The glass catfish (sometimes referred to as ghost catfish) is one of the more interesting little critters you can get for your tank.
Due to their completely see-through bodies, they’ve become a sought after freshwater fish for anyone looking to add something a little different to their aquarium.
Glass catfish are also pretty easy to care for. As long as you know the basics it’s not that challenging to keep these fish happy and healthy.
In this guide we’ll give you the complete rundown on glass catfish care and what you need to know. We’re talking food, tank mates, lifespan, and more.
It’s all in here!
Table of Contents
The glass catfish (scientific name: kryptopterus vitreolus) is a freshwater fish that is native to Thailand. There have been some reports of these fish being found in Malaysia and even Cambodia, but the validity of these claims is iffy.
Rivers that feed into the Gulf of Thailand are where you can usually find them, but there is also a condensed group of them that dwell in the river basins of the Cardamom Mountains.
These rivers and streams are usually fairly open with an average rate of flow (not too fast, not too slow). While they’re not as effective at navigating murky waters as some other aquarium catfish, they still have barbels that they use to get a feel for their surroundings.
One thing that makes glass catfish unusual compared to many other catfish is that they aren’t bottom-dwelling fish. These fish spend most of their time swimming and exploring the middle areas of the water instead of camping out at the bottom.
This makes them a very fun fish to own because they’re a bit more active and spectactor-friendly than most catfish. This is great because it gives you more time to observe and enjoy their interesting appearance as an owner!
The average glass catfish lifespan is between 7 and 8 years. This is a solid amount of time that really lets you enjoy and bond with these fish.
Their lifespan can be shortened significantly if you don’t provide them with the proper tank conditions. Make sure you stay consistent and follow the recommendations in this guide if you want to ensure that they live as long as possible.
Author Note: The genetics and state of the fish when you purchase them will also impact their lifespan. If you buy a fish that grew up in subpar conditions the best care in the world might not get them to the 7-8 year mark. Always buy from reputable sellers.
The main draw of the glass catfish is the unique appearance. As their name suggests, these fish are totally translucent.
The benefit of this is primarily to make them more difficult for predators to find (just like the ghost shrimp).
They are so see-through that it’s almost shocking at first. You can clearly see their internal organs and everything that’s going on in their system!
One of the things that stands out the most on these fish is their spine. Because they’re so clear, you can view their entire spine which runs from their head to the base of their caudal fin.
Their fins are almost impossible to see while they’re swimming around. Looking at pictures is a better way to get an idea of their structure.
Ghost catfish have forked caudal fins and no dorsal fin. Their small pectoral fins give them most of their vertical mobility and if you look closely you can see them moving quickly while they swim!
Their organs are also quite visible. They sit behind their eyes near the base of their pectoral fins and for the most part look like a dark silvery mass.
Glass catfish have barbels that extend straight out from their heads unlike some other catfish whos barbels droop back behind them while they swim.
The average glass catfish size is 4-6 inches in length. This is larger than a lot of aquarists think, maybe because a lot of translucent fish are on the smaller side.
Their size is impacted by genetics and the quality of care they receive.
Glass Catfish Care
Glass catfish care is fairly simple once you know the basics. There aren’t any major hurdles you need to navigate. Instead, it’s all about being consistent and providing them with the right tank, water, and food conditions.
The rest of this guide will explore the essentials of glass catfish care and what you’ll need to know if you want yours to thrive.
Glass catfish do best with a minimum tank size of 30 gallons. This is assuming that you have around 5 of them in the same tank since they don’t do well when kept alone (we’ll cover that in more detail in the tank mates section).
This tank size will allow them to comfortably swim around and have the necessary social engagement and safety that a school provides. We don’t recommend going with a smaller tank because that would require you to keep less of them together (which comes with other disadvantages).
While glass catfish care is very straightforward, their strict required water parameters are definitely something you need to take seriously. The acceptable windows in these levels is not wide at all, which means the margin for error is slim.
This requires you to have a strong understanding of these fish in general, and familiarity with adjusting levels on the fly. While this might sound intimidating at first, it’s something you’ll get better with over time.
If you don’t think you’re ready for that yet it might be a good idea to try keeping some hardy fish for a while longer. This is a good way to practice maintaining and adjusting levels without risk.
- Water temperature: 77°F is the perfect target, but don’t let the water shift outside of the 75°F to 80°F range.
- pH levels: 6.5
- Water hardness: 8-10 dGH
Author Note: It’s important that you perform regular tests to be sure everything is stable. Any shifts you notice need to be met with immediate correction.
What To Put In Their Tank
When putting together the ideal habitat for ghost catfish you’ll want to consider their natural environment so you can mimic it as best as possible.
Their tanks should have plenty of open space where they can swim freely. Too many obstacles or obstructions will hinder this, so make sure they don’t feel too cramped.
You’ll also want to make sure there are some plants in their aquarium as well. The waters that ghost catfish come from have plenty of plant life that they can use for hiding spots.
Replicating this in their tank will give them a sense of comfort and safety since plants are something they’re familiar with using for shelter. Try plants like hornwort or java moss for starters.
