Ornamental catfish are popular choices for freshwater aquariums, with one of the most impressive examples being the brilliant black and yellow bumblebee catfish. These shy little bottom dwellers do well in planted communities and are easy to care for, so check out our full guide to see if the bumblebee is a good fit for your tank.
Quick Facts About Bumblebee Catfish
- Common (species) name: South American bumblebee catfish
- Family: Pseudopimelodus
- Origin: Mainly Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil
- Diet and feeding: Omnivore scavenger; will consume food left behind by other fish
- Maximum size: up to 3.5 inches long
- Care level: Easy
- Activity: Avoid bright lights and is mainly nocturnal.
- Temperament: Peaceful and shy
- Tank Level: Bottom Dweller
- Minimum tank size: 20 gallons; add 10 gallons per catfish.
- Temperature Range: 70 to 77°F
- Water hardness: Soft water; 8 to 12 dGH
- pH range: 6.5 to 7.5
- Filtration/Flow Rate: Prefers well filtered, oxygenated water with a steady flow of water along the bottom of the tank.
- Brood: Egg layer; very difficult to breed in captivity
- Compatibility: Compatible with a wide range of peaceful community fish, but may consume smaller fish, invertebrates and fingerlings.
Is it ok for planted tanks?
Yes, ideal for tanks with live plants, especially floating species.
What are bumblebee catfish?
There are several species sold in the aquarium trade under the term «bumblebee catfish,» but the South American bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi) is the smallest and friendliest of the bunch. These shy fish are ideal for tanks of 20 gallons or more, so let’s take a detailed look at their natural history and care requirements!
Natural history and habitat
Of the three bumblebee species typically seen in the US aquatic trade, the smallest is the South American Bumblebee Catfish (SABC). They are frequently taken as juveniles from the fast-flowing rivers and streams along the Río Turmero basin in Venezuela, although their range also extends to Colombia and northern Brazil:
- These trash bottom dwellers are omnivorous, readily consuming both plants and other animals, including insects and immature fish fry.
- They are shy and mostly nocturnal (active at night).
- They spend daylight hours hidden in the substrate or among rocks and driftwood along the bottom of streams.
The bumblebee catfish was first described in the 19th century, and since then more than 50 species have been identified in northern South America. Other similar but unrelated «bumblebee» fish are found in Africa and parts of Asia as well. These larger predatory species have dramatically different requirements from the SABC.
appearance and size
Bumblebee catfish are named for their beautiful markings, as these fish have a dark brown to black foam with alternating, irregular markings of yellow and brown/black. running across their bodies and tail. They vary from a bright golden yellow to an orange-brown hue, and these markings act as camouflage in nature.
How big is bumblebee catfish? It depends, as the Asian and giant varieties can reach more than twice the size of the peaceful South American species. SABCs are small catfish that average around 3 inches in length at maturity and rarely exceed 3.5 inches from snout to tail:
- They have a typical catfish appearance with a wide, prominent mouth surrounded by sensitive barbels, a flat abdomen, well-developed pectoral and dorsal spines, and a slightly forked caudal (tail) fin.
- They use their widely spread ventral fins as hands to maneuver along the bottom of the tank and to burrow into the substrate.
- Juvenile SABCs can be distinguished from the other two species by the square-shaped brown/black patch on their caudal peduncle (base of tail).
- Asian (Pseudomystus siamensis) and Giant Bumblebee Catfish (Pseudopimelodus bufonius) can grow to 6 and 10 inches respectively, but these predatory fish do not perform as well as SABCs in peaceful communities.
With proper care, the average bumblebee catfish lifespan is around 5 years. These fish are rarely, if ever, bred in captivity, and are usually collected from wild populations as juveniles before being sold to the aquarium trade.
behavior and temperament
The SABC is a shy bottom dweller that generally works well with other peaceful community fish of similar size. SABCs are not predatory and do not typically attack other fish, unlike the larger and more aggressive Asian and Giant varieties. But they are catfish and will eat anything (including other fish) that can fit inside their wide mouths.
They are naturally nocturnal and most active when your aquarium lights are off. During the day they prefer to hide in the substrate and under decoration, although they may explore shaded areas of your tank for food. You can even train your SABCs to go out for treats during the day!
You can keep a solo SABC in your community tank, but these fish also get along with each other as long as they have enough room to poke around in different areas. While I have heard reports of aggressive bumblebees feasting on their tank mates, these fish are usually Asian or giant species that are incorrectly sold as SABCs.
How to Care for Your Bumblebee Catfish
The good news is that SABCs are generally hardy, undemanding, and easy to care for as long as a few key requirements are met. Whether you’re setting up a new tank or adding to your existing community, here are the details on what you’ll need to keep your catfish happy and healthy.
Tank Configuration and Habitat Requirements
What type of tank setup is ideal for these little catfish? I prefer to go with a design that mimics their natural environment, but these fish are pretty flexible overall when it comes to their equipment and décor. Let’s take a look at the habitat and water preferences of SABCs:
You’ll need a minimum of 20 gallons of tank space for a single catfish, and it’s generally a good idea to leave an additional 10 or so gallons of space per SABC. Since they are bottom dwellers, SABCs prefer longer tanks over tall or portrait-style aquariums. A 55 gallon tank is the ideal size for a group of three SABCs in a mixed community.
