Farlowella twig catfish are certainly one of the most interesting and unique species of freshwater fish with their long, slender bodies that look like sticks of wood.
In this article...
While this fish can be a fascinating addition to your tank, their care needs are a little complicated as they are highly sensitive to changes in their environment.
Thinking of owning a farlowella twig catfish? Here’s everything you need to know about this fish, including diet, water parameters, tank mates, and more.
Twig Catfish (Farlowella)
Farlowella refers to a group of fish in the Loricariidae family instead of just one species.
There are actually around 37 species of twig catfish, but the only ones that are normally sold in the aquarium trade are the Farlowella vittata and Farlowella acus.
However, the former is by far the most common as the Farlowella acus (also known as the whiptail catfish) is now considered endangered.
What Do Twig Catfish Look Like?
Twig catfish get their name due to their resemblance to (yep, you guessed it!) a wooden stick. They have slender and long body shapes, allowing them to blend into their surroundings to hide from predators.
The Farlowella twig catfish does not move much, preferring to stay at the bottom of the aquarium to keep out of view. They are extremely shy and are easily spooked.
This fish has a pronounced rostrum at the front of their body as well as small fins, the latter of which limits their swimming ability. The fish’s tail fin is lyre-shaped and separates into points at the top and bottom.
The twig catfish sports a light brown body color with a couple of dark brown stripes along each side of the fish from their rostrum to their tail.
This dull color helps them camouflage into their environment. In some specimens, the stripes appear as a speckled pattern, but that’s about it for variations.
How Long Do Twig Catfish Live?
Unfortunately, lifespan greatly varies for twig catfish. While they can live up to 10 or even 15 years with good care, very few make it past the age of 5 due to their sensitivity.
How Big Do Twig Catfish Get?
Twig catfish can grow up to a maximum size of 9 inches in length, so they’re a relatively large fish and can take up a lot of room in an aquarium, more so if you keep them in groups.
What is Their Natural Habitat?
Farlowella catfish originate from rivers in South America like the Amazon River. They live in shallow waters with ample vegetation, wood, and shade from tree roots to help them stay hidden from predators.
The trees, vegetation, and roots block out sunlight in the fish’s natural habitat, so they are used to dim lighting conditions and are normally found at the bottom of rivers. The water is slow and gentle, as well as warm, soft, and mildly acidic.
Are Twig Catfish Aggressive?
Twig catfish are the complete opposite of aggressive – they are peaceful and incredibly shy fish, much like the cory catfish and bumblebee catfish. Unfortunately, their timid nature makes them an easy target for boisterous species of fish.
In addition, active or energetic species can stress out twig catfish, resulting in a weakened immune system. This paired with their sensitivity to water conditions makes them difficult to keep.
Here’s a video of a person interacting with his twig catfish…
Are Farlowellas Suitable for Your Aquarium?
Adding twig catfish to an established aquarium isn’t ideal as they need specific water conditions and do not thrive in community tanks with other residents.
It’s best to set up a new species-only tank for twig catfish, allowing you to monitor the water parameters carefully and reduce stress levels.
Unfortunately, twig catfish are very sensitive to poor water conditions and will quickly decline if their tank water quality is not to a high standard. If you’re new to fishkeeping, I wouldn’t recommend owning twig catfish until you have a few years of experience under your belt.
If you want to own a hardier species of freshwater catfish that’s equally as unique looking, the bristlenose pleco or rubbernose pleco is a great option.
Twig catfish (farlowella) can live with other fish in a community aquarium, but they do best in species-only tanks.
You need to choose this fish’s tank mates carefully due to their shy and peaceful nature.
Boisterous and aggressive fish like cichlids and bucktooth tetra should be avoided for this reason. However, small characins like neon tetras and flame tetras, as well as zebra danios can be good choices due to their passive disposition.
Invertebrates like the mystery snail can also make decent tank mates for farlowella catfish as they are small and won’t spook your fish.
Keeping Farlowella Together
Twig catfish can be kept with their own kind and will thrive when housed in pairs or groups without other tank mates.
There usually aren’t any issues with keeping farlowella together, but as this freshwater fish can grow to a large size, you’ll need to ensure you have a big enough tank.
The only time the fish tend to be a bit territorial with one another is during mating, but this isn’t normally extreme or a cause for concern.
How Do Twig Catfish Breed?
Breeding twig catfish isn’t too difficult other than the fact that you need pristine water conditions in your tank, which you should have as part of this fish’s care anyway. Sexing Farlowella catfish is quite easy as males are larger and have a broader snout than females.
Triggering the Farlowella catfish to spawn can be done by gradually raising the temperature of your tank water to 79 degrees Fahrenheit using an aquarium heater.
The courting of the male and female typically occurs at night when the aquarium lights are turned off.
After successful spawning, the female will lay her eggs, normally on a flat surface in the tank. The parental care then transfers solely to the male. He will protect the eggs from predators and other fish, including the female.
The male twig catfish will fan the eggs with his tail to keep them aerated and clean. The eggs hatch after around a week.
