Panda Care Guide: Tank Mates, Feeding, and Breeding

The Panda Corydoras is an amazing, lively little fish that’s suitable for fishkeepers of all experience levels. All you need is a little bit of know-how to get there.

Let’s get into it, and we’ll show you everything you ever wanted to know in our Panda Care Guide.

Corydoras panda

Panda Cory Quick Care Sheet

  • Common Name: Panda Corydoras
  • Alternate Common Name(s): Panda Catfish
  • Latin Name: Corydoras panda
  • Care Level: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Tank Size: 10+ Gallons
  • Size: 2”
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Behavior: Peaceful Bottom Dweller
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years
  • Reproduction Type: Egg Layers
  • Water Temperature: 68° -77°F (20°-25°C)
  • pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Water Hardness: 2–12 dGH

Origins of the Panda Cory

The Panda Corydoras is a small, schooling catfish that hails from South America. It’s found in Peru and Ecuador in fast-flowing streams and rivers. The Panda Corydoras is a true Corydoras sp., unlike a few species that are similar but not quite the same.

These fish reach up to 2” in length, and have white bodies with two vertical black stripes. The stripes are what provide them with their name since they resemble a Panda Bear.

Their environment is the best study to learn how to keep the fish in captivity. Let’s take a brief overview and find the information you need.

In this case, Corydoras panda hails from fast-flowing streams where they swim along the bottom and collect food. They require clean water due to their natural environment, usually softer and with a slightly acidic pH.

In these areas, the floor of the river is flooded with sand mixed with leaf litter, often with dense patches of vegetation. Corydoras sp. Often feed by sucking up sand and loose matter, then pushing it out through their gills.

In the wild, Panda Corys live in enormous schools numbering hundreds to thousands of fish. Like any schooling fish, you shouldn’t add only one or two to a tank. In this case, the recommended amount is eight but six should be sufficient in smaller tanks.

Some people are under the impression that Corydoras are primarily herbivorous. But, that’s not the case.  These fish mainly eat insect larvae and other microfauna in the wild. They do eat some vegetation, but it’s not their primary diet.

Supplying them with live food isn’t necessary, but it’s an option for those who want to make sure their Pandas are as healthy as possible.

One last note: Panda Corydoras aren’t a good idea as a “scavenger” fish. At most, they’ll help keep the surface of the substrate cleaner, but they do have a significant bioload of their own. 

The key points for the aquarist to take away are the following:

  • Water quality is important for Corydoras, their natural environment is rather clean.
  • High flow is fine despite their small size, Corydoras naturally live in areas with a large volume of water movement.
  • The substrate is important for these fish, both to make it easier to feed and to protect their barbels.
  • Corys are micro predators for the most part. Feed meaty foods or live foods for the best results.
  • Dense vegetation in some areas of the tank is useful for providing cover and security for these fish.

Ideal Tank Setup

Your Pandas don’t have a lot of hyper-specialized requirements to keep, but the difference between keeping them alive and them thriving is in their tank’s construction.

Fortunately, all of this is easy enough for the newbie fishkeeper, so buckle down and let’s talk about the perfect Panda aquarium.

Recommended Equipment

You shouldn’t need any specialized equipment for these fish. The following is a good start:

  • 10+ Gallon Tank
  • HOB or Canister Filter
  • Heater
  • Sandy Substrate
  • Lighting
  • Hardscape Elements (Rocks or Driftwood)
  • Water Conditioner

That’s enough to get you started for the most part.

You’ll want to run more filtration than it says on the box. Most filters are rated for a certain tank volume. Your Panda Cories appreciate clean water and don’t mind high flow volume, try running 1.5x-2x the rated capacity of filtration.

For instance, a filter designed for a 20-gallon tank is a good fit for your 10-gallon tank.

Canister filters are a good idea if you’re using a smaller tank. They can provide a lot of flow, and they also add water volume to the system. Your tank shouldn’t be frothing with current, but more flow than you see in most tanks is ideal.

Panda Cories live at lower temperatures than many other tropical fish. An ideal temperature range is 68° -77°F (20°-25°C), so your heater should have actual temperature controls rather than just a dial.

The biggest element of the tank that people mess up is the substrate. Corydoras require a sandy substrate to maintain their health, even small rounded gravel isn’t the best choice. Using sandblasting media or commercial play sand isn’t a bad idea, as long as you make sure there are enough nutrients to support the required plant life.

