Royal Farlowella – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Royal Farlowella (Sturisoma panamense) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Flamboyant, elegant, and fascinating; these words can be attributed to the highly unique and peaceful catfish species— the Royal Farlowella (Sturisoma panamense), otherwise known as Royal Whiptail Catfish or Royal Whiptail Farlowella.

This fish is quite common in the hobby, and it is prized for its striking appearance— a slender elongated body, impressive fins, and beautiful coloration.  

Royal Farlowella is hardy and ideal for community tanks housing a variety of surface-dwelling fishes. This fish is mostly herbivorous and would enjoy munching on algae, biofilm (aufwuchs), and vegetables in substantial amounts.

Keep reading for more information on the Royal Farlowella Catfish, including: its natural habitat, taxonomy, behavior, care, and feeding tips, as well as aquatic species that can be kept together with it in a freshwater aquarium.

Quick Notes about Royal Farlowella

Name Royal Farlowella
Other Names Royal Whiptail Catfish, Royal Whiptail Farlowella, Twig Catfish, Whiptail Catfish, Stick Catfish or Helicopter Pleco
Scientific Name Sturisoma panamense
Tank size (minimum) 30 gallons (~120 liters)
Keeping Easy – Medium
Breeding Medium
Size up to 20 cm (~ 8 inches)
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26 °C (72 – 79 °F)
Optimal PH 6.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 4 – 10   
Dwellers Bottom
Nitrate Less than 40
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 10 years
Color Form Brown or yellow coloration with tiny black markings

Origin of Royal Farlowella

Royal Farlowella is not a true representative of the whiptail catfish genus— Farlowella, the name suggests so but that is misleading. Rather, this catfish species belong to the closely related genus— Sturisoma, which is a genus of armored catfishes indigenous to freshwater habitats in Central and South America.

The taxonomical hierarchy of the Royal Farlowella goes thus:

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Loricariidae
Tribe: Harttiini
Genus: Sturisoma
Species: Sturisoma panamense

The binomial name of the Royal Farlowella Catfish stems from: sturio (German) which means sturgeon and soma (Greek) which implies (body), whereas panamense refers to its country of origin: Panama.

The species name hints at its sturgeon-like elongated body which makes it stand out from other catfish varieties.

Natural Habitat of Royal Farlowella

Royal Farlowella Catfish is native to Central and South America. They are widely distributed in the Pacific slope rivers of Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador, and the Caribbean slope rivers of Colombia.

Most are domiciled in fast-flowing rivers with rich oxygenated water, cool temperature, and the presence of solid substrates.

Description of Royal Farlowella

Royal Farlowella (Sturisoma panamense) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and BreedingRoyal Farlowella Catfish features an adult size of about 5” – 8” (12 -20 centimeters), typically 6” (15 centimeters).

This species of catfish is known for its slender, elongated body, brown or yellow coloration with tiny black markings that run across the sides, in addition to the impressive fin extensions.

One thing that distinguishes Royal Farlowella from other whiptails is the presence of a larger, elongated body and fins, unlike the thinner bodies possessed by their twig-like relatives.

Notably, the first dorsal fin of the male Catfish is quite long. Also, adult males bear odontodes or whisker-like extensions on their heads and these can be used to distinguish them from the females which are often bulkier.

Lastly, Royal Farlowella has an average lifespan of 8-10 years and this is a soft spot for aquarists that consider longevity over many other factors.

Behavior of Royal Farlowella

The Royal Farlowella Catfish is a docile bottom-dwelling species, and this fish will rarely bother its tankmates. Regardless, it’s best to keep mostly non-aggressive, midwater fish with the Royal Farlowella to prevent competition for food at the lower levels.

They will spend most of their time on the tank floor, often roaming about and scavenging uneaten food on the substrate.

Also, the fish is typically nocturnal but will become active in the daytime once established in a planted tank with lots of rocks, twigs, and bogwood.

