods because they do adapt to a variety of victuals.

Gravel Choice:  Darker gravels help keep their tank lighting subdued.

Tank Mates:  You can mix clown knife fish with equal-sized non-violent American cichlids.  If you mix them with territorial cichlids, expect lots of fights.  Actually, we’ve had these guys beat up much larger oscars.  They whup ’em at night, when the lights go off.  We had one gentleman tell us his arowanas kept dying.  Seems he kept putting his new arowanas in with his big clown knife.  Not a fair fight.

Plants:  Add some grassy plants such as Vallisneria or Sagittarius to make them feel more at home.  Even plastic plants help.  Clown knife fish leave your plants and gravel alone – unlike most other large fishes.

LA
Six-inch clown knife fish "hiding" under slate leaned against front glass.  Works every time.

Hiding Places:  Give them some caves to hide in.  They want to stay out of the light during the day.  At the very least, toss in some pieces of PVC pipe.  Clown knife fish need these hideouts the most when they’re small.

LA
If you catch the angle of light just right, clown knife fish have regular eyes (sometimes).

Eyeballs:  When you look at their eyeballs (which turn white with age), they look blind.  Relax.  They’re not blind.  Drop a goldfish near them and you’ll see them prove it.  Clown knife fish can even find food in the dark.  

Disease:  When using any medications, use them carefully.  The clowns’ sensitive skin makes them susceptible to the dye treatments.

LA
Clown knife fish starting to grow taller as well as longer.  Massive fish.

LA
Not as massive.  Not as impressive.  Still pretty.  Nice top fin (notopterus).

LA
Goldfish go down faster head first.

LA
14 inches but looks larger.

Filtration: Clown knife fish like clean water.   Do not overfeed.  Add snails to clean up the excess.  Change their water weekly or more often. 

LA
Big fish have a big appetite.

LA
Clown knife after eating a goldfish.

LA
Took a couple hours but he finally choked 'er down.

Last Word.  Remember that these guys grow large.  LA

LA
Foot-long clown knifefish, March 3, 2014.

LA
Same guy (worked over by a red devil).

LA
Likes night crawlers and goldfish.

LA
Same guy.

 

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