- Species Name: Otocinclus (genus)
- Common Names: Oto, Oto Cat
- Size: Up to 2 inches
- Lifespan: 3 to 5 years
- Native Distribution: South America
Affectionately nicknamed Otos or Oto Cats, Otocinclus catfish are miniature suckermouth catfish native to South America. These active little algae eaters can be found in highly oxygenated streams and rivers with slow to moderate flow and they’re happiest in large shoals.
Otocinclus catfish are an entertaining species, and they make wonderful additions to the freshwater cleanup crew. Though small in size, however, they have big appetites and require plenty of algae and biofilm to sustain them. Beginner aquarium hobbyists may have trouble keeping these little fish alive, especially in small groups or in tanks that haven’t become fully established.
With adequate food and proper tank conditions, an experienced aquarium hobbyist can successfully breed Otocinclus catfish in the home aquarium. Here’s what you need to know.
Sexing Otocinclus Catfish
While not the easiest species to breed in the home aquarium, there are a few tricks on how to breed otocinclus catfish. The biggest challenge, however, may be identifying the males and females in the first place.
The easiest way to differentiate between male and female Otocinclus is to start with a large group. Females tend to be larger than males with rounder bodies. Their coloration also tends to be brighter. The most noticeable anatomical difference between male and female Otocinclus is the presence of a skin flap on the dorsal surface of the unbranched pelvic-fin ray.
Experts generally recommend breeding Otocinclus in groups rather than pairs, but it’s important to get the male-to-female ratio right. Aim for a group of at least 6 to 10 Otocinclus with one male for every two to three females.
Setting Up a Breeding Tank
Otocinclus can be sensitive to fluctuations in water parameters, so it’s best to start with an established tank. Planted tanks are a must for Otos, not only to keep the water clean and well-oxygenated, but to provide surfaces on which algae and biofilm can accumulate. To encourage breeding, it’s best to mimic the Otocinclus’ natural habitat.
A breeding tank for Otocinclus should be at least 20 gallons in volume. Set it up well before you add your fish, so it has time to stabilize and grow a nice layer of algae on the surfaces. You’ll want to provide plenty of plants, driftwood, and rocks for the fish to lay their eggs on and for the fry to hide amongst once they hatch.
Here are the ideal parameters for an Otocinclus breeding tank:
- Size: At least 20 gallons
- Water Temperature: 72-82°F
- pH Level: 6.0-7.5
- GH: 6-15 dGH
- KH: 3-10 dKH
- Ammonia: 0ppm
- Nitrite: 0ppm
- Nitrate: 0-20ppm
Filtration is important for maintaining high water quality in the tank, but you want to avoid creating too much suction or flow. A sponge filter is gentle enough for delicate fry and will help support the biological filtration in your tank. Keep in mind, however, that you may still need to perform weekly water changes to keep the water clean and the chemistry within the ideal range.
Lining your breeding tank with fine sand or no substrate at all may make cleaning and maintenance tasks easier. If you go this route, it’s wise to stick to plants that can be anchored to driftwood or rock. Without nutrient-rich substrate, you may also need to use a liquid plant fertilizer once a week.
Otocinclus Breeding Behavior
Let’s discuss how to breed Otocinclus catfish. Because Otocinclus are egg-layers, they’ll be more likely to breed in a planted tank that provides plenty of surfaces on which to deposit their eggs. It’s equally important to condition your fish with a high-protein diet of varied foods to encourage breeding behavior.
Some experts recommend conditioning male and female fish in separate tanks for at least a week before adding both sexes to an established breeding tank. Once the fish have been combined, it may take some time for them to get acclimated. Continue to offer supplemental food and watch for mating behavior.
As a preamble to mating, you’ll notice the male Otocinclus chasing the females around the tank. The females will avoid the males until they’re ready to breed. When a male and female combine, they assume a T-shape with their bodies. The female will then deposit her eggs on surfaces in the tank while the male follows behind to fertilize them.
Raising Otocinclus Catfish Fry
Like many egg-laying species, Otocinclus catfish don’t care for their eggs after they’ve been laid. The adults are unlikely to bother the eggs, but it may be easier to raise the fry if you remove the adults. Separating out the adults also ensures that there’s more algae and biofilm for the fry to eat.
After the eggs have been laid, keep the water in the tank as clean and stable as possible. Gentle water movement can help prevent the eggs from succumbing to mold, but you want to avoid strong filtration that might disturb the eggs. Small, frequent water changes may be better than large, occasional changes.
Once the eggs hatch after a few days, the fry will become free-swimming and will start to feed on microorganisms in the tank. It may be beneficial to supplement their diet with infusoria and algae wafers—just be sure to remove uneaten portions of solid food before they break down. Offer small amounts of food frequently throughout the day to ensure your Otocinclus fry gets enough to eat.
Additional Tips for Breeding Otocinclus Catfish
- Larger tanks are almost always preferred for breeding purposes. Not only does a larger tank provide more surface area to accumulate algae and biofilm, but it also minimizes fluctuations in temperature and water chemistry that might negatively impact your breeding efforts.
- Otocinclus catfish can be picky when it comes to choosing mates, so starting with a large group may improve your chances of successful mating. Once you’ve established a few mating groups, you can continue to breed them.
- Because Otocinclus fry are so small, feeding them can be a challenge. An algae-rich environment is a must for raising Oto fry, so consider growing algae on plants or rocks in a separate tank and rotating them in and out of your breeding tank to provide a constant food source.
Contact us today to start your perfect freshwater aquarium.