Erpetoichthys calabaricusReed(Also: Reedfish; Snake Fish; ropefish)

Geographic Range

Erpetoichthys calabaricus is distributed solely in tropical Africa, where it occupies habitats ranging from flowing rivers to flood plains and internal river deltas.


Erpetoichthys calabaricus resides in the muddy/silty rivers of Africa, where, because of the muddy water, there is poor visibility.

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Erpetoichthys calabaricus has a snake-like appearance, with a yellow ventral surface and greenish black dorsal surface. This species has specialized scales, which are called ganoid scales, and it has nostrils or nares on tentacles that protrude from the head. Also on the head are passive electroreceptive organs(ampullae). This species also has one-rayed dorsal finlets instead of a singular dorsal fin.


Erpetoichthys calabaricus has external fertilization of eggs with sperm.


Erpetoichthys calabaricus has no defined social system, although they tend to congregate when they are in an aquarium. In terms of behavior, their skill at capturing prey is quite interesting. This species can sense electric cues (from the gills of small crustaceans and fish) in their environment with ampullae (electroreceptors) and use this information for prey capture.

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Erpetoichthys clabaricus is an omnivore. While it mainly feeds on small crustaceans, insects, and small fish, it will also sometimes feed on dead organisms and algae or other plant materials.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Erpetoichthys calabaricus is used in the small pet trade.

Conservation Status

Erpetoichthys calabaricus is not endangered, although it is limited to a fairly small number of rivers.

Other Comments

One very interesting and quite remarkable things of this species is its primitive lungs. With these lungs, Erpetoichthys calabaricus can live up to eight hours out of the water if its skin is kept moist.


Susan Miedler (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


uses touch to communicate


Northcutt, R.G. (1986) Electroreception in Nonteleost Bony Fishes. In T.H. Bullock and W. Heiligenberg (eds) Electroreception. John Wiley and Sons, NY.

Pitcher, Tony. Behavior of Teleost Fishes. Chapman and Hall: London, England, 1993.

Bullock, T.H. The Phylogenetic Distribution of Electroreception: Evidence for Convergent Evolution of a Primitive Vertebrate Sense Modality. Brain Res. Rev. 6,25-26