SABCs spend most of their time burrowing and burrowing into their substrate, so it’s best to choose natural soils, sands or fine gravels with no rough or jagged edges. Softer substrates are less likely to harm your fish than coarser, artificially colored aquarium gravel products.
Water and temperature parameters
Bumblebee catfish tolerate water temperatures of 70 to 77°F. Like most aquarium species, SABCs don’t like it when things change quickly, so using a heater to maintain a consistent temperature is the way to go. They prefer soft water with a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and around 8 to 12 degrees of general hardness.
Filtration, aeration and lighting
Catfish need very clean, well-oxygenated water to thrive, so having a robust filtration system is ideal, although they are not picky about the type of filter you choose. It is best to ensure adequate oxygenation by using an air stone and pump in conjunction with your filter to prevent the development of hypoxic «dead zones» in your tank.
SABC prefer dim lighting and actively avoid areas of their tank that are well lit. If you want your catfish to be active during the day, you will need to train them with food and provide areas that are shaded by plants or decorations. Adding a moonlight is a great way to observe their natural behavior at night !
Plants and Decorations
You have many options when it comes to decorating your catfish tank, but the key to having happy SABCs is to provide plenty of rocks or driftwood to hide between. Catfish get very stressed if they can’t hide and sleep safely during the day. You can also use live or plastic plants or other decorations to create shaded areas in your tank.
Catfish are sensitive to ammonia and other aquarium waste products, so it is important that you perform regular water changes to prevent the buildup of these toxins in your tank. Additionally, you’ll want to keep your filtration system clean and replace the filter media on time to keep your water sparkling fresh.
SABCs are omnivores and require a diet. balanced between plant foods and protein. As scavengers, they will happily feast on leftover food scraps from the rest of the community, but they are also shy about eating. They may come for special treats like live brine shrimp (a big favorite), but they prefer to scavenge under the cover of darkness.
Be sure to take your other community diets into account when feeding your catfish and try to supplement with the right treats. For example, if you’re feeding your community high-protein flake foods, offer your SABCs a mixed diet of sinking algae wafers and spirulina granules, with fresh blanched vegetable treats.
Obesity can be a problem with eating machines so while you can use high value treats like brine shrimp, bloodworms, Daphnia or shrimp eggs to train your catfish to come out in shaded areas during the day, do not feed them too often ! It’s best to feed them once a night and offer live treats no more than a few times a week.
The best tankmates for bumblebee catfish are generally peaceful community fish of similar size. Avoid keeping SABC with semi-aggressive and aggressive species such as Tiger Barbs, Oscars, or Asian or Giant Bumblebees. You have a wide range of options here, but some of the best tank mates include:
- Bottom dwellers such as Corydoras species and loaches
- Algae eaters such as Plecostomus bristlenose
- Pacific freshwater sharks like the rainbow shark
- Rainbow Fish
- dwarf gouramis
- Life carriers like mollies, platys, and swordtails
While SABCs are not predatory catfish, they are opportunistic feeders, eating anything that will fit inside their mouths. You should avoid keeping them with smaller fish like neon tetras or invertebrates like shrimp and snails. If your catfish starts attacking your community, it probably isn’t a SABC and is mislabeled at the store.
It is very difficult to breed SABC in captivity. In fact, I have never seen a documented case of captive-bred bumblebee catfish for sale anywhere in the US. Feeding a high-protein diet followed by an increase in water temperature can induce your fish to spawn if you have a mixed gender tank, but this is unlikely to happen in the typical home aquarium.
Like all aquatic species, catfish are susceptible to waterborne bacteria, viral and fungal infections, especially if they are under extreme or prolonged stress. But SABCs are not prone to many specific health problems or diseases. If you keep the water temperature and other parameters consistent, feed them a balanced and varied diet, and avoid overfeeding them, chances are good that you will have your catfish for years to come.
Bumblebee Catfish Tank Setup: List of Equipment and Supplies
For an appropriate tank for a community with 1 of these beautiful and shy catfish, you will need:
- Breeding tank 20 to 30 gallons long (or larger) and cap/lid.
- Filtration system and pump / air stone.
- Aquarium heater.
- Soft aquatic soil, sand or fine gravel substrate.
- Decoration such as large and small rocks, driftwood, branches, and live or plastic plants.
- A bottle of water conditioner.
To feed your catfish, you will need:
- Commercial sinking algae wafers and spirulina pellets.
- Freshly blanched vegetables like peas, cucumbers, zucchini, and spinach.
- Live/frozen/dried foods to treat such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, or Daphnia eggs.
Optional equipment includes:
- Moonlight or blue light strip for night viewing.
The SABC is a beautiful and fun little catfish, especially if you look at it in the moonlight! What do you think of Bumblebee catfish? Sound like a good choice for your next aquarium? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so leave a comment below or join us on social media.