10 Freshwater Aquarium Catfish Species

Are you looking to add catfish to your community tank but don’t know where to start?

There are a ton of different freshwater catfish available – with over 2,400 catfish species in the world, most of them are freshwater fish.

Not only are they all different in their own individual ways, but they also all have different needs.

Being selective about the catfish species you add to your community tank is important. Not all catfish make the greatest pets and some are tougher to keep than others.

The majority of catfish, though, are peaceful and friendly. They like to spend their days scavenging for food along the bottom of the tank and making the most out of your plants and ornaments.

We’re going to take a look at 10 catfish species that you can keep in your freshwater aquarium and how to care for them.

These 10 catfish species are all ideal for both beginner and advanced aquarists so no matter what your experience level, we got you covered.

What Is a Catfish?

Catfish are an extremely diverse group of ray-finned fish that vary in size, color, and features. Even though the catfish is named after their famous prominent barbels that resemble a cat’s whiskers, not all catfish have this feature.

Some are defined by the features of the skull and swim bladder.

The larger catfish in the species have a long history of being farmed or fished for food but the smaller species, particularly the popular Corydoras, are extremely popular as additions to home aquariums.

In terms of its history, there does not seem to be any definitive first sighting of the catfish.

Although catfish have been spotted in all continents on the globe, more than half of all catfish species live in North and South America and the species is the most diverse in Asia, Africa, and South America.

As mentioned, catfish drastically vary in size, color, and features, depending on the species and whether they’re found in the wild or bred for an aquarium.

This makes it difficult to give an accurate size range but most catfish vary from three to 24 inches and max out at 7 lbs.

How Do I Take Care of My Aquarium Catfish?

Aquarium Catfish

Catfish don’t fit into one category so they have different requirements based on their particular species. When caring for any freshwater aquarium species, there are a few important things to take into consideration:

  • Make sure that you’ve purchased an appropriately sized aquarium. The general rule for stocking an aquarium is one inch of fish per gallon of water. This means that if you have a 12-inch catfish, you technically going to need a minimum of 12 gallons of water, which only increases per additional fish. That said, your catfish should have as large of a space to swim as possible so a minimum of 30 gallons is ideal.
  • Catfish spend the majority of their time on the bottom of the tank so it’s important to make sure that your catfish have plenty of rocks, plants, wood, and caves to hide in as well as lots of open space.
  • Catfish are known for being hardy and adaptable fish which is one of their many appeals. But you still need to keep a watchful eye on not only the water temperatures but also the pH level. These specifications vary by species but the water temperature generally should be anywhere from ‎72 to 82°F with a pH between 5.0 and 7.0 which is considered slightly acidic.
  • While catfish are generally resilient, there are a few telltale signs that your catfish are not doing well. Loss of color, inactivity, cloudy eyes, bloat, open sores, bulging eyes, and breathing difficulties are all reasons for concern. They may be signs of infection, inflammation, or a sign that something is wrong with the water.

What Do I Feed My Catfish?

Catfish are generally omnivores and like to search for their food along the bottom of the tank. You need to make sure that you are feeding your catfish food that they can easily access.

While fish flakes eventually sink to the bottom, this may not be the best idea if you have other community fish that get to the flakes well before the catfish has a chance.

This is why sinking pellets are generally best for the catfish.

It’s important to stress that not all catfish are alike when it comes to their diet. While most catfish are omnivores, some are herbivores.

Make sure you do your research for the type of catfish that you have when it comes to their diet.

10 Freshwater Aquarium Catfish

Now that we know a little bit about the catfish, let’s take a look at 10 freshwater aquarium catfish species that you can keep at home.

1. Upside Down Catfish

Upside Down Catfish

To start our list off with a bang, we’re going to take a look at the Upside-Down Catfish. This spotted catfish is one of the smallest in the Synodontis species and is named for its unique upside-down swimming posture.

Scientist’s thought that this posture may be due to an imbalance in the organ of their inner ear or an irregular swim bladder; however, there doesn’t seem to be any physiological reason for this unique trick besides the fact that it makes it easier for them to feed on the water’s surface.

You may also see the Upside-Down Catfish swimming normally, especially when they are young.

Their swimming posture seems to change according to which way they can best get food. It’s not uncommon to see young Upside-Down Catfish in particular scouring the bottom of the tank right side up.

The Upside-Down Catfish is considered a peaceful fish and likes to be kept in small schools, containing five or six of its own kind.

While this catfish is considered easy to care for with water temperature not being at the utmost importance, there are other considerations you have to account for.

The Upside Down Catfish is sensitive to nitrates so appropriate water conditions are key.

A 25% water change should be conducted at least once every two weeks. They also require water that is well-oxygenated and has a relatively strong current.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: 5 to 15 years
  • Size: Up to 3.5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 72 to 79°F
  • Water pH: 6 to 7.5

2. Glass catfish

Glass Catfish

The Glass catfish is a truly unique looking fish and has captured the attention of aquarists since they were introduced.

Otherwise known as the Ghost Catfish or Phantom Catfish, the Glass Catfish is named after its completely transparent body, making it incredibly eye-catching.

