Cory Catfish Care Guide & Species Profile

Cory catfish are peaceful, easy to care for, and often, one of the first fish that an enthusiast will get.

Often found in shoals in large community tanks, they are beautiful additions that bring personality to the lower levels of the tank.

They can also help keep the tank clean by scavenging for food.

Cory Catfish Facts & Overview

Cory Catfish Overview

CategoryRating
Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful
Color:Many varieties available
Lifespan:~5 years
Size:0.75–4 inches
Diet:Omnivore
Family:Callichthyidae
Minimum Tank Size:10 gallons
Tank Setup:Freshwater with fine substrate
Compatibility:Peaceful community aquariums

Cory catfish are famously peaceful, and as they live at the bottom of the tank most of the time, they can live out their own lives without interference.

They belong to the genus Corydoras, a group of over 170 described species of catfish from South America. There are also many more that are not described but are instead given “C” numbers.

With so much choice, you are bound to find the ideal size, pattern, and shape for your tank.

Most species live for around five years however, some live much longer (up to 20 years).

The more common species can be purchased for only a few dollars each, whereas rarer species such as the Weitzmani or Adolfoi cory catfish can cost upwards of $30.

The best specimen should not be thin, as cory cats should be a little plump and have clear colorations and patterns.

Make sure that their barbels are intact and their fins are not torn.

Typical Behavior

Cory fish are bottom-dwelling and like to hide or rest during the day, but in the evening will shoal with other fish.

You will only see them leave the bottom of the tank when they dart to the surface in order to get some air.

An adapted intestinal lining means that they can take in oxygen from the atmosphere.

This behavior was adapted so they could survive in waters with lower oxygen levels but they still occasionally do this even in good conditions.

If the behavior seems frequent, the introduction of plants or an air stone can provide them with more oxygen.

All cory catfish species are very peaceful and will not attack their tank mates, they will also hide when threatened. This makes them easy to pair with most community fish (more on this later).

However, some species are venomous and if highly stressed they can produce toxins that can kill everything in the tank.

This means they should be transported on their own and removed from the tank if they appear stressed and promptly placed into quarantine.

Appearance

Cory Catfish Appearance

Cory catfish are armored, with a short face and a flat underside. They have pectoral fins that stick out and rest on the surface, often propping themselves up with them.

Their dorsal fins point upwards like a sail, but some varieties have more rounded fins. The tail fin is most commonly forked, but the length and height also vary between species.

Like other catfish, they have three pairs of barbels on their face which are used to detect food in the sand.

They also have wide eyes with a clear ring around them, making them look aware and adorable.

Many species have colors that allow them to blend into the browns of the riverbed, but some are pale (such as albinos) or shimmering (like the emerald cory catfish).

With so many species and colors available, you are sure to find the right one for your tank.

Cory Catfish Size

Corys are small fish, with most species around 2.5 inches long. The smallest ones are just over an inch and the largest is 4 inches long.

Cory Catfish Types

Albino Cory Catfish

Albino Cory Catfish

The albino cory is a variety developed from the peppered cory. These fish are a pinkish white with red eyes that almost glow. They are only available from breeders as they are not a wild species.

Panda Cory Catfish

The panda cory catfish was named because of the black patches around their eyes, they also have a base color of white or orange, that reflects some green.

They prefer cooler waters and demand a higher quality of maintenance because their native rivers have mountain streams and meltwaters from mountain snow flowing into them.

Green Cory Catfish

Green Cory Catfish

The green cory catfish are medium-sized Corydoras that are available in four different colors: green, bronze, black, and albino. They are active in the aquarium, but often shy compared to other corys.

Peppered Cory Catfish

Also known as the spotted catfish, the peppered cory is one of the most common aquarium fish.

They are easy to care for and are also attractive and very peaceful. They are bronze with black patches across their bodies. Long-finned or albino varieties are also available.

Pygmy Cory Catfish

The smallest of the Corydoras, pygmy corys will remain around 1 inch long. They will need to be fed smaller foods, and they do better with dimmer lighting. The pygmy cory cannot be paired with larger fish and should be given lots of hiding places.

