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SOUTH AMERICAN LEAF FISH (Monocirrhus polycanthus)

Regular price $29.99

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Family Polycentridae
Origin Amazon and Rio Negro Basins
Social Aggressive
Tank Level All
Minimum Tank Size 20 to 25 gallons
Diet Carnivore
Breeding Egg layer
Care Moderate to difficult
pH 6.0 to 6.5
Hardness 2 to 5 dH
Temperature 77 to 82 F (25 to 28 C)

Origin and Distribution

The South American Leaffish hails from the Amazon River basin in the countries of Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia, and Venezuela. It lives in shallow water where it hides among the vegetation in the riverbed, facing downward. Hidden from its prey by its surroundings, its camouflaged body, and its transparent fins, these fish are nearly undetectable until they attack.

Colors and Markings

The South American Leaffish looks extraordinarily like a dead leaf, floating among the vegetation toward the bottom of a tank. Like a leaf, it is small, oval-shaped, and flat from side to side; both its anal and dorsal fins are spiny, creating a body margin of jagged edges, like a perfect leaf outline.

This fish is yellow to brown with random markings as well as three lines running from the eye to the belly, from the mouth to the caudal fin, and from the eye to the dorsal fin, resembling the veins of the leaf. Many have a quarter-inch-long flap of skin protruding from the lower lip that looks like the stem of a leaf. It has a huge mouth relative to its size.

So good is its camouflage that even in a net with assorted dead leaves and twigs, it is likely to be returned to the water unseen — unless it moves. To complete the deception, the only fins that normally move, the pectorals and the rear tips of the dorsal and anal fins, are transparent and nearly invisible even when in motion.

An even more impressive aspect of the South American Leaffish is its uncanny ability to alter its camouflage while lying in wait for prey. Like a chameleon, its colors may change in order to blend in more perfectly with its background whether in the wild or in captivity.


An ambush predator, the leaffish lies in wait of any prey that will fit into its very large mouth. This fish can eat its own weight in live fish every day. Even though it is only about three inches full-grown, it will clean out your entire community aquarium tank in a week if the other fish are smaller than it is.  For this reason, it is best to keep this species on its own. If you do want to include other fish in the tank, choose larger, more robust and aggressive species such as the Armored Catfish or medium-sized loricariids.

South American Leaffish Habitat and Care

To thrive, the South American Leaffish needs soft water and dim light. Floating plants can help to recreate the fish's natural habitat and keep harsh light from filtering down. Because this fish hunts in ambush and is easily frightened, it also needs plenty of large-leafed plants and driftwood as objects to hide behind. Water filtration in the aquarium should be sufficient to maintain good water quality, but keep the water flow as still as possible.

South American Leaffish Diet and Feeding

Leaffish do well in an aquarium as long as they eat live fish as their main diet. In order for this fish to be kept alive, each fish must be fed the equivalent of at least three adult guppies per day, or they will quickly weaken and die. Guppies are eagerly eaten, but feeding large, live food can be costly. In some places, such as the southern states, there is an abundance of small native fish that can be caught and fed to the Leaffish.

Leaffish typically swim or hang in the water at an un-fish-like, head-down angle. While this clever rouse gives the three-inch leaffish wonderful protection from larger predatory fish, the main value of the camouflage is as an aid in capturing smaller fish. The leaffish may drift with the current until an unsuspecting smaller fish swims near, or it may sidle ever so slowly up to a fish until its mouth is almost touching. Then it quickly opens its enormous mouth to create a vacuum that sucks the smaller prey inside.