Pygmy Corydoras Ultimate Care Guide

If you are looking for a small, peaceful fish that will swim around your aquarium, looking stunning whilst not bothering anyone else, then the Pygmy Corydoras (also known as Corydoras Pygmaeus) could be the fish for you. Having kept these little beauties for a number of years, I wanted to take some time to share my enjoyment of them with you.

Pygmy Corydoras Overview

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

The Pygmy Corydoras, which has the scientific name Corydoras pygmaeus, is a small, schooling member of the Corydoradinae family. Some people refer to members of the Corydoras family as simply ‘Cory’ whilst others might use the term ‘catfish’. Essentially, all are ok to use when referring to the Pygmy Corydoras.

These little corydoras are mainly found in the Madeira Basin, Brazil. However, they have also been found in other locations.

Some other species of corydoras are occasionally labeled as Pygmy Corydoras. These include Corydoras Habrosus and Corydoras hastatus. Both these fish are separate species and have different characteristics to the Pygmy Corydoras.

Pygmy Corydoras are incredibly peaceful and will thrive in peaceful community aquariums as well as ‘nano’ setups. Pygmy Corydoras are relatively hardy and you can expect them to live for up to 3 or 4 years when cared for correctly.

Common Name:Pygmy Corydoras
Scientific Name:Corydoras pygmaeus
Family:Callichthyidae
Origin:Brazil, Peru, and Ecuador
Tank Distribution:Bottom and Mid-water
Adult Size:0.75 – 1.0 inches (1.9cm to 2.5cm)
Life Expectancy:3-4 years
Care Level:Beginner
Minimum Tank Size:10 Gallons
Breeding Method:Egg layer
Temperature:72°F – 79°F
pH:6.0 – 8.0
Hardness:2-25dH

Pygmy Corydoras Origins

Map of Pygmy Corydoras Range, South America

Pygmy Corydoras Natural Habitat

Pygmy Corydoras are naturally found in tributaries of larger rivers. They have been recorded in the Madeira Basin, Brazil as well as the Aguarico River in Ecuador and the Nanay River which is in Peru.

The Pygmy Corydoras prefer areas where there are fallen trees or branches providing them cover. The river bed will usually be deep with fallen leaves. Pygmy Corydoras are usually found in the shallower water close to the river banks.

Studies have shown that Pygmy Corydoras can be found in a wide variety of water temperatures, as well and pH levels and water flows. They can be found in both faster-flowing and slow-moving areas of the rivers.



Tank Setup For Pygmy Corydoras

The joy of smaller fish like the Pygmy Corydoras is they can be kept in large groups in a big tank, or small groups in a much smaller tank.

A minimum tank size of around 10 gallons (38 liters) would suit these little corydoras, but needless to say, a large group would need a much larger aquarium. As a schooling species of fish, Pygmy Corydoras like to be kept in groups of at least 8 to 10 fish, but much larger groups will be even more impressive to watch school around your tank.

In the wild, Pygmy Corydoras are found in groups numbering hundreds, some report even suggesting thousands of fish, all schooling together. As with all members of the Corydoras family, never keep just 1 or 2 Pygmy Corydoras in a tank. They can become skittish and stressed without a school of tank mates to make them feel safe.

Any aquarium housing Pygmy Corydoras will need plenty of hiding places. Aquarium-safe wood, roots, and rocks should be used in abundance. Live plants will not only compliment your pygmy corydoras but also make them feel more relaxed and at home in your aquarium.

I have had success keeping pygmy corydoras in aquariums with Cryptocoryne plants, Amazon Swords, and Java moss. For the best results, plant along the back and sides of the aquarium, but leave the middle open for the Corydoras to swim freely in.

Corydoras have barbels which they use to feel their way around the aquarium and search for food. These barbels can be easily damaged, so sharp substrates like gravel should be avoided. Instead, sand or a dedicated aquarium substrate like Fluval Stratum should be used.

Their natural habitat has fallen leaves in large quantities. We can recreate this environment by adding catappa leaves to the Pygmy Corydoras tank setup.



Pygmy Corydoras Tankmates

There are many candidates for suitable tank mates for the Pygmy Corydoras. Choose tank mates that are non-aggressive and don’t have mouths large enough to swallow the pygmies and you should be fine. Below I’ve listed some of the tank mates I’ve housed Pygmy Corydoras with in the past.

Small Tetras

Small members of the tetra family, like Neon Tetras, Cardinal Tetras, and Glowlight Tetras will all go really well with the Pygmy Corydoras. Like the Pygmy Corydoras, most tetras are schooling fish, but whereas the Pygmy Corydoras will stay low, the Tetras will usually school mid-water, meaning the two species of fish aren’t battling for the same swimming area.

Gourami

Members of the Gourami family often make perfect tank mates for the Pygmy Corydoras. Dwarf Gourami, Pearl Gourami, and Honey Gourami will all work well with the Pygmy Corydoras.

Peaceful Barbs

There are many members of the Barb family that will live in a peaceful community tank with Pygmy Corydoras. I’ve had great success in the past with Cherry Barbs and Odessa Barbs. Both these species of Barbs are active, colorful and want to occupy the mid-water area above the Pygmy Corydoras.

Other Bottom Dwellers

Khuli Loach will get along fine with Pygmy Corydoras, as will Bistlenose Plecos, Otocinclus, and Dwarf Chain Loaches. Red Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp will fit in well in a community tank with Pygmy Corydoras. With that said, I have no doubt even a fish as small as a Pygmy Corydoras would eat a baby Red Cherry Shrimp given half a chance.

