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 grow on your plants blocking light and restricting growth. It grows on your glass, impeding the view through the window into a world that you’ve worked so hard to create. It will grow if you give it a place to live. 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. This little guy is a specialist in soft green algae. It can be hard to spot this algae without paying attention. It will be eaten by the otocinclus before it gets too big and out of control. They are usually priced at anywhere between $1.99 and $5.99 per piece.

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 are at their best when they can school with others of their own kind. They will often travel in packs when they are stressed and go foraging for food. Most of the time, you’ll only see this behavior when you first introduce them to your tank. Once they settle in they should not feel threatened and will school less often.

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 is not getting enough to eat during handling.

Unfortunately, Otocinclus are not spawned in aquariums very often. The majority of Otocinclus specimens that you purchase from a pet shop will come from wild captures. 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 for shipping. 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 can be purchased, but the sheer amount of Otocinclus makes it difficult to properly feed them. A week later they will be ready to go to the local pet shop. They are placed in a tank and fed by the pet shop. Feeding is difficult, however, as most stores stock a couple dozen of more Otocinclus in one tank. This is odd because they wouldn’t stock anywhere near that many plecostomus in the same tank.

Don’t worry – even through all that stress, Otocinclus can still thrive in your aquarium. These are some simple tips to increase your pet’s survival rate.

You should ensure that they are fed enough algae when you bring them home. After a few weeks of poor food, they will be very hungry. You can accomplish this by setting up a quarantine container and allowing them to grow algae for at least a week.

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. It is important to take your Otocinclus back home, and to acclimate them in your quarantine aquarium that has been growing algae for the anticipation of their arrival. As they will already have a home-cooked meal, this will reduce their hunger pangs.

Otocinclus are best suited for peaceful community setups. Given their size and timid nature, they are easily out-competed for food. 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. I can’t imagine my life without them.