Amazon Leaf Fish Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

If you are looking for an exotic addition to your freshwater tank, then leaf fish might be an appealing choice for you.

With its captivating physical appearance, intriguing predatory behaviors, and magical camouflaging powers, the fish has become a sought-after choice for seasoned fish keepers.

Curious to explore further? Let’s delve deeper into their fascinating world.

What are the characteristics of a Leaf fish?

OriginSouth America: Amazon River basin in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela.
Scientific NameMonocirrhus polyacanthus
Common NamesSouth American leaf-fish, barbeled leaf fish, Amazon leaffish
IUCN Red List StatusNot Evaluated
AppearanceOlive green to dark brown colored flattened oval body, a filament-like lower jaw, a thin but big mouth, leaf stem-like ventral fins, transparent dorsal and anal fins
SizeUp to 10 cm (4 in), 8 cm (3 in) on an average
LifespanUp to 5-8 years usually, 10 years with best care
TemperamentAggressive and predatory
Tank LevelAll levels, but mainly mid-level dwellers
Water Temperature78-82 °F (26-28 °C)
pH Level5-6.5
Water Hardness2 to 10 dGH
Care LevelIntermediate to Experienced
Minimum Tank Size20-25 gallons for one, 40 gallons for a small group
Tank EnvironmentHeavily planted tank with driftwood, rocks and other hiding places
DietCarnivorous and Piscivorous
Tank MatesOwn school, slightly larger but peaceful species

What is the Natural Habitat of Leaf fish?

The South American leaf fish live in the Amazon basin, which includes Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.

It’s mainly found near the edges of rivers, lakes, and slow-moving streams, especially in places with lots of plant debris. It lives in the lower parts of the water in its natural habitat.

Which family does Leaf fish belong?

The species belongs to the Perciformes order and Polycentridae family. Its binomial name is Monocirrhus polyacanthus, whereas it’s popular worldwide as South American leaf-fish, barbeled leaf fish, and Amazon leaffish.

Fun Fact: There are also Asian and African leaf fishes, but they aren’t the same species or even belong to the same family.

How does Leaf fish look?

Now, if you’re interested in learning more about the appearance and behaviors of the South American leaf fish, let’s explore!

What is the size of Leaf fish?

On average, this leaf fish is 8 cm (3 in) but can grow up to 10 cm (4 in).

What is the color of Leaf fish?

The South American leaf fish displays a remarkable range of colors, from olive green to dark grey-brown, mimicking the shades of a leaf.

It has random marks on its body and three lines from its eye to the belly, just like leaf veins. It can also change its color like a chameleon.

What are the features of Leaf fish?

This fish has a flattened oval-shaped body and a filament-like tip on its lower jaw that resembles a dried leaf.

It has a thin and cavernous mouth that extends out in front and is much bigger compared to its body.

Its ventral fins resemble leaf stems. The spiny dorsal and anal fins merge seamlessly with its body, imitating leaf jaggedness.

This helps the fish’s deception skills. Even if caught in a fisherman’s net, nobody notices it, and it’s dumped in the water along with other leaf and twig debris.

What is the difference between a male and a female Leaf fish?

The males have slightly bigger fins, and the females may look rounder during the mating season.

What is the Behavior & Temperament of Leaf fish?

The Amazon leaf fish is a highly predatory fish that swims slowly in all levels of the tank but primarily inhabits the mid-level. It prefers plenty of hiding spots as it easily gets frightened.

The fish is an expert at disguise and swims slowly with its head down, resembling dead leaves floating in the water. It blends seamlessly with its surroundings. Until it attacks, prey can’t see it.

This way, it also hides from larger predators and prey. When it’s near enough to the prey, it extends its mouth to create a tube and quickly sucks in its prey, usually head first.

What is the Lifespan of Leaf fish?

Many fishkeepers can sustain these fish for a maximum of 5-8 years. However, as per my experience, with extremely careful maintenance, they can survive for up to 10 years.

Author’s Note: Though the fish prefers live food, feeding it with dead prey is not uncommon. Some aquarists have even observed them accepting such food from their hands.

How to Take Care of Amazon Leaf Fish?

South American leaf fish
Image by Mongabay

If you’re all set to make a cozy home for this fish, let’s get started on building its new environment!

What is the Tank Size of Leaf fish?

