Bumblebee Catfish Species Information: Size, Tank Mates and More…

The Bumblebee Catfish is a freshwater Catfish from South America.

While most Catfish are known for their algae eating ability, this one gets by on their appearance and personality alone. However, they do make an excellent live in exterminator for tiny pests.

These little guys are very shy and tend to spend most of their time hiding. They wait until the twilight hours to venture out into the world.

Bumblebee Cats are great beginner Catfish and they can be kept safely with other popular Catfish species like the Cory and Pleco.

Are you ready to keep a Bumblebee Catfish?

Keep reading to learn about their dietary requirements, tank set up, and much more…

Bumblebee Catfish Overview

The Bumblebee Catfish (Microglanis iheringi) is a freshwater Catfish from South American.

They are often confused with the Asian Bumblebee Catfish (Pseudomystus siamensis) however they are actually different species that comes from different families.

Bumblebee Catfish grow between 3-3.5 inches long and live for 4-6 years on average. In rare cases they can live for up to 10 years.

They are a rare species to find and you are not likely to spot one at a pet shop. Online retailers are the best place to look if you are seeking one out. The average price is about $10-$15 per fish.

South American Bumblebee Catfish are interesting to watch when they are active but unfortunately they spend most of their time hiding or resting at the bottom of the tank. You can train them to come out during the day to snack, but they will only remain active for about 5 minutes.

Still, they are an excellent species for those who are looking for their first Catfish.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Freshwater fish and catfish.
  • Nicknames: South American Bumblebee Catfish.
  • Color Forms: Yellow with black or brown bands.
  • Size: 3-3.5 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 20+ gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 70°F to 77°F.
Pros

  • Compatible in a single species or community tank
  • Eats small pests in the substrate
  • Hardy and resistant to illness
  • Easy for beginners to keep
Cons

  • Only active at night
  • Cannot be bred in a home aquarium
  • Shy and easily spooked

Bumblebee Catfish Size and Appearance

It is easy to see how the Bumblebee Catfish got their name.

Their striped pattern can be either black or brown. The bands come in different shapes and thicknesses and can even alternate between black and brown on some specimens.

The head is black on most fish, but can sometimes be yellow in rare cases.

Their ventral side is almost always yellow. Since they live in rocky areas this pattern is meant to allow them to blend in with their environment.

In total the Bumblebee Catfish has 7 fins.

These include a primary and secondary dorsal fin, anal and pelvic fin, paired pectoral fins and the caudal fin. The secondary dorsal fin is very small and set very close to their tail.

Their head is wide and flat which allows them to navigate easily along the river beds. Because their eyes are very small they do not see very well, but their long barbels help them detect motion and pressure in areas where it is difficult to see.

You should expect them to reach about 3 inches long with larger specimens growing up to an extra half inch.

Telling the difference between males and females is very difficult.

There is no true sexual dimorphism but females tend to be wider and rounder than males. It can be difficult to tell the difference between a female and an especially plump male.

Colors

The two color varieties are as follows:

  • Black: This is the color that gives the species their name. Thick black bands appear against a mustard yellow base color.
  • Brown: This variety has the same banded pattern but with muddy brown bands instead of black.

Bumblebee Catfish Species Guide

This is a safe species for first time fish keepers.

But it helps if you have cared for other beginner Catfish before like Cory Catfish.

Start out with a single fish before taking on a group or a community. This will help you get a feel for the species and their requirements.

The good news is that Bumblebee Catfish are resistant to beginner mistakes and to common illnesses.

Perhaps the most important thing you need to watch out for is ich. The white spots that indicate an ich infection are very easily noticed on a fish of this color. You might also notice the fish rubbing or dragging against things to itch.

The disease is most likely to occur in a poorly cleaned tank or by a new fish which is added to the tank. Fortunately, it is easily treated with medication.

Always isolate a fish that you suspect of carrying ich or any illness to prevent it from spreading to the other fish in your tank.

Diseases and parasites can be prevented by making sure your tank is clean and that your filter is in good working order. This particular species needs a 25% water change every week.

Other than that there is not much else that you need to do to keep this fish healthy.

Diet

The Bumblebee Catfish is not an algae eating Catfish.

They are omnivores with a particular preference for live prey. In the wild they will feast on small benthic worms, insect larvae and zooplankton. They will also munch on snails and shrimp.

When kept in an aquarium they will need a mix of protein and vegetables for a balanced diet. Mix high protein flake and pellet foods with algae wafers. All pellets should be quick sinking and made for bottom dwellers.

