The bumblebee catfish is a fun and different freshwater critter that seems to be growing in popularity.
It’s quite entertaining to watch due to its appearance and temperament. It’s quite easy to care for as well! This combination is the holy grail when it comes to fishkeeping, so it’s no wonder why more and more aquarists are taking an interest.
Bumblebee catfish are hardy too which is perfect for owners looking for a low-maintenance experience. Overall, they’re just a great fish.
In this guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about bumblebee catfish care. You’ll learn how large they get, ideal tank mates, diet into, and more!
Table of Contents
The bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi) originates from South America. In fact, one of its common names is actually the South American bumblebee catfish. It is primarily found in Columbia and Venezuela, but it has been known to drift over to other countries like Guyana, Ecuador, and northern Brazil.
This fish was first documented in the early 1900s and it didn’t take long for it to become a popular fixture in the freshwater aquarium community.
In their natural habitat, bumblebee catfish prefer rivers and streams that have a strong current. These bodies of water tend to have a very rocky substrate where these fish love to hide. This carries over to their behavior in captivity, which we’ll go into in detail a bit later.
The average bumblebee catfish lifespan is roughly 4-5 years. It’s not uncommon for them to exceed the five-year mark, but this is only possible when given great care throughout their entire lives.
Even though these are hardy fish, the choices you make in their earlier years will inevitably impact their lifespan later on. We always recommend taking care and water conditions very seriously no matter how durable a fish might be.
The bumblebee catfish has a distinct look that we’re a big fan of. As you can imagine, their name gives it away!
The coloration on the body of this fish is yellow and black. These colors are dispersed across a handful of thick asymmetrical sections. Their heads are almost always black, with the colors alternating down the rest of their body from there.
It has a very spiny dorsal fin that doesn’t take up very much space on their back. You’ll often see a black band run down the middle of this fin from front to back.
Their caudal fin is slightly forked and has a similar band (of varying thickness). The space at the base of the caudal fin is typically black.
The bumblebee catfish has fairly large splayed ventral fins that help them easily navigate the substrate. As a bottom-feeder, this is an incredibly important feature.
The body of this fish fits with the traditional catfish build. Bumblebee catfish have long cylindrical bodies that taper down a bit before the caudal fin.
They have prominent barbels that protrude from a long flat head. Like many freshwater catfish, they also have a very wide mouth which helps them scavenge effectively.
The typical bumblebee catfish size is 3 inches in length. This can vary a bit based on the environment they were in before you got them, and the quality of care you provide as they grow. It’s extremely uncommon for these fish to grow longer than this regardless of the level of care they receive.
Bumblebee Catfish Care
Bumblebee catfish care is simple and low-maintenance. Their water and tank requirements are manageable by pretty much any aquarist, regardless of skill level. They’re also hardy which means they can handle a wide range of conditions.
Despite this, we think it’s always a good idea to know exactly what they require when it comes to care. You always want to give your fish a happy and healthy life instead of aiming for “good enough.”
The recommended tank size for a full-grown bumblebee catfish is 20 gallons. Since these fish are small and spend a lot of their time hiding out waiting to eat, you don’t need a massive aquarium.
If you want to keep a few of these fish together in the same tank then you’ll need to provide them with more space. The general rule of thumb to follow is an additional 10 gallons for each South American bumblebee catfish you keep.
Even though these fish are hardy and can thrive in a variety of water conditions, there’s still an ideal range that suits them best. We always recommend making this your goal to ensure that your fish live in the best environment possible.
- Water temperature: Between 70°F and 77°F
- pH levels: 6.5-7.5 is the target. Some experienced aquarists have made it work with levels up to 7.8 though
- Water hardness: Soft water between 8-12 dGH is recommended
We recommend performing a quick water level test every few days to make sure everything is running smoothly. This will allow you to catch any unwanted shifts before they become a problem.
Author Note: You should also make sure you perform 20-25 percent water changes on a weekly basis. This is one of the most important aspects of bumblebee catfish care and will make sure they’re living in a healthy tank. It will also greatly reduce the risk of disease and sickness.
What To Put In Their Tank
Like we mentioned earlier in the guide, bumblebee catfish have a lot of rocks and hiding places in their natural habitat. That means replicating this should be your top priority.
The main items to include in their tank are rocks and driftwood. These will serve as their main place to hunker down when they’re taking it easy (which happens a lot). Finding little nooks and crannies to hide in is second nature to them.
