Black Ghost Knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons)

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Black Ghost Knifefish
Apteronotus albifrons
Black Ghost Knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons)
Name Black Ghost Knifefish
Name Lat. Apteronotus albifrons
Synonym Gymnotus albifrons
Family Ghost Knifefishes
Family lat. Apteronotidae
Order Knifefishes
Order lat. Gymnotiformes
Origin South America
Habitat Rivers
Diet Carnivore
pH 6.5-7.0
Behavior Semi-aggressive
Keeping Individual, harem
Care Level Difficult
Reproduction Egg scatterer
Breeding Difficult
Life Span 8-10 years
Protection No
Metric Units
Size 40 cm
Temperature 20-28 °C
Hardness < 10 °dH
Aquarium 500 l
US Units
Size 16"
Temperature 68-82 °F
Hardness < 178 ppm
Aquarium 150 gal

Distribution and habitat

White-fronted knifefish are widespread in the north of South America, from Peru through Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil to Guyana. There they live mostly in flowing waters, where they often stay hidden in the dense underwater vegetation during the day.


The aquarium should have a dense border planting, with numerous hiding places (roots, stones, caves) and provide sufficient swimming space. A dark substrate of fine sand or gravel covered with some foliage (e.g. sea almond tree, oak leaves), soft water, a weak current and subdued light (floating plant cover) is ideal.

No ammonia, ammonium and nitrite should be detectable, the nitrate value should not exceed 100 mg/l. To ensure the water quality and oxygen content, a filter and heater adapted to the aquarium size is required, as well as lighting for the species-appropriate day-night rhythm of the animals.


The food supply consists of artemia, mysis, mosquito larvae, snails, mussel, crab and fish meat, which is also accepted frozen, or a commercial frozen food mixture supplemented with live earthworms, fly maggots, etc., according to their size. Dry food (flakes, pellets, granules) is occasionally accepted, but should not be the main diet.

Only as much should be fed as is eaten immediately (in a maximum of 10 minutes). Regular and varied feeding promotes health and avoids deficiency symptoms

Behaviour and compatibility

It is recommended to keep them singly or in a harem (one male with several females). Keeping several animals is only possible in a much larger, richly structured tank. They can be well socialized with large, peaceful and robust South American cichlids, such as angelfish, Cichla and Geophagus species, as well as large South American tetras and catfish. Fish that are too small are considered prey.

Basically, only mutually compatible fish species with similar water condition and water temperature requirements should be socialized.

Sex dimorphism

There are no known external distinguishing characteristics.

Reproduction and breeding

Breeding in the aquarium has already succeeded several times. The eggs, up to 300 pieces, are laid in a cave or between stones. The larvae hatch after about 3 days and have used up their yolk sac after about a week. To protect the fry, they should be separated, as the parents are spawn predators

Fry must be fed several times a day with special rearing food (e.g. Artemia nauplii). In a community tank breeding is hardly possible, because the spawn is easy prey.


With their long anal fin reaching to the head, they can swim forward as well as backward by undulating movement. When swimming backwards, the filamentous tail serves as a tactile organ.

They have an electrical organ with which they constantly send electrical signals to orient themselves and locate prey

Sharp-edged or rough furnishings (e.g. lava stones) should be avoided, as they can cause skin injuries and thus infections

The well-being of the fish should be monitored regularly. Temperature should be checked daily, pH, hardness and nitrate value at least every 14 days. Regular partial water changes are recommended, even if the contaminant level has not yet reached the upper limit. Sudden changes in water quality should be avoided. Newly introduced fish must be accustomed slowly to the water in the aquarium.

Further literature can be found in your pet store.


Text: Werner Winter; Image: Ruinemans Aquarium B.V.

Source: BMELV (1998): Tierschutzgutachten - Haltung von Zierfischen (Süßwasser); RIEHL & BAENSCH (2006): Aquarien Atlas Bd. 1, Mergus Verlag; ENGELMANN (2005): Zootierhaltung - Tiere in menschlicher Obhut: Fische, Verlag Harri Deutsch

  • Gemäß § 21 Abs. 5 Tierschutzgesetz idgF