For those purposes, you’ll need to know your plants. We’ll talk about using plants in an inert substrate in just a moment.

Don’t perform a fish-in cycle with Panda Corydoras. Ethics aside, they’re sensitive fish and won’t make it through a serious cycle.

Consider Reverse Osmosis Water

To get the recommended parameters in order for the Panda Cory, you may want to consider using water coming from a reverse osmosis system. The softer water has a lower pH and it’s much easier to tweak things from a reverse osmosis base.

Distilled water can also be used, but may require you to add minerals back if your Panda tank has mollusks. The lack of calcium can create thin and weak shells.

RO water isn’t a requirement in most places. You don’t need to go out of your way to find it unless you already have a home system. If your water is exceptionally hard and alkaline you may want to simply purchase distilled or RO water, but it’s rare for levels to be that high.

Plant Recommendations

Cover, speed of growth, and your substrate will all come into play here.

Aquatic plants take their nutrients both from the water column and from the substrate. Some pull more from one source or the other, Cryptocoryne sp. can suffer even in a tank with heavy nutrients in the water column for the most part.

Most of the commercial aquarium sands with actual nutrients are a bit rough for the barbels of the Panda Cory. For that reason, many people opt to use alternative inert mediums. If you choose to do so, you’ll need root tabs for many plants.

The following are some good choices for a Panda tank that pull most of their nutrients from the sand or soil:

  • Cryptocoryne WenditiiThe most common Crypt available, they even come in a few colors. Just be aware that most will go through Crypt Melt when placed in a new tank, and you’ll need some patience for it to grow back.
  • Vallisneria sp. There are a lot of Vals out there, but the main distinction is size. Smaller varieties work well in 10-30 gallon tanks and they’re easy to grow as long as you have nutrients in the soil.
  • Sagittaria subulataDwarf Sagittaria is the only “carpet” plant I’d recommend for use in a Cory tank. It grows similarly to Vals, so you can trim the runners back to create a feeding area for your Pandas.
  • Echinodorus sp.The ever-popular Swords are a good choice to keep with Corydoras. They provide a ton of cover while not taking up too much surface area, especially if you’re careful about pruning.

You can also populate the tank with plants that primarily pull from the water column. The following are good options for a new tank keeper:

  • Elodea densaAnacharis is readily available, grows in all water conditions, and just needs a bit of liquid fertilizer and high lighting to really flourish. Consider leaving it floating to provide a feeling of security.
  • Java Moss- Java Moss is a favorite for many and it’s possibly the easiest aquarium plant to take care of. It’s also going to become a permanent feature in most tanks so consider things carefully.
  • Anubias sp.The flowering Anubias species are all a good fit and don’t necessarily require root tablets. If you tie them to driftwood and supply the right amount of nutrients they’ll grow slowly but surely to take over any hardscape element they’re attached to.

You can also plant the usual suspects for experienced aquascapers. Rotala, Ludwigia, and other stem plants look great but also take up room on the floor of the tank. It takes some experience to keep these plants healthy and pruned properly.

For that reason, I recommend not going for carpet plants. They’re hard enough to keep alive without catfish rooting through them constantly. They’ll also require constant maintenance to keep a good amount of the aquarium floor open for your Cories to feed.

CO2 isn’t a bad idea for a Cory tank either, as long as you invest in the lights to support it. It can lower the pH a bit in alkaline water, but you’ll have to trim plants more often. If you’re going the CO2 route try to have at least 2W or 100 Lumen per gallon of lighting.

Open Space and Spot Feeding

Pandas need an open area to feed, despite their love of vegetation.

Preparing these areas can be done in simple or complex ways, depending on how you’re planning on doing things.

A simple setup would simply be to leave a portion of the tank in the front unplanted. The problem arises when you use plants that spread since they’ll encroach on the area you’re planning for the Pandas.

The best setup is to use a divider. HDPE, polycarbonate, and acrylic sheets are readily available and aquarium safe. There are both solid and grid-style dividers made for aquariums, I prefer the latter even if they lead to a bit more maintenance.

You’ll want to place the divider when you initially set up the tank. Trust me on this one: placing a divider into a filled, established tank isn’t worth it. 

