How To Care For Your New Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus): Full Care Guide

It may be true that Banjo Catfish, scientifically known as Bunocephalus Coracoideus, aren’t the first species of fish that comes to mind as an aquarist for keeping at home in your tank.

But it’s certainly an intriguing choice of species that will get people looking at your tank and asking curious questions about it!

How To Care For Your New Banjo Catfish (Bunocephalus) Full Care Guide

They’re extremely unusual and unique looking fish, and somewhat resemble a banjo, hence their name.

In Latin America they’re actually also referred to as Guitarritas, which suggests that their bodies resemble a guitar – which is, of course, a similar shape to a banjo!

They’re also very interesting because they’re quite unlike other species of catfish, as they’re smaller than most – which makes them ideal to keep at home in captivity in a tank – and they don’t have a locking mechanism on their dorsal spine like the majority of other catfish have. 

These fish, although not overly popular amongst aquarists at the moment, are bound to grow in popularity over the coming years in the United States. So, if you’re looking to get one, here’s an expert guide on how to care for your new banjo catfish.


Banjo Catfish originate from South America and, in the wild, they naturally live in the Amazon River basin where they usually inhabit lakes, ponds, creeks and rainforest streams.

They’re also found in bodies of water in Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. 

The reason they dwell in these types of waters is due to the fact they all have a slow flow of water, which is exactly what these fish want. 

Their homes will also have loose soil and a lot of rubbish on the substrate, such as branches, snags and leaves, which they love to dig themselves into and hide in because they tend to be solitary fish – although they might school with any relatives they happen to have around them. 


As mentioned above, Banjo Catfish tend to be solitary fish and like to hide under things, which means they’re quite shy and, if you were to put them in your tank, you’d sometimes find it hard to actually see where they are.

And, they’re especially shy when they’ve only just entered their new tank environment – it might take them a while to become confident and adjust to their new surroundings. 

Because of their reservedness and calmness, they’ll try to avoid other fish at all costs and won’t get into fights. Even when it comes to food, they’ll allow all the other fish to eat before them without trying to insert themselves into the feeding frenzy.

Not getting in on the food action isn’t helped either by the fact that they’re actually a nocturnal species of fish, so they might lose out to other fish if you try to feed them during the day and then go hungry the entire night.

They do become a bit more active in the evening or night, especially when they feel like it’s time to search for food. To do this, they’ll move throughout the bottom of the tank to try and detect things that they can eat. 


Banjo Catfish are fairly small, only growing up to around six inches long as fully grown adults. This makes them one of the smallest species of Catfish to exist, but it also means they’re a good size to fit in a tank.

Their bodies are quite flat and they extend into a tail which is cone shaped in their dorsal region. As mentioned earlier in this article, they don’t have a locking mechanism on their dorsal spine.

The reason they have such flat bodies is because they’ve evolved that way so they can easily hide under things on the bottom of the water without being seen by predators.

Another evolutionary factor that has given them a good ability to hide and blend in with other objects is their khaki color.

They have dark patches on top of a sandy pigment, which allows them to look a lot like tree bark, so it helps them appear at one with the fallen leaves on the substrate of the bodies of water which they live in.

They also have uneven and unsmooth skin, which once again aids their ability to hide and defend themselves. In fact, their skin is so tough that even humans don’t tend to attempt to catch and eat this species of catfish! 

Born without a fatty fin, they only have pectoral fins and tail fins; their pectoral fins have a sharp spine on the first ray, and their tail fins are very long. They also have eyes and mouths that are so small, you can barely even see them.


As natural omnivores, Banjo Catfish aren’t fussy about what they eat. In the wild, they’ve been noted to prey on invertebrates for food, such as nymphs, insect larvae, small worms, and certain types of fully grown aquatic and terrestrial insects.

Because they always keep to the bottom of the water, they’ll feed on these animals when they drop down to the bottom of whatever body of water they’re inhabiting, rather than coming to the surface to catch them. 

When it comes to feeding these fish in the tank, it’s best to offer them a good variety of small live or frozen foods, such as bloodworms, tubifex, black and white mosquito larvae, brine shrimp and daphnia. 

You can also feed them fish flakes and pellets, but make sure they’re the kind that will sink all the way to the bottom, otherwise they’re unlikely to come up from the bottom to eat them, particularly if you’re also keeping other fish in the same tank.

Remember to feed them in the evening or at night as they’re nocturnal and won’t eat during the day.

You don’t want them missing out on meal time and going hungry without you ever knowing about it, as it will obviously lead to ill health and potentially be fatal if they’re eating nothing at all for prolonged periods of time.


Banjo Catfish are very flexible and adaptable creatures when it comes to what type of water conditions they can live in.

This will make life easier for you as you don’t have to stress so much or put as much effort into making sure the water parameters in the tank are consistently perfect for them.

Obviously don’t allow the water to go to extremes, such as freezing cold or boiling hot, but you can definitely allow for a certain amount of leeway. 

Having said that, they do of course have a natural habitat with specific water conditions , so setting up their tank to those parameters is a good place to start.

These involve a water temperature of 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, a pH level of 6.0 to 8.0, and a water hardness of 5 to 19 dGH. 

The ideal tank size for them is around 25 gallons per fish you decide to get. Even though they’re small, they need a tank this big simply because they require you to add lots of hiding spaces within the tank, which will take up quite a lot of room. 


In captivity, you can breed Banjo Catfish in pairs, although in the wild they often breed in groups.

But, even though it’s possible to breed them in a tank, it’s not recommended due to the fact that they lay thousands of eggs at a single time – which is simply far too many fry to deal with! 

Added to this issue, it’s usual for some of the parents to eat either the eggs or the fry once they’ve hatched, so if you do decide to breed them, you’ll need to remove the eggs from the tank. 


If you want to create a community of fish alongside your Banjo Catfish, it’s best to go for other non-aggressive and small fish to become their tankmates, such as bettas, barbels or danios. 

Although they can be perfectly comfortable being integrated in a community tank with different species, they’re probably best kept either on their own or in small schools of their own kind, as you’ll probably barely ever see them if they’re kept with other fish due to their shyness.

Final Thoughts

Banjo Catfish are an extremely unique and unusual species of catfish, which makes them very interesting to own and allows for a wonderful talking point when you have visitors.

They’re very low maintenance fish to keep due to their natural shyness and their adaptability to a range of different water conditions – as long as they have plenty of places to hide, they’ll be perfectly happy in the tank that you provide for them.

We hope this guide has given you all of the information you need to understand and care for your new Banjo Catfish!

Bethany Young

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