There is a very unique and underrated Central American Catfish called Sturisomatichthys panamense and sometimes S. panamensis, which is confusing. But wait, there's more, it is most commonly called the “Royal Whiptail Farlowella” which is somewhat interesting to fish geeks as Farlowella is a genus of catfish and the Royal Whiptail Farlowella is not in it (obv). The other common name for Sturisomatichthys Panamense is “Royal Twig Catfish.” This doesn't clear up the confusion much however, as fish in the genus Farlowella are often called “Twig Catfish” for their long slender wood shaped and colored bodies. It probably doesn't help matters that The Royal Farlowella also looks quite a bit like other fish in that other genus.
Regardless of its somewhat confusing name and classification, this is a gem of an aquarium fish. They are very peaceful fish, easily kept in groups and happily housed with other peaceful fish as well. As the name “Whiptail” implies this is a fish with longer, flowy fins and thus should not be housed with fish that are likely to nip away at them. They reside in this amazing zone where they are good algae eaters, but can still be used in planted tanks, as they are unlikely to graze on higher plants. As a grazer, they do well in aquariums that offer some amount of algal growth, in lieu of this, you can also feed them algae based foods like spirulina and algae wafers. They should also be fed some protein like black or blood worms, small freshwater mysis etc. They do best in water that has a pH just above 7 and in their natural environment are usually found in slightly hard water. One interesting note, is that while they seem fine in normal tropical aquarium temperatures (75-78), they do seem more active and more engaged if kept in slightly warmer than average temperatures, think 78-82. This is a fish that does well with a high overturn as far as filtration is concerned, aim for 4x or higher.
The Sturisomatichthys panamense has been bred both commercially and by hobbyists and the breeding is somewhat straightforward, though there can be challenges in raising the fry. While this species can get up to ten inches long, a much more common size is six or seven inches, with the fish reaching breeding size and sexual maturity at as little as four inches long. Females will lay a clutch of adhesive eggs on a smooth surface like the glass of the tank, and the male will tend to the eggs which will hatch in five to seven days and he will continue to guard the fry for a few weeks if you don't remove them (or him). Feeding the fry can be tricky, and we have had the best luck rearing the fry in aquariums that are very established and have more than the usual amount of natural algae, which is what the fry would be naturally focused on. You can also target feed them infusoria, just turn off filtration so it stays suspended long enough for the fry to get at it. They are not very motivated feeders, and this is the primary challenge. (Culturing infusoria is a whole other article, but there are a myriad of tutorials on youtube for you to peruse.)
Sturisomatichthys panamense is a hardy, peaceful fish for community aquariums. They spend their days hard at work minding their own business eating algae. They are rewarding to watch, relatively easy to breed, and gorgeous to look at. If you are interested in adding some to your aquarium, head to your Local Fish Store and ask them about The Royal Farlowella Cats from Aquatropic today!