Leaf Fish Care Guide: Tank Setup and much more – 2021

Leaf Fish


What about adding some different types of fish species to your tank? Sounds interesting, right! Leaf Fishes are a fascinating species that you can easily add to make your aquarium look unique.

Leaf Fish are pretty popular in the aquarium trade for their leaf-like appearance and predatory behaviors. This 3-4-inch fish uses a camouflage technique for stalking its prey. They are highly carnivores and challenging to care for in a home aquarium unless you are an expert aquarist.


Category Rating
Level of care Difficult
Appearance Leaf-like flattened body
Temperament Aggressive and predatory
Life expectancy 8-10 years
Size 3-4 inches
Diet Carnivores
Family Polycentridae, Nandidae
Tank Size 30-gallon
Tank Environment Soft acidic water with proper hiding places
Tankmates Large and aggressive

About Leaf Fish


Leaf Fishes are one of the most popular species easily found in various areas across the world.

Usually, Leaf Fish possesses a unique look, which resembles a dead leaf floating in a planted tank. Similar to a dry leaf, the fish comes with a small, oval-shaped, and flattened body from either side.

Their anal and dorsal fins are quite spiny, forming a body margin with many jagged edges, imitating the perfect outline of a dry leaf.

Usually, Monocirrhus polyacanthus have a yellow or brown color, along with random markings. Also, three lines run from their eye to belly, mouth to caudal fin, and eye to the dorsal fin, which looks similar to the veins of a dead leaf.

Many of the fishes also possess a quarter-inch of a long flap of skin on their lower lip, making it look similar to the stem of a leaf. Besides, Leaf Fishes typically come with a larger mouth than their size.

These leaf-like fishes are best known for their camouflaging trait, as they look so similar to a dead leaf and twigs that you can barely realize it to be a fish unless it starts moving.

They have only one fin that tends to move normally. Their pectorals and rear tips of dorsal and anal fins tend to be a bit transparent, which makes them nearly invisible during their movement.

Types of Leaf Fishes


As these unique leaf-like-looking fishes have a global distribution, they come in multiple variants. Following are the different types of Leaf Fish based on their origin:

South American Leaf Fish (Monocirrhus polyacanthus)


Belonging to the genus of Monocirrhus, South American Leaf Fishes come with a very exotic and extraordinary look, similar to a dead, dry leaf. Being a native to the Amazon river of South America, these fishes usually love to float amidst the vegetation near the bottom of the tank.

Like a leaf, they have an oval-shaped, flat structure with irregular markings and spiny anal and dorsal fins.

African Leaf Fish (Polycentropsis abbreviata)


The African variant is another member of the Leaf Fish family that is native to the waters of West Africa. They have a leafy pattern on their entire profile. It is the pattern that marks the difference between American and African leaf fishes.

These Leaf Fishes possess a more pointed head and tail imprinted with a marbled brown and black spotted pattern extending throughout their bodies. And such coloration often makes them get confused with the Leopard Ctenopoma. Also, their sharp protuberant mouth shape resembles that of the gourami fish.

Leaf Fish Temperament


Leaf Fishes are highly predatory by nature. Owing to their impressive camouflaging capabilities, they possess a brilliant hiding capacity, which makes them more vicious.

They even have an excellent capability to hunt in an ambush while staying hidden in the leaves. Thus, these fishes tend to stalk their prey and trick them by using their leaf-like physical appearance.

Apart from creating an illusion with their looks, their stalking pattern is also quite different from other fishes.


Leaf Fish

Leaf Fish Tank Requirement


Leaf Fishes require a very stable tank environment for maintaining good health. Thus, the aquarium needs to be equipped with all essential assortments.

Since these are hunter fishes, they prefer a larger tank with enough spaces for free-swimming, making them cherish their natural habitat-like ambiance. Besides, it is also essential to provide them a suitable water quality for their best care.

The tank water must be soft and acidic for your Leaf Fishes. However, they are pretty sensitive to the tank water parameters. So, you need to ensure that the water is clean and stable.

Also, these fishes prefer a sufficient amount of current for maintaining optimal water movement. Thus, make sure to equip a good filtration unit in the tank for taking proper care of the water parameters.

Monocirrhus polyacanthus species love to dwell under dim lighting in the tank. Also, adding a large number of aquatic plants to the tank will be great so that they can have enough space for hiding and showcasing their camouflage characteristics. But make sure to add only hardy plants, which are not at all easy to destroy.

