Pepper Cory

This catfish is a small, friendly addition to your community tank

Pepper Cory fish swimming in a tank

Pepper Corys are small, peaceful fish that can help clean the bottom of your tank sparkling clean. They're also fun, interesting pets that can vocalize during courtship. Best kept in small groups, they're a great addition to a community freshwater tank.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Blue Leopard Corydoras, Peppered Catfish, Peppered Cory

Scientific Name: Corydoras paleatus

Adult Size: Males 2.5 inches, Females 3 inches

Life Expectancy: 5 years


Family Callichthyidae
Origin Río de la Plata Basin, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Suriname, and Uruguay
Social Peaceful schooling fish
Minimum Tank Size 15 gallon
Diet Omnivore, enjoys live foods
Breeding Egg layer
Care Moderate
pH 6.0–7.0
Hardness to 12 dGH
Temperature 72–78 degrees Fahrenheit (22–26 degrees Celsius)

Origin and Distribution

Pepper Corys are native to South America, where they were first discovered by Charles Darwin during his well-known travels aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830s. Their home includes the rivers and streams of the Río de la Plata Basin, which is one of the world’s largest river basins. Peppers have been found in rivers, streams, and small lakes in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Suriname, and Uruguay. They are among the earliest fish that were captive-bred for the aquarium trade, having first been bred in captivity in Paris, France, in 1878.

The scientific name for this fish is derived from the Latin words cory (meaning helmet), doras (meaning skin), and palea (meaning chaff or strips of metal foil), a reference to their natural coloration. Pepper Corys are one of the most commonly seen, and most popular, of the Corydoras genus in the aquarium trade. Currently, most specimens sold in shops are captive bred by commercial breeders in Florida and Asia.

Colors and Markings

Corydoras paleatus, known commonly as the Pepper Cory, is possibly the most commonly kept of all Corydoras species, with the possible exception of Corydoras aenus, or Bronze Cory. They are small, with males reaching a maximum size of 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) and females no more than 3 inches (7.5 cm). The body of this species is rather stocky and covered with two rows of bony plates, also known as scutes. The head is also covered in large bony plates, from which its scientific name is derived. On the upper jaw are two pairs of barbels, which aide the fish when rummaging through the substrate for morsels of food.

The body coloration is pale olive to tan, with a green iridescent sheen. A network of dark green-black markings covers the body, with no two specimens being exactly the same. The fins are relatively pale, and the dorsal fin has a dark splotch on the first few rays, while the caudal fin has a sprinkling of fine spots. This species has an adipose fin, which has a spot at the upper tip. Cultivated varieties exist in albino and a gold variety sometimes referred to as Golden Paleatus. Wild-caught specimens have more contrast in the patterning, as well as more iridescence than most captive-bred specimens.

An interesting behavior in this species is the ability to produce sound by abduction (movement away from the middle of the body) of its pectoral fins. This behavior is generally seen during courtship or in juveniles when they are distressed. Another habit they have is "winking" at their owners. This happens due to their articulated eyes that allow them to tilt the eye down and back up without moving the head. Like other Corys, this species will sometimes dart to the surface of the water and appear to gulp air. They are able to use atmospheric oxygen by swallowing it and absorbing it in the gut. It is normal to see them do this from time to time. If an increase in this behavior is noted, it may be a sign of deteriorating water quality, and steps should be taken to improve conditions.

As in other members of this family, the Pepper Cory has razor-sharp barbs under each eye, below the adipose fin, and in the front of the dorsal fin. These are intended to deter larger fish from swallowing them. It can, however, pose problems when attempting to net this little catfish, and care should be taken when doing so. This species is very peaceful, and although quite active during the day, they are also known for sitting in one spot for long periods of time, perusing the area to spot bits of food. They prefer to have others of their own and do best when kept in shoals.


Great for small to large aquariums, this species should be kept in groups of three or more. Ideal tankmates are other small fish, such as small peaceful Barbs, Danios, Livebearers, Killifish, small Tetras, and Dwarf Cichlids. Keep in mind that this species prefers cooler water, so avoid keeping with species that require the higher end of tropical temperatures. Also, avoid keeping with large or aggressive fish.