The best live foods include bloodworms, microworms, polychaetes, water fleas and insect larvae. You can even provide small earthworms too.

Small crickets, flies, and water bugs are on the menu as well.

Any live prey can be given frozen or freeze-dried as a treat, though they should be given live most of the time.

Here are a few suggestions for feeding your Bumblebee Cats:

  • Bloodworms
  • Microworms
  • Polychaete worms
  • Earthworms
  • Daphnia
  • Fish flakes and pellets
  • Algae wafers
  • Bottom feeder pellets
  • Insects
  • Insect larvae
  • Frozen foods
  • Plant material
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers

These fish only come out to eat at night so they must be given all of their meals after sundown or before sunrise. You can feed them twice per day. You might be able to train them to feed during the day if you turn off or dim your aquarium lights in the daylight hours.

Behavior

These little guys are timid at the best of times.

They spend most of the day hiding, sleeping or patiently waiting for feed.

After sunset they come out to hunt for food. Their preferred method is by ambush, so they stay very still even while hunting. Instead of charging or darting after prey, the fish lies in wait for the prey to come to them.

Aggressive behavior is possible from time to time but it is not common. If your fish is behaving aggressively on a regular basis then there is some kind of problem with their environment. It is likely they do not have enough space.

Are Bumblebee Catfish Aggressive?

It is a misconception that these fish are aggressive.

An aggressive South American Bumblebee Cat is likely not a Bumblebee Cat. The Asian Bumblebee Catfish is often mislabeled as the South American species. Asian Bumblebees are known for being more aggressive and boisterous.

Bumblebee Cat are actually very shy and not likely to pick a fight.

However, there are certain situations that can trigger aggressive behavior.

As with many fish males are aggressive to one another when competing for dominance. There will be much more fighting in a male group. Aggressive behavior can also occur if there is not enough space in the tank for each fish to have their own territory.

Habitat and Aquarium Set Up

In the wild this fish inhabits very rocky environments in fast moving water.

The water in this area is slightly acidic, but well oxygenated. It reaches a warm tropical temperature without ever getting too hot.

While there may be a few underwater plants scattered here and there, they are not vital. This fish much prefers caves to plants and will spend most of their time hiding.

Aquarium Conditions

Let’s start by looking at the water conditions.

The temperature should be kept 70-77°F and you should use a heater to prevent any sudden temperature drops. Water hardness should be between 7-12 dGH and you should add an air stone or an air pump to provide some extra oxygen. The pH should range from 6.5 to 7.5. Because these fish comes from areas full of driftwood and overturned logs a little bit of acidity is to be expected.

Water flow should mimic a fast moving river and you will need a filter that is capable of generating these currents.

A high power internal filter works for smaller setups, while an external filter is better for large setups (40+ gallons). You can even add a waterfall if you wish.

These fish will not be active during the daytime so you can use any kind of lighting you want. They are likely to be more active in a low light setup.

Use should use soft edged rocky substrate with no bumps or jagged edges. Layer the rocks with larger cobbles and boulders for the fish to hide behind.

In the wild these fish are used to hiding in caves or hollowed out logs. You will need to provide them with some similar hiding spots in your aquarium. Rocks and boulders, driftwood, and logs all make excellent hiding places. You can even purchase manmade caves too.

While plants are not necessary they do make your aquarium more attractive. The Catfish will climb up on plants to rest under the leaves.

Amazon Swords, Cryptocorynes, Anubias, and Java Ferns make some of the best plants for a Bumblebee Cat’s home. All of these are good low light plants.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 20 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater
Temperature 70-77°F
pH 6.5-7.5
Hardness 7-12 dGH
Flow Heavy
Substrate Rocks

What Size Aquarium Do They Need?

A single Bumblebee Catfish needs a 20 gallon tank.

For each additional Catfish you should add 10 gallons of water.

Tank Mates

Since Bumblebee Cats stick to themselves, they are quite easy to keep in a community tank.

However a community tank must be significantly larger (40+ gallons) than a single species setup. Also keep in mind that these fish are predators that will eat anything that they can fit in their mouths.

When picking tank mates your best bet is to choose fish that are a similar size to your Catfish.

Giant Danios and Rainbow Sharks work nice, so to do other freshwater sharks.

In a tank below 75°F you can include a Dojo Loach. Yoyo Loaches are a good pick for tanks with warmer water.

