Panda Cory: The Perfect Community Aquarium Fish

Panda cory (Corydoras panda) is one of the most glamorous catfish among Corydoras species. This is a peaceful, not demanding, schooling freshwater fish. It eats all types of food and behaves very actively in a tank.

Habitat in the wild

The panda cory, also known as the panda corydoras, belongs to the Corydoradinae subfamily within the Callichthyidae family.

The panda cory inhabits in Ucayali river basin, in Peru (upper Amazon river). It can dwell both in clean and muddy waters of streams and tributaries, quite often it swims near sandy bottom. In this area rivers are filled with meltwater flowing down from the snowy Andes, that’s why panda cory is used to fast water flow and quite low water temperature (about 19 °C).

Their native environment consists of densely vegetated areas with submerged plants, fallen leaves, and branches. These plants and debris provide them with hiding spots and contribute to the overall water quality. Additionally, the presence of vegetation creates shaded areas, replicating their preferred dimly-lit habitat.

Panda corys are adapted to live in regions with relatively warm water temperatures, usually ranging from 22°C to 26°C (72°F to 79°F). They prefer soft and slightly acidic to neutral water with a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5.

The first person to keep this fish was Randolph H. Richards in 1968. However, this unusual fish has been living without any name for 4 years more. Only in 1971 the catfish got its easy to remember name – panda cory.

Description

Body

The catfish belongs to Corydoras family – it has two rows of horny scales along its body. The name of the kind consists of two Greek words: Cory – a helmet and Doras – skin.

Just like all other representatives of Corydoras family, the fish has two rows of overlaying scales and three pairs of barbels. The fish has quite fat and flattened from sides body. Maxilla and mandible of the catfish inferior mouth have a pair of barbels each. The dorsal fin is bilobular. It is black which is transparent from top. Female has it rounded and male’s dorsal fin is pointed and longer than that of the female.

Color

The panda cory has a nice pattern on its body. It’s a combination of dark and light stripes, that resembles giant panda coloring (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), which actually gave the name to the fish. Its body color varies from white to pale pink with three clearly seen dark spots.

The first one starts on the upper side of the head and covers its eyes, like a black spot around real panda’s eyes. The second dark spot covers the dorsal fin and the third one is where its tail begins.

Size

Corydoras panda is a relatively small species of catfish. Adult panda cory species can be up to 2 inches (5 cm) long, however, quite often they are smaller than that. Females tend to be slightly larger and fuller-bodied than males.

Their small size makes them suitable for most community aquariums, and their peaceful nature makes them great companions for other non-aggressive fish species. When kept in groups of six or more individuals, they display more natural behaviors and tend to be more active and social.

Lifespan

In general, when kept in a suitable and well-maintained aquarium environment, panda cory can live for about 3 to 5 years on average. To ensure the best possible lifespan for these fish, it’s essential to provide them with proper care and a suitable habitat. This includes maintaining good water quality, providing a balanced diet, and keeping them in groups of at least six individuals to promote their natural social behavior.

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CharacteristicDescription
Scientific NameCorydoras panda
Common NamesPanda Cory, Panda Corydoras, Panda Catfish
FamilyCallichthyidae
SubfamilyCorydoradinae
Native RegionUpper Rio Madeira basin in Brazil
SizeUp to 2.5 inches (6.5 cm)
Lifespan5-8 years (under proper care)
TemperamentPeaceful and social
Tank SizeMinimum 20 gallons for a small group
Water Temperature22°C – 26°C (72°F – 79°F)
pH Range6.0 – 7.5
Water HardnessSoft to slightly hard
Tank LevelBottom-dweller (prefer the substrate)
DietOmnivorous – Sinking pellets, frozen/live foods
BehaviorActive scavengers, enjoy “barbeling” in the substrate
Schooling BehaviorPrefer to be kept in groups of at least six individuals
CompatibilityPeaceful community fish, avoid aggressive tankmates
BreedingEgg layers, need special conditions for breeding
Unique FeaturesDistinctive black and white coloration like a panda

Difficulties in keeping

This catfish is the best choice for a beginner aquarist. It is peaceful, enduring and easy to keep and breed. Panda cory used to be a very expensive and highly demanded fish, when it first appeared on the market at the end of 1970-s. The fish is still extremely popular, though it has become far more available.

Keeping in a tank

Having free access to the water surface is a must for Corydoras catfish, since it has intestinal respiration. Which means that it can breathe with atmospheric air if necessary. This is possible due to its modified intestinal tract that ensures oxygen intake from the atmosphere.

This feature helps the fish to survive if for some reason the oxygen content in the water is low. In a thank this may show as the fish goes up to the tank water surface to get some atmospheric air. Thus, when tank water conditions get worse it is quite natural, that the number of times the fish does up to the water surface increases.

Tank size

The ideal tank size for Corydoras panda depends on the number of fish you plan to keep and their activity level. These fish are relatively small, reaching around 1.5 to 2 inches (3.8 to 5 centimeters) in length when fully grown. Since they are social and prefer to be kept in groups, it’s essential to consider the space they’ll need to exhibit their natural schooling behavior.

