Catfish are known as the beneficial "scavengers" of our aquariums due to their grubbing-around feeding habits. They appear to never tire as they constantly clean the bottom of the aquarium, using their barbels as sensory organs to locate food. Most catfish are nocturnal by nature and are uncomfortable in bright light. They prefer lots of plants and caves to hide under during the day.
The most popular scavengers are probably the Corydoras. They’re a short arched-back catfish from South America and Trinidad and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Corydoras are a wonderful schooling fish that average 1¼ to 4¾ inches in length. They like warm water (75-85F) and a neutral pH. They’re a playful schooling fish and make great inhabitants of a community tank as they’re also very peaceable. "Cory’s" are omnivores and feed well on commercial sinking pellets though they also enjoy eating small worms and some plant matter.
Synodontis is another fun group of catfish. They have an interesting shape and varied coloration patterns but are probably best known for their bizarre behavior of swimming upside down. They’re found in freshwater lakes and rivers throughout Africa and average 2-1/4 to 8 inches. Synodontis are also playful schooling fish that should have a lot of hiding places. They’ll do well in community tanks but should be kept with fish that are too large for them to eat. For the keepers of African Lake Cichlids, Synodontis mutipunctates is indigenous to Lake Tanganyika and is a great addition to the cichlid aquarium.
Clown Loaches of Sumatra and Boreno are becoming very popular, probably for their contrasting gold and velvety black stripes with bright red fins, or for their growing reputation for eating invasive snails. Though you usually see them from 1 to 6 inches long in pet stores, they can reach 16 inches in length. They do best in groups of six or more and in a tank that is well planted. Clown Loaches are notorious for making a clicking or clacking noise when playing with one another or when protecting their territory. They like warm water (75 - 85 F) and are omnivores. They’re naturally found in slightly alkaline water, but can handle a wide range of pH. These fish are fascinating to watch and many times you’ll find them resting on their sides. They’re best kept with other peaceful schooling fish.
Though this article only touched on three groups of catfish, there still remains a wide range of scavengers from eels, loaches, and botias that can be great additions to the aquarium. Remember, most scavengers have a high metabolism and the "scraps" are not enough to provide them with a proper diet. Feedings of sinking pellets, small worms and some plant material in the evening when you shut the light off will make your catfish thrive.•••