LOVING THE LEOPARD
In its striking spotted coat, the exotic Leopard bushfish is a stunning and stealthy predator.
Marvel at the exotic spotted kitten of the Bushfish world – a stunning and stealthy predator.
NOTHING SAYS ‘Africa’ quite like a fish that adorns itself with leopard pattern. And no fish better suits this theme than the Leopard bushfish, Ctenopoma acutirostre, who’s practically begging to be added to your oddball African set-up. Although outwardly curious and cryptic-looking, the Leopard will fit in quite well among many other species of fish, so long as you follow a few simple rules.
Just one among many species of Ctenopoma, this dappled denizen is probably the bushfish you’re most likely to stumble across at your local aquatics shop. And for good reason – most of the Leopard’s cousins are rather drab, even if they do bring a piece of personality to the table. Sadly for them, looks sell, leaving us with a relative abundance of this spotted kitten of the bushfish world.
Novice oddball keepers could easily label the Leopard bushfish as a bit Leaf fish-like. For those unfamiliar with them, the South American Leaf fish, Monocirrhus polyacanthus, is a highly specialised predator that near-perfectly mimics a leaf for ambush purposes, much to the misfortune of the haplessly unaware fish in their surroundings.
While occasionally available for aquaria, Leaf fish sometimes struggle to adapt to captivity, and very rarely lose their taste for live foods.
It would seem that Leopard bushfish have found a loophole in evolution’s copyright laws, doing a pretty good job of mimicking this same leafy charade. And, fortunately for all parties, they settle in aquaria far better than their South American counterparts, and happily take on dead food to boot.
The real wow factor in both these species, though, are their protrusible mouths. In the less-than-split second it takes to engulf their prey, the jawbones of these fishes are extended outwards, allowing the predators to strike from a little further away than their prey could appreciate. Their poor victims have as little as a quarter of a second to react.
Hide and seek
You may need to squint into the dealer’s tank to find your Leopard Bushfish specimens, since on arrival they’re forgivably shy. They’ll be hiding behind or under whatever they can find, but can often be spotted poking their heads around the corner to see what’s going on. You can expect similar behaviour when you first introduce them to their new home, so be an accommodating host. Offer plenty of hiding places and keep the lighting to a minimum for the first week or two so your Ctenopoma can find their fins. I’ve only seen a handful of these fish reaching 15cm in aquaria, with most hovering just below that. Given their moderate size and reserved nature, you needn’t fret about providing voluminous living conditions. What’s important is providing an enriching environment.
Wild Leopard bushfish make their home among tangles of plants, woodwork and sunken leaves, with each new nook and cranny potentially offering refuge or a meal. Taking a page from nature’s book, try to create an environment that will let this curious fish explore a similarly elaborate environment. You’ll find yourself enjoying your inquisitive pet’s explorative activities and. as an added bonus, you’ll be more likely to see your bushfish in an environment where it knows it can comfortably retreat from the limelight if it wants to.
Adding floating plants to provide surface cover will be a big confidence booster for your Leopards. Not only will it dim any excessive lighting from above, it will also help allay fear of predators striking from above the waterline. Make sure you leave some gaps, though. Ctenopoma are what we call obligate air-breathers, requiring surface-derived oxygen owing to their reduced gill surface area – an unfortunate consequence of them having that otherwise handy organ, the labyrinth.
To draw out the infamous ambush behaviour of your Leopard, you don’t have to go as far as offering live food, which I feel should be reserved for only the fussiest of feeders. Most Bushfish will treat nearly any food item entering the tank as a curious object, with a slow, cautious approach, followed by a rapid strike. But once comfy and settled, they’re remarkably cichlidlike in their demeanour, anxiously waiting at the surface of the tank when you approach.
When choosing a diet for your pet, lean towards fish, shrimp and insect-based foods. Keep the portions large enough to grab their attention, but small enough to be taken in one go. You can try throwing in pellets on occasion, but more often than not they won’t tickle the tastebuds of our would-be predator. I prefer not to waste my dry foods on them, but if your fish will take dry food, be sure to mix up the diet with fresher foodstuffs as well.
Bear in mind that Ctenopoma won’t pay much attention to smaller food
items, and should your offering produce a fragmented mess, you’ll need someone on clean-up duties. Either simply net or siphon out what remains, or have a handy tankmate on standby to do the dirty work. Some smaller species of Synodontis, or substrate-oriented cichlids such as Pelvicachromis are your better choices, but keep in mind that bossier species might have a little too much character for your bushfish to handle.
An appropriate filtration system should be employed to deal with the high-protein diet of your pets, but ensure the theme of any current produced is more ‘sluggish backwater’ than ‘jacuzzi torrent’.
So long as you keep any boisterous species out of the picture, there’s just one more rule to keep regarding Ctenopoma housemates, and it’s an easy one to figure out given the Leopard’s predatory nature. Smaller fish – especially cylindrically shaped species among the tetras, danios, and barbs – will have an awful night’s sleep if you attempt to keep them alongside Ctenopoma. While Bushfish don’t have the cavernous gapes often seen in other predators, you absolutely cannot take the risk of adding any sort of fish smaller than the length of this ambush predator’s head.
The same goes for invertebrates, which will only serve as temporary tankmates and nutritional supplements for your Leopard.
In the less-than-split second it takes to engulf their prey, the jawbones of these fishes are extended outwards, allowing the predators to strike
As they hail from the same lineage as gouramis and Bettas, like them Ctenopoma have a labyrinth organ. While this means they exhibit the same neat trick – being able to take in oxygen from above the water’s surface – they differ from their distant relatives in that they don’t create a bubble nest. Nor is it apparent that they provide any form of parental care. I say ‘apparent’ because, hey, the aquarium world isn’t always fully clued up on every breeding mystery the hobby has to offer. There isn’t much literature available concerning reproduction in the Ctenopoma genus as a whole, and doubly so for the deeper-bodied clade the Leopard bushfish belongs to.
From what is known, they are moderate to highly fecund fishes, scattering or depositing their eggs – most likely in a safe spot among dense vegetation – where they are left to develop. In the absence of parental care, it’s advisable to remove potentially hungry adults away from the eggs and resultant fry, which should be offered only the smallest of live foods.
Leopards aren’t antisocial fish either. That’s not to say you’ll see a tightly bound school parading around your tank, but they’re definitely not averse to having some of their own kind around to form a loose group with.
In theory, this should make it a little easier for them to pair up themselves, should any anabantid enthusiast out there take up the task of making parents out of these stunning-looking spotted predators.
Once settled, the personality of the Leopard bushfish really shines through.
Ctenopoma means ‘comb-cover’, refering to the gill cover
Protrusible mouth parts make the bushfish an excellent predator.
CONGO Backwaters and flooded forest floors offer the perfect hunting grounds for the Leopard bushfish. Shallow waters minimise the chance of predation and overhanging foliage harbours many a tasty morsel.
The latin name acutirostretranslates to ‘sharp snout’.