Ancistrus: Care and Maintenance

Ancistrus, or as aquarists often call them among themselves, sticky catfish are very popular representatives of chain mail catfish. They are most appreciated for helping to clear algae from aquarium glass and decorations.


Ancistrus aquarium

They contain ancistrus either in groups (at a young age), or in pairs or harems (sexually mature individuals), since with age, catfish become extremely territorial, and the likelihood of clashes between males greatly increases.

The minimum recommended aquarium volume for keeping ancistrus is 50 liters. An indispensable element for keeping ancistrus is the presence of natural driftwood. By scraping off the top layer and eating it, the catfish get the cellulose they need for comfortable digestion.

A large number of shelters are encouraged, which can be built from stones, snags, grottoes, coconut shells, or broken ceramic pots. They make a great place if the catfish want to hide. When installing decorations, try to select those that will not have sharp surfaces and very narrow passages. Frightened, the ancistrus can hide in a narrow gap and get stuck in it.

The next important step in caring for ancistrus is to provide your fish with clean and oxygen-rich water. An aquarium filter and compressor of suitable power will help you with this.

Remember to rinse the filter sponge and water changes weekly, and clean the glass with a sponge or scraper as needed.

Water parameters

In nature, ancistrus live in the rivers of South America, where the water is mostly soft and acidic. However, at home, the fish have perfectly adapted to life in a wide range of water parameters. Often they can be found even in aquariums with African cichlids that prefer hard water.

To prevent dangerous concentrations of metabolic products from accumulating in the water, it is necessary to replace 20% of the water in the aquarium with fresh water once a week. Typically, the source of such water is the water supply. Unfortunately, the water that comes to us through pipes is not always of high quality. Traces of chlorine, chloramine, heavy metals, and other impurities can often be found in it. Use Tetra AquaSafe conditioner to quickly protect water from such compounds and enrich it with vitamins. To prepare the water, it is sufficient to add 5 ml for every 10 liters of water to be replaced.


Ancistrus are typical crepuscular inhabitants of the aquarium. The fish begin to show their activity immediately after turning off the light. To observe their life, it is best to use aquariums with special night (blue) lighting. If you install bright lighting in your aquarium, make sure you have dark hiding places for your catfish.


Any substrate that does not have sharp edges is suitable for the bottom of aquariums containing ancistrus. This limitation is introduced due to the fact that the fish can damage their mouth apparatus. The presence of large smooth stones is also encouraged because Ancistrus often rest on large, flat surfaces.


In an aquarium with ancistrus, you can plant any type of plant of your choice. Both long-stemmed (Ambulia, Vallisneria, Bacopa, etc.) and bush species (anubias, echinoderms, cryptocorynes) are perfect. It is worth noting that sometimes catfish can spoil plant leaves, but this usually happens if there is not enough food for them and there are no snags in the aquarium.

Feeding ancistrus

Ancistrus are typical herbivorous catfish, therefore, their diet should be based on food with a high proportion of vegetation. Too much animal food can lead to digestive upset in Ancistrus. Therefore, in no case should they be fed only with live and frozen food (bloodworms, brine shrimp, tubifex). Such food can also pose a risk of infection entering the aquarium.

An excellent choice would be specialized dry feed for chain mail catfish:

  1. Tetra Pleco Veggie Wafers are dense wafers that quickly sink to the bottom and become accessible to the Ancistrus, who are happy to scrape off such food. Due to their special structure, they retain their shape for a long time and do not cause cloudy water. The green area in the center of the tablets is a concentrate of algae and zucchini for excellent digestion of chain mail catfish.
  2. Tetra Pleco Spirulina Wafers is a tablet food for herbivorous fish with algae concentrate, additionally enriched with Omega-3 acids, which support the fish’s immunity. The composition contains a large number of plant fibers, which provide comfortable digestion of ancistrus. The plates retain their shape for a long time and do not muddy the water.
  3. Tetra Pleco Tablets is a universal food for all types of bottom-dwelling fish that feed on vegetation. It has the form of bulky tablets and quickly sinks to the bottom, where it gradually releases feed particles. The tablets are enriched with spirulina, an alga that not only supports comfortable digestion but also gives extra vitality.

It is enough to feed the Ancistrus once a day. It is advisable to throw feed tablets after turning off the main lighting.


Ancistrus are ideal for sharing with most tropical fish species. They calmly relate to schooling small species (neons, tetras, barbs) and medium-sized cichlids (scalars, apistograms, Malawian cichlids) Even large and aggressive species are often too tough for the dense “shell” of ancistrus. Add to this the secretive and twilight lifestyle. Catfish love to hide in shelters and are usually active in the dark when other fish are sleeping.

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