Sooner or later most aquarists end up keeping and or trying to spawn some type of Anabantoid. The most common of which is the Betta splendens. Fish from the genus Trichogaster, such as the Pearl Gourami and the Blue/Gold/3-spot Gourami or of the genus Colisa, such as the Dwarf Gourami are probably the next most common types. Occasionally you will find a Paradise fish or a Croaking Gourami as well.
There are several species of Anabantoids in each of the 19 genera available to the aquarium hobby. Of those 19, the genus Ctenopoma is not often available but is well worth picking up when it is.
The name Ctenopoma comes from the fishes comb-like or spiny scales. Each scale has pointy extensions on it which is more predominant in the males than the females of this genus. I suggest the use of fine mesh nets on these fish as, in my experience, the coarser mesh nets may cause the scales to get caught in it, much the same as the barbed ventral fins of the catfishes.
According to H.J. Richter's Gouami and Other Anabantoids, TFH publications, the book I used as reference for this article and an excellent hobbyists’ book as well, Ctenopoma range in size from 3 inches to 10 inches as adults. The colors are generally a variation of brown to olive-brown in color with some reds and blues in some species.
Ctenopoma come from west and central Africa to south-central Africa and east to the Rift lakes. All the other Anabantoids come from the Asian continent, from east India along the coast of the Indian ocean, and east to the Malay Peninsula, then north along the far eastern coast to an area just south of the southern tip of Japan. Yes I know this is confusing. Just consider it like the area of the U.S. from Texas to Florida and then north to Virginia only on the Asian continent and covering more area.
Ctenopoma are found mostly in flowing water's, some of it very fast flowing. The water is described as being mineral poor, soft (dH = 6) and a pH range of 5 – 6.5. This is a good fish for people who have R.O units or distillers available. It may also be beneficial to filter this type of water through peat. They prefer slightly cooler temperatures compared to the other Anabantoids. In the range of 70 – 75 degrees is good.
The Ctenopomas that I have kept have been quite hardy. They are stocky built and can be quarrelsome amongst themselves but seem to get along with most tankmates that are too large to get into their big mouths.
I have kept four 6-inch Ctenopoma kingsleyae with 1-inch Cherry barbs without losing any barbs. This is not to say they weren't chased around a lot though. I would recommend keeping just a few in a large species tank. Except for the bigger species that I have kept, they have tended to be rather shy and prefer to hide away quite a bit of the time. A planted tank of say Java Fern with some driftwood in a 20 to 40 gallon tank would be good. I would also put some Duckweed on the surface to cut out some of the light as well. This seems to make them feel more secure and therefore come out to be viewed more often.
As far as feeding, they will take dry food but my fish prefer floating pellets from Hikari (TM) or Tetras (TM) Doromin sticks over flake foods. They do not seem to chase after the sinking foods very much. As for live foods, they like mosquito larvae, white worms, earth worms and meal worms that are not too big.
Breeding these fish is supposed to be no easy task. A good challenge for the experienced breeder. They are bubble nest builders for the most part and their eggs float.They are supposed to spawn in the typical Anabantoid fashion, complete with spawning embrace, etc. This is all that I can legitimately tell you because I have not been successful at getting them to spawn yet.
As I said before, most of the Ctenopoma are rather drab in coloration. A few are quite nice and they have interesting shapes as well. Those that would be of greatest physical interest to aquarists are C. acutirostre, C. ansorgii, C. fasciolatum and C. oxyrhynchum. C. acutirostre or the Leopard Ctenopoma has a more disc shaped body and is lighter in its color with spots all over its body. Ctenopoma ansorgii looks a lot like the Paradise fish with red and blue stripes but doesn't have the finnage that the Paradise does. Ctenopoma fascioatum is usually a blue or blue-gray in color with white spots covering its body. The dorsal and anal fin rays are extended similar to that of Lamprologus brichardi but not as long. Ctenopoma oxyrhynchum has a brown and yellow brown mottled pattern but that usually changes to a more solid brown with a black spot in the middle of its body. This resembles Ctenopoma maculatum which makes me wonder as to the validity of these being 2 separate species.
As for the rest of the Ctenopoma species, each has some distinctive quality and would be very suitable for people that like to keep rare and interesting fish or are collectors and connoisseurs of aquarium fish. As for breeding, all are worth the effort due to the rarity of hobby-bred Ctenopoma. These fish are easy enough to keep for even the less experience aquarist but not recommended for the raw beginner. In any event, let us not forget this Anabantoid.