Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide


This little species goes by many names, Banded Killifish, Annulatus Killifish, Rocket Killifish and Clown Killifish to name a few. It has been in the hobby for as long as I can remember, but has recently shot into stardom with the ever-growing popularity of nano aquariums.

I first kept Clown killifish in the early 90s when they were not as readily available in the trade. Local fish stores refused to stock them as they were notoriously hard to keep alive. Back then most Clown killifish that ended up in the trade were wild-caught, and because their habitat stretched through Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, you never really knew what locality you were getting. 

Some were collected from blackwater forest bogs, and others were collected from slightly brackish areas. They would be sold to the west as just Annulatus with no locality. So, when they were imported a lot would just die within 24 hours or not survive the travel. This is because they were collected from various habitats with different water parameter needs, and bagged altogether for shipping. I believe this is why Clown killifish got the reputation of being too difficult to import or keep in the aquarium.

That was many moons ago with most Clown killifish today being bred in captivity, producing a more robust fish that is happy in most water conditions. However,  wild-caught can still be found in the trade and seem mostly to be imported from the Sierra Leone region, where the water tends to be soft and acidic.   

At Castle Dawn Aquatics we would easily sell up to 300 of them a week they have become so popular. You can’t swipe on social media anymore without seeing them in every nano setup, and for good reason. Their beautiful colours, small size and gentle nature makes them perfectly suited for the delicate environment of a smaller aquarium.


Clown Killifish (Epiplatys Annulatus) Care Summary

Scientific Names:

Epiplatys annulatus - Boulenger, 1915


Annulatus: derived from the Latin annulus, which means "ring," in reference to the banded colour pattern of this species.

Common Name:

Rocket killifish, Banded killifish, clown killifish, Annulatus killifish, Rocket panchax




Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa.

Maximum Size:

3.5cm (1.3 ").


Spawn onto plants such as moss.

Sexual Dimorphism:

Males’ caudal fin is beautifully colour whereas females tend to have no colour or yellowish hue.

Food & Diet:

Live, frozen and dried foods. Prefers live food.


 20°C - 26°C (68-79 deg F).


4.5 - 6.5

General Hardness (GH):

71 -143 ppm (1 - 8 dGH)

Carbonate Hardness (KH):

17-107 ppm (1-6 dKH)

Tank Size:

 Minimum 5 US gallons.


3-5 Years.


Peaceful with other species.

Suitable For:

 Advanced Beginner and above.

Conservation status:

Least Concern



Clown killifish are native to habitats throughout Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in West Africa. They are commonly found in as little as an inch of water in slow-moving forest streams and stagnant swamps.

The water in their habitats tends to be soft, acidic blackwater although depending on the locality of the species, they can also be found in brackish conditions.

Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide Aquarium Natural Habitat

The natural habitat of Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) is rich in tannins and full of forest debris. Credit: Russel Tate

A Clown killifish habitat is often layered with leaf litter and forest debris, particularly those found in Sierra Leone. Species collected from more open areas such as slow-moving streams, prefer to hang around under small lilies and among grass reeds, as they don’t have the security offered by the mass of debris found in swamps.

Due to the large area where Clown killifish can be found, variants in the species have appeared. Such as different colouration and size, this has led to enthusiasts including the location data in the species name to help keep bloodlines pure.


Clown Killifish Care

Aquarium Setup:

Clown killifish can be housed in as little as 5 gallons a trio. Regardless, if you intend in keeping them in a nano or biotope aquarium, a cover is essential as the species can be rather skittish and will jump out given the opportunity.

A long aquarium is more suitable for Clown killifish than an aquarium with a lot of depth. Clown Killifish spend most of their time on the surface, so, an aquarium with a larger surface area is best, especially if you intend in keeping a small group. 

Castle Dawn Aquatics Aquarium Botanicals Natural Decor is Perfect For Creating a Natural Aquascape for Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus).

Our blackwater aquarium botanical packs are ideal if you wish to create an aquascape closer to Clown killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) natural habitat. 