During the spawning period, the adult males may exhibit territoriality aimed at warding off threats or assumed competitors in the tank. However, they cannot really harm anybody just a little bit of pushing and chasing.

Royal Farlowella are not very active fish and tend to stay in one spot for hours.

They are also pretty shy and prefer to avoid competition for food with other fish species. It is recommended to keep a small flock (from 3 to 5 individuals), while the number of females should prevail.

Overall, the Royal Farlowella is a peaceful species and will be a good addition to most community aquariums.


  • Social: Yes
  • Schooling: No
  • Active: No
  • Peaceful: Yes

Feeding Royal Farlowella

Royal Farlowella are active algae and biofilm grazers. This makes up a huge percentage of their natural diet.

Lots of aquarists reported that they enjoy eating green spot algae and hair algae in the tanks.

According to the study, only a limited number of fish were reported to actively graze on Staghorn algae (Compsopogon sp.) – most notably Sturisoma panamense.

For the best growth, feeds should contain greens and protein at a level of about 70/30% of the diet. Typically they are naturally accustomed to feeding heavily on green algae growing on rocks and wood, in addition to biofilm or aufwuchs.

Royal Farlowella will accept a variety of foods. Their diets can be supplemented with:

  • algae wafers,
  • sinking catfish pellets,
  • crushed fish flakes,
  • spirulina,
  • krill,
  • artemia
  • meatier foods like live or frozen bloodworms,
  • green vegetables such as zucchini, spinach, cucumber, cabbages, etc.

They need sinking fish pellets and spirulina since they are specially formulated for bottom-dwelling fish. For example (links to Amazon):

Royal Farlowella (Sturisoma panamense) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding on the driftwoodThere are lots of conflicting information on the Internet regarding driftwood and this species. Some aquarists say that Royal Farlowella prefer wood to live on but don’t need it in their diet.

Nonetheless, most professional breeders still insist on the presence of driftwood in the tank. By feeding on algae and biofilm they also rasp on driftwood and obtain fibers (cellulose) that facilitate the digestive processes.

On the downside of the feeding process:

  1. Royal Farlowella do not compete well with other fish species. So, keep that also in mind before introducing them to a community tank.
  2. They are pretty long and stiff fish. So, they have trouble weaving around things to get to places. Therefore, any food intended for them should be put out in the open where they can easily reach it.


  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Food Preference: Algae
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily

You can read more about it in my articles:

How to Blanch Сucumbers and Zucchini for Shrimp, Snails and Fish the Right Way
Indian Almond Leaves and Alder Cones in a Shrimp Tank.

Are Royal Farlowella Plant Safe?

Even though more than 70% of their diet is plant food, they will not harm aquatic plants, unless they are very hungry.  

Generally, they do not eat healthy plants and usually leave them alone. However, sometimes, they might keep grazing on algae until the leaves worn out.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

Tank size:

The recommended minimum tank size for housing the Royal Farlowella Catfish is 30 gallons (about 120 L). This is due to its size; the fish needs a spacious tank with sufficient filtration and good water circulation.

The depth of the tank should be at least 2 times as long as the cats themselves. The length of the tank is more important with them so they can turn around easily.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Royal Farlowella will appreciate waters with an optimal temperature 72 – 79 °F (22 – 26 C). They don’t tolerate very cool water.

pH: The Catfish will thrive best in tank water with pH values 6.5 – 7.5.

Hardness: Try to keep the water hardness values between 4-10 dGH, very hard water is not recommended for this fish.


Some aquarists say that they prefer brightly lit aquariums, hence intense lighting should be provided with the aid of a LED light fixture.

Well, I believe that we have a little misunderstanding here.

As a nocturnal fish, Royal Farlowella is not demanding when it comes to lighting. In the aquarium, lighting should be adapted to the needs of plants in the tank.

In addition, good lighting would be needed since it will effectively promote the growth of algae on driftwood and other surfaces for consumption by the fish.

