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Twig Catfish | Complete Farlowella Care Guide

The aquarium hobby is home to a wealth of different fish species. There are big fish, small fish, colorful fish, bland fish… and then there’s catfish, the strangest of them all. The twig catfish is not an exception in this: as its common name suggests, this species has evolved to survive by resembling a stick. 

Keep reading for everything you need to know about keeping twig catfish from the Farlowella genus!

Name (common, scientific)Twig catfish, whiptail catfish, stick catfish Farlowella sp.
Minimum tank size30 gallons
Minimum group size1
Temperature75-80 °F
Difficulty levelIntermediate

Twig catfish (Farlowella sp.) Species & habitat

The common name twig catfish or whiptail catfish refers to the entire genus Farlowella. This genus belongs to the Loricariidae, the largest family of catfish. The Farlowellas are naturally found in South America.

There are 28 species in total, but a few are more popular in the aquarium hobby than others:

Farlowella vittata

By far the most common. This one’s found in much of the Orinoco river basin in Venezuela and Colombia, where they inhabit a variety of slow-flowing habitats, from creeks to full-sized rivers. Like other twig catfish, they like their waters nice and messy with plenty of plant roots, leaf litter, branches and aquatic plants.

This species grows to around 9″ in length.

Farlowella amazonum

We’re heading into more obscure territory here, although you may be able to find this species through dedicated hobbyist catfish keepers. Farlowella amazonum is found relatively far south for a whiptail catfish: in Brazil and Argentina.

Like F. vittata, this species grows to around 9″ in length.

Farlowella gracilis

Another lesser known Farlowella species, this one occurs in Colombia. Specifically, it’s found in the Caquetá river basin, where it inhabits relatively fast-flowing streams and rivers.

Farlowella gracilis grows to a maximum size of around 7″.

Farlowella colombiensis

Labeled as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN, Farlowella colombiensis is (unsurprisingly) naturally found in Colombia. Like many other Farlowellas, it likes densely planted waters. Threats to the species include deforestation, pollution, water extraction, and, indeed, fishing for the aquarium trade.

This small species usually doesn’t surpass 6.5″ in length.

Did you know? If you’re an aquarium veteran, maybe you’re missing a name here: Farlowella acus. Although most twig catfish in aquarium stores are labeled as such, many sources are now of the opinion that this is wrong and they’re actually F. vittata or other species. We’re inclined to believe, as F. acus has a shorter snout than most of the twigs we’ve seen available. Misnaming of aquarium fish is highly common anyway.

Farlowella vittata catfish

Twig Catfish (Farlowella sp.) Description

Farlowella catfish take camouflage seriously. They can easily be recognized from their very distinctive looks – if you can find them, that is. With their super-elongated body, pointed noses and brown-green coloration they really do look like twigs, and they blend perfectly into the debris-littered banks of their natural habitat.

The members of the genus use their suction cup-like mouths to attach themselves to logs, roots and sticks, sitting motionlessly. The only time you’ll see these fish moving is when they’re grazing for biofilm and algae.

With a maximum size of about 9” (much of which consists of its skinny tail), the twig catfish stays relatively small. Males can be differentiated from females by their broader rostrum (nose), which has jagged rather than smooth edges.

Did you know? The term “twig catfish” or royal Farlowella is also used for another slender, South American catfish. The naming is a bit erroneous, though, because this is actually a different species entirely: Sturisoma panamense.

Twig Catfish (Farlowella sp.) Aquarium

If you’d like to keep a twig catfish in your home aquarium, there are a few things to keep in mind. The most important factor is that these fish are extremely sensitive to poor water quality. They will quickly perish if you don’t maintain excellent cleanliness at all times.

The tank should always be completely cycled before you can consider adding any fish, and even then it’s best to introduce the twigs at a later stage, when you’re sure the water parameters are stable. Second, these fish have made sitting still and doing nothing their survival method. This means they’re very peaceful but easily outcompeted for food. They won’t deal well with more boisterous tankmates at all.

