12 Aquarium Catfish Types (And What They Need)

Aquarium catfish make a great addition to any aquarium with their signature feline-like whiskers and scavenger reputation to eat accumulated algae and biofilm keeping your tank clean. In this article, we’ll review some of the different catfish varieties to choose from when deciding which fish to purchase for your tank.

We will cover basic descriptions, habitat and diet requirements, as well as optimal water conditions for each type of aquarium catfish and indicate the ease of care in order to help you make the best informed decision.

A Quick List of the Different Aquarium Catfish Types

  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Striped Raphael Catfish
  • Synodontis Catfish
  • Plecostomus Catfish
  • Otocinclus Catfish
  • Pictus Catfish
  • Glass Catfish
  • Bumblebee Catfish
  • Upside Down Catfish
  • Chinese Algae Eater Catfish
  • Asian Stone Catfish
  • Twig Catfish

What Are the Different Types of Aquarium Catfish?

 Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras catfish come in a wide variety of colors and patterns, but all have some common features including armored scales, a flat underside, and a short snout. Most of their dorsal fins are prominent like a sail and most sports forked tails. Like most catfish, they have three pairs of whiskers on their face and big eyes with a distinctive ring around them.

Most corydoras catfish thrive with sandy or fine gravel substrate so as to protect their vulnerable undersides and delicate whiskers. They also like to hide so planting lots of aquarium plants is a good idea. They will eat almost anything including leftover food particles that fall to the substrate. It is important to feed them a well-balanced diet of sinking pellets, algae wafers, daphnia, and bloodworms.

Most corydoras catfish are very easy to take care of and can tolerate a range of pHs from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, a range of hardness from soft to hard, and a wide range of warm water temperatures. Be sure to check the specific optimal water conditions for the particular species you select for your aquarium as they all vary to some degree.

  • Care level: Easy 
  • pH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 5 to 19
  • Temperature: 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 1 to 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 10 to 30 gallons

(Want to know about 13 great corydoras to add to your tank?)

Striped Raphael Catfish

Striped Raphael catfish have a unique body shape with a large wide head that narrows to a pointed tail. They are black or dark brown in color with white or yellowish stripes that run laterally from head to tail. They also have sharp fin rays and a small hook on the end of their pectoral fins that can get easily caught in a net.

This species requires sandy substrate and lots of hiding places that can be caves, driftwood, or even small PVC pipes. Their diet is fairly straightforward as these fish are scavengers that have no problem eating leftover food that falls to the bottom of the tank. Supplemental foods such as algae wafers, sinking pellets, brine shrimp, and bloodworms will help keep them in optimal health.

Striped Raphael catfish are easy to care for and can tolerate waters on either side (slightly acidic or slightly alkaline) of a neutral pH, water hardness from soft to hard, and warmer water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 4 to 20
  • Temperature: 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 6 to 9 inches
  • Tank Size: 50 gallons

Synodontis Catfish

Synodontis Catfish are dark on their dorsal side fading to lighter brown on their undersides. They sport large bronze spots, have a distinctively arched back, and broadly forked tails.

They are not too picky about substrate so sand or gravel are good choices and will need a few hiding spots that can also provide a surface for algae to grow on which they can eat so putting a few pieces of driftwood in the tank is also a good idea.

These big catfish tend to need a fairly meaty supply of food to keep them healthy so it’s best to feed them vegetables such as squash and cucumbers, pellet or flake food, frozen insects, and even bits of dead fish.

Synodontis catfish can be slightly challenging to take care of mainly due to their large size and need for space and lots of food. In terms of water conditions, they like slightly acidic to neutral pH, soft to moderately hard water hardness, and a range of warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Medium
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 4 to 15
  • Temperature: 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: Up to 12 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons

Plecostomus Catfish

There are over 150 species of Plecostomus catfish which come in a variety of sizes and temperaments. However, most are some shade of brown and sport bony plated scales all over their dorsal side. They have moon-shaped tails, large heads, and small eyes with a specialized membrane to control the light level intake.