Pepper Cory Habitat and Care

As a bottom dweller that spends their day digging through the substrate, this species should be provided with a substrate of either sand or fine smooth-edged gravel, preferably dark in color. Live plants are ideal, but artificial can be used as well. The key is to provide plenty of hiding spots to make them feel comfortable. Floating plants are a good option, as this species prefers more subdued lighting. Driftwood or bogwood is also a good means of giving this species places to hide.

The water should be a bit cooler than traditional tropical temperatures.

Temperatures of 72–78 degrees Fahrenheit (22–26 degrees Celsius), or even a bit lower are just fine. Avoid temperatures that are close to or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, as this species does not do well in such warm water. Soft to moderately hard water is preferred, but a fairly wide range is tolerated as long is it doesn’t change frequently. Likewise, they will tolerate a range of pH levels, from 6.0 to 7.0 or even a bit above. Avoid very acidic water and rapid fluctuations. The key is for all water parameters to remain stable.

Pepper Cory Diet

Pepper Cory’s relish live foods but do well with frozen, flake, granules, and pellet or tablet foods. Live foods can include bloodworms, brine shrimp, tubifex, and white worms. They are primarily bottom feeders, and although they will occasionally rise to upper levels to grab a tidbit, they dine almost exclusively on the bottom. Therefore, make sure that food is reaching them. Sinking pellets or tablets are a good way to ensure they are getting their fair share of the food. Although they are active during the day, they will often feed at night, so drop a few sinking tablets in the tank just before turning off the lights to ensure they are well fed.

Sexual Differences

Female Pepper Corys are generally larger overall than males and more rounded in the belly. When viewed from above the difference is more obvious, as the female is much wider than the male. The male has a significantly larger dorsal fin, and their anal fin is more pointed than the female. Males are often more colorful than females.

Breeding the Pepper Cory

As previously noted, the Pepper Cory was first bred in Paris in 1878, making it one of the earliest fish to be bred for the aquarium trade. They reproduce readily in home aquariums and are one of the easier species to successfully spawn. They are egg layers and will eat their own eggs, which means a separate tank for spawning and raising the fry is necessary for successful results. A breeder pair or trio of two males and one female should be selected. Some breeders favor an even higher male to female ratio to ensure success. The breeders should be conditioned by feeding small live foods such as bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and tubifex. If live foods are not available, frozen preparations of the live foods may be substituted.

When ready to spawn the female will increase noticeably in girth, and the fish will generally be more active. The belly of the female may display a reddish hue, as will the first ray of the pectoral fin. At this point, perform a large water change (approximately 25 percent) with water that is cooler than the water temperature in the tank. The intention is to drop the water temperature by about 5 degrees, simulating the rainy season, which in turn will trigger spawning. If spawning does not occur within a day or two, repeat the process until spawning occurs. Pepper Corys exhibit traditional Corydoras spawning behavior.

The initial stages of spawning are indicated by the male swimming over the back of the female, close enough that his barbels may touch her back. Males will often exhibit a shivering behavior during the spawning ritual. Eventually, the male will assume the traditional “T” position, with his body being at a right angle to the nose of the female. Debate exists regarding the manner in which the eggs are fertilized. Some believe the female ingests the sperm, passes it through her gut, and then releases it onto the eggs which are held cupped in her ventral fins. Others disagree and believe that sperm is released into the water in close proximity to the eggs. Once the eggs have been fertilized, the pair separates and the female will deposit the adhesive eggs in a location she chooses and cleans. This may be the glass, filter tubes, or even the plants.

Once the eggs have been deposited, the males will again chase the female and the mating ritual will take place again. This is repeated until 200 to 300 eggs have been fertilized and deposited throughout the aquarium. Spawning can continue for an hour or more. Once spawning is complete, the adults should be removed from the tank, as they will consume the eggs and the fry as well. In approximately four to six days, the eggs will hatch, although this will vary depending on the water temperature. Cooler water may prolong the time to hatching by as much as two days.

Once the eggs have hatched, the fry (baby fish) can be fed very small foods such as Cyclops, freshly hatched brine shrimp, microworms, or commercially prepared fry foods. Maintain high water quality by performing frequent water changes.

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