Glass Catfish: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates, and More

A school of Glass Catfish

If you are drawn by the extraordinary, the glass catfish will most likely end up in your tank. One look at them will make you understand why they are so darn popular and loved.

These catfish are exceptionally beautiful, and thanks to their glass-like body they can’t mistaken for any other fish in the hobby. 

They are one of the few species that can instantly instill the love of fish keeping to non-hobbyists.

What’s more, is their peaceful nature make them good candidates for most peaceful community tanks. I don’t know about you but I like it when I am not so restricted in terms of what I can add to my tank.

Even though their care is rather straight forward they aren’t so forgiven when it comes to their water parameters. That is not to say they can’t be kept by beginners. All you need to do understand their requirements fully, and commit to fulfilling them.

This guide will provide you with that info and any other thing you need to know to successfully keep the Glass Catfish in your tank.

Let’s get started!

There are different species of Glass Catfish but the one with scientific name kryptopterus vitreolus has become the most popular and most kept Glass Catfish of all.

That’s because they are generally easier to keep and ideal for aquarists of all experience level. This is why I decided to write about them, so, in this guide, any mention of the Glass Catfish is referring to the kryptopterus vitreolus.

The glass Catfish, also known as the Ghost Catfish or the Phantom Catfish is a freshwater fish that originated from Thailand. 

These catfish are specifically found in two main locations; in rivers that lead into the Gulf of Thailand and in Cardamom Mountains river basins. 

The rivers and streams in that area are rather open and characterized by a moderate current. The visibility of the waters in those areas is usually low. Thankfully, the Glass Catfish have barbels like most catfish which aid them to navigate the environment easier.

Contrary to most catfish these fish aren’t bottom dwellers. They spend a good portion of their time exploring the middle of the water column and only get back to the base when they need to. 

Glass Catfish Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 5.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 30 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginners-Experts
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 75°F to 80°F
  • PH: 6.5 to 7.0
  • Hardness: 8 to 12KH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Ideal tank mates: Cory Catfish, Celestial Pearl Danio, Mollies, Swordtails, Kuhli Loach, et Cetra

Appearance

I would say that like 99% of hobbyists keep the Glass Catfish particularly because of their jaw-dropping appearance. 

When I first saw them I was completely wowed by their transparent appearance. I mean you can clearly see their intricately arranged bones and organs. 

Their clear appearance is a very good survival feature because they camouflage with their surroundings so effectively in the wild. 

Consequently, they are hard to get attacked or eaten by predators. That popular saying works on them; “you can’t hit what you can’t see”. 

Throughout the body, you can see the central spinal column and the well-arranged ribs. They have ventral and tail fins which are even more transparent than the rest of the body.

They do not have a dorsal fin and their tail fin is forked. They have small pectoral fins which play a great role when swimming directly up or down the water column. 

Glass Catfish have that popular catfish feature; their barbels protruding from their head which helps them navigate their surroundings easier. 

Behind their eyes, you will see something similar to a dark silvery lump, that’s actually their organs. 

Ghost Catfish lurking around plants

Size

The Glass Catfish is one of moderately sized catfish; they are not as small as the Otocinlus or the Bumblebee catfish and not as large as the Striped Raphael Catfish or the Chinese Algae Eater for instance. 

On average, a Glass Catfish will grow to a maximum size of 4 to 6 inches long. This can change depending on the quality of care given to them and genetics. 

Glass Catfish Lifespan

In terms of lifespan, these fish live longer than catfish like Corys or Otocinclus which is a good thing seeing watching them never gets old. 

In ideal conditions and with proper care, a Glass Catfish will live between 7 to 8 years.  

Factors such as poor water conditions, poor diet and insufficient tank space can significantly lower their lifespan. 

If they are receiving subpar care it will become very hard for them to stick around for up to that 7 years. Genetics is another factor that can affect their lifespan. 

A very important tip is to make sure you buy your Glass Catfish from a reputable breeder or pet store. The thing is, poor breeding practices and the quality of care they received prior, can affect their overall lifespan. 

Temperament and General Behavior

Glass Catfish have a very peaceful temperament which makes them one of the best options for a peaceful community tank.

