Glass catfish, because of its unique appearance devoid of colors, this freshwater species has earned its name after transparent materials or mysterious things such as glass, ghosts, or phantoms.

If you are fond of adding mysteries to your home aquarium, a school of glass catfish can be the right choice.

However, they don’t resemble the image of some large species looking at you with their (and sometimes protruding) eyes. Only their barbels earned them the name catfish.  

The reason that makes them unique can be the reason behind their vulnerability too. This definitive guide is intended to make you confident in taking proper care of your ghost glass catfish.

Quick Fact: Did you know that glass catfish are not bottom-dwellers like other catfish species?

An Overview

Quick Species Facts
Scientific Name Kryptopterus Vitreolus
Common Names Glass Catfish, Ghost Catfish, Phantom Catfish
Family Siluridae
Origin Thailand, South East Asia
Average Lifespan 7-8 Years
Average Size 4-6 Inches
Type Freshwater Fish
Glass Catfish Species Profile

Origin and Habitat

Glass catfish originated from Thailand and are found in many parts of Southeast Asia, typically inhabiting streams and other slow-moving bodies of water. Some live in the river basins of the Cardamom Mountains in Thailand.

Some even claim to spot this freshwater glass catfish in Malaysia and Cambodia. However, such claims are not based on valid proof.

The species prefer shallow waters with plenty of vegetation and hiding places. Being of a schooling nature, they prefer to live in large groups of their own kind in their natural habitat. They avoid going too far from the river beds.

The low water visibility in their natural habitat makes them use their barbels too often. Their survival in the wild largely depends on this sensory organ.

How Big Do Glass Catfish Get?

With a long, slender body, a full-grown glass catfish can grow up to a maximum size of 4 to 6 inches in captivity. In the wild, however, they might grow slightly longer.

Appearance and Color

The uniqueness of their appearance comes from the transparency of these fish. The reason behind this see-through feature is that they fall under the Siluridae family, which lacks scale and body pigmentation.

As a result, the internal organs, spine, and bones are clearly visible through their clear skin and flesh. The organs of glass catfish are placed just under and around their eyes, giving an impression of an organ-packed head. Excitingly, you can see their heart beating with the help of a magnifying glass.

This transparency that reaches you as a wonder can come in handy for their safeguard. As they are hard to see, predators are not likely to attack them that easily. And they also use this guard to make themselves invisible.

The two whisker-like barbels on their head are responsible for their being categorized under the extensive catfish family. However, these two barbels extending straight past their head work as their sense organs, making them extremely sensitive towards any slight change in the water condition around them. Sometimes, their barbels help ghost catfish even in detecting magnetic fields.

When coming to fins, they are nearly difficult to see on the bodies of glass catfish. Noticeably, the dorsal fin is absent on their bodies. Their pectoral fins help them in their vertical movement. The tail fin, with the ventral fin, helps swim up and down throughout the water.

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If you explain how these underwater creatures look in a single sentence, it seems as if a small group of moving skeletons is haunting your fish tank!

Types of Glass Catfish

Kryptopterus Vitreolus — the subject of our discussion, is often confused with two other glass catfish species — Kryptopterus Bicirrhis and K. Minor. After much research and eighty years of misidentification, the glass catfish in the tread has been finally recognized as Kryptopterus Vitreolus.

Differentiating among these species is tough as these similar-sized fish also share the same feature of being transparent with slight alterations. Thus, identifying glass catfish requires an in-depth discussion of these two other species.

Kryptopterus Bicirrhis:

Types of Glass Catfish - Kryptopterus Bicirrhis

Looking almost similar to Kryptopterus Vitreolus, this glass catfish species is opaque with a light greyish hue. They are translucent but not as transparent as the regular glass catfish.

K. Minor:

Types of Glass Catfish - K. Minor

Again looking nearly similar to the regular glass catfish, K. Minor shares some coloration, unlike K. Vitreolus. You can find them with a slightly golden-yellow back and a luminous stripe over the anal fin with bright blue eyes.

Borneo Glass Catfish:

Varieties of Glass Catfish - Borneo

Known also as striped glass catfish, these are other glass catfish species with translucent, striped bodies.

However, even after this differentiation, all these three species are commonly known to be glass catfish.

