Cory Catfish 101: Tank Size, Food, Care, Lifespan & More!

By far one of the most popular fishes around, Cory catfishes dominate the aquarium hobby. They’re certified all-rounders: beautiful, fun, and tolerant of wide ranges of water conditions. They’re social fishes who don’t need constant attention, nor huge spaces (with some exceptions). There are also a ton of Cory catfishes available on the market. Truly, there is a Corydora for every fishkeeper out there.  

The table below gives a quick overview on the Cory catfish profile:

Profile AttributeValue
Care DifficultyEasy
Lifespan5-7 years, longer with the right care 
DietOmnivorous
Color(s)Various
TemperamentPeaceful/social/some timid
Maximum size4.7 inches 
Minimum Tank size20-30 gallons depending on species
Tank SetupFreshwater/planted
FamilyCallichthyidae
CompatibilityPeaceful community tanks

Below is our Cory catfish care guide, continue reading to know more about its tank mates, breeding, appearance and more. 

Cory Catfish Overview

Cory catfishes (Corydoras sp.), have many cute little nicknames. They’re also known as Corydoras, Armored catfish, Corydoras catfish, Cory cats, Cory fish, and Corys. When you say Cory catfish, there are actually hundreds of different species from the genus Corydoras being referred to. There are so many that In fact, there are still many Corys without official classifications but are kept by hobbyists. 

Cory catfishes were originally found distributed all over South America, with relatively small sizes. These catfishes are known to have armored scales called scutes, which help give them some extra protection. The name Corydoras comes from the Greek word kory and doras, which together form “helmet + skin” respectively. . 

These are generally peace-loving, sociable fishes not meant to be alone. They are fun and active when in crowds, which makes them very popular aquarium fishes. Corys are also typically affordable, though certain species can have hefty price tags. 

Appearance 

Cory catfishes have a fun array of looks, all depending on the species. There are, however, physical attributes that almost all Corys have in common. One of its aliases, ‘armored’ catfish, is because most have bony plates all over their bodies. These plates called scutes serve as an extra layer of protection.

As for their fins, Corys commonly  have horizontally-oriented pectoral fins, pointed dorsal fins, and forked tail fins. Similar to other catfishes, Corydoras have three pairs of sensitive barbels. 

Here are some of the most popular Cory catfish in the aquarium scene:

Pygmy corydora (Corydoras pygmaeus)

Some of the smallest catfishes in its family, Pygmy Corys only grow to about an inch maximum. They have a silvery, almost translucent appearance with a dark black streak along their bodies. 

Panda Corydoras (Corydoras panda)

Probably the most popular Cory, Panda Corydoras have an undeniable panda bear look (obviously). They have a fleshy base body color with black spots usually on its eyes, dorsal fins, and random places on the body. 

Albino Corydora (Corydoras aeneus)

A variation of the wild-type Corydoras aeneus, Albino corys are expectedly very pale. Specifically, they have a peachy pink color with piercingly bleached red eyes. While beautiful, there are reports that these Corydoras are nearly blind, with some males being sterile as well. 

Emerald Green Cory

These Cory cats are one of the biggest in the family. Emerald Greens can grow up to 4 inches in length and naturally need a bigger tank than other Corys. They have vibrant green colors that have a slight iridescent look to them. 

Leopard Cory (Corydoras julii)

Aka the Three Stripe Corydora, Leopard Corys are distinguished by its shiny silver base color, overlaid with dark-colored stripes. It naturally gets its name from these stripes, which gives them a decidedly leopard-like aesthetic. 

Average Size

Cory catfishes are widely categorized as small fishes. Across species, Cory cats have a size range of only 0.75-4.7 inches. The females also usually grow larger than males upon adulthood, though this is not very obvious with some species.

Lifespan

Rejoice! These friendly fellas may be small, but their life expectancies are not. Cory catfishes have a general lifespan of 5-7 years, but this is only for their life in the wild. In home aquariums, they can have a longevity of up to 20 years! This is of course, dependent on the love and care you provide them every day of their captive lives. Once you follow this guide, however, there’s no doubt these guys can be with you for a long time to come!

Cory Catfish Care

Cory catfishes are famous for being overall low-maintenance and hassle-free aquatic pets. They’re friendly, amusing, and hardy! They’re extremely tolerant of a couple of beginner mistakes, and can still live long lives. The only thing you really need to worry about is providing enough food for their insatiable appetites. 