Leaf Fish Tank Set-Up


The tank set-up needs to be top-notch for facilitating better care to your American Leaf Fish. But are you not sure how to do so?

Well, check out the guidelines mentioned below to learn how to begin setting up your fish tank.

  • It is ideal to house Leaf Fishes in a 30-gallon tank as they prefer adequate swimming space.
  • The water of the tank needs to be soft and acidic. It is better to maintain the water chemistry for Monocirrhus polyacanthus with a pH range of 5-6.8. However, for African Leaf Fishes, the pH level of the tank needs to be 6-6.5.
  • Leaf Fishes usually prefer soft water conditions for their tank. So, it is better to maintain a water hardness level of 1-10 dGH.
  • In the case of Monocirrhus polyacanthus, maintain the tank’s water temperature within a range of 73-84℉. In comparison, the temperature for the tank of African Leaf Fish needs to be within 79-88℉. You can use aquarium heaters if required.
  • Try to add heavy plantation to the tank with large-leaved plant varieties to let your fishes feel secure. Add live plants in the tank for this species as they love to have lots of hiding places.
  • Incorporate floating plantation in the tank to mimic the natural habitat of these Leaf Fishes and prevent harsh sun rays from getting into the tank directly.
  • It is better to add driftwood to the tank to maintain a proper water chemistry balance.
  • The tank water must have a strong current and enough control over bioload. Thus, adding bio load aquarium filters will be much helpful for your Leaf Fishes.
  • These fish usually do not prefer too much bright lighting. So, it is better to add dim lighting to the tank.

Leaf Fish Tank Mates


Leaf Fish is usually a more ambush predator. They tend to lie hidden in the leaves and wait for prey that will easily fit into their large mouths.

Usually, South American Leaf Fishes eat live fishes equivalent to their weight regularly. Though they are not that much large, these species have the super ability to clean your community tank within a few days.

On the other hand, African Leaf fish are also predatory, but they are not aggressive. The African one is not at all hostile towards other fishes. However, they are more of an opportunistic predator.

Thus, you need to be careful enough while picking suitable tank mates for Leaf Fishes. It is undoubtedly quite a difficult task. The smaller companions will simply turn out to be a snack for them. Also, slow-moving small fishes are known to be great treats for your Leaf Fish.

Honestly speaking, Monocirrhus polyacanthus is not at all suitable for community tanks. However, if you are thinking of caring for them in your home tank, you can simply opt for a species-only tank. It is simply better to keep them on their own.

But if you still want to keep Leaf Fishes with other mates, then it is better to pick larger and more aggressive species for your tank. Here are a few suitable tank mates for Leaf Fishes.

  • Armored catfish
  • Medium-sized Loricariids
  • West African Cichlids
  • Gouramis
  • Other African Leaf fishes


Leaf Fish

What Does Leaf Fishes Eat?


Leaf Fishes are carnivores in nature, and they will readily accept any kind of live food item. Unlike other popular fishes in the aquarium trade, Leaf Fishes require a diet with high meaty content. So, you need to focus on their high preferences for live food products.

You can offer M. Polyacanthus blood worms or small earthworms. However, in the long-term, these fishes will feel the need for a piscivorous diet. So, it is vital to offer them a continuous supply of live food, including small and medium-sized guppies, plat fish, or other native fish.

These fishes consume food products as much as their weight daily. Some of the specimens also prefer shrimps.

However, you can also train them to have frozen and flake foods. Still, it is difficult enough to feed them many dead foods. Some of the very common fish food products you can offer are blood worms, mosquito larvae, earthworms, etc.

But while petting and caring for Leaf Fishes in your tank, you need to keep in mind that you will have to offer them food products continuously to satisfy their appetite.

Care for Leaf Fish


Since M. Polyacanthus are pretty much demanding, they require a proper level of care in your tank. The main issue that arises with petting Leaf Fishes is providing them continuous feeding. Weaning them from live fishes is too hard. Thus, to ensure the best care for your Leaf Fish, offer them a proper supply of food in your tank.

There also lies the issue of growing pathogens in the tank water with a higher pH value. Thus, try to maintain suitable water chemistry for your Monocirrhus polyacanthus. Also, inadequate feeding can make them more susceptible to various diseases.

Besides, it is crucial to facilitate a restricted flow in the tank water of M. Polyacanthus as too fast-moving water is not suitable for them. Also, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate compounds are not suitable for this fish; thus, perform regular water changes to ensure their good health.

Well, do you know, Monocirrhus polyacanthus can react too severely to certain medications? So, always consult with an expert aquarist before adding any medication to the tank.

