Banjo Catfish 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates & More

Banjo Catfish is the popular name for multiple species of fish contained in the family Aspredinidae. 

This famous name ‘Banjo’ derives from its appearance when viewed above; the shape resembles the musical instrument of the same name. 

These species are distributed throughout practically the entire tropical region of South America.

Although Banjo Catfish contain different genera, the species have similar biological characteristics, needs, and management in captivity.

In this article, all issues involving the Aspredinidae family and their maintenance in aquariums will be addressed and explained.

Species Summary

Distributed over a wide area of South America, the Banjo Catfish are different species of catfish that share the same striking visual feature, contained within the family Aspredinidae. 

The species occur in very different habitats, from clear-water mangroves with a muddy bottom, such as Platystacus cotylephorus, to areas of flooded forest and streams of calm waters with leaf litter on the substrate such as Bunocephalus.

Most of the banjo catfish species available are medium-sized. Most of them do not need large volume aquariums, making this fish very popular among aquarists, especially the unsuspecting, who obtain them without knowing about their carnivorous habit – they love to eat school fish. 

It is a sought-after fish among catfish keepers, with some species being rare and highly demanded in the international market, particularly species from Uruguay and Southeast Brazil. 

The striking feature of the species is its flat appearance, suitable for hiding by sinking into the substrate; this shape resembles a banjo or guitar, which frequently catches the attention of an observer.

It’s a common species of catfish in specialty aquarium stores worldwide, has been popular in the hobby for years, and is a great fish species for beginners.

In general, Banjo Catfish are resistant fish. Therefore, these catfish are an excellent choice for aquarists looking for something different in their tank. 

Most of the species available are pretty shy and prefer aquariums with low lighting, in addition to a soft substrate or with many leaves to spend their time lurking hidden.

Care Guide

Like other catfish, the Banjo Catfish is a solitary species. Depending on the species of banjo, they can also live in community aquariums with other fish without problems. 

The Banjo Catfish is a lovely fish when well taken care of, even if its owner does not often see it walking around the aquarium. 

They will show their best colors and be seen more frequently when they receive a balanced diet and are in a suitable aquarium.

Despite being sensitive to sudden changes, it is a resistant fish that is easy to care for.  It is important to have an in-depth understanding of the species, its habits, and behaviors. Like any other fish, the Banjo Catfish has its peculiarities, addressed and detailed in the following topics.

Tank Size

Banjo Catfish are extremely inactive fish that spend most of their time lurking buried in the substrate. 

For the smallest species, an aquarium of around 18 gallons is a good size to start with as an individual; for larger species, use somewhere around 35 gallons. 

Remember that, like most fish, the more space available, the better for the fish’s well-being.

Tankmates

The vast majority of Banjo Catfish species are peaceful and non-territorial. 

Banjo Catfish have been successfully kept with Cories, Tetra, and Dwarf Cichlids.

Some species can live without problems with small fish, others are big predators, and when placed in community tanks, they will eat anything they can fit in their mouth. 

For the most part, they are fish that live with other bottom fish, including those of the same species (in groups or pairs) without problems. 

Avoid keeping them with territorial and aggressive fish.

Same Species Tanks

Due to their shy behavior and being rarely seen in the aquarium, they are hardly used as a single species in any assembly.

Water Parameters

Remember that this article covers the main Banjo Catfish species available. Some species are incredibly resistant fish, others are susceptible. None support sudden changes in parameters, but they can live safely in a wide range of parameters. Generally speaking, banjos are sensitive to pollutants in water.

Different species live in different environments; most live in habitats from soft water and slightly acidic (from 6 points on the scale) to slightly alkaline, around 7.2. 

Some Banjo Catfish inhabit water with high pH and hardness, even in brackish waters. The water temperature where the different species are found varies from 68 to 84 F.

This difference between parameters is related to the geographic region of origin of the species and demonstrates the oscillation of parameters during the dry and rainy seasons. 

To more accurately gauge the parameters to be kept in your aquarium, ask the seller about the animal’s area of origin.

What to Put in Their Tank

As for any other aquatic animal, an aquarium heater and a filtering system are essential to keep the tank with Banjo Catfish healthy. 