Tank Size

Since these guys are on the small side, A 20-30 gallon tank should be enough for a generous school. This depends on how large your Cory species gets. At the very least Go for 20 gallons long rather than 20 gallons high to better please your Corys. You can house around 4 Corys if they’re on the big side (Emeralds), while you can push for 6 for a smaller Cory species (Pandas). 

Water Parameters

Cory catfish are originally from areas with soft substrates and a mild current. These are usually shallow streams with a tropical temperature. To get them settled in all nice and cozy in your tank, try to emulate these native conditions. 

Water Parameters:

  • Temperature: 70-78°F
  • pH levels: 6.6-8.0
  • Water Hardness:

Corydoras are known to be very hardy, so tiny fluctuations in your water won’t kill them. However, drastic changes in these water conditions can stress them out. Aim for consistency when it comes to their environment. MInd the nitrate levels in your water as well, making sure the levels are as close to 0 ppm. Both nitrate levels and filthy waters can stress Corys out and ultimately lead to multiple diseases.

Tip: While these guys can withstand a wide range of water conditions, transporting them from one location to another is their achilles’ heel. Catfishes easily get stressed when being moved around, and this can end up being fatal. Be very careful when handling Corys and make sure your water quality is always consistent and similar to their native homes. 

Typical Diseases

As long as you give your Corys the proper care they deserve, you’ve nothing to really worry about. These are some tough fish, not known to be sickly at all. That being said, constant neglect will stress Corys out; and when they’re stressed, they can ultimately become ill. 

When your catfish is sick, they’ll begin exhibiting a variety of symptoms. 

Bacterial infections can usually cause your Cory to be lethargic, bloated, or have breathing difficulties. Their eyes can be cloudy or bulging, while their fins can be frayed along their edges. Reddish sores and streaks along their bodies are also possible manifestations. 

Meanwhile, the symptoms from fungal infections can be the opposite. Instead of being lethargic, Cory catfishes become buzzed and swim from one place to another. They become erratic and restless, with some developing white, cotton-like patches on their bodies. As for parasitic infections, Corys will lose their usually ravenous appetites, have mucus, and become unbearably itchy. 

Once your Cory catfish displays any of the mentioned symptoms, quarantine them immediately to avoid contaminating other healthy fishes. Put them in a separate tank and begin medicating them. Thankfully, these symptoms are not only treatable, but also preventable. Perform regular water checks and changes to avoid stressing your Corys, and you won’t have to stress about diseases either. 

Tank Setup 

Cory catfishes are bottom-dwellers who frequently rifle through the substrate. Understandably, one of your top priorities is to give them a soft sand substrate, instead of rock or gravel. This will help avoid any injuries to your Cory’s underbelly, barbels, and fins as they play around at the bottom.

Cory catfish are also huge fans of aquatic plants. They love being surrounded by vegetation, as it mimics the natural environment where they use plants as cover. Some of the plants your Corys will love are: Java ferns, Java moss, Anubias Nana, Amazon swords, Water Sprite, Hornworts, and Moss balls.

While you should be generous with ‘planting’, you should also spare some thought to adding smooth rocks, driftwood, and cave-like structures to your tank. This will give your catfish additional cover, in case they feel really shy. Lastly, set dim lighting in your tank. While Corys are tolerant of different light intensities, they are still catfish who much prefer the dark. 

Tip: Cover your tanks! Cory catfish are jumpers, who sometimes peek out the surface of the water for food. They also have specialized organs that let them breathe atmospheric air, so gasping out the tank is not an unusual occurrence.

Food & Diet 

So now you must be thinking, “what do I feed my lovely Corydoras?”. The good news is that Corys will eat absolutely anything so long as it’s soft, and fits in their mouths. They’re not fussy with their meals, as they love a wide variety of fish food. 

Corys are normally ravenous omnivores, so they can’t miss meals. In pet shops, they are usually thin and underfed because of crowding. This is one of the worst things you could do for your Cory catfish. Feed them twice a day, with sinking food they can easily finish in three minutes. 

Of course, this schedule is just a guideline for you to get started on. Different Corys can have different appetites so the best thing to do is watch your Cory cats. They will let you know if you are feeding them right. 

