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Top 5 Popular Catfish to Enjoy in Your Next Community Aquarium

Catfish are an amazing type of aquarium fish because of their special, cat-like whiskers and useful clean-up abilities. However, many catfish are known for having bottomless appetites that will swallow anything that can fit inside their big mouths. If you like community fish tanks as much as we do, you may want to avoid ginormous species like the redtail catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) or striped Raphael catfish (Platydoras armatulus). Instead, check out these popular (and much smaller) catfish that can be commonly found at pet stores.

1. Cory Catfish

Corydoras splendens (emerald cory catfish)

The quintessential, community-friendly catfish has to be Corydoras catfish. With more than 160 species in this genus, they come in all kinds of patterns and colors, but most of them have armored scales, a wider head, and barbels or whiskers on their face. The usual varieties you can find at pet stores include the bronze cory and albino cory (Corydoras aeneus), panda cory (C. panda), emerald green cory (C. splendens), and peppered cory (C. paleatus).

Cory catfish are well-loved because of their derpy personalities, constant shuffling on the ground while they look for food, and habit of randomly “winking” at you. The corydoras sold in the aquarium hobby stay between 1–3 inches (3–8 cm) and can easily live in a 20-gallon aquarium. Preferred water parameters will depend on the species, but in general, they can live in temperatures of 72–82°F (22–28°C) and pH levels from 6.5–7.8. As a bottom-dwelling schooling fish, get a group of at least six fish of the same species, and feed them lots of different meaty foods, like sinking wafers, frozen bloodworms, and freeze-dried tubifex worms. For more details, see our full care guide and a list of our top 10 favorite corydoras.

2. Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus sitting on a plant leaf

While corydoras catfish are excellent at slurping up food scraps and other leftovers in the substrate, otocinclus (or “otos”) are your go-to fish for dealing with algae growth. The 20 or so species in the Otocinclus genus are excellent algae eaters for cleaning up smooth surfaces covered in soft green algae, brown diatoms, and biofilm. They enjoy living in a mature, seasoned aquarium with pH between 6.0–7.5, 70-79°F (21-26°C), and soft to hard GH. Because of their passive temperaments, keep these 1.5- to 2-inch (4–5 cm) catfish with other similar sized tank mates (e.g., chili rasboras, celestial pearl danios, kuhli loaches, and adult cherry shrimp) that won’t outcompete them for food.

Otocinclus sometimes get a bad reputation for being weak, but they are actually quite hardy as long as you (a) pick only the fattest, healthiest otos from the fish store and (b) get them eating as soon as possible. Not all otos like eating the same thing, so try feeding them Repashy Soilent Green, canned green beans, and blanched (or slightly boiled) slices of zucchini. For more info on how to pamper your otocinclus, check out this blog article.

3. Glass Catfish

Kryptopterus vitreolus

The Asian glass catfish or ghost catfish is a 2.5-inch (6.5 cm), midwater schooling fish with an unusual appearance. Its common names come from its clear, slightly iridescent body that allow you to see the skeleton and internal organs. As a shyer oddball fish, make sure to get a group of six or more to bolster their confidence, and house them in a 20-gallon or larger tank with lots of aquarium plants and driftwood to provide hiding spots. They do fine in temperatures of 72–82°F (22–28°C), mildly acidic to neutral water, and moderate hardness. Because they have smaller mouths, feed them little foods like fish flakes, nano pellets, baby brine shrimp, and daphnia. Glass catfish get along with many other community fish, such as tetras, danios, corydoras, and smaller gouramis.

4. Upside-Down Catfish

Synodontis nigriventris

Another unique fish on our list is the upside-down catfish from west Africa. This splotchy, brown-colored fish has the special ability to swim upside-down, allowing it to scavenge for food on the undersides of rocks and branches. It has a bushy face of barbels, a high, rounded back, and a dark-colored belly to help with camouflage while inverted. This 3- to 4-inch (7.5–10 cm) oddball would thrive in a 30-gallon aquarium or bigger with plenty of hardscape and broad plant leaves where they can perch upside-down. They prefer water parameters between 72–82°F (22–28°C), pH from 6–8, and moderate to hard GH. Because of their size, they go well with many peaceful and semi-aggressive animals that are too large to be swallowed, such as Congo tetras and kribensis cichlids. With their ability to feed both from the ground and the water surface, you can feed them almost any fish food, including krill flakes, freeze-dried brine shrimp, pellets, and frozen foods.

5. Pictus Catfish

Pimelodus pictus

If you’re looking to stock a larger tank, consider the lovely pictus catfish. Growing up to 4–6 inches (10–15 cm) in captivity, this species is recognized for its long, trailing whiskers and beautiful, silvery body covered in black spots. Their fin spines can sometimes get caught in fish nets, so it may be better to use a plastic container if you need to transport them to another tank.

This energetic swimmer needs a 4-foot aquarium or longer with dimmer lighting, some hardy, low light plants (e.g. anubias and java fern), and areas to take shelter. They are quite hardy and can thrive in pH levels of 6–8, moderate to hard GH, and 72–78°F (22–26°C). They will happily gorge themselves to the point of obesity, so feed them a wide variety of meaty foods and adjust their portion size until they have a slightly rounded abdomen. Good tank mates include similar-sized, active fish that won’t nibble on their whiskers or get eaten by the catfish — such as medium-sized gouramis, barbs, loaches, and mollies.

Bonus: Plecostomus

Female bristlenose pleco

Plecostomus catfish (also known as plecos or suckermouth catfish) are a group of more than 500 species. They typically have a wide head, armored body, and large suckermouth for grazing on surfaces. However, be careful not to accidentally buy a giant-sized pleco that is best suited for monster tanks. The common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) is still often sold at pet stores as a 3-inch (7.6 cm) magical cure for getting rid of algae, but they can grow up to nearly 2 feet long and create large amounts of waste.

Instead, look for the much smaller bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus spp.) and rubber nose pleco (Chaetostoma spp.), which stay between 4–6 inches (10–15 cm). They can be kept in a 20- to 29-gallon fish tank or larger, and most can live in typical tropical temperatures between 74–80°F (23–27°C) and a pH range of 6.5–7.5. As nocturnal fish, they appreciate dimmer lighting and plenty of caves and hides to choose from. These two types of plecos are omnivores and enjoy a well-balanced mix of sinking fish foods such as Repashy gel food, wafers, frozen foods, and canned green beans. Read more about them in our plecostomus article.

We hope you get a chance to try some of these fascinating catfish. While Aquarium Co-Op does not ship live fish, we encourage you to peruse our preferred online retailers to order high-quality fish with excellent shipping.


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