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Clown Killifish Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

The clown killifish is a sight to look at with its beautiful color combinations. The stripes on its body give it a majestic appearance. The little freshwater fish is a great choice for peaceful community tanks for dwarf species.

It is pretty easy to care for, so even beginner aquarists can bring this fish home. The species is a voracious carnivore and makes no fuss while eating.

So, if you are ready to add it to your home aquarium, keep reading!

Species Overview

OriginCoastal lowlands of southern Guinea and Sierra Leone to the northwest areas of Liberia, West Africa
Scientific NameEpiplatys annulatus
Common NamesClown killie, clown killifish, rocket killie, rocket killifish, rocket panchax, banded panchax
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
AppearanceTorpedo shaped body, forked tail, big eyes, blue fins, alternating blue-black and white stripes on the body, red rays in the tail fin
SizeFemale: up to 3 cm (1.2 in); Male: Up to 3.5-4 cm (1.4-1.6 in)
LifespanUp to 3-5 years
TemperamentPeaceful, friendly, predatory
Tank LevelMiddle to top dweller
Water Temperature72-78 °F (22-26 °C)
pH Level5.5-7
Water HardnessUp to 8 dGH
Care LevelEasy to Intermediate
Minimum Tank Size10 gallons for 2-3 pairs
Tank EnvironmentHeavily vegetated, multiple hiding spots, enough free space to swim
Tank MatesOwn group, other similar-sized, similar-tempered species

Natural Habitat

The clown killifish is naturally found in the coastal lowlands of southern Guinea and Sierra Leone to the northwest areas of Liberia in West Africa.

This species likes swamps and slow-flowing waters of streams and small rivers flowing through open grasslands and tropical rainforests.

The fish is mostly spotted in soft acidic warm freshwater among aquatic plants. But sometimes, you may also see it in brackish waters.

According to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessment 2020, this species is labeled Least Concern.


This fish is part of the Nothobranchiidae family under the Cyprinodontiformes order and is scientifically known as Epiplatys annulatus.

However, a few common names for this fish are also popular worldwide, like clown killifish, clown killie, rocket killie, rocket killifish, rocket panchax, and banded panchax.

Within its locality, the same fish from different regions are given different names. This is done to avoid hybridization of the fish and maintain a pure bloodline.

Fun Fact: The word ‘Killifish’ comes from the Dutch word for ‘a channel.’ This is related to the fish’s affinity for slow-moving streams and swamps.


Clown killi in aquarium

Now, if you want to know how beautiful this fish is, keep reading!


This is a tiny species where the adult female grows up to only 3cm (1.2 in) while the mature male is as large as 3.5-4 cm (1.4-1.6 in). People refer to it as a “dwarf” animal because of its small stature.


The color of the clown killifish resembles the clown makeup in the circus. It has shades of white, blue, red, and black all present on its body.

But this amalgamation of colors is not an abstract mixture. It has a striped pattern that is repeated asymmetrically on its body.

The body of this fish has blue-black stripes, which are alternated with white stripes.

The caudal and dorsal fins often have varied colors like red flecked blue, or light blue. The caudal fin has shooting ray-like splashes of colors, which vary from shades of red to orange.

There might be color variations within the same brood. In different variants, you may notice differences in color intensity, stripe width, and band positioning.

The most notable variants are Conakry (from Guinea), Kasewe Forest (from Sierra Leone), and Monrovia (from Liberia).


The body of the clown killifish is shaped like a rocket or torpedoes. It also flaunts an upturned mouth and large eyes. The tail fin is forked, and dorsal fins are set quite far back toward the tail.

It has a reflective bottom belly for protection from predators waiting below.

Sexual Dimorphism

There are distinct differences between the males and females of this species. So, it is quite easy to tell these apart.

The first difference that can be noticed is in the color and the structure of the anal fins.

The male clown killifish has red or blue anal fins and long rays under the caudal fins. The long rays can be as long as the caudal itself.

While the female fish has shorter anal fins, these are usually transparent. Dorsal and caudal fins might have some red or yellow rays.

The female fish is less vibrant and shorter in size and also lacks fin extensions like thatof the male.

Behavior & Temperament

The clown killifish is a peaceful species and friendly toward most other fish. This is a schooling fish, but it can show tendencies to separate into pairs and wander off apart from the bigger group.

The clown is also a popular predator species. It waits for its prey silently instead of actively chasing them. It is also a good jumper, so keep it in a tank with tightly-fitted lids.