This fish will feel great in a tank created to be like Amazon river biotope, which is quite easy to do. Minimal tank capacity should be from 75 liters (20 gallons). This size allows them enough swimming space while providing adequate room for decoration, hiding spots, and other tank mates. However, keep in mind that a larger tank is always better if you have the space and resources.

Keep in mind that larger tanks are generally easier to maintain because they offer more stable water parameters and dilute waste more effectively. If you can provide a larger aquarium, it will be even more beneficial for the well-being of your fish.

Substrate

The choice of tank substrate for panda corys is an important consideration for their well-being and overall health. Since they are bottom-dwelling fish with sensitive barbels (whisker-like appendages) used to search for food in the substrate, the type of substrate is crucial to prevent injury and maintain their natural behavior.

The ideal substrate for panda corys is a soft and fine-grain material that won’t harm their barbels as they sift through it. Here are some suitable options:

  1. Fine Sand: A fine-grain sand substrate is one of the best choices for panda corys. The smooth texture allows them to forage without injuring their barbels. Sand also creates a natural-looking environment and supports the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
  2. Smooth Gravel: If using gravel, make sure to choose small, smooth pebbles without sharp edges. Rough gravel can damage the sensitive barbels of these fish.

Avoid using sharp or abrasive substrates, such as large gravel with jagged edges, as these can cause injuries to the delicate barbels, leading to stress and potential health issues.

Additionally, you may consider adding a layer of leaf litter or using natural materials like Indian almond leaves or Catappa leaves. These leaves provide additional hiding spots, create a more natural environment, and help in maintaining water conditions similar to their native habitat.

Put a handful of dry leaves (oak or beech leaves will do) – they will complete the natural look of the tank. Panda cory will feel comfortable in thickly planted tank, where it can hide among the plant leaves. Also you should leave empty areas in a tank with free access to the tank bottom to feed the fish.

Water parameters

These fish are generally hardy, but it’s essential to provide them with water conditions that resemble their natural habitat in the upper Rio Madeira basin in Brazil. Here are the recommended water parameters for panda corys:

  1. Temperature: 22°C to 26°C (72°F to 79°F). Keep the water within this temperature range to ensure their metabolic functions and overall activity are optimal.
  2. pH Level: 6.0 to 7.5. Panda corys prefer slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. Avoid extreme fluctuations in pH, as stability is essential for their health. To make the tank conditions closer to the natural ones (black water) you can add a small clean bag with peat for tanks into the filter and use dim tank lighting. Despite the fact that all Crydoras species in the wild inhabit in soft water, in tanks they easily adapt to almost any water hardness.
  3. Water Hardness: Soft to moderately hard water is suitable for these fish. Aim for a general hardness (GH) level between 2 and 12 dGH.
  4. Ammonia and Nitrite: Keep ammonia and nitrite levels at zero. These substances are toxic to fish, and any detectable amounts can be harmful. The thing is, that ammonia and nitrates accumulate in the near bottom layer and fishes that dwell there become the first to suffer from the contamination.
  5. Nitrate: Keep nitrate levels as low as possible, ideally below 20 ppm. Regular water changes can help control nitrate buildup.
  6. Filtration: Use a reliable and adequately sized aquarium filter to maintain water quality and remove waste and toxins. It is important to maintain proper tank conditions – to perform weekly water renew of about 30% of the total water amount. The fish is sensitive to improper care and dirty tank substrate, so it may even lose its barbels.
  7. Water Movement: Panda corys prefer slow-moving or still waters in their natural habitat. Ensure that the water flow in the aquarium is not too strong, as they are bottom-dwellers and may find strong currents stressful.

It’s essential to monitor water parameters regularly using a reliable test kit and perform routine water changes to maintain water quality. Remember to acclimate new fish to the aquarium slowly to help them adjust to any differences in water parameters.

Decor

When decorating your aquarium for Corydoras panda, it’s essential to create a setup that mimics their natural habitat while providing ample hiding spots and areas for exploration. Here are some decor ideas to consider:

  1. Driftwood: Adding pieces of driftwood to the aquarium not only provides hiding spots but also creates a natural look. Corydoras species, including Panda corys, often explore and rest on the surface of driftwood.
  2. Smooth Rocks and Caves: Smooth rocks and caves offer shelter and hiding places for the fish. Make sure the rocks don’t have sharp edges to avoid injury.
  3. Live or Artificial Plants: Both live and artificial plants can be used to decorate the aquarium. Live plants help to create a more natural environment, and they also provide additional hiding spots and contribute to water quality by absorbing nitrates. Artificial plants are a low-maintenance alternative if you prefer not to deal with live plants’ care.
  4. Indian Almond Leaves or Catappa Leaves: As mentioned earlier, adding dried Indian almond leaves or Catappa leaves to the aquarium can create a natural “leaf litter” substrate. These leaves release beneficial tannins into the water, creating a more authentic environment for the fish.
  5. Dim Lighting: Panda Corys prefer dimly-lit environments, so consider using low-intensity aquarium lighting or provide shaded areas using floating plants or other decorations.

