Ctenopoma Nebulosum (Anabantidae)

Ctenopoma nebulosum

Last updated on June 23rd, 2022 at 08:20 pm

Ctenopoma nebulosum also known as the African ctenopoma, is a species of upside-down catfish native to Africa and Central America. It grows to be between 5 inches (12.7 cm) in length, with females generally being larger than males. They live an average of 8 years in captivity, with some having been recorded at over 12 years old.

The Ctenopoma nebulosum is one of the most popular African catfish in the aquarium hobby. This beautiful fish has been bred in captivity for over 20 years, and there are numerous color variations that make it an especially attractive option for hobbyists. This article will cover how to care for your Ctenopoma nebulosum as well as provide some helpful facts about this species’ behavior and habitat requirements in the wild.

This fish can be found in clear waters of rivers and lakes at an altitude of up to 3000 feet above sea level. The average lifespan of ctenopoma nebulosum in captivity is 8-12 years; however, some have been known to live for 20 years.

Origin and descriptions

Ctenopoma nebulosum

Ctenopoma nebulosum is a species of fish in the family Anabantidae, native to tropical Africa. It is known by various common names, including large head hap and smallmouth ctenopoma. The scientific name means hairy mouth, referring to its bristly lips. They are quite territorial, and males will fight with each other if placed together in an aquarium.

This species grows to about 15 cm (6 in) max length; females tend to be larger than males. The dorsal fin has 7 spines and 17–19 soft rays while the anal fin has 3 spines and 14–15 soft rays. Their natural diet consists primarily of aquatic insects, but they also consume worms and insect larvae. In captivity, they can be fed a variety of meaty foods such as beef heart, prawns, earthworms, and bloodworms.

Synodontis Catfish Care Sheet

Juveniles have been shown to grow significantly faster when supplemented with brine shrimp nauplii or boiled egg yolk.

Common Name

Ctenopoma, Congo tetra, African dwarf cichlid, African spotted cichlid, Malawi butterfly cichlid. Ctenopoma is another one of those fish that seem to have multiple common names. It was first described as Tylochromis nebulosus by Regan in 1911. However, later publications used a couple different genera until it ended up under its current genus name of Ctenopoma in 1999.

Size of fish – inches

This cichlid reaches an adult size of 5.0 inches (12.7 cm).

Ctenopoma nebulosum tank size

Ctenopoma nebulosum needs a tank that is at least 10 gallons with a capacity of 20 gallons if you have a community fish tank with more than one cichlid.

Minimum Tank Capacity

Adults can reach 10 in (25 cm) and be territorial and hence will need a tank size of around 20 gal (75 L). This fish is a great addition to larger aquariums where they have lots of places to hide while they get used to their new surroundings. This is not a good fish for a community tank because it gets too large and requires higher levels of care than most other community tank mates.

Ctenopoma nebulosum tank mates

Ctenopoma nebulosum can be kept in a community aquarium with other fish species of similar size. Avoid housing ctenopomatas with smaller, more delicate species of fish and shrimp (such as cardinal tetras). African dwarf frogs and Chinese mystery snails are suitable tank mates, but keep in mind that water chemistry needs to be kept stable to avoid stressing or even killing your fish.

Some other tank mates are small Plecostomus, Synodontis Catfish, Otocinclus Catfish, Harlequin Rasboras and Zebra Danios. Due to its large size and predatory nature, ctenopomas will likely eat any fish that fit in their mouths if not removed quickly. They also have a tendency to get stressed out by anything new added to their tank (including plants) so it’s best to acclimate your fish before you add anything else.

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Ctenopoma nebulosum breeding

Ctenopoma nebulosum

Ctenopoma species are egg-layers. They lay around 50 eggs per clutch, so be prepared to provide a lot of habitat space. The parents will eat some of their offspring, so it is important to provide at least two females per male. The eggs will hatch after 3-4 weeks and juveniles are almost ready to go after 2 months. Juveniles grow quickly, so they can reach adult size within 8 months!

Once adults, many fish do not require much food or attention and can live several years in an aquarium set up before reaching sexual maturity (3+ years). It is still recommended that feedings are provided daily or every other day though. They enjoy live foods such as baby brine shrimp or micro worms but will accept most commercially available foods if necessary.

Ctenopoma nebulosum care

Ctenopoma nebulosum

Tank Level for Mature Fish

To provide a home for a Ctenopoma, you need a tank with at least 20 gallons of water and at least a 30-inch (76 cm) width. The tank should be decorated with plenty of plants and rocks to give your fish cover and hiding places. Keep in mind that these are very active fish that require plenty of room to swim around, so don’t fill your tank all the way up to avoid stressing out your fish.

These fish like low temperatures around 75–77 degrees Fahrenheit (24–25 degrees Celsius), so make sure to keep your tank away from direct sunlight and drafts. Filters are great for Ctenopomas because they help keep debris off of their delicate scales, but these fish won’t really do well in an overstocked tank or one with weaker filters. Also, make sure you have some sort of biological filtration going on; otherwise, your tank could become toxic very quickly.

In addition to providing your fish with plenty of swimming space, it’s important to consider what will live in your Ctenopoma’s environment. If you have bottom feeders that eat too many foods intended for scavengers (such as snails and worms), they can easily choke out your prized cichlid.

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Water pH

Ctenopoma nebulosum is an African cichlid, but unlike its American cousins, it prefers slightly acidic water (6.0–7.0). Test your pH levels regularly with a test kit and do water changes accordingly. If you’re using African Cichlid Buffer or another alkaline buffer, keep in mind that it may not be safe for your fish and could slowly increase pH levels over time.

Hardness Range

5-15 dGH; 8 is ideal.


Ctenopoma nebulosum should be kept in water with a temperature range of 22.0 – 28.5 degrees C (72-83 degrees F). These fish are tolerant of both low and high water temperatures, but perform best when kept within their specified temperature range.

Ctenopoma nebulosum lifespan

Ctenopoma nebulosum fish can live up to 8 years in a well-maintained aquarium. The oldest of these fish recorded reached 10 years of age.

Parasites and diseases

Ctenopoma nebulosum are susceptible to many different parasites, which is why a healthy diet and excellent water quality is so important for their long-term health. Praziquantel works well for flukes, as does metronidazole for internal bacterial infections. They may also be treated with Nitrofurazone or Gentamicin for wounds, but these should only be done under close supervision by an experienced aquarist.

These fish also fall prey to two common external bacteria: Columnaris and Furunculosis. Therefore, it’s good practice to maintain constant vigilance of your cichlids’s skin condition and work closely with your veterinarian on treatments when needed. Don’t forget your filter!