15 Best Aquarium Catfish Species
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Ranging in size and behavior, catfish are a popular species recommended for beginners and enjoyed even by experienced aquarists.
Smaller sized Catfish, especially those of the Corydoras genus, are picked by aquarists for their prolific scavenging abilities that’s extremely helpful in tank cleaning and maintenance.
Catfish got their name from their whiskers-like barbels, however, not all Catfish have them. And just like they differ in size and features, they also differ in their personalities, with some species being friendlier than others.
If you’re looking for the best aquarium catfish species, I have good news for you – there are plenty of options that will make your aquarium stand out. If you want to learn about the most popular freshwater fish species, check out my linked article, where you can find lot of useful information and images.
15 Popular Aquarium Catfish Species
Here are 15 of my favorite catfish that I recommend for aquarists of all skill levels:
1. Cory Catfish
They’re hardy fish with a peaceful temperament and don’t grow larger than 2-3 inches. You’ll mostly find them scavenging the bottom of your tank looking for leftover food.
Because of their scavenging behavior, they make good “tank-cleaners” picking up leftover food and thus preventing the release of too many toxins into the aquarium.
Cory Catfish are schooling fish, so it’s best to keep them in groups of six or more, especially that they’re sociable creatures that get along with many other fish.
Keeping them alone or in fewer numbers can cause health issues and change their temperament – they become even more timid and less active.
Because they’re bottom dwellers that spend a lot of time scavenging in the substrate, there’s a risk of injury to their sensitive bellies if kept in gravel substrates, therefore, there are some special requirements you should look out for:
- Provide sand substrate: coarse gravel and other sharp substrates can injure their barbels and underbellies, so choose sand instead;
- Stable water parameters: Although Cory Catfish are a hardy species that’s more forgiving when it comes to water conditions, they do enjoy stable tank conditions;
- Omnivorous diet: Corys are an omnivorous species, meaning they require a balanced diet of meat-based and plant-based foods.
Avoid keeping Corys with aggressive tank mates, because they’re just too peaceful to stick up for themselves when aggressed. Also, make sure not to overfeed them!
If cared for properly, Corys can live between 12-15, so make sure you’re up-to-date with their requirements.
2. Bristlenose Pleco
Known for their algae-eating behavior and peaceful temperament, this bottom-dwelling Catfish species is also referred to as a “living vacuum cleaner” for your tank.
And for good reason – this Catfish species will spend its time vacuuming the substrate of your tank, cleaning it from leftover food and algae.
Bristlenose Plecos make good companions for other peaceful freshwater species and they do well in community tanks of 40 gallons or more.
Because of their easy-going temperament, peculiar look and hardy nature, Bristlenose Plecos are a species that I recommend even for beginners.
This Catfish species remains relatively small compared to other Catfish, averaging a length of 4-5 inches. They have an unusual appearance, which makes them easily recognizable.
Their wide head is “decorated” with fleshy tentacles, which give them an unusual appearance and earned them the name Bristlenose.
Their body is flat and colored brown, green, or gray with yellow or white spots. It’s not a fish that’s particularly beautiful, but extremely useful and mellow.
If you’re thinking about keeping Bristlenose Plecos, here are a few things to know:
- They’re herbivores: Bristlenose Plecos enjoy an herbivore diet, therefore you should feed them spirulina wafers, algae, flakes and granules, but also soft veggies as well;
- Avoid aggressive tank mates: Many peaceful fish are great companions for this Catfish species, however, avoid aggressive tank mates;
- Provide hiding places: They’re mostly nocturnal, so provide enough hiding spaces (driftwood, caves, rocks), where they can withdraw during the day.
Bristlenose Plecos are easy to care for, they do well in a variety of tank conditions, and they’re peaceful fish that can be placed in a community tank together with other peaceful tank mates.
3. Glass Catfish
The Glass Catfish is truly a unique species that’s sure to make itself noticed in any tank. It’s an impossible fish to miss, precisely because of its transparent body that makes the viscera and spine of the fish clearly visible.
The reason behind their completely transparent body is that they lack any pigments, so much so that even the muscles are light.
Because of their peculiar body, they’re also called Ghost Catfish. These fish make good community fish, however, they’re quite sensitive, so keeping them with peaceful mates is a must.