Like many small fishes, the lifespan of this one is not very long. The clown killifish will live around 3-5 years in an aquarium.

However, some even lose their fish within 2 years due to poor care.

Author’s Note: Whenever you walk past its aquarium, the curious fish will come near the aquarium glass to check on the surroundings.

Clown Killifish Care

Clown killi pair

If you want to keep this fish in your aquarium, let us tell you more about how to care for it.

Tank Size

This fish needs to be housed in pairs as the smallest unit. But a bigger group will help the fish feel less shy and show interesting activities.

Some recommend keeping them in 5-gallon nano tanks, but it may not be enough as these need strong water flow to keep them clean. This fish does not like strong currents, so in my experience, it’s better to use a larger tank.

So, keep 4 pairs in a 15-gallon tank. 2-3 pairs can be kept in a tank as small as 10 gallons.

If there are other tank mates, always go for a bigger tank size to provide enough room to swim and explore.

Water Chemistry

The clown killifish does not have a long lifespan. But the best care can help your fish live a longer life. So follow these parameters with close attention!

  • pH Levels: 5.5-7
  • Water Temperature: 72-79 °F (22-26 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 8 dGH
  • Carbonate Hardness: Up to 6 dKH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 20-30 ppm

Tank Environment

To make your clown killifish feel at home, you must make it a lovely tank. Let us tell you how to make that happen.


This fish is not choosy about substrate as it usually swims in the top and middle water columns. So you can pick whatever suits you here.

It does not dig around much, so you can use gravel, sand, or even keep it bare. If you want to make the colors on this fish pop, then use a dark substrate.


The natural environment of clowns is heavily planted. So your fish will like a good amount of vegetation in its tank. Floating plants are also a great option.

You can use guppy grass, water lettuce, red-root floater, frogbit, java ferns, and water sprites as a few choices for this tank.


The clown killifish prefers dim lighting, which can be established with floating plants. Choose extremely subdued light settings for your tank.


You can use decorations like driftwood, rocks, caves, and such things, which provide hiding spots for this fish.

Sometimes, the clown killie becomes a little shy and likes to hide and rest. But they also go out exploring as a pair, so keep enough free space for swimming.


Filtration is a little tricky for clown killies, as it does not enjoy strong currents. But you must have a filter to keep the tank free of waste and clean the water.

You can take care of this dilemma in the following two ways:

1. Install a low-flow filter and put plants and decor in front of it. This will help the currents die away


2. You can forgo the filter and use sufficient plants to absorb all the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates from the fish waste. In addition, perform 50% water change every few days.

Water Flow Rate

The fish likes a slow water flow rate that replicates that of the stand-still swamps of its natural habitat.

Fish Care Tip: Keep the water temperature on the lower side of the range. This will slow down their metabolism and expand their lifespan.

Food & Diet

This fish needs a carnivorous diet. It accepts all types of food – live, frozen, and dried but likes live food the most. So, you must include the following in its diet.

  • Confused flour beetles
  • Confused flour beetle larvae
  • Microworms
  • Moina
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Small daphnia
  • Small grindal worms
  • Vinegar eels
  • Bloodworms
  • Walter worms
  • Copepods
  • Fruit flies
  • Baby brine shrimp
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Grindal worms
  • High-quality flake food

The small mouths make it difficult to feed them. So, crush its food into small pieces and feed them once or twice a day.

Tank Mates

Before adding any other tank mates, make sure you keep them in groups. A school of 10 is the best to keep this species happy!

This peaceful species makes great tank mates for any other similar-sized fish of the same temperament. Some of the tank mates that you can keep with a clown killifish are:

  • Sparkling gouramis
  • Minnows
  • Endler’s livebearers
  • Small barbs
  • Guppy fish
  • Small plecos
  • Honey gouramis
  • Corydoras catfish
  • Celestial pearl danios
  • Neon tetras
  • Pea puffers
  • Chili rasboras
  • Bettas
  • Molly fish

Tank Mates to Avoid

To make your clown killifish feel safe, avoid some of these kinds of species:

  • Larger aggressive species: They might eat the clown killifish.
  • Species with different temperature needs: These would not be compatible.
  • Species with strong water flow preference: This fish likes softly flowing, stagnant water.
  • Species with different pH needs: Fishes that like a different range of pH will not be suitable for a tank housing this species.

