Clown Killifish – A Complete Care Guide

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Clown Killifish are small and colorful freshwater fish species with an interesting prefatory nature. They are ideal for nano tanks and know how to grasp their prey using their upturned mouths from the surface areas.

While they are pretty simple to care for, they have a drawback. Their expensive rates often stand as a barrier between potential buyers and sellers. So, you’ve to go through a long list of good retailers on your own to cut the deal.

There’s also a lot of information about them already dispersed among beginners. And those care sheets sometimes contradict each other, leaving you confused.

So in this extensive care guide, I’ve compiled what actually makes them worth your investment and time. From their habits to their essential needs, you can learn everything about your Clown Killifish here.

Key Takeaways

  • Clown Killifish are small and do well in aquariums as small as 5 gallons
  • They only grow to 1.5 inches in length
  • They are non-annual Killifish. They can live close to 5 years in captivity

An Overview

Scientific NameEpiplatys annulatus
Common NamesClown Killifish, Clown Killi, Banded Panchax, Rocket Killifish, Bony Fish, African Killifish
OriginGuinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, West Africa
Care LevelEasy to moderate
LifespanUp to 5 years
TemperamentPeaceful Predator
Tank LevelTop
Minimum Tank Size5 gallons
Temperature Range73-79 F°
Water Hardness4 to 8 KH
pH Range6.0 to 7.0
Filtration/Water FlowLow to moderate
Water TypeFreshwater
BreedingEgg layer
Difficulty to BreedEasy
CompatibilityCommunity tanks
OK, for Planted Tanks?Yes

What is it?

The Clown Killifish is one of the smallest Killifish in the aquarium hobby. They are scientifically known as Epiplatys annulatus from the Nothobranchiidae family.

In addition to their beautiful color patterns, their peaceful predatory behavior is fun to observe. And while some aquarists identify Clown Killifish as slightly wild, you will often see them getting along with their tanks in peace and harmony.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to fish-keeping or know your way around keeping them, you can house Clown Killifish in captivity as long as you meet their basic care needs.

Origin and Habitat

Clown Killifish originate from different Western African regions. You can see them spread all through Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

They first appeared in 1915 when a naturalist named George Albert Boulenger spotted them giving a marvelous look to the water. Ever since that, they have never failed to amaze aquarists with their appearance and fascinating attacking nature.

In their natural habitat, Epiplatys annulatus prefer slightly warm and acidic waters. And while they have a good life expectancy in captivity, Clown Killifish can’t put up with disturbed water parameters.


If you want a colorful fish species to keep your observing nature intact, consider adding Epiplatys annulatus to your aquariums.

While they have a beautiful spectrum of colors, knowing the complete range of their body coloration is tough.

Clown Killifish usually feature deep black, lemon yellow, purplish blue, deep bronze, and sometimes plain black and white shades. But the core reason they are famous for their appearance is the presence of thick bands on their bodies.

The width and color pattern of the bands can differ based on their gender. Sometimes, Clown Killifish exhibit a different variety of colors and stripes within the group of individual fish of the same kind.

Clown Killifish are tiny and absolutely wonderful fish species to keep in captivity. Their torpedo-like body got them one of their common names Rocket Killifish. This rocket shape makes them look like miniature pike.

Since they always stay on top water levels, their upturned serves the purpose of hunting down floating insects or invertebrates.

The head of a Clown Killifish looks partially rounded, with a pair of eyes that appears bright neon blue. They are usually slim in shape which makes their appearance even smaller.

Apart from this, you can see a set of 4 vertical fins on their tiny bodies. These fins sit closer to their tail which looks like a spade. The anal fins of Clown Killifish, like their dorsal fins, have projecting rays. These rays are lengthy and emerge right above one another. You can also see elongated rays running on the center of their caudal fin.

The color of their bands ranges from cream color to light yellow. These stripes run between their snouts to their caudal fins.

Clown Killifish grow into wonderful multicolored fish. But with young Clown Killifish, you will notice duller shades appearing on their bodies.

They develop strong coloration as they grow. And another thing to notice is their natural body color vividness going dim when they are stressed. It happens only for a few moments, so there’s nothing to worry about.

Difference between Male and Female

As with most fish species, the easiest way to tell the genders apart is by looking at the color deepness of the male Clown Killifish and the female Clown Killifish.

Clown Killifish are sexually dimorphic. The males and females share the same base and stripes color, marking a major difference through their fin color variations.