This species prefers well-established tanks as they’re sensitive to water parameters. They’re also schooling fish, so keeping them in groups of 5 or 6 is the best way to ensure they don’t become reclusive and timid.
In the tradition of other Catfish species, this species too has barbels that are located on their upper lip and they’re elongated.
In contrast with the other Catfish species that I discussed so far, Glass Catfish are rather demanding, and I don’t recommend them at all for beginners.
That said, here are some of the things to look out for when keeping Glass Catfish:
- They’re low light fish: This means that they don’t enjoy bright lights and should be provided enough hiding places and coverage in a community tank;
- Stable water conditions: Because they’re sensitive to changing water conditions, you should strive to keep things stable (they enjoy slightly acidic water and temperatures in the high 70s);
- Omnivorous species: Ensure a balanced diet that contains high quality flakes and freeze-dried blood worms.
Glass Catfish are an interesting species that I recommend for experienced aquarists who can ensure the optimal tank conditions required by this fish.
4. Pictus Catfish
The Pictus Catfish with their unmistakable silvery body spotted with black dots and their long barbels are a hobbyist favorite.
Like many other Catfish species, this too is a schooling fish, so keeping them in schools of 5 or 6 is best.
Watch out, however, for signs of aggression because as these fish mature, they tend to display aggressive behaviors.
That said, they can be kept in a community tank, if you keep them with fish that aren’t small enough to fit their mouths.
They usually stay under 5 inches, so it shouldn’t be a problem to find size-appropriate tank mates.
Because they’re an omnivorous species, they’ll enjoy a diet that contains both meat and vegetable matter – a mixture of high-quality sinking pellets, vegetable, frozen bloodworms, fresh brine shrimp works well.
Pictus Catfish will spend a lot of its time foraging the substrate, feeding on leftovers and algae, but make sure to feed them enough food to stay healthy and keep their aggression under check.
That said, don’t go overboard with feeding them, because of their high bio-load, so make sure you also perform bi-weekly water changes.
Other things to consider:
- Pictus fish enjoy large tanks, so make sure you size your tank accordingly if you plan on keeping schools;
- Make sure it’s the smallest fish in your tank: because of their predatory nature, they will hunt and eat your smaller fish.
Strong and energetic fish species such as Opaline Gouramis, Giant Danios, and other catfish species that fit this description make the best tank mates for Pictus Catfish.
5. Otocinclus Catfish
Otocinclus Catfish have a sizeable fan base in the aquascaping world due to their insatiable appetite for algae, interesting features and mild temper.
Because they prefer heavily planted tanks, I don’t really recommend them to a beginner aquarist, especially because setting up a planted aquarium can be expensive.
Besides a planted tank with lots of cover and hiding places (caves, driftwood, etc.), they also require good water flow.
Other than this, the Otocinclus Catfish isn’t difficult to care for — they’ll feed on algae from all surfaces of the tank including plants, without causing any damage to the plants themselves.
Their diet should be supplemented with algae wafers and soft vegetables like zucchini slices.
As for tank mates, the Otocinclus Catfish gets along well with other community tank species, especially Cory Catfish and even some shrimp and snail species like Mystery Snails, Nerite Snails and Amano Shrimp or Ghost shrimp.
Things to look out for when keeping Otocinclus Catfish:
- Keeping them with size-appropriate tank buddies: Due to its small size (approx. 2 inches), keep them with similarly sized tank mates;
- They’re herbivore: Make sure to supplement their diet with food that’s high in vegetable matter;
- Avoid stressful conditions: Ensure a stress-free environment by keeping tank condition stable.
Oto Catfish enjoy being kept in groups of 5-10 and because they’re active swimmers, they also need some space for swimming, therefore, choose at least a 25+ gallon tank.
6. Clown Pleco
The community has mixed opinions about the Clown Pleco – some say it’s a useless fish because it feeds mostly on driftwood, others focus on their algae-eating abilities.
I fall into the latter category and recommend Clown Plecos as a good alternative to the bigger Bristlenose Pleco.
If you want something smaller, yet mellow go with the Clown Pleco, which usually stays below 4 inches.
Clown Plecos are peaceful but can uproot and demolish a planted aquarium if you’re not careful. Offering them plenty of driftwood to eat will keep them happy.
