Banjo Catfish Tank Size and Care

The banjo catfish is a fascinating freshwater species that has captured the hearts of aquarium enthusiasts worldwide. Their unique banjo shape and peaceful demeanor make them popular for community tanks. But there’s more to keeping these fish than just dropping them in a tank. To help your banjo catfish thrive, you must understand their needs regarding tank size, water parameters, and mates. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know about successfully keeping banjo catfish.

What Makes Banjo Catfish Unique?

Banjo catfish stand out for their distinctive body shape. As their name suggests, their rounded profile and flat underside give them the appearance of a banjo or guitar. Coloring consists of earthy tones like brown, black, orange, and tan arranged in splotchy patterns across their bodies. This camouflage allows them to blend into aquatic surroundings in the wild.

In addition to looks, banjo catfish also have some unique behaviors and traits:

  • Nocturnal – They are most active at dawn and dusk. During the day, they’ll likely be resting or hiding.
  • Peaceful – Banjo catfish are not aggressive. They thrive in community settings.
  • Bottom Dwellers – They spend most of their time near the substrate, not midwater. Strong whiskers help them navigate.
  • Burrowers – Banjo catfish will tunnel into the substrate, especially when sleeping. Fine gravel or sand suits this behavior best.

Understanding these quirks will help you better care for banjo catfish. Now let’s look at some key facts about this species.

Scientific Overview

  • Scientific Name: Bunocephalus coracoideus
  • Origin: South America – Found in Brazil, Peru, Bolivia, and Uruguay
  • Average Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Average Lifespan: 10-12 years with proper care
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Water Conditions: Tropical freshwater, pH 6.0-8.0, 75-82°F
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Understanding Banjo Catfish Size

Banjo catfish are a manageable size for home aquariums. Adults reach an average length of 5-6 inches. Both males and females achieve similar sizes as adults. Females may appear slightly plumper when viewed from above or the side.

These fish exhibit gradual growth. You can expect them to reach the following benchmarks:

  • 3 inches by 6 months
  • 4 inches by 12 months
  • Full grown at 18-24 months

Proper nutrition and tank conditions will support your banjo catfish in reaching its maximum size potential. Avoid stunting growth by providing adequate swimming room.

Now that you understand how big banjo catfish get, let’s explore appropriate tank sizes for these fish.

Tank Size Requirements

Banjo catfish need a spacious tank to accommodate their active bottom-dwelling lifestyle. Here are some general guidelines for tank sizes:

  • Minimum Tank Size: 29 gallons for 1 banjo catfish
  • For Each Additional Banjo Catfish, Add: 10 gallons

For example:

  • 1 Banjo Catfish: 29 gallon tank
  • 2 Banjo Catfish: 39 gallon tank
  • 3 Banjo Catfish: 49 gallon tank

Ideally, keep banjo catfish in a tank at least 36 inches long. This gives them enough room to swim around and exhibit natural behaviors.

In addition to length, also make sure the tank has sufficient width and height. Banjo catfish need horizontal swimming space. Aim for at least 18 inches wide. For height, 18-24 inches allows room for tank décor and filtering equipment.

For substrate, use fine gravel or sand at least 2 inches deep. Banjo catfish will sift through and burrow into the substrate. Sharp gravel can damage their whiskers and underside.

By providing an adequately sized tank, you allow banjo catfish to thrive. Next, let’s explore their peaceful temperament.

Banjo Catfish Behavior: Are They Aggressive?

Banjo catfish are not aggressive fish. They have a very peaceful, community-friendly disposition. Some key behavior traits of banjo catfish include:

  • Not Territorial – They won’t claim parts of the tank or fight over space.
  • No Fin Nipping – You won’t have to worry about nipped fins or injuries to other fish.
  • Peaceful Toward Own Species – Multiple banjo catfish will coexist harmoniously together.
  • Shy – Easily stressed by commotion. Not compatible with rowdy fish.
  • Nocturnal – Banjo catfish are most active at night and sleep during the day.
  • Bottom Dwellers – They spend most of their time near the substrate, not midwater.

This calm temperament makes banjo catfish an excellent choice for community aquariums. Avoid overly aggressive species that could pester or nip at banjo catfish while resting on the bottom when selecting tank mates.

Ideal Tank Mates for Banjo Catfish

When stocking a community tank with banjo catfish, choose tank mates with the same peaceful temperament and water parameter needs. Some top options include:

Bottom Dwellers

  • Corydoras Catfish – Get along well with banjo catfish. Provide action along the substrate.
  • Plecostomus – Help keep tank clean. Peaceful bottom feeders.
  • Loaches – Entertaining burrowers that won’t hassle banjo catfish.

Mid-Level Swimmers

  • Small Tetras – Active schooling fish like neon tetras. Add movement and color.
  • Hatchetfish – Unique shape. Peaceful mid-tank dwellers.
  • Guppies – Bright colors and relatively calm. Avoid fin nippers.

Surface Dwellers

  • Dwarf Gourami – Colorful labyrinth fish. Get along with most community species.