Here’s a quick list of fish that belong in the above categories:

  • Crayfish
  • African dwarf frog
  • Freshwater crabs
  • Cichlids
  • Arowanas
  • Tiger fish

Common Diseases

This species is susceptible to the common freshwater fish diseases that afflict most species. Read on to know the symptoms of the diseases to provide your fish with the best treatment in time.

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
Fish liceParasitic InfectionSmall spots on the skinUse tweezers to pull off individual lice, treat the tank with Dimlin
FlukesParasitic InfectionSwims too close to the surface, clamped fin, excess mucusKeep water clean, lower the water temperature
IchProtozoan Parasitic InfectionFlashing, white spots, inactivity, appetite lossRaise water temperature, add aquarium salts or ich medication
Fin rotBacterial InfectionFin discoloration or redness, inactivity, appetite loss, fin disintegration, fin frayingImprove water quality, remove any object that may hurt the fish, and add antibiotics
ColumnarisBacterial InfectionInactivity, appetite loss, fin fraying, white patchesReduce stress, add antibiotics, enhance water quality
Hole in the head diseaseNo singular causeOne or two pits/holes in the skin of the headFix water quality, Remove activated carbon

Quick Tip: If there are invertebrates in your tank, separate these from your clown killifish before treatment. Copper-containing fish medication is toxic to them.

Breeding & Reproduction

Clown killies are pretty easy to breed in the right setup. But to get the best quality brood in a home tank, let us walk you through the steps!

Conditioning & Specimen Obtaining

Choose a male-female pair or one male and 2-3 females for breeding. Multiple females per male helps avoid stressing the female. Make sure all specimens are at least 6 months old – the age of sexual maturity.

Feed them all a high-quality, protein-rich diet of daphnia, brine shrimp, and bloodworms up to three times a day for 1-2 weeks. This will improve the pair’s overall health and condition them to breed.

Introduce the female(s) into the breeding tank a few hours before the male, after conditioning is complete, to let it acclimatize.

Tank Preparation

Use a 15-gallon tank with the following water parameters:

  • Water Temperature: 77-79 °F (25-26 °C)
  • pH Levels: 5.5
  • Water Hardness: Up to 3 dGH

A bare bottom tank will help you spot the eggs much better. However, studies show that smectite clay substrate can help in the successful breeding of this fish.

Use a heavily vegetated tank with floating plants and mosses to collect the eggs and give the fry suitable hiding spots. You can also use spawning mops to catch the eggs.

Further, you can use rocks and driftwood to make the fish feel secure and encourage breeding.

Mating Process

The male tries to impress the female with an elaborate courtship dance. Once she is ready, the female lays adhesive eggs on the bottom of the floating plants or leaves.

The pair will spawn multiple times over several days.

This fish breeds twice a month, producing up to 1-2 eggs every day and 25 fry per cycle.

Incubation & Fry Development

The eggs undergo an incubation period of about 8-14 days to hatch. Maintain a temperature of 75-77 °F (24-25 °C).

If it’s a mature densely vegetated tank, the fry survives on naturally available microorganisms. You can promote microorganism growth in the tank by adding dried leaves.

If your tank is more of a sterile type, try to feed the fry free-floating algae and infusoria.

Within a few days, the fry will be grown enough to eat young nematodes, rotifers, and vinegar eels. And after a week, you can introduce brine shrimp.

Fry Tank Maintenance

Provide adequate hiding spots for the fry and maintain appropriate water parameters.

Before introduction into the main tank, acclimatize them by using the drip method. In this, you slowly add the main tank’s water into the tank housing the juveniles.

Fry Separation

The adult fish doesn’t usually prey on its fry. But the parents may scare them away and stress them. Sometimes, the older fry munches on the younger one and eggs.

So, separate the parents from the eggs. And relocate the older fry to another tank from the younger ones.

Breeding Tip: Change the water of the fry tank to keep it clean and ensure the growth of the juveniles. Avoid putting invertebrates in the breeding or fry tank. Otherwise, they’ll eat the eggs and fry.

Quick Buying Tips

If you are getting this fish shipped, do not worry if a pale fish comes to you because it can lose its color temporarily when under stress.

Young clown killifish are less colorful, so do not judge by color when buying juveniles.

A word from FIA

The beautiful clown killifish will not only make your tank look prettier but also entertain you with their unique personalities. If you want to start off with a small tank or have space issues, this schooling fish is the best choice!

So, if you’re convinced to give this species a chance, share this with other fish lovers and your friends. Or if you have any further queries about this fish, feel free to drop us an email, and we will get things sorted!