In a female Clown Killifish, the dorsal fin looks clear. But with the males, you usually see deep blue, bright red, or cream shades. While this is normally what you would see, the male Clown Killifish can also feature deep blue fins marked with red hues.

The male Clown Killifish also has caudal fins which look lavender or bright blue. The exciting part about their caudal fins is the color of their rays sitting on these fins. You can see a composed shade of bright yellow, red, or bright orange in males visible on their caudal fins.


Clown Killifish lifespan depends on the number of effort you put into their maintenance. They are considered a non-annual Killifish.

They typically live up to 5 years in captivity and in the wild. Sometimes, irregular water shifting, larger amounts of dirt, and the threat of any aggressive fish around them influence their life cycle.

While the latter factor isn’t directly contributing to a shorter lifespan, constant mental disturbance does.

Average Size

Clown Killifish are really small. They go only as big as 1.5 inches. As compared to other fish, young Epiplatys Annulatus are fast at becoming sexually mature.

They take almost 7-8 weeks to reach their full size. And within only half a year, a juvenile can mature into an adult Clown Killifish.

Typical Behavior

Clown Killifish are peaceful fish species with a raptorial behavior propensity. And this is one of the best things about them.

Unlike other fish species, they don’t chase insects or flies. Rather, they lay waiting on the surface of the tank for any potential prey to cross their lane. Once they spot any prey, they use their upturned mouth to get it down from the surface of the water (video source).

And when it comes to their behavior with their tank mates, the Clown Killifish tolerates a good number of fish species.

We will go through a detailed list of what fish species are ideal for your Clown Killifish later in the article.

Also, their size might trick you into believing them to be on the safe side in jumping. These Banded Panchax are small. But if you don’t monitor them, they can jump off their tanks pretty easily.


As a total beginner, creating a proper care sheet is pretty demanding.

Clown Killifish can withstand minor environmental changes. But you’ve to keep an eye out for proper water balance and cleanness. In the wild, they live in shallow water and inhabit areas like streams.

Aside from maintaining water parameters, you have to find suitable tank mates for your Clown Killifish. They don’t get in the way of their tank mates. But you can see conflicts within their groups and they are small fish.

In addition to that, some common diseases can also inflict your fish. This typically happens when you don’t weed out toxins from water on time or your fish is stressed.

Aquarium Setup

Along with dietary care, behavior management, and other contributing care factors, a proper aquarium setup is essential, too.

In the wild, Clown Killifish inhabit areas with lots of plants. These areas give them a warm summer touch, moderate pH levels, and water hardness that goes from 4 to 8 KH.

If you want to see them thriving, you need to monitor water parameters closely and with proper attention.

They are resilient. But withstanding poor water quality seems out of control in their case. Also, if you don’t weed out toxins like ammonia and nitrate from their aquarium from time to time, Clown Killifish can fall ill and eventually die.

Tank Size

For a tiny fish like Clown Killifish, a small-sized nano tank is good to go with.

But Clown Killifish need to move in groups to feel protected. Therefore, it’s better to get a bigger tank that can house them easily.

Also, they spend almost all their time on the water surface. This allows you to keep them with fish that stay at mid or bottom water levels.

Pro Tip: In the wild, they are found in shallow waters. That is why you should always get a tank that's low and long for your pet.

Water Parameters

Clown Killifish are tropical fish. While going through what goes into their tank and how to gauge the right water parameters, know that they prefer warm waters.

You should maintain water temperatures that ranges from 73° F to 79 F°. Clown Killifish prefer soft water, so keep the water hardness somewhere between 4 to 8 KH. Another important water parameter is the pH level. It should be around 6.0 to 7.0.

Filtration and Aeration

Since Clown Killifish can be placed in 5-gallon tank and are prone to diseases developed by unclear water, you will feel tempted to get them a filter.

A filter does a good job of keeping the tank clean. But in a smaller tank, a strong filter can create strong currents that will disturb the calm swimming pace of your fish.

Rather than going for a filter for Clown Killifish, you should use live floating plants to boost oxygenation. Apart from this, live plants are a good fit for carrying eggs of Clown Killifish during breeding seasons.

But remember to perform frequent water changes of up to 50%. Live plants and water changes work side by side in creating a safe environment for your fish to live in. In case you still want a filter to ensure proper water cleanness, you can use a sponge filter or power filter.


In the wild, Clown Killifish use floating plants to hide beneath. Because any direct contact with vivid lighting stresses them out.

