Otocinclus, the Wonder Cat!


Otocinclus is the Wonder Cat!

The most common nuisance in a typical aquarium is the ever-abundant fiend known as algae. It can block light from reaching your plants and cause a halt to their growth. It can block your view and cause damage to the glass. In short, find a surface and it will grow! Short of periodically scrubbing every inch of your aquarium, or not allowing a single glimmer of light into your tank, what can be done to ward off this tormentor? Meet the Otocinclus, your aquatic lawnmower friend.

The Otocinclus is a dwarf sucker-mouth catfish that only grows to be about 2 inches long. The Otocinclus is a tiny, lovable catfish that loves to eat algae from your aquarium, glass, and other decor. They are not known for eating aquatic plants. They are experts at eating soft green algae. This algae can often be difficult to see without looking very closely. The otocinclus will consume it before it grows to large and becomes out of control. The best part is that they are generally priced reasonably for what they do: usually anywhere from $1.99 to $5.99 per unit.

Peaceful tanks should find room for this little gem. Otocinclus are very healthy and can be kept with fry or even tiny dwarf shrimp. They do best when they have the opportunity to school with their own species. When stressed they will travel in a pack foraging for food. Most likely, they will only show this behavior after you introduce them to the tank. They should feel comfortable and less stressed once they have settled in.

Experienced aquarists will tell you that Otocinclus are a very resilient fish. They don’t often contract common illnesses that plague other fish. Their greatest weakness lies in not eating enough while being handled.

Unfortunately, Otocinclus are not spawned in aquariums very often. Most Otocinclus purchased from a pet retailer will be wild caught. As with other wild caught sucker-mouth catfish, this makes for a perfect storm. Otocinclus, which are often taken by the hundreds, are then transported to a warehouse. They are kept there for a few days until they are ready to be shipped. They arrive at a wholesaler where a few hundred of them are put into a bare-bottom aquarium with no decoration and poor lighting. The tank is virtually empty of algae. Algae wafers may be provided, however, it is difficult to feed properly due to the sheer number Otocinclus. They will arrive at the pet shop about a week later. They are placed in a tank and fed by the pet shop. It is not easy to feed them, though, since most pet shops have a few dozen more Otocinclus. This is unusual because they wouldn’t stock nearly as many plecostomus inside the same tank.

Don’t worry – even through all that stress, Otocinclus can still thrive in your aquarium. Here are a couple of simple tips that will greatly increase the survivability of your new pet:

First, ensure you have enough algae for your fish to eat when they return home. They’ll be hungry after a few weeks of not enough food. The best way to accomplish this is to have a quarantine tank and simply leave the light on for a week or so until you have algae growing all over the place.

Next, buy these fish the day after they come in to your pet store. This goes against conventional wisdom which says that you want to buy a fish that has been at the pet store longer to prove their longevity and lessen the shock of being transported too soon after arrival. Given that Otocinclus are typically grouped together in such abundant numbers – and are often put into tanks that can’t produce algae as fast as they can consume it – you want the stronger fish separated from the rest as soon as possible. Sometimes it is difficult to determine which fish have been around for the longest. In anticipation of your Otocinclus arriving, you will need to take your Otocinclus with you and adjust them in your quarantine. You’ll be able to reduce the amount of time they are starving since you already have a meal ready for them at home.

Otocinclus are best suited for peaceful community setups. They are often out-competed by larger fish due to their timidity and small size. Make sure you have algae for them to eat before adding them to your aquarium and you’ll be amazed at the algae-control one little fish can provide. Give this dwarf catfish a try and it’ll surely win you over. They are indispensable!