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 catfish 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, 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.
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.
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 cycled 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: 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!