11 Top Catfish Species for Your Aquarium

Pepper corydora sifting through substrate

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Catfishes are a very diverse group of species, with many smaller species common in the pet aquarium trade. Catfish are named for their barbels, or "whiskers," which they use to find food in the substrate. Some species of catfish swim in the aquarium like typical fish, but many dwell at the bottom of the aquarium. One species even swims upside down at the top of the aquarium water.


Many species have protective barbs on their dorsal and pectoral fins, so be careful when handling or netting.

  • 01 of 11

    Pictus Catfish

    Two swimming pictus catfish

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    The Pictus Catfish is one of the most common aquarium catfish species. Although they start very small when sold at the fish store, these catfish can grow up to a few feet long in the wild. The Pictus Catfish is a nocturnal fish, so don't expect much activity during the day. Feeding should occur later in the day as the fish wake up for their evening activities.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAME: Pictus catfish, Pictus cat

    SCIENTIFIC NAMEPimelodus pictus

    ADULT SIZE: 5 to 6 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 4 to 8 years

  • 02 of 11

    Upside-Down Catfish

    Upside-down catfish swimming right-side-up with tetras in planted tank

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    Don't be alarmed; these catfish are supposed to be upside down! Named for their highly unique body positioning and swimming behavior, the Upside-Down Catfish is cleverly built for surface feeding—the exact opposite of most other catfish species. They are capable of swimming right-side-up and will demonstrate normal bottom-feeding behavior when food is present on the substrate. No one knows quite how this behavior originated, since their swim bladder and inner ear structures resemble other catfish.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Upside-down catfish, blotched upside-down catfish

    SCIENTIFIC NAMESynodontis nigriventris

    ADULT SIZE: 4 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 years

  • 03 of 11

    Bandit Cory

    Bandit corydora resting on aquarium substrate


    Named for their distinctive facial "bandit" mask, the Bandit Cory is a small, peaceful catfish species. Like other Corydoras species, these fish do best when kept in small groups. The Bandit Cory is also a nocturnal feeder, so don't expect to see them much during the day.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Bandit catfish, bandit cory, masked cory, meta river catfish, rio meta cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras metae

    ADULT SIZE: 2 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 years

  • 04 of 11

    Panda Cory

    Panda corydora resting on rock in front of plants

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    A common Corydoras in the aquarium trade is the Panda Cory. Named for its distinctive white body with black markings, it very closely resembles the Bandit Cory. Water quality and maintenance is critical to good cory health, and be sure to give them lots of places to hide during the day. They are also nocturnal, so you may not see them much until it gets dark.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Panda catfish, panda cory, panda corydoras

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras panda

    ADULT SIZE: 2 inches (5 cm)

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 years

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  • 05 of 11

    Bronze Cory

    Two bronze corydoras resting on the substrate

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    The Bronze Cory is distinguished by its overall dusky metallic brown to grey to green coloration. Given this color pattern, these Corydoras are great at hiding—something that greatly benefits a nocturnal fish. As with other cory species, keep them in a group and feed sinking food that drops to the substrate. This is the species that is commercially available as an all-white fish with red eyes, sold as the Albino Corydoras. It is the most commonly available Corydoras catfish (in both the green and albino color varieties).

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Bronze cory, green cory, albino cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras aeneus

    ADULT SIZE: 2.5 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 to 10 years

  • 06 of 11

    Suckermouth (Plecostomus) Catfish

    Suckermouth catfish resting on rocky substrate

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    More commonly known as the Plecostomus, these catfish are known to use their mouths as anchor points, hanging on plants or the side of the aquarium glass. Their specialized mouths can rasp surfaces, cleaning them of algae and other debris. Some Plecos can get very large, so be sure to correctly identify your species before adding them to your tank. The common pleco (Hypostomus plecostomus) can typically grow to 18 inches or more, but rubber-lipped plecos (Chaetostoma milesi) and bristlenose plecos (Ancistrus cirrhosus) will stay at 4-5 inches long.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Suckermouth Catfish, Plecostomos, Pleco

    SCIENTIFIC NAMEHypostomus plecostomus

    ADULT SIZE: 3 inches to 2 feet

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 to 15 years

  • 07 of 11

    Three Stripe Cory

    Three Stripe Corydora swimming in aquarium

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    The Three Stripe Cory is decorated by a maze of dark black to brown lines all over its translucent, iridescent body. Also known as the Leopard Cory, this species follows the care rules for many Corydoras, including nocturnal feeding, strict water quality requirements, and preference to being kept in a small school of 3-5 Corys.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: False julii cory, leopard catfish, leopard cory, three-line catfish, three-lined cory, three-stripe cory, trilineatus cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras trilineatus

    ADULT SIZE: 2.5 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 10 years

  • 08 of 11

    Julii Cory

    Julii Cory resting on rocky substrate

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    The Julii Cory is almost identical in appearance to the Three Stripe Cory (#7). The key distinction is the consistency of the lines on the fish's head. The Three Stripe Cory will have a fully connected pattern, whereas the Julii Cory will have an interrupted pattern made up of dots. They can be very difficult to differentiate between when the fish are small.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Julii catfish, julii cory, leopard cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras julii, Synonym Corydoras leopardus

    ADULT SIZE: 2.5 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 years

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  • 09 of 11

    Bristlenose Catfish

    Bristlenose Pleco on a rock

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    Also known as the Bristlenose Pleco, this catfish species stays relatively small and will not outgrow its aquarium like other plecostomuses. These catfishes are distinguished by the multiple bristles, or whiskers, surrounding the head, instead of just the mouth. The bristles are larger in the males. Although they will feed on algae and detritus, it is best to feed them a sinking pelleted food to ensure a well-rounded diet. This species also comes in an albino variation, which has darker yellow spots on it light yellow body.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Bristlenose pleco, bristlenose catfish, bushynose catfish, bushy nose

    SCIENTIFIC NAMEAncistrus cirrhosus

    ADULT SIZE: 5 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5-10 years

  • 10 of 11

    Pepper Cory

    Pepper Cory using barbels to sense food in substrate

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    The Pepper Cory is distinguished by its mottled black or dark brown body appearance. Although the underside, pelvic, and pectoral fins are white to translucent, the dorsal surface of the fish takes on a shadowed appearance—perfect for hiding out from predators during the day. This species is commonly confused with both the Three Stripe and Julii Cory.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Blue leopard corydoras, peppered catfish, peppered cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras paleatus

    ADULT SIZE: 2 to 3 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 years

  • 11 of 11

    Skunk Cory

    Skunk corydora resting on white rocky substrate

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    The Skunk Cory is named for its bold black band running along the dorsal ridge of the fish. It can be confused with the Adolfi Corydoras (Corydoras aldolfoi), which has a similar black band but is interrupted by a vivid orange patch on the head. Like other Corydoras species, the Skunk Cory does best in small groups and in a tank with lots of places to hide, given their nocturnal nature.

    Species Overview

    COMMON NAMES: Skunk cory, arched cory

    SCIENTIFIC NAMECorydoras arcuatus

    ADULT SIZE: 2 inches

    LIFE EXPECTANCY: 5 years

As with any fish species, do your research before adding any fish to a new or established aquarium. Be sure to properly quarantine all new additions, and be sure all fish have enough room and are fed an appropriate diet.