Clown Knife Fish (Chitala ornata): The Ultimate Guide

Common Name(s)Clown Knife Fish, Spotted knifefish, Clown Featherback
Scientific NameChitala ornata
OriginSouth Asia, Thailand
Temperature Range75-82°F
pH Range6.0-8.0
Adult Size10 to 40 inches (25- 50 cm) maximum 100cm

Clown Knife Fish are a genuinely unique fish species that can immediately be the focal point of any aquarium setup. However, owning a Clown Knife Fish is not for unexplained aquarists or the faint of heart. These fish require meticulous care and equipment setups that are usually not found in home aquariums. Another reason they don’t tend to be housed in at-home aquariums is their large size. The Clown Knife Fish can reach a length of 40 inches.

The Clown Knife Fish is a unique member of the Notopteridae family, usually endemic to Southern Asia in locations such as Thailand, Malaysia, India, Borneo, and Sumatra. They get their name from their attractive blade-shaped appearance. That unique body shape has made them a trendy choice in the aquarium hobby. Clown Knife Fish can also be found in Florida, where they are considered an invasive species. They were believed to be thrown into canals around Lake Ida, Florida. The belief is that these large fish were thrown into the canals once they grew too big for their tanks. Unfortunately, this makes sense, as these fish can grow quite quickly and reach lengths of around 40 inches.

Also known as Featherback Fish or the Spotted Knife Fish, the Clown Knife is unique not only for its appearance but also because of some things it can do. The Clown Knife Fish has been known to swim both forward and backward. The ability to swim backward makes this fish even more unique in a tank setting. Another feature that sets the Clown Knife Fish apart is their mouth. They have large mouths with many small teeth. The large mouth of the Clown Knife Fish makes them an even better predator, primarily since they are known to be a very aggressive species.

Clown Knifefish

Clown Knife Fish Care

Proper research and preparation is the most crucial step when owning any type of pet. Caring for any fish can be a difficult task if you are not prepared; the Clown Knife Fish is no exception to this. The Clown Knife Fish’s large size makes caring for them even more difficult than for other, smaller species. The tank size that a Clown Knife Fish requires is enormous, meaning that you need to have the system to support such a tank. But if you are prepared, you can own and care for a Clown Knife Fish.

Are Clown Knife Fish easy to care for?

Clown Knife Fish, or any species similar to them in size, are not easy to care for. Their large size means they require a large tank and plenty of water. The problem with a tank that size is that you must have the equipment set up to maintain water quality properly. That means a high-quality filter capable of handling a tank over hundreds of gallons in size. A high-quality filter and frequent maintenance should help keep the water free from ammonia, bacteria, and nitrogen caused by fish waste and degrading leftover food.


The Clown Knife Fish is endemic to slightly tropical areas, whether that be Southern Asia or Florida. That means any tank that plans to house a Clown Knife Fish needs to be within the proper temperature range for the well-being of the fish. Most experts recommend keeping a Clown Knife Fish tank between 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the size of the fish and the tank required, your heater must be powerful enough to keep your entire tank in that range. Any significant temperature changes could lead to unwanted stress on your fish which may result in infections or illnesses.

Water pH

Water Ph is an essential parameter of any tank, but unfortunately, most novices overlook it. Thankfully that shouldn’t be the case with Clown Knife Fish, as no beginner should own a fish of this size that requires this much care. The recommended pH level of a Clown Knife Fish tank is between 5.5 to 7.0. pH is a parameter that must be checked regularly, usually once a week. Any slight fluctuations in pH levels could quickly and negatively affect the fish in your tank. With carefully monitoring, you can catch and fix any changes in pH before they become a much bigger issue.

Clown Knife Fish Size

Clown Knife Fish is a giant fish that requires an even larger tank to care for it adequately. On average, the Clown Knife Fish can grow to around 100 centimeters, or 40 inches, which is over 3 feet in length! However, when kept in a tank, the Clown Knife Fish usually only grows to around half that size, approximately 20 inches. The largest Clown Knife Fish ever recorded in Florida reached an astonishing 31 inches in length and weighed around 10 pounds. Most experts say that the Clown Knife Fish can grow at a rate of nearly one inch per month, which means that you need to have a tank large enough to accommodate that rapid growth rate.

Food and Diet

Clown Knife Fish are known to be predators, which means that they like to hunt for their food. However, Clown Knife Fish can be trained to take frozen, live, or dead food, but they will almost never eat flakes or pellets. Many people tend to feed their Clown Knife Fish live feeder fish or shrimp, which helps keep them occupied because they can hunt them. When Clown Knife Fish are young, you can feed them with earthworms, bloodworms, or even sliced prawns. You can provide your Clown Knife Fish with whole prawns, large earthworms, and sliced fish as they age. However, the Clown Knife Fish can sometimes get a bit picky and may not eat food that they have previously eaten. If they ignore one type of food, trying another one is likely to help them eat. It would be best if you were to remove any uneaten food from their tank. Uneaten food will begin to decay and pollute the water, which isn’t healthy for any species in your tank.

