Bumblebee Catfish 101: Size, Care, Diet, Breeding & More!

The Bumblebee catfish is an unassuming creature you might have overlooked during your times at the pet store. They’re small, shy, and don’t need much attention. 

Bumblebee catfishes are great aquatic pets however, and the previously mentioned qualities work well in their favor. They’re sweet, shy, and a piece of cake to take care of, making them great additions to any community tank. 

The table below gives a quick overview of the Bumblebee Catfish profile:

Profile AttributeValue
Care DifficultyEasy
Lifespan3-5 years
DietOmnivorous
Color(s)Black and dark yellow
TemperamentPeaceful/Very shy 
Maximum Size3 inches (average 2 inches)
Minimum Tank Size20 gallons for one catfish
Tank SetupFreshwater with plenty of hiding places
FamilyPseudopimelodidae
CompatibilitySelective (will eat small fish)

Below is our Bumblebee catfish care guide, continue reading to find out more about its tank size, appearance, lifespan and more.

Overview

The name ‘Bumblebee catfish’ actually pertains to many in the family Pseudopimelodidae. A lot of  the species belonging to this family is referred to in one way  or another as a ‘Bumblebee catfish’. In this guide, however, we focus on one of the more popular Bumblebees, also called the South American Bumblebee catfish (Microglanis iheringi). 

As you can probably tell from its name, this Bumblebee catfish is native to South America. More specifically, it was originally found in Columbia and Venezuela. These fishes are shy bottom-dwellers who seem to hide more frequently than they actually swim. Despite that, these catfishes love a strong current in their tanks almost as much as they love their caves. 

Appearance

You could probably guess what this catfish looks like based on its name. Yup, the body patterns on a South American Bumblebee catfish is similar to- a Bumblebee. These catfishes have all black heads, but their bodies have vertically-oriented stripes. These stripes are alternating dull yellow and black streaks up to their tails, giving them a remarkably unique look. In its head are long barbels, and a very wide mouth, capable of eating anything as long as it fits. 

They also have well-developed pectoral and dorsal spines similar to the Cory catfish. Their body structure is also the same with other catfishes, which is cylindrical and tapers down to the tail end. Bumblebee catfishes’ caudal fins are significantly forked, while the ventral fins are large and fanned out. Naturally, having wide, spread out ventral fins help them move better, and dig around in the substrate for any food. In the wild, these large ventral fins function in navigating the beds of rivers and streams. While it shares plenty in common with other catfishes, Bumblebee cats are distinguished from other types of Bumblebee catfish by a square-shaped spot found at the base of its caudal fins. 

Tip: More than any other fish, the South American Bumblebee is often confused with the Bumblebee Jelly Catfish. These creatures are slightly darker, grow larger, and are generally more aggressive. Be extra careful that you don’t accidentally buy the wrong fish!

Average Size

South American Bumblebee catfishes are relatively small, compared to its relatives. They are known to only reach an average length of around 2 inches. However, This is not their limit. Some report their Bumblebee cats growing up to 2.7 or 3 inches, with the proper care. 

Lifespan

The average life expectancy for Bumblebee catfishes are around 3-5 years. While this seems a bit short, don’t be discouraged. With proper care, you can help your Bumblebee cat reach 5 years easily. In fact, many owners even report extending their catfishes’ lifespans longer than the expected 5. 

Bumblebee Catfish Care Guide

By far one of the most hassle-free aquarium fish you will ever come by are Bumblebee catfishes. They’re hardy and sociable, but they can also be shy at times. They spend most of their days hiding, so you don’t have to worry about them getting into fights. Truly, these catfishes are so low-maintenance you’ll wonder if you even have a pet. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can just neglect Bumblebee cats. As with any other fish, a consistent check up of their environment and water conditions will go a long way to ensuring they’re living their best lives.

Tank Size

If you’re lacking space at home, you’re in luck. South American Bumblebee catfishes are some of the smallest freshwater catfishes, so they won’t take up much at all. A minimum of 20 gallons should suffice for one Bumblebee catfish. And if you’re planning on keeping more than one, add around 10 gallons more per catfish. 

Since these shy catfishes are also great for community aquariums, think about setting up a 50 gallon tank. This size can be good enough for both your Bumblebees and their potential tank mates. 

