There are many different types of aquarium catfish out there. In fact, they’re one of the most popular kinds of freshwater fish for aquarists to get!
There are many unique looks, varying behavior, and benefits that these creatures can bring to your tank. It’s no wonder why they’re found in so many tanks around the world.
But which are the best?
With so many different types of aquarium catfish to choose from, we thought it made sense to create a list of our favorites. There are advantages to owning each of the species below, so read through to find which seem like the best for you!
1. Cory Catfish
Also referred to as Corydoras, Cory Catfish make up a genus that includes more than 165 distinct species. The name “Cory Catfish” is used as a catch-all term to describe these unique fish. However, each species is unique and comes with its own set of personality and appearance quirks!
For the most part, Cory Catfish are easy to care for. They’re quite hardy and don’t get very large at all, making them an excellent choice for novice and seasoned aquarists alike.
Appearance can vary dramatically across the species, but most will only get to be between 1 and 4 inches long.
In terms of color, these freshwater aquarium catfish can come in a spectrum of shades ranging from shimmering iridescent white to dark black. Though, most will be covered in shades of brown to make camouflaging much easier.
A 10-gallon tank is needed for smaller Cory Catfish species. Though, a 20 to 30-gallon tank is preferred. This is especially true if you plan on keeping groups or creating a multi-species community tank.
These catfish need a lush environment filled with plants and decor. They thrive in warmer waters between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH balance of the water should between 6.0 and 8.0 depending on the species.
2. Striped Raphael Catfish
The Striped Raphael Catfish is a lively species that’s been known to put on a show. While they stick to the bottom of the water column like other catfish, these creatures are playful by nature and love to spend time exploring their environment.
Despite their muted coloration, Striped Raphael Catfish stand out quite a bit. Thanks to their bold horizontal stripes, they can’t be missed in your tank. Pair that with their rayed fins and you have the makings of a beautiful fish.
Don’t let their docile nature fool you! These fish can do a lot of damage with their sharp fins. They are notorious for getting stuck in nets. If they’re consumed by larger fish, they can even get lodged in the predator’s throat!
When mature, Striped Raphael Catfish can reach lengths up to 9.4 inches. Though, that usually only occurs when they are kept in large tanks. Most will stay in the neighborhood of 6 inches long.
A sizable 50-gallon tank is needed to stave off stress and disease. Waters should be kept between 75 and 80 degrees with a pH balance of roughly 6.5 to 7.5.
Lovingly referred to as “dwarf suckers” or “otos,” the Otocinclus Catfish is a popular fish in the aquarium community. Reaching lengths of only 2 inches long, they’re tiny creatures that can do a lot to keep your tank in good shape. There are a few different species included in the larger Otocinclus family.
These aquarium catfish spend most of their day scavenging for food. They’re some of the best algae eaters you can get. You can usually see them clinging to the side of the tank eating algae or feasting on plant detritus. When they’re not doing that, they will be searching for something to snack on in the substrate.
Peaceful by nature, the Otocinclus Catfish can be a bit timid. They will spend a lot of time hiding near plants and decor when not eating.
Thanks to their small size, a group of these catfish can do well in a 10-gallon tank. They prefer warmer waters with a relatively neutral pH balance.
4. Bristlenose Pleco
The Bristlenose Pleco is another catfish species that will work hard to keep algae levels under control. These fish have a healthy appetite for all types of aquarium algae and will spend most of their time cleaning driftwood, rocks, and glass surfaces.
Luckily, they are well-equipped for the job. Like most freshwater catfish, Bristlenose Plecos have a downturned mouth. It creates strong suction that’s perfect for clinging onto algae-covered surfaces.
Growing from their mouths are several barbels. Perhaps the most identifying trait of the fish, these barbels are much more pronounced than they are on other catfish species. They grow in large numbers, even sprouting from the top of their head!
Bristlenose Plecos get about 3 to 5 inches long. While not the biggest aquarium catfish around, they still need plenty of room to swim around. A 25-gallon tank is recommended.
The fish are very hardy and can adapt well to many environments. They do best in waters that are between 60 and 80 degrees.
5. Bumblebee Catfish
Reaching lengths of only 3 inches, the Bumblebee Catfish is perfect for small to medium-sized tanks. They thrive in 20-gallon tanks with plenty of space to roam. Despite their small stature, these aren’t fish that blend into the background.
Aptly named for the vivid stripes that run along their body, the Bumblebee Catfish is a beautiful fish species. Many specimens have alternating body colors of bright yellow and black. Others have more muted tones of tan and brown, but that doesn’t take away from their good looks.