Often, they look their best in larger shoals without many other species in the tank.

Julii Cory Catfish

The Julii cory catfish is a hard species to find.

They are short fish with small dots and some reticulated patterns on their top.

Sharp barbels under their eyes and in front of their dorsal fins, and the ability to move their eyes in a way that seems like winking, make them an exciting fish to keep.

Emerald Cory Catfish

Boasting one of the more beautiful colorations, emerald cory catfish are iridescent green with pink highlights underneath. This makes them an attractive choice for beginners who are looking for that extra flare.

Sterbai Cory Catfish

A popular species with white spots on a dark body, the Sterbai cory often has yellow undersides and rings around its eyes, giving it a unique charm.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Cory Catfish Habitat

Cory catfish originate from between the US east coast and the Andean mountains.

They live in shallow streams with soft sediment and slow-moving water. The water in these environments is clear and warm, and this should be reflected in their tank.

You will often find plants growing here, as well as trees overhead to provide sunshade and little hideaways.

Tank Setup

Because cory fish are tropical fish, they require warmer waters at 70-78°F. The temperature must also be consistent, as dramatic changes can lead to stress unless you are trying to induce breeding.

Captive-bred fish will need a pH between 7.0-7.8, whereas fish caught from the wild may need a lower pH (5.5-7.0).

High nitrate levels can cause stress in Corydoras, so test the water regularly and keep it at 0ppm. Stress can lead to barbel infections, so it is always best to monitor your water quality as well as their behavior.

They require soft sediments, preferably sand, however, small and rounded gravel can also be used for the substrate. If the gravel is sharp, then it can lead to cuts and infections.

Though many assume that because of their location a fast flow is required, they much prefer slower streams and inlets where they are sheltered from fast-moving water.

This should be reflected in the aquarium by adjusting the filter to a weaker setting.

A planted aquarium will break the water flow too, as well as oxygenating the water and providing cover from the light.

Plants to consider include amazon swords, crypts, penny warts, and dwarf hairgrass.

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

Depending on the species, they can live in as small as a 10-gallon tank, or much larger if you intend to keep many species or larger shoals.

It is less about water volume and more about having a large footprint.

A 15-gallon tank is an ideal size for beginners and can look amazing.

You should allow between 2 to 4 gallons of water per additional cory you add.

Cory Catfish Tank Mates

Cory Tank Mates

In the wild, cory catfish would be found among tetras, such as neon tetras or phantom tetras.

Tetra fish come in some dazzling colors and can bring more life than their size would suggest. They are peaceful (almost shy) so pair well with these calm fish.

They can also be paired with livebearers such as guppies, mollies, and swordtails. Again, brightly colored fish that are peaceful and easy to care for.

Corys can also live with other types of catfish, such as ottos or plecos, or some other types of an animal such as snails or shrimps.

Filter shrimp (such as wood shrimps) and snails (such as nerite snails) can all live peacefully together.

Because cory fish mostly stay at the lower levels of the tank, they make perfect community fish and can be paired with other peaceful fish.

However, despite being armored they should not be kept with aggressive fish. Oscars and cichlids will often try and injure or eat corys.

Keeping Cory Catfish Together

They are schooling fish so require a group, so at least six is recommended.

These fish will happily join other species of Corydoras, and some have been known to shoal with similarly colored tetras.

In the wild, the groups would be much larger than this, so don’t shy away from having a big collection.

Two Cory Catfish

Care

Cory fish need a suitable habitat in order to thrive. Its tank will need cleaning each week. This includes hoovering excess waste from the gravel, and cleaning the glass of the aquarium.

They will often shy away while you clean but will emerge soon after you are finished.

Take care not to stress them, as this can cause them to release toxins that can kill other fish.

Weekly water changes are also needed – you should aim to charge around 20% of the water.

Make sure to dechlorinate the new water, and to pour it in slowly as disturbing the substrate can lead to ammonia spikes.

You should also test the water quality often – this can be done in aquatics stores or by using home test kits. Corys are very sensitive to water parameters so monitoring the water quality will keep them happy.