Like I said before, these fish differ from most catfish in the sense they don’t completely stay at the bottom of the tank. 

They are considerably active and spend a lot of time exploring the middle section of the tank. 

What makes them even more interesting is the fact that they are schooling fish. 

Glass Catfish prefer swimming in a school of at least 5, and I had to say we are all the luckier for that. I know they are already nice to behold but a school of them looks nothing but mesmerizing. 

They swim in a coordinated manner and you will hardly see one stray far away from the group. They are a bit shy and will retreat to hiding when spooked. 

Glass Catfish Tank Size

The recommended minimum tank for keeping the Glass Catfish is 30 gallons. 

This size is sufficient for that minimum school of 5 to swim around as they want. Allocate additional 5 gallons for each fish you add. 

No matter how much you love these fish I recommend you don’t buy them if you can’t keep up to 30 gallons. 

If you put 5 of them in a tank smaller than this, they will not have the space they need to school joyfully.

On the other hand, if you keep just 2 or 3, they will not do very well and very likely their lifespan and growth potential will get affected.

Tank Requirements

Next to selecting a suitable tank is setting it up with ideal water conditions and equipping it with all the fish will require to adapt easier. 

We start with equipping the tank before talking about the ideal water conditions in the next section. 

To fashion the Ideal Glass Catfish tank you have to equip it with all the elements the fish are used to in their natural habitat. 

The following elements will help us achieve the desired result: Substrate, Plants, Tank decoration, lighting and decorations.

Substrate for Glass Catfish

The best substrate to use in the ghost Catfish tank is sand. The reason is their body is a bit delicate and you will run into the risk of injuring them if you use anything sharp like rough gravels. 

Tank Decoration

Tank decorations such as driftwood and pieces of rocks can help provide hiding spots which the Glass Catfish can run to whenever needed. 

That’s said, understand that you don’t have to use them if your tank isn’t very spacious. 

As long as they have some plants as a substitute they will be fine. If you decide to decorate the tank, make sure they have plenty of space in the middle they can cruise around. 

Plants

Aside from improving the overall water quality, plants will help create lots of hiding spots in the tank. 

Besides the streams and rivers, these fish came from area enriched with abundant plant life. The tank won’t feel like a home to them if it doesn’t have any plant. 

You have lots of choices on which plants to include but I recommend you stick to ones that are very easy to keep. Example Java Moss, Hornwort and Java Fern. 

One last thing is, be sure to provide them with a moderate water flow in the tank like they are used to in the wild. 

A school of Glass Catfish

Glass Catfish Water Parameters

Contrary to Hardy catfish like the Bumblee, Corys and Bristlenose Pleco, the glass is rather delicate and require very strict water parameters. 

These Catfish do not handle fluctuations in pH, temperature and water hardness very well. 

Whilst many beginners have been able to keep them successfully I do not recommend them to anyone who hasn’t really understood how to adjust and maintain water parameters.

There are lots of amazing hardy freshwater fish you can try out and learn a lot from in the process without posing many risks to the fish.

The glass Catfish need to be kept within these parameters at all cost. 

  • Temperature: 75°F- 80°F
  • pH: 6.5- 7.0
  • Water Hardness: 8-10 dGH

Ensure you conduct regular tests to make sure everything is alright. Understand that you can easily lose your fish if the parameters fall outside of those ranges.

Food and Diet

Ghost Catfish are omnivorous. Zooplanktons, mosquito larvae, small worms and similar invertebrates are what make most of what they eat in the wild. 

In captivity, they readily accept a wide range of fish foods from pellets, flakes, live and frozen food. 

Given that you have lots of choices on what to feed them you still have a task of making sure their diet is as varied as possible and high quality. 

You can have good quality flakes or pellets to make the core of their diet. 

From time to time, you can supplement the diet with protein-enriched foods such as brine shrimp, daphnia or bloodworms. 

You must avoid overfeeding them so as not mess up the water quality. A good rule is to feed them once or twice a day as much as they can eat in a few minutes each time. 

I highly recommend sticking around every time you are feeding them so that you can know their feeding capability. 