Water Parameters

The best part about keeping a Bumblebee catfish is they’re not picky at all when it comes to their water parameters. In fact, the water conditions available in most cities can take care of their needs no problem. They need a typically tropical temperature, soft, with a primarily neutral pH. 

Water Parameters:

  • Water temperature: 70-77°F or 21-25°C
  • pH level: 6.0-7.5
  • Water hardness: 8-10 dGH 

The above mentioned parameters are only guidelines to what Bumblebee catfishes generally like. Like we said, these fish are unfussy and will tolerate suboptimal measures here and there. What matters more is that you keep their water conditions well-aerated, consistent, and clean. These guys hate rapid and sudden changes to their environment the most. They also have a reputation of having huge wastes (disgusting, but natural), so clean ups are an absolute must. 

While these parameters are good to know, ammonia and nitrite, and nitrate levels are more important to catfishes. Keep their levels as close as you can to 0 ppm, or your fish can get sick. All in all, Bumblebee catfishes are generally resilient and can forgive the most beginner mistakes, as long as you learn from them.

Tank Setup

South American Bumblebee catfishes are as shy as shy can be. Due to this temperament, the main ornaments your tank should have are caves and hiding places. These hiding places can be anything from aquatic plants to the holes underneath driftwood. Bumblebee catfishes will hide under absolutely anything. They also hate bright lights, and will do all that it can to get to shaded areas in the tank. 

Smooth rocks would also be beneficial to your tank. Apart from being additional hiding spots, they also emulate riverbed rocks familiar to Bumblebee catfishes. In the same way, plants also have a dual-purpose of aerating your tank and providing cover for your shy pets. Choose live, tall, and broad-leaved plants for your tank; although some prefer artificial ones for practical reasons.

When it comes to a substrate, you have to consider the safety of your Bumblebee catfishes. Rocks are ideal, since this is akin to natural riverbeds, but this can also do damage to your catfishes. Their underbellies and barbels can be damaged if you end up buying rocks that are too coarse or rough. Opt for a softer substrate and mix it in with smooth rocks to compromise. 

Bumblebee catfish are also big driftwood fans. They often sleep under driftwood, as well as hide under it when it doesn’t feel like going out.

Before you’ve filled your tank with ornaments and structures, make sure to set up a good filtration system for your aquatic pets. Set up a wavemaker as well (because they love strong currents), along with an air-pump. An air-pump will keep the water well-oxygenated, which is necessary for catfishes. Lastly, regulate the temperature using a water heater. If you live in places without a heating system, water heaters are essential in maintaining a tropical temperature.

Common Diseases

Thankfully, South American Bumblebee catfish are hardy. This not only applies to their tolerance to adverse water conditions, but also their susceptibility to illness. They don’t have any species-specific diseases, and are generally healthy. Many owners end up neglecting their needs however, so their Bumblebees end up falling prey to common aquatic infections. Usually these are bacterial or fungal infections that are treatable with various medications. 

Before things get to that point though, you should try your best in preventing sickness altogether. Perform regular tank cleanups (including removing wastes), observe your fish often, and change 20-25% of their tank water every other week.

Food & Diet

For small fish, Bumblebee catfishes have big appetites. These shy catfishes are voracious eaters who’ll eat anything they can fit in their mouths; this is surprisingly a lot, since their wide mouths are able to stretch in order to accommodate larger-sized morsels. Bumblebee catfishes are generally omnivores, though they do favor high-protein meals. 

Typical of a catfish, the South American Bumblebee frequently scavenges the substrate for food debris and is seldom in the middle and top water levels. In other words, they’re true bottom-dwellers. They’re also very nocturnal, so it’s best to feed them during the nighttime or when your lights are dimmed. However, they will be forced to come out during the day as long as you’ve got food waiting for them.

There is a tendency to overfeed this fish, so beware. Schedule their meals around 2-3 times a day and no more to prevent sickness. 

