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.
|Origin||South America: Amazon River basin in Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela.|
|Scientific Name||Monocirrhus polyacanthus|
|Common Names||South American leaf-fish, barbeled leaf fish, Amazon leaffish|
|IUCN Red List Status||Not Evaluated|
|Appearance||Olive 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|
|Size||Up to 10 cm (4 in), 8 cm (3 in) on an average|
|Lifespan||Up to 5-8 years usually, 10 years with best care|
|Temperament||Aggressive and predatory|
|Tank Level||All levels, but mainly mid-level dwellers|
|Water Temperature||78-82 °F (26-28 °C)|
|Water Hardness||2 to 10 dGH|
|Care Level||Intermediate to Experienced|
|Minimum Tank Size||20-25 gallons for one, 40 gallons for a small group|
|Tank Environment||Heavily planted tank with driftwood, rocks and other hiding places|
|Diet||Carnivorous and Piscivorous|
|Tank Mates||Own school, slightly larger but peaceful species|
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.
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.
Now, if you’re interested in learning more about the appearance and behaviors of the South American leaf fish, let’s explore!
On average, this leaf fish is 8 cm (3 in) but can grow up to 10 cm (4 in).
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.
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.
The males have slightly bigger fins, and the females may look rounder during the mating season.
Behavior & Temperament
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.
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.
Amazon Leaf Fish Care
If you’re all set to make a cozy home for this fish, let’s get started on building its new environment!
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.
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
The way you design your aquarium affects your fish’s well-being and mood. Let’s create the ideal environment for them!
This fish prefers dark substrates like river sand, small pebbles, or fine gravel to mimic its natural Amazon habitat and improve camouflage.
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
- Amazon frogbit
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.
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.
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.
Water Flow Rate
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.
Food & Diet
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
- 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.
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:
- Armored catfish
- Pictus catfish
- Silver sharks
- Rainbow sharks
- Silver dollars
- Pleco fish
- Gourami fish
- Medium-sized loricariids
- Corydoras catfish
- Cardinal tetras
- Hatchet fish
- Dwarf cichlids
- Siamese algae eaters
- West African cichlids
- Other African leaf fish
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.
Tank Mates to Avoid
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.
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.
|Ich (White Spot Disease)||Parasitic infection||White spots on the fish’s body, lethargy, appetite loss||Add commercially available ich treatment products, elevate aquarium temperature|
|Fin Rot||Poor water quality||Deterioration of fins, lethargy, appetite loss||Improve water conditions and use antibacterial medications, remove objects that may physically injure them further|
|Dropsy||Often linked to kidney failure||Swollen abdomen||Broad-spectrum antibiotics may help, but it’s challenging to treat|
|Columnaris||Bacterial infection||Gray/white patches, fin fraying, lethargy, appetite loss||Improve water quality, antibiotics, reduce stress|
|Other Bacterial Infections||Various bacterial strains||Ulcers, discoloration||Antibiotics are typically used for treatment|
Breeding & Reproduction
Breeding leaf fish can be moderately challenging. Follow these steps to multiply your chances of being successful.
Breeding Tank Preparation
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.
Introduce a Compatible Pair
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.
While courting, the Amazon leaf fish swim closely together. The male may intensify in color during this stage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quick Buying Tips
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 FIA
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.