Due to its translucent nature, you can see all of its bones and organs which is truly a sight. Not only does it provide a unique aesthetic appeal but it can also provide great camouflage from its enemies.

The Glass catfish does not like to be left alone and can become stressed and unhappy if isolated.

Therefore, just as with the Upside-Down catfish, it’s ideal to keep these fish in schools of five or six. They also prefer to be in semi-darkness which is uncommon for many freshwater fish.

While this may not be possible in a community tank, they will be perfectly fine if they have an adequate number of hiding places in the form of caves and live plants.

You will, however, still notice them being the most active when its tank is dimly lit or the lights go out for the night.

This catfish adapts relatively well to water conditions with the exception of the temperature – you need to keep the water in the high 70’s range for the Upside-Down Catfish.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Lifespan: 7 to 8 years
  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 75 to 81°F
  • Water pH: 6.5 to 7.5

3. Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras Catfish

The Corydoras Catfish, otherwise known as the Cory Cat and the Cory Fish, is one of the most popular types of catfish you’ll find in your local pet stores.

Odds are you have already had one if you have a freshwater aquarium as they are considered a staple in the freshwater community and a fantastic fish for beginners.

The Corydoras catfish varies in both size and color with the most common color being bronze.

This little catfish is considered quite hardy and adapts well to different temperatures and pH levels, making it quite easy to care for.

Many first time Cory catfish owners don’t realize that these are also schooling catfish and should really be kept in groups of six or more.

So, just because these catfish generally don’t grow more than two or three inches doesn’t mean you can squeeze one into your 10-gallon tank with your other community fish and call it a day.

In fact, putting a Corydoras Catfish by itself causes extreme stress and you will have a sickly catfish on your hands.

You also need to make sure that you’re using substrate and not rough gravel as this is where the Corydoras catfish spends the majority of its time.

Rough edges on sharp substrate like gravel can cause damage to this delicate catfish’s underbelly so pool filter sand works just fine.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: Up to 5 years
  • Size: 2-3 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 74 to 80°F
  • Water pH: 7.0 to 8.0

4. Pictus catfish

Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is another very popular species of aquarium catfish and is known as the Pictus Cat or the Cat Angel.

This is the first on our list of catfish that could be considered semi-aggressive.

If they’re paired with fish small enough to fit in their mouths, they are likely going to try to make them their next meal so be careful you give this catfish small, easy prey.

Just in case you don’t recognize the name, you’ll likely recognize the Pictus catfish when you see it with its long antennas and silver body.

These catfish can grow to be about five inches so they are not quite as small as the equally popular Corydoras Catfish. Therefore, they are definitely not ideal for a small tank.

You should be prepared to offer them a tank of 70 to 80 gallons or more.

When the Pictus Catfish is young, it prefers to be kept in schools of four or five, much like our other catfish listed.

But due to the Pictus catfish being semi-aggressive, they are fine with being the only catfish in the tank once they mature. It is not at all uncommon to see Pictus attacking one another as they get older, especially when it comes to males.

If this does start to occur, they will need to be separated.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Lifespan: 8 to 10 years
  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 70 to 80°F
  • Water pH: 5.5 to 7.0

5. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Pleco is another highly popular catfish in the freshwater aquarium community and one that you’ve more than likely heard of before.

Plecos are a group of armored catfish and are known as being the most popular among fish keepers with over 150 species to choose from. The Bristlenose Pleco has a unique appearance with long whiskers that hang down from the tips of their heads.

In terms of their coloring, you’ll find the Bristlenose Pleco in shades of brown, green, or gray, usually with white or yellow spots.

The Bristlenose Pleco gets its popularity from the fact that they are incredibly easy to keep. They are peaceful fish and love to eat algae.

With a Bristlenose Pleco, you have little issue with keeping a clean tank as long as you follow all of the usual procedures.

They spend their days scouring the bottom of your tank for food while keeping the walls and surfaces free of algae. Keep in mind, that these scraps are certainly not enough for these hearty fish – they need to be fed a variety of plant-based food to stay healthy.

Check out the Bristlenose Pleco care guide here.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: 7 to 8 years
  • Size: Up to 6 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 60 to 80°F
  • Water pH: 5.5 to 7.6

6. Otocinclus catfish

Otocinclus Catfish

The little Otocinclus Catfish is a great choice if you’re looking for a gentle fish that is both interesting to watch and can clean your tank from top to bottom – so basically, the perfect catfish.

Since the Otocinclus Catfish is so gentle, it is great not only for cleaning yucky algae buildup but also for cleaning live plants in a way that doesn’t damage them.

So, if you’re into aquascaping, this is definitely the catfish for you.

That said, even though the Otocinclus catfish is a fantastic housekeeper, they can be very difficult to keep.

This is not because they have a difficult temperament in any way – quite the contrary. However, they are not known for being a hardy fish and are actually quite delicate.

It is not uncommon for an Otocinclus catfish to die mere days after entering a new tank despite seeming active and vital in their new environment right before. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure that your new catfish is entering an exceptionally clean, well-established tank with other peaceful inhabitants.