A soft substrate is another thing you’ll want to use when setting up a tank for glass catfish. These fish aren’t as durable as many other catfish so anything that can cut them, likely will. Keep them safe and reduce the risk of infection by providing them with a nice sandy substrate if possible.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider water flow too. You don’t need to do anything special to give them the right amount of current, just know that they can’t have static water. The currents in their natural habitat are on the moderate side of things, so any average flow setup will work fine.
Common Possible Diseases
Glass catfish care can seem a little intimidating if you just look at their recommended water parameters, but it’s all downhill from there. There aren’t any species-specific diseases that you need to worry about when it comes to these fish.
Just make sure to give them a balanced diet of high-quality food and maintain the quality of their water. If you do this you’ll greatly reduce the risk of them developing any of the common health issues that afflict freshwater fish.
Food & Diet
Glass catfish food in captivity should mimic their diet in the wild as much as possible. This will be accomplished with a variety of food sources to achieve a balanced diet.
A strong flake or pellet food is a great place to start and it’s something you’ll be giving them every day. This food will serve as the backbone of their diet and ensure that they’re getting their essential nutrients.
Some high protein sources such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia are all great additions as well. You don’t want to feed this to your ghost catfish too often, but a few times a week should be fine. This will make sure that they get additional enrichment from the variety (you can go frozen or live) and they’ll also never be in a protein deficit.
Author Note: Always keep an eye out for the possibility of over or underfeeding. The natural behavior of this fish means that it can be a little tricky to see if they’re eating or not. Monitor your glass catfish closely when you first get them to make sure they’re getting enough food.
Behavior & Temperament
The behavior of glass catfish is something that surprises many people at first. Unlike most catfish, these creatures are very active swimmers and don’t spend much time near the substrate at all.
Instead, they will gravitate more toward investigating the middle of the tank when they’re not ducking in and out of whatever plants you have in the aquarium.
Glass catfish are also very peaceful. Despite their fairly active nature, they’re fish that want to mind their own business and not start trouble with any other animals in the tank. This is great because it gives you a lot of options when it comes to finding tank mates (more on that in the following section).
Your glass catfish will also stick to their school, so it’s very uncommon to see one far away from the others. This is why it’s so important to keep them in a group of at least 5 if you want them to thrive.
Glass Catfish Tank Mates
The number of glass catfish tank mates you can choose from is quite high. These fish are fantastic in community tanks that can coexist with a variety of other animals.
The two things you’ll want to keep an eye out for when it comes to finding suitable glass catfish tank mates are size and aggression. Fish that are significantly larger can be a problem because they might view your glass catfish as a snack!
Aggression is also something you’ll want to avoid because the gentle temperament of ghost catfish will work against them. They simply are too peaceful to stand up for themselves.
Here are some great glass catfish tank mates to get you started:
This is by no means every possible tank mate option out there. Feel free to explore and search for other fish that might be compatible. There are tons of options!
The Importance Of A School
The only absolutely necessary tank mate for glass catfish is more of their own kind. These are schooling fish which means they stick together closely for protection.
A glass catfish that’s all alone will live in a constant state of stress which can seriously impact their health and lifespan. Even though it might mean you can keep them in a smaller tank, it’s not fair to the fish.
Aim for a school of 5 or more to keep them happy and healthy. Smaller numbers can result in bullying among the fish or the feeling that they’re not safe.
Breeding glass catfish is something that’s not done very often in captivity. While it has been done successfully, it isn’t common and there isn’t very much information out there about the best approach for this species.
If you are going to attempt breeding glass catfish then a basic understanding of their natural breeding patterns is essential. You will need to use these as guidelines to follow due to the lack of documentation on the process.
The main thing you’ll need to do is condition the tank to encourage the process. Dropping the water temperature a few degrees is a great way to start because it will mimic the time of year when they normally spawn.
Some have recommended phasing in a little bit of freshwater into the tank during this period of time to replicate rainfall as well. While the efficacy of this hasn’t been proven, it’s probably not a bad idea to give it a try given how difficult this process can be.
If you successfully initiate the breeding process then you’ll witness some different interactions between the spawning pair. One of the reported behaviors is the pair getting face to face and touching each other with their barbels. If you see this it’s a good sign!
If breeding is successful you’ll see them deposit their eggs in some of the available plants in their tank (leafy plants are ideal). It should take no more than a few days for the eggs to hatch.
Once they’ve hatched you’ll need to feed them protein-rich foods to help them grow. A common recommendation is baby brine shrimp.
Glass catfish care is a fun and rewarding experience that all aquarists will enjoy. These fish are incredibly unique and enjoyable to watch and will add a totally different dynamic to whatever tank they’re in.
One of the most important things to remember when it comes to keeping ghost catfish alive and healthy is to take water parameters and levels very seriously. This should be your top priority when it comes to this species of fish. These fish are very sensitive to changes in water and are not hardy by any stretch of the imagination.
However, this is something that can be managed as long as you’re consistent and knowledgable about the process. That’s why we don’t consider glass catfish challenging to care for. Outside of the water parameters, they’re super low-maintenance!
They make great tank mates, look great, and have a playful and active nature that all aquarists will appreciate. There’s really no downside!
If you have any feedback about this care guide or suggestions you want to make we’re all ears. Providing the best info possible is all we care about, so any extra help is always welcome!