October 26

Sarah Robertson

How to Keep a Healthy and Happy Zebra Oto

The Rio Tigre Zebra Oto is a beautiful and distinctive relative of the popular Otocinclus or Oto Cat, which dwells in Peru's Rio Tigre and eats submerged driftwood and vegetation. They'll consume algae and diatoms from most surfaces, including the aquarium glass. Thus they are excellent algae eaters for most community or planted aquariums. They, like most of their relatives, thrive in groups.

If you want a tiny, tranquil, bottom-dwelling fish that is also an algae eater for your aquarium, the Zebra otocinclus (Otocinclus cocama) might be what you're searching for. However, despite their odd appearance in a freshwater tank, these tiny fish are said to be difficult to keep.

We take an in-depth look at these beautiful and peaceful fish in this article, as well as how to care for them.

Quick Facts about Zebra Oto

  • Scientific Name : Otocinclus cocama
  • Family: Loricariidae
  • Common Names : Zebra oto, zebra otocinclus, tiger oto, tiger otocinclus, otocinclus zebra
  • Origin: Wild Peru
  • Size : 4.5 cm (1.8 inches)
  • Lifespan: up to 5 years
  • Diet: Algae grazer and omnivore. Should be fed a primarily vegetable-based diet.
  • Recommended Tank Size: 20 gallon
  • Temperature : 21.0-25.0°C or 69.8-77°F
  • PH : 6.0 - 7.5
  • Water hardness: 4–12 dGH
  • Lighting: No special requirements.
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Compatibility: Peaceful towards all tankmates, Soft water community
  • Ease of keeping: Hard

Zebra Oto Care 

The Zebra Otocinclus catfish is a beautiful tiny Loricariid that makes an excellent choice for a quiet, soft-water planted aquarium. It's found in the wild near clearwater streams' margins, where there is a lot of vegetation. This is a peaceful fish that should be kept in groups of at least 6 in a mature aquarium with plenty of shaded hiding places among plants, driftwood, and slate caverns.

 Tankmates should be of similar size and disposition, such as some small tetras and Corydoras species or dwarf cichlids (Apistogramma, Mikrogeophagus etc.). Tankmates that are boisterous while eating times are not good for this shy, little catfish.

Zebra oto requires a heavily planted tank with a permanent biological equilibrium. It is also wise to include some fluctuations and snags into the tank, as well as leaves that have fallen to the bottom. The fish requires clean, low-nitrate, and low-ammonia water.

 Ideally, you should utilize an external filter, but taking into account the fact that most fish are kept in tiny tanks, internal water filtering will also work. A weekly water change and the use of specific testing methods to define tank water qualities are required in this instance. The ideal temperature for zebra oto is around 21 – 25°C. They require a pH of 6.0–7.5 and a hardness of 4–18 dGH in their tank.

Zebra Oto Size 

The zebra oto are tiny, reaching only two inches or so in maturity.

Zebra Oto Lifespan 

If properly cared for and fed with a high-quality diet, aquarium fish such as this magnificent creature can live up to five or nine years. For a longer lifespan, good quality water is also a must. Poor quality water may only allow the fish to live for a year or two.

Zebra Oto

Zebra Oto Appearance 

The Zebra Oto body form is comparable to that of other Otocinclus species. This is a little fish with a suckermouth and an armored body. The fish is about 4.5 centimeters long, but the males are smaller. The average lifespan is 5 years.

The zebra otocinclus catfish coloring distinguishes it from other species of its kind. The head and back have a bluish-white or somewhat yellow tint. The fish's head is black from the top of its head to the area between its fish nostrils, and the bottom side of the fish head is light yellow; The sides of the fish's head and regions behind its eyes are black with a V-shaped white stripe on the face.

There are four black or dark gray elongated blotches on the fish's back and sides: The 1st is at the start of the dorsal fin, the 2nd is behind the dorsal, the 3rd is between the dorsal and fluke fins, and 4th at the beginning of fluke.

The zebra otocinclus has a black spot on the tail stalk and a W-shaped vertical stripe on its fluke fin, which distinguishes it from other species.

