The twig catfish is one of the more unique looking freshwater fish out there. These neat creatures have their own special charm, and it’s why so many aquarists are interested in getting one.

But a lot of people don’t realize that Farlowella catfish have specific requirements that need to be met in order for them to thrive. They’re not as easy to keep as you might think!

That’s why we decided to put together this guide. The twig is one of our favorite catfish species and we want to see more aquarists keeping them with success.

This guide will teach you everything you need to know about twig catfish care. Info about their diet, tank mates, size, and habitat are all included!

Species Summary

The twig catfish (aka Farlowella catfish) is a freshwater species that gets its name from the obvious resemblance to a thin stick. The Farlowella name is actually the genus, but it’s used as a catch-all term to describe this fish.

Out of the 35+ species in the Farlowella genus, you only see two of them in the aquarium scene. These are Farlowella acus and Farlowella vittata.

These fish are found in a multitude of areas throughout South America with the highest density being in Columbia and Venezuela. Some of the specific bodies of water they live in are Lake Valencia as well as the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.

Twig catfish prefer waters with a LOT of plants in them. These serve as places to hide and attach themselves to by using their suckermouths. There is also a lot of algae and nutrients that can be found on these plants as well.

They also like to attach themselves to various pieces of wood (which are also present in their native waters). Twig catfish love to nibble on wood and biofilm for fuel while staying relatively still most of the day.

Lifespan

The average twig catfish lifespan is somewhere between 10 and 12 years. Because of their laid-back lifestyle, it’s easy to see why they can live for quite a while!

This lifespan is dependant on the quality of care they receive, with the tank conditions being the primary factor here. If you want to have your Farlowella catfish around as long as possible you need to make sure their habitat is optimal.

Appearance

The appearance of this species is very… twig-like.

They’re long and thin and can very easily be mistaken for a tiny stick if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This is a very effective defense mechanism that has allowed the species to survive for ages.

Twig catfish on a piece of wood

The nose of this fish is long and skinny. The head is the widest part of their body and begins to taper down gradually and consistently behind their eyes (around where their pectoral fins are located).

They have thin and mostly clear pectoral and anal fins that stick out to the side of their body when they’re laying on a surface (which they often are). They almost look like the wings on a dragonfly!

Twig catfish are mostly light brown in coloration with a darker brown line that runs down their sides. This line gets thinner and lighter the closer it gets to the end of their tail.

You’ll notice that the scales on the Farlowella give them a very prehistoric and textured look. It really adds a lot to their overall aesthetic appeal. They look like little ancient sticks that were scattered around the aquarium.

Size

The average twig catfish size is 6 inches in length at most. Their size is impacted by genetic factors as well as the quality of care they receive when they’re young.

A lot of the time when you purchase these fish they’re already three to five inches in length. This means it’s usually a good idea to have an adult-sized tank ready for them from day one.

Author Note: These aren’t a fish where you can expect them to grow to fit the size of their tank. They will grow regardless of tank size.

Twig Catfish Care

Twig catfish care is a bit interesting. Some parts of it are very simple and straightforward, and others are a bit tricky.

This section will break down the core aspects of care so you can provide them with the best habitat possible. Doing so will go a long way in helping them thrive and live a happy and healthy life.

Tank Size

The recommended tank size for twig catfish is around 35 to 40 gallons. While you sometimes see owners saying they do fine in a smaller tank, we disagree.

As a matter of fact, we like to see these fish in a tank even larger than 40 gallons. This will allow them to have plenty of space to roam and make it a bit easier for you to maintain their very specific water parameters.

Obviously, if you plan on keeping a large number of these fish in the same aquarium you’ll need to increase the tank size even more.

Water Parameters

Water parameters are an area where Farlowella catfish care can get a bit tricker. These fish tend to be very sensitive to changes in water conditions or subpar water quality in general.

This means you need to have these numbers handy for your convenience. You’ll be spending a lot of time making sure everything stays consistent!

  • Water temperature: 73°F to 79°F
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: Soft to hard

Author Note: Because it’s so important to keep water levels consistent with the twig catfish it’s a good idea to purchase an accurate test kit. This will ensure that you’re getting detailed and accurate readings so you can be sure there aren’t any subtle shifts that could impact the health of your fish.

What To Put In Their Tank

Setting up the inside of their tank is pretty simple. As long as you have a good understanding of the kind of environment they come from you can use that as a guide going forward.

Starting off with a dark and soft substrate is best. This will allow your Farlowella to comfortably explore the bottom of the tank without getting cut.

Next, it’s time to add some wood. These fish spend a bunch of time resting and nibbling on wood. A tank without any will seem like foreign territory to them. Wood also serves as a hiding place where they can be alone if needed (crucial for keeping stress levels low).

A mix of driftwood and bogwood are the go-to options for the twig catfish. Be generous with this, but don’t include so much that it restricts their ability to swim when they want.

