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Farlowella vittata MYERS, 1942

Twig Catfish

SynonymsTop ↑

Farlowella agustini Martin Salazar, 1964; Farlowella angosturae Martin Salazar, 1964; Farlowella guaricensis Martin Salazar, 1964; Farlowella roncallii Martin Salazar, 1964


Farlowella: erected by Carl and Rosa Eigenmann (1889) as replacement for Acestra Kner, 1853, the name honours the American botanist from Harvard, William Gibson Farlow (1844-1919), who specialized in algae plants, a reference to the principal diet of this fish.

vittata: Latin for banded, referring to the two lateral dark stripes beginning at the tip of the rostrum, passing over the eyes and ending at the tail.


Order: Siluriformes Family: Loricariidae


Orinoco river basin in Colombia and Venezuela.  Type locality: A tributary of Río Uribanto [Uribante], Tachira State, Venezuela.


Inhabits areas of submerged vegetation, dead leaves and sticks or tangled roots along the banks of gently 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.


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


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.

This species will continually graze surfaces of plant leaves, wood, rock, the substrate and tank walls.  It is an excellent consumer of diatoms and common green algae but will not eat troublesome algae like brush or beard.

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.


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 will adhere themselves to surfaces close to where they hatched; they have a very small yolk sac that is used up within a few days. 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), but better results will occur with algae grown on rocks in a sunlit tank and/or dried leaves such as oak. 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 ↑

Of the 27 described species of Farlowella found throughout South America, only two are regularly exported. Most of the existing literature refers to these as F. acus and F. gracilis.  F. acus is a species that is highly endangered and imported very rarely, if at all, and F. vittata rather than F. acus 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.

Generic key to Farlowella based on Covain & Fisch-Muller (2007): Caudal fin with i-12-i or i-11-i rays; teeth pedunculated, bicuspid, numerous (more than 10 per premaxillae), organized in comb and weakly differentiated; sometimes with filamentous extensions on pectoral, dorsal, upper and/or lower caudal spines; mouth shape elliptical; caudal peduncle strongly depressed, elliptical in transverse section (in average, the minimal depth of the caudal preduncle represents 1 to 3 percent of the SL; rostrum present; dorsal fin originating more or less in front of the anal-fin origin; teeth not numerous (around 20 per premaxillae); two to three rows of abdominal plates; gernal aspect slender, reminiscent of a stick.

This fish is truly a camouflage expert among aquarium fish; hanging or sitting motionless on a branch they are easily unnoticed. They move from surface to surface, usually with short “hops;” swimming when necessary is achieved by body undulations and propulsion from the caudal fin. They are believed to have a lifespan of up to 15 years; their frequent demise in aquaria is likely due to their demand for stable water parameters and conditions, and they should only be introduced to an established aquarium containing a good biofilm, algae or dried leaves. They do not appreciate being moved, and once introduced to an aquarium should be left alone.

Like most of the South American catfish, they are sensitive to chemicals and medications; when irritating substances are present in the water they will frequently select a plant leaf or object near the surface and remain motionless with their rostrum protruding above the water in an attempt to gain oxygen, and an immediate substantial partial water change should be undertaken.

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.


  1. Myers, George S., 1942 - Stanford Ichthyological Bulletin v. 2 (no. 4): 89-114
    Studies on South American fresh-water fishes. I.
  2. Covain, Raphael and Sonia Fisch-Muller, 2007 - Zootaxa 1462: 1-40
    The genera of the Neotropical armored catfish subfamily Loricariinae (Siluriformes: Loricariidae): a practical key and synopsis
  3. Retzer, M.E. & Page, L.M., 1997 - oceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, 147: 33-88
    Systematics of the stick catfishes, Farlowella Eigenmann & Eigenmann (Pisces, Loricariidae)

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