Top 17 Most Popular Freshwater Aquarium Catfish

Catfish come from many diverse families and genuses from all over the world.

Although they may not look as colorful as other freshwater fish, this does not stop them from being well loved by hobbyists.

These fish have several important roles in the wild and in the aquarium.

Many species can be used as live-in custodians, cleaning garbage like algae and detritus off of the bottom of the tank. Other species act as predators, scavengers, and decomposers. If pesky invertebrates are a problem in your aquarium or pond, a Catfish is a safe way to get rid of them.

No two aquarium catfish are exactly alike.

You might be surprised by just how many types of Catfish are out there!

Keep reading to learn more about 17 of the most popular types of aquarium catfish…

17 Best Types of Aquarium Catfish

Catfish Family Availability Rank
Asian Stone Catfish Erethistidae Rare 11
Bristlenose Pleco Loricariidae Common 1
Bronze Corydoras Callichthyidae Common 13
Bumblebee Catfish Pseudopimelodidae Rare 3
Common Pleco Loricariidae Common 7
Featherfin Squeaker Mochokidae Uncommon 17
Glass Catfish Siluridae Uncommon 6
Gold Nugget Pleco Loricariidae Common 9
Iridescent Shark Pangasiidae Uncommon 4
Julii Cory Callichthyidae Common 10
Otocinclus Loricariidae Common 2
Panda Cory Callichthyidae Common 8
Pictus Pimelodidae Common 15
Sailfin Pleco Loricariidae Common 14
Striped Raphael Catfish Doradidae Common 12
Synodontis Decorus Mochokidae Uncommon 16
Upside Down Catfish Mochokidae Uncommon 5

Featherfin Squeaker

Featherfin Squeaker

The Featherfin Squeaker is a decorative Synodontis with lacey fins.

They can be either grey or brown and have a beautiful speckled pattern that evens out into polka dots when they mature.

Juveniles can be raised in a 50 gallon tank but you must size up to at least 75 gallons as they grow up.

Featherfin Squeakers need a dimly lit environment with lots of space at the bottom of the tank.

Synodontis Decorus

The Clown Squeaker (Synodontis Decorus) belongs to the Synodontis genus.

They can talk by making squeaking sounds with their pectoral spines.

This fish’s decorative spotted pattern starts out white, but will turn brown as they mature.

Clown Squeakers are very active and cover a lot of swimming distance. They need lots of enrichment in the form of underwater caves, tunnels, and hiding places.

They are one of the few fish that can safely live with aggressive African Cichlids, as it lives among them in the wild. They make a perfect tank mate for Peacock Cichlids and Blue Mbunas.

Pictus

Pictus Catfish

The Pictus is a famous algae eater from the Pimelodidae family.

Their trailing barbels are one of their defining features.

In addition to being an algae eater, they are also a voracious predator. Fortunately, they are too small to eat anything much larger than a snail.

Pictus are shoaling fish that are happy in groups of 5 or 6. They can live in communities if there are no other bottom dwellers around.

Any tank mates should be quick enough to get out of the way of the sharp spines on their pectoral fins.

Sailfin Pleco

Sailfin Pleco

The Sailfin Pleco is one of the largest and most spectacular Plecos.

These aquarium catfish can reach almost 2 feet long and have a tall, wide dorsal fin.

Like the Common Pleco, their diet is primarily made up of algae and detritus. If you are keeping this fish indoors you will need at least 100 gallons to accommodate them.

Because of their size they are difficult to keep in a community. However, they can hold their own against the most aggressive Cichlids, such as the Oscar and Jack Dempsey. You can even keep them with much smaller fish like Tetras and Rasboras.

Bronze Corydoras

Bronze Corydoras

The Bronze Corydoras is one of the most popular Corydoras species.

They are widely available and are well suited for beginners.

Bronze Corys must be kept in groups of 5 to 6 individuals and you will need at least a 20 gallon tank for a group.

Every so often they will rush to the surface for air. This is a trait that they share with other Cory species, and it allows them to survive in low oxygen environments.

They can live with any other species of Cory but should not be paired with the highly venomous Sterba’s Cory.

Striped Raphael Catfish

Striped Raphael Catfish

The Striped Raphael is a talking Catfish from the Doradidae family.

They produce sound by vibrating their pectoral bones.

Striped Raphaels have a pair of stinging rays on their pectoral fins – a sting from this fish feels like a sting from a wasp.

The Striped Raphael is excellent for planted tanks, as they need a lot of shade at the bottom of the tank. Without enough hiding places, they will not come out very often.

They are active at night, but can be trained to come out during the day by enticing them with food.

Most of the time you will spot them scavenging at the bottom.

Asian Stone Catfish

The Asian Stone Catfish is a rare and unusual Catfish from the Erethistidae family.

These aquarium catfish are also known as the Moth Catfish because of their shape and nocturnal nature.