In your aquarium, you have to replicate the same condition for their comfort. Since they are going to be live plants, partial access to sunlight is good. Also, you can use subdued led lights to detect any unusual activity in their habitat during the night or consider low light plants.

Aquatic Plants and Decorations

You have to give your Clown Killifish plenty of plants to feel at home.

Including live plants, you can also use plastic plants. But since these plants can’t act as a natural oxygen booster and water cleaner, live plants are ideal to consider.

During the breeding season, the pairs sometimes feel shy. Therefore, they need caves to hide in. Introduce manufactured caves throughout their tanks which should not be too big to suffocate their free moving. Moreover, avoid using caves with sharp edges and artificial coloring.

And as there is no compromise on plants, here are some choices:

Tank Maintenance

Other than keeping the water clean by doing water changes, you have to clean the tank itself for an even better and healthy aquarium environment.

Waste plant material and the debris your Clown Killifish will produce can promote ammonia levels.

To avoid any potential environmental threats, you can always follow these tips:

  1. Remove waste plant material and trim plants when you do water changes.
  2. Take out decorative items and scrub them clean with a toothbrush. Do not use cleaning products. Boiling is okay if the rock or decoration can take it
  3. Use an algae scraper and water to clean the surface of the tank walls.


Any sandy or clay substrate is perfect for Clown Killifish. The only thing you need to focus on is the size of the grains. The grains will matter more for tank mates and plants. We’ll discuss tank mates below.

Community Tank Mates

As long as selecting Clown Killifish tank mates goes, you have plenty of options to choose from.

Because there is almost no problem in keeping them with fish from other species. And as they prefer staying in groups, you should never keep them solo.

They love participating regularly in social gatherings. While you will never see them crossing paths with their tank mates to harass them, the chance of outbreaks within their groups is common.

Usually, the males engage in chasing each other as a means of harmless fun. I would recommend you keep at least 8-10 Clown Killifish together. Make sure they have plenty of space to swim freely.

Here’s a list of some most compatible tank mates for your Clown Killifish:

  1. Small Plecos
  2. Betta Fish
  3. White Cloud Minnows
  4. Gouramis
  5. Small Barbs
  6. Corydoras Catfish
  7. Danios
  8. Small and peaceful Tetras

Poor Tank Mates

Any aggressive fish or fish that is too small to end up in their diet is a poor choice.

Even if their tank mate is a peaceful fish but doesn’t match their size, Clown Killifish can get eaten up by the hungry tank mate.

  1. Tiger Barbs
  2. Cichlids
  3. Large Plecos


If you’re someone with past fish-keeping experience, you can breed them without any hassle in a home aquarium. But before you move on to the first part of their breeding method, understand their behavior.

Males tend to act harshly toward females. And due to their conduct, you might see a female unable to cope with her counterpart. Here is one breeder’s perception of this process from The Secret History Living In Your Aquarium. Check it out below.

To avoid unsuccessful breeding, you can keep 2 females with one male. This way, if the first female doesn’t show interest, the male can pair up with the second one.

Just make sure the pair gets along trouble-free.

Now, you can start off with creating a separate breeding tank. It is almost impossible to breed them in community tanks. The reason is obvious: larger numbers of fish will result in mismanagement.

In their breeding tank, place live floating plants. They will use these plants to lay their eggs on. Also, they can act shy during and right after pairing up. Make sure you give them different hideouts to use.

Some fish-keepers use spawning mops. They place the mops and eggs somewhere else for the eggs to hatch. If you choose plants from my recommendations, they will easily serve the purpose.

To condition, a perfect breeding environment, maintain pH levels. The ideal count should range from 5.8 to 6.5. The water temperature should be around 71° F to 77° F. And the water should be soft for helping them feel a homely effect.

They pair after every two months and can produce up to 1200 eggs in a course of a year.

Diet plays an important role in preparing them for a healthy breeding season. Feed them foods like brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, bloodworms, and earthworms. Whatever food you go for should be rich in protein.

Once you’re done with creating an ideal tank for breeding, leave them to breed on their own. They start the procedure within one day, given you have been preparing them for breeding for a couple of weeks.

Clown Killifish are not good to stay with their eggs. The parents can attack and eat the fry. So, it’s better to guide the fry to a separate tank with the same water parameters. Or, you can remove the parents from the tank.

Initially, the fry will hide among the floating plants at the surface. They do so either because they don’t feel comfortable or because they naturally feel good around surface areas.

For the proper nourishment of the fry, feed them green algae. After a couple of days, introduce infusoria to their menu.