Caring for Farlowella Catfish Fry
Once the eggs have hatched, the fry will become free swimming within 5 days. The babies are even more sensitive to poor water conditions than adult Farlowella catfish, as well as notoriously hard to feed.
Sadly, you may lose the majority of your twig catfish fry after a few days. If you’re able to get the fry to eat, offer them green vegetables like small pieces of spinach and lettuce.
Algae is also an excellent food source for the fry, so if you happen to have any in your tank, don’t remove it and leave it for the fry to graze on.
Farlowella Catfish Care
Twig catfish are highly sensitive to water conditions in their tank, making them a bit tricky to care for. Perfect water conditions must be maintained at all times to ensure the survival of this fish.
You’ll need to perform weekly water changes (around 25%), vacuum the substrate to remove excess food and waste, check your aquarium equipment like your filter and heater, as well as test the parameters of your tank water every week using an aquarium testing kit.
Use a thermometer so you can keep an eye on the temperature of your tank – put it at the opposite end of the location of your aquarium heater.
What Is the Perfect Tank Size for Farlowella?
Twig catfish can grow quite big, so they need pretty large aquariums to provide them with plenty of space. While they can be housed in a 20-gallon tank size, it’s best to go as big as possible (ideally, at least 35 to 40-gallon tank size), especially if you’re planning on keeping this fish in groups.
A larger tank is also easier to maintain the water quality and conditions, helping you keep your twig catfish as happy and healthy as possible.
As mentioned earlier, twig catfish need pristine tank conditions in order to thrive. The temperature of the aquarium water should be between 75 degrees to 79 degrees Fahrenheit with a pH of 6 to 7 and a hardness between 3 to 10 dH.
Your twig catfish aquarium will need a fish tank heater and excellent filter to keep your water quality and conditions stable. These fish are used to slow currents in rivers and flooded areas of South America, so make sure your aquarium filter produces a gentle flow.
Twig catfish usually stick to the bottom flat surface of the tank, hiding among plants, wood, and rocks to remain hidden.
It’s best to use sand substrate for this freshwater fish as they enjoy scavenging for food – harder substrates or gravel could injure their slender body.
What To Put In Their Tank
In addition to an aquarium filter, heater, and a sandy substrate, add some natural decor to your Farlowella catfish aquarium to help them feel at home. The twig catfish likes to sit on flat surfaces, so put some rocks and long pieces of wood like driftwood for your fish to rest on.
Plants provide your fish with hiding places and offer natural filtration for your tank, adding oxygen and absorbing nitrates to keep your aquarium in tip-top shape.
Add as many live plants as you can to your aquarium to provide your twig catfish with a comfortable habitat.
They will feed on excess algae present on the plants, driftwood, and rocks in your aquarium, so decorations also provide an excellent food source for this fish.
However, twig catfish can damage some delicate plant species, so you might want to opt for hardier plants like anubias, java fern, and java moss.
Common Farlowella Diseases
Despite the twig catfish’s sensitivity to water conditions, they are surprisingly resistant to a number of common fish diseases, so you don’t really need to worry about species specific diseases.
While it hasn’t been scientifically proven, it’s thought that twig catfish and other catfish species like the striped raphael catfish are more resistant to fresh water ich and fin rot than other fish because of their armored bodies.
However, the twig catfish can quickly decline and perish in subpar water quality, which is why you need to pay close attention to your tank conditions when keeping this fish.
Diet & Food
Farlowella catfish mostly follow a vegetarian diet, but they occasionally eat meaty foods. In their natural habitat, this fish will feed on algae from surfaces and forage for plant matter and vegetable matter.
In home aquariums, feeding twig catfish is straightforward – they will eat any algae in your tank, as well as algae wafers, sinking herbivore pellets, and green vegetables.
Although twig catfish eat algae, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed them or give them catfish food. They require a balanced diet to ensure they get enough nutrients.
Some good green vegetables you can offer your fish during feeding times are spinach, zucchini, cucumber, and lettuce. You can also add a small portion of meaty foods to your twig catfish like sinking pellets and frozen foods like bloodworms for fish.
Feeding your twig catfish should be done twice a day to help food pass through their digestive system. Be careful not to overfeed your fish – there shouldn’t be an excess amount of food at the bottom of your aquarium.
Do Twig Catfish Eat Algae?
Twig catfish do eat algae, both in the wild and in captivity. They will graze on algae all day, but remember, this freshwater fish needs a varied diet to keep them healthy.
I hope I helped you understand the care needs of the twig catfish so you know the best way to look after this unique fish.
Although the Farlowella catfish is extremely sensitive, as long as you maintain impeccable water quality and offer your fish a balanced diet, they should live happily and healthily.
Be sure to share this guide around to help other aquarists learn how to care for the twig catfish. Take a look at my other species guides and aquarium equipment reviews if you need more advice on all things fish!
1. Carnat, J. (2013, August 31). Farlowella Vittata [Image]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/21708387@N02/9647343787/in/photostream/https://www.flickr.com/photos/21708387@N02/9647343787/in/photostream/