Stone Catfish are very sluggish and spend most of their time hiding, blending in with rocks and decorations. When the aquarium lights turn off, you will see them come out to feed. The Stone Catfish is a bottom dweller for cold water tanks, but does not have much of a use outside of that.

Consider keeping them with Goldfish, Dojo Loaches, and Mountain Minnows.

Julii Cory

Julii Cory

The Julii Cory, or Leopard Cory, is an adorable spotted Corydoras.

Their spotted pattern occurs on their entire body but is thickest around their head and snout.

This lively spotted pattern is what causes most people to love Julii Corys. Their pattern can really draw attention to an otherwise boring bottom.

Corydoras julii is the true Julii Cory, but there is a similar species that is often mislabeled as one. Corydoras trilineatus, the Three Stripe Cory, is often called the false Julii Cory.

To tell the difference between the two, take a look at the spotted pattern.

C. julii has a consistent spotted pattern across the whole body, while C. trilineatus has stripes that travel down the lateral line.

The Julii Cory will get along with Tetras, Rasboras, Zebra Danios, and other Nano fish.

Gold Nugget Pleco

Gold Nugget Pleco

The yellow and black Gold Nugget Pleco is one of the most beautiful Pleco Catfish.

Not only is this fish very beautiful, but they are also easy to keep and can be enjoyed by beginners.

They are often kept as a janitor fish and used to eat algae, detritus, and dead plant material that accumulates at the bottom of the tank.

There should be a good amount of algae in your tank before this fish is introduced as algae is their primary food source.

Gold Nugget Plecos spend most of their time hiding and will remain indifferent to other fish. This makes them easier to fit into communities than other large Plecostomus.

Panda Cory

Panda Cory Catfish

The Panda Cory is a beautiful black and white Corydoras.

Their attractive appearance has made them very popular.

Panda Corys need to shoal in groups of at least 5 individuals. They can live with any other Cory species, as well as some cool-water fish like the Dojo Loach and Mountain Minnow.

Their care is not too different from other Corys except they can withstand a slightly lower water temperature of 65°F.

Common Pleco

Common Pleco

The Common Pleco is the most famous Plecostomus.

They are often kept as a cleaner fish in larger setups.

You can find them in grey, brown, or tan with a black spotted pattern that allows them to blend into the substrate.

Despite their popularity they are not recommended for beginners.

Common Plecos grow over a foot long and need at least an 80 gallon tank.

These fish spend most of their time hiding so you will need to give them their own cave.

Although they eat algae and detritus they will also snack on cleaner shrimp, snails, and even smaller fish. They should be the only fish at the bottom of the tank.

Glass Catfish

Glass Catfish

The Glass Catfish has completely transparent scales.

They are a very unique type of aquarium catfish.

Unlike other catfish that are kept for their algae eating ability, this species has no specific purpose outside of their unusual looks. However, they are a favorite for aquascapers because they are compatible with some of the showiest plants.

Hygros, Ludwigias, and Java Ferns are just a few of the plants that can fit into this fish’s home.

These schooling fish are very peaceful and are compatible with other fish like Danios and small Gouramis.

Upside Down Catfish

Upside Down Catfish

For most fish, swimming upside down is bad news.

But for the Upside Down Catfish, it is simply a way of life.

This unique Synodontis swims upside down in order to feed on prey at the surface of the water. They can also use this method to fit into caves and narrow spaces more easily.

Upside Down Catfish have a dark colored underside and a light dorsal side. This is the opposite of most fish, who have dark bodies and light undersides.

They have sharp spines which are used as a defense against predators. If a larger fish tries to eat them, the spines will become lodged in their throat. Unfortunately, these spines can also injure handlers and puncture handling nets.

Their unusual swimming will certainly draw attention to your tank.

Iridescent Shark

Iridescent Shark

The Iridescent Shark is a massive Shark Catfish.

They can grow up to 4 feet long and must be kept in a pond or a tank over 400 gallons.

Iridescent Sharks need very deep water and enough swimming distance to travel in schools of 5. When their tank is too small they will bang their head against the side of the tank.

They are much better suited for ponds than for tanks.

These Sharks are surprisingly timid for their size and can be kept with peaceful monsterfish like the Bala Shark and the Black Sharkminnow.

Bumblebee Catfish

There are 2 different species that are known as the Bumblebee Catfish:

  • Pseudomystus siamensis from Asia, is the most common.
  • Microglanis iheringi from South America, is much less common.

These species come from 2 different families: Bagridae and Pseudopimelodidae.

Both have a brown and yellow striped pattern and live on sandy or muddy riverbeds with caves and plants for shelter. However, they cannot live in the same tank together.

P. siamensis can handle water temperatures down to 68°F, while M. iheringi needs a temperature of at least 72°F.

M. iheringi is better for communities, while P. siamensis should be kept alone due to their predatory nature.

Otocinclus

Otocinclus

The Otocinclus is one of the smallest Loricariids.

