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Farlowella vittata

Twig Catfish

Classification

Loricariidae. Subfamily: Loricariinae

Distribution

Colombia and Venezuela.

Habitat

Inhabits areas of submerged vegetation or tangled roots along the banks of flowing streams and rivers.

Maximum Standard Length

6″ (15cm).

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Largely inactive and can be kept in a tank measuring 36″ x 12″ x 12″ (90cm x 30cm x 30cm) – 81 litres.

Maintenance

A dimly lit stream-type setup with a sand substrate, rounded stones and rocks and lots of driftwood branches would simulate its natural biotope. However, it is equally at home in a planted tank. It is essential that the water is well-oxygenated, preferably with a small degree of current running through the tank. Tank maintenance must be of the highest order as the species is super sensitive to poor or deteriorating water conditions.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 75-80°F (24-27°C)

pH: 6.0-7.0

Hardness: 3-10°H

Diet

Primarily vegetarian, so the bulk of the diet should be composed of vegetable matter in both fresh (cucumber slices, kale, blanched spinach etc.) and dried (algae wafers, spirulina tablets etc.) forms. It will accept small live and frozen foods such as bloodworm or daphnia and these should also be offered occasionally, although never as a main component of the diet.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Very peaceful but unsuitable for the general community due to its rather specialised requirements and retiring nature. Not only does it require pristine water, but it will easily be outcompeted for food by more vigorous or larger species. Possible tankmates could include small characins, danios, devarios and other Loricariids inhabiting similar waters, such as Chaetostoma sp.

Rival males can be somewhat territorial, but rarely is any damage done, and several can be kept in most tanks.

Sexual Dimorphism

Generally easy to sex, as the rostrum (snout) of the male is broader and develops rows of odontotes as the fish matures. These are absent altogether in females.

Reproduction

If kept in suitable conditions and fed well, the fish will breed quite easily, although the fry are notoriously difficult to raise. Try starting with a group of 6 or more juvenile fish to give yourself the best chance of obtaining a pair. Set up the tank as suggested above, and keep the water very clean. Condition the fish on a diet of nutrient-rich greenstuffs, such as kale, spinach etc.

The fish tend to spawn at night and the eggs are almost always deposited on a vertical surface (very often the tank glass). They’re tended by the male and he remains with them, fanning them with his fins, until they hatch in around 6-10 days. During this time, he may be visited by other females who will add their eggs to the existing brood.

The hatched fry have a very small yolk sac, that is used up quickly. Unfortunately, this is where the problems begin. As well as being very sensitive to changes in water chemistry, the fry are particularly susceptible to starvation. They need constant access to large quantities of vegetable matter, of a consistency soft enough for them to digest. Try pre-softened leaves of kale and spinach (it’s better to soften these by soaking them in water for a couple of days, as blanching in boiling water tends to strip many of the nutrients away), or algae grown on rocks in a sunlit tank. Even with the best diet and water quality, losses may still be high in the early days. If you decide to remove the fry to a separate tank, ensure that it contains identical water to the spawning tank.

NotesTop ↑

Although often sold as the closely related F. acus (a species that is highly endangered and imported very rarely, if at all), F. vittata is the most common representative of the genus in hobbyists’ tanks. The easiest way to distinguish the two is by comparing the shape of the rostrum, which is longer and more slender in vittata, although there are also differences in the arrangement of the ventral scutes. They are adapted for life among peripheral vegetation and tree roots along the edges of streams and rivers and exhibit amazing levels of camouflage.

Despite their undeniably interesting shape and habits, they’re only recommended to the dedicated hobbyist who can provide them with the conditions they need to thrive. They are particularly sensitive when first imported and sadly losses are common in this initial period. Only buy well-quarantined fish, and check the belly for signs of emaciation before parting with any money.

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