Cory catfish are a very popular fish species among aquarists. But unfortunately, they’re often kept in bad circumstances causing fast death or unnatural behavior. This raises the question: are cory catfish hardy, or are they hard to keep?

Cory catfish are not hard to keep and are overall hardy fish. Most species you see in pet stores, like Albino Cory Catfish, are easy to keep with basic experience. Depending on the species, cory catfish can be more sensitive towards water parameter fluctuations. Wild-caught species are overall harder to keep.

Are cory catfish hard to breed?

Breeding cory catfish: in some cases, you can find eggs without doing anything. In other cases, you can spend weeks or years trying to trigger spawning and nothing happens. But are cory catfish actually hard to breed?

Most cory catfish are not hard to breed. Species like the bronze cory catfish and the albino cory catfish can be triggered to spawn by doing cool water changes. Some species are harder to breed, and you will have to extensively condition the adults to trigger spawning.

If you want to know everything about breeding cory catfish, I suggest you read my full guide on it. It covers everythings, from spawning them, to raising the cory catfish fry. Read it here. 

If your cory catfish have already spawned, I also have a full article on raising the fry.

Hardy cory catfish species

Overall, cory catfish are quite hardy. They tend to do well in various setups and can live with many other fish. However, there are over 160 Corydoras species, so it’s obvious that not all are the same difficulty to keep. Here are 5 species that are generally very hardt and suited for beginners.

Care
Overview
Distribution
Colombia
Tank size
>20 gallons
Temperature
70-80°F (21-27°C)
Difficulty
Beginner

This is a cory catfish female, recognizable at the big belly and rounded fins (she’s definitely ready to breed).

The bronze cory catfish or Corydoras aeneus is a very hardy cory catfish species. It’s one of the best species to keep for beginners and is not hard to keep. They do best in groups. This species is also one of the easiest cory catfish to breed and they’re known to lay a lot of eggs.

C. aeneus is also one of the most readily available cory catfish. It’s relatively cheap and costs between $3 and $5 per fish. This makes it a great choice for beginners.

Photo by Daniel McDermott
Care
Overview
Distribution
Colombia
Tank size
>20 gallons
Size
3 inches (7,5cm)
Temperature
70-80°F (21-27°C)
Difficulty
Beginner

The albino cory catfish is a variation of the bronze cory catfish. They’re bred to an albino form, and this type will never live in the wild. That being said, the albino cory catfish is one of the best cory catfish for beginners.

The albino cory catfish or Corydoras aeneus is a very hardy cory catfish species. It’s easy to keep and a good choice for beginners because it’s easy to find and relatively cheap. It’s also one of the easiest cory catfish to breed.

C. aeneus “albino” is also one of the most readily available cory catfish. You’ll find it at most pet stores. It’s relatively cheap and costs between $3 and $6 per fish. This makes it a great choice for beginners.

Photo by James Green
Care
Overview
Distribution
Colombia
Tank size
>20 gallons
Size
2,3 inches (6cm)
Temperature
59-77°F (15-25°C)
Difficulty
Beginner

The peppered cory mustn’t be confused with the salt and pepper cory catfish (C. habrosus). This cory catfish gets bigger than the Habrosus cory, and the latter has a clearly distinguishable black line along its body.

The peppered cory catfish or Corydoras paleatus is a very hardy Corydoras species and readily available in most stores. It can live in cooler water (>60°F), making it perfect for beginners. This species is also easy to breed, but lays less eggs than the Bronze cory catfish. 

Almost all specimens you’ll see in the pet store are captive bred, making them less sensitive towards water parameter fluctuations.

This species is very easy to sex: females are bigger and wider than males. Read our full guide on sexing cory catfish.

Corydoras trilineatus in breeding position. Photo by h080
Care
Overview
Distribution
Colombia
Tank size
>20 gallons
Size
2,3 inches (6cm)
Temperature
59-77°F (15-25°C)
Difficulty
Beginner

This species is often confused with the julii cory catfish. However, it’s pretty easy to distinguish once you know what to look for. The main difference is that C. trilineatus has a mesh-like pattern, while C. julii has more leopard-like spots. C. julii also tends to stay smaller.

