Black Ghost Knife Fish 101: Best Detailed Guide & More (2022)

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: March 20, 2022

The scientific name for Black Ghost Knife Fish is Chitala Chautala (Hamilton, 1822). They are also commonly referred to as Spotted Spiny Eel or Clown Mastacembelus.

There are a few common names for members within the genus of Chitala, but most of those common names are now considered invalid.

However, one name can still be used "Chitala ornata," because it is the oldest name and has not been reclassified since Hamilton first described the Black Ghost Knife Fish in 1822.

Black Ghost Knife Fish is a group name of fish in the family of Mastacembelidae.

Mastacembelids, also known as spiny eels, are classified under order Anguilliformes and suborder Saccopharyngiformes. They live With freshwater fish and coastal waters throughout Southeast Asia, Australia, and most notably Africa.

Facts And Characteristics Of Black Ghost Knife Fish

Given below are a few facts and characteristics of black ghost knife fish

How Do Black Ghost Knife Fish Look Like?

Black Ghost Knife Fish are so-called because of their black coloration along with the ghostly pale eyes that give it a spooky look.  

Black Ghost Knife Fish

Their scientific name is Mastacembelus erythrotaenia, which means reddish-striped torpedo. They have a deep, laterally compressed body covered in large round scales and a silver underside.  

They lack pelvic and dorsal fins and have an anal fin that extends along the entire length of their long thin tail. Their snout is elongated into a tube-like structure that can be retracted back into the head when threatened.

Black Ghost Knife Fish come in a wide array of different colors. The main color is black (hence the name), but some may be brown, greenish-brown, or olive.

Adults are usually deeper black than juveniles; it can be said that adults are more 'solid' black while juveniles appear to have more subdermal yellow scattered throughout their black.

The male Black Ghost Knife Fish is smaller than the female and has a more pointed anal fin. In addition, the male has a gonopodium, which is a modified anal fin that is used to fertilize the eggs of the female during spawning.

Black Ghost Knife Fish Habitat

Black Ghosts Knife Fish are nocturnal and prefer dark, calm waters. The live-in slow-moving fresh or saltwater with a mud or sandy substrate. They prefer plants that provide shade and natural covers, such as mangroves or seagrasses in the wild.

Black Ghost Knife Fish habitat

Black Ghost Knife Fish are found in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia and Thailand. They are most commonly found in slow-moving tidal rivers, marshes, swamps, ponds, and flooded forests. They can be found alone or in small groups, with some species living in symbiosis with other fish.

Black Ghost Knife Fish Growth & Lifespan

Black Ghost Knife Fish grow to about 20 inches and no more than 30 inches in captivity, but they can attain a larger size in the wild.  

Black Ghost Knife Fish growth and lifespan

Female Black Ghost Knife Fish tend to be larger than males, and juveniles are much smaller than adults, reaching only about an inch in length.

Black Ghost Knife Fish have an average life span of five to seven years with proper care. The male usually lives shorter than the female due to their territorial nature.

Temperament Towards Tankmates

Black Ghost Knife Fish are nocturnal creatures that spend the day time hiding in dark, tight spaces. They are timid fish, and new additions to an aquarium should not be added during the night, so they have time to settle before being bothered by their tank mates.  

Black Ghost Knife Fish temperament

They are extremely shy and will spend most of the day hiding in caves or plant roots, especially when first introduced to a tank.  

At night they become active hunters, but in a very passive manner. They wait in their cave until a fish swims by then attempt to use their extendable tube-like snout to suck their prey into their largemouth.  

They can also use this tube-like snout to defend against other fish, but only the boldest Black Ghost Knife Fish will try to fight with another fish.

Temperament Towards People

Black Ghost Knife Fish are very timid and should be left alone if added at night or early morning. They are nocturnal creatures but still may be active during the daytime in low-light aquariums or very dimly lit tanks for whatever reason.

Black Ghost Knifefish are shy fish; if placed into a brightly lit tank with lots of activity, they will spend most of their time hiding in caves and plants to avoid being bothered.

However, because they are nocturnal and people tend to view fish mostly during the day, there can be cases where Black Ghost Knife Fish will become so stressed out by their owner near constantly that if given a cave or other hiding spot, it may prefer to hide in its cave all day.

