Armored Catfish (Loricariidae) Care Tips

Armored catfish

Last updated on September 4th, 2022 at 02:47 pm

The armored catfish (Spatuloricaria atratoensis or loricariidae) is a species of fish that belongs to the Loricariid catfish family and originates from the Atrato River basin in Colombia and Panama.

The armored catfish was first discovered some years back, however, its formal scientific classification was determined by Armbruster, who also brought them into the spotlight of public knowledge with his discovery of these unique fish.

A new catfish has been discovered in Colombia, and it’s quite unique, it’s the only armored catfish on the planet! The newly discovered armored catfish has been named Spatuloricaria atratoensis, and was described by scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia (Bogotá), and Conservation International.

The fish belongs to the armored catfish family (Loricariidae) and was found in the Atrato River in Chocó, Columbia.

The armored catfish, also known as the spiny armored catfish (Spatuloricaria atratoensis), was first discovered in Venezuela in 1961 and was initially placed in the genus Loricaria. Later on, it was discovered that the armored catfish did not actually belong to the genus Loricaria, and it was placed into its own genus, Spatuloricaria.

Origin and descriptions

Armored catfish

The armored catfish is native to Colombia and Venezuela, where it lives in fast-flowing river tributaries. In its natural habitat, it can be found under large rocks or logs and grows up to 24 inches in length. It has a lifespan of over 15 years. Armored catfish are considered bottom dwellers because they are generally inactive during daylight hours.

They are also nocturnal predators and feed on insects, crustaceans, worms, small fish, and other detritus as well as vegetable matter such as fallen fruit. The armored catfish species prefer aquariums with good water quality; their aquarium water should contain clean gravel substrate with pieces of bark or rock for hiding places.

Species profile

Armored catfish

The Spatuloricaria atratoensis, also known as the armoured catfish or armored catfish is a species of catfish that belongs to the subfamily Hypoptopomatinae. The fish is endemic to the Lake Maracaibo basin in Venezuela, from which it derives its name.

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Spatuloricaria atratoensis is a species of plecos endemic to Colombia. This species is notable for possessing a flat-like armor on its head. It can grow up to 24 inches in length and inhabit large streams with mud bottoms. The armored catfish has a unique flattened appearance which makes it appear armored like that of an ankylosaurid dinosaur.

The family of this fish includes over 100 described species distributed throughout South America and Central America. More than 60 of these are found in Colombia alone where they occupy a wide range of habitats including fast-flowing rivers, rapids, torrents, and lakes.

Scientific name

The scientific name of the armored catfish is Spatuloricaria atratoensis

  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Genus: Spatuloricaria.

Many loricated fish species can be found in South America with different groups including cactus catfishes, bristlenose catfishes, and armored catfishes themselves.


Loricariid catfish live in fast-flowing, cool water at altitudes of up to 2,000 meters. They also prefer environments with a lot of vegetation. These fish are found on a variety of substrates including rocks, sand, and even some underwater tree trunks. Although they can be found in moving waters, occasionally, they will move upstream into quieter waters during the breeding season.

As long as there is good ventilation and low turbidity, armored catfish can survive just about anywhere; their ability to thrive in such harsh conditions is largely due to their unique protective carapace. Armored catfish are known for having an incredibly diverse diet; they eat small organisms like crustaceans, mollusks, and insects but will also scavenge larger meals when needed.

Armored catfish size

The armored catfish can grow to a maximum size of around 24 inches (90 cm)

Armored catfish tank size

This fish requires a medium-sized aquarium of at least 75 – 100 gallons of water. It does best in an established tank with live plants, driftwood, and caves for hiding.

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Armored catfish tank set up

This particular species of armored catfish prefers a more shallow tank. Using floating plants, rocks, and driftwood will help to keep it comfortable in your home aquarium. The pH level should be maintained at 6 – 8 while temperatures of 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit are best for Loricariid catfish like Spatuloricaria atratoensis.

Because these fish have sensitive skin, using an air stone is not recommended. With an easy setup and little maintenance required, you’ll enjoy watching these fish swim around your tank without much hassle.