Besides driftwood, they’ll happily feed on vegetables such as zucchini, cucumber, squash, etc. and even on algae, although not to the extent as other algae eaters. Still, enough to keep the tank relatively clean.
Besides their peculiar diet, the Clown Pleco is not fussy about water conditions and it’s a species that’s easy to keep.
They prefer staying in the bottom or the side of the tank and males are known to become territorials with other males around.
Except for the decent amount of driftwood that you need to supply them, there are a few other things to be mindful of when keeping Clown Plecos:
- Keep them with fish that won’t eat them: Clown Plecos get along with many species, however, large fish will eat them;
- Ensure a minimum 20-gallon tank;
- They’re difficult to breed: Don’t expect you’ll be able to breed Clown Plecos easily.
Clown Plecos are goofy-looking Catfish that can be a good addition to a planted aquarium if you want something out of the ordinary.
7. Upside Down Catfish
Talking about things that are out of the ordinary, the Upside-Down Catfish is a fish that is guaranteed to turn some heads, but not necessarily for its beauty.
As you’ve probably guessed from their name, Upside Down Catfish spend a lot of their time swimming…well, upside down.
This doesn’t mean that they exclusively swim only like this, you’ll also find them swimming normally, especially when foraging in the substrate.
Despite their peculiar way of swimming, they show a lot of resemblance to Cory Catfish in temperament and even appearance.
They enjoy being kept in schools of at least 5, they do well in larger tanks of 30-40 gallons, and they’re an omnivorous fish.
That said, they’re good community fish getting along with other peaceful fish like African Tetras. Because they’re omnivorous, you bet they’ll eat small fish that fit into their mouths.
As for the aquarium, they prefer planted tanks preferably with broad-leafed plants as they enjoy browsing the underside of leaves.
Other things to know about the Upside-Down Catfish include:
- They’re more active during the night, which means they need adequate hiding spaces like caves, driftwood and rocks to hide during the day;
- Adapts well to all types of food: This species will eat all types of food from live to dry to frozen, and will happily graze on algae, which they can easily to upside down;
- Avoid keeping it with large predatory fish: Large predatory fish will attempt eating Upside-Down Catfish, however, the fish can get lodged in the eater’s throat because the Upside-Down Catfish will erect its spines when sensing danger.
If you’re looking for something completely “upside down” for your tank, this Catfish species can be a fun addition to your community aquarium.
8. Bumblebee Catfish
Due to their small size (up to 4 inches), the Bumblebee Catfish is a great addition to 20-30 gallon tanks. It got its name from its yellow-black markings.
This Catfish species is nocturnal but will come out of its hiding place even during the day if it senses food around. It enjoys having a tank with lots of hiding places where it can retreat during the day.
Despite its smaller body, it has a wide mouth, so it can eat bigger food items too, such as sinking pellets or frozen and freeze-dried food. It can also eat fish small enough to fit its mouth.
They can be good companions for similarly sized fish, therefore, any peaceful fish big enough to not fit into its mouth and small enough not the eat the Bumblebee Catfish is a good choice for tank mate.
This Catfish species stays mostly in the lower part of the tank, where it enjoys hiding in caves, under plants, or in holes on driftwood and cracks on rocks.
If you’re planning on keeping Bumblebee Catfish:
- Make sure you avoid shrimp and snails: Anything that fits into the mouth of the Bumblebee Catfish is a potential target to them;
- Strong eaters: Feed them a mixture of sinking pellets and meaty foods like brine shrimp or bloodworms.
The Bumblebee Catfish is a sought-after species due to their small size, peaceful nature, and interesting markings.
9. Chinese Algae Eater
The Chinese Algae Eater is a larger Catfish species that enjoys feeding on the algae that grows naturally in your tank. At least it does while it’s still young and developing.
The Chinese Algae Eater can grow up to 10 inches, although it mostly stays at around 5 inches, and once it reaches maturity its taste in food can change, and it will eat smaller fish that fit its mouth.
It’s also not friendly towards fish that are similar in size and appearance, so this is something to bear in mind when opting for Chinese Algae Eaters.
It should be kept in tanks larger than 25 gallons and it’s a bit sensitive to changes in nitrates, so keeping the tank clean is important.