Black Ghost Knife Fish Breeding

Black Ghost Knife Fish are relatively easy to breed as long as their requirements are met. In the wild, Black Ghost Knife Fish mate during the rainy season (summer).

Females produce adhesive eggs that the male fertilizes. The female attaches the fertilized eggs to aquatic plants and rocks.

Black Ghost Knife Fish breeding

The breeding process starts with the purchase of a group of juvenile Black Ghost Knife Fish. Females should be slightly larger than males to prevent injury to the male while breeding. Males will claim territory and defend it against other males.

A suitable aquarium for breeding Black Ghosts is around 30 gallons with live plants, large flat rocks, and driftwood roots or caves for the fish to spawn. The pH levels should be around 7.0-7.5, with a temperature between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Black Ghosts are egg layers that scatter their eggs during spawning, which makes them difficult to breed in an aquarium setting.

After spawning, it is often easiest to remove the parents to prevent them from consuming their eggs or fry. Once the eggs hatch, the fry is difficult to raise due to their small size of 1/4 inch. The fry needs infusoria or baby brine shrimp to properly grow and mature.

Black Ghosts are difficult to fish to breed but have been successfully bred in aquariums with controlled measures, including temperature, pH levels, etc.

What Other Conditions Do They Require?

Boglenose Plecos, or Black Ghost Knife Fish, are found in the rivers of South America where oxygen levels are low and warm water temperatures exist.

Because of this, they prefer soft, acidic water with a pH around 6.0-6.5 and temperatures between 72-82 degrees Fahrenheit. Red Empress cichlids will also thrive in these conditions. To recreate the Black Ghost's natural habitat, you'll want to have a tank that is at least 20 gallons and use reverse lighting.

Reverse lighting is important because it allows for the deeper regions of the tank to be darker, which mimics their natural environment.

Convict cichlids also have similar habitat requirements. Boglenose Plecos are not very active fish and will only require about 1/3 of the tank to be filled with decorations since they spend most of their time in caves or plants trying to avoid being seen by predators.

Black Ghosts are extremely sensitive to changes in pH and water hardness, so you mustn't introduce anything into the tank without your fish's knowledge.

Adding live plants to the tank will help create the natural habitat for this species but should be introduced slowly so they can adjust properly over time.

This species is susceptible to infection, so regular water changes are necessary to maintain healthy water parameters that will prevent parasites and diseases.

Black Ghosts should not be kept with other fish because they are easily stressed by large groups of any kind of fish. They prefer to be alone and will become stressed if there is another Ghost in the tank.

What Are Some Of Their Unique Characteristics?

Black Ghost Knife Fish can breathe atmospheric oxygen through a modified intestine called a swim bladder.

This allows them to survive if their habitat is temporarily devoid of oxygenated water during low tide, for instance. Black Ghosts also have an extendable jaw that can protrude and allow them to catch prey that was out of reach.

Are They Dangerous?

A Black Ghost Knife Fish will not attack other fish, but they can be dangerous to smaller tankmates. Their long nose makes it easy for them to suck up unsuspecting fish that are hiding or resting on the bottom of the tank.

If you plan to keep your Boglenose with other fish, make sure they are all big enough not to be considered food. If you want smaller fish in the tank with your loricariid, then they will have to be able to hold their own against a hungry Black Ghost Knife Fish.

Black Ghost Knife Fish Care Guide

In Order to keep your black ghost knife fish healthy, you need to take proper care of it; below are a few ways by which you can give your black ghost knife fish a longer life; let us have a look at those care guides.

Feeding

Black Ghost Knife Fish are nocturnal omnivores, which means their diet consists of both meat and plant matter. In captivity, Black Ghosts can be fed a variety of foods such as brine shrimp (for the young fish), frozen or freeze-dried tubifex worms, blackworms, mealworms, earthworms, krill, bloodworms, snails (for older fish), catfish pellets, or flake food.

Black Ghost Knife Fish feeding

In captivity, Black Ghosts can be fed a variety of foods such as brine shrimp (for the young fish), frozen or freeze-dried tubifex worms, blackworms, mealworms, earthworms, krill, bloodworms, snails (for older fish), catfish pellets, or flake food.

Black Ghosts are nocturnal and rely on their sense of smell to catch prey at night. They should be fed just before the lights go out because they will begin hunting immediately after their meal.