The False julii cory catfish or the three stripe cory catfish is a good beginner catfish that’s quite hardy. It does best in groups. It mustn’t be confused with the julii cory catfish though, which is harder to keep.

Corydoras trilineatus is also a little harder to breed than the three first species on this list. It spawns less easily and tends to spread out the egg-laying over multiple weeks.

5. Pygmy cory catfish (C. pygmaeus)

Photo by Johnny Jenssen
Care
Overview
Distribution
Madeira river basin, Brazil
Tank size
>10 gallons
Size
1.0 inch (2.5cm)
Temperature
71-79°F(22-26°C)
Difficulty
Beginner

Pygmy cory catfish are one of the dwarf species of cory catfish, making them ideal for small nano tanks. They are perhaps the cutest type of cory catfish and really shine in bigger groups.

Pygmy cory catfish are great beginner fish and are quite hardy. They do well in tanks of at least 10 gallons, making them a good choice for starters.

They’re somewhat atypical from other cory catfish species, because the like to swim in the middle layer of the tank. This makes them extra fun to watch and makes it one of the more active cory catfish.

If you want to know more about small cory catfish species, I highly suggest you read our full article on it. It covers 7 small (dwarf) Corydoras species you can put in a small tank. Small cory catfish article.

Non-beginner cory catfish species

Overall, most cory catfish species are hardy if kept in the right conditions with some basic preparation. Some species tend to be more sensitive than others, due to varying reasons. 

Here are some of the species I found to be somewhat sensitive. Keep in mind, this is my opinion and doesn’t reflect any of the successes you might have. Beginner aquarists can perfectly keep all of these species, but there are some things you’d have to take into account.

1. Panda cory catfish (C. panda)

Corydoras panda Photo by Dornenwolf
Care
Overview
Distribution
Upper Amazon river basin
Tank size
>10 gallons
Size
1.5 inch (3.8cm)
Temperature
71-77°F (22-25°C)
Difficulty
Basic experience needed

The panda cory catfish: if you’ve heard from cory catfish, you probably know this species. 

Unfortunately, this species has the reputation and is often sold as so.

Panda cory catfish or C. panda don’t make great beginner cory catfish, because they are pretty sensitive to water parameters. Another problem is that there is often weak fish sold in aquarium stores, causing them to die fast.

Panda cory catfish often have eroded barbels (keep reading to know more). This is a result of bad water quality / and or sharp substrate. If you see cory catfish with short / none barbels, you shouldn’t buy them.

2. Smudge spot cory catfish (C. similis)

Care
Overview
Distribution
Madeira river basin, Brazil
Tank size
>10 gallons
Size
1.5 inch (3.8cm)
Temperature
70-81°F (21-27°C)
Difficulty
Basic experience needed

The smudge spot cory catfish is one of my favorite cory catfish. It stays relatively small and has some beautiful coloration. However, they’re not the best choice for beginners.

Smudge spot cory catfish are namely quite sensitive to water parameter derivations, making them less hardy as other cory catfish species.

3. Sterbai cory catfish (C. sterbai)

Care
Overview
Distribution
Madeira river basin, Brazil
Tank size
>30 gallons
Size
3.0 inches (7.5cm)
Temperature
70-81°F (21-27°C)
Difficulty
Basic experience needed

The sterbai cory catfish is another species of cory that’s often wrongly kept. It is one of the most colorful cory catfish species, because of its yellow spines and emerald-like dots.

Although Corydoras sterbai is relatively hardy, it gets rather big and needs warmer water to thrive. This makes it less suited for beginners.

Corydoras sterbai is also a species that tends to suffer from barbell erosion, caused by bad care.

A Corydoras sterbai with eroded barbells

Why your cory catfish keep dying

As we’ve discussed, cory catfish are overall pretty hardy fish. However, some problems can cause them to die fast. 

Before reading further: I’ve written an entire article with 11 reasons why cory catfish die. Make sure to bring it a visit if you have problems keeping your cory catfish alive. Read it here.