Orange Zebra Oto is a variably colored form of this species, which is much more colorful and very rare! Its body is orange, and the black markings are more contrasting. The Orange Zebra Otocinclus Catfish is a rare suckermouth catfish variety that is also a fantastic algae eater, like all of its relatives. The Orange Zebra Otocinclus Catfish are herbivores that consume algal blooms in the aquarium. It will not, however, harm typical ornamental aquarium plants.

Sexual Dimorphism: It might be difficult to determine the sex of a little fish; adult males have pointed genital papillae, and female fish are frequently bulkier.

Zebra Oto Behavior 

Zebra Otocinclus catfish are active river fish that spend a significant portion of their day foraging along the tank's lower margins for plant material, algae, and other food waste. These are shy, retiring fish that require a lot of coverage because they prefer to hide when they're afraid. The aquarium should, therefore, provide a lot of plants, driftwood, and stone caves for the fish to hide in. Zebra oto is schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least six so that they feel secure and display their natural behaviors.

Zebra Oto Food & Diet 

The zebra oto is a primary algae eater. It will consume almost every type of green and brown algae, as well as diatoms. If your fish appears thin and you can't determine why it's probable that it isn't getting adequate food. They will not compete for flake foods, even though they have been observed to consume them. If you can't find them, blanching some zucchini or cucumber and placing it in the tank is a good alternative. After it settles at the bottom, the Oto will begin to eat. The zebra oto, unlike other otos, will also consume meaty items like bloodworms and carnivore pellets.

Zebra Oto Tank Mates

A zebra oto is a docile fish that will not cause any issues for the other fish in your tank. In fact, the zebra oto is such a calm fish that it will ultimately starve before competing for food with other bottom feeders. The oto will eat and stay out of the way of other fish as long as it feels secure. Some of the best tankmates for a zebra oto are:

  • Small Tetras
  • Guppies
  • Platies
  • Danios
  • Mollies
  • Swordtails
  • Corydoras
  • Small Rasboras
  • Amano or Red Cherry Shrimp and Brine Shrimp

Cichlids and other semi-aggressive to aggressive species should be avoided as tank mates for a zebra oto, as they might harass or even eat the smaller fish. Territorial or aggressive fish will also harm the zebra oto's fins. So, be cautious when picking tank mates for your zebra oto. Angelfish and Discus are also not the best tank mates for a zebra oto, as they are known to nip at the fins of smaller fish.

Zebra Oto Tank Setup 

For setting up a tank for Zebra oto, you need to consider a few things such as:

Tank Size 

Remember, you need at least 6 of these guys to form a cheerful shoal, so a nano tank isn't suitable. For a group of 6, a minimum of 30 gallons is necessary, but bigger is always better.

If you are keeping a single fish in a tank, then a 10 gallon tank is the minimum you can get away with, but again, a larger tank is always better.

Water Parameters

You must maintain stable water conditions and comply with appropriate tank water standards for your Otos to survive.


Water purity is critical, therefore a high-quality filter is required. A decent canister filter is an excellent option since it may be combined with biological media and will provide the vigorous water flow that catfish like. A tiny powerhead may be used to enhance the stream.

Water Hardness and pH Range 

The fish prefer soft, slightly acidic water with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.2 and a hardness of up to 12 degrees.

Tank Hardscape 

Sharp surfaces should be avoided to protect the fish's fragile suckermouths. The ideal substrate is either rounded gravel or soft sandy substrate. It's good to have some bogwood in your landscape. It's a favorite grazing ground, so include it.

When it comes to live rock, there are limits to how much you can put in the tank. However, vertical slates that may encourage algal growth are an excellent addition.


Make a lot of effort with your planting. Your aquatic plants will not be eaten by the otocinclus catfish. They wish to eat algae from your plants, therefore slow-growing plant species are recommended.

Some of the suitable aquarium plants include:

  • Anubias
  • Bolbitis
  • Java fern
  • Cryptocoryne
  • Echinodorus
  • Java fern
  • Ludwigia

Cabomba is another low-maintenance, easy-to-care-for plant that would complement Zebra oto's natural feeding areas.


