Best Freshwater Aquarium Catfish Types (2021)

Fishkeeping has become more and more popular over the years, with people investing in home aquarium setups and a variety of fishy friends to entertain and act as companions.

And while you might not be able to train a tetra to do as many tricks as a terrier, fish can still be excellent pets. Catfish in particular are beloved by aquarists who enjoy their spunky personalities, little quirks, and adorably odd looks.

Plus, catfish tend to live for a long time—from 5 to up to 15 years or more. So, investing in one of these lovely little fish is sure to give you many, many hours of enjoyment and companionship.

But among all the types that you can find at pet shops or fish stores, what kinds of catfish are best for your freshwater aquarium?

Freshwater Aquarium Catfish come in a few main types: Corydoras, Otocinclus, Plecostomus, Synodontis, and a handful of other individual varieties. Now, let’s delve into each of these groups of catfish and explore them a little further!


Corydoras Catfish

One of the most popular and easily available types, Corydoras catfish are small, adorable, and come in a wide variety of colors. They need to be housed with others of their kind to imitate their natural schooling behavior, and require a soft substrate to protect their tender bodies.

Corydoras Catfish

Bandit Cory

Fish Size: 2 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

A sensitive and scaleless fish, the Bandit Cory needs plenty of hiding spaces as well as swimming spots within the tank. They enjoy a varied diet and the company of a communal tank.

Green or Bronze Cory

Fish Size: 2.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

These bright little catfish are able to breathe air from the water’s surface, so you will often see them taking gulps from the top of the tank before sinking back to the substrate. They are sweet-natured and docile.

Julii Cory

Fish Size: 2.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 5 to 7 years

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 78°F

With distinctive skin that looks like a dotted pattern that has been interrupted, the Julii Cory is an adorable type of freshwater aquarium catfish. They are ideal for a communal tank.

Orange Laser Cory

Fish Size: 3 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: Up to 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

Water Temperature: 70°F to 80°F

Known for the unmistakable orange band down its back, the Orange Laser Cory is a bright and colorful addition to your freshwater aquarium, particularly in a large group.

Panda Cory

Fish Size: 2 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 68°F to 77°F

A sweet-tempered fish, the Panda Cory sports a black and white color pattern reminiscent of the bear. They are very social and love to live in a communal aquarium.

Peppered Cory

Fish Size: 2 to 3 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 78°F

This little fish enjoys live food and resting at the bottom of the aquarium. Additionally, the Peppered Cory will help keep the entire tank clean, and can tilt their eyes up and down, giving the impression of winking.

Pygmy Cory

Fish Size: 1.2 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: Around 3 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

Native to Brazil, the Pygmy Cory likes to be in a tank with only other tiny fish species, as it can be a somewhat nervous fish. They also like to have plenty of plants available to hide within when socializing gets to be too much for them.

Skunk Cory

Fish Size: 2 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

A type of armored catfish, the Skunk Cory is a lovely little fish that keeps the bottom of the tank spotless and likes to swim with other tankmates. Their ability to breathe oxygen directly means that they occasionally pop up to the surface for a gulp.

Sterbai Cory

Fish Size: 2.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Minimum Tank Size: 11 gallons

Water Temperature: 75°F to 82°F

The Sterbai Cory is a hardier and more adaptable type of freshwater aquarium catfish than others and can tolerate some changes to water and surroundings. They thrive on an omnivore diet of pellets and frozen worms.

Three Stripe Cory

Fish Size: 2.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 78°F

This lovely catfish will help keep your tank clean by sifting through gravel or substrates and removing debris, while sporting the lovely spots and stripes that give the Three Stripe Cory its name.


Otocinclus Catfish

One of the best algae eaters in the world of bottom feeders, Otocinclus catfish are active fish that like to split their time between vacuuming up algae and darting around between the other fish that dwell in your freshwater home aquarium, without too much interaction.

Otocinclus Catfish

Golden Otos

Fish Size: 1.5 to 2 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: Just over 1 year

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

Small and peaceful, these fish need a steady supply of algae and vegetables to keep them sustained. Apart from eating, Golden Otos like to make the rounds of your tank, keeping themselves out of trouble.

Zebra Otos

Fish Size: 1.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Expected Life Span: Up to 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 13 gallons

Water Temperature: 71°F to 79°F

Small fish with suckermouths and armored bodies, Zebra Otos have a lovely blue-white and yellow coloring interspersed with dark stripes. They are picky catfish that require an exact diet to thrive in a tank.


Plecostomus Catfish

The type of freshwater aquarium catfish that most people think of immediately, Plecostomus catfish are suckermouth fish favored by aquarists everywhere. They like to attach themselves to rock, wood, and the sides of the tank, and live peacefully with other fish types.

Plecostomus Catfish

Bristlenose Pleco

Fish Size: 5 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 40 gallons

Water Temperature: 73°F to 81°F

These adorable little fish will vacuum the bottom of your tank and substrate to find nutrients. Bristlenose Plecos are easy to take care of and provide plenty of entertainment for watchers.

