Cory Catfish Care Sheet – Diet, Lifespan, Tank Setup, Breeding

If you’re looking for a cleaner fish to hoover up uneaten debris from your aquarium, the cory catfish is one of the most popular.

These peaceful, active fish love to scavenge through the substrate for food. You will see them sifting sand and blowing it out through their gills, extracting scraps as they do so.

Close up of a cory catfish resting on white gravel in an aquarium
© Mirko Rosenau –

These fish are a great addition to any community tank. Apart from being pretty to look at, they generally get along well with most tank mates. They aren’t aggressive and won’t pick fights with other fish.

When it comes to cory catfish care, they are easy to look after. They also love the company of their own kind and are best kept in schools of six or more.

Let’s discover what it takes to introduce cory catfish to your aquarium. We will investigate where they come from, what they look like and their feeding and breeding needs.

Once you know what to expect when caring for these fish you can decide if they will be at home in your tank.

At a Glance Overview

Before we enter the details of cory catfish care, let’s take a quick look at the basics. This chart gives you a quick overview.

Common name(s):Peppered corydoras, peppered cory, salt and pepper cory, peppered catfish, blue leopard corydoras, paleatus corydoras, and mottled corydoras.
Scientific Name(s):Corydoras paleatus
Origin:South America, small streams and rivers, backwaters, ponds, oxbows, and marsh environments. Clear, shallow, slow-moving waters.
Care Level:Easy
Adult Size:2.5 inches
Color Form:Black, white, green
Lifespan:5 years +
Minimum Tank Size:10 gallons
Typical Tank Setup:Smooth sand or gravel with rounded edges, well planted with hiding places.
Tank Level:Any level
Water Conditions:Tropical freshwater, 72-79 F, 2-12 KH, 5.8-7.0 pH
Tank mates / Compatibility:Peaceful community fish and its own kind.

There are more than 140 species of cory catfish, some of which are very similar in appearance. Care for them all is similar but we will concentrate on the peppered cory catfish here.

They are native to still or slow-moving streams, ponds and shallow banks in South America. These bottom dwellers usually congregate in shoals.

What Does a Cory Catfish Look Like?

Cory catfish in a home aquarium
© XEG –

This small catfish grows to about one to 2.5 inches, with a small body between the size of a dime and a nickel.

They come in a variety of colors and patterns but, in general, are light tan or bronze, with gray and green specks and patches. Their underbelly is white.

These are a scaleless variety of fish and have bony plates in two rows along the length of their bodies. These are called “scutes.”

The mouth has pairs of barbels, and they have strong and rigid spines on both the dorsal and pectoral fins. They have sharp barbs located just below the eye, in the adipose fin and in front of the dorsal fin.

The male of this species is smaller in length and more slender. The female has a larger underbelly and will look wider when viewed from above.

How Does a Cory Catfish Behave?

They are calm and peaceful, with a non-aggressive temperament. They are social but can be timid and shy when kept in small numbers. They mix well with other peaceful community fish.

In a school of six or more, they will be curious and active, both during the day and at night. They will be seen foraging through the sand for food, delving into corners and among plants.

You will sometimes see these catfish gulp air at the top of the tank. They dart to the surface quickly, so make sure there is some clearance between the top of the water and the lid of the tank. In general, this behavior is quite normal for them.

If you notice this happening frequently, it could be a sign that there are issues with the quality or oxygenation of the water in the tank.

The barbs on these fish act as a mechanism to protect them from being eaten by bigger fish, hurting the mouths of anything that tries to eat them.

It’s a good idea to avoid trying to catch them by hand, as the barbs could stab you. Also, these barbs have a poison gland. This will be akin to a jellyfish sting for other fish, causing them pain. It will also irritate your skin if you are stung.

Some cory catfish have been known to produce a noise when courting, or when they are distressed. They rub the spines of their pectoral fins into the grooves formed by their shoulder plates.

What are their Ideal Tank Requirements and Habitat?

Their natural habitat is ponds, streams and the shallows of river banks located in South America. In particular, the coastal rivers of Brazil and Uruguay and the lower Parana River Basin.

They are often found in shoals near to the bottom, feeding in the substrate.

What Size Tank do They Need?

