Banjo Catfish Care: Complete Guide for Beginners

The Banjo Catfish is an interesting species, that likes to burrown in the sand substrate! Caring for these intriguing bottom-dwelling creatures can be a rewarding experience. This guide will ensure you have all the necessary knowledge to care for these unique freshwater fish successfully.

banjo catfish

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Banjo Catfish Species Profile and Identification

Banjo Catfish, scientifically known as Bunocephalus coracoideus, is a unique and fascinating freshwater fish native to South America. They are nocturnal, bottom-dwelling fish found in slow-moving waters and are known for their intriguing banjo-shaped body, which serves as an excellent camouflage.

Physical traits of Banjo Catfish make them quite easy to identify in your aquarium:

  • Shape: They have a flat, elongated body resembling the shape of a banjo, and a wide head measuring up to half of their entire body length.
  • Size: They typically grow to be about 5-6 inches (12-15 cm) in length when kept in captivity.
  • Color: Their coloration ranges from dark brown to black, with occasional lighter colored markings, helping them blend in with their surroundings.

Banjo Catfish are perfect for beginner aquarists due to their hardiness and adaptability, but also provide a unique challenge due to their nocturnal habits. When you decide to add a Banjo Catfish to your freshwater tank, keep these species requirements in mind:

  • Minimum Tank Size: A tank of at least 20 gallons (75 liters) is recommended to provide ample space for their nocturnal explorations.
  • Water Temperature: Banjo Catfish thrive in water temperatures between 73-79°F (23-26°C).
  • Water pH: They prefer slightly acidic to neutral water, with a pH of 6.0-7.0.
  • Substrate: A soft, sandy substrate is crucial to allow them to burrow without risking injury to their delicate barbels.

Taking the time to understand the unique traits and requirements of Banjo Catfish will set you up for success in providing them a suitable environment to thrive in your aquarium.

Banjo Catfish Supplies

To ensure the health and happiness of your Banjo Catfish, gathering the right supplies is a must. In this section, we will cover the essential items needed for your new pet.


Aquarium: A 20-gallon tank is the absolute minimum, but for better living conditions, opt for a 30-gallon or more. It is crucial to provide adequate space for swimming and hiding spots.

Filtration: Banjo Catfish require a high-quality water filtration system, capable of both mechanical and biological filtration. Choose a reliable, brand-name filter to maintain optimal water parameters.

Heater: Banjo Catfish thrive in a consistent temperature between 70°F and 79°F. Investing in a reliable, adjustable aquarium heater ensures your pet will be comfortable in its environment.

Thermometer: Accurate temperature readings are important for Banjo Catfish care, so having a trustworthy thermometer is essential. Consider digital thermometers for ease of use and precision.

Substrate: Soft, sandy substrate is recommended for Banjo Catfish, as they spend most of their time resting on the bottom of the tank. Avoid sharp gravel or rough surfaces that can injure your fish.

Hiding Spots and Decor: Provide your Banjo Catfish with multiple hiding options such as:

  • Driftwood
  • Caves and rock formations
  • Dense plantings
  • PVC pipes

Banjo Catfish are nocturnal and shy, so a variety of safe spots will help them feel secure.

Lighting: Since Banjo Catfish are nocturnal, subdued lighting is recommended. LED lights with adjustable settings are a great option for controlling the light in your tank.

Water testing kit: Regular testing of your aquarium water is essential for Banjo Catfish care. Invest in a reliable water testing kit to ensure your pet’s home remains safe and healthy.

Banjo Catfish Tank Setup

When setting up a tank for your Banjo Catfish, choose a minimum of 20 gallons to provide adequate space for their growth and movement. The substrate should be soft, sandy, and dark-colored to mimic their natural environment and ensure their comfort.

Provide hiding places such as caves, driftwood, and PVC pipes for them to rest and feel secure. Avoid using sharp-edged decorations, as Banjo Catfish are known to burrow and can injure themselves on sharp objects.

Water filtration is essential, so include a high-quality filter that can handle the waste produced by your fish. Banjo Catfish prefer low to moderate water flow to simulate their natural habitat of slow-moving streams and rivers.

Keep the tank dimly lit, as these fish are mostly nocturnal and may become stressed in a brightly lit environment. To ensure the tank’s water is always at optimal conditions, here is a summary of Banjo Catfish tank setup requirements:

  • Tank size: At least 20 gallons
  • Substrate: Soft, sandy, dark-colored
  • Decorations: Caves, driftwood, PVC pipes
  • Water filtration: High-quality filter
  • Water flow: Low to moderate
  • Lighting: Dimly lit

Remember that the tank setup plays a crucial role in the overall health and well-being of your Banjo Catfish. By paying attention to their needs and providing a suitable environment, you’ll be on the right track to successfully caring for your new fish.