Maximum Life Expectancy

Under suitable conditions with healthy surroundings, you can expect a glass catfish to survive for up to 8 years at a maximum. As they are fragile because of their transparency, stability in the environment is essential to make them live longer.

How to Sex Your Glass Catfish?

Differentiating between male and female glass catfish can be tricky, as no apparent external characteristics can be identified.

Generally, the female phantom catfish will be slightly more sizeable than the males. 

The best way to differentiate between the sexes is to observe their behavior and look for subtle differences in shape. Male Glass Catfish typically have a more triangular-shaped head and slimmer body, while females will have a more rounded head and large belly for producing eggs.

Sale Price and Availability

Being widely popular in the freshwater fishkeeping trade, these phantom catfish are available online and offline. However, despite their broader popularity, they might still come to be an uncommon find.

As for the expense to purchase this freshwater fish, you can expect to have a small group of them containing around 5 fish at a reasonable price of $10 approximately.

Notwithstanding these, recognizing the correct species can be a constraint when purchasing glass catfish.

Quick Fact: Studies have found that the swimming pattern of glass catfish shows that they have an ampullary organ that can detect magnetic fields. This can potentially help them in sensing predators effectively.

Glass Catfish Care Guide

Quick Care Facts
Care Level Moderate
Social Behavior Schooling and Sociable
Temperament Extremely Peaceful
Diet Type Omnivorous
Breeding Difficult
Glass Catfish Care Guide

What Do Glass Catfish Eat?

These species are omnivores. While in the wild, they feed on varied food, including mosquitos, zooplankton, larvae, small worms, and invertebrates. They are even known for occasionally eating small fish like baby guppies.

In captivity, a balanced diet for your glass catfish shoal can include frozen or live food with flake or pellet food. As vulnerable species, a healthy diet is of utmost necessity while you have these lively phantoms inside your fish tank.

For frozen food, you can feed your little pets brine shrimp, grindal worms, bloodworms, and daphnia.

For a high-protein diet, include a protein-rich flake or pellet food. But, the issue is that these fish would not accept such food easily. If you want to add such food to their diet, you can start with live food and gradually switch to pellet or flake food.

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Remember that they are unpredictable species. Some aquarists have made their glass catfish live entirely on flake food despite their known craze for live food.

It is recommended to feed this species two times a day to keep them healthy.

Moreover, it is vital to check if they are getting the food you are providing them with, as they are naturally shy and will not go to the food in case of any hostile behavior from their tank mates.

General Behavior Shown by Glass Catfish

Glass catfish show peaceful and amiable behavior. They are a shoaling species getting comfortable with others of the same species. They always keep together with a peculiar swimming pattern.

These fish are naturally active, dwelling predominantly in the mid-water column. However, they tend to group together at a particular place in the aquarium.

Being shy and timid, they tend to hide instantly behind vegetation at the slightest awareness of danger or discomfort.

Breeding Glass Catfish

Breeding glass catfish is often arduous. In the wild, they are known to spawn and breed in the monsoon season, during days of heavy rain. But, there is not much information about breeding the species successfully in captivity.

In fact, the percentage of breeding the species in captivity is very low. Although research has been going on, the correct method of breeding glass catfish in captivity is still a matter of prospect.

Notwithstanding that, you can follow the traditional or common way applicable to any fish species, in general, to induce spawning behavior in this species too.

Since no scientific proof or information is available in this matter, the most important thing here is the simulation of the natural environment.

Hence, start by dropping the water temperature to a few degrees (around 73°F). Some experts recommend adding freshwater regularly to replicate the rainy season. Now, it is not a proven way. But, it can be beneficial in inducing seasonal feelings in your contourless pets.

You can recognize spawning behavior in your fish by their way of communicating. You’ll see the breeding pair interact through their barbels.

Successful breeding of the species will end in the pregnant female glass catfish spreading the eggs on vegetation, especially leaves of live plants inside your fish tank. Eggs hatch within a few days (generally, 3-4 days).

During breeding, it is essential to feed your fish high levels of live food to provide them with the energy required throughout the breeding process.

What Diseases Ghost Catfish Are Prone to?

Glass catfish doesn’t convey any risk of getting any kind of species-specific diseases. The only concern is regarding the common diseases related to any freshwater fish including the following —

  • Fungus
  • Lice
  • Ich
  • Dropsy

These conditions are curable. For the details and cures for such difficulties, you can go through our definitive guide.

