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  • Source: Copyright

    Species: Corydoras adolfoi

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    Species: Corydoras aeneus

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    Species: Corydoras duplicareus

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    Species: Corydoras paleatus - paleatus meaning mixed with chaff

  • Source: Copyright

    Species: Corydoras paleatus

Captivating Corydoras

Captivating Corydoras

People buy new fish for many reasons - their beauty, interesting habits, the nice green 'community-safe' sticker on the tank... but a lot of little catfish have gone home with someone because the buyer couldn't resist a fish that winked at them!

This would be a Corydoras, a large family of South American catfishes who refute all the catfish lore to be one of the most popular aquarium fishes. Although the catfish family has many representatives, many of whom are good aquarium fish, it has to be admitted that many are large and unattractive nocturnal predators who don't do much in the sight of their owner even if they are awake. The Corydoras, however, have none of these unappealing characteristics. They will be out and about all day, busily investigating every nook and cranny repeatedly on the off-chance they might have missed some tasty morsel when they last checked there three seconds ago, and won't gobble up anything larger than a nice fat water flea or bloodworm. They are extremely sociable little fish, which will only do well in a shoal. Although many fish prefer to be kept in groups, such as the neon tetra, they generally go their own ways once they have settled in and feel secure. Corydoras are fast friends forever - one will rarely be seen on its own if there are companions to be with, and a single Corydoras is a sad little creature that won't exhibit any of the behaviour that makes these little catfish such a joy. Ideally the group should include at least several of the same species, but they aren't fussy and a loner will soon pal up with any other Corydoras around. Because there are so many species this often happens accidentally - you may come home with six of 'the same' only to notice after a while that one of them is a bit bigger, has a pointier nose, has a pointier fin - you've got a 'lookalike' in your little shoal! This doesn't stop the odd one out joining in with the others in their activities.

Corydoras come in a wide range of species, from the easy to keep to the more complicated. The 'easy' ones, which are available from any aquarium shop, are the Bronze Corydoras, Corydoras Aeneas, and the Pepper Cory, Corydoras Paleatus. Albino variants are also very popular, which are orange with red eyes, and these are usually albino Peppers. Growing to about three inches long, these fit into any community tank of reasonably placid fishes. Opinions differ about the ease of spawning these species. There are fishkeepers who can't stop them spawning, and will swear they are the easiest fish to spawn in the world. Other aquarists (me included) can't persuade the supposedly 'easy' Bronze Corys to spawn by any inducement. If they do spawn, the first sign is as the males chase the females around the tank, nudging at her whenever they catch up. The female will be busy inspecting various sites around the tank and will clean several before deciding on just the 'right spot'. Eventually the 'extra' males give up the chase, and the female begins to pursue the lucky winner. Finally the pair halt with the female's head tucked into the side of the male in the 'T' position. After a few seconds, the pair separate, and close observation will show that the female has one or more eggs firmly clasped between her pectoral fins. She may deposit the eggs in the spot she chose earlier, or may change her mind and swim about clutching the eggs for a while until she has made her mind up. Once the eggs are deposited, the whole process begins again and can continue for hours. You might ask, given my complete and utter failure to spawn the 'easy' Corydoras, how I know this - well, for me the 'unstoppable fish' is Corydoras panda. These have a reputation as being more delicate and difficult, but they are one of my favourite fish which I have found to be robust, active, and to spawn irrepressibly. Every water change, the fish would look up as soon as the first drops of cooler water hit the surface, and start off on their chase immediately. Pandas are slightly different, in that they spawn far fewer eggs (usually about twenty), each carefully and individually placed on a specially selected plant leaf. Corydoras panda is one of the smaller Corydoras, growing to about an inch and a half, liveried in a pale pink with a rakish black mask across the eyes and a black dot at the tail end.

