Catfish make a great addition to any community tank.
Not all catfish are the same. There are a lot of different species available and they all have different needs.
If you’re looking for the right type of freshwater aquarium catfish for your aquarium, you’re in the right place.
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10 Best Freshwater Aquarium Catfish Species
If you’re interested in adding some catfish to your community tank, here are 10 of the best species to consider.
1. Corydora Catfish
Cories are one of the most popular and most common catfish for an aquarium because they generally stay pretty small and are happy in tanks as small as 20 gallons.
They can grow to about 3 inches long and are a great catfish for beginners.
One thing to keep in mind with cories is that they’re a schooling fish and are happiest in groups of 6 or more. It’s not a good idea to get a single cory because they get very stressed when they’re alone.
Like most catfish, cories spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank so make sure you use a substrate that doesn’t have sharp edges.
2. Upside Down Catfish
One of the most fun catfish to watch is the upside down catfish. They actually spend most of their time swimming upside at the surface but can swim right-side up when searching the bottom of the tank for food.
This is a peaceful, calm breed that makes a great addition to a community tank, though there are some things to consider.
First of all, upside down catfish do best in a 30 to 40-gallon tank and need to be kept in schools of at least 5 or 6. They also prefer to live in well-planted environments and especially love broad-leafed plants.
3. Clown Pleco
If you’re set on having a pleco, the clown pleco is a great choice. It’s one of the smallest of its species and is great for smaller tanks of around 20 gallons.
One essential thing to know if you plan to keep clown plecos is that they primarily feed on driftwood so you need to add some to the tank to provide them a constant food supply.
They also like fresh vegetables like squash, cucumber, and zucchini as an occasional treat.
Other than that, their care is pretty easy. They’re a peaceful addition to a community tank through their particular eating habits might be better suited to someone with a little experience keeping fish.
4. Glass Catfish
One of the most interesting catfish to look at is the glass catfish. Also called a ghost catfish, their bodies are completely transparent which makes them a unique addition to your aquarium.
Glass catfish are a low-light species which means they like to live in areas that are somewhat dark. You don’t necessarily have to change the lighting in your tank, but you should provide them with a lot of plant coverage and plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in.
Glass catfish are also schooling fish so you should keep no less the 5 at a time. Any fewer and they can become stressed and reclusive.
5. Bumblebee Catfish
Another species that stay on the small side is the bumblebee catfish. It only grows to about 3 inches long and would be happy in a 20 or 30-gallon tank. They get their name from their unique yellow and black markings.
Bumblebees are generally peaceful but may try to eat smaller fish so pair them with fish of equal or larger size.
Because they’re a nocturnal species, they’ll be more active at night and should have plenty of places to hide safely during the day.
They should eat a mixture of pellets and meaty food and can adapt quickly to day time feedings.
6. Otocinclus Catfish
If you’re looking for an algae eater that’s low maintenance and won’t mistake your healthy plants for a meal, the otocinclus catfish might be the one for you. They’re fun to watch, easy to get along with, and have a hunger for algae.
Technically, otocinclus catfish don’t school in the way that other species do but they do prefer the company of other otos. They’re best kept in groups of 3 or more.
In addition to a heavily planted tank, these fish also need a lot of places to hide and prefer to use driftwood as cover. Plus, they need a tank that has a good water flow.
7. Asian Stone Catfish
One of the smallest aquarium catfish is the Asian stone catfish. They only grow to about 1.5 inches and have camouflage that keeps them protected. These fish are next to impossible to see when they’re staying still.
Make sure you provide them with a lot of plant cover, rock caves, and a soft, sandy substrate as they like to bury themselves at times. These fish have poor eyesight but are determined and fun to watch when it’s time to eat.
Asian stone catfish tend to keep to themselves and usually aren’t bothered by their tank mates because they’re so skilled at hiding. They do well in small groups but can also be antisocial, preferring instead to disappear.
8. Striped Raphael Catfish
Another large option is the Raphael catfish which can grow as large as 10-inches long. They need a pretty big tank, ideally 60 gallons or larger and do like to burrow at times so a sandy substrate is a must.
