The term “African Glass Catfish” refers to a handful of small, similar-looking freshwater fishes. While they are not from the same genus, the fishkeeping industry continues to group them under one common name.
Fish considered part of the African Glass Catfish group include Parailia pellucida, Pareutropius debauwi, Pareutropius buffei, Eutropiellus buffei, Eutropiellus vanderweyeri, and others. They should not be confused with their similar-looking cousins, the Asian Glass Catfish, who live throughout Southeast Asia.
These African fish form part of the Schilbeidae taxonomic family, as opposed to the Asian variants, which belong to the distinct Siluridae family. While Asian and African Glass Catfish may look quite similar and often inhabit similar ecosystems, this is due to convergent evolution rather than shared ancestral traits
If you’re in the market for a classic, prehistoric bottom feeder like most “typical” catfish, you can keep on swimming. African Glass Catfish are small, sleek, and more-or-less transparent, as their name indicates.
They have long, thin bodies and generally grow to between three and six inches in length in the aquarium, depending on the species. All possess between one and three sets of barbels, or feelers, around their mouths to help them feel around their environment and find food.
All have a well-developed spine in their pectoral (chest area) fins. While this spine is not dangerous to humans, it does serve as a form of protection against predators. It can also easily get caught in a net, which is why experienced aquarists advise using a plastic sieve when moving these fish around.
Different species have slightly different markings and colorations. Some have three horizontal black bars running along the length of their bodies, while others only have one. Some have black spots around the edges of their caudal fins. All are some version of translucent, but African Glass Catfish as a whole tend to be more silvery and opaque than their Asian counterparts, who are completely transparent.
One telling difference between the African and Asian forms of these fish is the presence of an adipose fin. This fin, which is located right before the tail, only exists in African Glass Catfish..
Something else that sets these fish apart from their larger catfish “cousins” is their activity level. They never seem to slow down. African Glass Catfish are diurnal, so you’ll see them out and about during the day.
Even better, they don’t stick to the bottom section of the tank, despite being a type of catfish. African Glass Catfish will exuberantly utilize all areas of the tank if given the opportunity. Between their high energy level and endless curiosity, you can count on them exploring every available nook and cranny.
Glass Catfish are also shoaling species, so it’s essential to keep them in groups. Vendors often suggest a five-member minimum for shoaling species in general, but these guys prefer an even larger shoal, if you can manage it. Eight is the baseline minimum, but upwards of twenty would be ideal if space permits.
Pretty much any other docile species can share swimming quarters with these fish, as long as they can’t fit in their mouths. This goes for fry from other species of fish, as well. African Glass Catfish can theoretically pose a threat to the newly-hatched fry of very small species in a community tank, but aquarists knowledgeable of these fish report few problems.
Mollies, Danios, active Tetras, smaller Barbs, Rasbora, Swordtails, and Loaches are all popular choices for tank mates, but the list of options is long and varied.
African Glass Catfish inhabit the rivers and floodplains of several countries in West Africa, including Benin, Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Nigeria. They are reported to be widely distributed throughout this region and not in danger of population depletion, as many other popular aquarium species are.
You’re going to need a lot of room if you want to own African Glass Catfish. Due to their high energy levels and shoaling activity, 30 gallons is the minimum tank size to consider. Longer is also better than higher for these guys. A long tank gives them more space to dart around in their preferred levels of the tank. It also gives them more room to shoal, which will be more entertaining for you.
As for substrate options, sand or small gravel are the preferred choices. Larger or sharper substrates could potentially damage their barbels as they nose around for food and fun.
You will also want a well-planted tank. African Glass Catfish are easily spooked and require lots of hiding places. Plus, the presence of plants will help replicate their native environments, which helps keep all fish happy and healthy.
Hardy varieties, such as Hornwort, Java Fern, and Java Moss, are all good choices. If possible, try to concentrate the plants in one corner or area of the tank. This arrangement will create an ample open swimming area and a dedicated “safe zone.” Since these fish don’t enjoy bright lighting, floating plants will give them more play and hiding places and also soften the light that reaches the tank.
The condition of their water is the one area that makes these fish not suitable for beginners. While African Glass Catfish are not particularly picky about water parameters, they are highly sensitive to water quality.
What does this mean? Basically, you need to keep things very stable and very clean. While these fish are relatively hardy in an established tank, introducing them to an immature set-up is not recommended.
Elevated levels of ammonia and nitrites can be damaging or even deadly, and you want to keep nitrates under control, as well. This means frequent and consistent water changes. You’ll need to provide them with moderate water flow, as well; not too strong but not too weak.
As for those water parameters, they prefer a mostly neutral pH (6.0-7.5) and softer water, up to 18 dH. Being tropical fish, they like warm water between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. They will readily acclimate to other parameters slightly outside of those ranges, as long as the tank is clean.
Some people classify African Glass Catfish as carnivores, but it would be more accurate to say that they’re opportunistic feeders. While they certainly prefer meat-based foods, they’ll readily consume most edible items that they come across.
Their favorite meals are blood worms, Cyclops, daphnia, mosquito larvae, and live brine shrimp. They will also usually accept freeze-dried, frozen, and flake foods, although sometimes they get a bit picky when they have been recently moved. In such instances, they’re typically most receptive to live or frozen foods until they get accustomed to their new environment.
African Glass Catfish appear to find food with their feelers, as opposed to their eyesight. They seem to bump into their food and then quickly turn around to grab it, rather than swimming straight to something and intentionally consuming it.
Breeding African Glass Catfish is not commonly reported, for unknown reasons. If you intend to try, though, the process is the same as with most other freshwater fish breeding.
These species are egg-scatterers, so it’s best to set up a dedicated breeding tank to monitor progress and protect the eggs from hungry tank mates. Since African Glass Catfish are so sensitive to water quality, try to use as much aged water from their community tank as possible. Aged water will lessen the stress of being placed in a new environment.
Plants are essential because that’s where the female will lay her eggs. An air-driven sponge filter is also advisable to prevent any eggs that become detached from getting sucked into the filtration system.
If possible, select two females and a single male to breed at a time. Having two females in the breeding tank at a time will reduce the chances that an aggressive male will harass a single female to death.
Good luck sexing your fish, though. There’s no sexual dimorphism in African Glass Catfish. You’ll either have to take a wild guess and separate three random individuals at a time to see what happens or watch your fish in their community tank over the course of several spawning cycles. Take note of whose bellies become swollen with eggs (females) and who become significantly more aggressive and start chasing other fish around the tank incessantly (males).
Assuming that you do get a breeding pair (or trio) to the breeding tank, they usually spawn in the morning and prefer to lay their eggs among plants. Expect around 100 eggs to be deposited during a spawning session. Remove the adults as soon as spawning has ended, or they’ll try to eat the eggs.
Fry will hatch after approximately 72 hours and should be fed tiny live foods, such as microworms and brine shrimp nauplii, as soon as they have absorbed their yolk sacs.
All varieties of African Glass Catfish grow to between three and six inches in length. However, as there has been so much confusion in differentiating the various species in this group (and also confusing the African variety with its Asian counterpart), there’s a lot of conflicting information on exactly how large each species gets.
Common Name: African Glass Catfish
Latin Name: Parailia pellucida, Pareutropius debauwi, Pareutropius buffei, Eutropiellus buffei, Eutropiellus vanderweyeri, etc.
Size: three to six inches
Place of Origin: West Africa
Water Level: bottom to mid-level
Tropical / Coldwater: tropical
Preferred PH: around neutral, 6.0-7.5
Soft / Hard Water: slightly soft, up to 18 dH