Other than these aspects, there aren’t any problems with this Catfish species. To make sure everything is in order in the tank:
- Provide enough hiding spaces, where the CAE can retreat;
- Feed them a varied diet: This is an omnivorous species, so a mixture of pellets, frozen, live and vegetable matter will keep them happy and healthy;
- Keep them together with compatible tank mates: Because they tend to be aggressive, it’s best if you keep them with tank mates such as Tiger Barbs, Clown Loaches, Platies, and Swordtails.
The CAE is a fish that’s a bit more aggressive than the other Catfish species I mentioned so far, so if you’re completely inexperienced, I don’t recommend them for you.
10. Striped Raphael Catfish
Although not my favorite on this list (I’ll get to my favorite in just a bit), the Striped Raphael Catfish still ranks high among my preferences.
This fish does well in peaceful community tanks, but even in aggressive predatory tanks. The reason they’re such versatile creatures is because of their large size and armored body, which allows them to stand up for themselves.
They’re also called “talking fish” as they can emit various sounds either to scare away predators or to attract species of its kind.
I recommend keeping them in 60-gallon tanks and avoid keeping them with small community fish that the Raphael Catfish can mistake for food.
They’re not an aggressive species and they become more and more nocturnal as they mature. This explains why they prefer tanks with lots of shade and caves.
They also enjoy tanks with sandy bottoms and gravel. Although plants are not a must for this species, plants help in providing them with enough shade.
Besides a spacious tank, the Striped Raphael Catfish enjoys:
- Omnivorous diet: Feed it all kinds of food — high quality pellets supplemented with live or frozen meaty foods;
- Keep it with similarly sized fish: Avoid fish small enough to fit its mouth;
- Use jar or container when handling it: Its sharp spines can get stuck in a net and you might hurt your hand.
11. Gold Nugget Pleco
These Plecos are my second favorite Catfish species. Their name is suggestive of their beauty – dark colored body dotted with light yellow spots. Parts of their fins are also beautifully colored with yellow.
Their size varies from 6 to 9 inches, so being quite the sizeable fish, they require bigger tanks. I recommend a minimum tank size of 55 gallons.
They’re also a bit on the pricier side, however, they’re truly beautiful creatures that make it all worth it.
The Gold Nugget Pleco enjoys a variety of foods including algae wafers, fresh veggies (zucchini and cucumber), but they’ll also feed on algae that grow naturally on driftwoods in your tank.
They enjoy grazing on plants too but won’t cause destruction as some herbivorous species do.
Some things to consider when choosing Gold Nugget Plecos:
- Choose fish that prefer the top levels of the tank: Fish that stay at the mid to top levels of the tank won’t bother Gold Nugget Plecos. Gold Nugget Plecos are known to fish males of their own species or even other males;
- Provide foods with high vegetable content: They’re considered omnivorous, but the Gold Nugget Plecos enjoy a predominantly herbivorous diet too;
- Watch out for water conditions: They prefer warm waters in the high 70s.
Gold Nugget Plecos are certainly a beautiful sight and although a bit more expensive and territorial, they can be a good addition to a community tank provided they are kept with compatible fish.
12. Queen Arabesque Pleco
Now that I discussed my second favorite Catfish species, it’s time to discuss my absolute favorite, the Queen Arabesque Pleco.
Their beautiful arabesque-patterned bodies that grows up to 4 inches tops makes them an interesting addition to your aquarium.
Unlike other Plecos, this Pleco does not fancy algae and it’s a full-on carnivore, preferring a meaty diet that includes blood worms, brine shrimp and gammarus.
Because of their peaceful temperament, keeping them with other aggressive bottom dwellers and large fish are not recommended.
In some cases, males can become territorial and guard their caves or other hiding spaces.
They’re not fussy in terms of water parameters, but they do enjoy a strong current and a tank that receives regular water changes.
Things to look out for:
- Keep them in a minimum 20-gallon tank for best results;
- Avoid aggressive fish species, or fish large enough to eat them.
- Feed it a carnivore diet, however, some Queen Arabesque Plecos may eat some vegetables as well.
Unlike the standard Plecos, this Pleco is no algae eater, so don’t expect it to bother with cleaning up your tank. After all, it’s a queen pleco!
