Bottom Dwelling Fish - Planted Tank Mates
Slate corydora catfish (Corydoras concolor).

Bottom Dwelling Fish


Looking for bottom dwelling fish to add to your tank?  There’s a few things to consider with regards to the community and the setup.  A lot of bottom dwellers do well in a heavily planted tank with different areas to scavenge and hide. Most like to rub their bodies into the substrate, so try to avoid the coarse ones with sharp edges.  There are bottom dwellers that are shy and nocturnal, and there are some that are active and shoal.  Not all bottom feeders eat algae, so make sure some food always makes its way to the bottom of the tank. 

There are also bottom dwellers that prefer sifting through sand.  Sand sifters eat by gobbling sand through their mouth and spitting it out.  That’s how they’re able to grab food while cleaning dirt, algae and moss in the process.  Some larger fish can uplift plants, so be careful with newly planted tanks.  Plant the roots deep and provide some heavy hardscape to help weigh them down.  In general, it’s best to avoid sharp or large coarse substrates that can cause abrasions and cuts on their bodies.

Small Bottom Dwellers

Small bottom dwellers include species that are about 1-3” max. These choices are great for planted community tanks with nano fish and other small species.

Rosy Loaches are the smallest loach available, maxing out at about 1.25”.  They prefer slightly alkaline water conditions, but are very hardy and can adapt to a wide range of parameters.  Provide a heavily planted tank with lots of space for them to explore and graze.  This is especially useful if you decide to keep shrimp with the community.  Adult shrimp are too large for their mouths, but Rosy Loaches will snack on baby snails and shrimp.

rosy loach fish side profile
Rosy Loach – shrimp tank mate

Otocinclus comes in a variety of types, all with all similar water parameters and temperaments.  They’re hardy fish averaging 2”, and are peaceful to the community including baby shrimp.  Keep them in groups of 6 or more and you’ll see them shoal around the tank.  You’ll sometimes see them sucking on the glass, making them great algae eaters that contribute to a clean tank.

zebra tiger otocinclus side profile
Zebra (Tiger) Otocinclus – Otocinclus available on Amazon

Corydora Catfishes are slightly bigger than Otocinclus, averaging about 2.5” in size.  They’re another social species that shoal throughout the bottom, so keep them in groups of 6-10.   Include lots of hardscapes and plants to mimic their natural environment with lots of places to explore.  They’re generally peaceful with dwarf shrimp, especially the Pygmy Corydora which maxes out at about 1” in size.

sterbai corydora fish side profile
Sternbai Corydora – available on Amazon
leopard corydora catfish side profile
Leopard / Julii Corydora – available on Amazon
Pygmy Corydora
Pygmy Corydora – available on Amazon

Yoyo Loaches are another small loach species, typically reaching 3 in size.  They’re very social and active, making them fun to have in a community tank.  Their patterns can change over time, especially as they mature from their juvenile stage.  This is one species that appreciates a soft or sandy substrate.  Avoid coarse or sharp gravels that could cut their bellies.

Yoyo Loach – available on Amazon

Medium size bottom dwellers

Medium size bottom dwellers noted here range from 3-7” range.  Most do well with nano fish, but be sure you don’t overcrowd with too many bottom dwellers.  Provide a good balance of middle and top dwellers to give more space for the larger species at the bottom.

Kuhli Loaches are unique fishes that look like a colorful eel.  They’re about 3-4” in size and are nocturnal.  It’s best to keep them with other Kuhli loaches to promote their social behavior, along with other middle to top dwelling nano fishes that won’t compete for their food. Provide them with smooth or sandy substrate and remember to feed at night when the lights are out.

Kuhli Loach – available on Amazon

Zebra Loaches and Polka Dot Loaches grow up to about 4” in size and are very active during the day.  They’re peaceful and do well with others their size or smaller, but don’t overcrowd them with too many bottom dwellers.  Also, because they’re so active, avoid long-fin fishes like bettas or guppies which might get nipped at.  Algae for them is a snack, not a meal, so you’ll need to supplement with fish food and a balanced diet.

zebra loach bottom dwelling fish
Zebra Loach

Bristlenose Plecos come in a variety of colors.  Most range from 4-6” in size with the males having longer and more pronounced tentacles at the mouth.  While some find these inspiring, others can be intimidated by its appearance.  Regardless, Bristlenose plecos are peaceful algae eaters that are nocturnal and appreciate places to hide during the day.  Don’t forget to feed them in the evenings and make sure food makes its way to the bottom of the tank.

Bristlenose Pleco – available on Amazon

Siamese Algae Eaters can grow up to 7” in size.  You’ll need at least a 20 gallon wide tank for them to swim back and forth.  They’re peaceful in nature and even dwarf shrimp are safe from them.  These bottom dwellers are one of the few fishes known to eat black beard algae!  Although adding them in a tank will not eradicate an algae issue, they can definitely help keep things under control.

Siamese Algae Eater – available on Amazon

Large Bottom Dwellers

Geophagus is another bottom dwelling species that comes in a variety of colors.  They range from 8-10” in size, so be prepared to provide them with a lot of space.  A 50+ gallon tank is recommended, especially one that is wider than it is tall.  These large fish are sand sifters and prefer to eat by sucking up substrate and spitting it out.  They do well with middle and top dwelling nano fish, as well as other cichlids like African cichlids.  Avoid overcrowding the bottom area with too many dwellers or territorial fish.  Be sure live plants are deeply rooted or weigh it down with some rocks.

geophagus fish side profile

Clown loaches can get big!  They’re sold in aquarium stores at their juvenile age and size of about 2-4”, but they can get as large as 12” when fully grown.  Make sure you have at least a 75 gallon tank for these awesome bottom dwellers.  When kept in large groups of 6 – 10, they can exhibit very playful and silly tendencies, hence their name.  Provide a nice sandy bottom, plant coverage, and shady areas with subdued lighting to make them feel comfortable.  Mid dwelling fish like tiger barbs, rainbowfish and non aggressive cichlids are good tank mates.  Unfortunately, Dwarf shrimp and snails will become expensive snacks for them. 

clown loach planted tank
Clown Loach – available on Amazon

All Things Considered

Not all bottom feeders are algae eaters.  Although having an established tank with mature algae is good, you still need to feed them a proper diet.  Don’t forget to feed at night for the nocturnal bottom dwellers too.  Consider the size of your tank and softer substrates like soils, rounded gravel or sand.  Avoid substrates with sharp edges.  Often, a wider tank with a lot of area to roam will help your bottom dwellers feel more comfortable.  Be cautious of overstocking the bottom with decorations or overcrowding the bottom with stem plants.

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