Top 6 Fish and Plants for a West African Biotope

Top 6 Fish and Plants for a West African Biotope
By : Isha Kasu
Africa is covered in vast savannas and rainforests, but don’t forget the fast rushing streams, sluggish deltas and river basins, rapid rivers, and stagnant lakes. Each of these regions are home to their own ecosystems and amazing wildlife; keeping an aquarium gives us an opportunity to recreate these natural biomes thousands of miles away from their native locations.  This is the beauty of a biotope aquarium, it conveys a community of fish and plants that naturally occur in the same region in the wild. This can be as specific as recreating a specific river or lake, or as broad as bringing together the wildlife of a whole continent. West Africa is commonly overlooked by the diverse cichlids of East Africa and the Rift Lakes, but it contains some of the most beautiful aquarium fish and plants in the trade. Below are the best fish and plants to create a West African biotope!
1. African Butterfly (Pantodon buchholzi) 
African Butterfly
The African Butterfly Fish are named after their unique pelvic fins that make the fish look like a butterfly from above. These highly specialized predators remain mostly still on the top of the aquarium or, in the wild, towards the top of the Congo Basin where they hunt small fish and insects. They remain still so as to not scare away potential prey. In the home aquarium the African Butterfly gets up to five inches and will accept frozen brine, bloodworms and occasionally flakes. Their specialized evolution is a beautiful testament to the biodiverse waters of West Africa.
Kribensis are a species of dwarf cichlids known for their hardiness and simplicity to breed. In the wild, Kribensis are found in the shallow and densely vegetated deltas of Cameroon and the Niger Delta and Niger River. Kribensis have adapted to a wide range of hardness and pH traveling between the hard and alkaline Niger Delta and softer waters of the Niger River, making them very hardy fish for the home aquaria. Along with being hardy, Kribensis are easy to sex and eager to breed. The females have a bright pink stomachs, especially when they’re ready to breed, and the males have pointed dorsal and anal fins. Kribensis only get up to three to four inches, are hardy, easy to breed, and get along with most other semi-aggressive community fish, making them an amazing fish for the home aquaria and a great example of their home waters. 
African Knifefish are a species of knifefish found in many river basins and deltas all across West Africa, including the Congo Basin, Chad River Basin, Niger Delta, Ogooue River Basin and more. In general, African Knife Fish are found in the hard and alkaline but stagnant waters of West Africa. In the wild, the carnivorous African Knife uses its electrical fields to hunt down prey at night; in aquariums the African Knife will accept fresh brine or daphnia and frozen bloodworms. African Knives will eat smaller fish that fit in their mouths, so even though they only reach eight inches in captivity, be sure to only mix them with fish that are too large to be swallowed. African Knifefish are highly specialized and only found in specific water conditions, yet are found all over West Africa
4. Congo Tetras (Phenacogrammus interruptus)
The Congo Basin is home to many kinds of Congo Tetras, most notably the Rainbow Congo Tetra. The Rainbow Congo Tetras are named after the bright rainbow color stripe they display. All Congo Tetras are brightly colored schooling fish, they form tight, active and brightly colored schools that dart back and forth across the Congo Basin or the home aquarium. In the wild, Congo Tetras are omnivorous and enjoy insects, plant matter, worms, algae and more, but in the home aquarium they readily accept flakes and pellets. These bright hardy schooling fish are amazing in the home aquarium, and proof that the Congo Basin alone houses a myriad of beautiful fish species. 
5. Synodontis eupterus, angelicus, brichardi and more
Synodontis is a genus of catfish endemic to Africa. They are also known as Squeakers or Upside Down Cats, named after their peculiar habit of swimming upside-down to feed off of floating or submerged logs. These catfish can be found all across West Africa, in the Senegal River, the Niger Delta, the Congo Basin, Lower Congo River and more. Each species has a distinct pattern, Synodontis eupterus is gray with intricate stripes and spots, Synodontis angelicus is black with bright white or yellow spots, and Synodontis brichardi has bright black and white stripes. There are hundreds of species of Synodontis, and they are all endemic to Africa. They are generally omnivorous and accept flakes, sinking pellets and bloodworms, but the maximum size varies from species to species. Overall, most species aren’t aggressive except with other Synodontis species and occasionally other catfish. Synodontis are amazing catfish and their variety shows the diversity of West Africa, even within one genus.
6. Leopard Ctenopoma (Ctenopoma acutirostre)
Leopard Ctenapoma, or Bushfish inhabit the Congo Basin and slow moving rivers and streams throughout the Central African Republic. They are ambush predators, hiding in the vegetation until they can attack their prey. In the aquarium, Leopard Ctenopomas will accept pellets, flakes, bloodworms, daphnia, brine shrimp and the occasional ghost shrimp! The leopard patterning on these fish is actually expert camouflage and keeps them hidden from prey and bigger predators, while also making them beautiful aquarium fish. The Leopard Ctenopoma is a perfect example of specialized evolution and the many unique species of West Africa. 
These fish species do amazing in planted aquaria, so here are the top uproot proof African aquarium plants!
Anubias are low light plants and are widespread throughout the aquarium trade. They’re easy to take care of and look amazing glued onto driftwood and rocks or even planted directly into the gravel
Aponogetons are bulb plants that have huge beautiful leaves. All Aponogetons go through a dormant period once a year where they lose their leaves, but they will soon regrow their leaves even better than before. Aponogeton ulvaceus is known for it’s tightly curled leaves that can get up to 18 inches! 
3. Red Tiger Lotus
Red Tiger Lotus
Red Tiger Lotus is a moderately easy red plant to keep, they aren’t extremely demanding for light or nutrition and grow big red lilies that can rise to the surface and act as a lily pad. 
Crinum calamistratum is a hardy bulb plant from West Africa, with tightly crinkled leaves extending from the bulb. These plants are slow growers, but look extremely beautiful when established.
5. Golden Nesea
Gold Nesea
Golden Nesea is an easy way to add color to a planted tank, it has bright red stems and golden leaves. As a stem plant, trimmings of Golden Nesea can be re-planted to form a new plant. Golden Nesea is susceptible to being uprooted by Synodontis species at first, but once it has established roots it becomes much harder to uproot.
6. Water Lettuce
Water Lettuce
Water Lettuce is a beautiful floating plants that is amazing at keeping aquariums clean, they have long intricate roots underwater and soft overlapping above the water.
Overall, West Africa is an extremely biodiverse region with highly specialized predators, fast moving schools, colorful dwarf cichlids,  and a biotope would be an amazing way to connect with the beautiful and biodiverse habitats of West Africa. If you’d like help assembling a display for the wildlife of West Africa, all of these fish and plants are available at, or an associate at Absolutely Fish can show you everything you would need.

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1 comment
  • where to buy the healthiest aquarium plants.

    Gerald on

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