Bumblebee Catfish: Care, Tank Mates, and Size

The Bumblebee Catfish is a shy, rarely seen fish that’s actually quite easy to care for. Overcoming their urge to constantly hide in the light is the key to enjoying them and it can easily be done by an experienced aquarist. They’re not hard to keep, but you should learn how to make sure they thrive in your aquarium.

So, let’s dive in with some fast facts about Bumblebee Catfish care, and then we’ll talk about how to keep them!

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Bumblebee Catfish Quick Care Sheet

  • Common Name: Bumblebee Catfish
  • Alternate Common Name(s): n/a
  • Latin Name: Microglanis iheringi
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Tank Size: 10+ Gallons
  • Size: 3”
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Behavior: Peaceful, Ambush Predator
  • Lifespan: ~5 years
  • Reproduction Type: Egg Layer (Very Hard)
  • Water Temperature: 70-77°F (21-25°C)
  • pH: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 8-12 dGh

Origins of the Bumblebee Catfish

The Bumblebee Catfish is a curious South American specimen. They’re quite small, reaching only 3” in length, and they’re peaceful enough for most community tanks. In their native climes they occupy small streams and rivers in the Orinoco River Basin. They occupy both Venezuela and Colombia in the wild.

In the wild, they’re typical catfish. They tend to stay low to the bottom, hiding until something edible catches their eye. While they will opportunistically eat smaller fish, in the wild they most often eat ants and other insects. It’s a behavior that’s seen often in other South American catfish like the Pictus, they’re just smaller than most.

These fish come from relatively neutral waters and tend to be rather hardy. They’ll eat anything and their care is undemanding. Supplying the basics required for any tropical fish will most likely yield success. They’ll need a bit of extra attention to truly thrive but even a beginner can pull it off without any issues if they’re well informed.

Unlike many of the smaller catfish species, such as Corydoras sp. or Otocinclus sp. the Bumblebee Catfish isn’t very specialized. It’s a typical catfish in miniature with some great striping. This makes them easy to care for, but also means you need to be careful about what you house them with. The good news is that at 3” you can keep adult specimens of most tropical fish in the same tank. Some, such as Endler’s Livebearers or the Galaxy Danio will remain too small and shouldn’t be kept with this fish.

It also means that they’re nocturnal and tend to be shy. Bumblebee Catfish will sometimes adapt to a different routine, but in most cases, they’re a fish that’s rarely seen unless it’s completely comfortable.

Their origin waters have heavy vegetation and lots of hiding places. Replicating this in your tank is simple enough, and will help the animal thrive in the long term. Oddly enough, it’ll also increase your chances of spotting them during the day, as they’ll feel much more secure with places to dart and hide.

Ideal Tank Setup

You don’t need a lot to keep one of these fish, but there are a couple of things you can do to make sure that they’re more at home. A happier fish is one that you’ll see more often in this case.

Equipment

The standard equipment is fine for a Bumblebee Catfish, you don’t need anything special.

If you’re just starting in the hobby, then consult the following list:

  • Aquarium- At least 10 gallons for this fish. While small, they need a lot of ground to cover.
  • Filter- HOB or canister appropriate for tank size
  • Heater- Appropriate wattage for the tank. These will usually be labeled by size.
  • Air Pump- For still water these are a must, with live plants you may not need them.
  • Light- For both viewing and your plants.

This will get you started, although you’ll still need a few things for the rest of the tank.

Substrate

Small rounded pebbles are the best for these fish, although some sand is also appropriate. Just make sure that any gravel that goes into the tank doesn’t have hard, sharp corners which will damage the Bumblebee while they’re roaming around the bottom of the tank.

For the best results overall, I recommend something like Flourite. These are substrates that will help with plants and have an extended lifespan over most other methods of putting things down. The nutrients will still expire in a year or so, but after that all you need to do is place down root tabs.

Driftwood and Plants

If you’re looking to mimic the natural biome of these fish then you’ll want to go with driftwood and a lot of plants. Stone can also work, just make sure that it’s aquarium safe before you place it in as some minerals can be toxic.

Driftwood of any sort found at an LFS is fine. Use it to create the hardscape of your tank, and then you’ll be adding plants.

The plants you place in the tank are a matter of preference. All that matters is that the tank has a ton of them, so pick and choose what you’re going for. I find that Vallisneria sp. are among the best for just filling space in a tank and they’re very easy to grow and maintain.

Other good options include Cryptocoryne wenditii, Ludwigia repens, and Hygrophilia difformis. Floating plants help catfish with security, just make sure that you’re able to maintain them. Duckweed, for instance, can overgrow the tank and make it hard during feeding times.

You can also place a ring of something which floats at the surface to keep an area to drop food clear. You’ll need a stronger light than normal for the rest of the plants, however. Something like Water Sprite will be easier to maintain in the long run.

Just make sure you have a ton of plants. Silk plants are an acceptable alternative, and will require less maintenance over time but are often rather expensive upfront.

You can also add the normal decorations you find in stores if you’d like. The catfish doesn’t care if it’s lurking in a castle, pirate ship, or just in some space under a rock.

