Clown Killifish: Vibrant Beauties for Nano Aquariums

Species Snapshot

  • Species Name: Epiplatys annulatus
  • Common Names: Clown killi, clown killifish, banded panchax
  • Size: Up to 1.4 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 5 years
  • Native Distribution: Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia

With their diminutive size and vibrant coloration, clown killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) are ideal for nano tanks. Not only are they beautiful to behold, but they exhibit a unique feeding style that makes them endlessly fascinating. The downside is they can be difficult to find and can be pricey—but many aquarium hobbyists think they’re well worth the investment.

If you’re looking for a showcase fish to feature in a nano tank or small community tank, the clown killifish is one to consider. Here’s what you need to know about caring for them properly.

Anatomy and Appearance

Also known as the clown killi or the banded panchax, the clown killifish is an African freshwater fish belonging to the family Nothobranchiidae. The species was first described in 1915, likely specimens collected from the mouth of the Moa River in Sierra Leone, West Africa. These fish can also be fond in Guinea and Liberia.

The clown killifish’s specific name, annulatus, is derived from the Latin for ‘ring,’ referring to the species’ banded color pattern. These fish exhibit alternating bands of tannish-yellow and dark brown. What is most eye-catching about them, however, is their flame-like tails which feature bright orange, red, and blue coloration.

Clown killifish are particularly appropriate for nano tanks because they only reach an adult size around 1.4 inches. With proper care, these fish can live for up to 5 years.

Clown Killifish.

Ideal Aquarium Setup

In their native habitat, clown killifish can be found in slow-moving streams and swamps. They prefer lushly planted environments with low flow. A notable fact about killifish is that they may do well in an unheated tank, as long as ambient temperatures don’t fall below 67°F.

Tank Size

Because they only grow to about 1.4 inches in length, clown killifish are ideal for the nano tank setup. Keep in mind, however, that they prefer to be kept in groups of 8 to 10 individuals. A minimum tank size of 5 gallons is recommended, though 10 gallons or larger is preferable.

Water Parameters

Clown killifish is sensitive to fluctuations in water chemistry, so they’re best added to an established aquarium. They’re adaptable to water temperatures between 67°F and 80°F, though may prefer conditions on the cooler end of the spectrum. Clown killifish prefer slightly soft, acidic water with pH ranging from 4.0 to 7.0 and water hardness between 4 and 8 dKH.

Filtration is important for any healthy aquarium, but clown killifish prefer low flow. In a single species tank, a sponge filter may be adequate to provide mechanical and biological filtration. This species may even do well in an unfiltered tank, though you’ll need to perform large water changes several times a week to keep tank chemistry stable.

Tank Décor

The clown killifish hails from a heavily planted environment, so aquatic vegetation is a must. You can recreate their natural habitat with sandy substrate, driftwood decorations, and plenty of leaf litter. If you use driftwood, consider adding it to the tank without curing it first. It will leech tannins into the water over time, giving it a slight tea-colored stain, which may make your killifish feel more at home.

The challenge with keeping clown killifish in a planted tank is that intense lighting can make them shy. Floating plants can help diffuse bright lighting, or you can stick to low-light species like Anubias and Taxiphyllum.

Diet and Feeding

Clown killifish are typically classified as micro predators, though their diet in the wild is largely insectivorous. These fish will also feed on zooplankton but they don’t tend to stray far from the surface for feeding. Killifish have upturned mouths, so they typically hover at the top water level, ready to grab insects that land on the surface.

In captivity, clown killifish may accept a variety of dried foods, but they’ll most appreciate live and frozen foods. Keep their small size in mind and offer appropriate options. Daphnia, artemia, brine shrimp, and micro worms are small enough for clown killifish to enjoy.

Temperament and Tank Mates

The clown killifish is often described as a peaceful predator. While they are predatory toward insects, they’re unlikely to bother their tankmates. The key is to remember that killifish are a top-dwelling species, so stock community tanks accordingly to ensure every species has adequate swimming space. It’s also important to consider this species’ small size—they should be kept only with other small fish.

Some of the best tankmates for clown killifish are small top-to-middle dwelling species with similar preferences for water parameters. They’re also compatible with peaceful bottom dwellers like Corydoras catfish. Smaller cichlids may be a good match for clown killifish but avoid aggressive and carnivorous species.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when choosing tankmates for clown killifish is that they thrive most in groups. It’s best to keep a group of 8 to 10 together, aiming for a ratio of one male for every two or three females, if possible. Keeping clown killifish in a group will reduce shyness and encourage them to display their natural social behaviors.

Breeding Clown Killifish

With proper male-to-female ratios, breeding clown killifish is fairly straightforward. Clean water and a rich diet are essential, and a planted tank setup is ideal for this egg-scattering species. It may be unnecessary to sex clown killifish if you keep a large enough group, but males tend to develop more intense coloration and longer fins than females.

During spawning, clown killifish will deposit their eggs on plants. Because these fish prefer to remain at surface level, floating plants are ideal for breeding purposes. The eggs will hatch after a 9-12 day incubation period and the fry will survive on microorganisms until they’re large enough to accept micro foods like artemia and daphnia.

While clown killifish don’t exhibit much parental care, the adults don’t tend to feed on their offspring. Older fry may, however, eat smaller fry. Keep this in mind if you keep a separate rearing tank. If you need to replenish your clown killifish tank or want to start caring for these little guys, visit Shrimpy Business.
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