Twig Catfish on floor of aquarium

Twig Catfish (Farlowella): Tank, Diet, Breeding, And More

The Twig Catfish is a unique fish species that offers a different visual aesthetic for your tank with their long and skinny bodies. They’re shy and calm fish who do best with similar energy level tank mates. 

They require specific care to thrive so it is important to be educated when preparing to get twig catfish for your tank. As long as you know how to care for them properly, you will be set-up for success.

Below, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know about Twig Catfish. We’ll review their tank requirements, diet, lifespan, and more so that you can safely include these beautiful fish in your aquarium.

Recommended Twig Catfish Care Items:


Overview

The twig catfish (aka Farlowella catfish) is a freshwater species of fish. Its common name, twig catfish, comes from its resemblance to twigs. 

There are over 35 species in the Farlowella genus. However, only two species, Farlowella acus and Farlowella vittata, are found in aquariums. Farlowella vittata is far more common because Farlowella acus is endangered.

In the wild, Farlowellas are found in South America, especially in Columbia and Venezuela.  Twig catfish live in areas with lots of vegetation and tree roots, such as the Amazon and Orinoco rivers. The vegetation and tree roots provide lots of algae and nutrients, keeping the twig catfish happy and healthy.


Twig Catfish Appearance

Twig catfish, unsurprisingly, look like twigs. They’re long and slender. This stick-like camouflage has helped the twig catfish avoid predators and survive in the wild.

Their nose is long and skinny. The head is the widest part of their body, from which their body begins to taper down to their tail.

Farlowella are mostly light brown in color with a darker brown line that runs down their sides. Like the rest of their body, this line tapers and gets lighter in color closer to their tail. This brown coloration helps them blend in among the tree branches and roots and hide from predators.

The scales on the Farlowella are rough and textured, which makes the Farlowella look like it could fit in with the dinosaurs. This is a huge appeal for aquarists as the twig catfish doesn’t look like most other fish!

Sexing twig catfish is straightforward. Males are larger and have a broader snout. 


Twig Catfish Lifespan

Twig Catfish can live a long time – up to 15 years – with perfect conditions. However, the lifespan of these fish can vary considerably, as some only live 3-5 years. 


Twig Catfish Care

Caring for your Twig Catfish will be reasonably straightforward, but there are several things you should be prepared for before introducing these fish to your tank.


Ideal Habitat

The recommended tank size is at least 35 gallons. Larger tanks give the fish space to roam and make it a bit easier to maintain specific water parameters. Smaller tanks are more difficult to keep, especially for beginner aquarists, because the water conditions will fluctuate quickly.

Twig catfish can get long, up to 6-9 inches, so each addition to the group will need at least 10 gallons of water. 

Our recommendation: Tetra 55 gallon aquarium kit

Our Pick
Tetra 55 Gallon Aquarium Kit
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What We Like

  • Lots of space to be creative with fish and decoration choices
  • Easier to maintain water quality with the larger volume

What We Don’t Like

  • Some consumers reported their tanks arrived damaged
  • Depending on tank requirements, might need to replace the filter

Optimal Water Conditions

Consistent water parameters are important. They can be sensitive to changes in water conditions or less than pristine water quality.

  • Water temperature: 73°F to 79°F
  • pH levels: 6.2 to 7.2

You will need an effective filter to maintain clean water and a heater to maintain the water temperature. our overall favorite is the EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater. It’s powerful enough for large tanks over 150 gallons, lets you set and maintain precise temperatures, and has an auto-shutoff feature to prevent it from overheating. It comes in a variety of sizes that are ideal for different volumes. We recommend testing the water weekly so you can spot any changes as soon as they develop.

Our Pick
EHEIM Jager Aquarium Thermostat Heater - 300W
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You won’t need an air/water pump because Farlowella doesn’t like a strong current. Your filter alone should create sufficient water movement.

We also recommend weekly water tests to stay on top of what is happening in your tank. You need to keep an eye on the nitrogen cycle to make sure it is working properly. This will keep your fish happier and healthier.

Additionally, keep an eye on the pH in your tank. Farlowella prefer slightly acidic water. If you need help lowering the pH, check out our pH lowering guide.


What to put in their tank

When thinking about designing a Farlowella tank, it is best to consider what they have in their natural habitats. Twig catfish live in rivers such as the Amazon where there is a lot of vegetative life and tree roots and branches. There are lots of trees above the water in the Amazon jungle which block a lot of sunlight. Therefore, parts of the river can be dim, especially at the bottom where bottom-feeders are usually found. Therefore, designing a tank with lots of plants and natural substances like wood and rocks, with dark hiding spots, will make them the happiest.

For the bottom of the tank, a dark color and soft substrate is best – similar to what you’d find on the bottom of a river.

Next up is adding wood to the tank. Wood is important, as it serves as a resting spot, hiding spot, and snack. A mix of driftwood and bogwood are good options. Be generous with adding wood, but keep enough open space so your fish can swim if they want to.