The filtration system must be well dimensioned for the tank design; the banjos species prefer slow-flowing water.

Aquarium decor will be critical in maintaining the species, which needs lots of hiding places and caves and a soft substrate to bury itself in, preferably with a bed of dry leaves. 

Plants are generally not bothered or nibbled, but they are not necessary additions. Densely planted aquariums are not a good choice for keeping this animal, as there won’t be much space left for them to bury themselves. 

It is beneficial and necessary to save lots of driftwood and rocks forming hiding places, caves of different sizes, and territories. 

As they like to bury themselves, fine sand as a substrate with thick leaf litter is welcome, as is poor lighting.

Common Diseases

They are exceptionally disease-resistant fish; as long as the water is kept in good condition. 

They are subject to internal infections and fungi, and other external parasites in case of deteriorated water.

Keeping the quality of the water and the tank always in optimal conditions and a good quality diet, your fish should not present any problem. 

Remember to always quarantine new fish before placing them in the main tank.

Food and Diet

Banjo species are omnivorous and nocturnal, feeding on various larvae, earthworms, small fish, macroinvertebrates, and detritus.

In aquariums, depending on the species, it is sometimes difficult getting Banjo Catfish to accept commercial foods. Because of their sedentary habit (being buried in the substrate), some fish will only eat what passes.

The choice of tank mates also influences the feeding of the banjo. As food should reach the bottom of the aquarium, it is recommended to feed a little while after turning off the lights. 

If you decide to overfeed, be careful with the degradation of water quality due to the increase in biological load in the aquarium.

Live and fresh food like earthworms, brine shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex, and others should be offered periodically to Banjo Catfish. It is essential to check regularly to see if food reaches the aquarium’s bottom and if the animals are eating. 

It is a species that is prone to die of starvation, so care must be taken to feed the animal properly.

Providing a varied and balanced diet is essential for demonstrating its full potential.

Lifespan

In an aquarium with all the correct parameters kept stable and with an ideal diet, some species of this catfish can live for more than ten years, the most common being around five years.

Appearance

All Banjo Catfish species have the same characteristics – a flattened body, compressed laterally, and long, presenting a flat head; this appearance resembles the musical instrument called a banjo, or a guitar, which gave its prominent popular names – ‘guitarrita catfish’ or ‘banjo catfish’.

Like other catfish, it is a fish without visible scales. Most species are brown, hiding perfectly in muddy substrates or leaf litter.

Size

The different species of Banjo Catfish have an average size of six to nine inches in length when well cared for and fed. However, some species can reach 12 inches in length, and others are only two inches in size.

Behavior and Temperament

Banjos are incredibly peaceful and timid species; you will rarely see them swimming around the aquarium or even when buried. 

Depending on the species, predation of smaller fish will occur. 

These fish coexist peacefully among the same species and with another banjo. 

They have an idle feeding behavior, where they are buried waiting for prey to pass in front of them.

They are not active animals, staying hidden in the substrate for most of their life, coming out after dark to feed.

Breeding

There are few reports of the reproduction of Banjo Catfish species in aquariums. Some species continue without reproduction reports, both in domestic aquariums and in centers of study or commercial reproduction.

It is known that the family has oviparous species, which release their eggs in the environment or nests, with some species even presenting parental care and needing brackish water for reproductive success.

Gender Differences: Male vs. Female

Again, it depends on the banjo species; there is no apparent sexual dimorphism in some, and some adult females are wider and more robust when viewed from above. 

Other species may show evident dimorphism, with the male having more developed pectoral fins and more pronounced colors. In any case, sex differentiation by visual alone is challenging in practically all species, even for experienced aquarists.

Banjo Catfish Fun Facts

  • Most Banjo Catfish species are rare, scarce, and desired in the aquarium trade, with Bunocephalus coracoideus being the most available and widespread species, followed by Platystacus cotylephorus in second place.
  • Some species, like other catfish, can produce dog barking sounds by rapidly moving their pectorals. Studies in bioacoustics indicate that these sounds are probably used for communication between animals of the same species between mating periods, in addition to signaling danger.
  • There are around 35 species of Banjo Catfish.