They can be kept in tanks as small as 10 gallons. If keeping a larger shoal, take care to ensure that the bioload of your tank is not overloaded.

What Water Type and Temperature do They Like?

The fresh water should be maintained at a temperature between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The pH of the tank needs to be between 5.8 and 7.0, and the KH between two and 12.

Good water quality is a requisite for them to maintain optimum health. Don’t introduce them to new aquariums, or ones which are neglected. A water exchange should be done at a ratio of 10 percent every two weeks, or 25 percent once a month.

What is a Suitable Substrate?

They spend a lot of their time rummaging around on the bottom of the tank. It’s important that the substrate doesn’t damage their barbels. Consequently, sand or a smooth gravel is a good choice.

What Filters Should You Use?

Cory catfish live in slow-moving or still waters in the wild. To recreate this in a tank, consider a filtration system that fits under the gravel with a powerhead or canister filter. This will keep the water oxygenated, help keep the substrate clean and provide a gentle current.

A dirty substrate can lead to infection in the barbels of cory catfish, so it’s essential to keep your tank clean and good filtration goes a long way toward this.

Doe they Have any Preferential Lighting Needs?

They have no special lighting requirements. Moderate to normal lighting suits them fine, unlike many other catfish, who are nocturnal.

What Decorations and Plants Can You Use?

In addition to a substrate that they can forage in, they also like places to hide away. A tank with plenty of plants, some rocks and driftwood will mimic their natural habitat.

Leave some room at the front of the tank so they can shoal and provide you with a pleasing display.

How Many Cory Catfish Can You Keep Per Gallon of Water?

The rule of thumb is one gallon of water per one inch of fish. As they are small, a 10-gallon tank will easily accommodate a small shoal of six fish. Larger tanks will be able to house bigger schools.

What do Cory Catfish Like to Eat?

These omnivores will scavenge whatever they can find from the substrate. Watching them bury their heads in the sand and come up blowing it out their gills is highly entertaining.

What do They Eat in Their Natural Habitat?

They would typically feed on small crustaceans, worms and insect larvae they find on the bottom of ponds or streams. They will also balance their diet by eating plant matter.

What Should You Feed Them in my Aquarium?

They will gladly seek out and consume from the bottom of the tank leftovers that sink from feeding other fish. However, this should not be relied on as their sole source of food.

Feed them live, flake and fresh foods, and make sure they get a good variety. Use a good quality fish pellet which will sink to the bottom, or some brine shrimp, daphnia or bloodworms. Algae wafers can also be offered from time to time.

Can I Feed Them Human Food?

As an occasional treat and to give more variation in their diet, you can feed your cory catfish some shelled peas or broad beans. Make sure you only feed small pieces and crush them beforehand.

How Often Should You Feed Them?

These catfish have hefty appetites. Even though they are small, they will eat quite a lot. You should feed them once or twice daily and make sure you rotate between pellets, flakes and live food.

Only feed them what they can consume in one sitting of two to three minutes, then remove any excess uneaten food from the tank.

Any Special Care Requirements?

They are quite hardy and resilient to disease, although they are not immune from it. In an aquarium that is well maintained, the chances of them contracting an illness is rare.

One thing they can be prone to is infected barbels as a result of high nitrate levels. This may cause them to have trouble navigating their way around the tank and feeding normally. Keeping the nitrate levels in the tank below 20 parts per million (ppm) by doing regular water changes can prevent this from happening.

It’s also worth noting that because cory catfish are scaleless, certain medications cannot be used to treat things like Ichthyophthirius, or “Ich.” These include potassium permanganate and medications which are copper based.

Pimafix and Melafix can be used as can malachite green or formalin. The latter two should only be used as either a half or a quarter of the recommended dosage. Before using any medication, you should check with your veterinarian.

What Other Fish Can They Share a Tank With?

They are very peaceful and tolerant of many other community fish. They can be housed with tetras, swordtails, filter-feeding shrimps and freshwater snails.

Steer clear of any species known for aggressive behavior. Cory catfish are a perfect victim for bullies.

They will also happily share their food with tankmates. They can be seen hovering over food pellets with other species without spooking them.

Can You Keep Many Cory Catfish Together?