This habit also helps if you have other fish in the tank so that you can make sure the other fish isn’t scaring your catfish and hogging all the food. If that the case, you should devise a way of feeding them separately.

Glass Catfish Tank Mates

The best tank mate for these fish is more Glass Catfish. As I mentioned previously, they are schooling fish and for that reason, they don’t do well if kept in a very small group.

Before considering any other fish to add to their tank, be sure you have them in a school of at least 5. 

This way they will feel more confident to actively explore the tank. 

After satisfying this you should consider size and temperament to qualify any fish as their tank mate. 

Size-wise, the glass catfish should not be kept with any fish big enough to eat or stress them out whether peaceful or not. 

That means species like Goldfish, Iridescent CatfishBala shark will not work even though they are passive. 

Regarding temperament, Glass Catfish are pretty laid back and thus should not be kept with any aggressive species whether big or small. 

This is why species like Bettas, Tiger Barbs, Cichlids (most of them anyway) will not work. 

So basically, the ideal Glass Catfish are species of similar aggression and size (species way smaller than the catfish will work too as long as they are peaceful). 

 Examples of some of the most ideal Glass Catfish Tank;

  • Molly 
  • Celestial Pearl Danio
  • Platies 
  • Swordtails
  • Kuhli Loach

In case you want to add a fish outside of these make sure to follow the recommend guidelines so you can qualify it.

Glass Catfish Tank Mates

Breeding

Regrettably not much is known about the breeding requirements of glass catfish in captivity. That’s because very few people have reported breeding them successfully in home aquariums.

Experts aquarists and professional breeders are currently researching this subject but thus far, nothing substantial has been gathered. 

Much of what is known is from their breeding habit in the wild. They normally spawn during the rainy season in their habitat particularly when the season peaked.

To have a shot at seeing them spawn, experts recommend creating a similar condition in the tank. You can achieve that by dropping the temperature to around 73°F and regularly adding a small percentage of fresh water in the tank. 

If they don’t experience this kind of condition they will certainly not spawn. They will feel that the environment is unfit for them to bring babies. 

Feeding them live foods also helps at this time because it will help the female to produce eggs, plus supply them with the energy required to spawn. 

Ahead of doing all these, be sure you have a separate breeding pair in the tank.

It can be a little difficult to sex them. The differences are that female Glass Catfish are a bit larger than males and have a slightly bigger stomach for carrying eggs.

A good sign of an imminent spawn is behavioral changes like touching each other with barbels. 

After some time, if you are successful, the female will lay her eggs on the available plant. The eggs usually hatch in a couple of days. You can feed the fry baby brine shrimp.

Common Diseases

Despite their rather strict water parameters, the Ghost catfish don’t have any species-specific diseases. 

However, that does not mean they aren’t susceptible to common freshwater ailments like ich, dropsy, bacterial and fungal infections.

The good news is as long as you keep a clean tank, maintain the recommended parameters and feed them healthy diet there will be very little chance of your glass catfish getting sick.

It will also help if you commit to thoroughly cleaning any element you are planning on adding to the tank. That, plus quarantining any fish before adding them to the tank to make sure they aren’t carrying any diseases. 

When first starting, make sure to introduce these catfish to an established tank. 

Due to their sensitivity to parameter fluctuations, the transformations that happen before a tank matures will certainly kill them. 

Closing

Glass Catfish packs almost all you can wish for in an aquarium fish. I say almost because they need more attention than your average beginner fish given their strict water parameters.

But in my opinion, they make up for this tiny inconvenience with their unrivalled beauty, peacefulness and activeness.

Hopefully, you have realized by now that keeping them mainly entails having an established tank that can house a school of least 5.

Next, you need to set up the water to match the recommended parameters. Commit to maintaining those ranges and always keep a clean tank.

Throw in some plants so that your catfish can have where they can hide when the need arises. 

The next thing this fish need is high quality varied diet, but don’t overfeed them.

If you decide to bring other species to the tank, make sure they are peaceful and no bigger than the catfish.  This virtually sums up the glass catfish care.

I hope this guide has provided you with all you need to know regarding keeping the Ghost Catfish.

Do you own the Glass Catfish? I will appreciate if you share any other helpful info that can help improve this guide.

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