Clown killifish do not shoal in the traditional sense, they enjoy the company of their own species but prefer social distancing and keeping to their own little space to hang around in ... Don't we all.

This is one of the reasons why some fishkeepers fail with Clown killifish in nano or micro aquariums as they believe them to be a shoaling species. If too many Clown killifish are kept in a small space, it can cause mild aggression among the males, causing the taunted to die from stress as there is nowhere to escape.


Biotope Aquarium:

A Clown killifish habitat is rich in tannins and forest debris, particularly leaf litter. This can be very easily recreated using our aquarium botanical packs and leaf litter sets. They will contribute to the blackwater conditions and bring the water hardness and pH down to a desirable level. 

Surface plants and cover are essential or the use of floating botanicals to provide cover. Plants such as floating Ricca, Water lettuce and floating Indian fern are all ideal as they don’t mind the acidic water.


Display Aquarium:

Depending on the size of the aquarium, below 5 gallons do not keep anything more than a pair. The species will benefit from the aquarium being heavily planted to make up for the absence of botanicals and leaf litter. Like a biotope aquarium, do not forget to include floating plants, they will provide additional cover, but will also limit leaps out of the tank.




Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide Aquarium Nano Filter is Ideal for a Clown Killifish Setup

This nano sponge filter provides good filtration without causing a strong flow or disruption on the aquarium surface.

Micro air-driven filters are ideal for Clown killifish. The species loves aquariums with little to no flow. Water tends to stay still or even stagnant in its natural habitat. If the species were to be kept in an aquarium with a power filter they would eventually exhaust themselves and die.

PRO TIP: If your Clown killifish is spending most of its time in the lower or mid part of the aquarium the filter flow is too strong.



Clown killifish are flexible when it comes to aquarium lighting but low to medium light is preferred by the species. In the wild, they come from forest areas where light has difficulty penetrating the habitat. So, they are not used to strong direct light but can easily adapt to it, if needed.

If strong light is to be used in the aquarium incorporate a lot of floating plants into your aquascape design to provide shelter for the species. 

However, it is worth noting that Clown killifish will appear washed out in strong lighting. This seems to be a survival trait of the species when they are out in the open exposed to direct light, they fade in colour to make them less noticeable to predators.


Water Parameters:

Clown killifish enjoy an aquarium with a pH between 4.5 – 6.5 with a general hardness (GH) of 71 -143 ppm (1 - 8 dGH) and a Carbonated hardness (KH) between 17-107 ppm (1-6 dKH).

Always check with your LFS or breeder that you are purchasing your Clown killifish from what the water parameters are of the aquarium they are being housed in. Although the species is able to handle a wide range of pH, KH and GH it does not adapt well to immediate changes. 

It is best to set up their aquarium with the same water parameters as the tank you are purchasing them from, and gradually adjust them to a more suitable prameters if needed.

IMPORTANT: At lower pH levels, the nitrogen cycle will slow and eventually stop. It will take a bit of knowledge to maintain the aquarium's water parameters to prevent the loss of your clown killifish. If you are a beginner get more information before dropping your pH levels.

BEGINNERS NOTE: Do not use Co2 in blackwater aquariums with a low pH as it can drive the pH down which could result in a pH crash, killing the aquarium inhabitants.



In the home aquarium, Clown killifish are happy in temperatures between 23°C - 25°C (73-76 deg F). 



Clown killifish are picky eaters and need live foods to thrive. Yes, they will pick at frozen and dry foods, but you will find your Clown killifish slowly wasting away on a diet that does not consist of live foods. Live foods such as baby brine shrimp, wingless fruit flies or grindle worms through a feeder close to the surface are ideal for Clown killifish. 

NOTE: If your Clown killifish are captive-bred there may be a chance that they are on a dried food diet, so check with whoever you are purchasing from beforehand. If they are on dry food, supplement their diet with live foods mentioned above for optimum health.