The availability of ample lighting in the aquarium will encourage the growth of green algae and aufwuchs which Royal Farlowella love to devour.

Note: Even though high lighting will significantly increase the growth of algae, I would NOT recommend that if you are new to this hobby! Without understanding how the balance works in the tank, a beginner aquarist is risking to have so many different types of algae that it will turn the tank into a total disaster.

You can read in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.


It’s best to aquascape the tank with smooth sand or fine gravel substrate. Reason being that the fish will spend lots of time there while it moves gently and scavenges for food.

Water flow and Oxygen Levels:

Royal Farlowella Catfish appreciates fast water currents and high oxygen levels to thrive and reproduce with ease.

Thus, you are required to provide a high degree of aeration and adequate filtration in the aquarium. These help to maintain good water quality and ensure best health condition of your Catfish.

Important: Keep in mind that the solubility of oxygen decreases as temperature increases! If you see that fish breathe heavily and hang around under the water surface – this is a clear sign of oxygen deficiency. 

For more information, read my article “Low Oxygen in Aquarium Water”.


The tank should be adorned with rockworks and driftwood to provide a few hiding places for your fish and to hold onto.

Additionally, Royal Farlowella will appreciate the presence of twiggy branches and bogwood which they can equally rest and graze on during the day.

The tank needs to be densely planted as this makes the enclosure more natural-looking and convenient for the Royal Farlowella to thrive, thus reducing its stress levels.

Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)

Keeping and Housing Royal Farlowella

It is important to add them only in a well-established tank with sufficient size and water volume to support their need.

Royal Farlowella is loved by aquarists because of its ease of care, the species is easier to maintain than most whiptails.

As observed, it is generally peaceful and will stay on the substrate bed or decors for extended periods while actively grazing on algae and biofilm.

 The fish needs highly oxygenated aquarium water since it comes from a place of rich oxygenation, hence such conditions should be replicated in the freshwater tank it inhabits.

Furthermore, Royal Farlowella Catfish is sensitive to still, oxygen-poor water, therefore you should strive to provide ample water flow, and the filtration needs to be excellent (use a powerful aquarium filter). You can also install an additional pump or powerhead to supply enough water currents and plenty of water movements which the fish appreciates.

Good maintenance practices will guarantee the longevity of your Catfish.

So do not forget to perform regular water changes to get rid of excess nitrates in the tank water, clean the substrate from time to time, and remove uneaten food and decaying plant matter that are capable of ruining the water quality.

Avoid overstocking.

Royal Farlowella Catfish will appreciate plenty of space to maneuver, so keeping a large number of tankmates will limit the Catfish’s movements, in addition, it will cause an increase in the tank’s bioload and the dissolved oxygen levels will decrease significantly.

Ensure that the aquarium is well-lit to promote the growth of algae in the tank, thus allowing them to forage naturally.

Lastly, feed them small portions of supplementary diets.

Sexing Royal Farlowella Catfish

Sexing Royal Farlowella Catfish (Sturisoma panamense)Royal Farlowella Catfish is characterized by pronounced sexual dimorphism:

1. The adult females are slightly larger and stouter than the males.

2. Males are slightly more colorful than females.

3. In males, the head is shorter and wider.

4. Males have odontodes on the cheeks (bristles) with a length of 1 to 6 mm (0.04 – 0.2 inches).

Under unfavorable living conditions in an aquarium, odontodes can degrade and completely disappear.

Breeding Royal Farlowella

Male Royal Farlowella Catfish (Sturisoma panamense) guarding and fanning eggsRoyal Farlowella reach sexual maturity at about 1.5 – 2 years. From this point on, you can distinguish between the female and the male.

It is relatively easy to breed Royal Farlowella Catfish in the home aquarium. This Catfish species breeds quite readily, as long as you have:

  • a mature pair (male and female)
  • favorable water conditions (swift currents, high oxygen levels, and optimal temperature) in your tank,
  • a larger tank because they are a vertical spawner.