A single Amazon leaf fish needs at least a 20-gallon tank or one that is at least 71-80 cm in length. This space is necessary as it provides room for free swimming and maintains low water flow. For a small group, a 40-gallon tank is enough.

What is the Water Chemistry for Leaf fish?

These fish are highly responsive to changes in water quality. Maintain stable conditions to ensure they thrive at their best.

  • pH Levels: 5-6.5
  • Water Temperature: 78-82 °F (26-28 °C)
  • Water Hardness: 2-10 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 30 ppm

What is the Tank Environment for Leaf fish?

The way you design your aquarium affects your fish’s well-being and mood. Let’s create the ideal environment for them!

Which Substrate does Leaf fish prefer?

This fish prefers dark substrates like river sand, small pebbles, or fine gravel to mimic its natural Amazon habitat and improve camouflage.

What are the Plants to keep in a Leaf fish tank?

Add lots of live plants, especially large-leaved varieties, to provide a sense of security and more hiding spots.

Include floating plants to mimic their natural habitat and diffuse the light, preventing harsh rays from reaching the tank directly.

Suitable live plants for Amazon leaf fish tanks are:

  • Amazon sword
  • Java fern
  • Cryptocoryne lutea
  • Cryptocoryne wendtii
  • Anacharis
  • Hornwort
  • Amazon frogbit
  • Duckweed

What is the Lighting to have for Leaf fish?

The Amazon leaf fish doesn’t like bright lights because it’s used to living in darker environments with dense vegetation along riverbanks. Soft, subdued lighting is best for your pet fish.

What is the Décor to have for Leaf fish?

The leaf fish enjoys a decorated tank with hiding spots, including driftwood, rocks, aquatic plants, tank-safe leaves, twigs, and branches. Driftwood in the tank especially helps maintain the right water chemistry balance.

What is the filtration system needed for Leaf fish tank?

Use a good oxygenating filtration system that controls bio-load to keep the water clean and maintain fish health. But it must also be placed strategically to keep the water current low.

What is the Water Flow Rate for Leaf fish?

Amazon leaf fish prefer a gentle water flow to almost still water that resembles the slow-moving rivers they come from.

Fish Care Tip: The fish is extremely sensitive to water chemistry. So, take extra care with a reliable water testing kit to sustain your fish for the longest.

What does Amazon Leaf fish eat?

In its natural habitat, South American leaf fish eat smaller fish and invertebrates. The fish is carnivorous initially, and as it grows, it becomes chiefly piscivorous.

It prefers live fish, especially feeding the fish daily with the equivalent of at least three adult guppies. It often eats prey about one-third its size but can go for larger prey, up to two-thirds its size.

In some regions, small native fish can be an alternative food source for it.

In a home aquarium, it accepts live foods like the following:

  • Brine shrimp
  • Small earthworms
  • Feeder fish (small and medium-sized)River shrimp
  • Ghost shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Platy fish

Occasionally, you must gut load its live food like shrimp and then feed the shrimp to the fish.

The fish has a voracious appetite, consuming food products equivalent to their weight daily. You will have to offer them food continuously.

However, for older specimens, you can reduce the feeding frequency to every 4-5 days.

What are the Tank Mates for Leaf fish?

Amazon leaf fish doesn’t fit well in community tanks because of its highly predatory nature. A species-only setup works best for it.

However, if you still want to build a community tank, pick tank mates that are large enough not to be prey, but also ones that aren’t too big or feisty to threaten or stress the fish.

Deep-bodied and armored species work best for them. Here are a few suitable tank mates for these species:

It’s best to keep just a couple of Amazon leaf fish together, but if you plan to add more, ensure you have ample space and food. Make sure the tank is always under surveillance to avoid loss of fish.

Which Tank Mates to Avoid for Leaf fish?

Avoid housing the fish with the following kinds of species:

  • Small fish: If they are small enough to fit into the Amazon leaf fish’s mouth, they’ll eventually get eaten.
  • Fast-moving fish: Amazon leaf fish are slow and can get stressed by fast swimming tank mates with erratic movements.
  • Highly aggressive fish: They can bully or harm the leaf, leading to stress and injuries.
  • Fin-nipping or harassing species: Fish known for nipping at fins or harassing tank mates can target leaf fish’s delicate fins.
  • Other predatory species: Mixing predator fish can lead to aggression and territorial disputes within the tank.
  • Excessively large species: Significantly larger species may intimidate and stress them.
  • Invertebrates: Small shrimps and snails get preyed on by the fish.