This little catfish also needs plenty of plants, driftwood for cover, and good water flow in their tanks.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Lifespan: 3 to 5 years
  • Size: 1 ½ to 2 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Water temperature: 72 to 82°F
  • Water pH: 6.0 to 7.5

7. Striped Raphael catfish

Striped Raphael Catfish

The Striped Raphael catfish is the largest one that we have discussed so far and generally tops out at 10 inches. You need a large tank to house this catfish with at least 60 gallons of water or more.

One of the great things about the Striped Raphael Catfish is that they can thrive in both peaceful freshwater community tanks as well as more aggressive, predator tanks.

This is not because they are aggressive but rather their size and armor allow them to protect themselves in the way that many other peaceful catfish can’t.

Interestingly enough, the Striped Raphael Catfish along with other members of the Doradid family is considered a vocal fish and is often referred to as “talking catfish”.

This means that when feeling threatened, they produce a series of noises to intimidate. These can make a squeaking sound or a croak and are usually heard if you need to move your Raphael catfish for any reason.

Although they do have more intimidation tactics than the average catfish, they are still peaceful and mild-mannered fish.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: Up to 20 years
  • Size: 6 to 10 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 75 to 86°F
  • Water pH: 5.5 to 7.5

8. Clown Pleco

Clown Pleco

Next up, is the Clown Pleco. The Clown Pleco is a smaller catfish, generally maxing out at about four inches long.

The Clown Pleco is most popular for being one of the more aesthetically pleasing looking Plecos. Its body is dark black with encircling bands of white, cream, or tan.

The Clown Pleco is ideal for those who have smaller tanks but keep in mind, it’s not ideal for Plecos of any kind to be housed together. While aquarists have had success raising Plecos together, they are known for becoming aggressive and territorial towards each other.

Having said this, they are generally peaceful little fish who don’t want any trouble.

In terms of food, the Clown Pleco is incredibly easy to care for as long as you keep a constant supply of driftwood in your tank. Being herbivores, Clown Pleco also likes to snack on vegetables and eat spinach, cucumber, squash, and zucchini.

This particular catfish is not a huge fan of algae compared to some of the other catfish on this list but will help out in keeping your tank clean.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: 10 to 12 years
  • Size: 3 ½ to 4 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 73 to 82°F
  • Water pH: 6.8 to 7.6

9. Bumblebee Catfish

Bumblebee Catfish

The Bumblebee Catfish is becoming more and more popular amongst the freshwater community due to its bee-like black and yellow markings.

There are two types of Bumblebee catfish, South American and Asian. The difference between the two is not immediately obvious. However, the South American Bumblebee catfish can be identified by a spot that is at the base of the caudal fin.

While both types have this spot, the South American species is squarer while the Asian’s is more triangular with the tip pointing towards its head.

This little catfish stays quite small, usually growing no more than three inches. This again makes them great for smaller tanks of 20 gallons and up.

While the peaceful Bumblebee Catfish does not need to be kept in schools, it does well with others of its own kind as well as other peaceful community fish. Having said that, it’s not ideal to keep fish that are small enough for this one to eat as it will mistake them for food.

The Bumblebee Catfish is nocturnal so you generally only see them coming out of their little caves at night (assuming that you provide them with caves, which they appreciate).

Profile:

  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Care level: Easy
  • Lifespan: Up to 5 years
  • Size: 2 to 3 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water temperature: 70 to 79°F
  • Water pH: 6.5 to 7.5

10. Chinese Algae Eater

Chinese Algae Eater

Last but certainly not least, we have the Chinese Algae Eater. The last larger catfish on our list, this one grows to be up to 10 inches long but is more likely to stay around five inches when kept in an at-home aquarium.

This is also the only other catfish we’ve listed that can be aggressive and is therefore semi-difficult to keep. The Chinese Algae Eater originates in Asia but is rarely found in China. Its body is slender and is generally golden-brown with a dark horizontal stripe.

This catfish is mainly kept to keep algae under control as its main food source is the algae that grow on tank walls, plants, and rocks.

That said, it does still need additional food like algae wafers in case there isn’t enough algae in the tank. These fish should generally not be paired with their own species and are most likely to get along with fish that do not like to hang out at the bottom of the aquarium.

They are known for attacking peaceful fish, unprovoked.

Profile:

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Care level: Moderate to hard
  • Lifespan: Up to 10 years
  • Size: 5 to 10 inches
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Water temperature: 72 to 82°F
  • Water pH: 6.5 to 7.5

Conclusion

And there you have our 10 freshwater aquarium catfish species that are all (relatively) easy to keep for beginners to advanced aquarists.

Keep in mind, no catfish should simply be thrown in a tank with other fish of any species and expected to thrive – different catfish have different requirements, ranging from their diet to suitable tankmates.

Make sure you do your research before bringing one of these guys into your home.

Any of the catfish we’ve listed provides some benefit to your home aquarium as well as providing companionship for their owner for years to come!

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