Tip: Always keep driftwood in Royal Farlowella tank.

We can also stimulate them by making a series of changes with a little bit cooler water (1 – 2 degrees). This way we simulate the rainy season that spurs breeding in their natural environment.

Notably, after the male must have secured a comfortable spot in the tank, the female will now proceed to mate with him. Mating can last from 30 min to a few hours.

Note: They prefer to spawn on the aquarium glass at a place where there is a constant current hitting the glass.

In some cases, one male can fertilize eggs from several females at once.

Depending on the size and age of the female, she can lay from 30 up to 150 eggs in small clusters on flat surfaces e.g. usually the glass walls of the tank.

It’s now up to the male to chase the female and any other fish away and guard the eggs till they hatch successfully, usually after about a week. The male will say with these eggs fanning them constantly to decrease the risk of fungus.

Hatching and Rearing Royal Farlowella Fry

Royal Farlowella (Sturisoma panamense) - eggs and fry developmentIt is recommended to move the eggs and rear the fry in a separate tank with similar water conditions where they can be raised properly. A small and well-aerated tank, with water less than 6 inches deep is more than enough.

Carefully slide the ready to hatch eggs off the glass with the old card.

Even though there is no predation by the males, there are some reports that females can do that by accident.

Note: If you see fungus on some eggs – immediately remove these eggs to avoid contamination of the others.

The eggs of Royal Farlowella are quite large; the diameter can reach up to 3.5 mm (0,14 inches). The color is light. They become darker as they mature.

The incubation period is between 5-7 days.

After hatching, they can barely swim and do not move around. The fry will not need any food for the first 2 days because they will feed off their yolk sac.

However, it does not mean that you should do nothing during this time!

On the contrary, use it to prepare some natural sources of food for them because once they start feeding, you have to feed them constantly and do water changes constantly. Otherwise, if there is a large bacterial load in the water they’ll wipe out immediately.

Feeding Royal Farlowella Fry – 1st Week

The juveniles will grow best if fed a high protein diet, and at this stage, they will accept finely powdered. For example, for the first two weeks, it can be these or similar products (links to check the price on Amazon):

We can also supplement them with:

  • flake food,
  • algae wafers,
  • artemia.

However, I repeat – only as a powder. Use a coffee grinder to grind pellets and algae wafers to a powder.

As with adult Royal Farlowella – always keep at least a small piece of driftwood in the rearing tank. This is also a very important detail that most aquarists simply skip.

The problem is that Royal Farlowella fry grow pretty fast and their digestion system need fibers (cellulose) right from the beginning.

The first 2 weeks are the most important ones. If they do not get the necessary nutrition during this period of time, they will start dying at 3-4 weeks old. Basically, it has a postponed effect.

So, we have to saturate them with food. This is the main reason why people cannot keep fry alive.

Fed them at least 2 times a day after the 3rd day of hatching (recommended – 3 times a day). Siphoned off all excess food before refeeding.

Feeding Royal Farlowella Fry – 2nd Week

There is no need to keep scattering food all over the tank. However, they are still not big enough to eat pills and wafers.

  1. Take a glass or a plastic plate.
  2. Moisten it with water.
  3. Sprinkle the powdered food on it.
  4. Let it dry for a few hours
  5. Put it in the rearing tank, where the fry can scrape it off.

Feeding Royal Farlowella Fry – 3rd Week

In three weeks, the fry will grow to 3 – 3.5 cm (1 – 1.5 inches) and we can start giving whole pills for the catfish. Do not forget about boiled vegetables.

Water changes must be done daily (ideally 2 times a day). This is another risk because fry does not like swings in water parameters.

Feeding Royal Farlowella Fry and Algae Tricks

Another way to provide the fry with more food is to put the rearing tank under 24 hours of light in advance. As a result, algae will have time to grow and fry will not die because of starvation.