What are the Common Diseases for Leaf fish?

The leaf fish thrive the best in acidic water with low light and an adequate amount of live prey. However, you should keep an eye out for these common health conditions.

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
Ich (White Spot Disease) Parasitic infectionWhite spots on the fish’s body, lethargy, appetite lossAdd commercially available ich treatment products, elevate aquarium temperature
Fin RotPoor water quality Deterioration of fins, lethargy, appetite lossImprove water conditions and use antibacterial medications, remove objects that may physically injure them further
DropsyOften linked to kidney failureSwollen abdomen Broad-spectrum antibiotics may help, but it’s challenging to treat
ColumnarisBacterial infectionGray/white patches, fin fraying, lethargy, appetite lossImprove water quality, antibiotics, reduce stress
Other Bacterial Infections Various bacterial strainsUlcers, discolorationAntibiotics are typically used for treatment

How to Breed Leaf fish?

Breeding leaf fish can be moderately challenging. Follow these steps to multiply your chances of being successful.

How to prepare a breeding tank for Leaf fish?

Select a separate breeding tank that is around 55 gallons. Create an ideal breeding environment with the following water parameters:

  • pH level: 6.0-6.5
  • Hardness: 1-5 dGH
  • Water temperature: 77 °F (25 °C)

Use subdued lighting and broad-leaved plants to replicate their native habitat.

How to Introduce a Compatible Pair for Leaf fish?

Spot a compatible pair and introduce them to the breeding tank. Sexual dimorphism is very minimal in this species, so this will be a tough step. Males are slightly larger and more vibrant, but the distinctions can be subtle.

If you’re in doubt, seek an expert or even buy a pair from a reputable store. If you have an identified pair, keep them in a separate tank right away. Otherwise, you might get confused by their camouflaging capabilities.

What is the Courting Behaviour of Leaf fish?

While courting, the Amazon leaf fish swim closely together. The male may intensify in color during this stage.

How many eggs does Leaf fish lay?

The female will lay up to 300 eggs on the underside of leaves or rocks within the tank. Sometimes, she might even lay eggs while hanging upside down.

The male fertilizes the eggs immediately after the female deposits them.

The eggs are transparent and appear as large, glassy orbs, each attached to the surface with a fine thread.

What is the Incubation Period for Leaf fish eggs?

Eggs typically hatch in 3-4 days. During this time, the male guards and fans the eggs to ensure proper aeration.

Protect the fry from potential threats by removing adult fish from the tank after about 4 days. This is when parental care is no longer necessary because the eggs will hatch.

How to feed Leaf fish fry?

Newborn fry consumes its egg sac yolk for a few days. After that, the young leaf fish are very hungry and may eat tiny organisms and even each other.

Offer a variety of small and wriggling live foods during this stage. You can also feed them powdered and dried foods or fry of other species.

The fry doesn’t seek food in the substrate, so only give it food that swims around and does not sink.

What are the Size Differences of Leaf fish fry?

As the fry grows, differences in size become noticeable. Separate them based on size to prevent larger fry from preying on smaller ones.

Breeding Tip: Maintain excellent water quality in the breeding tank. Perform regular water changes while ensuring the new water matches the old to avoid shocking the fry.

How to buy Leaf fish?

When buying Amazon leaf fish, it’s essential to ensure you’re getting healthy specimens. Here are some buying tips:

  • Purchase from a reputable and trusted aquarium store or breeder. Don’t hesitate to ask the seller questions about the fish’s diet, history, and any specific care requirements.
  • Inspect the fish closely. Choose specimens with vibrant colors, intact fins, clear eyes, and no signs of disease or injuries.

A word from FishInAquarium

Leaf fish are fascinating conversation-starter additions to your aquarium. You can surprise anyone by saying that “those leaves” aren’t just debris… and they’ll be intrigued to know more about it!

If you’re ready to put in the effort and meet their specific needs, these reasonably priced species can be exceptional tank residents and bring wonder and delight.

Lastly, don’t feel afraid to share this article with fellow fish-keeping enthusiasts and multiply the joy of raising this fish. If you have any questions or need further information, don’t hesitate to reach out; we’re here to assist you.

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.