Killifish

If you are here, you most likely have little or no experience keeping killifish of the genera Nothobranchius. You may have read about how difficult they are to keep, at least compared to other aquarium fish, and you may have been put off entirely. Alternatively, you may have made an impulse buy in a pet store - blinded by flashy colours, and now are scrabbling around the web trying to find out how to keep Nothobranchius.

The truth is, nothos are not at all difficult to keep (yes, caveats are coming). A solitary notho in a tank with no other species present, and access to frozen bloodworm will do just fine. They are not especially fussy when it comes to water conditions or temperature (not too far from neutral, with a temperature in the lower mid 20°s is fine), and although slightly fussy feeders can easily adapt to a diet of frozen livefoods.

Unfortunately, the Notho you purchased has a lifespan of around a year, and it's probably already a few months old..

How to house Nothobranchius

How you should keep Nothos will vary according to what fish you have, where you got them, and how many there are. The ideal set up will depend also on what you want from your fish. Here are a few suggestions on different ways to successfully keep Nothobranchius species.

Aquarium set up for a pair or trio of nothos

This is one of the usual ways killifish keepers get their fish, perhaps from an auction, shop or another killi-keeper. A trio consists of one male and two female fish, and is generally preferable to obtaining just a pair. In this circumstance, the fish should be housed together in a small tank with sponge or box filtration, some planting (if desired) and a container of peat moss in which the fish will spawn.

Nothobranchius rachovii MT04-03 Nhangau, male
Nothobranchius rachovii MT04-03 Nhangau, male over a large spawning container
Nothobranchius ugandensis, male, waiting over the peat
Nothobranchius ugandensis, male, waiting over the peat
Smaller spawning container with lid
Smaller spawning container with lid. A female notho visits the tub
Nothobranchius rachovii MT04-03 Nhangau, male over a large spawning container
Nothobranchius rachovii MT04-03 Nhangau, male over a large spawning container

The Nothos will lay their eggs in the peat moss; it needs to be collected every week or two, so should be put in a container that will keep it all in place. Spawning will throw up some peat, so the container needs to be either 1) large enough not to let the peat out, probably 4 or 5 inches deep, or 2) lave a lid (with entrance hole). Such containers can be much smaller - like a typical margarine tub. Placing peat directly into the tank looks far more natural, but should be avoided: it is hard to collect, and mixes the peat with any decaying organic matter in the tank. This is far from an ideal situation except for the shortest of periods.

Very often, a male fish will wait above the peat (often inside the container) for a visit from the female.


Rearing tank for a batch of Nothobranchius fry

When you hatch a batch of eggs (see Hatching annual killifish eggs), you will (hopefully) have tens, perhaps hundreds of fry. How you keep these fry is critical. One of the greatest problems experienced by all killifish keepers is a shortage of fish of one sex (often females). For this reason it is essential that as many fry reach maturity as possible, increasing the odds of ending up with numerous breeding pairs.

Two day old Nothobranchius fry in a few centimetres of water, above the peat from which they hatched
Two day old Nothobranchius fry in a few centimetres of water, above the peat from which they hatched. The pink bellies show the fry are feeding; it is time for them to be moved to a rearing tank.

And the way to achieve this is to raise the fry together as a batch. This should be done in a bare tank (save a sponge filter) with no plants, no decorations and dimly lit. Feed the fish heavily with newly hatched artemia. It is important to feed heavily, as this allows all fish access to food at all times. A significant number of shrimp will die uneaten, so a large apple snail (or two) should also be kept in the tank to eat them as they die, preventing pollution of the water. This permanent access to food will diminish the chance of cannibalism, and give every fish a good chance at making it to adulthood.

Nothobranchius fry do best raised in a bare tank, with dim light, no decoration and constant access to food
Nothobranchius fry do best raised in a bare tank, with dim light, no decoration and constant access to food
Nothobranchius krysanovi Quelimane MOZ04-9. With dim lighting, no obvious territories, and a high stocking density, Nothobranchius aggression is not a problem
Nothobranchius krysanovi Quelimane MOZ04-9. With dim lighting, no obvious territories, and a high stocking density, Nothobranchius aggression is not a problem

As the fish grow, other foods can be offered, but it is still very important to keep the tank bare and dimly lit. A largish tub of peat can be added, to give the young fish a chance to spawn, but nothing else should be used to decorate the tank. The idea is to prevent the formation of territories, reduce aggression between males, or at least spread it out to prevent bullying of the smaller individuals. Plants and rocks act as boundaries to territories, which males will try and defend, chasing away, and even fighting rivals. If there is no territory, and a high enough stocking density, such problems largely disappear.

As the fish grow, any individual that gets significantly larger than it's tankmates should be rehoused: these individuals are likely to predate on smaller (often female) fish.

Eventually, all fish will mature, and individuals can be rehoused as pairs/trios, breeding groups (see below), or passed on to other keepers. By this time, enough eggs will have been laid for a future generation of the species.


You have a breeding group

If you have a batch of nothos, you can keep them in a breeding group in a larger tank. As always, dim lighting will reduce aggression. You must have several males, probably a minimum of four or five; maybe less with comparatively peaceful species. Attempt to keep 2-3 females for each male. Put at least one or more spawning tubs in place. This type of set up is easily achieved if you raise a batch of fry to maturity, passing excess fish to other keepers, or as described having a Notho community tank. The only real limit to the number of fish you keep in such a set up is your ability to keep the water clean. Nothos are heavy eaters, and typical sponge or box filtration can only work effectively at certain stocking densities.

