5 Types of Catfish Guaranteed to Spruce Up Your Aquarium

If you’re in search of a few bottom-dwellers that not only serve a purpose but also add interest to your home aquarium, you will definitely want to consider some of the types of catfish we will cover in this article. The term “catfish” actually includes a wealth of different species – we’re talking hundreds of kinds! Catfish are best known for one unique physical trait in particular: they do not have scales, but rather they have a smooth, skin-like exterior. Another trait that makes catfish easily recognizable is the presence of barbels, or whisker-like antennae, on the face. Barbels actually house the fish’s taste buds which enables them to be excellent scavengers, hence their suitability as a bottom level aquarium dweller. Catfish tend to eat the “debris” found on the rocks, walls, and decorative pieces in the aquarium. Their ability to reduce algae buildup and tidy up excess food that was neglected by other fish makes this type of catfish a worthy addition to any home tank.

The following five types of catfish are a few species that have particularly unique looks that are sure to add a bit of eclecticism to your tank and draw the eye of passersby.

Whiptail Catfish

If you’re in search of a bottom dweller that looks bizarre and even a little menacing, the whiptail may be the right choice for you. This guy has a mixture of light and dark brown spotting and can be primarily dark brown or light brown in color. This specimen typically grows to a length of about 6 inches in maturity which includes a long, whip-like tail that become thinner towards the end before flaring out in a skinny, vertically bisected fin. Although this kind may seem a bit on the small side for a catfish, it’s actually a medium to large specimen (as far as home aquariums are concerned) and it is recommended that your tank has a capacity of at least 50 gallons in order to provide the whiptail with enough room to live comfortably. The whiptail may bear the appearance of a stroppy tough guy but he’s actually very peaceful and can get along with pretty much any other species you might have in your tank.

Bristlenose Catfish

The bristlenose is sure to illicit a chuckle from those obtaining a first look at this awkward-looking guy. Although this species bears a striking resemblance to the hypostomus plecostomus, or standard aquarium plecostomus, there is one feature that clearly stands out in the bristlenose: the miniature tentacle-like bristles that protrude from its head, mouth, and nose. In most cases the size of the bristles can be used to determine whether the specimen is a juvenile, young adult, or older adult. Young bristlenose specimens have short, stumpy bristles whereas very old specimens tend to have long, thick bristles. This type of catfish tends to cap out at around 5 inches in length although they can be very stocky around the head and upper body. The minimum tank requirement for the bristlenose is 40 gallons, although it would probably be more comfortable in a 50 gallon tank. Like many other freshwater catfish species, this one has a peaceful disposition and is suitable for large and diverse aquarium communities. If your aquarium is fairly low on algae and leftover flake food then you would need to supplement this guy’s diet with algae wafers and/or freeze-dried shrimp.


The otocinclus is a very small catfish variety that maxes out around two inches in length. It is often referred to as an “otto.” This type looks like a miniaturized and slightly lighter-in-color version of the standard plecostomus. Just like the plecostomus, this little guy can be seen sucking on the walls of the aquarium tank, rocks, castles and other decorative items, and other tank fixtures. Ottos are very small and tend to become reclusive if they are the only of their species in a tank. If you decide to choose this type of cat then it is recommended that you buy at least four to six in order to allow these guys to form a happy and healthy social group (not to mention a highly effective algae busting crew). A singular otto can easily feel threatened, especially if semi-aggressive species are also present in the tank. Such a specimen could develop reclusive tendencies such as hiding behind plants or rocks and inside decorative fixtures. If you want to be able to see this bright little fish actively swishing around the tank then it’s best to make sure that he has a few other same-species tank mates to help him relax.

Bumblebee Catfish

The bumblebee is another small species that can be kept in a tank as small as 20 gallons. They tend to average about 2 inches in length at maturity. The coloring and design on this fish’s “skin” is sure to catch your eye, as it has thick, alternating lines of black and yellow (although sometimes orange or orangey-red) running vertically across its body. Bumblebees have a peaceful personality and can do well as a singular specimen in your aquarium. It is primarily nocturnal but you have a good chance of catching some activity in the late evening and early morning, especially if you choose to coincide feeding times with the early evening as this would be the beginning of the bumblebee cat’s day. One thing that you will need to bear in mind before introducing this bottom dweller into your tank is whether you have any small, slender fish that could be potential meals for the bumblebee. Although non-aggressive, the bumblebee cat is an omnivore with a very wide mouth which enables him to easily eat anything that is smaller than him.

Striped Raphael Catfish

The striped Raphael is a great choice if you have a large tank – preferably around 50 – 55 gallons. The striped Raphael will reach an average length between 6 and 9 inches as an adult and will be fairly stocky throughout its entire body. This coloring of this species is likely to bring up thoughts of a zebra or prison uniform, as it is primarily dark brown/black with two sets of stripes running down each side of its body, both of which meet to form arrow-like points on the face. This species is very docile and largely inactive during the day time. It would do well with a bit of colored PVC pipe, driftwood, or a large decorative cave in which it can explore. An interesting tidbit about this species is that females tend to have cream-colored stripes whereas males have ivory-colored stripes.