Bumblebee Catfish: Care Guide, Tank Mates, & More!

Bumblebee catfish at the aquarium substrate
Featured Image – bumblebee catfish
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Would you like to add a splash of color to liven up your fish tank, but are getting bored of the usual fish? The bumblebee catfish could be just what you’re seeking. Its unique black and yellow striped pattern distinguishes it from other species, making it a beautiful standout in your aquarium. Keep reading to understand why we are smitten with the bumblebee catfish.

Article Summary

  • Bumblebee catfish are known for their distinctive black and yellow striped pattern, which adorns their long, narrow bodies and is accentuated by irregular stripes with alternating bands of black and yellow, complemented by a wide mouth and long barbels.
  • Bumblebee catfish are peaceful but shy and do not like to be surprised by tankmates.
  • They are hardy and not susceptible to specific freshwater fish diseases.

Species Overview 

Common NameBumblebee catfish
Scientific NameMicroglanis iheringi
SpeciesM. iheringi
Size3 inches
Lifespan4-5 years
FamilyPseudopimelodidae
GenusMicroglanis
DistributionSouth America
ColorYellow, black, brown
DietOmnivores
TemperamentShy, peaceful
Minimum tank size20 gallons
Place in tankBottom
Care levelModerate
BreedingDifficult

History and Background

The bumblebee catfish originated from South America, but since its discovery in 1946, it has traveled all over the world and is beloved by many hobbyists.

Origin

This fish hails from South America and is sometimes referred to as the South American bumblebee catfish. Most often found in Columbia and Venezuela river basins, you can also find them in the waters of northern Brazil.

Are bumblebee catfish venomous?

No, unlike other catfish the bumblebee catfish is not venomous and poses no threat to humans.

How to take care of a bumblebee catfish

Bumblebee catfish care is fairly simple and straightforward. Much like other freshwater species you should provide a clean tank; a high quality diet filled with a variety of foods such as brine shrimp, insect larvae, and nutritional flakes or pellets; and replicate your tank environment to match the fish’s natural habitat- a rocky, fast flowing riverbed.

Appearance

Close up Image Of A Bumblebee Catfish
(1) Close up Image Of A Bumblebee Catfish

This small catfish may not look like much but it’s a popular freshwater catfish. Aquarists are fond of it because of its unique appearance.

What do bumblebee catfish look like

With a long narrow body the bumblebee catfish gets its name from its similarity to a bumblebee. They have a wide mouth with long, prominent barbels that protrude from their flat head and could reach back to the pectoral fins. The stripes are irregular and have alternating black and yellow bands.

The fish have a forked caudal fin, and a spiny dorsal fin.

Bumblebee catfish sexual dimorphism

It is hard to differentiate from the male and female bumblebee catfish outside of breeding season. During the breeding season you will notice the female bumblebee catfish will be rounder and more plump due to the eggs.

Color/Variety

There are two varieties of the bumblebee catfish which can be differentiated between by a spot at the base of their caudal fin.

South American bumblebee catfish

Easily identified by a square spot on their caudal fin, the South American bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi) and is more aggressive than the Asian bumblebee catfish.

Asian bumblebee catfish

This freshwater fish (Pseudomystus siamensis) is actually a completely different species than the South American bumblebee catfish though they look almost identical. The spot on the caudal fin of this catfish is triangle shaped with the tip pointing towards its head.

Since this is a guide on the Microglanis iheringi we will only talk about the South American bumblebee catfish.

FUN FACT

There is also a bumblebee goby that has similar black and yellow stripes, but this fish is only 1 inch long.

How big do bumblebee catfish get

The South American bumblebee catfish size is fairly small and ranges from 3 to 3.5 inches in size.

Temperament and Tankmates

Fish Swimming inside an Aquarium
Fish Swimming inside an Aquarium

While they are a peaceful species of fish, the bumblebee catfish is very shy and does not like to be surprised by its companions.

How many bumblebee catfish should be kept together?

You can keep bumblebee catfish together, on their own, or with other fish. When keeping a group of them it is important that each fish has a space in your freshwater tank. They are not very social and will turn aggressive when others intrude in their territory. We do not suggest having more than 6 bumblebee catfish in a single tank as there will be too many males and lead to bullying.

What are good tankmates for bumblebee catfish

Good tankmates for this fish are other freshwater species, preferably other South American fish that they would interact with normally in their natural habitat. However, if you want to add variety into your community tanks you should choose tank mates that are similarly sized to the bumblebee catfish. Too big fish will eat your catfish, and smaller fish will be eaten by your catfish.

Do bumblebee catfish eat other fish?