Remember to arrange the decorations in a way that leaves enough open space for the fish to swim freely. Panda Corys are social creatures that enjoy shoaling, so keeping them in groups of at least six individuals is recommended.

Diet

Panda cory is an omnivorous fish and you won’t have any trouble with feeding it. In their natural habitat, they are bottom-dwelling scavengers, and in captivity, they exhibit similar behavior.

Here are some suitable food options for panda corys:

  1. High-quality sinking pellets or granules: These should be the staple food for your panda corys. Look for pellets specifically designed for bottom-dwelling fish. Make sure the pellets sink quickly to the bottom, where the corys can easily access them.
  2. Frozen or live foods: Offer occasional treats of frozen or live foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia, or tubifex worms. These foods are rich in nutrients and can add variety to their diet.
  3. Bottom feeder tablets: These tablets are formulated to sink quickly and provide balanced nutrition for bottom-dwelling fish like Corydoras.

It’s essential to feed your panda corys a variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs and prevent nutritional deficiencies. Offer small amounts of food multiple times a day, as they have small stomachs and benefit from frequent feeding. Ensure they consume the food within a few minutes, removing any uneaten food to prevent it from fouling the water.

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Tank mates

Panda cory is a very calm, not aggressive schooling fish that should always be in a group of its kind (not less than 3-5 species). This peaceful fish will do for most of home aquariums.

Here are some compatible tank mates for panda corys:

  1. Other Corydoras species: Keeping multiple species of Corydoras together can create a lively and diverse aquarium. Just ensure they have similar water parameters and are not overly competitive for food.
  2. Peaceful community fish: Many peaceful community fish can coexist harmoniously with panda corys. Some suitable options include guppy, platy, honey gourami and dwarf gourami, betta, various kinds of peaceful catfish and others.
  3. Dwarf shrimp: Non-aggressive dwarf shrimp, such as cherry shrimp or amano shrimp, can cohabitate with panda corys without any issues.
  4. Peaceful freshwater snails: Certain snail species, such as nerite snails or mystery snails, can also be added to the tank.

The fish you definitely shouldn’t keep together with cory is all kinds of aggressive fishes like oscar, green terror, jaguar cichlid.

Gender differences: male vs female

Distinguishing between male and female Corydoras panda can be somewhat challenging, as they do not have significant external differences like some other fish species. However, there are a few subtle characteristics that can sometimes help in determining their sex:

  1. Size: In some cases, female may appear slightly larger and more robust than males, especially when they are carrying eggs.
  2. Body Shape: Females might have a slightly rounder and broader body shape, especially when compared to the more streamlined appearance of males. This difference can be subtle, and it may not be reliable as the sole method of sexing these fish.
  3. Venting: Venting is the process of looking at the genital area of the fish to determine their sex. In female Corydoras, the genital opening is generally larger and more rounded, while in males, it appears smaller and more pointed. This method requires experience and is often more accurate when the fish are mature and in breeding condition.

It’s important to note that these differences can be challenging to spot, especially in young or immature individuals. Additionally, sexual dimorphism (visible differences between males and females) is not as pronounced in Corydoras species as it is in some other fish.

If you want to have a better chance of identifying the sex of your panda corys, consider observing their behavior during breeding season. Females may appear rounder as they carry eggs, and males might exhibit more courting and chasing behaviors during this time.

Breeding

You will need a tank of 30-40 liters capacity with dim lighting for breeding. But you can make the place where the female will lay eggs brightly lightened. As a rule this is a tank wall or plants with wide leaves.

Tank water parameters for spawning should be the following: temperature 20 – 26°C, hardness 4-15°, pH 6.0-7.2. Pay attention to aeration, filtration and water renew.

The latter should be performed every day. It should be 30-50% of the total tank volume, the water should be cool. This is done to make the water temperature in the tank 1-3 °C lower.

Another good spawning trigger is atmospheric pressure decrease. It is desirable to keep the males and females separately for a week. Put 1 panda cory female and 2 males into the tank. The males start haunting the female all over the tank. One of the males clasps the female over so that its urogenital opening is near its mouth.

The panda cory takes the milt into her mouth and greases the substrate with it. Spawning occurs the next morning. In average the female lays about 70 milky-yellow eggs about 1-2 mm in diameter. Remove the fishes from the tank after the spawning is over. The egg stage lasts for 4-6 days.

Juveniles start to swim and feed the very next day after hatching. You should start feeding them with brine shrimp nauplii, small zooplankton, micro sized food.

When panda cory breeding you may either remove the couple from the spawning tank or remove the eggs into the tank for incubation. At that the latter must contain the same water as the spawning tank.

Wherever you place the tank it’s better to put a few drops of methylene blue into the water to prevent fungi growth. This is usually a preventive measure. Some aqua hobbyists use another efficient way – some species of freshwater shrimps remove fungi spores from the healthy eggs.

Cherry shrimps will do this task perfectly well. They will eat the infected eggs, but leave the healthy ones safe and sound.