Clown Knife Fish (Chitala ornata)
Clown Knife Fish (Chitala ornata)

Clown Knife Fish Lifespan

The lifespan of any pet depends entirely on the care you provide them, and fish are certainly no different. Many inexperienced people consider fish to be the easiest pet to have. They believe you barely have to care for them, that you only have to feed them once a day, and that you don’t even have to clean up after them. They have no idea how truly wrong they are. Fish require some of the most meticulous care out of any pet you could ever adopt. The Clown Knife Fish is no exception to that. The unique and huge Clown Knife Fish can live for upwards of 10 years. But they will only reach that age if given the care they deserve.

Clown Knife Fish Tank Size

Clown Knife Fish tend to be on the larger side, reaching upwards of 30 inches in the wild. That means they need a tank that can accommodate their larger sizer. Most experts recommend a minimum tank size of 110 gallons or 500 liters. However, the tank should be double that size on average. Two hundred gallons would give the Clown Knife Fish enough room to grow and thrive in their tank. The issue with a tank that is 200 gallons is the massive size they are. That massive precludes many from keeping them in their home. That is why Clown Knife Fish aren’t usually kept in home aquariums and are more likely found in public aquariums.

Tank Setup

The Clown Knife Fish requires a massive tank of at least 110 gallons in volume. That means that you must have systems powerful enough for the tank. It would be best if you had a powerful heater to reach and maintain temperatures between 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit in the entire tank. A power filter is also essential. Not only does will a powerful filter create a strong water flow, which Clown Knife Fish prefer. A powerful filter is also necessary to filter out all of the waste and food scraps from the Clown Knife Fish. The water quality will quickly suffer if those things are not filtered out. Plants are also necessary component when setting up a tank for the Clown Knife Fish. The plants should be placed along the back and side walls of the tank. That placement allows the fish plenty of room to swim and also creates plenty of places for them to hide. As for places to hide, the Clown Knife Fish prefers plenty of places to hide. You can also add caves and thick plants, giving them options for hiding places. They also like swimming waters to be shadowed, so you can place floating plants on the top of your tank to help achieve that. For the most part, Clown Knife Fish tend to spend most of their time in the middle area of the tank; however, they can sometimes rise towards the top in order to get air or eat.


Clown Knife Fish can be bred in captivity, but it rarely happens and is extremely difficult. This difficulty seems from their large size. Most hobbyists don’t have the tank space required to have two fully grown Clown Knife Fish in the same tank. That is why Clown Knife Fish are usually commercially bred.

However, it is possible to breed Clown Knife Fish in captivity. The first step to doing that is to identify a male and a female Clown Knife Fish. Identifying the differences between male and female Clown Knife Fish isn’t too tricky. The male Clown Knife Fish has a longer and more slender body shape than their female counterparts. The next step, and the one that might be the most important, is having an enormous tank. You’ll want to set up the tank with plenty of shelters like caves and large plants. Large flat stones on the bottom of the tank are also highly recommended.

A breeding tank also needs specific water conditions to help encourage the Clown Knife Fish to begin breeding. Most experts recommend a ph level between 6.0 to 6.5. Temperature is equally as important. 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit is the recommended temperature range for the Clown Knife Fish breeding tank. The female Clown Knife Fish will lay thousands of yellow eggs on floating plants or other flat surfaces in your tank. Once the eggs have been laid, the male Clown Knife Fish will begin to protect them. He guards them closely and cleans the eggs of any waste that is in the tank.

Once the Clown Knife Fish eggs begin to hatch, you should move immediately move the fry to a new tank. The Clown Knife Fish fry can be fed tiny brine shrimp. Once they are large enough, you can begin to feed them live or frozen foods.


Ich is one of the most common diseases that can affect Clown Knife Fish. Ich is a common illness that can inflict all different types of aquarium fish. Ich can be easily diagnosed by the sudden appearance of white spots on the body of the infected fish. Ich is easily treated with medicine and shouldn’t be fatal if caught early enough. The easiest way to prevent infection or illnesses in your Clown Knife Fish is by ensuring your filter is strong enough for your tank. The Clown Knife Fish is extremely susceptible to bad water. A filter will help clean the water of anything that could cause the water quality to go down.

Where can I find Clown Knife Fish for sale?

As with most species of fish, the Clown Knife Fish can easily be purchased online. But like with anything, make sure you carefully research any online retailer before you buy from them. The price of the Clown Knife Fish is dependent on the size of the fish you are purchasing. On average, a single Clown Knife Fish can sell anywhere between $30 and $200.