You might have already gleaned the answer to this one, it’s a definite “yes.” They like to swim, feed, play and interact with others of their species. They are happiest when they are in shoals, so the more the merrier.

Just make sure your tank is big enough for the amount of fish you have.

Buying Advice

They can be bought at various online sites or aquarium shops from about three dollars per fish.

It’s a good idea, if you are having them shipped, to request they are sent one by one and triple-bagged. They can pierce a bag with their spine or damage each other unintentionally in transit.

Look for individuals which appear alert, healthy and active. Check that the eyes are intact and there is no damage to the fins or tail.

Can You Breed Cory Catfish in an Aquarium?

They are one of the easier fish to breed in an aquarium setting. You can encourage this by doing a 25 percent water change with cooler water, dropping the temperature by about five to six degrees. This simulates rainfall in the wild.

The male will be seen chasing the female around the tank. He will try and position himself in front of her on the bottom of the tank. If the female is ready to spawn, she will drink sperm from the male.

The sperm passes through her digestive system and is discharged with the eggs. She will lay the eggs all around the tank, on the glass and on plants. You can either leave them in place and hope they survive or gently scrape them off and place them in a juvenile tank, with an airstone.

It usually takes about five to eight days for the eggs to hatch. Fry should be fed commercial powder food or freshly hatched brine shrimp.

Interesting Facts and Trivia

Here are some interesting tidbits you might not know about cory catfish:

  • Ever wondered how this fish finds food under the substrate? It has a sensitive sense of smell and its barbels let it taste hidden food.
  • They have many taste buds, about 100,000 of them. This helps them respond to touch, and detect chemicals in the water.
  • In ancient cultures, catfish were kept in ponds which were used as latrines to get rid of waste.
  • They can communicate with each other underwater. They have what is called a “weberian apparatus” which also helps them hear better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Cory Catfish Eat Algae?

As a general rule they are not algae eaters. They might eat small amounts, but what they will do is help control its growth by cleaning scraps of food from the substrate.

How Can I Tell if My Cory Catfish is Pregnant?

As an egg-laying fish, the only signs a cory might be pregnant could be a distended belly. This could also be a sign of bloating. A water change might induce spawning or egg dropping.

How Often do Cory Catfish Lay Eggs?

There is no hard and fast answer to this one. We have already mentioned one way you can induce spawning. Another way to encourage your females to produce eggs is to make sure they are well fed.

Frequent feedings, at small amounts four or five times a day, signals there’s no shortage of food. Make sure the diet is varied and of a good quality, though.

How Many Eggs do They Lay?

It can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how many eggs they lay. They typically place about four eggs at a time around various parts of the tank. This laying process can take up to an hour, and produce in excess of 100 eggs.

What do Their Eggs Look Like?

The eggs are small, round and a yellowish-white color. This video shows deposited eggs on a filter being collected:


Summarizing the Main Points

The cory catfish is one of the most common and easiest of peaceful fish to keep in your aquarium. They are social, interactive and help keep the tank clean. They scavenge through the substrate, eating the remnants that other tank inhabitants drop.

A small school of about six fish can be kept in a tank as small as 10 gallons. Just add some sand or smooth gravel, plants and hiding places.

These fish can also breed easily in captivity, just take care that the eggs or fry don’t get eaten.

Unlike many other catfish, the cory is not nocturnal and can be seen moving about the tank during the day. Whether this is interacting with their own kind or other tank mates.

Be careful if you try and handle them, they have a sting in the fin, which can cause some discomfort.

Do you have cory catfish in your tank, or would you like to? We hope you now have the information you need for complete cory catfish care. Please leave us a comment about your experience with this fish, or ask any questions you may have.

Happy fish keeping!

Wendy Kathryn

Hi, I'm Wendy, the owner and creator of this website, an experienced fish keeper and avid student of the art since 2010. My aim is to help beginners avoid the many possible mistakes when getting started in this wonderful hobby.

1 thought on “Cory Catfish Care Sheet – Diet, Lifespan, Tank Setup, Breeding”

  1. i have noticed that my main bredding cry catfish is getting really fat and is moving her gills really fast, she is losing belly scals and her eggs go out in a bubble type thing and stick to her fins. if i could get some help that would be great


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