The bumblebee catfish is hardy, fun to watch, and easy to care for. Combined with an endearing face and peaceful temperament, it’s hard not to love this fish.
A great choice for beginners and experienced keepers alike, this species has long been an aquarium favorite.
It’s readily available in stores and is a delight to watch in the aquarium when you can catch a glimpse of it.
In this article
Appearance and Lifespan
As their name indicates, the bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi) looks, well, like an aquatic bumblebee.
It has thick black and dull yellow stripes that run vertically down its body, from its head all the way to its tail. Its head is usually black, and the stripes alternate from there down.
It has a spiny dorsal fin and a forked caudal fin. Its ventral fins are the largest and widest and are splayed in order to help them navigate the rocky river and stream beds of their natural habitat.
Their fins are not the only aspect of their build that matches the traditional look of catfish species. Their bodies are also long and cylindrical, their mouths are wide, and they have long barbels.
This fish grows up to three inches and lives an average of four to five years.
Aquarists who have taken exceptional care of their catfish over the years have reported longer lifespans.
This indicates that, despite their hardiness, consistent water maintenance and care is important for the bumblebee catfish’s health.
Just like its namesake, these fish are hesitant but friendly.
They prefer hiding in nooks and crannies among the rocks and substrate, and you’ll rarely see them swimming through the tank openly.
They’re also nocturnal, which means that you may not see them much during the day outside of feeding times.
However, this makes them ideal for community tanks with other peaceful inhabitants. They will get along well with a variety of fish.
However, overly active or boisterous fish may scare them. Similarly, filling the tank with other nocturnal fish may make them less active in the evening and at night.
Because of this, it’s recommended that you pair them with calm fish that are mostly active during the day.
The bumblebee catfish was first found in South America in the early 1900s.
There is a strong species presence in Columbia and Venezuela specifically but has also been found in northern Brazil and Ecuador.
They prefer rivers, streams, and other bodies of water with strong currents.
This catfish is bottom-dwelling fish and loves hiding in and exploring the rocky beds. Because of this, the substrate plays an important role in their environment, both in the wild and in home aquariums.
Though plants and driftwood are still appreciated, the substrate and rocks are by far the most necessary element.
As some of the smallest freshwater catfish, these fish require an aquarium that is a minimum of 20 gallons.
If you want more than one catfish, you’ll need to add an additional ten gallons per catfish. If you want to keep them in a community setup, you’ll need to invest in an aquarium of at least 50 gallons.
When calculating how many gallons you’ll need, remember to consider every aspect of the fish. The “one gallon per inch” rule is outdated and often results in overstocking issues.
Also remember to consider how active the fish is, the bioload it produces, and any social (or aggressive) tendencies.
In order for bumblebee catfish to be healthy and happy, it’s best to try and emulate their natural habitat.
Like all freshwater fish, they require some basic equipment like a filter. Other pieces of equipment, such as a heater, are specific to certain species.
- Filtration: Almost any filter will be acceptable for this fish since it enjoys a moderate to strong current and lots of water movement.
- Heating: A heater will be necessary in order to keep the water temperature at a comfortably warm level.
- Water movement: A wavemaker wouldn’t be remiss in this tank if your filter doesn’t create enough water movement or current.
- Lighting: If you have plants, make sure your lighting can support them. Otherwise, any type of fluorescent or LED bulbs will work.
- Aeration: These fish are used to high levels of oxygen in the water, so adding an air-pump can be helpful.
Certain elements, described below, are specific to the bumblebee catfish and their environment in the wild.
- Substrate: Though these fish enjoy lots of rocks on the tank floor, the substrate should not be coarse enough to damage their underbelly, fins, or barbels. When in doubt, choose a soft substrate and supplement it with rocks.
- Rocks: To mimic their natural environment, there should be a generous layer of rocks along the bottom of your tank. Make sure to incorporate rocks and pebbles of various sizes. Create fun arrangements and hiding places for the catfish.
- Plants: Live plants have more benefits for fish, but silk artificial plants will also work fine and require less upkeep. Taller, broad-leaved plants are recommended over ground covers or floating plants.
- Driftwood: Along with rocks and plants, driftwood serves as a quick and easy place for bumblebee catfish to sleep, hide, and explore.
- Décor: If you don’t have many plants or pieces of driftwood in your tank, you can also make sure this catfish is comfortable with caves and other ornaments. Just like driftwood, these pieces of décor can also give them confidence and safety.
Keep in mind, this aquarium setup is recommended but not absolutely necessary. Alterations can be made to cater to other fish without sacrificing a high quality of life for the catfish.
It’s best to try and incorporate elements of every inhabitant in the tank setup. This is why it’s also recommended to house species of similar origins together.
As stated earlier, the bumblebee catfish is hardy and can withstand a wide range of water parameters. However, this doesn’t mean that it will be able to thrive in all environments.
The parameters below are the catfish’s preferred ranges.
- Temperature – this fish likes warmer waters that are between 70 – 77 °F, not overly hot but not cold either.
- pH Range – water in the aquarium should be kept between 6.5 – 7.5 pH, slightly acidic to neutral.
- dGH Range – the bumblebee catfish generally tends to like softer water between 8 – 12 water hardness.
Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates should all be kept as close to 0 ppm as possible.
Though this catfish is hardy, even lower levels of 5 ppm and under can cause a weakened immune system. In turn, this can lead to an increased risk of disease.
Weekly water changes of at least 25% are recommended in order to keep the water clean and the tank inhabitants healthy. Aquarists may need to adjust water changes as necessary depending on the gallon size and number of fish.
Compatible Tank Mates
As stated earlier, this fish likes other peaceful species that aren’t overly active.
Some compatible tank mates may include:
- Other catfish, such as corydoras
- Rainbow sharks
- Bristlenose plecos
- Dwarf or opaline gourami
- Kuhli loaches
- Any type of barb, such as cherry barbs, tiger barbs or rosy barbs
- Giant danios and rasboras
There are also other types of fish that would work well besides those listed above. Some aquarists have reported success with peaceful cichlids, for example.
As long as the fish are at least as big as the bumblebee catfish (three inches) and are peaceful, they should live well together.
Food and Diet
Like many other types of catfish, the bumblebee catfish is an omnivore.
It spends much of its time scavenging on the tank floor and rooting through the substrate. These fish will eat almost anything they can get their fins on, such as:
- Plant matter
- Brine shrimp
This species will accept live, frozen, and freeze-dried foods. It can also be beneficial to mix in a high-quality flake or pellet food so that their digestive system gets a rest from meaty foods.
If you’re worried about your catfish getting enough food during feeding times, it may also be wise to invest in sinking pellets. Along with other foods like algae wafers, these types of fish foods are meant specifically for bottom-dwellers.
Buying a Bumblebee Catfish
The bumblebee catfish makes an excellent addition to any aquarium.
They are especially suited to tanks with other South American fish or species that enjoy lots of water movement.
Though they won’t ever be buzzing around the open space your aquarium, you will be able to catch them zipping from rock to rock in the substrate.
Though simple and peaceful by nature, they are still a striking sight to behold when you can glimpse them.
And the rarity of this sight makes it all the more treasured.