There are 22 different species of Otocinclus and they all only reach about 2 inches long.

  • The Common Oto (Otocinclus vittatus) is the most widely available.
  • The Zebra Oto (Otocinclus cocama) is another very popular type, featuring a black and white striped pattern and a pink underside.
  • The Golden Oto (Otocinclus affinis) is a gold color with the same striped pattern.

They are one of the best algae eaters that you can find.

Otocinclus thrive in nano tanks and are often used for cleaning up problematic algae. They are a more peaceful alternative to the Siamese Algae Eater. These fish are very peaceful and are excellent for beginners. They can be kept with other small fish like the Chili Rasbora or Celestial Pearl Danio.

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

The Bristlenose Pleco is one of the smaller Plecos from the Loricariidae family.

They are the most popular freshwater aquarium catfish.

There are several different species, but Ancistrus cirrhosus and Ancistrus maracasae are the most popular.

Bristlenose Plecos are an excellent beginner Pleco. They only grow to 5 inches long and their armored skin makes them quite hardy and healthy.

Lots of people keep the Bristlenose as a janitor fish. You may spot one climbing up the glass of a Goldfish tank, sucking up algae and detritus.

This fish can live peacefully with single tailed Goldfish.

You can also keep them with Zebra Danios, Mountain Minnows, and Livebearers.

All About Freshwater Aquarium Catfish

Redtail Catfish

Catfish belong to the order Siluriformes, which includes over 2000 different species and 33 families.

31 of these families occur in fresh and brackish water, while only 2 occur in marine environments.

They can be found all over the world in both temperate and tropical climates. Most of the species in aquariums come from South America, Africa, and Asia. They are found in all areas of freshwater lakes, rivers, streams, and ponds.

Catfish are named after their whisker-like appendages near their mouths, called barbels. These are used to detect movement, vibration, and chemical changes in murky waters.

They are considered scaleless fish, but this is a bit of a misnomer. Catfish scales are very small and thin compared to the thick, iridescent scales of most fish. Some families, such as the Loricariids and Callichthyidae, have thick dermal plates instead of scales.

These act as protective armor against predators and environmental hazards.

There are many different families of Catfish, but only a few are popular aquarium catfish.

Loricariidae

The Loricariidae, or armored Catfish, is the largest family of all. Loricariids are classified by the dermal plates that cover their bodies in place of true scales. They are known as suckermouth Catfish, as their mouths are used for sucking and rasping at algae and detritus.

Popular Examples: Plecostomus (Common Pleco, Bristlenose Pleco, Gold Nugget Pleco, and Sailfin Pleco), Otocinclus, and Dwarf Sucker

Callichthyidae

The Callichthyidae family is very similar to Loricariidae, as both families are covered in thick dermal plates. However, Callichthyidae have two rows of plates that interlock with each other. Callichthyidae are typically smaller in size than Loricariids and prefer small live prey to algae and detritus. Their armor is thick enough to hold out against Piranha and Pacu attacks.

Popular Examples: Julii Cory, Bronze Corydoras, and Panda Cory

Mochokidae

This family is from Africa and contains the Synodontis genus. These Catfish are known as squeakers, due to the squeaking sound they can make by vibrating their pectoral spines. Like the Loricariids, Mochokids have sucker mouths that allow them to rasp algae and detritus from hard surfaces. Their lacey barbels are among their most unusual features.

Popular Examples: Upside Down Catfish

Pangasiidae

The Pangasiidae, or Shark Catfish, includes some of the largest Catfish species on the planet. Pangasiids are native to Southeast Asia and can be found from Thailand to Vietnam. These fish are beloved by monsterfish keepers and outdoor pond enthusiasts.

Popular Examples: Mekong Giant Catfish, and Iridescent Shark

Siluridae

Siluridae, or True Catfish, is probably the most basic family of Catfish there are. This family contains the species that do not really fit anywhere else. Silurids are found across Europe and Asia and can be found in temperate and tropical waters. This family features thin scales, short fins, and a tiny adipose fin just before the tail.

Popular Examples: The Glass Catfish, Giant Wels Catfish, and Red Tail Catfish

Other lesser known families of Catfish include the Doradidae, Erethistidae, and Pimelodidae.

Summary

The world of freshwater Catfish is truly diverse.

Many are equipped with unique features that you may not expect to find on a fish, such as armor, spikes, and even transparent skin!

Because they come from all over the world they will fit into just about any kind of habitat. From temperate ponds to tropical rivers to brackish waters, there is one for every environment.

These beneficial fish are often used for algae and detritus cleaning. They are very good at livening up the bottom of a tank, and most species are peaceful enough to be kept in communities.

What is your favorite kind of freshwater Catfish?

Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.