Tank Mates:

Clown killifish can be kept in a species only aquarium or with other small non-boisterous species. The most common question we get asked in regards to tank mates are:

Are Clown killifish compatible with Betta fish?

Bettas are diverse in their behaviour as they are in colour, so you know your Bettas personality best. If your Betta is laid back then it would be ok to keep them with Clown killifish.

However, if they are a little boisterous it is not recommended. We would also not recommend adding a betta to a tank that already contains Clown killifish simple because you are not aware of their behaviour traits.

Are clown killifish compatible with Caridina shrimp?

Yes, they are suitable tankmates. Shrimp tend to keep to the lower part of the aquarium whereas Clown killifish spend their time at the surface. The Clown killifish may get curious from time to time and give a gentle nip, but in general, they leave each other alone. However, shrimplets that venture too far up the aquarium are fair game.



Sexual Dimorphism:

Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide Male and Female Pair

Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) are easily distinguished apart when it comes to males and females. 

It is very easy to tell the sexes apart, the males regardless of the variant will have coloured fins, particularly the caudal fin, which contributed to one of their common names the rocket panchax. 

The female fins are washed out and nearly completely void of colour, depending on the variant they may have a slight hint of yellow or brownish hue to them but no colour that comes close to the males.


Setup and Mating:

Breeding Clown killifish is very straightforward. There are two commonly used methods to breed the species. One is the introduction of spawning mops in a tank with plants removed. This pair will spawn on the mop and the eggs are removed by the fishkeeper and raised separately from the parents or stored in peat to hatch later.

The spawning mop method is common practice for breeding Killifish but personally, when it comes to Clown killifish I find the eggs are so small and delicate, that it is very difficult to remove them without damaging them.

So, my preferred method is what is called ‘’Long Term’’. Long term means leaving the fish to their own devices in a heavily planted aquarium, and before you know it you will see fry swimming around the tank. I find this method yields a higher success rate, and you simply remove the sub-adults as they grow.

Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide Aquarium Egg

Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) egg attached to Egeria densa. Credit: Unknown

Use bushy plants like Java moss for the Clown killifish to spawn on, they will also deposit their eggs on the roots of floating plants at the surface. The adult Clown killifish don’t tend to cannibalize their own, but as more fry appears from multiple spawns, the bigger fry will happily dine on the newly hatched.

Clown killifish will breed in most conditions but from personal experience, I find dropping the pH to around 5.0 will almost certainly induce spawning behaviour. So, if you are having trouble breeding them, try lowering your pH a little to get them in the mood.


Fry Care:

Clown killifish eggs typically hatch within 1.5 weeks, and the fry can only eat the smallest of foods as they are so tiny. Feed the fry on infusoria or vinegar eels for the first 2 weeks after hatching. Once they are a little bigger they will happily accept baby brine shrimp.

IMPORTANT: One thing you may notice when breeding Clown killifish is a huge gap in the male to female ratio. This is because males grow a lot quicker than females, and the females end up being food for the bigger males. Once you can identify the sexes, separate and raise them apart.

PRO TIP: We commonly use Catappa Indian almond leaves or Logan leaves as natural prevention of velvet and fungus in our fry tanks.


Clown Killifish Conclusion

Castle Dawn Aquatics Clown Killifish (Epiplatys annulatus) Complete Care Guide - Are clown killifish right for you?


This little fish is beautifully coloured, well-tempered and a delight to keep. It is ideal for smaller aquariums and apart from its picky eating habits, it is relatively easy to care for. They also make an excellent fish for beginner fishkeepers looking to advance themselves, as undoubtedly, they will give you a little challenge with huge rewards.


We hope you enjoyed and found this article useful. If you have any further questions about clown killifish care please leave them in the comment section and we will get back to you.

The article was written based on personal knowledge and experience in keeping the species. It may differ from your own experience or opinions of the species.

Disclaimer: All images are credited accordingly, if an image is miscredited please contact us at