Armored catfish tank mates

When choosing tank mates for your catfish, you need to keep in mind that they are territorial and will establish a hierarchy based on size. Smaller fish are more likely to be preyed on by these aggressive fish than vice versa. A good rule of thumb is that, if an armored catfish can fit into a fish’s mouth, it will eat it. The best tank mates for these fish are other relatively docile bottom dwellers such as Corydoras and small tetras.

Other good tank mates are Hatchetfish, Arowanas, Danios, African Butterflyfish, Peaceful Cichlids, Tiger Barbs, Silver Dollars, and Livebearers

Armored catfish breeding

Armored catfish

Loricariid catfish, like other catfish species, tend to breed in open bodies of water. Their eggs are round and large in number, making them easy to detect by sight or touch. The parents should be removed from breeding tanks because their fins may be damaged during spawning.

Raising: During their first two months of life, Loricariid catfish must eat food that contains a high amount of protein for proper development. Some examples include zooplankton, worms, and brine shrimp nauplii. Feeding a variety of foods will encourage growth and development; though your fish may prefer certain diets based on their preference while they were young.

After two months, most armored catfish are capable of feeding themselves through grazing on plants but can still accept supplemental feeding if needed.

Are Armored catfish aggressive or peaceful?

Armor catfish are more docile than their peaceful cousins. They are generally considered peaceful. There have been reports of them nipping at long-finned fish, but typically they do not cause issues with other fish in a community tank. However, care should be taken when putting multiple fish together that may have competing diets; it’s possible that there will be a clash between their feeding habits.

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Armored catfish care

Armored catfish

Armored catfish do well in aquariums as small as 75 gallons. The water should be soft, acidic, and at a temperature of 78 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. They also need good filtration and plenty of hiding places. They are bottom dwellers that spend most of their time on or near plants. For food, they eat live worms, tubifex worms, and bloodworms; occasionally you can feed them frozen shrimp, brine shrimp, or Mysis shrimp too.

What do armored catfish eat?

Armored catfish are omnivores that primarily eat small invertebrates, algae, and decaying organic matter in their habitat. In captivity, armored catfish can survive for a long time on commercial fish food pellets and supplemented with fresh veggies.

If they decide to consume your tank mates, it’s usually an accident caused by a lack of proper aquarium plants or hiding places for prey species. You might notice large chunks missing from some aquatic plant leaves; these fishes have been known to feed on hardy varieties such as java moss.

The easiest way to prevent the fish from eating other tank inhabitants is to keep enough artificial or live plants in your aquarium so they will have plenty of other foods available in addition to what you give them directly.

Water parameters

Armored catfish

The Spatuloricaria atratoensis is a fully aquatic fish that thrives in soft to slightly hard water, specifically 5 – 12 dGH and pH 6.5 – 7.5. They are completely intolerant of salt so never use marine or brackish water on them.

For optimal health, clean 100% RO or distilled/deionized water should be used for acclimation purposes. Once your catfish has acclimated to your tank you can add tap water, but it’s still recommended that you condition with products like Aquael Prime if your municipality uses chloramines instead of chlorine as a disinfectant.

Adding ammonia remover like Ammo Guard will also help prevent spikes in ammonia from fish waste left behind from nitrogen cycle completion.

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Armored catfish lifespan

The life expectancy of this catfish is 15+ years.

Parasites and diseases

Natural selection has rendered these catfish immune to many of the parasites and diseases that can affect other fish. This gives them a distinct advantage in their environment because they are not fighting off potentially harmful microorganisms, but it also means that aquariums must be carefully maintained if you want to keep them healthy. The most common disease is velvet, which causes reddish spots on your fish’s body.


They live in dense waters containing many predatory fish, including Piranhas, piraiba, and Tambaqui. The caiman can also prey on armored catfish.

They use their pectoral fins to push themselves into small cracks or crevices to escape larger fish or divers. Some other predators include fish, birds, river otters, and crocodiles

Do Armored catfish make good pets?

No. While most loricariids make pretty good aquarium fish, armored catfish like Spatuloricaria atratoensis is more of a challenge to keep in captivity.

In their native habitat, they live among stones and decaying plant matter on forest floors; their armored bodies protect them from predators and they bury themselves in sediment to hide from danger. As such, they don’t require much filtration or oxygen. When kept in aquaria with these conditions, they’re tough fish to beat!