Clown Pleco

Fish Size: 3.5 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 10 to 12 years

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

Hardy natured and gentle with other types of fish, the Clown Pleco is a beautiful freshwater aquarium catfish with orange or yellow and black stripes. They are one of the more vibrant types of catfish you can add to a communal tank environment.

Golden Nugget Pleco

Fish Size: 6 to 9 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 4 to 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

Water Temperature: 73°F to 79°F

Famed for its dark skin with bright yellow dots, the Golden Nugget Pleco is a ray of sunshine for your aquarium. They like a lush tank with plenty of caves and plants to hide in when feeling shy, as they are mellow by nature and like to have their own space.

Rubber-Lipped Pleco

Fish Size: 7 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 10 to 12 years

Minimum Tank Size: 25 to 30 gallons

Water Temperature: 72°F to 80°F

A sweet but nervous species of freshwater aquarium catfish, the Rubber-Lipped Pleco boasts a large suckermouth and a sloping snout. They need to be housed with other gentle species and no aggressive fish that will cause them high-stress levels.


Synodontis Catfish

These fish are known for being able to swim upside down to get food off the surface of the water. Additionally, Synodontis catfish will emit a shrill squeaking noise when distressed or threatened, caused by their pectoral fins.

synodontis catfish

Alberti Catfish

Fish Size: 8 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 20 to 23 years

Minimum Tank Size: 21 gallons

Water Temperature: 69°F to 77°F

These large and peaceful fish are great for a community tank with other fish no larger than one or two inches. Alberti Catfish are loners though, and like to be the only one of their kind in smaller aquariums.

Clown Catfish

Fish Size: 6 inches

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 15 gallons

Water Temperature: 68°F to 75°F

A favorite among aquarists for many reasons, the Clown Catfish is an adorable and vibrant addition to a home. However, these fish need an experienced owner as tank conditions must be kept precise.

Upside-Down Catfish

Fish Size: 4 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons or a nano tank

Water Temperature: 72°F to 79°F

A veritable mascot of Synodontis types, the Upside-Down Catfish swims just like that—upside-down! This allows it to feed directly from the water’s surface, and gives them an adorable quality to add to your aquarium.


Other Types Of Catfish

The remaining types of freshwater aquarium catfish we have here don’t belong to a specific sub-genus of catfish types, like the previous ones. However, these are all very unique and wonderful additions to your fish tank and have their individual quirks.

Asian Stone Catfish

Fish Size: 1.2 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: Up to 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons or a nano tank

Water Temperature: 64°F to 75°F

One of the tiniest types of catfish, the Asian Stone Catfish is a mellow and fairly inactive fish that does not require much room. Very shy, they like to hide in a sandy substrate or among pieces of driftwood in the tank, and often will blend in completely, leaving you a seek-and-find task if you want to spot them.

Banjo Catfish

Fish Size: 6 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 6 years

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

Water Temperature: 71°F to 75°F

With a flattened-looking body, the shy Banjo Catfish likes to hide under branches or dig itself into the bottom of its environment. And with a sandy or khaki coloring that gives more camouflage, this fish happily nibbles on nutrients found in the substrate at night.

Bumblebee Catfish

Fish Size: 3 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 4 to 5 years

Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons

Water Temperature: 70°F to 77°F

A colorful bottom feeder, the Bumblebee Catfish can easily navigate the tank and substrate thanks to its large ventral fins. They like to have plenty of rocks and objects to travel around and hide behind in a tank environment, but are otherwise very low maintenance in their care needs.

Chinese Algae Eater

Fish Size: 10 to 11 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

Water Temperature: 74°F to 80°F

A large, hardy fish, the Chinese Algae Eater can handle fluctuations in temperature and diet, so long as the water quality in the tank is kept suitable. They have long, slender bodies and powerful suckermouths that you can see moving if they have attached themselves to the side of the tank.

Glass Catfish

Fish Size: 5 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 7 to 8 years

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

Water Temperature: 75°F to 80°F

One of the oddest potential additions to your tank when choosing from types of freshwater aquarium fish, the Glass Catfish is a see-through being that defies all normal notions of catfish appearances. Like little ghosts in your tank, these fish like to school with others of their kind, and are surprisingly active for a type of catfish.

Pictus Catfish

Fish Size: 5 to 6 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 4 to 8 years

Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

Water Temperature: 74°F to 78°F

With long whiskers and adorable little snouts, the Pictus Catfish is great for any community tank. Their wild cousins have been known to grow very large, but captive Pictus Catfish will stay relatively small and can mix with smaller and larger fish, thanks to their docile and friendly nature.

Spotted Raphael Catfish

Fish Size: Up to 6 inches

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 15 to 20 years

Minimum Tank Size: 35 gallons

Water Temperature: 68°F to 79°F

A fish that can make a chirping or squeaking noise through its pectoral fin bones, the Spotted Raphael Catfish prefers to spend its days hiding in the substrate or among sticks and objects on the bottom of the tank. During the night, they emerge and forage for nutrients. They can live singly or in a group of their same kind in a larger tank.