Banjo Catfish Water Requirements

Maintaining proper water parameters is essential for the health of your Banjo Catfish. You should stay well-informed on their specific requirements to ensure that they thrive in their aquarium environment. In this section, we will discuss the ideal water conditions for your Banjo Catfish, as well as how to maintain these conditions.

banjo catfish

  • Temperature: The ideal temperature range for Banjo Catfish is between 73°F and 82°F (23°C to 28°C). Use a high-quality aquarium heater with thermostat to consistently maintain this temperature range.
  • pH Level: Banjo Catfish prefer slightly acidic water with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5. Regularly test your aquarium water and make any necessary adjustments to maintain the appropriate pH balance.
  • Water Hardness: A water hardness level between 2 and 12 dGH is deemed suitable for Banjo Catfish. Soft to moderately hard water is best for these fish species, so ensure to test regularly and adjust accordingly.
  • Water Movement: As Banjo Catfish are native to slow-moving rivers, they are more comfortable in aquariums with sluggish water flow. A gentle current can be generated using a soft water stirs system or a sponge filter.
  • Water Quality: Keep the water quality in your tank at optimal levels by ensuring ammonia and nitrite levels are at 0 ppm, while nitrates are kept below 15 ppm. Perform regular water changes, ideally around 25% of the water volume every week to keep the water clean and remove waste, excess food, and debris.

By meeting these water requirements, you are providing your Banjo Catfish with a suitable environment to grow and thrive. In addition to maintaining the water parameters, don’t forget to include hiding spots, such as driftwood or PVC pipes, to make your Banjo Catfish feel comfortable and secure in their new home.

Banjo Catfish Diet and Feeding

The Banjo Catfish is an omnivorous species, which means they will consume both plant and animal matter in their diet. They are primarily scavengers, so a varied diet is essential for their optimum health and growth.

When it comes to feeding your Banjo Catfish, consistency is crucial. Aim to offer them food every day, but only give an amount that can be consumed within a few minutes. Overfeeding can impact the water quality in your tank and may harm your Banjo Catfish.

Some good food options for Banjo Catfish include:

  • Pellets and wafers: High-quality sinking pellets or wafers are a staple for the Banjo Catfish diet. Choose products specifically formulated for bottom-dwelling fish to ensure that the nutrients meet their needs.
  • Live and frozen foods: Offering live or frozen food, such as brine shrimp, daphnia, and bloodworms, is vital for providing proteins needed for growth and overall health. Feed live and frozen foods in moderation, as treats or supplements to their staple diet.
  • Vegetables and plant matter: Banjo Catfish enjoy munching on blanched vegetables like spinach, zucchini, and peas. Adding some plant matter not only diversifies their diet but also helps to maintain their digestive health.

To keep the feeding process simple and consistent, consider creating a weekly feeding schedule. This can help you easily monitor your Banjo Catfish’s food intake and adjust if needed. A good feeding schedule might look like:

Day Food Type
Mon Sinking Pellets
Tue Live or Frozen Food
Wed Sinking Pellets
Thu Live or Frozen Food
Fri Sinking Pellets
Sat Blanched Vegetables
Sun Sinking Pellets

Remember, a well-rounded diet is essential for ensuring the health and happiness of your Banjo Catfish. Pay attention to your fish’s eating habits and make adjustments if needed.

Banjo Catfish Care Schedule

A well-structured Banjo Catfish care schedule is essential to ensure your fish’s health, happiness, and longevity.

Here’s a basic guide to help you keep your Banjo Catfish healthy and thriving:

  • Daily: Check your Banjo Catfish’s water temperature, pH, and ammonia levels to ensure they’re within the optimal range. Feed your Banjo Catfish once a day, offering small portions of high-quality sinking pellets or frozen daphnia, bloodworms, and tubifex worms.
  • Weekly: Perform a 25-30% water change every week to maintain the cleanliness of the tank, control nitrate levels, and prevent the buildup of toxic substances. Clean the tank glass with an algae scraper or pad to remove any algae buildup.
  • Monthly: Inspect and clean your aquarium’s filters at least once a month to maintain proper water flow and filtration efficiency. Replace filter media when necessary, being cautious not to change all filter media at once, preserving the beneficial bacteria colonies.
  • Bi-annual: Every six months, perform a thorough cleaning of your aquarium’s substrate, either with a gravel vacuum or by manually removing debris. This will help maintain a healthy environment for your Banjo Catfish and prevent the buildup of harmful substances.
  • Annual: Do a complete inspection of your aquarium equipment, such as heaters, filters, lighting, pumps, and other essential pieces. Replace any damaged or worn-out parts to keep your tank functioning optimally.

banjo catfish

By adhering to this care schedule, you’ll provide a clean and stable environment for your Banjo Catfish. Make sure to always keep an eye on your fish for any signs of illness or unusual behavior, and consult with an expert if necessary.

Banjo Catfish Health Problems

Keeping your Banjo Catfish healthy is essential for a long and happy life in your aquarium. They can, however, be prone to some health problems which we will discuss here.