The ideal aquarium set-up for a twig catfish would be a South American stream biotope, preferably at least a 20 or 30-gallon long. A tank like this would have dark, stained water and a sandy substrate with plenty of organic litter in the form of driftwood, leaves, and twigs. Moderate water flow is important to keep the water well-oxygenated.

Live aquatic plants aren’t a must, but they can certainly help. We like to at least use some floating plants with long roots to dim the light and help the fish feel safe. Be sure to go for plants that are low-light proof.


As we’ve mentioned, twig catfish are sitting ducks to more aggressive fish. They can be kept in a community aquarium, but it’s important to make sure things always stay harmonious and tranquil if you want your Farlowella to thrive.

We like combining our Farlowellas with other South American species:

If you don’t care about origin, Asian fish like rasboras and the small kuhli loach also make excellent options. Additionally, whiptail catfish go very well with freshwater shrimp and freshwater snails.

Caring for Twig Catfish (Farlowella sp.)

As discussed earlier, pristine water quality is vital to the well-being of your twig catfish. These fish really are quite sensitive. Weekly water changes are a must, with the exact amount of water that should be switched out depending on the results of your (liquid) water test. Nitrates should be kept lower than 10, while ammonia and nitrite should never be present.

Be sure to dechlorinate new water with a high-quality dechlorinator and temperature-match it to the tank water. Add it in slowly using a thin hose to prevent shocking the fish.


Twig catfish naturally mostly feed on micro-organisms and the various algae that grow on decaying material. Because our home aquariums are too small and clean to sustain them that way, you’ll have to supplement your twig’s diet. This being said, it’ll also really appreciate it if you leave some surfaces uncleaned so it can forage as it would in the wild.

Daily feedings of algae-based foods (like spirulina pellets) and veggies such as blanched cucumber and zucchini will work well to keep your catfish healthy. You can also supplement now and then using small live or (thawed) frozen foods like mosquito larvae.

Breeding Twig Catfish (Farlowella sp.)

Yes, you can breed twig catfish in the aquarium. And yes, you should—as we’ve learned in the section on species and habitat, some Farlowella populations in the wild are in danger. So let’s not add to that by buying loads of wild-caught fish!

If you have some experience breeding aquarium fish, you could try your hand at this species. They actually breed very easily, but it’s raising the fry where most aquarists fail.

Here’s how it works, at least for the common Farlowella vittata (although this should work for most of the species):

  • Make sure you have at least a few males and females in a large, single-species set-up. The males may spar a bit, but don’t worry, they won’t hurt each other.
  • Keep the water quality pristine and feed plenty of fresh vegetables like leafy greens. Give the tank time to mature so the fry will have plenty of algae and micro-organisms to feed on later.
  • Spawning generally happens at night, with the sticky eggs usually being deposited on the tank glass.
  • Males will take care of the eggs, sometimes multiple clutches from different females at once. It takes up to 10 days for a clutch to hatch.
  • Like the eggs, the fry are sticky at first, attaching themselves to a surface while they consume their yolk sac over the course of the first few days of their lives.
  • Now it gets tricky. First off, the fry are very sensitive, so you need to carefully keep the water quality ultra-high. Very regular water changes using the drip method (to avoid shocking them) may work.
  • The fry also need food. If the tank has plenty of algae and matured leaf litter, that helps a lot. You must supplement constantly with blanched or briefly frozen leafy greens like kale.

Even experienced breeders still tend to lose a lot of their baby Farlowellas in the first few weeks. Luckily, though, a few usually do make it!


Twig catfish from the Farlowella genus are an absolutely fascinating addition to your aquarium, but they require excellent tank maintenance to stay healthy. Not sure how to go about this? Why not outsource your aquarium maintenance so you can keep your hands dry, sit back and enjoy the fish with no stress.

Contact FantaSEA Aquariums here to set up your own customized plan.




García-Alzate, C. A., Román-Valencia, C., & Barrero, A. M. (2012). Food and reproductive biology of Farlowella vittata (Siluriformes: Loricariidae) in Güejar River Basin, Orinoco, Colombia. Revista de Biología Tropical, 60(4), 1873-1888.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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