Zebra otocinclus catfish prefer subdued lighting. Low-tech planted tanks are ideal. You may need to add a bit of supplemental lighting if your plants are not doing well.

Tank Maintenance

Because these fish are sensitive to water conditions and accustomed to living in free-flowing environments where the water is naturally kept clean and well-oxygenated, you'll need to maintain your aquarium. Water changes of at least 10-15% should be done every week. The tank should be vacuumed during each water change to remove debris and uneaten food that has sunk to the bottom of the tank. Filter media should be replaced every few months, and the tank should be given a good cleaning every few months as well.

How to Introduce Zebra Oto to your Tank

Your Zebra Oto fish may resist settling in after being retrieved from the pet store for a variety of reasons. Whatever the reason, you should be more cautious during your acclimation and early days' routine:

  • Acclimate slowly by using an acclimation kit or making your own with the airline.
  • Provide healthy meals, but in limited quantities to enhance your catfish's health.
  • Don't clean up all of your algae before they get there. Allow them to assist you.
  • Make sure your aquarium water is clean and increase the number of water changes in your regimen.
  • Additionally, quarantine your new fish for at least two weeks to make sure they're not sick before adding them to your display tank.
  • Plants, gravel, decorations, and other items should all be quarantined to prevent the disease from spreading.
zebra oto

Zebra Oto Breeding

It's difficult to breed Zebra Oto fish in a domestic tank. However, some hobbyists have reported successful breeding. They deposit their eggs on the undersides of leaves or, in some cases, on the aquarium glass. The spawning sites are cleaned by both parents before breeding, and they're thought to deposit eggs in a "T" posture, much like Corydoras catfish.

Because the fry are so tiny, feeding them is the greatest concern for the aquarist, and most of the young perish from starvation or are eaten by other fish in the tank.

It's best to remove the parents after breeding, as they may snack on their own young.

Zebra Oto Fry

The average time needed for the eggs to hatch is 2 to 3 days. Once the eggs hatch, the fry is free-swimming and needs to be fed immediately. They're too small to accept anything but live foods, such as baby brine shrimp, daphnia, algae or other powdered food. To prevent the fry from being sucked into the filter, you can turn it off or place a piece of mesh over the intake. The fry grows quickly if they're well-fed and can be moved to a larger tank within a month.

Zebra Oto Diseases

Zebra Otos are highly susceptible to the most prevalent illnesses affecting aquarium-kept fish.

Changes in the tank's atmosphere, such as temperature or water quality fluctuations, will make the fish vulnerable to common diseases such as bloat and swim bladder disease.

If your Zebra Oto is healthy fish, they should be quite lively once they've settled in; they should congregate together in free flocks. However, it is also typical for them to hide among plants or caves as a means of protection. Zebra Otos also use their suckers to feed on any algae that may be present on the tank's surfaces.

There are a few things to look for that might indicate your fish is sick, including:

  • Inactivity
  • Loss of appetite
  • Swellings and ulcers on the skin
  • Not schooling with other fish
  • Flashing or rubbing against the tank's decorations and the substrate

Common Health Issues and Treatment

Zebra Otocinclus is susceptible to a variety of health problems. The following are some of the most prevalent health concerns that Zebra Otocinclus catfish might have.

White Spot Disease 

The common name for White Spot Disease is Ich or Ick. Ich is most likely the most prevalent fish health issue. The disease is brought on by a tiny parasite that latches itself to the fish's body, gills, and fins. Look for tiny white specks scattered across the fish that resemble grains of salt. Flashing and flicking their bodies against anything solid in the tank is a common behavior of fish with Ich.

Treatment for Ich: To prevent White Spot, you can raise the water temperature to 82° F for a few days and treat the tank with White Spot medication.

Stress is the most common trigger for Ich. Parasites can be found in almost all aquariums, but they are not an issue until a fish is weakened by another illness or stress. So, be sure your tank has clean water and that the Otos are getting a good diet. Also, be aware of tankmates' bullying behaviors.