Our Driftwood Recommendation: Natural Aquarium Driftwood

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PIVBY Natural Aquarium Driftwood Assorted Branches Reptile Ornament for Fish Tank Decoration Pack of 3
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What We Like About This Decor

  • Adds to the aesthetic of your tank
  • Provides nooks and crannies for hiding

What We Don’t Like

  • Relatively expensive
  • They may be too large for smaller tanks with other decorations

Lastly, make sure you add plants. Water Wisteria and Hornwort will mimic the natural environment. Plants also provide good places for the twig catfish to hide and be alone as necessary, which helps keep their stress low.


Twig Catfish Potential diseases

Twig catfish are not subject to species-specific diseases and illnesses. With a clean tank and water conditions kept within their ideal parameters, they can be a hardy species of fish. The main risk associated with Farlowella is around the water parameters. If one element gets out of range, it can turn a relatively low-maintenance fish into a high-maintenance fish quickly!

There is anecdotal evidence that Farlowella might be more resistant to Ich because of their thick, armor-like scales. However, this has not been proven yet so don’t take this for granted when caring for twig catfish.


Twig Catfish eating algae

Twig Catfish Feeding

In the wild, Farlowella eat algae from the surface of wood and plants. On occasion, they also nibble actual wood.

In captivity, a mixture of sinking plant-based pellets and vegetables is the best diet to resemble their natural diet. Farlowella are not picky eaters so it can be fun to experiment with a lot of different vegetables.

However, some consistency with your choices is recommended. Every addition to the tank changes the water parameters slightly so with a fish that is sensitive to water changes, consistency will help maintain the conditions of the tank.

Our Recommendation: Hikari Algae Wafers

Our Pick
Hikari Algae Wafers
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What We Like

  • Algae eaters consistently love these wafers
  • Sinks to the bottom, easy for fish and shrimp to feed

What We Don’t Like

  • Contains copper sulfate – can be poisonous to invertebrates
  • Some reports of water clouding if not consumed quickly

Twig Catfish Breeding

Breeding Farlowella is relatively easy, especially compared to some other fish species where it is basically impossible in captivity

The most important thing is maintaining crystal clear water quality. Twig catfish won’t attempt to breed in unsuitable environments. Additionally, sub-optimal conditions create stress in the fish, which reduces their willingness to breed.

Once the water quality is sorted, a higher ratio of females to males helps reduce aggression and increases the odds of success. Although seeing the actual breeding process is unlikely, it’s common for the eggs to be placed on the glass of the aquarium, which can be observable. If you really want to try to witness the breeding, we would suggest staying up all night because the act typically occurs at night.

The male will watch the eggs and keep them clean. The female will mostly resume normal behavior very shortly after depositing the eggs, leaving the male as the babysitter. After 5-7 days, the eggs will hatch.

The fry, or babies, will need lots of food for growth. Raising the fry can be challenging so try to make sure the tank has sufficient algae and clean water conditions. Besides food supply and tank conditions, there is not much else you can do besides watch them grow up!


Twig Catfish Tank Mates

In general, Farlowella are calm and peaceful. Therefore, you don’t want to add aggressive or super high energy fish that compete for the same spaces in the tank. This rules out many species, such as most Cichlids and Oscars.

The wrong pairing will lead to serious health complications, as the twig catfish will get stressed. Farlowella are prone to stress, so matching energy and temperament is very important for this species.

In general, mellow and nonaggressive fish that aren’t too large are the best bets. Here are some potential tank mates:

Once you have introduced new tank mates, keep a close eye on all parties to monitor for food intake and stress levels. 

Farlowella can be successfully kept in same-species groups. A species tank is likely a better idea than a community tank since they are not good at competing for food and they’re quite shy around more boisterous fish. The most likely source of group problems is mating. Males will scuffle but it’s rarely violent.


Twig Catfish FAQs

How big do twig catfish get?

The twig catfish size can get up to 9 inches in length, with most around 6 inches. 

Twig catfish are typically at least 3-5  inches in length when purchased which means it is important to have an adult-sized tank ready.

Do twig catfish eat algae?

Yes, twig catfish eat algae. They are one of the best algae-eaters available to aquarium lovers. They will quickly clear a tank of any green algae. 

Where do twig catfish live?

Farlowella live in South America, especially in Columbia and Venezuela.  They love areas with lots of vegetation and tree roots, such as the Amazon and Orinoco rivers.

Are Twig Catfish aggressive?

No, Farlowella are not aggressive. They’re a very calm and peaceful aquarium fish and are best suited to tank mates with similar temperaments.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve learned just about all there is to know when it comes to caring for Farlowella, you should be able to decide for yourself if they’re a good fit for your aquarium.

Farlowella are a peaceful and shy aquarium fish. They do well with other calm and similarly sized fish.

If you can accommodate their need for driftwood and privacy, they can make beautiful, prehistoric-looking additions to your tank and will help remove excess algae growth.

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