Leaf Fish Breeding Guidelines


Making Monocirrhus polyacanthus reproduce is quite difficult. However, it can still be achieved while they are in captivity. The breeding tank for these fish variants needs to have a proper set-up for successful breeding.

On the contrary, when it comes to breeding African Leaf Fish, breeding and reproduction can be barely successful in a home tank. However, you can undoubtedly try spawning them; you never know when luck might favor you!

Now, for preparing the breeding tank of American Leaf Fishes, include lots of broad-leaved plants. It is essential to maintain very soft and acidic water conditions with a 77℉ temperature in the tank.

However, in the case of breeding African Leaf Fishes, the water temperature needs to be above 80℉. Ensure that the tank is dimly lit for setting a more natural environment for their breeding. You need to incorporate heavy vegetation in the surface area of the tank.

To make your Leaf Fishes undergo proper breeding, you must also lower the water by at least less than 10-inches. Offer your fishes twice as many meals as they usually consume to enhance the chances of successful reproduction.

During the time of spawning, the male fish showcase bright colors to attract the female specimen. And these female Leaf Fishes display ovipositors when they are ready for breeding.

The pair tend to drift past each other, and they continue this activity for almost an hour. As soon as the female fishes lay about 300 eggs on the bottom surface of a plant’s leaf or an overhanging stone, the male fishes come back and fertilize those eggs.

In the case of the African leaf fishes, usually, the male specimen builds a bubble nest as they are willing to spawn. After successful mating, the females tend to lay at least 100 eggs in the nest to keep them safe and protected.

However, keep in mind to remove the female fishes from the tank after spawning; otherwise, the males may again turn her on.

Now, to take proper care of the eggs, the male fishes opt for fanning them with their fins. The eggs usually hatch after 3-4 days. And this is the time when you can remove the male fishes as well.

For taking better care of the fry, you can offer them brine shrimp nauplii once their egg yolks are exhausted. As their growth rate differs, after a few weeks, you should consider separating the fries. Otherwise, the larger fry will hunt their small-sized siblings.

Monocirrhus polyacanthus fry also prefers having live foods. So, along with brine shrimp nauplii, feed them with daphnia and guppies.

Also, make sure you are offering these fries proper clean water and dim lighting settings to keep them healthy and happy.

Interesting Facts About Leaf Fish


So, did the information discussed till now make you more curious to know about Leaf Fish? Well, here are some more fun facts about Leaf Fishes, which would be pretty beneficial to you if you are thinking of petting these specimens.

  • Similar to a chameleon, South American Leaf Fishes have a remarkable ability to change their colors to get blended with the background perfectly, be it in the wild or captivity.
  • Leaf Fishes have the characteristic of stalking their prey with their heads down. It tends to “drift” along with the water current like a dead leaf and swallow the prey as soon as the fish touches it.
  • The males have slightly larger fin size than the females.
  • As a Leaf Fish strikes its prey, it tends to open its mouth outwards, forming a prolonged tube that is used for sucking the prey’s head. Then the fish eventually swallows the prey as a whole.
  • Owing to its large mouth, this fish can devour any sized fish.

Where to Buy Leaf Fish?


Whether it is the American or African variant, you may not find them easily available in any of the random local aquarist stores.

You need to look out for them from any of the popular hobbyists. Also, they are quite easily available in online fish and pet animal stores by their scientific name. You can place your order in any online sale and purchase one to care for in your home tank.

How Big Do Leaf Fishes Get?


Monocirrhus polyacanthus usually comes with a length of 4-inches or 10 cm, which is slightly bigger in size than other leaf variants available in the market.

On the contrary, African Leaf Fishes are relatively smaller. They tend to grow up to only 3-inches in length.

How Long Does Leaf Fish Live?


Well, the longevity of Leaf Fishes depends on its variants. Monocirrhus polyacanthus live for a maximum of 8-9 years in captivity.

However, the African Leaf Fishes are relatively more hardy than other variants. So, they live up to 10 years if you continuously offer them proper tank parameters and an adequate amount of diet.

Is Leaf Fish Suitable for Aquariums?


Now, when it comes to keeping Leaf Fishes in your home tank, you need to consider many factors for facilitating the best care to them. Whether it is the African or American variant, you require long years of experience in fish-keeping to manage their feeding well.

Also, while buying Leaf Fish for your tank, keep in mind that they are active predators and can be aggressive at times. Thus, it is recommended to house them in a species-specific tank or along with only suitable mates so that they do not gulp the mates alive.