Forethought is key to fish tanks, but circumstances often change. A divider is the best option, but most people will be fine just keeping a sandy area in the middle of the tank clear. Most people place it against the aquarium glass, making it a handy viewing spot.

If all is well, this is where your Cories will spend most of the day.

Ideally, you’ll also have the tank setup so that the flow is a bit lower in this area. HOB filters make it harder. On the other hand, a good canister filter can effectively create a spot where the food will sit without current interference.

Spot feeding just requires a cup and a turkey baster. Place the food in the cup with water, allow it to thaw if frozen, and suck it up. You can then insert food directly into the feeding area, making sure your Pandas get food even in a busy community tank.

Hiding Spots

Making caves with the hardscape is just good practice when you’re working with aquaria. Panda Cory will appreciate them, both for the shade and security they provide.

Caves are most important for Panda Cory in a community tank. Unlike some species, such as Corydoras aeneus, Pandas tend to be a bit shy when there are active, top-level fish swimming around.

If your Corys seem shy and withdrawn while you’ve got the correct water parameters, then try adding some hiding spots.

Substrate Choice

The substrate for your tank can’t be emphasized enough when we’re talking about Cories of any kind. They can survive on clown puke gravel but it’s not good for them. Apart from giving them trouble with their eating habits, it can also damage their barbels.

Black Diamond blasting media is a common choice, especially since it’s cheap compared to most aquarium sand. It’s no sharper than any other sand, the attribute taken advantage of for sandblasting is the hardness of the mineral.

Play sand, like that for sandboxes, is also a good inert option. I recommend rinsing it if you go this route, to remove some of the ultra-fine silica. Be aware that it will create some dusty conditions when disturbed regardless of the rinse.

You can also find purpose-made aquarium sands with nutrients. One thing to keep in mind is that most planted tank substrates will be mostly inert in six months to a year in a heavily planted tank. You can save a lot on tank setup by just getting something inert and root tabs to go along with it.

Do not use gravel or sharp-grained sands in a tank with Panda Corydoras. It can cause the fish constant light injuries to the face and barbels, which will inevitably lead to an infection. Most infections will be terminal by the time you’ve noticed, just use sand.

Cycling the Tank

Panda Cory will not tolerate a fish-in cycle.

They’re not fragile, but their sensitivity to water quality means they shouldn’t be placed into the tank before you’ve got the nitrogen cycle going.

Cycling is simple, but here’s a refresher for the beginner:

  1. Begin by adding a small pinch of flake food daily to the fishless tank.
  2. Test the water daily for ammonia, it should soon test positive. Keep up daily testing until it no longer shows.
  3. Test the water for nitrite daily. Detectable levels should show up shortly after the ammonia, and fade over a couple of days. Keep testing until it no longer registers with your kit
  4. Begin testing for nitrates. For Pandas, you’ll want to aim for under 15ppm. Less than 10ppm is better.

The whole process will take anywhere from 1-3 weeks. Use that time to establish your plants. Getting them to root and begin growing in the tank will help alleviate the boredom of an “empty” tank.

Panda Cory Behavior

Pandas are lively little critters, and they’re also quite social. Understanding their behavior will give you an indication of whether or not they’re happy in the tank.

Panda Corydoras should be kept in large groups. 6 is the bare minimum, but 8 is better. In the wild they exist in enormous social groups, numbering hundreds of members.

They’ll spend most of their day sifting through the sand at the bottom of the tank. Their barbels allow them to find scraps of food hidden in the substrate, and they can filter a mouthful of sand rapidly through their gills.

The key takeaway about their general behavior is simple: Pandas are active but peaceful fish. They’re unlikely to harm any of your other tank inhabitants, but they’re not good companions for fish that don’t like high activity levels.

Charging to the Surface

One common behavior seen in Cory Cats is them charging the surface. They’ll often swiftly go from the bottom to the top of the tank, releasing a bubble as they do so.

Corydoras don’t have a labyrinth organ-like anabantoids, or at least there isn’t one described in any of the literature available to the layperson. It appears that they absorb oxygen through their posterior intestine, but the end effect is the same.

Basically, these fish take in air and it slowly absorbs into their bloodstream in order to help with oxygenation. It appears this is mainly of use to the fish during the rainy season, where the water will be filled with sediment and the fish will be swimming in areas that aren’t underwater all year.

Corydoras swimming to the surface of the tank is normal behavior. It may be a bit surprising for newbies, but it’s just a part of their lives.