Medium sized Plecos (including Bristlenose and Clown Plecos) will safely share the substrate with your Bumblebees. Cory and Pictus Catfish can bunk with them at the bottom too.

If you want to add a Gourami or two, the Dwarf Gourami is the safest species to consider.

You should avoid Cichlids and other aggressive fish. Redtail Sharks are out even though Rainbow Sharks are in, since they are territorial and live in the same level of the tank as the Catfish.

Large Catfish, large sharks, or any other large fish are likely to startle the Catfish even if they are peaceful.

Boisterous fish should be avoided and you should avoid Tiger Barbs. While some consider them to be a safe tank mate, they have a very rambunctious personality and are known to nip at fins.

Tiny fish such as Tetras, Rasboras, and Minnows risk being mistaken for prey. These are all best left out of this particular aquarium. These fish are very hungry for snails, shrimp, and other small critters too so you should not include any invertebrates in their tank.

Keeping Bumblebee Catfish Together
Bumblebee Catfish Together can be kept together or on their own.

If you are keeping a group of them then it is important that each member gets their own space. They do not appreciate intrusions from other fish (including their own kind). While they tolerate each other they will not socialize or work in groups. They will only be civil when they are allowed to keep to themselves.

Do not make your group too large (more than 6) or your fish will become territorial. If your Catfish start attacking or harassing one another, it is likely because there are too many males in the group.

Breeding Bumblebee Catfish

Bumblebee Catfish cannot be bred in home aquariums.

There are many different reasons why breeding is so difficult. For starters, there is very little dimorphism between the genders so they are difficult to tell apart.

Secondly, wild breeding conditions are very hard to replicate in an aquarium. These fish need specific currents and environmental conditions to trigger breeding.

They also require a specific diet to get into breeding condition. No matter how well you feed them it is hard to match their wild diet exactly.

Also their nocturnal hours are also a factor – you may not have enough hours in your day to focus on breeding them.

Breeders at fish farms are able to create the perfect conditions for these fish. To get ready to breed, they must be fed live prey up to 3 times a day. The water temperature is then raised above 77°F in an open water environment with fast currents. Cavernous areas are also provided for spawning.

Males copulate by wrapping themselves around the female and the female grows very round before she is ready to lay her eggs. The female will retreat into a cave to spawn and the eggs hatch within 4 days.

Fry will survive on larval brine shrimp and liquid fry food or infusoria.

The developmental process is largely unknown due to the difficulty of breeding these fish.

Species History

We still do not know much about Microglanis iheringi.

They were first discovered by Gomes in 1946 and introduced to aquariums soon after that.

The species is primarily known as an ornamental fish so there is not a lot of information about wild populations. We do know that they were an established aquarium pet by the late 1970s.

Bumblebee Catfish are often confused with the Asian Bumblebee Catfish. This copycat species is more well known but comes from the Bagridae family rather than Pseudopimelodidae. Unfortunately this confusion has earned them a bad reputation, as the Asian Bumblebee is much more aggressive and difficult to keep in communities.

To this day South American Bumblebees are quite a rare find and really only known by those who specialize in Catfish. Fish farming keeps this species available in the pet trade, as breeding in the aquarium is almost impossible.

Should You Keep The Bumblebee Catfish? (Summary)

Bumblebee Catfish
Other Common Names: South American Bumblebee Catfish
Scientific Name: Microglanis iheringi
Family Name: Pseudopimelodidae
Distribution: South America
Size: 3 inches
Color: Yellow with black or brown bands
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 4-6 years
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
Tank Mate Compatibility: Medium sized peaceful fish

The Bumblebee Catfish is an attractive bottom dweller that is suitable for any freshwater fish keeper.

Unfortunately, they will not appear often. However if you look into your aquarium at just the right time, you can watch them ambush live prey.

Designing the perfect tank for this little guy can be great fun. You can come up with new arrangements for caves, rocks and plants. So long as you keep the correct water parameters and keep the tank clean then you will not have many problems.

While it may not do very much, it is surprisingly intelligent. It can even be coaxed outside of its regular hours every so often, and will learn to recognize you as its keeper.

There are lots of Catfish in freshwater aquariums, but the Bumblebee Catfish is in a league of their own.

Do you keep Bumblebee Catfish? Let us know in the comments section below…

David Thomas Author Bio Picture
David Thomas leads the team at Everything Fishkeeping as the Editor-in-Chief. David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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