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Catfish Information: Types and Care

Active and full of character, catfish can make a great addition to any aquarium. Whether you’re looking for sociable members of a community tank or just somebody to eat up that troublesome alga, there are many choices for a catfish for your tank. 

Also known as Corydoras catfish, armored catfish, Corydoras catfish, and Cory fish, these hardy fish make up the entire genus Corydoras, which includes more than 166 named species.

The name Corydoras is derived from the Greek words kory, or helmet, and doras, or skin, which accurately describe two of the fish’s most distinctive characteristics.

Speaking of skin, Catfish are notable for having thick, leather-like skin, often beautifully patterned, rather than scales. They also have barbels, whisker-like appendages which provide them with a great deal of sensory information. They are quite physical creatures, and they should not be disturbed if they attempt to touch other fish. Also, be careful to not touch them with your own hands when you are cleaning the aquarium.

Although they may vary a great deal in their habits, most catfish have certain basic things in common. 

First, as bottom-dwelling fish, they prefer a soft substrate such as sand or smooth gravel. They often enjoy having larger polished stones to sit on. In fact, too much time spent sifting through a rough substrate can cause damage to their barrels.

Second, they like to hide so be sure that they have plenty of hiding places available. Pieces of bogwood are a great option to provide shelter and also give them something to chew on, helping to keep their mouthparts in good condition.

Types of Catfish


With so many species to choose from, it can be difficult to know what will work best for you, but the following are all very popular and good choices for your aquarium:

  • Otocinclus – Also referred to as Otos or dwarf suckers, these small and peace-loving, are happiest with several of its own kind. This attractive stripy fish is a great algae eater, peaceful by nature they will spend a lot of time hiding in and around plants or décor when not feeding. A golden variety is also available.
  • Zebra Pleco –With its stunning black and white markings, this beautiful fish is an aquarium favorite. However, it doesn’t eat a lot of algae, preferring meaty foods. It does best in a tank without other bottom-feeding fish, as it os not great at competing for food. They can also be a pricey fish to obtain.
  • Cory –Available in several varieties (Emerald Green Cory, Peppered Cory, Panda Cory to name a few) – the Cory is non-aggressive with other fish and adaptable, although this popular fish prefers to be in a group of its own kind, though. They are small bottom feeders and extremely efficient cleaners at that. Even so, its diet needs to be supplemented with frozen or live meaty foods.
  • Bristlenose Pleco – Commonly referred to as suckerfish, they are great algae eaters. Typically active at night, they will also eat any other food which drifts down to the bottom, reducing the risk of pollution in your tank. Easy to maintain and a good choice for beginning aquarists, they are also easy to breed.
  • Clown Catfish – Also known as a Clown Pleco, it is popular for its striking markings, and being a highly active fish. Smaller in size, they will grow up to 3.5 inches and being a river fish, prefer to have a current of water to swim in. A good beginner fish that will live as long as 10 years to 12 years.

Caring for your Catfish

Although most species of catfish eat algae, it’s still important to make sure that they’re getting all they need, and they generally benefit from being provided with food pellets or algae discs. Since most species are nocturnal it’s best to feed them shortly after lights out – this will also discourage other fish from stealing all their food. 

As a general rule, they will ignore most top-dwelling live food as they don’t like to venture away from the bottom of the tank. It is common to see them spend time foraging in the substrate of your aquarium, so you can leave any algae growing because your catfish will eat it.  In fact, your catfish being a scavenger will eat just about anything and everything. This makes keeping and feeding Catfish very easy. They will consume pretty much everything you put into the aquarium. If snails are overtaking your tank, it would be a good time to get a Clown Pleco to reduce or eliminate their population, as an example.

As always the core of your Catfish’s diet should be a high quality pellet. As we have stated for the variety of catfish we reviewed, most of them spend large periods of time in hidden areas, near the bottom of the tank. So be sure to use sinking pellets to be sure it reached them and reduce competition for food (which they typically do not like). To provide some variety in their diets, other foods to use to feed them include: 

Vegetables (can be boiled in advanced to soften them – cool them before dropping into the tank)

Fresh Foods (Brine Shrimp and Beef Heart) 

Frozen Foods (Bloodworms and Blackworms) 

As stated, Catfish do not deal well with competition for food and can sometimes suffer from bullying by other fish and may become aggressive in response. If you suspect this is happening, make sure to observe the tank carefully so you can determine where the trouble is starting.

It is less likely to be a problem if you keep several catfish together. Most species of catfish can live peacefully in a community with other fish, but carnivorous ones will eat fish that are half their size or smaller.

Despite being hardy where water quality is concerned, catfish can be very vulnerable to the side effects of medication. If you need to medicate your main aquarium you should first remove them to a quarantine tank.

Conclusion

Catfish come in all different colors and sizes and are great fish for beginners and can also be a valuable addition to a mature aquarium.  Though they can be shy at first, once they’ve established themselves, they can be lots of fun to watch and interact with.

Most of them are efficient scavengers that will help clean your aquarium tank spotless by consuming any algae or other organic build-up on the various surfaces within their habitat.

They do require a wide range of optimal water parameters, but most prefer warm water temperatures. Since they come in all different sizes, from one inch to almost two feet in length, it’s also important to pay attention to the best size tank for the species of your choice or conversely match the right species to your existing tank.

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