Driftwood Catfish: From Tank Requirements to Breeding

Driftwood catfish are a fascinating group of fish that originate from the rivers and tributaries of South America. These nocturnal bottom-dwellers earned their name from their habit of hiding amongst submerged driftwood and fallen logs during the day, only to emerge under the cover of darkness to hunt for food.

There are around 55 recognized species of driftwood catfish that belong to the family Auchenipteridae. They are distributed across a wide range that stretches from Panama down to Argentina. Most driftwood catfishes inhabit slow-moving rivers, streams, lakes and flooded forests. Their preference is soft, acidic freshwater environments with an abundance of driftwood and submerged vegetation.

In the aquarium trade, driftwood catfish are appreciated for their unique appearance and behaviors. Most species have cryptic patterns and mottled coloring that provides camouflage in their natural environment. They have flattened heads and bodies that allow them to squeeze into crevices and under logs.

Driftwood catfish display intriguing behaviors in the aquarium that make them a joy to observe. They are generally peaceful towards tank mates but can become territorial towards their kind. Providing caves, hollow logs and driftwood helps reduce aggression by giving each fish its hiding spot.

What Fish Can Go With Driftwood Catfish?

When selecting tank mates for driftwood catfish, choose peaceful species that occupy different areas of the aquarium. Good options include:

  • Tetras, rasboras, hatchetfish – Schooling species that occupy upper levels. Avoid fin-nippers like serpae tetras.
  • Corydoras, bristlenose plecos – Bottom-dwellers that can share habitat.
  • Gouramis, angelfish – Mid-level species. Avoid aggressive gouramis like blue gouramis.
  • Rainbowfish, livebearers – Middle and upper levels. Platies, mollies and swordtails work well.
  • Larger characins – Silver dollars, tinfoil barbs. Avoid fin-nippers like redtail sharks.

Avoid aggressive cichlids like oscars and Jack Dempseys that may prey on driftwood catfish, especially at night. Very small tetras and rasboras may also be seen as food.

Ideally, choose tank mates that are too large to be eaten and not aggressive enough to harm slow-moving driftwood catfish. A general rule is to avoid fish small enough to fit in their mouth.

Dietary Needs: What Do Driftwood Catfish Eat?

In the wild, driftwood catfish are omnivores with a diverse diet. They feed on insects, small crustaceans, plant matter and even fruits that fall into the water. At night, they emerge to hunt for small fish, shrimp and aquatic invertebrates.

In the home aquarium, they should be fed a varied diet to replicate their natural food sources:

  • Insect larvae – Bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, tubifex worms
  • Meaty foods – Chopped seafood, shrimp pellets, catfish pellets
  • Algae wafers – For fiber and plant matter
  • Vegetables – Zucchini, cucumber, shelled peas
  • Fruits – Melon, berries, oranges – Accepted by some species

Provide a good feeding at night when they are most active. Use sinking pellets, wafers or frozen foods. During the day, offer vegetable matter that sinks for them to find.

Fast 1 day per week to aid digestion. Vary their diet for balanced nutrition. Ensure any uneaten food is removed to maintain water quality.

Size Matters: How Big Do Driftwood Catfish Get?

Driftwood catfish display a wide range of adult sizes across the many species found in the hobby:

  • Pygmy driftwood catfish – Smallest species, max 2 inches
  • Honeycomb driftwood catfish – Up to 3 inches long
  • Royal driftwood catfish – Reach about 4 inches as adults
  • Columbian driftwood catfish – Grow to 5-6 inches in length
  • Striped driftwood catfish – Average around 4-5 inches long

Among the largest driftwood catfish species are:

  • Megamouth driftwood catfish – Can reach lengths over 12 inches
  • Giant driftwood catfish – Max out around 14 inches long
  • Black driftwood catfish – Grow up to 10 inches as adults

Males tend to be smaller than females on average. Providing adequate tank space allows driftwood catfish to reach their maximum growth potential.

Tank Requirements: Driftwood Catfish Tank Size

Given their small to moderate adult sizes, most driftwood catfish will do well in 20-30 gallon aquariums. Larger species may require a minimum of a 40 gallon breeder tank. Some general guidelines for tank sizes include:

  • Pygmy driftwood catfish – 10 gallon or 15 gallon tank
  • Royal driftwood catfish – 20 gallon long tank
  • Striped driftwood catfish – 30 gallon breeder tank
  • Columbian driftwood catfish – 40 gallon breeder minimum
  • Giant driftwood catfish – 75 gallon or larger

Always provide plenty of hiding places in the form of wood, rock crevices and clay pots. A fine gravel or sandy substrate is ideal as some species may burrow. Plants like broad-leafed amazon swords and anubias provide shade.