One of the best things about this catfish is they can live with just about anything. They’re gentle and non-aggressive so you don’t have to worry about them bothering other fish. Plus, their large size and hard armor protect them from more aggressive fish.
While these fish will school in the wild for protection, they’re generally pretty territorial and can be kept solo or in small groups.
9. Pictus Catfish
Pictus catfish have a long antenna and are interesting to look at, thanks to their silver and black spotted coloring. While they’re generally pretty laid back, they are omnivores and may try to eat fish that are smaller than them so choose tankmates carefully.
When they’re young, these catfish prefer the company of a small school of about 4 or 5 fish. They do get a little aggressive and somewhat territorial as they get older so keep an eye out for increased aggression.
A fully grown pictus catfish can reach about 5 inches long so they’re not a good fit for a small tank but will thrive in larger ones of about 70 to 80 gallons.
10. Bristlenose Pleco
While common plecos can grow as large as 2 feet long, bristlenose plecos only reach about 4 or 5 inches. They’re peaceful and can tolerate a range of water conditions and are great algae eaters.
Bristlenose plecos are great scavengers and can help keep your tank free of uneaten food but these bits and pieces aren’t usually enough to sustain them so make sure you provide them with plenty of nutritious options. They even like small pieces of cucumber and zucchini!
These fish need an aquarium that’s at least 25 gallons. They live and scavenge on the bottom of the tank to make sure they have a lot of room to explore.
How to Take Care of Aquarium Catfish?
The most important thing you can do for your aquarium catfish is to learn about the specific requirements of their particular species. That said, there are a few general things to keep in mind.
Using the appropriately sized aquarium is important. They need plenty of space to swim and a lot of caves, driftwood, and plants to hide among.
Remember, some prefer to live in schools while others like to live along so make sure you provide them what they need.
While catfish are generally pretty hardy, be sure to keep an eye on the water parameters. Ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels are very important to the survival of your tank and should be checked with testing strips at least once a week.
Change about 25% of the water every 2 to 4 weeks or, at a minimum, once a month.
Generally, catfish like a lot of plants, wood, and caves to hide in. Remember, they spend most of their time on the bottom of the tank to make sure they have enough places to explore.
Although most catfish are pretty hardy, there are some things to look out for that will tell you if something is wrong:
- Loss of color. If you notice one of your catfish isn’t quite as bright as the others, it’s a strong indicator of a bacterial infection.
- Inactivity. Catfish are generally very active and can usually be found rooting around the bottom of the tank for food. Extended periods of inactivity lasting about 3 days indicate that the fish is unwell.
- Cloudy Eyes. This is a clear sign of a bacterial infection.
- Bloat. The body of your catfish can swell and turn red if it’s suffering from an infection.
- Open sores or abscesses. These can be a sign of an infection or damage caused by another fish biting or attacking.
- Breathing Difficulties. Labored breathing can be a sign of a lung infection or an indication that something is wrong with the water.
- Inflammation. If you notice inflammation anywhere, whether it’s the skin, fins, or organs, it’s an obvious sign that something is wrong.
- Bulging Eyes. This is often a huge sign of an eye infection or systemic infection.
What to Feed Aquarium Catfish?
Most catfish search along the bottom of the tank for food and prefer sinking pellets or flakes.
That said, because most catfish are omnivores, they should also receive meaty foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms occasionally.
Don’t assume that your goldfish will be able to sustain itself scouring the bottom of the tank for leftover food. While catfish can help keep your tank clean in this way, it isn’t always enough.
Remember, each species has its own preferences.
For example, clown plecos actually eat driftwood and like some fresh vegetables every so often while other species have a diet that consists of mostly algae. Make sure every creature in your tank gets what it needs.
If you want to add some of these fun little fish to your freshwater aquarium, the very first thing you need to do is decide what kind of catfish. As you can see, there are quite a variety and each one’s needs are a little different than the next.
It’s really important to use the right-sized aquarium as some of these catfish can get pretty big. Proper care and feeding are essential if you want your goldfish to thrive.