Banjo catfish care guide

Banjo catfish (Bunocephalus coracoideus) is very seldom encountered in home aquaria. However, it looks very unusual and it will definitely gain popularity in future. In North America the fish is usually called banjo catfish due to its similarity with a musical instrument banjo, while in Latin America – this is a Guitarrita catfish, which implies that the body shape resembles a guitar.

Habitat in the wild

The banjo catfish comes from South America; inhabits Amazon river basin as well as Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru waters. The fish dwells in streams, ponds and small lakes which have one thing in common – slow water flow.

This catfish likes places with lots of rubbish on the bottom – snags, branches and fallen leaves into which the fish digs itself. The fish is a loner, though it may form small schools with its relatives.

Scientific NameBunocephalus coracoideus
Common NamesBanjo catfish; banjo fish; guitarrito; banjo pleco; guitarrita catfish; burrowing catfish
Ease of keepingEasy
Lifespan6 years
Tank size22 gallons (100 litres)
Tank typeCommunity of fishes
Temperature22–24 °C (71,6–75,2 °F)
Water hardness15-20 dGH
Sizeup to 6 in (15 cm)


How big do banjo catfish get? The fish is 15 cm (6 inches) long; its lifespan is about 6 years.

Banjo catfish has very flattened body, that merges into a cone-shaped tail in the dorsal area. The body was meant for hiding under snags and digging itself into fallen leaves on bottom. The fish has khaki coloring – large dark splotches on sandy yellow background all these make this catfish look like a piece of tree bark. In the wild this fish can literally disappear against fallen leaves background.

Each species has its own unique body pattern that consists of dark and light spots combination. Unsmooth and knobby skin of the fish also helps masking and defense. The fins are large, good developed and have the same coloring as the body. On the fist ray of the pectoral fin there is a sharp spine.

Pectoral fins differ in size, the tail fin is long; a distinctive feature of this catfish is that it doesn’t have a fatty fin which disappeared in the course of evolution. Banjo catfish has wide large mouth with six barbels. Its eyes are very small and dark colored.

Difficulties in keeping

Despite its exoticism banjo catfish is quite simple in terms of keeping and feeding. Large number of shelters in a tank and not very bright lighting will make it quite happy with its life.

This is a nocturnal fish, therefore it requires feeding in the evening or at night. Due to its natural calmness it just may not catch up with the other tank dwellers and stay hungry after feeding them during the day.

Care and keeping in a tank

Banjo catfish doesn’t require any special keeping conditions. It easily adapts to various tank conditions, the main thing is to keep the tank bottom substrate clean; standard water renew scheme – up to 20% every week.

Proper tank water parameters are the following: hardness pH 15-20°, temperature 22-24 °C, pH 6.0-7.5 plus regular renew of 1/3 of the tank water volume with fresh water. The tank should be equipped with devices that provide constant aeration and filtration.

As for the temper – this is a nocturnal tank dweller. During the day it stays in shelters or hides using peat, small grained sand or finds some dark corners under snags or stones.

The fish is good at masking and it may dig itself into the sandy substrate and stay there for a long time without giving any signs of life. The fish becomes very active in the evening.

Catfish starts actively searching for food by going through the whole tank bottom.


Banjo catfish is not picky in terms of food and it is omnivorous. Feed it in the evening when it comes out from its shelter and starts looking for food. Any food is good for it, but it prefers live food: bloodworm, tubifex.

It will also eat frozen food, flakes, pellets for catfish and everything else it finds on the tank bottom.

Tank mates

Are banjo catfish aggressive? Definitely, no. The fish feels quite comfortable in a community tank, but since it is a nocturnal fish species it can be seen very seldom. This fish can live alone or in a small school of its kind. Banjo catfish should be kept with other small, active fish species. For example, these can be various barbels (tiger barbtinfoil barb) or danio species (zebrafish or GloFish), betta, even guppies.

Gender differences: male vs female

The fish doesn’t have pronounced gender dimorphism. The females are larger and fatter than males.


Spawning is triggered with the following: fresh, oxygen-rich water, intensive water flow and a minor hormone injection.

The banjo catfish spawns at night. The catfish swim intensively, it looks like they hover in the water flow created with a tank filter. The fish go in separate directions for some period of time and then they get up from the bottom, swim up to the water surface and stay very close to each other.

Near the water surface the male fish hugs the female with its body and she ejaculates a small portion of eggs which the male fertilizers at once. After this the banjo catfish go into different directions again. Some time later the spawning process is repeated.

The eggs are small, bright green (they resemble kuhli loach eggs) and very sticky. They uniformly scatter around the tank bottom.

You won’t need a net put on the tank bottom, since the fish doesn’t eat its eggs. One female fish lays about 200-300 eggs. The eggs stage lasts for 36-48 hours at tank water temperature 26 °C.

Two days later tiny larvae appears. Two more days later the larvae turns into juveniles that will get inside all cracks, because they have photophobism from the first days of their life.

The juveniles start getting their coloring on the 4-5th day of their life. You should start feeding them with the smallest live organisms: cyclops nauplii, rotifers. At this stage water quality is very important.

The first month of the juveniles life is the most challenging for the aquarist. A month later they grow and develop successfully and almost all of them survive. Gradually you should start feeding the juveniles with larger sized food.

The banjo catfish becomes reproductive at the age of 12 months old.