For the most part, taking care of Bumblee Catfish isn’t a challenge. These are hardy fish that do well in most standard aquarium setups. As long as the temperatures are between 70 and 77 degrees and the water is neutral, you shouldn’t encounter any problems!
Like most types of aquarium catfish, this species prefers environments rich with plants and decor. They love hiding out between driftwoods, rocks, and vegetation.
6. Clown Pleco
Helming from Venezuela and Colombia, the Clown Catfish is a small species that rarely get larger than 4 inches in size. They have that traditional catfish profile. This includes a large head, downturned mouth, and expansive dorsal fin.
What’s unique about the Clown Catfish is its coloration. The base of the fish is dark black. However, several thin stripes of yellow or orange cover the entire body. The colors are certainly eye-popping and can be a great indicator of the overall health of the fish.
Driftwood is a must for these catfish. They chow down on the wood and feed off of any algae that are present. When they’re not eating, the driftwood will be their safe haven.
Overall, Clown Catfish are mellow and easy-going. They have no problems with other fish and will often retreat at any potential sign of danger. The only exceptions are male Clown Catfish. These guys tend to get territorial when more than one is kept in the same tank.
7. Asian Stone Catfish
Asian Stone Catfish are one of the smallest aquarium catfish species you can get. They reach lengths of only 1.3 inches. Thus, all you need is a small 10-gallon tank to keep them healthy. To make things even easier, these catfish are very mellow and inactive.
Hailing from India and Bangladesh, these catfish are found in slow-moving streams. They prefer temperatures between 64 and 75 degrees. The pH balance of the habitat should be around 5.6 and 7.6.
While they might be relaxed and mellow, the Asian Stone Catfish has some standout looks. They are very unique fish with large fins, long barbels, and some unique coloration.
The body of the catfish is covered in splotches of brown, white, and gray. They blend in very well with rocks, hence their name. The exact coloration and pattern of the fish vary dramatically. But, all specimens have a texturized look that can make them hard to spot among rock decor.
8. Glass Catfish
Glass Catfish are appropriately named for their transparent appearance. Like Glass Shrimp, this catfish has a body that’s almost completely clear. You can individual bones and organs, making them an interesting fish to study.
When fully grown, Glass Catfish are usually 4 to 6 inches long. You will need a larger tank to keep them happy. At the very least, they require a 30-gallon tank. However, bigger is always better with this fish.
These are schooling catfish that do best in groups of at least five. When kept in larger groups, they will feel more confident and safe. As a result, they’ll spend more time out of hiding!
Another cool thing about Glass Catfish is that they’re not bottom dwellers like other catfish species. They have no problem swimming throughout the middle of the water column.
These aquarium catfish can live up to eight years. They aren’t too difficult to care for. Though they do require some strict water parameters. Water should be between 75 and 80 degrees with a pH of 6.5.
9. Pictus Catfish
Pictus Catfish have that iconic catfish “look.” They get to be about 5 inches long and have a series of long barbels growing out of their face. One pair is so long that it can match their overall length.
When it comes to coloration, Pictus Catfish take on a more monochromatic appearance. They’re not brown or tan like other species. Instead, their base color is light gray. This is accompanied by spots of black or dark gray.
Pictus Catfish are natural omnivores that require a nice source of protein to stay healthy. While they’ll eat algae and plant detritus like many other types of catfish, live food and pellets are a must.
Because they like protein, you will need to be careful about keeping them with smaller fish species they can target for food.
The good news is that Pictus Catfish aren’t aggressive or difficult to care for. They get along just fine with other similarly-sized fish. Plus, they’re hardy enough to thrive in basic water parameters.
10. Upside Down Catfish
This quirky catfish species is an interesting one to watch! As their name would suggest, the Upsidedown Catfish spends most of its time swimming with its belly up! This is a unique evolutionary trait that helps the catfish feed on algae found on the underside of plant leaves and rocks.
There’s no need to worry about this behavior. While upsidedown swimming is usually a cause for concern with other species, it’s completely normal with these aquarium catfish. Interestingly enough, there are no biological differences to explain the odd swimming pattern. It’s just something they like to do!
The fish get to be about 3 to 4 inches in size. They are typically covered in splotches of brown and tan. Their bellies are also dark, which is a distinct trait not commonly found with fish. It’s believed that the dark coloration helps them blend in better when they are swimming upsidedown.
To keep the Upsidedown Catfish healthy, you will need a 30-gallon tank. The water temperature should be in the neighborhood of 72 to 82 degrees with a pH balance of 6.0 to 7.5.
11. Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese Algae Eaters come with a bit of a sordid reputation. They have been known to exhibit some aggressive behavior. However, this behavior is usually a product of stress and overcrowding!