Nothobranchius males, like many fish species, will typically raise their fins when displaying to females, or challenging other males. They may flare their gills, and shake. Usually this is as far as it goes before one fish retreats, but on some occasions, and more so with certain species, things get rough. Nothos may lock jaws and shake each other. They may also bite and barge each other around. This can be a sign that you should reduce the lighting levels in your tank, or separate certain individuals. The pictures below show some Nothobranchius furzeri, one of the most aggressive species, sparring with each other. And they were in a fairly dark tank. Only the camera flash illuminates the scene for us.

Nothobranchius look at their best in a dark, richly planted aquarium, though this is highly impractical for breeding them
Nothobranchius look at their best in a dark, richly planted aquarium, though this is highly impractical for breeding them

A Nothobranchius display tank

People are naturally attracted to Nothos because of their wonderful colouration. And an African biotope, or other nicely planted tank, stocked with bright male Nothos is very appealing. If you have no intention of breeding them, and merely want to stock a display aquarium, you can do so, but these fish are expensive and short lived. In a large well planted display tank many male nothos will get on just fine. Either keep a large tank sparsely populated or a small tank densely populated. They generally don't do well in a typical community situations, getting subdued, and unable to compete for food; but won't be disturbed by shoals of small shoaling fish (lampeyes are a good choice) and otherwise peaceful top dwellers.

But most nothos keepers have such a tank in which they keep their 'spares'. The result of a group of fry with excess males. Or a retirement home for older fish, past breeding age. If you can make contact with a serious notho breeder, you may be able to source spare males.

Nothobranchius for sale

Pair of Nothobranchius furzeri «Chigamane MZCS 2008-53» (Rare Killifish)

GLASGOW, GLASGOW (CITY OF), G53, UNITED KINGDOM

$37.25


Offering a pair (male and female) of rare Nothobranchius furzeri «Chigamane MZCS 2008-53» (Inhambane Province, Mozambique) - approx 2 - 4 cm. The image used above is for illustration purposes only. This lot is based on a preorder basis. It may take up to 15 working days before this order is shipped. We combine postage if you order more fish or other goods from us. In case if for whatever reason we can't get the fish in the 15 working days your payment will be fully refunded. If there are any ... more

30 Eggs of Nothobranchius hassoni «Bukeya DRCH 08-10» (Rare Killifish)

GLASGOW, GLASGOW (CITY OF), G53, UNITED KINGDOM

$24.84


Offering 30 eggs of rare Nothobranchius hassoni «Bukeya DRCH 08-10» (Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo). DISCLAIMER: The storage conditions and package handling during transportation are out of our control. We can't be responsible if something went wrong (customs issues, dead eggs on arrival, dissolved eggs, problems with hatching, belly sliders, hatch rate, sex ratio etc.). No refunds will be sent in case of such problems. By winning this auction the winner completely agrees ... more

30 Eggs of Nothobranchius jubbi «Warfa» • Blue • (Rare Killifish)

GLASGOW, GLASGOW (CITY OF), G53, UNITED KINGDOM

$24.84


Offering 30 eggs of rare Nothobranchius jubbi «Warfa» • Blue • (Bay Region, Somalia). DISCLAIMER: The storage conditions and package handling during transportation are out of our control. We can't be responsible if something went wrong (customs issues, dead eggs on arrival, dissolved eggs, problems with hatching, belly sliders, hatch rate, sex ratio etc.). No refunds will be sent in case of such problems. By winning this auction the winner completely agrees with our disclaimer.... more

30 Eggs of Nothobranchius milvertzi «Lushiba Chienge ZAM 12-20» (Rare Killifish)

GLASGOW, GLASGOW (CITY OF), G53, UNITED KINGDOM

$49.67


Austrolebias affinis - Eggs Offering 30 eggs of rare Nothobranchius milvertzi «Lushiba Chienge ZAM 12-20» (Luapula Province, Zambia). The image used above is for illustration purposes only. It may take up to 15 working days before we ship this order. In case if for whatever reason we can't send you the eggs your payment will be fully refunded. DISCLAIMER: The storage conditions and package handling during transportation are out of our control. We can't be responsible if something went wrong ... more

Nothobranchius cardinalis "Mbwemkuru River" KTZ 85 / 28 30+eggs

NOVOSIBIRSK, NSO, RUSSIA

$14.00


Nothobranchius cardinalis "Mbwemkuru River" KTZ 85 / 28 30 eggs Incubating and HatchingIncubation In Peat. I pack eggs for shipment the same way I do for storage, so the simplest incubation method is to just leave them in the zip bag as received. If considerable moisture accumulates in the bag, open it for a day and let it dry a bit. Then reseal and store in a dark place at temperatures between 21and 27 degrees Celsium. Likewise, if the peat appears to drying out excessively, a quick spray of ... more

Nothobranchius Guentheri Zanzibar 30+eggs (Killifish)

NOVOSIBIRSK, NSO, RUSSIA

$14.00


Nothobranchius Guentheri Zanzibar 30 eggs (Killifish) Incubating and HatchingIncubation In Peat. I pack eggs for shipment the same way I do for storage, so the simplest incubation method is to just leave them in the zip bag as received. If considerable moisture accumulates in the bag, open it for a day and let it dry a bit. Then reseal and store in a dark place at temperatures between 21and 27 degrees Celsium. Likewise, if the peat appears to drying out excessively, a quick spray of clean water ... more