Malnutrition

It might seem odd, but some people forget to feed their cory catfish. 

This is mostly because of the misconception that cory catfish can survive on leftovers or that they are algae-eaters.

Cory catfish should always receive their own balanced diet, with pellets or food that directly sinks to the bottom. A high-protein diet diet is necessary to keep these fish well-fed.

Cory catfish should always have a teardrop-shape looking from above. If they are slim, they aren’t fed enough. Males are slimmer than females, though, so it is normal to see some differences.

These C. oiapoquensis aren't fed enough.

Tank conditions

Tank size

Most cory catfish species should be kept in a 20 gallon tank, or bigger. 

Even though cory catfish are relatively small fish, they always need to be in group and thus need a well-sized tank to feel good.

There are some dwarf species that can live in a 10 gallon tank. If you’re interested in knowing more about this, read our full guide on dwarf Corydoras species.

Water parameters

As we’ve discussed before, some species of cory catfish are sensitive to changing water parameters. 

For most species, this are the recommended water parameters:

Care
Overview
Temperature
70-80°F (21-27°C)
pH
6-7.5
Nitrites
0 ppm
Nitrates
<40 ppm
Ammonia
11 to 32 µmol/L

If you see your cory catfish are dying or are behaving weird, the first thing to do is always testing your aquarium water. I highly recommend you buy an aquarium testing kit for this. It’s one of the things every aquarist needs!

Filtration

Cory catfish aren’t big polluters, but you still need a good filter to support their waste, especially if you keep other fish in the tank. 

Without a filter, the water will not have a lot of oxygen in the water and its quality will drop drastically.

I recommend using a filter that filter 4-6x the volume of the tank an hour. F.e.: if you have a filter that is 20 gallons, you should aim for a filter with a flow rate of 100 gallons/hour.

Substrate

This is perhaps one of the most common mistakes in keeping Corydoras.

The ideal substrate for cory catfish is sand or rounded gravel as. Otherwise, their barbels might erode which can causes diseases / starvation.

Even though cory catfish are found in sharp gravel, as Cory McElroy confirmed, it’s safer to use a sand substrate. Cory catfish like to dig and especially if you choose to feed foods that crumble fast, this can cause problems.

If you want to know more about why cory catfish barbels erode, read my full guide on it.

Plants / decoration

Live plants are great to provide your cory catfish with natural cover. Live plants also improve the water quality, by adding oxygen and filtering out waste material. 

A combination of fast growing oxygenating plants and big-leaved hardy plants such as Anubias provide a great combination of hiding places and water quality improvement.

Diseases

Unfortunately, this is something that every aquarist has to overcome at some point. However, if you use the tips I gave in this post, you drastically lower the chances on your fish getting sick. Here are some extra tips:

  • Quarantine your fish

Quarantining your fish is a very important step to ensure the fish you add to the tank are fully healthy. The better fish stores will also quarantine their fish.

  • Feed high-quality foods

It’s often overlooked that cory catfish need their own balanced diet to thrive. Without getting the nutrients they deserve, they will fall sick more easily or starve to death. I recommend feeding a variation of dried foods that sink to the bottom. Personally, I’ve been buying two types of dried foods from Amazon: Hikari Carnivore Pellets and Hikari Sinking Wafers. I supplement this with some life foods I pick up at the local fish store.

  • Do your research

Before acquiring any cory catfish species, it’s important to check the needs of that specific type. There are over 163 species of Corydoras, so it’s only obvious that there are differences in care. Luckily for you, you’ve found the ideal website just for that ;).

Conclusion: are cory catfish hardy or hard to keep?

Cory catfish are overall hardy fish that are very well suited for beginners. The species I recommend for beginners are Bronze & Albino cory catfish (C. aeneus), Peppered cory catfish, False Julii cory catfish and Pygmy cory catfish.

There are some species I’ve found to be less suited for beginners, being C. panda, C. similis and C. sterbai. These are somewhat more sensitve and require some experience.

Cory catfish mostly die because of one of the following reasons:

  • Starvation
  • Bad tank conditions (tank size, filtration, substrate)
  • Diseases caused by a bad environment