Yes, while they might not look like it, these fish are predators and will eat anything that will fit in their mouths. Tiny fish, such as tetras and minnows, do not do well with adult bumblebee catfish. Small invertebrates like snails and shrimp are also at risk of being eaten.

What fish can live with bumblebee catfish catfish?

Most catfish and other peaceful fish do well with this species assuming they are larger than your catfish’s mouth.

Top 5 Compatible tank mates

  1. Giant Danios – a similar size to the bumblebee catfish and one of the best tank mates due to its peaceful nature.
  2. Rainbow Sharks – another similarly sized fish that enjoys conditions similar to the south american catfish. However, both species are bottom dwellers so a large amount of room is needed for them to coexist.
  3. Cory catfish – another peaceful bottom dweller, the Cory catfish does well as long as there is ample space in the tank.
  4. Bristlenose Pleco – a shy fish that hangs with the other bottom dwellers and has similar tank parameters.
  5. Dojo loach – this fish only makes good tank mates if the temperature of your water is below 75. Otherwise, it is too warm.

It is important to note that while there are several bottom dwelling fish on this list you should not purchase all of them to be your bumblebee catfish tank mates unless you have a massive aquarium. They all become territorial when their space is encroached on and we do not recommend having more than two of these fish species together.

Tankmates to avoid

  1. Redtail sharks-a more territorial fish than the Rainbow shark we do not suggest mixing these two as it is sure to end in a fight
  2. Large Catfish-(for example, the prominent Electric catfish) and most fish that are larger than this catfish can potentially eat it. Additionally, their looming presence can cause your catfish stress.
  3. Tiger barbs– generally considered to be a boisterous fish, tiger barbs are known for nipping at fish fins
  4. Tetras-A smaller fish that is not appropriate for bumblebee catfish tank mates as it will likely be mistaken for prey.
  5. Minnows-another small fish that will likely be mistaken for prey

TIP

Neon tetras are also a bad choice for tank mates as they are small, and likely to be swallowed

Tank Requirements 

Small Planted Tank with a Thermometer
Small Planted Tank with a Thermometer

Proper bumblebee catfish care requires knowing and maintaining tank parameters in a safe and comfortable range for your fish tank inhabitants.

Tank Size

Many people underestimate the size of tank they need for this species because it’s so small, and during the daytime hours is not very active. However, at night these fish love to explore all over the bottom of your tank and stimulation is a must.

What size tank does a bumblebee catfish need?

A single bumblebee catfish needs an aquarium of at least 20 gallons. You should expect to add at least 10 gallons for every additional catfish you add to your home aquarium.

How sensitive are bumblebee catfish

While they are a hardy fish the bumblebee catfish will spend most of daylight hours in various hiding places because they are a nocturnal fish. While slight changes in water parameters will likely not bother them, an increase in light will stress them out.

Water Parameters

Tank Size>20 gallons
Water TypeFreshwater
Water Temperature70-77
Water pH6.5-7.5
Water hardness8-12 dGH

TIP

These fish are unusual because they like soft water, when choosing tank mates ensure that all fish enjoy these parameters.

Tank setup

Tank setup is extremely important for this fish because they do not have scales, but soft skin instead.

What kind of substrate should I use?

Your bumblebee catfish tank should have a smooth substrate as they will spend most of their time on the tank floor. Additionally, the substrate should be similar to that of their natural environment where the fast flowing water of rivers and streams go over smooth, flat rocks.

Not only do these river rocks not have any sharp edges to hurt your catfish’s belly, they also provide lots of hiding places in their nooks and crannies.

Do bumblebee catfish need a filter:

Yes, a filter that is properly sized to match your tank’s bioload is necessary for the pristine water conditions that all fish in your tank need. In general, we recommend you purchase a filter that can filter 4x the maximum amount of gallons your tank holds per hour. For example, a 20 gallon tank would require a filter that can handle 80 gallons of water per hour.

Should I get a pump for my bumblebee catfish

We suggest purchasing a pump for your aquarium to help increase water flow. Since the bumblebee catfish’s natural habitat is fast flowing water it is beneficial to have an aquarium that replicates this environment.

Do bumblebee catfish need a water heater?

Yes, these fish are tropical fish species, and you will likely need a water heater to keep the aquarium temperature within their required parameters.

What type of lighting do I need for my bumblebee catfish tank?

You will likely not see your bumblebee catfish out much during the day time as they are nocturnal animals. The aquarium lights that you have on during the day do not matter as long as there are ample hiding spots for your fish to get away. However, it is extremely important that you turn your aquarium lights off at night so that your bumblebee catfish feels comfortable coming out.

Should I add plants?