They are also susceptible to a few diseases such as red blotch or ich.

Cory Catfish

What Do Cory Catfish Eat?

In the wild, cory catfish would eat:

  • small insects
  • worms
  • larvae from the substrate

A vegetable matter that has fallen into the water would also be eaten.

They eat by sucking up food with their mouth from the ground, sometimes digging so that half their face is buried.

Corys will eat most of the basic foods, such as flake food, but sinking pellets that sink to their level replicate their natural feeding habits better.

These fish will also enjoy bottom feeder tablets, shrimp pellets, and algae wafers. Bloodworms and daphnia make great treats too.

Changing their food source every few days will ensure they get a good variety of nutrients.

Corydoras should be fed once daily, and only given as much food as they can eat in 3-5 minutes.

They have also been known to eat the small eggs of other species in the aquarium, so be wary of this if you hope to breed any of their tankmates.

Corys will spend most of their active hours searching for food along the substrate, picking up sand with their mouths and filtering through it.

Are Cory Catfish Suitable For Your Aquarium?

If you can provide soft substrate, places to hide, and great water conditions in a community tank full of peaceful species, then you have the beginnings of a great cory catfish tank.

By following the guidance in this article, your corys will thrive.

They have a great personality and are easy to care for making them an ideal fish for beginners and experts alike.

With so many to choose from, you are bound to find one that appeals to you. If you are new to fishkeeping, make sure you follow our advice on setting up your fish tank before introducing any of these fish.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cory Catfish

About Robert 386 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third-generation fish keeper, and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America, and the Nature Conservancy.

3 Comments

  1. Ed says:

    Thank you for your articles!

    We have two trilineatus (1.1) and three ambiacus (0.1.2) in a heavily planted 10 gallon tank (!) and they get along better than fine. The male trilineatus is quite the stud and has fathered babies with both the spotted cory and with his own three-lined partner.

    About once a week, the male trilineatus is hounding someone and we get a clutch laid by one female or the other. The trilineatus female dumped about 50 eggs again a couple days ago, but we left them in the tank…we’re out of space for new babies. About half of the trilineatus female’s eggs seem to hatch, while most of the spotted female’s eggs hatch, albeit she only lays about 15 at a time. They are in a tank with celestial danios and the babies don’t have much chance unless we take the eggs out prior to hatch. We have had only one baby avoid predation long enough to get big enough to be seen and evacuated.

    Many eggs end up on the glass. We were able to save some of the eggs and raise 7 of the trilineatus x ambiacus in a separate container, and then saved some of the eggs from another pairing of the trilineatus and have about 11 trilineatus babies. Can’t wait to see the how the cross looks, but they really look almost exactly like their mother, the spotted cory, at this time (1″ long).

    I don’t know the sex of the last two spotted corys, because they just hang out in the hide/cave and only come out to eat. They are smaller than the male trilineatus and I suspect they are beta males, and the plan is to separate the spotted and three-lined to take the pressure off.

  2. lenny says:

    Are there any non venemous cory catfish?

  3. Carol Horncastle says:

    I don’t know which species I have, but they look like the first picture in your article on Corys with the black blotch on the dorsal and wriggly lines on the body. They are about 5.5cm. I have one female and two males in a 100L tank that I’m only gradually taking down, as so busy with other tanks it’s maintenance has been neglected. However, they mate regularly and the whole process has me glued to the tank. Both males try to push each other out of the way but she loves them both. Can somebody tell me what is going on when the male lies on his side and the female appears to be taking sperm from his side. Or underneath? I have only two healthy young but she always lays her eggs on the side of the tank and they get eaten by any living thing. I also have a 200L tank with three differant types of Corys. I’m not trying to breed them, they just do! I have a pair of three year old albinos in the 200L tank. They are not at all shy, don’t hide and as lively as the day I bought them. But I have never seen them mate. Nor have the other Corys cross bred as the trilineatus did. The albinos join in with the Clown Loaches when they decide to have one of their own tickling and kissing highly social sessions!

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