Creating an Ideal Environment for Banjo Catfish: Size and Tank Setup

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” is a common name for the genus Bunocephalus, which is a group of small catfish species native to South America. They are native to various river systems within the Amazon basin, including the Amazon River itself, as well as its tributaries in Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and Peru.

The fish dwells in streams, ponds and small lakes which have one thing in common – slow water flow. They are often found in areas with muddy or sandy substrates, as they are well-adapted to blend into and hide within these environments.

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. Banjo catfish are generally associated with densely vegetated areas, where they can find cover and forage for food. They are known to seek shelter among submerged roots, fallen branches, and other submerged debris. These hiding spots provide them with protection from predators and a suitable environment for their scavenging habits.


Body and color

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.


How big do banjo catfish get?

The maximum size of banjo catfish, specifically those belonging to the Bunocephalus genus, typically ranges from 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) in length. However, it’s important to note that the maximum size can vary among different species within the genus.

Bunocephalus coracoideus, commonly known as Banjo Catfish, typically reaches a maximum size of around 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm) in length. This species tends to stay relatively small compared to some other catfish species.


How long do banjo catfish live?

Banjo catfish have an average lifespan of around 5 to 8 years in captivity. However, with proper care, some individuals can live even longer.

Scientific NameBunocephalus coracoideus
Common NameBanjo catfish, banjo fish, bango catfish, banjo cat, banjo pleco
OriginSouth America, primarily Amazon basin
HabitatFreshwater rivers, streams, and flooded areas
Body ShapeFlattened body with a wide head and long, slender tail
SizeTypically small, ranging from 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 cm)
ColorationLight brown or gray, providing camouflage
BehaviorNocturnal, primarily bottom-dwelling
DietAlgae, organic matter, small invertebrates
CompatibilityPeaceful, suitable for community aquariums
Aquarium RequirementsWell-maintained aquarium, hiding spots, soft substrate
Water ParameterspH: 6.5-7.5, Temperature: 72°F-82°F (22°C-28°C)

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.

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.

Tank size

Banjo catfish are relatively small fish and do not require a large tank. However, it’s important to provide them with sufficient space to swim and explore. A general guideline for tank size is to provide a minimum of 10 gallons (38 liters) of water per banjo catfish.

Keep in mind that it’s always better to provide a larger tank if possible, as it can offer more swimming area and allow for better water quality and stability. Providing a larger tank also gives you the opportunity to create a more natural and enriched environment with hiding spots and suitable substrate.

Water parameters

Proper tank water parameters are the following:

  • Banjo catfish thrive in temperatures ranging from 72°F to 82°F (22°C to 28°C).
  • Banjo catfish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. The recommended pH range is typically between 6.5 and 7.5.
  • General hardness (GH) level between 5 and 15 dGH.
  • 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.


Use a fine-grained substrate like sand or smooth gravel. Banjo catfish are bottom-dwelling fish, and a soft substrate allows them to comfortably search for food and burrow.


Provide driftwood or roots in the aquarium. These items mimic the submerged branches and root systems found in their natural habitat, providing hiding places and creating a more natural environment. Arrange some smooth rocks or caves in the tank to create hiding spots for the banjo catfish. These fish appreciate secure places to retreat and feel safe.

While providing hiding spots is important, make sure to leave ample open space for the banjo catfish to swim comfortably. They appreciate having areas to explore and patrol.

Include some live or artificial plants in the aquarium. Banjo catfish are typically found in habitats with dense vegetation, so having plants like Java ferns, Anubias, or Amazon sword plants can provide them with cover and add aesthetic appeal to the tank.


What do banjo catfish eat?

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.

Do banjo catfish eat algae?

No. While banjo catfish may nibble on algae, it’s important to note that they are not primarily herbivorous algae eaters like some other catfish species (such as plecos). Banjo catfish are more opportunistic feeders and are known to consume a variety of food sources, including organic matter, small invertebrates, and decaying plant material in addition to algae.

Offer occasional live or frozen foods to provide variety and mimic their natural feeding behavior. Suitable options include small live or frozen invertebrates like bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, and blackworms. These foods are rich in proteins and can enhance their diet.

Banjo catfish readily accept sinking pellets as a staple part of their diet. Look for high-quality sinking pellets specifically formulated for catfish or bottom-dwelling fish. These pellets should provide balanced nutrition and be suitable for their small mouth size.

It will also eat frozen food, flakes, pellets for catfish and everything else it finds on the tank bottom. Offer a diverse diet to ensure they receive a balanced nutrition. Observing their behavior and appetite will help you determine their preferences and adjust the diet accordingly.

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. Since banjo catfish primarily occupy the lower regions of the aquarium, it’s best to select tank mates that occupy different areas of the tank. Look for species that inhabit the mid to upper levels of the water column, allowing for a harmonious distribution of space.

Choose peaceful fish species that are not aggressive or prone to fin-nipping. Avoid keeping them with large, aggressive species that may intimidate or harass the banjo catfish.

Banjo catfish should be kept with other small, active fish species.

Some suitable tank mates for banjo catfish can include peaceful community fish such as tetras (e.g., neon tetras, ember tetras), rasboras, small livebearers (e.g., guppies, endlers), small peaceful cichlids (e.g., Apistogramma species), and small catfish species (e.g., Corydoras, Otocinclus). However, it’s important to research the specific needs and temperament of any potential tank mate species to ensure compatibility.

Always monitor the behavior of the tank mates when introducing them to the aquarium and be prepared to make adjustments if any aggression or incompatibility arises. Providing adequate hiding spots and territories can also help reduce stress and promote harmonious interactions among tank mates.

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.