13. Panda Corydoras
This bottom-dwelling species feels best in groups of 6 or more and stays quite small at 1.5 inches. It got its name because of the black spot that decorates its eyes.
These little fish are easy to care for and make excellent tank mates for similarly sized species that prefer the same water conditions.
Because they should be kept in schools, they’re better off in 30-gallon tanks. Their diet should be made up of good quality sinking pellet foods, live brine shrimp, worms and other meaty foods.
A good filtration system and regular water changes are important for this fish. Also, avoid keeping them with aggressive tank mates or tank mates that might eat them.
Avoid fin-nipping fish, and go with compatible tank mates such as rasboras, small to medium sized tetras, danios as well as other small Catfish or Cory species.
You should provide a soft and fine substrate, preferably sand. Although plants are not a must, they’re ideal for this Catfish species that likes guarded areas and hiding places.
Take care to:
- Provide enough food that reaches the bottom of the tank when kept in community tanks. Sinking pellets and tablets are a good idea, ensure a varied diet with daphnia, bloodworms, and brine shrimp;
- Ensure optimal water temperature: Aim for low 70s, instead of the high 70s other species are accustomed to.
Other than these, Panda Corydoras don’t have any special requirements and can live up to 10 years if kept in proper conditions.
14. Julii Corydoras
Often confused with the Corydoras trilineatus, the Julii Cory fish is smaller and have a shorter head and rounded snout.
They’re a small Catfish species with bodies that reach 2.5 inches. They’re peaceful fish and do well with other members of the Corydoras family.
They can tolerate a wide range of initial water parameters but become highly sensitive if the tank is poorly maintained.
Julli Corydoras enjoy soft substrates where they spend a lot of time searching for bits of food. Sand or smooth gravel is best for them.
Driftwood and any other decorations that can serve as hiding places are welcome. Plants aren’t a must, but floating plants can help keep enough shade to create dimmed light conditions.
An endearing feature of the Julii Corydoras is their ability to rotate their eyes, which gives the appearance of winking.
Things to look out for:
- Omnivore diet: As bottom dwellers they eat leftovers, but don’t assume it’s enough for them to survive, so feed them sinking pellets, tablets, and live foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms;
- Choose appropriate tank mates: Compatible fish include Danios, Rasboras, small Tetras. Avoid aggressive fish.
If you’re going to buy Julii Corydoras make sure you know how to distinguish them from Corydoras trilineatus, because very often the Corydoras trilineatus are mislabeled and sold as Julii Corydoras.
15. Bandit Corydoras
Bandit Corys are another Catfish species that I recommend for those who want a peaceful community fish that’s small and beautiful. The Bandit cory is very similar to panda cory, but instead of a black dot on the tail, has a black stripe along the back and dorsal fin.
At just 2 inches, this fish prefers schools of at least 3, and enjoys similarly sized tank mates that are just as peaceful as them.
The Bandit Cory is a bottom dweller omnivore fish that enjoys a varied diet and a smooth gravel or sandy substrate.
As it spends its time foraging in the substrate, sharp edges can hurt their delicate barbels and cause infections and even death.
Lighting in the tank should be subdued arranged with plenty of swimming places but also hiding places with driftwood, bog-wood and plants.
Because it’s a scaleless fish, it’s sensitive to improper tank conditions, therefore, you should keep the tank clean and avoid using substances that may harm scaleless fish.
If kept in a community tank, make sure:
- You offer them a varied diet: Sinking pellets, tablet and live or frozen meaty foods are a good choice;
- Keep them with compatible tank mates: Avoid fish large enough to eat them or aggressive fish.
The Bandit Cory does not like being kept alone because they’ll become timid and it shortens its lifespan.
These are some Catfish species you can consider if you’re thinking of setting up a freshwater community tank.
Make sure you choose appropriate tank mates and always check if your fish are compatible with each other in terms of water parameters and behavior.
The catfish species I discussed in this article are all suitable for being kept in home aquariums, however, a lot of catfish species become very large and aren’t suitable for home aquariums.
Examples of catfish too large for home aquariums include the Common Pleco, the Red-Tailed Catfish, the Plecostomus, the Iridescent Shark, and even the Royal Pleco.
Unfortunately, many pet shops will sell them to you either way, so I recommend doing your research before you buy any fish.