Most Plecostomus catfish species are avid hiders and it is necessary to equip your tank with a variety of shelter including driftwood, leaf litter, floating and rooted aquatic plants, and cave structures.

Their diet varies but most are algae eaters and very efficient cleaners as they will happily consume the build-up that accumulates within their tanks. Some also require more protein-rich food in the form of frozen or live insects, worms, and crustaceans, but most will eat both animal and plant matter.

It’s important to research the exact water parameters for the species of Plecostomus catfish you choose for your aquarium, but most are fairly easy to care for and can tolerate a wide range of pH, water hardness, and warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 7.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 3 to 10
  • Temperature: 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: Up to 24 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 to 150 gallons

(Find out whether the 15 most common plecos are right for your tank!)

Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus are very small with cylindrical bodies that narrow to a point on either end. They have a sucker mouth and a distinctive brown stripe that runs laterally down their bodies.

They usually stick to the bottom of the tank (although they do suction themselves to the sides of the tank to clean) to vacuum up accumulated algae in the sediment so choosing a sandy substrate is best. Providing plenty of hiding places especially cave structures made from the rock will help keep this species from stressing out.

Otocinclus catfish will happily eat the accumulated algae in the tank but their diet should also be supplemented with algae wafers, lettuce, spinach, and zucchini to ensure they are getting enough to eat. This species is easy to care for and usually prefers slightly acidic, soft to moderately hard, and a wide range of warmer waters.

  • Care level: Easy 
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 5 to 15
  • Temperature: 72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 2 inches
  • Tank Size: 10 gallons

Pictus Catfish

Pictus catfish are silver in color with black dots all over their body, clear fins, and body-length white whiskers. They prefer sandy substrate with lots of hiding places in the form of cave structures and driftwood. They should have dim lighting so if you use aquatic plants the best choice would be low light mosses.

Pictus catfish are scavengers that will eat almost anything including food debris and algae that fall to that substrate, but their diets should consist of a well-balanced combination of vegetables and frozen and fresh bloodworms, brine shrimp, blackworms, and beef heart.

They are not picky at all about their water conditions making them extremely easy to care for. They are optimally healthy at a neutral pH, almost any water hardness level, and fairly warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 7.0
  • Hardness: 4+
  • Temperature: 72 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Tank Size: 55 gallons

Glass Catfish

Glass catfish, as their name implies, are completely translucent so that their bones and organs are clearly visible in their long slender bodies. Fine gravel or sandy substrates are best so as not to damage their fragile bodies and it’s important to provide a lot of hiding places with rooted aquatic plants and mosses.

Glass catfish will eat pellet or flake food but they prefer live or frozen brine shrimp, grindal worms, moina, or daphnia. They can be challenging to keep as they are very delicate and shouldn’t be overfed. They prefer slightly acidic to neutral pH, moderately hard water hardness, and fairly warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Medium to Difficult
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.0
  • Hardness: 8 to 12
  • Temperature: 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 3 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

Bumblebee Catfish

Bumblebee catfish have black heads with alternating large sections of yellow and black all the way down to their tails. They enjoy plenty of driftwood and rocky hiding places to avoid stress. Although they don’t need vegetation, aquatic plants would also provide appropriate shelter areas.

The best food to feed your bumblebee catfish is a high-quality sinking pellet supplemented with earthworms, bloodworms, and daphnia. Their ideal water parameters are fairly straightforward; they can tolerate water pHs on either side neutral, moderately hard water hardness, and fairly warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 8 to 12
  • Temperature: 70 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 3 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons

Upside Down Catfish

Upside down catfish are light brown with dark brown splotches all over their body. Most notably, these catfish swim belly side up, as their name implies. They usually hang out under large coverage areas so it’s best to equip your tank with broad-leafed aquatic plants, large pieces of driftwood, and spacious rock caves.

Due to its nature of swimming, it tends to scavenge the underside of leaves and driftwood for accumulated algae and biofilms. They should also be fed preferably live (but will also accept frozen) mosquito larvae, blackworms, bloodworms, and tubifex. They will also eat sinking pellets and some fresh vegetables including cucumbers and shell peas.