What To Feed Pygmy Corydoras

Contre to popular belief, Pygmy Corydoras aren’t just ‘cleaner fish’ just because they eat off the bottom. They will go along and hover up any uneaten food, but they need to be fed a balanced diet too. My dog will eat crumbs we drop on the floor, but we have to feed him properly too.

Pygmy Corydoras are omnivores, which means they need a balanced diet based around both meat and vegetable matter. A good quality sinking pellet will deliver most of the Pygmy Corydoras dietary needs.

They will also take flake, once it sinks and Repashy gel food will be relished. Their dry food should also be supplemented with live or frozen food such as baby Brine Shrimp, Cyclops, or bloodworm. Any live or frozen food that will fit in their tiny mouths will be eaten for sure.

When keeping Pygmy Corydoras in a community tank, always be sure food is getting down to them. I have seen it happen so many times that the aquarist puts a pinch of food in, and it is all eaten long before it hits the bottom. Always make sure enough is getting down to your bottom-dwelling fish, no matter what species they are.



Breeding Pygmy Corydoras

Pygmy Corydoras are fairly easy to breed in captivity. They can even be bred in the community tank with other fish, providing enough hiding places are set up for the baby fish.

To prepare your Pygmy Corydoras for breeding, spend a week or two feeding the group lots of high quality live and frozen foods. Live blackworms always go down well. The extra protein in the meaty food will help the female Pygmy Corydoras build strong eggs.

Once the group has been well-fed for a couple of weeks, carry out a larger than normal water change. Replace the old tank water with fresh, dechlorinated tap water, but make it a few degrees cooler than the tank water.

This technique often fools the adult Corydoras into thinking the rainy season has arrived. In nature, the rainy season often means an abundance of food available for developing fish fry.

When the females are ready to spawn, they can be seen traveling up and down the front or sides of the aquarium. With each pass, they may deposit a small, almost clear round egg that will stick to the glass. The male will fertilize the eggs which will remain stuck to the glass.

Spawning can continue for many hours, but once it is over, the parents take no further interest in the eggs or babies. In fact, they are as likely to eat the eggs as any other fish in the tank is.

If you wish to actively raise the Pygmy Corydoras fry, you’ll need to carefully peel the eggs off and move them to a dedicated nursery tank.

General Information About Pygmy Corydoras

To keep your Pygmy Corydoras in fine health, carry out the same regular maintenance routines as you would for other species of fish. Regular water changes help keep nitrate levels down. Making sure filter intakes don’t get blocked with dead leaves or detritus helps keep your filter running efficiently.

It is generally better to feed your Pygmy Corydoras 3 or 4 small meals a day, than it is to give them 1 large meal a day. Use feeding times as an opportunity to observe your Pygmy Corydoras, check for signs of any fish that are ill or weak. See if any are being bullied, or if one fish is being denied food by the others.

If you are buying your first group of Pygmy Corydoras, consider quarantining them for a couple of weeks before adding them to your community tank. Any fish can bring pests or diseases into your aquarium, but as corydoras are bottom feeders, it is said there is an increased chance of them bringing internal parasites into your aquarium.

Like many other members of the species, Pygmy Corydoras can be observed shooting to the surface, taking a gulp of air, then heading back to the substrate, letting out a trail of bubbles on the way down.

This is perfectly normal behavior. Corydoras can actually ‘breathe’ air through their intestines. This evolutionary adaptation helps them breathe in the wild when water quality is less than desirable, leading to low oxygen levels in the water.



Frequently Asked Pygmy Corydoras Questions:

How big do Pygmy Corydoras get?

Male Pygmy Corydoras reach about 0.75in (1.9cm) and females will get to around 1.0in (2.5cm). Generally, females are larger and rounder than males, especially when preparing to spawn.

Are Pygmy Corydoras Hardy?

Pygmy Corydoras are a hardy species and should live for 3 to 4 years providing their tank is well maintained and they are fed a varied diet.

How long do Pygmy Corydoras Live?

Pygmy Corydoras will live for 3 to 4 years in captivity, providing their needs are met.

What do Pygmy Corydoras eat?

Pygmy Corydoras are omnivores, meaning they need a diet that contains both meat and vegetables. They should be fed a good quality fish flake or pellet along with some live or frozen bloodworm.

Can Pygmy Corydoras Live with Shrimp?

Yes, Pygmy Corydoras are fine to live with shrimp. Pygmy Corydoras are a peaceful species that are safe to be kept in a community tank.

Do Pygmy Corydoras need a sand substrate?

Ideally, Pygmy Corydoras should be kept on a fine substrate like sand. Corydoras have barbels around their mouths which can be damaged if they are kept on sharp gravel.

Do Pygmy Corydoras Eat Algae

Many people believe that corydoras are algae eaters. Pygmy Corydoras do not eat algae. Pygmy Corydoras are omnivores that need a varied diet, ideally a mixture of fish flakes or pellets with additional live or frozen food like bloodworm or cyclops.

In Conclusion

Pygmy Corydoras are a fascinating species to keep. The bigger the group you keep, the more amazing they look schooling from one side of the aquarium to the other. Initially, Pygmy Corydoras can be shy, but assuming they have plenty of cover in the form of live plants, they will soon settle down.

I would recommend everyone to try a school of Pygmy Corydoras at some point in their fish-keeping career.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
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