Bumblebee Catfish Preferred food includes:

  • Sinking pellets/tablets/flakes
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Cooked prawns, mussels
  • Beef hearts (small pieces)
  • Bloodworms
  • Earthworms
  • Daphnia

Temperament & Behavior

Among all aquarium fish referred to as ‘bumblebee catfishes’, the South American Bumblebee catfish is not only the smallest, but also the one with the sweetest disposition. These guys are naturally peaceful, which often borders on timid. They commonly keep to themselves in their caves, and don’t come out unless it’s time to eat. Because of this, Bumblebee catfishes are certainly not ideal display fishes. A good thing about Bumblebee catfishes is that they have absolutely no issues with being kept with other members of its species. This is sort of unusual for catfishes, which are  usually averse to sharing tanks with their own kind. So if you have a mind to keep more than one Bumblebee cat in your tank, you can rest assured. 

Bumblebee cats are strict bottom-dwellers who might as well be classified as cave-dwellers, since they almost never come out of their caves. Always hiding, many owners profess that they almost never see their pet. In fact, you end up spending a lot of time trying to find where your Bumblebee is during the day. Despite this, you could still have a lot of fun observing the many quirks of these creatures.

Tip: If you want to make these fish more active and comfortable to go out, try setting your tank lighting dimly. Dark environments that mimic nighttime will urge them to come out and be seen. Setting up tricks like placing driftwood alongside the tank glass will also give you an inside look of these fishes.

Bumblebee Catfish Tank Mates

Being shy and easy-going, it’s only reasonable that Bumblebee catfishes can get along with a variety of other fish. As a matter of fact, Bumblebees are so reserved, your top to mid level swimmers probably won’t even meet this catfish. Tank mates can go their whole lives not interacting with you shy bottom-dweller, which is sometimes for the best. They’re typically amicable and non-predatory, however there are notable exceptions. 

While also small themselves, Bumblebee catfishes are known to sometimes eat much smaller fish. Tiny fish hanging at the bottom at night will most likely be food for Bumblebee catfishes (bottom-dwelling fish like Neon tetra). This is not a certainty however, because some owners deny this happens with their own Bumblebees

In the end there are but a few guidelines when it comes to Bumblebee tank mates. Its wide mouth can fit small fishes, so it is better to keep fishes that can’t fit into this cakehole. Keep medium to large-sized fishes that are good-humored and non-territorial. Some small fish are acceptable, as long as they’re not bottom-dwelling or nocturnal like the Bumblebee. 

Tank Mates Compatible with Bumblebee Catfish:

Bumblebee Catfish Breeding Behavior

Sadly, successfully breeding Bumblebee catfishes in captivity is unheard of. Many have attempted this feat, though there have been no reports of it being fruitful. Sexing these catfishes is also nearly impossible. Females are said to look plumper when viewed from above, but this can be highly unreliable. 

Bumblebee catfishes are egg layers, preferring the rainy conditions in the wild to spawn. If you’re truly determined to try breeding them, you could begin by emulating these said conditions. Firstly, your breeding tank should be stuffed full of driftwood, plants, and caves, and your water optimal. This is essential in getting your Bumblebees in the mood to spawn. Less than optimal water conditions won’t urge them to get to business at all. Change 20-25% of their tank water and keep temperature between 70-80°F, with pH at 5.5-6.5 with the help of a water testing kit. Another thing you could do is to feed them a diet of bloodworms and seafood such as mussels and prawns. 

If you are miraculously successful with your attempts, the swollen female will lay her eggs in a shaded cave. At this point, make sure your tank is safe and peaceful. Disturbances to your tank can have unwanted effects on your Bumblebees. The daddy catfish usually guards the eggs until they hatch into fry. After that, you can help raise them by feeding these babies baby brine shrimps.

Conclusion

When thinking about what fish to get for home aquariums, many people decide against shy fishes which is a bit unfair. The South American Bumblebee catfish offers not just its beauty to any tank, but also a ton of amusement. In fact, they add an air of mystery and consequent surprise whenever they pop their heads out to say hi. 

They’re some of the sweetest fishes around, and with proper aquascaping, it’s possible to see them living their introverted lives. To top it all off, they’re hardy and very easy to care for. Without a doubt, South American Bumblebee catfishes are perfect for anyone who’s looking for a hidden aquatic gem.

Note: Please consider the environment before printing this Bumblebee Catfish care sheet.

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