Leave plenty of open swimming space as driftwood catfish are active at night. Allow 1-2 inches of fish per gallon of water for juveniles, increasing to 1 inch of adult fish per 2-3 gallons. Perform regular partial water changes to maintain pristine water conditions.

Cost Factor: Driftwood Catfish Price

Driftwood catfish are generally very affordable, with most species ranging from $3-$15 per fish. More rare and exotic varieties can fetch higher prices:

  • Common species like corydoras, plecos – $3-$5 each
  • Pygmy driftwood catfish – Around $5 per fish
  • Royal driftwood catfish – Approximately $8-$10 each
  • Honeycomb driftwood catfish – $10-$15 each

Some rare species like the megamouth and giant driftwood catfish can cost $25-$50 due to their demanding husbandry and limited availability.

Purchasing juveniles around 1-2 inches long is most economical. Buying a group of 5-6 individuals makes for a good start to a driftwood catfish community. Price may vary based on size, age and retailer.

Lifespan and Breeding: Driftwood Catfish Lifespan and Breeding

Most driftwood catfish species can live 5-10 years with proper care. Some of the smaller varieties like pygmies may only live 3-5 years. Providing a stress-free environment and a nutritious diet maximizes lifespan potential.

Breeding driftwood catfish can be challenging but is possible for dedicated aquarists. Here is a summary of general breeding behaviors:

  • Mating – No courtship rituals. Random spawning stimulated by water changes.
  • Spawning – Egg scatterers. Adults show no parental care.
  • Eggs – Adhere to surfaces like wood, plants, rocks. Hatch in 5-7 days.
  • Fry – Tiny, around 2-3 mm long. Feed infusoria then brine shrimp nauplii.

Provide plentiful flat surfaces for egg adhesion like driftwood, slate, or coconut shells. Maintain soft, warm, acidic water in the 75-82F range. The aquarium should be densely planted and dimly lit to mimic their natural habitat.

Types of Driftwood Catfish

There are many different driftwood catfish species available to aquarists. Here are some popular varieties seen in the hobby:

Colombian Driftwood Catfish

The Colombian driftwood catfish (Auchenipterus osteomystax) is a peaceful nocturnal species native to the Magdalena River basin. Some key facts:

  • Grows to 5-6 inches on average
  • Tan to light brown body with dark marbled patterns
  • Flattened head with downturned mouth and barbels
  • Peaceful but shy. Fine with similarly sized tank mates
  • 24-30 inch tank recommended. Provide plenty of driftwood hides

Overall an interesting species that does well when kept in small groups of 4-6 fish. Their marbled patterning provides good camouflage among pieces of bogwood and submerged leaves.

Honeycomb Driftwood Catfish

The honeycomb driftwood catfish (Centromochlus heckelii) is named for the hexagonal patterns along its body. Some key details about this species:

  • Grows to around 3 inches in length
  • Tan body with a network of darker honeycomb shapes
  • Six barbels around the tiny downturned mouth
  • Nocturnal and somewhat shy. Peaceful towards tank mates
  • Does well in planted 20 gallon aquariums with driftwood
  • Occasionally available but not common in the aquarium trade

The honeycomb patterning provides this driftwood catfish excellent camouflage among submerged leaves and woody debris. They rest on the bottom during the day and venture out to forage at night.

Megamouth Driftwood Catfish

Among the most spectacular is the megamouth driftwood catfish (Megalonema xanthum). Some interesting facts:

  • Can grow over 12 inches long
  • Has a large oblique mouth adapted for surface feeding
  • Capable of eating small insects, fruits and flowers at the surface
  • Nocturnal. Secretive and prefers very dim lighting
  • Needs at least a 75 gallon heavily planted aquarium
  • Uncommon and only occasionally available to hobbyists

This unusual driftwood catfish has a mouth like a angelfish or betta, allowing it to feed on terrestrial insects and floating fruits. A nocturnal hunter, it stalks the surface under the cover of darkness. Provide plenty of leaf litter and floating plants.


Driftwood catfish are interesting nocturnal bottom dwellers that make a fascinating addition to community aquariums. There are many species available that stay under 6 inches in length and do well in 20-30 gallon planted tanks. Provide plenty of hiding places, a soft sandy substrate and low lighting to replicate their natural habitat.

With their shy and peaceful dispositions, driftwood catfish make excellent tank mates for small tetras, rasboras and corydoras. Feed a varied meaty and plant-based diet and maintain pristine water conditions for good health. Breeding driftwood catfish is challenging but possible for dedicated aquarists. With a little research into their needs, these cryptic catfish can thrive in the home aquarium.