Leopard Ctenopoma – Ctenopoma acutirostre Pellegrin

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This fish prefers a heavily-planted aquarium and does not much appreciate robust or overly aggressive tank-mates. It is decidedly predatory in nature and smaller fish are not safe in a tank with the Leopard Ctenopoma.

Scientific Name: Ctenopoma acutirostre Pellegrin, 1899; Family – Anabantidae; Order – Perciformes
Synonyms: Anabas acutirostris (not valid), Ctenopoma denticulatum (not valid), Ctenopoma petherici (not valid)
Etymology: Ctenopoma from Greek ‘ktenos’ = comb (from the comb-like spines on the gill cover); acutirostre from Latin meaning ‘long nose’.
Common Names: Leopard Ctenopoma, Spotted Ctenopoma, Spotted Climbing Perch, Leopard Bushfish
Region: Congo River basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa
Maximum Size: 15cm (5.9 inches). Usually smaller in the aquarium.
pH and Hardness: tolerates a wide range of water conditions. Typically from pH 6.0 – 8.0 and dH from 5.0 – 12.0
Temperature Range: decidedly tropical; temperature range between 75 – 82 degrees F.


Labyrinth fish from Asia are very familiar to most aquarists. Gouramis like Trichogaster and Colisa grace thousands of tanks. The Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens) is a world-wide favorite. Even the Paradise Fish (Macropodus opercularis) has a loyal following. Far less commonly kept are the African genera of anabantoids. These include the so-called ‘bushfish’ of the genera Ctenopoma, Microctenopoma and Sandelia.

One characteristic common to all labyrinth fish is the presence of a specialized respiratory structure called the ‘labyrinth’ organ. This is an auxiliary breathing apparatus that allows labyrinth fish to utilize atmospheric air when the dissolved oxygen content of the surrounding water gets too low. Labyrinth fish utilize this organ to greater or lesser degrees, depending on the type of fish. Regardless of type, most labyrinth fish can occasionally be seen at the surface gulping air even if the dissolved oxygen content of the water is high. Labyrinth fish are often the last fish to die in ponds that dry out during periods of drought.

Habitat and Niche

Ctenopoma acutirostre is found in the rivers, streams, lakes and swamps of the Congo River basin. It may live in areas of fairly rapid water movement but seems to prefer places with less current. This fish is primarily an ambush hunter. It will lie in wait, often at the edge of thick vegetation, for an unsuspecting smaller fish to blunder into range. The Leopard Ctenopoma will also actively hunt at night. Food items include smaller fish, amphibians and insects.


The Leopard Ctenopoma has a rounded, laterally compressed body with large protruding eyes and a long, pointed snout. Unlike its gourami relatives, C. acutirostre has a large mouth as befitting its carnivorous nature. The spines of the dorsal fin are prominent.

The base coloration ranges from reddish-brown to golden yellow with many irregular spots and blotches of dark brown or black. The ventral color is light yellow to white. All fins except the pectoral fins and the tips of the dorsal, caudal and anal fins are colored. In this the Leopard Ctenopoma resembles the Leaf Fish of the Family Polycentridae. One of the darker spots at the base of the tail often forms an ‘eye spot’. The pattern tends to fade in older individuals.

The Leopard Ctenopoma

The Leopard Ctenopoma head on. This is the last thing that many small fish ever see on this earth.

Breeding the Leopard Ctenopoma

To the undoubted joy of smaller aquarium fish, reports of captive breeding of Ctenopoma acutirostre are relatively rare. They are egg-scatterers and provide no parental care to the young.

Sexes are practically impossible to distinguish on the basis of body shape or coloration. Males have well-developed spines behind the eye and at the caudal base. These are less well-developed in females. Examination of these spines requires the use of a good magnifying glass.

Personal Experiences with Ctenopoma acutirostre

I first encountered this fascinating fish in the 1970s and have rarely seen it for sale since then. Only recently was I fortunate enough to find a tankful of small C. acutirostre for sale at a local fish store. I immediately purchased three of them.

Ctenopoma acutirostre is a relatively shy fish, only exhibiting aggression to others of its own kind. This usually takes the form of body wagging displays and occasionally head butts.

This fish prefers a heavily-planted aquarium and does not much appreciate robust or overly aggressive tank-mates. It is decidedly predatory in nature and smaller fish are not safe in a tank with the Leopard Ctenopoma. As previously mentioned, the mouth is quite large on this fish and it is capable of swallowing a fish up to 1/3 its own size. As long as its tank-mates are too large to be considered food, the Leopard Ctenopoma makes a fairly good community fish. I do not recommend that it be kept with overly aggressive types of cichlids, as it will not defend itself vigorously.

Tank size should be a minimum of 20 gallons for adult fish, though juveniles do very well in smaller aquariums. Plenty of hiding places should be provided.

Feeding the Leopard Ctenopoma is usually not difficult as they will take almost any kind of meaty food. I have had success with frozen bloodworms, appropriately-sized pieces of shrimp (fresh, frozen or freeze-dried), brine shrimp (live and frozen), pieces of earthworm, and the occasional small feeder fish. Flake food is generally ignored completely.

Care should be taken with these fish as they can and will jump out of the aquarium. Openings should be secured as much as is possible.

One interesting behavior that C. acutirostre shares with various Leaf Fish is that it seems to enjoy a good yawn every so often. It is then that the aquarist gains a full appreciation of the size of the mouth.


Ctenopoma acutirostre, the Leopard Ctenopoma, is an uncommonly encountered ‘oddball’ that makes an excellent community fish as long as its tank-mates are too large to be swallowed. It is an efficient hunter of smaller fish and exhibits very interesting behavior. I recommend it highly.


Herbert Axelrod, Warren Burgess, et al., 1985. Dr. Axelrod’s Atlas of Freshwater Aquarium Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc. , New Jersey.

Herbert Axelrod, et.al. Exotic Tropical Fishes – Looseleaf Edition. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., New Jersey.

Hans-Joachim Richter. 1988. Gouramis and Other Anabantoids. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., New Jersey.

Robert J. Goldstein. 1971. Anabantoids – Gouramis and Related Fishes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., New Jersey.

J.J. Hoedeman. 1975. Naturalist’s Guide to Fresh-Water Aquarium Fish. Sterling Publishing Co., New York.

Article on Ctenopoma acutirostre at Fishbase.org

Edited 7/25/04 to add new picture.

Last update: 2006-02-06 10:23
Author: Fruitbat

Filed under Fish Profiles, Freshwater.