Striped Raphael Catfish

Fish Size: 6 inches or bigger

Difficulty Level: Beginner

Expected Life Span: 10 years

Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

Water Temperature: 68°F to 79°F

Another type of catfish that occasionally makes squeaking noises, the Striped Raphael Catfish looks similar to its spotted relative but is much less shy. Once they get used to their habitat, these fish will come out during the day for some antics, while still feeding primarily at night. They are very active and mischievous whenever out and about.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

Fish Size: 30 to 36 inches

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Expected Life Span: 18 to 25 years

Minimum Tank Size: 250 gallons

Water Temperature: 75°F to 82°F

An interesting fish, the Tiger Shovelnose Catfish has a unique appearance and particular needs that make it ideal for a more experienced fish keeper and extensive tank environment.

They are incredibly large fish and like to rest along the bottom of the tank, using their long, flat snout and wide mouth to hoover up nutrients and pellets or frozen worms that descend to the substrate.

Twig Catfish

Fish Size: 6 inches

Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Expected Life Span: 10 to 12 years

Minimum Tank Size: 35 to 40 gallons

Water Temperature: 73°F to 79°F

Long and slender, with a pointy snout, the Twig Catfish resembles just that—a twig! These are adorable freshwater aquarium catfish that will turn heads and keep people wondering if it’s a fish or a stick.

These delightful little catfish also like to rest on driftwood or other wooden objects in the tank, getting some nutrients from nibbling at them and being able to hide at a moment’s notice.

Walking Catfish

Fish Size: 18 to 24 inches

Difficulty Level: Advanced

Expected Life Span: 10 years or longer

Minimum Tank Size: At least 600 gallons

Water Temperature: 68°F to 78°F

Among the largest catfish you can find for a domestic aquarium, the Walking Catfish is highly predatory and can grow to be enormous, even in captivity. It’s important to keep these fish in a tank with other hardy species of similar sizes, like large barbs or cichlids to avoid unnecessary eating of smaller fish.

However, these catfish can be a real joy to keep, acting quite like a small mammal instead of aquarium fish. They are active and relentless in their movements, and always seem to be getting up to something. However, their size and temperament make them unsuitable for beginner or even intermediate fish keepers to handle properly.


FAQ

Now that we have discussed the top types of freshwater aquarium catfish, let’s touch on some of the most common questions that fellow aquarists have also asked about these special fish.

Are Catfish Good For Aquariums?

Freshwater aquarium catfish are great additions to your aquarium setup. They are common freshwater tank fish that can be exciting pets with distinctive personalities. Catfish are available in many sizes, colors, and species and can often be blended into a communal tank with other types of fish.

Catfish can eat the algae that gathers within your fish tank, as well as leftovers from other messy fish that have sunk to the substrate level, which makes them a handy addition to any aquarium.

What Is The Best Pet Catfish?

The best type of pet catfish can truly depend on your personal preference and situation, but some types of freshwater aquarium catfish are better companions than others. For instance, the corydoras species of catfish is one of the most popular for its playful natures and cute appearances, as well as being easy to care for.

What Do Catfish Eat in Aquariums?

Freshwater aquarium catfish should have a varied diet when kept in a tank. They are bottom feeders that typically will eat the algae or leftovers that other fish drop, but also have their own food needs. These include fish flakes, prepared catfish food, and even frozen foods like vegetable morsels and brine shrimp.

Do Catfish Live In Freshwater?

While some types of catfish can be found in both fresh or saltwater, most are exclusively freshwater fish. In the wild, catfish thrive in ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, and more, making them a great type of freshwater aquarium fish as well.

Because catfish like to live in freshwater surroundings and are a typically docile and peaceful species, they can live happily with a variety of other freshwater fish in your home freshwater aquarium.

How Do Catfish Behave?

Catfish are one of the most tranquil types of fish that you can have in a tank. Freshwater aquarium catfish are friendly, docile, and curious with their keepers and with other tankmates. They are non-aggressive and will happily spend their days cleaning the substrate or gliding around the aquarium water.

How Long Do Freshwater Catfish Live?

Most freshwater aquarium catfish live for an incredibly long time, which is something to take into account when considering them as a pet. Catfish typically live for around 5 to 10 years in a fish tank, and some types can even live up to 20 or 25 years, meaning that your pet catfish will need a forever home and not just a temporary tank setup.


Final Thoughts

Catfish are a wonderful type of freshwater fish for your at-home aquarium. With a massive variety available in species, size, and color, freshwater aquarium catfish are one of the best additions to a house and provide hours upon hours of enjoyment and companionship.

They are a unique-looking species with individual personalities, and lifespans that are surprisingly long, so make sure that your catfish will be well looked after for the entirety of their lives before bringing them home.