They will also start taking juvenile nematodes. Make sure you feed them twice or thrice a day. As they stay on the surface and find it hard to get food on their own, you should give them vinegar eels. You can also add newly hatched brine shrimp for further nourishment.

Vinegar eels stay at the surface, which makes them an easy target for young Clown Killies.

Food and Diet

As carnivores, Clown Killifish need a mixed diet of live and frozen food. Given their size, they need only small portions of protein for a better living.

In their natural habitat, they eat insects using their upturned mouths. Or whatever they get in the shallow water.

You can feed them:

  • Baby Brine Shrimp
  • Mosquito Larvae
  • Microworms
  • Moina
  • Fruit Flies
  • Small Grindal Worms
  • Walter Worms

Common Health Problems

Throughout the article, I have kept stressing over how important clean water is for a healthy Clown Killifish.

Whenever the water quality gets compromised, these freshwater fish can interact with different fish diseases.

Unlike other species, Clown Killifish can handle these messy and troublesome situations. But how long they stay upbeat is difficult to tell.

They are small fish coming from slow-moving streams. While as a beginner, keeping Clown Killifish might sound easy. But if any disease intrudes on your tank, you are very likely to mess up the situation even more.

Here are some common diseases they are likely to fall prey to:


Fluke is a parasitic infection. It commonly attacks tropical fish.

Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Increased Mucus
  2. Staying very close to the surface
  3. Red spots
  4. Lethargy
  5. Loss of appetite


Your Epiplatys annulatus can get affected by a bacterial infection called Columnaris. This disease is commonly known as Cottonmouth.

Unlike other diseases, this ailment grows rapidly and infects other body parts really fast. It can lead your pet to die if you don’t treat it on time.

Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Frayed fins
  2. White spots/patches appearing on the head gills or other body parts
  3. Presence of lesions on the back


Ich is a very common disease in fish. Like fluke, it happens due to parasites.

Here are some common symptoms:

  1. Visible white spots on fins or all over the body
  2. Severe itching
  3. Lack of activity

Fish Lice

Like humans, a lot of different fish species can get lice. It is easy to help your fish get rid of these tiny crustaceans.

Here are some common symptoms:

  1. A drastic change in activity
  2. Itchy skin
  3. Abnormal swimming

Apart from the cottonmouth disease, you can easily treat other ailments. In case there any severity of disease in any of your fish, it’s better to separate them from the rest of the community.


How big do they get?

The average size of a Clown Killifish is 1.2 inches. They can sometimes stretch themselves up to 1.4 inches based on the individual fish. Females are usually smaller than males. They are usually just over an inch overall.

How many of these should be kept together?

The ideal number is 8. You should never keep a solo Clown Killifish. Because moving into communities helps them stay happy. If you have a larger tank, feel free to go over the recommended number.

Are they easy to keep?

Clown Killifish are very small, fun-loving, and social. Even though you should not house them as a total beginner, a good understanding of what goes into making ideal tank conditions for them will help.

Are they Hardy?

Clown Killifish are pretty hardy and a wonderful addition to home aquariums. But they are a few diseases you have to keep an eye out for. Such as Ich, Cottonmouth, Fish Lice, and Flukes.

What size tank do they need?

A 5-gallon tank gives a single Clown Killifish plenty of space to swim around, explore what is in their tank and arrange social gatherings without any hindrance. But keeping them in larger groups or with other fish determine the size of tank. If you keep them in groups, and add fish from other species, go for a bigger tank.

Where are the rocket types?

Clown Killifish come from Western Africa. They inhabit shallow streams, rivers or sometimes ponds located in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. You can also find them on and offline now. Because they are successfully bred worldwide and are sold locally.

Are they aggressive?

clown killifish Their predatory nature might force you into believing that they are aggressive. It is true to some extent though. Since males tend to act hostile towards each other. But their hostility is always fun-intended.

How do you take care of them?

To properly look after a Clown Killifish, you need to understand how it tends to behave in a new environment or around fish from other kinds. As they are immune to drastic water changes and water impurities, never let ammonia and nitrate levels sit in the tank for longer periods. Keep water temperature around 73 F° to 79 F°. Also, keep the water soft (4 to 8 KH) with slightly higher pH levels (6.0 to 7.0).

Closing Thoughts

Clown Killifish are a great option for anyone looking for an active and interesting nano fish to add to their aquarium. With their great personalities and easy breeding, they make a perfect choice for any aquarist. Have you kept them before? Let us know in the comments!

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