Minimum Tank Size: 10 Gallons (38 Litres)
Care Level: Easy
Water Conditions: 6.0-8.0 pH Soft to Moderately Hard
Temperature: 64-73 °F (18-23 °C)
Maximum Size: 2.3 inches (5.9 cm)
The pepper catfish (Corydoras paleatus), also known as the peppered cory, or the blue leopard corydoras, is a peaceful catfish, that is one of the most popular corydoras to keep. It is native to Uruguay and Brazil, though there have been reports of populations in several other South American countries. At this time, its exact range remains uncertain.
They are primarily found in rivers, though it can also be found in streams, ponds and lakes. It is highly adaptable to water conditions, and is able to ingest oxygen from the surface, which allows them to live in low oxygen environments. Even in near perfect conditions, they will often dart to the surface for air, so don’t be alarmed if you spot them gulping air at the surface.
Peppered corys remain relatively small in the home aquarium, and they will grow to a maximum of 2.3 inches (5.9 cm). The males are smaller than the females, and will usually only grow to about 2 inches (5 cm) in length. On average, peppered corys will live for about ten years, though well cared for individuals have been known to live as long as fifteen years.
Peppered corys can be kept in a tank as small as 10 gallons (38 litres), but to provide them with the best possible environment, it’s recommended to provide them with at least a 20 gallon (70 litre), long tank. As they spend much of their time on the bottom of the tank, the dimensions of the bottom are more important than its height.
They are a very peaceful fish, and even during mating they rarely show aggression to each other. Because of this, they can easily be kept with any other peaceful community fish, and they are perfect for most tetras, danios and even some small cichlids.
Peppered corys are a schooling fish, and should be kept in groups of at least five or more at all time. To truly experience their natural behavior, many aquarists recommend keeping them in groups of ten or more, which will both reduce their stress levels, and provide you with impressive displays of schooling.
Because they constantly root for food in the substrate with their sensitive barbels, gravel or other sharp substrates should be avoided. In fact, anything sharp in the aquarium can damage their barbels, so choose decorations with care, and a small grain sand is usually the best choice for the substrate.
In addition to a soft substrate, their tank should also include numerous aquatic plants, with plenty of driftwood or decorations that they can hide in. They prefer a dimly lit aquarium, or barring that – one that is heavily shaded from thick plant growth.
While they are known as hardy fish, they should still be provided with an excellent filter. One of the best filters to choose for a peppered corydoras tank is a hang on back filter. These filters are known for their durability, and provide pristine water conditions if they well maintained.
If you decide to use to a hang on back filter, I would strongly recommend that you use an AquaClear Power Filter. This is a highly durable filter, which provides excellent filtration even on larger tanks. You can read the Aquarium Tidings Aquaclear Power Filter Review here.
Peppered corys are omnivores, and feed on crustaceans, plant matter, worms and insects in the wild. This diet should be reproduced as closely as possible in the home aquarium, and this can be accomplished through feeding them a high quality sinking pellet, along with regular feedings of live or frozen food. Hikari Sinking Wafers is one of the best fish foods on the market, and I have used it with great success with my corydoras.
Their favorite live foods tend to be ones that sink, and they will greedily accept blackworms and brine shrimp. And mid or top dwelling food like mosquito larvae or dapnia tend to be ignored by them.
Peppered corys will accept a much wider range of frozen food, and they enjoy bloodworms, blackworms, daphnia, brine shrimp and anything else that will sink to the bottom.
Peppered corys breed in the same manner as other corydoras catfish, and will usually breed on their own if kept in large enough groups. While they can be breed in their main tank, for better success rates they should be placed in a breeding tank, with a ratio of two males for every female.
After being placed in the breeding tank, the fish should be conditioned for at least a week on a diet of high quality live, or frozen food. The females will plump up visibly during this time, and when they appear to be swollen with eggs, perform a large water change. The water used should be cooler than the tank water, and this may have to be repeated several times before it triggers spawning.
The fish will become very active during spawning, and the males will mate with the females in the classic T-shaped spawning position. While they are held together in the T position, the female will release her eggs and hold them between her fins as they are fertilized. The eggs will then be deposited on a flat surface in the aquarium, which may include plants, glass or even the heater.
Spawning can occur several times between several different pairings of the fish, and after it appears that activity has died down in the tank, the adults should be removed. Adult peppered corys will eat both eggs and fry, though generally the eggs tend to be safe for a short while after spawning.
The eggs will begin to hatch in around 3-5 days, and the newly hatched fry can be fed baby brine shrimp or microworms. They can also be fed infusoria, and the inclusion of Java moss will help to provide some infusoria naturally.