That said if your Panda is going to the surface more than two or three times per hour there may be a problem.

Rubbing/Flashing

On occasion, Corydoras will begin to rub themselves on various hardscape items or the substrate. This isn’t normal behavior, and it means you may have an issue to address. It’s technically called “flashing” for those who want to dig into the behavior further.

Flashing usually occurs due to skin issues or gill irritation. Both can be a problem in the species, especially with Panda Cory who are a bit more sensitive than the more common species in the genus.

Inspect the fish visually before you begin real observation. Diseases like Ich will show physical signs and require immediate action. Red Blotch Disease is another common and identifiable infection, and it’s one that primarily affects bottom feeders.

Another issue that can cause gill irritation is high nitrates. Try doing a test if you can’t see anything wrong with the fish initially, anything over 20ppm may cause problems for these little guys.

If you can’t find anything immediately, you should pay attention to when your Panda are flashing. One often missed possibility is chloramine, a chemical that’s used to make water safe to drink. 

The problem is that unlike other forms of chlorine it doesn’t off-gas quickly. Instead, it remains in the water column, irritating sensitive spots on the fish like gills. Chloramine can be bound up with some water conditioners, including the ever-popular SeaChem Prime.

Flashing is a good indicator something is wrong, the problem may just be pinpointing it. Find the problem as soon as you can, flashing can cause scrapes and other wounds which put the fish at risk for infection. 

If fin-rot or some other malady hits, you’ll almost invariably lose the fish.

Schooling Behavior

Corydoras naturally exist in large shoals in the wild, and you should always keep them in groups. Most schooling fish are recommended to be kept with 6 or more, but it’s usually better to have at least 8 Panda Cory together.

Some people want to keep multiple species of Cory in a tank that doesn’t have room for several groups. Corydoras will “hang out” with other species in the same genus, but they don’t always school together. It’s best to keep up the minimum number of each species and add more of the same if you’re looking to add more fish.

Most anecdotal accounts of these fish schooling together in different species stem from confusion on the part of the aquarist. 

In particular, Corydoras aeneus is sold under different common names when they have different colorations. Albino, Green, and Bronze are among the varieties sold, and they will school together.

Corydoras panda will socialize, but not school, with other Cory species. Keep that in mind if you’re planning on getting multiple species. Utilizing other Corydoras sp. in the same tank isn’t a bad idea, but you should be aware that each species will form its own school.

Sexing Panda Corydoras

If you’re planning on breeding your Panda, then you’re probably interested in knowing which sex they are.

Unfortunately, Panda Corydoras don’t have much sexual dimorphism. When viewed from above a female Panda will usually be plumper than a male, but it’s not a reliable method of telling them apart.

You may have to wait for them to breed to know which ones are male or female. In any case, it would be extremely rare for a person to purchase six or more Panda Cory without receiving both males and females in the mix.

Suitable Tankmates

Finding tankmates for Corydoras is easy. There are a lot more fish that are compatible than incompatible with these quick little bottom-dwellers.

The only ones excluded are the usual subjects:

  • Cichlids
  • Large predatory fish
  • Large invertebrates (ie: Crayfish, Red Clawed Crabs)

They don’t mind sharing the bottom much, and they’ll freely associate with loaches and other small catfish.

Cory’s have strong barbs in their pectoral fins, which can harm other fish trying to eat them. A fish that’s just big enough to eat a Cory can get them caught in their mouth, which will kill both fish.

Mid and top-level schooling fish are an excellent choice. The following are some readily available examples:

Essentially, they’ll fit in with most community tanks as long as no one in there is big enough to eat them. Try to find fish that work in a cool water tank, there’s a good range of overlap between a Panda and “normal” tropical fish, but they still prefer to live in cooler water for the most part.

That’s even more important if you plan to breed them.

The bigger problem is that your Panda Corydoras like it colder than most tropical fish. Pick your fish accordingly and you won’t have any problems.

Oddball Fish and Panda Cory

Corydoras are suitable to keep with some of the stranger fish out there, you just need to be careful. Their affinity for sand opens up some interesting options.

I’ve successfully kept Corydoras species with Peacock Eel and Senegal Bichir in the past. In both cases, the oddballs were added after the Corydoras and were immature specimens when received.

