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8 Aquarium catfish for community tanks

December 11, 2016

There are many different types of catfish available in the aquarium trade, some of which work well in the home community aquarium and some of which definitely don’t. There’s a catfish for all tank sizes and community types, so keep reading for a list of 8 catfishΒ ranging from small to medium sized and from calm to absolutely hyperactive!

Cory catfish (Corydoras)

Probably the most well-known and popular type of aquarium catfish is the genus Corydoras, collectively known as Cory catfish or Cories. There are many different Corydoras species,Β ranging from the tiny pygmy Cory which is suitable for tanks of 10 gallons (38L) and up to larger species like the bronze Cory, which needs 30 gallons (114L) or more.

All Corydoras are schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least five and preferably much more to prevent stress and shyness. Because these fish are bottom feeders that love to sift around the bottom of their tank using their sensitive barbels, a sand substrate or small rounded gravel is recommended if you want to see them show their natural foraging behavior and prevent barbel damage. Soft, relatively acidic water is preferred. When it comes to tankmates try to choose peaceful species that prefer similar water values, like small tetras.

A full pygmy Cory (Corydoras pygmaeus, hastatus and habrosus) caresheet can be found here.
A full bronze Cory (Corydoras aeneus) caresheet can be found here.

Upside-down catfish (Synodontis nigriventris)

To the surprise of many non-fishkeepers and beginners in the hobby, the upside-down catfish (pictured at the top of this article) does exactly what its name suggests: it swims upside-down. One of the smaller and more peaceful members of its genus, the upside down-catfish is suitable for aquariums of at least 20 gallons (75L) and does well in most moderately peaceful communities. They are a popular choice for Central-/West-African biotope setups, so small cichlids from similar areas (like Kribensis cichlids) could make suitable tankmates.

Keep groups of at least 4 upside-down catfish and be sure to provide plenty of hiding places to prevent stress. Feed a combination of frozen, live and pellet foods.

Otocinclus catfish

An all-time algae-eating favorite and actually on the list of best algae eaters, Otocinclus catfish are one of the tinier catfish species available in the aquarium trade and can be kept in tanks of 10 gallons (38L) and up. Their small size doesn’t make them easy or suitable for beginners, though: they’re actually a bit controversial due to their fragility and high death rate.

If you want to keep Otocinclus in your aquarium make sure it’s fully cycledΒ and, most importantly, stable. Provide plenty of hiding places in the form of plants, rocks and wood and get a group of at least five fish (preferably more). For tankmates, go for only the calmest species: small schooling fish, shrimp and other peaceful catfish like Corydoras can work well.

Glass catfish (Kryptopterus vitreolus)

Glass catfish are another strange looking catfish species: they are translucent aside from a little bit of pigmentation on the head, which means the inner organs are visible. Naturally found in blackwater habitats in Thailand, they prefer a heavily planted setup with stained water, which can be achieved by adding Indian almond leaves.

Keep glass catfish in schools of at least five in an aquarium of at least around 40 gallons (160L), because although they are one of the smaller members of their genus they can still grow to a size of around 2.5 inch (~6.5cm). Due to their relatively inactive and peaceful nature, it’s not a good idea to combine them with very active or aggressive tankmates.

Note:Β Kryptopterus vitreolus is often mislabeled as Kryptopteris bicirrhis or minor. However, these are much rarer in the aquarium trade. Kryptopteris bicirrhis reaches a larger size and lacks the completely translucent body.

Bristlenose/bushynose catfish (Ancistrus)

The genus Ancistrus, with Ancistrus cf. cirrhosus and dolichopterus probably being the most popular, is collectively known as bristlenose or bushynose catfish. The common name is derived from the bushy facial growths mature males display.

All Ancistrus are mainly herbivores that can be fed a diet of algae pellets and blanched vegetables like zucchini, although they will also happily munch on protein-based fish foods. They are a great addition to peaceful community aquariums of at least around 20 gallons (75L), although tank size obviously depends on the size of the particular Ancistrus variety you end up going for. Be sure to add plenty of hiding places.

Ancistrus are cave breeders and, if provided with the right type of environment and spawning sites such as these, should breed easily. A fun project!

Pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus)

Their extremely active nature, larger size (reaching up to 6 inches/~15cm), predatory tendencies and shoaling nature make pictus catfish unsuitable for just any regular community aquarium. However, this is no reason not to consider them: they are a real eyecatcher and a joy to watch.

Although pictus catfish are sometimes considered a solitary species, they are best kept in groups of at least five if you want them to feel at ease. For a group this size, an aquarium of at least 80 gallons (300L) is a good place to start. Go for tough, fast tankmates: anything that fits into the pictus’ mouth will inevitably end up in there. The Ancistrus catfish discussed above could be suitable, as are larger schooling fish.

As can be seen in the video below, pictus catfish have a voracious appetite. A diet consisting of sinking wafers and plenty of frozen and live foods should work well.



Asian stone catfish (Hara jerdoni)

Hara jerdoni, also known as Asian stone catfish, are a tiny catfish species that is also found on the list of nano fish for small tanks. Due to their size and low activity level an aquarium as small as 8-10 gallons (30-38L) can be enough to sustain these fish. Because they are such slow eaters they are easily outcompeted by faster tankmates, which means a very low-activity community is probably the best choice for them; in small tanks, try sticking to just some (dwarf) shrimp.

Hara jerdoni is not a very popular species in the aquarium hobby as of now so definitive info about them is still scarce, but a group of at least 3-4 fish seems preferable. Feed a high-protein diet consisting of frozen and possibly small live foods.