If feeding multiple Ghost Fish, feed them small portions throughout the tank rather than one large portion in the middle. This will help with maintaining a balanced diet and prevent overfeeding.

Black Ghosts are not picky eaters and will accept just about any kind of food, but their staple should be worms and insects. Their main food should consist of live foods such as brine shrimp (for the young fish), frozen or freeze-dried tubifex worms, blackworms, bloodworms, and frozen fish.

Feed them small portions throughout the tank rather than one large portion in the middle. This will help with maintaining a balanced diet and prevent overfeeding.

Tank Requirements

Black Ghosts are sensitive fish that require clean conditions. They prefer a fish tank with plenty of vegetation, natural rock formations, and caves for shelter. The water should be soft to moderately hard with a pH between 6.5-7.0

Black Ghost Knife Fish tank requirement

The current in the tank should be gentle because this species is easily spooked by fast-moving water tanks. It is important to always provide an area with flowing water because this species cannot obtain its oxygen like most other types of fish.

Biological filtration should be strong, and regular water changes must be frequent. A Black Ghost may die if the ammonia level reaches .25 ppm, which makes it essential for their tank to be cycled.

Black Ghosts prefer a 50-gallon tank but may require a larger aquarium for spawning. The male should have about 24 inches by 18 inches of space, and the female should have approximately 36 inches by 18 inches.

A substrate should consist of sand or fine gravel because this species will gulp sand from the bottom to get the right consistency for their gills to extract oxygen.

Tank lighting should be subdued or turned off at night because this fish is easily startled by bright lights.

Tankmates

Black Ghost Knife Fish (Boglenose) can be kept with other fish or in a species only tank. They will need to be the only bottom-dwelling creature, as they will eat anything that hangs around the bottom of their tank.

The Boglenose is not aggressive and very peaceful towards other community-type fish. If there are any questions as to a certain fish's compatibility with a Black Ghost Knife Fish, you can always ask an employee at your local fish store.

As far as keeping them in a species only tank, that is up to the hobbyist. They will do well alone or in a community-type tank as long as they don't have any tankmates that would want to eat them.

Black Ghosts should not be kept with other fish because they can be stressed by large groups of any kind of fish. They prefer to be alone and will become stressed if there is another Ghost in the tank. They like to school with other fish, but this will also stress them.

Their nature and behavior make them very sensitive to other tank mates; however, some species will work.

Common Possible Diseases and Their Cure

A Black Ghost Knife Fish can get the most common diseases: Ich, fungus, and fin rot. Ich is a parasite that will cause white spots to appear on their body and fins.

Black Ghost Knife Fish diseases and cure

Fungus is also a parasitic disease that looks like black or brown fuzzy patches on the skin or fins of your fish. Fin rot is when your fish's fins start to look tattered and torn. These are very common diseases with aquarium fish, especially when they are in poor water conditions or suffering from stress.

Ich is usually caused by poor water conditions, so the first step you should take towards curing it would be renourishing the tank to recreate the natural habitat for this specific species.

Fin rot is caused by poor water conditions and stress, so the first step you should take would be to recreate a natural habitat, reduce stress and improve water conditions.

Fungus is usually caused by overcrowding, so the first step would be to give your fish more room. All of these common diseases can easily be cured if caught early enough.

The best way to treat these diseases is to look up a treatment specific for that disease and follow the directions. Usually, steps 1 and 2 will be the same: recreate natural habitat and improve water conditions. If you do not know how to treat your fish's common diseases, then we suggest taking them to a local fish store where they can be treated professionally.

They should also be fed a proper diet. Black Ghost Knife Fish are herbivores and should be fed plants and algae wafers. Protein foods such as brine shrimp or bloodworms should only be used as a treat and not given every day.

Aquascaping

Black Ghosts prefer a tank with plenty of vegetation, natural rock formations, and caves for shelter. This species is extremely sensitive to changes in pH and water hardness, so you mustn't introduce anything into the tank without your fish's knowledge.

Black Ghost Knife Fish Aquascaping

Adding live plants to the tank will help create the natural habitat for this species but should be introduced slowly so they can adjust properly over time.

Conclusion

The Black Ghost Knife fish is a very cool freshwater fish that makes a great addition to any tank.

They are fairly easy to take care of, but they can be aggressive towards smaller fish. Make sure you know all the common diseases this species could get and how to treat them before bringing one home.

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