Bacterial Infections

Bacteria may infect fish in a variety of ways, both externally and internally. Fish that have been injured are usually the most vulnerable to bacteria. Look out for ulcers, missing scales, frayed fins, and pinkish patches on their skin, all of which might suggest a bacterial infection.

Treatment for Bacterial Infections: Remove the infected fish to separate tanks and medicate the water with antibacterial chemicals. Check your water quality and perform a water change on your main tank before returning the treated fish.


External parasites, especially visible to the naked eye, that are attached to a fish's body or gills are referred to as "flukes."

Due to the fact that most Zebra Otos are captured in the wild, there's a good chance that unwanted visitors may get inside your aquarium.

Treatment for Flukes: Flukes may be treated with over-the-counter medicine available at your local fish shop.

zebra oto


How Big Do Zebra Oto Get? 

The average Zebra Oto size is between 1.5 and 2 inches long. Though they are small in size, they are hardy fish and robust species.

Are Zebra Oto Good Algae Eaters? 

Zebra Otos are algae eaters that will consume anything from brown algae to green algae.

Thus they are an excellent cleaning crew for the aquarium and help keep things tidy.

How Many Zebra Oto Should Be Kept Together?

A group of at least 4-6 Zebra Otos should be kept together. This will allow them to feel comfortable and secure in their environment as they are schooling fish.

How Much and How Often to Feed Zebra Otocinclus Catfish

It's usually better to feed your fish twice a day. Unlike many catfish species, Otos are not nocturnal, so you may offer them food in the morning and evening.

Ideally, you should give your fish just enough food to keep them occupied for a few minutes at each feeding. Don't give the fish too much food! Excess food can be unhealthy, and leftovers will decompose in the substrate, polluting your water and adding to your filtration system's workload.

If you can't be home to feed your Otos when you want, get an automatic fish feeder with a built-in timer. These gadgets are not costly, but they are a great for a hectic fish keeper! Simply fill the feeder with the right amount of food and set the timer to deliver the meal at the scheduled time.

What To Feed Your Zebra Otocinclus? 

Zebra Otocinclus Catfish are omnivores. In their natural habitat, Zebra Otocinclus Catfish consume algae, plant and vegetable debris, micro worms, and other detritus.

You can offer your Otos a variety of high-quality fish foods, such as algae wafers, sinking catfish pellets, and frozen meaty proteins like daphnia, cyclops, and bloodworms in the aquarium. Furthermore, they enjoy fresh veggies, particularly blanched zucchini and cucumber slices.

Do not undervalue the necessity of feeding it on a daily basis with plant bottom pastilles (such as spirulina). Acceptable menu additions include lettuce and poached spinach as well. You might also offer a few vase worms, artemia, or daphnia from time to time.

What Kind of Behavior Does the Zebra Oto Have? 

He is quite docile and calm, but he may be rather shy. It becomes more active during the evening and at night (night fish).

How to breed the Zebra Oto? 

This species is extremely difficult to breed. It has rarely proved successful in captivity, if ever. Unfortunately, there is no formal breeding process for this species. Live artemia and spirulina pellets may stimulate spawning. The eggs of various species are deposited on the leaves of plants after spawning (about ten eggs per clutch). The average incubation period is 2 to 3 days. Algae and powdered food are used as fry foods.

Final Thoughts 

If you're looking for a new addition to your aquarium, the Zebra Oto is a great choice! The Zebra Oto is a peaceful, fascinating, and active little freshwater fish that would look great in any community aquarium. This lovely black and white fish is not only beautiful but also an excellent algae eater that helps to clean the aquarium.

They are best kept in groups of 4 or more and do best in a planted aquarium with plenty of hiding places. Be sure to provide them with a diet of high-quality fish food, vegetables, and algae. If properly cared for, the Zebra Oto can live for 5 years or more in captivity. Thanks for reading and we hope this care guide has been helpful!

Sarah Robertson

I am a passionate blogger who also happens to be a fish keeping enthusiast. Writing about my hobby is something that I absolutely love to do, and it's no secret that my chosen topic is always centered around fish keeping.

Sarah Robertson

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