Sometimes, you might notice one fish getting isolated. It can indicate an illness or unlikeliness from the others in the group. If the lonely glass catfish turns white, it signifies that it is seriously ill. In most such cases, the diseased fish will eventually die.

With the correct water parameter and a balanced routine diet, you can keep these fish far away from such ailments and discomforts.

Tank Care

Quick Tank Facts
Minimum Size 30 Gallons
Water Temperature 75 – 80°F
Water Current Moderate
Water Hardness 8 – 10 dGH
Lighting Nominal
pH Level 6.5 – 7.0
Glass Catfish Tank Care and Setup Guide

Ideal Tank Size

Since these fish need ample space for swimming and hiding, an ideal glass catfish tank has to be at least 30 gallons or more for a school of 5-6 individuals.

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That means you can get one fish for 5 gallons of water.

Quick Fact: Their physical appearance is the fact behind the naming of this species. If we check the meaning of the name Kryptopterus Vitreolus, Kryptopterus is the combination of two Greek words — kryptos meaning hidden, and pteron meaning fin. Again, Vitreolus is derived from the Latin adjective vitreus meaning glass.


Tank setup is a significant part of fishkeeping, especially when you own a group of sensitive fish such as ghost catfish. Let’s go through the whole process categorically.

  • Plants: Plants hold inevitable importance by providing the fish with appropriate hiding places. They purify the water and control the ammonia and nitrate levels in the tank water. Thus, live aquatic plants like java moss, java fern, and hornwort do just well with a glass catfish tank.
  • Lighting: If you already have this freshwater species, you might have noticed that they are more active at night. They are not nocturnal. The reason for such behavior is that they avoid bright light and prefer subdued and indirect nominal lighting.
  • Substrate: Considering their fragility, glass catfish are prone to cuts and harm caused by a rocky substrate. So, a soft and smooth substrate is preferable for this species. Thus, you can go for a sand substrate with added smooth gravel. A darker substrate will make it easier to see your colorless pets.
  • Oxygen and Filtration: A well-planted aquarium naturally contains a good oxygenation and filtration system. Adding an underwater gravel filter and an aquarium filter will take care of the rest, providing a proper filtration system while cycling the tank water regularly.
  • Decor: Considering the possibility of the decor getting damaged, you must be careful while adding it to a glass catfish tank. As already mentioned, vegetation and small gravel or smooth rocks (in the case of a community tank) will suffice.

Water Parameters

Stability in the water condition is a must for these underwater creatures. Not maintaining stability with proper water parameters might lead to drastic repercussions.

The little creatures require a water temperature between 75 – 80°F. With a preference for slightly acidic water, the ideal pH level for this species is 6.5 – 7.0. On the other hand, you can go for a water hardness between 8 – 10 dGH.

Remember that these creatures prefer moderate water movement. They will lose their swimming efficiency in fast-moving water with high water currents.

Tankmates for Glass Catfish

This utterly peaceful fish is a perfect pick for a community tank with other quiet fish of similar size. Glass catfish share high compatibility with fish species that are not hostile towards others.

Some examples of ideal tank mates for this species include the following —

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you paint glass catfish?

To answer in a word, no. Painted glass catfish is not a familiar sight because of the delicateness of the fish.

Do glass catfish react against the light?

Although they are colorless, the falling of direct sunlight on their tank makes them act like a prism, reflecting rainbow-like hues on the wall.

Can glass catfish be added with a betta?

The compatibility of glass catfish and betta depends on their temperament. If you know your betta is harmless, you can add your glass catfish to your betta tank.

Summing It Up

A bit different from the conventional idea of aquarium fish, glass catfish can add a contrasting dimension to your fish tank.

As for the ease of keeping them, they are easy-going. In fact, they don’t need much, as unpredictable as they are. Plus, their high compatibility with a community tank along with their affordable pricing makes them worth having.

With all this, let’s wish you luck with these silhouette figures.

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About the Author

Victoria Lamb

Victoria is a freshwater aquatics specialist, fish keeper, and amphibian enthusiast. She has had more than 6 years of experience caring for aquariums and keeping several fish species, and her home boasts of 3 aquariums and a garden pond. Her goal is to educate fish owners on raising healthy and happy aquatic pets. Career Highlights:…

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