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Care Guide for Clown Killifish – Colorful, Top-Dwelling Nano Fish

Looking for a colorful, little fish that stays in the upper third of your nano aquarium? Say hello to Epiplatys annulatus, also known as the clown killi, rocket killifish, and banded panchax. These common names come from the alternating vertical bands of dark brown and tannish-yellow on its body and the vibrant, flame-like tail that males possess. While adult killies can reach up to 1.4 inches (3.5 cm), most of the fish sold at stores are juveniles around 0.5 inch long and won’t display their true red, yellow, blue, and orange colors until you bring them home and raise them to maturity.

male and female clown killifish

Male rocket killifish have brightly colored tails, whereas females have a clear tail.

How to Set Up an Aquarium for Clown Killifish

Because of their small size, rocket killies are one of the few species that can live in a 5-gallon nano tank or larger. As with most surface-dwelling fish, the key is to keep a tight lid or hood with all of the gaps covered so that they won’t jump out of the aquarium. They originally come from slow-moving streams and swamps near the coasts of west Africa, so provide a gentle filter with low flow (like a sponge filter) and lots of floating plants for cover.

Like most killifish, they can live in cooler temperatures ranging from 67-80°F (19-26°C), so you can keep them in an unheated aquarium with other cold water species. In fact, lowering the water temperature can help slow their metabolism and lengthen their life span, which is only about 2-3 years long.

What Tank Mates Can Live With Rocket Killifish?

Because of their brightly colored tails, you may be tempted to get all males, but they can sometimes be a bit territorial with each other. Instead, aim for a ratio of 1 male for every 2-3 females. A larger group of clown killies allows them to feel more comfortable in their environment and display their natural social behaviors.

They are a fun community fish and get along fine with other peaceful fish that aren’t big enough to eat them. In the past, we have kept them celestial pearl danios (Danio margaritatus), Norman lampeye killifish (Poropanchax normani), chili rasboras (Boraras brigittae), pygmy cory catfish (Corydoras pygmaeus), snails, and other nano species.

clown killifish swimming near water surface

As with many killifish, the banded panchax tends to stay near the surface of the water, so consider adding some tank mates that swim in the middle to bottom layers of the aquarium for greater visual variety.

Can clown killifish live with a betta fish? It depends on the betta fish’s personality. Some bettas don’t like other colorful fish that swim in the top third of the aquarium, so rocket killies would not be a good pairing. Other betta fish don’t mind the extra company and will completely ignore them, so you can always try to house them together and then separate them if needed.

Can clown killifish live with dwarf shrimp? In general, clown killifish do not seem to eat adult dwarf shrimp, such as cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi), Caridina shrimp, and ghost shrimp. However, baby shrimp are fair game, so we don’t recommend keeping them together if you plan on selling shrimp for profit. Provide more aquarium decorations and live plants so that the shrimp will have plenty of places to hide if necessary.

What Do Clown Killifish Eat?

Because of their tiny mouths and preference for swimming near the water surface, give them a wide variety of tiny, floating foods, such as Easy Fry Food, crushed flakes, and freeze-dried daphnia. However, they will also happily eat slow-sinking foods, such as live baby brine shrimp, frozen cyclops, Xtreme Nano pellets, and Hikari Micro pellets.

How do You Breed Rocket Killifish?

If you have the right ratio of males to females as mentioned before, breeding should be fairly easy. When the water is clean and food is plentiful, clown killies tend to scatter their eggs on dense floating plants (like dwarf water lettuce and riccia) and DIY spawning mops. For the highest fry survival rates, keep a species-only breeding tank and remove the eggs to hatch them in a breeding box or separate grow-out tank. The eggs should hatch in about 1.5 weeks, and then you can feed the babies tiny foods like infusoria, vinegar eels, powder fry food, and live baby brine shrimp.

clown killifish swimming in hornwort and floating plants

Use dense floating plants to encourage spawning and provide more cover for the babies if you plan on colony breeding (i.e., keeping the adults together with the fry).

Clown killifish are one of our favorite nano fish because of their peaceful nature and striking appearance that looks amazing in a planted aquarium. If you’re looking for more ideas to keep in a 5-gallon fish tank, make sure to check out our top 5 stocking suggestions.

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