Upside down catfish prefer slightly acidic waters that vary in hardness from soft to moderately hard and fairly warm water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.2
  • Hardness: 4 to 15
  • Temperature: 71 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Tank Size: 55 gallons

Chinese Algae Eater Catfish

Chinese algae eater catfish are a dull light brown or golden color with a dark brown stripe that runs laterally down the length of their body from head to tail. They also have large sucker mouths and a spiky dorsal fin. Fine sandy substrate is best for the bottom of the tank as well as a few large flat rocks on which algae can accumulate.

As denoted by their name, they eat a lot of algae that grows on the various surfaces of the tank, but as they get older and bigger they need more protein-rich foods to supplement their diet. Good choices include brine shrimp and bloodworms.

Chinese algae eater catfish are fairly easy to care for as long as you remember to feed them properly. They can tolerate slightly acidic or slightly alkaline waters, moderately hard water hardness, and warmer water temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 8 to 12
  • Temperature: 74 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 6 to 11 inches
  • Tank Size: 30 gallons

Asian Stone Catfish

Asian stone catfish can vary in shades of brown or gray depending on their surrounding environment, diet, and season of the year. They love to hide so it’s a good idea to provide a lot of aquatic plants and shelter. Sandy bottom is also preferable as they like to bury themselves in the substrate. Since they are nocturnal, dim lighting should be provided throughout the day.

Asian stone catfish will eat a combination of animal and plant matter so it’s recommended to give them a well-balanced diet of foods such as algae wafers, fresh vegetables, catfish pellets, and frozen and live critters. This species prefers slightly more acidic waters but can tolerate neutral to slightly alkaline. They thrive best in moderately hard water that can be kept at a range of warm temperatures.

  • Care level: Easy
  • pH: 5.6 to 7.6
  • Hardness: 8 to 15
  • Temperature: 64 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 1 inch
  • Tank Size: 10 gallons

Twig Catfish

True to their name, twig catfish resemble small twigs and are very good at camouflaging. They are light brown in color with two dark stripes that go from their elongated snout to tail. Due to their excellent blending in skills, they require lots of aquatic vegetation and wood structures in which to hide.

Twig catfish will eat the algae that grow on the various surfaces in the aquarium tank but their diet should also be supplemented with algae wafers and vegetables such as spinach, zucchini, and lettuce to maintain optimal health.

They can be slightly challenging to care for since they require slightly acidic waters and prefer soft water hardness although they can tolerate a degree of moderately hard water hardness. Their temperature tolerance is fairly small and making sure they have the necessary environmental surroundings is important so they don’t stress out.

  • Care level: Medium
  • pH: 6.0 to 7.0
  • Hardness: 3 to 10
  • Temperature: 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Size: 9 inches
  • Tank Size: 20 gallons

FAQs

What Are the Smallest Aquarium Catfish?

Asian stone catfish are the smallest aquarium catfish with a maximum size of just over an inch long. As a result, they don’t require a tank size larger than 10 gallons but should be kept in a school of at least three to four other conspecifics along with other peaceful fish.

Since they like a lot of hiding places, it can be hard to find them in the tank because they are so small.

Are Catfish Good for Aquariums?

Catfish are great for aquariums. Not only do they come in a variety of unique colors, patterns, and sizes to add a splash of flair to your fish tank, but they also are very good cleaners. Most aquarium catfish are scavengers and will eat any leftover food that falls to the substrate as well as the algae and biofilm build up on various surfaces inside the aquarium.

Recap

Aquarium catfish come in all different colors and sizes and can range in ease of care from beginner level to expert fish keepers. Most of them are efficient scavengers that will help clean your aquarium tank spotless by consuming any algae or biofilm build-up on the various surfaces within their home.

They require a wide range of optimal water parameters from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline waters and soft to hard in terms of water hardness, but most prefer warm water temperatures. Since they come in all different sizes from 1 inch to almost 2 feet, it’s also important to pay attention to the best size tank for the species of your choice.

Whichever aquarium catfish you choose, rest assured they will make a great addition to your aquarium tank.

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