Some plants are a good idea too. You can be a bit flexible here so species like water wisteria, hornwort, or even some floating plants are all viable options.

Common Possible Diseases

You don’t have to worry about any species-specific diseases when it comes to the Farlowella catfish. As long as you keep the water quality where they need it, they’re actually pretty hardy.

Although this isn’t scientifically proven yet, it seems like these fish are a bit more resistant to Ich and fin rot than others. This could be due to their scaley, armored bodies.

But just because these fish don’t have specific diseases you need to watch out for, it doesn’t mean they can handle whatever you throw at them. In reality, it’s kind of the opposite!

Their sensitivity to water conditions means they’re more likely to get sick than a lot of other low-maintenance freshwater fish out there. The twig catfish is a species that needs attentive care in order to maintain optimal health.

Twig Catfish Diet & Food

There’s a lot of confusion about what twig catfish eat. For a fish with such a simple diet, there’s a lot of misinformation being passed around!

Let’s set the record straight:

In the wild, twig catfish eat algae and biofilm that they find on the surface of wood and plants. This accumulates everywhere, and these fish are master scavengers!

In some instances they even eat the actual wood they’re nibbling on. This is something that is rarely found in fish anywhere, and it’s part of the reason why there’s a lot of confusion about what they eat.

In captivity, you’ll be feeding them a mixture of sinking plant-based pellets and vegetables. These fish aren’t picky, so you have a lot of options. Providing some consistency is recommended though. This will help you keep the conditions of the tank more stable and give them a dietary routine.

Behavior & Temperament

Twig catfish are very mellow and peaceful fish. This species simply wants to scavenge for food on various surfaces and hang out!

Farlowella catfish using its suckermouth to attach to the aquarium glass

A lot of new owners are surprised by how little they move. It’s quite common for them to stick around without changing positions for extended lengths of time. This is partly due to their temperament, but it’s also helpful from a camouflage perspective (it’s hard to convince predators that you’re a stick if you’re moving all the time).

This species is a bottom-dwelling fish but it’s not uncommon to find them in the middle area of the tank if you have a surface they can attach themselves onto.

Farlowella catfish are pretty shy and can be spooked fairly easily. It’s your job as the owner to do whatever you can to keep their anxiety and stress levels down. This ties in with the tank mate recommendations in the following section too.

Tank Mates

Because of their shy and peaceful nature, you need to be very careful when selecting tank mates for twig catfish. The wrong pairing can be a disaster and lead to serious health complications for this species.

In general, you’re looking for very mellow and nonaggressive fish that aren’t too large. Even a very active and curious small fish that has no aggressive tendencies can be enough to spook your Farlowella and keep them in a constant state of stress.

Here are some possible twig catfish tank mates:

If you think of any other fish that fit the description you’re more than welcome to ask us to weigh in. Chances are it’s totally fine!

Author Note: Twig catfish do very well in a same-species tank as well. In fact, this is definitely the safest pairing out there! Just make sure to increase the tank size as you add more fish.

Breeding

Breeding Farlowella catfish is actually a pretty easy process. This is quite refreshing when you compare it to the difficulties owners face with other aspects of their care.

The most important thing to remember when trying to encourage this species to breed is to maintain top-notch water quality. These fish won’t attempt to breed if they think it’s an unsuitable environment, and the added stress of suboptimal living conditions can mess with their bodies as well.

Assuming the water quality in their aquarium is stellar then there isn’t much for you to do. Having a solid ratio of females to males is always smart because it cuts down on aggression and increases the odds of overall success.

It’s unlikely that you’ll witness the actual breeding process because it will most likely happen at night. In captivity, it’s very common for twig catfishes to end up placing their eggs on the glass of the aquarium which can be quite interesting to observe.

The male will camp out near the eggs to keep watch and make sure they’re nice and clean. The female will semi-resume her normal behavior after a short while.

After 5-7 days the eggs will hatch, and in another few days they’ll be swimming around!

It’s important to make sure that the fry have access to plenty of food to facilitate growth. While it’s not challenging to get twig catfishes to breed, but raising the fry isn’t as easy.

Ensuring that the tank has enough algae for the fry to eat (and tossing in some veggies as well) should be the top priority. Other than this, making sure to maintain the water quality is about all you can do!

Will You Get One?

By now you should have a firm understanding of what it takes to provide good twig catfish care. These fish are an interesting blend of low and high maintenance and require an owner that’s committed to their wellbeing.

In return, you get the privilege of owning a unique fish that looks like it’s from another planet! There’s really nothing like seeing a bunch of these fish scattered around your aquarium.

If you have any lingering questions about the Farlowella catfish or feedback on how we can make our guides better, simply get in touch with us via our contact form. We’re always eager to hear from other aquarists.

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