You can also include decorations and caves if that’s your thing. Plants like Amazon swords and Java Ferns are also a great choice for a bumblebee catfish tank (they’ll work wonders for your water too).
If you don’t have enough hiding places in your tank it will cause these fish to live in a constant state of stress. This can drastically shorten their lifespan and isn’t fair to them.
Author Note: It’s also important to provide bumblebee catfishes with an adequate amount of water flow as well. Since these fish are naturally used to fast-moving water, they’ll suffer in a freshwater tank that doesn’t provide this. Aim for a medium amount of water flow to make sure the water has enough oxygen for them to thrive.
Common Potential Diseases
One of the great things about bumblebee catfish is how durable and hardy they are. They aren’t prone to a particular disease or illness, unlike other freshwater species.
However, they can still get sick just like any other fish. This will usually come in the way of some form of infection.
The good thing is these are easy to prevent. If you’re providing good bumblebee catfish care and making sure their water quality is stellar, infections are unlikely to occur. Stay consistent about maintaining the health of their tank and these fish will be healthy for a long time!
Food & Diet
Bumblebee catfish are omnivores and spend most of their time scavenging the substrate looking for anything to snack on. These fish aren’t picky! Larvae, plant matter, insects, and more are all on the menu.
In captivity, you should be giving them a well-balanced diet from various sources. High-quality pellet or flake foods are a great place to start (make sure they sink). It’s also smart to mix in some frozen and live foods as well.
Food like larvae, bloodworms, earthworms, and daphnia are all great sources of protein that will also provide your bumblebee catfish with some enrichment. Make sure to use these in a supplemental capacity so you maintain balance in their diet and don’t overfeed them!
Behavior & Temperament
The bumblebee catfish is extremely laid back and shy. This is amplified by the fact that they’re nocturnal. This means during the day they will typically be tucked away in one of their favorite hiding places until it gets dark or time to eat.
While some aquarists don’t like this because they want to see a lot of activity from their fish, we kind of like it. If you plan your tank around this behavior you can actually see them quite often without disturbing them!
Set up your rocks and driftwood in a way that gives you a decent line of sight inside. This won’t guarantee that you’ll be able to see them all the time, but it will increase your chances!
Author Note: Tucking some driftwood along the side of the glass is another great trick. Bumblebee catfish will often dig underneath it to hide out, and this will give you a chance to see directly into their little tunnel from the side.
Bumblebee Catfish Tank Mates
There are a ton of viable options when it comes to bumblebee catfish tank mates. This is because they’re very hardy and easy to get along with. A lot of your other fish will probably forget your bumblebee catfish is even in the tank at times!
To help give you a starting point, here are some great tank mates that aquarists have had success with for years:
This is really just scratching the surface when it comes to good bumblebee catfish tank mates. As long as they aren’t super aggressive or significantly smaller than the microglanis iheringi (like the neon tetra), you’re going to be fine.
There are no known instances of successfully breeding bumblebee catfish in a home aquarium. Unless you have a dedicated fish farm we don’t recommend attempting this.
There aren’t any real downsides to a failed breeding attempt, it’s just likely going to be a waste of time and money on your part. Dedicated fish farms do a great job of breeding these fish and there really isn’t much of a reason to try doing it on your own given the extremely low success rate.
There are plenty of guides out there that will give you general information about the breeding process that occurs in the wild, but that’s not what you’re after. We would rather be transparent with you and give our recommendation to avoid this process.
Bumblebee catfish are a unique and fun freshwater fish that we think all aquarists should consider. Their shy temperament and hardy nature make them not only super easy to care for, but fun to watch!
But how can a shy fish be fun?
There’s something about having to wait for an appearance that adds a natural feel to fishkeeping. Sure, it’s fun to see fish swimming around all the time, but that’s not how things are in the wild!
A lot of aquarists have had a moment where they’ve seen a certain fish out in nature and have been blown away. Part of this excitement comes from the wait!
That’s the hidden beauty of keeping a bumblebee catfish. You can almost always sneak a peek of them if you set up your tank properly. However, when you see them come out for food or investigate something on the substrate it can be quite the event!
The nice thing about the South American bumblebee catfish is that they’re super easy to take care of and have a wide range of compatible tank mates. This means it’s actually a really low-risk experiment to purchase one (as long as you have space).If you’re still on the fence after reading this guide we would love to hear your questions or concerns. It’s also a good idea to watch a video or two as well! This will give you a better idea of what you’re getting into.