Feeding

Keeping your catfish well-fed is usually easy. They’ll both scavenge the bottom and opportunistically eat anything smaller than their mouth.

A varied diet makes a big difference in fish health over time. That said, even flake is a complete food for your catfish and won’t cause it to starve.

My recommendation is to feed flake daily and drop in some bloodworms, brine shrimp, or beef heart in frozen form. If you have a lot of top dwellers and the catfish can’t compete then you can thaw the cube first in a glass of water and pour it in. If you do it in front of a filter output, you’ll spread it across the tank and everyone will get a fair shot.

Observing Behavior

These catfish are very shy, or rather they much prefer to hide rather than be out in the open. They’re also nocturnal, so they are rarely seen in tanks that don’t provide them with a lot of security.

What you need to bring them out more is a combination of heavy planting, limiting light, and dither fish. You can use any top swimmer as dither fish. They simply indicate to the catfish that the waters are safe and no larger predators are lurking nearby.

Heavy planting will help them feel more at home, and also allows them to “hide” in places where you can see them. It’s the best way I’ve seen to encourage catfish to come out frequently, especially when you create jungles from plants like Cryptocoryne sp. or Vallisneria sp.

Lastly, limiting light can often help bring catfish out. If you work with a heavy light and low light plants you can achieve this effect by allowing floating plants to shade the bottom. I prefer giant duckweed but there are plenty of options.

By lowering lighting you may not be able to grow some plants. Focus on the ones you can, species like Anubias are great for growing in low light, along with the many variations of the Java Fern.

By the time you’ve done all of this, you’ll essentially have a tank tailored to your Bumblebee Catfish. You can still place them in a normal community tank, but I wouldn’t expect to see them much.

If you do have trouble getting them to come out, a blue moon light will help you observe them at night without disturbing their behavior too much.

Suitable Tankmates

Tankmates for Bumblebees are more a list of “don’t” than a list of “do.” Few fish will bother the catfish, but you want to avoid large predators for obvious reasons. This will also protect the predators, since the Bumblebee has sizable spikes on its pectoral fins.

The following should be avoided:

  • Cichlids- Dwarf cichlids like the German Ram may be an exception but it will depend on the fish. Most are too large and aggressive to share space with the diminutive Bumblebee Catfish.
  • Endler’s Livebearers, Chili Rasbora, other Nano Fish- Too small, they’ll end up as catfish food in short order.
  • Dwarf Shrimp- Dwarf shrimp will be eaten over time by the Bumblebee Catfish. They’re fast and reasonably clever for arthropods, but catfish are very effective predators.

Along with any fish, eel, or arthropod which is big enough to eat them. Still, their size does give you a lot of room when it comes to finding them suitable tankmates. These are great fish for a beginner community tank and you’d do well to consider the following:

The important thing is that they swim in the middle or upper level and aren’t big or small enough for anyone to be in danger. You can manage this with hundreds of different species, but the above will all be easy to integrate into the tank.

They get along well enough with others of their type, but I would limit them to 1 per 10 gallons so that they have enough room to roam the bottom.

Breeding Bumblebee Catfish

There’s a problem with breeding Bumblebee Catfish.

No one seems to be able to get a read on what causes the spawning. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few tales of success here and there. It appears to be a combination of unknown factors causing the spawn and the fry being very vulnerable to being eaten.

If you want to try it out yourself, we do know a few things.

The Bumblbee Catfish is an egg scatterer, and the eggs are roughly 1-2mm across. They hatch quickly, usually within 24 hours of being laid and the fry are free swimming.

It doesn’t appear that there’s an obvious trigger for the breeding event. The male will chase the female as she lays eggs across the tank. The parents are cannibalistic and the fry appear to not flee from them.

So we have a fish which spawns quickly, displays no signs of courtship but mating, and has quick spawning eggs with fry that are a bit dim. You can see how it’s easy to miss the entire affair, especially since most of us aren’t watching the fish at all times.

If you do happen to catch them mating, you still have quite a bit to do. Removing the eggs with a pipette or turkey baster will allow you to hatch them elsewhere. You can put the spawning pair in their own tank and see if they go for it again, but it may take weeks or months.

A mesh setup which allows the eggs to fall but restrains the parents is ideal. The female will get plump before mating, which can be a good indication that it’s time to move the parents into a different tank.

The fry are easy to care for if you can get them. They’ll accept most smaller foods but seem to prefer baby brine shrimp.

The whole process is similar to breeding the various species of tetra. If you have experience there you’ll be able to pull it off.

One hypothesis that floats around is that the fish mate away from their primary territory. It’s supported by anecdotes of people having them spawn when they’ve changed tanks or brought them home from the store.

But that’s about the only lead we have on triggering spawning. Keep a close eye on them and see what happens, but there are no guarantees here.

Tiny, Bright Catfish

The Bumblebee Catfish is an interesting, beautiful specimen that most can keep with no problems. The challenge comes in breeding them and making them thrive enough they don’t spend all their time wedged under rocks. In order to do so, you’ll need to invest some serious time into aquascaping but the end result will be rewarding.

What do you plan to do with your new Bumblebee Catfish?