South American bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi, Microglanis poecilus)

Not to be confused with Pseudomystus siamensis, which is also often referred to as “bumblebee catfish” or “Asian bumblebee catfish” but grows much larger, the South American bumblebee catfish reaches a size of around 2.8 inches (~7cm) and is therefore suitable for medium sized aquariums.

South American bumblebee catfish can be kept in groups and combined with most community fish that appreciate similar water values, though be careful with smaller tankmates: despite their peaceful nature these are still catfish that will gladly eat anything they can catch. A setup with plenty of hiding places is preferred, as this species loves to hide by wedging itself into any crevice it can find. Go for driftwood, rocks and plants that don’t mind a relatively dimly lit environment, like Java fern.



Catfish to avoid

Although the list of worst beginner fish only features one catfish, some of the species for sale in aquarium stores are actually absolutely unsuitable for beginners and sometimes won’t work in most home aquariums altogether.

Shovelnose catfish (up to 40 inches/1 metre), red-tailed catfish (easily over 50 inches/120cm), common Plecostomus catfish (over 20 inches/50 cm) and other large and in most cases very aggressive catfish species are obviously best avoided unless you’re willing to go for the largest aquariums or even 1,000+ gallon ponds. These are sold as small juveniles that seem perfectly suitable for normal setups in the beginning, so research any and all fish before you buy!


If you have any more questions about the catfish on this list or want to share your own experiences, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

Cover photo: Upside-down catfish by Ricky Romero


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10 Comments

  • Reply Jared January 8, 2017 at 5:51 am

    Hi! I am cycling the 15 gallon aquarium I got for Christmas and I was planning on putting 5 zebra danios and 2 dwarf cories in the tank. Once it’s cycled, of course. I am using a Tetra brand power filter rated up to 20 gallons. Then I came and read this website, saying that dwarf cories should be kept in groups of 5+. The other websites said that the cories were gonna be fine solitary, and one website said it would do better in groups of 2+. Help! I don’t know what to do! I won’t have room for 5 cories.

    • Reply Mari January 8, 2017 at 11:43 am

      Hi! Cories are most definitely schooling fish, I have no idea why so many sites list them as non-schooling. I’ve found it’s a bit of an United States thing – they have a very different approach to fishkeeping compared to Europeans, more of a quantity over quality thing.

      If you keep just two dwarf Cories, they’re going to be very shy and stressed. I also think 5 is a low number for the danios and they’re actually better suited to at least a 20 gallon long due to their relatively large adult size and active swimming behavior. I’m not sure about the shape of your tank but I would personally skip the danios, get 8+ dwarf cories and maybe think about a smaller and less active middle layer schooling fish such as microrasbora or a small type of tetra.

      I hope that helps! Great to hear you’re planning ahead πŸ™‚

      • Reply Jared January 9, 2017 at 6:17 am

        Thanks! My tank is rectangular but bows out on the front and is relatively tall. I was planning on putting some Java fern towards the back, and maybe some Java moss too. I am a beginner, and would like easy fish. I can’t seem to find much information on any microrasboras, which makes me inclined to just get neon tetras. How many tetras do you think I could fit? Since they’re schooling fish, I expect I need five minimum. Using the one inch-to-one gallon rule, I could fit 8 cories & 7 tetras. But I could probably fudge it a little and do 8 tetras. Right? I just wanna run it past the expert before I actually set it up. And what good hiding places will the cories need? Will just the Java ferns be enough?

        • Reply Mari January 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm

          Hi,

          The plants sound good, Java fern is a very slow grower but it does grow quite large and is very decorative.

          There’s a caresheet on mosquito rasboras here on Seriously Fish, but if you want to go for neons that would work too. I think 8 cories and 8 tetras would indeed work; these are peaceful species so you can also consider adding some shrimp or small snails. Shrimp especially barely add any bioload and are great cleaners.

          As for hiding places, the Java fern will likely be fine but you can always add more plants; Cryptocoryne wendtii sounds like something that would work well in this setup, or maybe Anubias (which is very low maintenance).

          I hope that helps. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Loulou December 17, 2016 at 3:38 pm

    Hi Mari
    The barbels were lost maybe 1 1/2-2 months ago, never any sign of rot. There is maybe 2 cm of barbels left, in any case I will take your advice and just won’t worry about it. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, I love your e-mails keep up the wonderful work.
    Loulou

    • Reply Mari December 17, 2016 at 3:39 pm

      No problem, hope it all works out!

  • Reply Loulou December 17, 2016 at 12:34 am

    They have sand substrate, nitrate 20 nitrite 0 ammonia 0 PH 7.4

    • Reply Mari December 17, 2016 at 10:16 am

      Hmm. That all sounds fine. How far gone are the barbels? I don’t have personal experience with this happening but usually if fins are lost they won’t regrow properly either if they’re eroded too far. I’ve looked around a little and most sources seem to confirm this for barbels.

      In any case, as long as there is no ongoing rot I don’t think you have to worry about it too much.

  • Reply Loulou December 15, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    I have 3 peppered cory in my tank, along with 2 julii, 2 bronze and 4 albino. (60 gallons tank)
    About 1 1/2 month ago I found 2 baby peppered cories in the tank, I moved them to a 10 gallon tank to grow some and they are thriving.
    On the other hand, one of my albino lost its barbels, it is doing well but just not regrowing them, anything I can do for it?
    Love your newsletter

    • Reply Mari December 15, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      Sorry to hear your albino Cory isn’t doing well! Have you checked your water values with a drop test kit? What kind of substrate are your Cories on?

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