Keep in mind that pairing oddball fish always leaves things up to chance a bit. Cory are better at this role than most, however, especially since they have armored scutes instead of normal scales and strong barbs on their fins. The latter, especially, makes them an unappealing meal to many fish that could otherwise eat them.

Suitable Invertebrate Tank Mates for Panda Cory

Invertebrates are an essential part of any aquarium’s system.

Fortunately, Corys are good with most of the common ones. They’ll be fine with snails and shrimp for the most part, although you’ll want to avoid crabs and crayfish.

Malaysian Trumpet Snails are a good snail to add. These tiny snails like to dig through the substrate, which aerates the sand and releases any pockets of gas from decaying material. Substrate health is very important for bottom-dwellers.

The other commonly found snails are all fine additions as well.

These fish also fit in well with most of the common dwarf shrimp species. In particular, they thrive in the same temperature range as Red Crystal Shrimp and require many of the same conditions.

Of course, Cherry shrimp are always the best dwarf shrimp for a newbie. You can easily form a colony of them by dropping in roughly one shrimp per gallon, as long as you don’t have any fish that will eat the shrimplets.

Breeding Panda Cory

Pandas are easy to breed, you just need to make some special accommodations and be sure that you’ve got your parameters spot on.

Corydoras fry are very vulnerable, and they’re sure to end up as snacks in a community tank. Panda will also eat their own fry on occasion, so it’s best to set up a separate breeding tank to grow out the fry.

If you choose to let the fish breed in their normal tank you’ll have to rescue the eggs yourself, which requires careful observation and a bit of finesse.

The male and female do a small courtship dance, then assume a “T-position.” In this position the male approaches the side of the female, if you look down from the top of the tank you’ll see they form a T.

The female will then swim around the tank, planting eggs on plants or the glass on the side of the tank. Watch carefully during the egg-laying process so you know where they’re at. In most cases, the female will favor plants if they’re an option.

After the female is done depositing the eggs, you can trim plant leaves that have eggs on them and place them in a breeding net. The breeding net should be placed at the outlet of your filter, the eggs need current to avoid infections.

The female will lay between 10-30 eggs while breeding. Plan accordingly. You’ll find the first few egg batches can be quite small, and Pandas produce less eggs on average than most Corydoras sp.

If the eggs are deposited on glass or a hardscape element you may have trouble removing them. The eggs are quite sticky. With a bit of care, you can transfer them to your finger and then to a plant leaf to place in the breeding net.

Alternatively, a fully cycled 5-10 gallon tank makes an excellent place for the fish to breed and you can simply remove the adults once the eggs have been deposited. Make sure that you put a sponge over the filter inlet to prevent the fry from being sucked in.

Triggering Panda Cory Breeding Behavior

Panda Cory will often begin breeding without prompting, provided their tank is in the right parameters. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

There are a few things you can do to trigger your Pandas if you’re having trouble.

The first is to begin feeding meaty, varied foods to the Cory. Live foods are best, but frozen foods will work. The fish need a lot of protein to breed, and they may not get it if you normally feed them with only fish flake.

Many aquarists have found a 25-50% water change with cooler water helps. It mimics the rainy season in their natural environment. You can take it a step further and begin making 25% water changes every 3-4 days if your fish are particularly stubborn.

Panda Cory Fry Care

The eggs will hatch in 3-4 days. You should have powdered fry food available for them shortly after they hatch. At this stage, they’re still a bit young for live foods, but you’ll be switching to those soon.

Cory Fry are susceptible to temperature; try to keep things at 72°F(22°C). You should also test the tank daily if it’s recently established, as the fry are vulnerable to ammonia and nitrite as well.

You’ll feed fry food for 6-7 weeks in most cases. Some people like to drop in the occasional algae wafer for the fry to graze on as well.

Once they’ve gotten a bit bigger, you can switch to live foods or sinking pellets. Live foods like Daphnia and immature Brine Shrimp are the most commonly used food items.

Once they’ve reached ½” long or so, you can transfer them to their permanent home and begin feeding them adult foods.

Corydoras panda reaches sexual maturity between 8 months and a year, at which point the cycle begins again!

Panda Cory Care Revealed!

Pandas have their quirks, but just like the rest of the genus, they’re easy to care for and lively. With a little bit of preparation, you’ll be able to easily help these fish thrive in your aquarium. It’s just about building the system properly in the first place!