Avoid aggressive fish like cichlids, oscars, and Jack Dempsey’s. Also, refrain from large plecos that could bully banjo catfish when seeking food or shelter.

Your banjo catfish will feel comfortable coming out of hiding with the right tank mates.

Temperature and Water Parameters

Recreating their natural environment will help banjo catfish stay healthy and active in your aquarium. Here are their ideal water conditions:

  • Temperature Range: 75-82°F
  • pH Levels: 6.0-8.0
  • Water Hardness: 15-20 dGH

A submersible aquarium heater is crucial for maintaining water temperature in the optimal 75-82° range. Banjo catfish originate from tropical climates in South America. Warm water speeds up their metabolism and digestive process.

Use a liquid pH testing kit to monitor levels. Try to maintain a slightly acidic pH between 6.5-7.5, which mimics their natural environments. Add driftwood, peat, or almond leaves to naturally lower pH.

For water hardness, levels of 15-20 dGH work well. You can increase hardness using mineral substrates, supplements, or adding aragonite sand. Soft water below 5 dGH can lead to electrolyte deficiencies.

Sticking within these parameters will keep your banjo catfish active and healthy.

Feeding and Diet

Banjo catfish are omnivores that will eat a variety of foods in captivity. Feed them a balanced diet using:

  • Protein-Rich Live/Frozen Foods: Bloodworms, brine shrimp, daphnia
  • Meaty Freeze-Dried Options: Krill, shrimp, plankton
  • Sinking Catfish Pellets/Wafers: Look for high quality ingredients
  • Blanched Vegetables: Zucchini, spinach, cucumber
  • Supplements: Algae wafers, spirulina

Feed them daily in the evening when they naturally become active. Use sinking foods they can easily find and consume from the tank bottom. If any food remains after a few minutes, remove it to avoid spoilage.

Once or twice per week, treat live or frozen foods like bloodworms. This provides enrichment and brings out their natural hunting behaviors.

Banjo catfish have small mouths and will appreciate foods broken up into bite-sized pieces. Avoid overfeeding, as excess uneaten foods can foul water quality.

Breeding Banjo Catfish

Breeding banjo catfish in a home aquarium can be challenging. They have only been successfully spawned in captivity by experienced breeders. Here is an overview of their breeding process and requirements:

  • Sexual Maturity: 4 inches long, approximately 12-18 months old
  • Spawning Season: Summer months when water is around 80°F
  • Mating Ritual: No noticeable courtship behaviors. Spawning happens naturally.
  • Spawning Location: Among plant roots, decor, substrate. No nest is built.
  • Fertilization: External – Eggs scattered and fertilized outside of body.
  • Egg Appearance: Small, adhesive eggs. Approximately 1.5 mm diameter. Yellowish in color.
  • Hatching Time: 4-5 days at optimal 80°F water temperature

To encourage breeding, simulate seasonal triggers in their environment:

  • Simulate Wet/Dry Seasons: Vary water parameters to imitate natural habitat fluctuations.
  • Increase Temperature: Slowly raise water temperature to around 80°F to induce spawning season.
  • Increase Water Changes: Frequent water changes and optimal water quality triggers spawning.
  • Live Foods: Increase feedings of live foods like bloodworms and brine shrimp.

Remove eggs to a separate rearing tank, as parents may eat their eggs. Raising the fry can also be challenging due to their small size. Success is limited for beginner aquarists.

Cost and Availability

Banjo catfish have a moderate price tag due to their unique appearance and peaceful nature:

  • Average Price Range: $7 – $15 per fish
  • Common Size Seen: Juveniles around 2 inches long.
  • Availability: Not the most common catfish seen in stores. You may need to order online or call local stores ahead.

Their cost and availability lands in the middle range. You may pay more than a common pleco or cory catfish, but they aren’t as pricey as rare plecos and other exotic catfish.

Check with specialty aquarium stores or order online to find healthy banjo catfish. Purchase juveniles around 2 inches long for best results.

FAQs and Common Concerns

Can banjo catfish live alone?

While banjo catfish can live alone, they are much more comfortable and active when kept in groups. Aim for at least 3-4 banjo catfish to allow natural schooling and interactions.

Do banjo catfish need hiding places?

Yes, provide plenty of caves, tunnels, and plants. They need shelter during the day when resting and sleeping. Without enough hiding spots, they may become stressed.

Are banjo catfish jumpers?

Banjo catfish are not notorious jumpers. However, make sure to keep the tank covered. They can jump if spooked or water conditions decline.

How often do you feed banjo catfish?

Feed them small meals once daily, preferably in the evening when they are most active. Avoid daytime feedings when they are resting.

Can you keep banjo catfish with African cichlids?

No, African cichlids are too aggressive. They bully, bug, and nip slower-moving banjo catfish, especially during feeding.


With their guitar-shaped bodies and peaceful personalities, it’s easy to see why banjo catfish have become aquarium favorites. You can keep these unique fish happy and healthy by choosing an adequately sized tank, optimal water conditions, and compatible tank mates. Follow this guide to give your banjo catfish everything they need to thrive. Soon, you’ll have a lively, engaging banjo catfish aquarium that stands out!