The problem though is that lots of algae will also consume lots of oxygen in the tank. It can be very dangerous for the fry. So, do not do that, unless you know how to balance the tank.

However, there is another way. We can use rocks in a separate container.

  1. You need some kind of transparent container (large bottle, spare tank, etc.).
  2. Fill it with water. Use the water that comes from water changes.
  3. Put there a lot of small rocks like marble chips and ceramic filter media (The rocks should be clean and aquarium safe, of course).
  4. Leave it under the strongest lighting you can find. Ideally – 24/7.
  5. Use any fertilizer to grow plants in a tank.
  6. Using an airstone will boost algae growth as well.
  7. Once you see that rocks are turning green, take a few a place them in the tank to feed the Royal Farlowella fry.
  8. Return the rocks to the container when they are clean.

Royal Farlowella and Compatible Tankmates

Royal Farlowella can be kept in groups— following a stocking ratio of 1:2 (one male to two female). This unique fish can be added to most kinds of community tanks because of its peaceful nature.

With regards to compatibility, Royal Farlowella can be kept with most docile freshwater fish and inverts.


They are can be paired with fish species like Guppies, Platys, Corydoras catfish, Rasboras, Bristlenose Plecos, Queen Arabesque L260 Pleco, Neon tetras, Swordtails, Pygmy CoriesOtocinclus CatfishPanda Garra, etc.


Royal Whiptails are certainly not predatory fish, so they will not hunt down adult dwarf shrimp. However, they are still omnivores. Therefore, if baby shrimp are tiny and fit in their mouth, there is always a chance that they might snack on them.

Does it happen very often? No, it is not. Lots of aquarists keep dwarf shrimp and Royal Farlowella in the same tank.

However, if you are serious about breeding shrimp, I would not recommend taking any risk. You simply cannot allow any fish in the shrimp tank!


Royal Farlowella are compatible with any freshwater snails. Together they will do a good job in scavenging for food particles, plant matter, and algae along the lower levels of the tank.

Crayfish and Crabs:

Absolutely not! Keep Royal Farlowella away from all types of crayfish and crabs because of their nippy nature.

You can read more about it in my article “Can You Keep Crayfish With Other Fish?”.

Avoid Nippy Tankmates

The Catfish should not be housed in the same enclosure with nippy tankmates that may nibble at its impressive tail filaments. 

For example, Pufferfish, Serpae tetras, Lemon tetras, Black widow tetras, Tiger Barbs, Gouramis, Betta, Goldfish, Paradise fish, Tinfoil Barbs, etc.

Moreover, it’s best not to keep Royal Farlowella Catfish with boisterous fish and even related whiptails to prevent aggression and competition for food.

In Conclusion

Without doubt, the Royal Farlowella Catfish is one fish that you won’t regret having in your community tank.

Its sleek body structure and magnificent fins make it stand out in an enclosure filled with a variety of freshwater fish and invertebrates, and the presence of this stunning Catfish in your display tank will definitely grab the attention of viewers.

If you have been searching for an unusual, docile, and affordable freshwater fish with a lot of personality, look no further because the Royal Farlowella ticks all the boxes.

Beginners will love this Catfish since it requires minimal care and attention, and it is likely to attain a long lifespan if favorable conditions for growth are adequately met.

4 thoughts on “Royal Farlowella – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

  1. Thanks for the info , You covered a lot & helped me learn on how to try & breed this fantastic fish & keep them healthy & happy ..
    Shane 👍

    1. Hi Shane,
      I am glad you liked it 🙂
      If you have any question regarding this or other species I will try to help whenever I can.
      Best regards,

  2. Very cool! Love the detailed descriptions of how to keep and breed them
    thanks for being awesome! Ill check out more of your blog!

    1. Hi Carlos M Navarrete,
      I am glad you liked it!
      Best regards,

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