Corydoras don't excel in the colour stakes, although they make up for it personality-wise. Nonetheless, there are some very attractive species. Even the Bronze Corydoras can sparkle in the light most impressively. Corydoras julii, the leopard Corydoras, is busily patterned in little dark brown spots, which almost merge to form a stripe along the flank, while Corydoras arcuatus, the Skunk Corydoras, has a clean black line arching up from just in front of the eye, curving up the back and down into the tail. Corydoras adolfoi is dressed to impress, being almost white with a black mask and stripe down the back and a bright orange patch just between the head and dorsal fin. Adolfoi is slightly trickier to keep, being rather more insistent on the soft waters of its South American homelands than the others mentioned. However, if you like the orange spot then Corydoras duplicareus might be a better choice. They look almost identical, and are that little bit tougher. It might seem odd that two different fish are nearly indistinguishable, but there are a lot of examples of this in the Corydoras world. Many of the species have long and short snouted versions - you can often see the two variants mixed in a tank at the fish shop. The debate as to what constitutes a separate Corydoras species continues without final resolution. Dr. David Sands conducted extensive research on the differences between adolfoi and duplicareus, reaching the conclusion that not only were they clearly separated species but had distinct differences in behaviour, but many of the other 'paired' species still await investigation. However, in the aquarium most similar-sized Corydoras are overjoyed to see another Corydoras of any species. The similar-sized provision excludes a few representatives of the group who are so different as to almost appear unrelated. The tiny Corydoras hastatus is not only considerably smaller than its cousins at just under an inch, but is a different shape and of different habits. It is much more 'fish-shaped' than its bottom-dwelling relatives with their flattened stomachs - hastatus is a mid-water swimmer, with no interest whatsoever in joining in grubbing around the bottom. At the opposite end of the size spectrum is Scleromystax barbatus, a giant at around four inches. These are mentioned in a Corydoras list as until recently they were regarded as part of the Corydoras family, only recently being reclassified, and may still be found for sale under the Corydoras name from time to time.

Corydoras require not only other Corydoras to be happy, but an environment with lots to keep them interested and water currents to play in. Based on my recommendation my Mother purchased a small group of Corydoras panda, which were installed in a somewhat sparse tank - although not by any means a bare one, having plants and bogwood to add interest. The fish in no way lived up to my advance publicity, and sat sullenly in one corner at the back. Eventually most of this sad little group died, and unimpressed with them as a species my mother decided not to buy any more. The last survivor was evicted and sent to live in another tank with some albino Bronze Corys. The new tank is the main tank - at about five feet long it is packed with dense undergrowth and armed with two internal filters that produce a veritable Jacuzzi at the ends of the tank. The little Panda never looked back - as soon as he was released into his new home he went buzzing around like an athlete on steroids, and once he found the Bronze Corys was positively ecstatic. He now leads a life in the main tank which is rather reminiscent of an overactive terrier being taken for a walk - for every inch the Bronze Corys move, he swims twenty, doing circles around them, darting away and coming back - he is a fish continually in motion and thriving on it.

Corydoras are able to breathe air, and if the pumps stop and the tank gets short of oxygen they will survive by making rapid trips to the surface to gulp air. However, the aquarist should not panic if he sees them doing this, as even in the most oxygen-rich environments they do it anyway. Often there will be a sudden 'plop' as a seemingly resting fish suddenly dashes to the surface and then settles again with his mouthful of air. And once one's started, then all the others have to do it as well, rather like yawning.

All in all, the Corydoras family is large enough that you are sure to find a species that you like, and they are all endearing and active, packed with personality and interesting behaviours. For the reward of a little bit of sinking food (especially bloodworm, which sends them into paroxysms of joy), a water current to play in and plenty of places to investigate and play hide and seek in, they will provide a constant source of interest and activity in the aquarium. Give them another look next time you go to the fish shop - perhaps you too will end up taking home the fish that winked!

This article has been kindly provided by Kathy Jinkings and cannot be reproduced without her permission.

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