These catfish get to be up to 11 inches long. They do fine in a 30-gallon tank. However, if you plan on keeping other fish with the Chinese Algae Eater, you’re going to need a much bigger tank!
Chinese Algae Eaters can get a bit territorial. They’re tough enough to protect themselves when another fish encroaches on their space. As a result, many owners keep them with semi-aggressive fish.
As long as you have plenty of space, you shouldn’t have to worry about fighting. The best tank mates for Chinese Algae Eaters are species that stick to the upper parts of the water column. These aquarium catfish are bottom-dwellers that feed on algae and dead plant matter, so they’ll rarely venture to the waters above.
12. Twig Catfish
As you can probably guess from their name, Twig Catfish are masters of disguise. They look like sunken tree branches. Their bodies are long and thin. Plus, they have elongated flat snouts.
Pair that with their brown coloration and it’s easy to mistake these catfish for simple twigs. Most specimens have dark brown stripes or splotches. Their fins are relatively small, too, which further cements that twig-like profile.
These catfish get to be around 6 inches long when fully grown. However, they can only reach those lengths when kept in a well-maintained environment. Twig Catfish can be a bit difficult to care for.
Maintaining good water quality is paramount. They’re sensitive to ammonia and nitrates, so you’ll need to test often and invest in a powerful filtration system. They prefer temperatures between 73 and 76 degrees. The pH levels in the tank should be around 6.5 to 7.5 as well.
13. Gold Nugget Pleco
There’s no doubt that you’ve seen a Gold Nugget Pleco at some point. These catfish are incredibly popular in the aquarium trade. This is thanks, in large part, to their stunning good looks.
The base color of the Gold Nugget Pleco is black. However, bright yellow spots cover the entire body. The spots are accompanied by thick stripes on the dorsal and caudal fin. They can get pretty large, reaching lengths of 9 inches.
Overall, these catfish are peaceful. Though, they can get territorial in tight quarters. It’s recommended that you use a tank that can hold at least 50 gallons to prevent fighting.
Gold Nugget Pleco are solitary creatures that aren’t too fond of company. They have been known to get stressed in the presence of other catfish. This can lead to some aggressive behavior.
Luckily, that same behavior doesn’t apply to fish that occupy other parts of the water column. They do just fine with peaceful fish like Guppies or Goldfish.
14. Tiger Shovelnose Catfish
The Tiger Shovelnose Catfish is an expert-only catfish that comes from South America. They are a big challenge to take care of, so we don’t recommend them for novices or casual hobbyists. With a lifespan of 18 to 25 years, keeping these catfish healthy is a huge commitment.
One of the biggest challenges is simply finding space for them to live. They reach lengths of 2.5 and 3 feet in captivity. Adults will need more than 250 gallons of space to truly thrive. They’re very active as well, so having that space is important.
From an appearance standpoint, these fish are beautiful. Their bodies are covered in a light brown hue. Stripes of black create a distinct puzzle-like pattern. These freshwater catfish have very large heads. Their snouts are flat and elongated, creating that shovel-like appearance from their name.
Another challenge owners face is providing them with the right food. While they will eat plants here and there, protein is important. They feed on small fish and crustacean in the wild. In captivity, they can eat worms, large pellets, and pieces of raw fish.
15. Redtail Catfish
The Redtail Catfish is another species that only seasoned aquarists should attempt to care for. These catfish are very demanding and can be quite difficult to keep healthy if you’re not properly equipped.
When they are fully grown, these fish can reach lengths of 4 feet. They’re absolutely massive and very active. The minimum tank size for these fish is 1,000 gallons! However, most experts recommend closer to 2,000.
Anything smaller will make them feel cramped, which can lead to stress and disease. As for water parameters, the catfish aren’t too picky. They do best in temperatures between 68 and 80 degrees. A pH balance below 7.0 is recommended as well.
If you have the space and know-how to keep these fish, it can be quite rewarding. They’re beautiful fish that have color patterns reminiscent of Koi. Their bodies are covered in large sections of white and black. Of course, you can’t forget the iconic red tail.
The Redtail Catfish can be aggressive. They’re predatory creatures that will eat smaller fish and crustaceans. You may even see them chewing on rocks and driftwood!
Which Ones Are You Interested In?
Now that you know about each of the best types of aquarium catfish, it’s time to decide which ones interest you the most!
With so many great options out there it can be a little tricky to decide. But with the exception of the last two on our list (they should only be kept by experienced aquarists with plenty of resources), there’s nothing to worry about.
As long as you read the care requirements for each species and take them into consideration, we think you’ll be happy keeping a freshwater catfish in your home tank.