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): This parasitic infection causes small white spots all over the catfish’s body. To treat Ich, increase your tank’s temperature gradually to 86°F (30°C) and introduce an Ich treatment medication.
  • Fungal infections: These appear as fuzzy white patches on the skin. To prevent fungal infections, maintain good water quality and remove uneaten food and decaying plant matter. If your fish is infected, you can treat the tank with a waterborne anti-fungal medication.
  • Fin rot: This bacterial infection causes the fins to become ragged and disintegrate. Ensure a clean tank and stable water parameters to avoid fin rot, and use an antibacterial medication if needed.
  • Internal parasites: Symptoms include weight loss, poor appetite, and a swollen or sunken abdomen. A treatment with a broad-spectrum parasite medication can help in this case.
  • Swim bladder issues: These can lead to difficulty in maintaining buoyancy. Adjusting your fish’s diet and giving them more live or natural foods can help alleviate the problem.

To prevent health problems:

  • Maintain a clean, stable environment by regularly changing the water and cleaning the tank.
  • Keep the water parameters within the recommended ranges and monitor for any sudden changes.
  • Feed your Banjo Catfish a varied and nutritious diet.
  • Quarantine new fish and plants before adding them to your tank to minimize the risk of introducing diseases.

By being vigilant and addressing health issues promptly, you can ensure that your Banjo catfish will thrive in your aquarium. Remember that prevention is always better than cure, so make sure to keep an eye on your fish’s behavior and appearance for any signs of distress or illness.

Banjo Catfish Tank Mates

Choosing the right tank mates for your Banjo Catfish is essential to keeping a peaceful and healthy aquarium. Banjo Catfish are generally passive and shy, so it’s important to select compatible tank mates to avoid stress and aggression.

The only picture I've ever gotten of Duelin', my banjo catfish. Look at that face!

Suitable Tank Mates

When considering tank mates, opt for calm and non-aggressive species. Here’s a list of some suitable tank mates:

  • Corydoras
  • Rasboras
  • Tetras
  • Guppies
  • Mollies
  • Certain types of Plecos

These fish are peaceful by nature, and their size and temperament won’t threaten the Banjo Catfish.

Unsuitable Tank Mates

You should avoid housing Banjo Catfish with aggressive or territorial species. Examples of unsuitable tank mates include:

  • Cichlids
  • Oscars
  • Arowanas
  • Red-tail Sharks

Such species may harass or even prey on the Banjo Catfish, leading to stress and possible health issues.

Maintaining a Balanced Community

To maintain a balanced community, provide enough space for each fish species. Ensure there are plenty of hiding spots and decorations within the tank, as this will help everyone coexist peacefully. Also, try to keep the individual species’ requirements (e.g., water parameters, diet, and tank size) in mind while planning the community.

Banjo Catfish Breeding

Breeding Banjo Catfish in a home aquarium can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. If you’re interested in trying it, you should consider the following steps for successful breeding:

  1. Provide a proper environment: Breeding Banjo Catfish requires suitable conditions in the tank. Make sure to maintain a temperature of 74-78°F (23-26°C) and a pH level of 6.8-7.2. Keep the tank well-planted with dense vegetation and include plenty of hiding spots like caves and rocks.
  2. Pre-condition the breeding pairs: Before you attempt to breed your Banjo Catfish, select mature, healthy pairs. Feed them high-quality, protein-rich foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp, which promote conditioning and egg production.
  3. Set up a breeding tank: Setting up a separate breeding tank is essential for success. The tank should be about 15-20 gallons in size, equipped with a sponge filter, and filled with soft, slightly acidic water.
  4. Introduce the pre-conditioned fish: Once the breeding tank is ready, transfer the pre-conditioned pairs into it. Keep the male and female Banjo Catfish as the only occupants of the breeding tank.
  5. Observe and monitor: During breeding, males will chase the females, trying to coax them into their chosen hiding spot. When the female lays her eggs, the male will fertilize them. Make sure to keep an eye on the breeding process, as it can be quite secretive.
  6. Remove the adults: After the eggs are fertilized, promptly remove the adult fish from the breeding tank. This prevents them from eating their own eggs or fry.
  7. Raising the fry: The fry will hatch in 4-5 days, and they should be fed with infusoria or baby brine shrimp. As they grow, gradually introduce larger foods like micro worms, daphnia, and eventually, a high-quality pellet diet.

Breeding Banjo Catfish requires careful planning and attention, but it is an exciting challenge for aquarists. If you follow these steps and consistently monitor the breeding process, you’ll be rewarded with a unique experience and a new generation of Banjo Catfish.


Banjo Catfish can make an incredible and fascinating addition to your aquarium, provided that you carefully follow the guidelines outlined in this beginners’ care guide. With proper tank setup, compatible tank mates, and regular maintenance, your Banjo Catfish will thrive, showcasing their unique behavior and appearance.

We’d love to hear about your experiences with Banjo Catfish, so please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!

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