Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus coracoideus): Ultimate Care Guide

Are you looking for an interesting new addition to your aquarium?  If so, you may want to consider the Banjo Catfish!  With its cool appearance and personality, this unique fish is sure to add excitement and intrigue to any tank.  They originate from South America and can be found in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia. They inhabit streams, ponds, and small lakes.  All places have slow water flow.  The fish often resembles tree bark with a wide flat head and has a tan-colored, scaleless body covered in spikes and spines like warts. 

Their heads are quite bumpy, which is what Bunocephalus refers to.  There are 43 different species of this fish!  Humans do not usually consume them due to their keratinized thick skin.  In this care guide, we’ll provide everything you need to know about keeping your freshwater Banjo Catfish healthy and happy, from diet to habitat.  So read on for all the information you need before adding one of these fascinating creatures to your aquarium!  They are perfect beginner fish!

Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus coracoideus)
Bunocephalus coracoideus (Tajapuru, Brazil, 22 August 1865). Ernst Mayr Library. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Banjo Catfish Facts

  • As the name implies, this catfish resembles a banjo or a guitar!
  • Other names the catfish goes by are Frying Pan Fish, BiColor Banjo Catfish, Two Colored Banjo Catfish, Burrowing Catfish, Guitarrito, and many more.
  • They are often mistaken as dead because of their sedentary nature, and they move so little.
  • After spawning, they incubate the eggs by laying on them like a chicken!
  • They are one of the smallest varieties of catfish in the world.
  • The Banjo Catfish will try to pinch you if you pick it up.
  • Their eyes and mouth are so small it is hard to locate them.
  • They are missing the locking mechanism on their dorsal spine that most catfish have.

Banjo Catfish Care

The ideal temperature is 75 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

The ideal water pH for Banjo Catfish is 6.0 – 8.0.

The ideal water hardness for Banjo Catfish is 5 – 19 dGH.  Please note this was hard to verify.  There are a lot of ranges on what the water hardness should be.  It appears that the Banjo Catfish is so hardy and resilient that the water hardness does not affect them much.  They can adapt to different water chemistries as long as they are not extreme.

Banjo Catfish Size

The average size of the Banjo Catfish is about 6 inches (15 cm).

Tank Size

Though they don’t take up much room, they require a minimum tank size of 25 gallons.  They need ample space to hide.  Making the tank similar to their natural environment ensures a happy fish.

Food & Diet

The Banjo Catfish are omnivores.  They favor live worms at mealtime, but they are not very picky.  Most of their diet should be meaty.  In order of importance, other options are pellets, live food, frozen food, and vegetables.  Flake food should only be given occasionally.  It is important that their food sink to the bottom of the tank.  Banjo Catfish do not eat algae.

Tank Setup

Good aquarium filtration with slow to moderate water flow is good for the Banjo Catfish.  The tank will require frequent partial water changes to minimize nitrogenous waste.  Change 20% of the water a week, cleaning the sand.  A good filtration system provides constant filtration and aeration.

They do not need very much in terms of aquarium lighting.  In fact, low or dimmed lighting is best.  They are nocturnal and will feed at night.  They are shy and won’t come out if the lights are on.  It’s a good idea to feed them right before you go to bed at night so that the lights will not bother them.

Sand is a good option for a substrate for the Banjo Catfish because they like to burrow.  Sand will be most like their natural habitat.  The sand should be 2 – 3 inches deep for the best results.

You must keep an eye on your plants if you choose to have a few.  They may tear up the plants to make a breeding bed or uproot them when they bury themselves in the sandy substrate.  They love having driftwood and rocky caves to hide in, which imitate their natural environment.  Most of their tank should be pretty sparse.


They breed in packs in the wild and pairs in captivity. Be aware that they produce thousands of eggs at a time, so breeding in an aquarium may not be desirable. If they lay eggs, they should be removed from the tank since some adults will eat the eggs or the hatched fry. The eggs will hatch in only 3 days. The females grow larger and plumper (have a rounded belly); if you are curious if you have a female.


They are not susceptible to any one specific disease.  They are more prone to ammonia poisoning because they stay on the bottom of the tank, where ammonia is more concentrated.  Regularly siphoning the sand to clean up the ammonia pockets is important.  If they do contract a disease, there are certain medications they can have because they are scaleless.  These include Pimafix or Permafix.  They should not be treated with potassium permanganate or copper-based medications.

Even though they are hardy and adapt well to most water conditions, you should check on them to ensure they are healthy.  Pay attention to their fins and general coloring to see any signs of disease or stress.

Tank Mates

Banjo Catfish are not aggressive fish. In fact, they are very peaceful fish. While they are not predatory fish, they will go after smaller invertebrates such as earthworms, shrimp, snails, and crabs.  Anything that is slow-moving.  They will eat their fry if they happen to breed successfully, so the fry should be removed from the tank ASAP.

Compatible Tank Mates for Banjo Catfish

They are compatible with all sizes of fish.  If the other fish doesn’t see them as prey, they will be safe.  Some good tank mate options are Tetras, Pencilfish, Hatchetfish, Corydoras, and Cichlids.  Neon Tetras are too small, so opt for the larger ones.

Incompatible Tank Mates for Banjo Catfish

Any larger, aggressive fish that would see them as prey.  The only defense the Banjo Catfish have is their camouflage.

Banjo Catfish and Shrimp 

Banjo Catfish and Shrimp are not compatible as the Banjo Catfish like to eat shrimp.

Banjo Catfish and Cichlid

Banjo Catfish and Dwarf Cichlids do well together because of their smaller size.  If you choose to house your Banjo Catfish with other cichlids like the African Cichlids, here are some things to consider.  In order to reduce aggression, make sure there are plenty of hiding spots for the catfish.  Also, ensure the cichlids are well-fed so they do not have to compete for food.

It is a good idea to check on your Banjo Catfish periodically to ensure the other fish have not been nipping at or biting them.  Since they spend a lot of their time sedentary and buried, this can happen, even with tank mates that appear to be friendly to them.  Also, ensure they have enough to eat if they have fast swimming tank mates.  Since they are scavengers, all the food can be eaten before it reaches the bottom of the tank.

Where Can I Find Banjo Catfish For Sale?

Banjo Catfish are growing in popularity due to their very odd appearance.  You can find them in almost any pet store, whether a national chain or a locally owned store.  It is probably a good idea to call ahead to see if they are in stock so you don’t waste a trip.  Their price is very reasonable and averages from $5 – $15.

Banjo Catfish vs. Eel Tailed Banjo Catfish

Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus coracoideus) and Eel Tailed Banjo Catfish (Platystacus cotylephorus) are similar in that they are both nocturnal sedentary bottom dwellers. They like to bury in sand, eat the same things, like to hide, and prefer dim lighting.  Their differences are the Eel Tailed Banjo Catfish is bigger by 2 inches, can tolerate brackish waters, prefers cooler water, can produce a bark-like sound, and they have a different breeding practice.

The Banjo Catfish is an interesting fish that can make a great addition to any tank.  We hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of the world of Banjo Catfish!  They are listed as “Least Concern” on the endangered species list, so you can be comfortable acquiring this fish.  They are excellent in a community tank and help keep the bottom of the tank clean.  If you are considering adding this species of catfish, we hope the information in this post has helped you better understand how to care for them and what their needs will be.  Have fun with your new Banjo Catfish!

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