If you choose to place plant matter in your aquarium you should choose hardy species as it is likely that they will be nibbled on by your fish. While live plants are not necessary they do add additional hiding places for your fish which is vital to keeping them happy.

Diet and Health

Variety of Fish Food
Variety of Fish Food

A proper and varied diet will provide your fish with nutrition which can be displayed through high levels of energy. Remember, a high quality diet is better than a high quantity diet.

What do bumblebee catfish eat 

This fish is an omnivore and will spend a majority of its time scavenging the bottom of the tank for any food. Wild populations feed on insect larvae, plants, algae and fish. You should feed your fish a variety of commercial sinking pellets supplemented with live or frozen foods.

What to feed bumblebee catfish?

As part of their diet bumblebee catfish should be fed meaty foods such as brine shrimp, mosquito eggs, midge fly larvae, as well as algae wafers and commercially available food. When choosing between dietary options be sure to consider freeze dried foods as well as frozen and live foods. All have the same nutritional values and some can be stored easier than others.

RECOMMENDATION

When feeding your fish commercial food such as flakes, pellets, and algae wafers you should choose the sinking variety. Otherwise, your catfish will not swim up to the top of the tank to eat.

How often to feed bumblebee catfish

Feed your bumblebee catfish 1 to 2 times a day, adding in supplemental protein 2 to 3 times a week.

How much to feed bumblebee catfish?

You should feed your fish using the three minute rule. This method allows small quantities to be fed over a longer timeframe and prevents your fish from overeating.

Are bumblebee catfish hardy?

Yes, this fish is well known for being hardy, and is not susceptible for any specific freshwater fish disease.

Common diseases of bumblebee catfish

Although this fish is not naturally susceptible to any diseases you should still make sure you are providing proper bumblebee catfish care such as maintaining the correct water parameters and a clean tank environment to prevent any diseases. We have included some common diseases that can affect all freshwater fish below.

  1.  Ich: the dreaded white spot disease is well known in the aquarium trade and comes from a bacterial infection due to poor water quality. Treatment includes isolation, salt baths, and broad-spectrum antibiotic treatments.
  2. Bacterial infection: One of the diseases catfish are more prone to get due to their lack of scale armor. If your catfish is cut by a sharp edge and water conditions are poor they could receive a bacterial infection. Depending on the severity you can use a broad spectrum antibiotic, if the condition worsens you might have to find a vet to administer antibiotics through an injection.
  3. Parasitic infection: If a new or un-quarantined fish is added to your aquarium it could spread a parasite in the form of a gill or skin fluke to your other fish. Treatment includes dosing your tank with anti-parasitism medicine, and performing water changes.
  4. Bloatedness: often a result of overeating bloatedness can be treated by lowering the water into the tank until it’s just above swimming level and providing Epsom salt baths. In severe cases antibiotics can be used.
  5. Constipation: a result of not having enough high-fiber food in their diet’s symptoms of constipation can include lethargy, and loss of appetite. The most recommended treatment is feeding a diet of shelled peas to provide lots of fiber.

TIP

Performing weekly water changes and testing for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates is one way to prevent disease. By keeping your tank clean you ensure your fish’s immune system is in tip top shape.

How long do bumblebee catfish live

In ideal conditions the bumblebee catfish will live 4 to 5 years.

Breeding

Breeding bumblebee catfish from your home aquarium is not recommended due to how difficult it is to identify males from females.

Can you breed a bumblebee catfish?

It is extremely difficult to breed bumblebee catfish in captivity partly because of the difficulty of sexing full grown bumblebee catfish.

Is it difficult to breed bumblebee catfish

Yes, the bumblebee catfish trade has dedicated fish farms as many home aquarists do not have success with it.

How to breed a bumblebee catfish?

While we do not have the exact steps for breeding this fish we can give you some tips.

  • It is better to have a large group in a breeding tank as it is more likely to include a mating pair
  • If you notice one fish become rounder during breeding season it is likely a female, we suggest you take note so that you can use her in future breeding seasons
  • It is necessary to create a safe environment for your fish with lots of hiding spots. Consider using submerged tree roots or driftwood to create caves and to help maintain soft acidic water conditions.
  • A pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is recommended
  • Water temperature range between 75 and 78 degrees is recommended.

Is the bumblebee catfish for you?

Whether you have a love of pollinators, or your favorite sports team has the colors black and yellow, or you just like its quirky personality, the bumblebee catfish is a great addition to any community aquarium.

Conclusion

In conclusion, our bumblebee catfish overview guide has given you a quick snapshot of the species and its preferences, but you should continue to research before purchasing this species to ensure that you can provide it a suitable home environment.

Featured Image – CHUCAO, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) CHUCAO, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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