Preferred for Cory Catfish includes:

  • Bloodworms (live or freeze-dried)
  • Blackworms (live or freeze-dried)
  • Grindal worms (live or freeze-dried)
  • Tubifex worms (live or freeze-dried)
  • Sinking wafers/tablets
  • Bottom feeder tablets
  • Shrimp pellets
  • High-quality fish flakes
Tip: Cory catfishes adore high-protein food like worms. However, these should be given sparingly to your fish. Refrain from feeding them worms on a daily basis unless you want them to breed like crazy! Instead, go for nutritious flakes and tablets as their staple meals.

Mating & Breeding Behavior

Breeding Cory catfish can be moderately easy, or difficult-depending on your experience. Many breeders suggest getting a separate breeding or fry tank for Corydoras. Breeding tanks are bare tanks where you place your Cory school to breed, whilst fry tanks are where you place fish fry birthed from the main tank. You could choose which is easier for you. Fully cycle these tanks before attempting anything else. After that, you may proceed with emulating spawning conditions for your mature Corys (around a year old). Keep in mind that Cory catfish are shoaling fish, so they need to be with their groups to breed as well.

In the wild, Corydora spawning is typically triggered by drops in barometric pressure, so aquarists try to simulate this in the tank. You can induce your Corys to get in the mood by doing partial water changes (20-50%), slowly making the temperature slightly cooler. This is much like how it is when a rainstorm occurs. Feed your mature Corys several meals of high-protein food throughout the day for a couple of weeks. As time passes you’ll notice which females are swollen with eggs. Cory catfishes are egg-scatterers or depositors, sticking their eggs all over the tank. The mamas soon release their eggs, which hatch in around 3-6 days. Ta-da!

Cory Catfish Tank Mates

Tank mates will probably never be an issue with these guys. Corys are widely known as laid-back and happy-go-lucky fishes. While sometimes shy, Corydoras are generally good-natured fish that can even befriend other species. Most importantly, Cory catfish are schooling fish. They love each others’ company and feel good about having their friends with them. As for other fish species, they can be good tank mates for messy fish because these bottom-feeders eat other fishes’ leftovers. 

Tank Mates Compatible with Cory Catfish:

  • Gouramis
  • Guppies
  • Rasboras
  • Endler’s livebearers
  • Platies
  • Zebra Danios
  • Neon Tetras
  • Molly fish
  • Plecos

The only tank mates you should avoid are fish with aggressive/hostile temperaments. Naturally, these fish will harm your peace-loving Corys without a second thought so don’t bother. While some owners are willing to risk it, we aren’t. To be safe, Oscars, Cichlids, Bettas and Barbs are out of the question (sorry!). 

Cory Catfish Temperament & Behavior 

Corydoras are laid-back and amiable shoaling fish. Part of their immense following is because they’re so hassle-free. They’re fun, amusing, and they even help clean out the tank (sometimes!). What people don’t realize however, is that these guys thrive with a big shoal of at least four to six. They feel safe in groups, and therefore they become more active because of it. In fact, many Cory owners are pleasantly surprised to find that their pets become much happier when in large shoals. They become active, and even show off impressive water ballet at times. These shoals also need to be the same species, and not an assortment of different kinds, as if buying donuts. 

Corydoras are also bottom-dwellers, though they can occasionally visit upper water layers. They mainly stay at the bottom, flipping their fins and barbels around the substrate. They’re not all about the food however. Cory catfish are also jumpers, occasionally shooting up the surface to grab at food, or to take a breath. Yes, they can indeed take a breath of atmospheric air. This is due to their specialized labyrinth organ, which enables them to stay out of water for a while. This can’t be for long though, else they’ll get ill. Last but definitely not least, Cory catfish have spines that every now and then release venom. So, while you may be itching to get your hands on them, don’t handle them with your bare hands. Use some protection unless you want to suffer the consequences!

To End

There is very little that works against a Cory catfish. Almost all its attributes are positives! They’re fun, friendly, beautiful, and low-maintenance! They can provide you with endless entertainment through their jumping, breathing, and underwater gymnastics. On top of all that, they even clean up after messy fishes! Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the perfect fish for me.

Note: Please consider the environment before printing this Cory Catfish care sheet.

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