The Complete Panda Catfish Care Guide

panda catfish

Corydoras Catfish are a favorite among aquarists. 

They are very easy to care for, making them great for beginners, and they are small and attractive, making them perfect additions if you don’t have much space.

Panda Catfish are one of the most popular varieties. They have a unique design that resembles a giant panda, though that is where the similarities end!

This article will cover everything you need to know when caring for Panda Catfish. We will discuss their diet, preferred environment, breeding, and much more…

Category Rating
Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: Grey with black patches
Lifespan: Up to 10 years
Size: Up to 2 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Callichthyidae
Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater with caves and live plants
Compatibility: Peaceful community

Overview

The Panda Catfish is a freshwater species from the Callichthyidae family. This family is regularly referred to as the armored catfishes.

Their scientific name is Corydoras panda. There are many popular species in this genus; Corydoras Catfish are a common sight in home aquariums.

Since the Corydoras name is so recognizable, Panda Catfish are often labeled with their scientific name. After seeing them, you will realize why they have this name.

They are native to South America in the wild, living in river systems throughout Peru and Ecuador, most notably the Ucayali River.

Nowadays they are widely available in captivity. They are very easy to care for, so beginners turn to them as an introduction to the hobby. They are small too, so they can fit into smaller fish tanks.

If you maintain a clean aquarium and provide a healthy diet, Panda Catfish could live for 10 years or more, so they are a big commitment.

For the best chance of a long lifespan, check fish carefully before purchasing. Look out for signs of disease or injury. You may spot signs across their body or through their behaviors as they swim around their tank.

If you notice any problems, go to a different pet store. This species is commonly sold so there should be many stores selling them nearby.

Each fish will cost about $5 dollars, but you may be able to get them cheaper by buying a few at a time.

Typical Behavior

Panda Catfish make an excellent addition to peaceful community aquariums.

They are peaceful fish that get on well with a wide range of other species. They will mostly ignore tank mates, so compatibility issues only arise if another fish is aggressive.

Virtually all of their time is spent in the lower regions of the tank, or searching for food across surfaces higher up.

They are naturally schooling fish, grouping up together as they move around. This makes them feel more confident and less at risk of being harassed. If kept singly, they would be shy and stressed.

When thinking of shoaling species, you’re more likely to think of mid-water fish like Neon Tetras instead of Panda Catfish, but a group of shoaling fish is always an impressive sight. 

They can be quite energetic, especially at feeding times. They will dart around the dart to make sure that they get their fair share of the food. This can be quite chaotic in a large group.

Appearance

Though they are not the most colorful species, these fish are desired for their unique pattern and classic Corydoras body shape.

If you have ever seen a panda, you will understand why these fish are called Panda Catfish.

They have three black markings on their body. The first one is on their head and covers their eyes, similar to a Giant Panda. Their eyes are fully black, so they blend into the marking.

The second marking covers the dorsal fin (the other fins are transparent) and the third is where the tail attaches to the body (on the caudal peduncle). There are no other patterns to be seen in between.

The size of these markings varies to the point that different varieties of this species have been bred based on marking size. Usually, this is focused around the spot at the caudal peduncle.

The base color of Panda Catfish is quite plain, usually being grey or pale pink.

An adult will have a body length of up to 2 inches, but they tend to be smaller. As armored catfish, they have plates (called scutes) instead of scales across their body which offer added protection.

On their head, they have three pairs of sensory barbels. They also have sharp barbs by their eyes and fins to ward off predators.

A good way to determine the sex of your fish is to look at them from above. Females will be noticeably wider. They also have a rounder belly; this can cause their head to sit above the substrate slightly.

Males are smaller in general, being thinner, flatter, and shorter.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

panda catfish

 

This species is found in freshwater river systems in South American countries, such as Peru and Ecuador.

Specifically, it is most commonly seen in the Ucayali River system. It is also seen in Rio Aquas and Rio Amarillo, among others.

Panda Catfish are often found in blackwater habitats. These waters are darker with reduced visibility due to the leaching of tannins from decaying vegetation.

Tannins also affect water chemistry. For example, pH tends to be significantly reduced in blackwater areas.

While Panda Catfish are found in warm water, it is cooler than similar tropical habitats, so they may prefer cooler water than the other aquarium fish you plan to buy for your aquarium.

The temperature of the water can vary quite a lot in the wild though, the rivers are influenced by the nearby Andes mountain range. When the snow caps melt, the water temperature drops.

The best way to maintain healthy fish is to design your tank around their natural environment. 

For Panda Catfish, you don’t have to recreate the murky blackwater conditions (though it is an option), but you must replicate the water chemistry.

Tank Conditions

Panda Catfish are usually seen sitting on the substrate or swimming around just above it. It is important that you choose a suitable substrate that won’t scratch them or damage their sensitive barbels.

Use a soft, fine-grained substrate like sand.

You need to create plenty of hiding spaces on top of the substrate. Use decorations to create caves that your fish can retreat to when stressed.

Live plants are also recommended. These offer another source of shelter, but they help to keep the tank cleaner too. Panda Catfish would be used to having plenty of vegetation in their natural habitat.

The plant species you use is up to you. As bottom-dwellers, this species will be fine with small plants like grasses. Most aquarium fish will appreciate live plants, so mix in plants to other regions of the tank if you’re starting a community.

You could use some floating plants to create areas of shade. Panda Catfish will enjoy the shade as they are used to darker blackwaters. 

If you want to create blackwater in your aquarium, you could try introducing driftwood that would release tannins. Be careful, as some types of driftwood will raise pH and make it harder to control.

Try not to use a bright light. Dim lights are ideal, but most standard aquarium lighting will be fine.

The only equipment you will need is an effective filter and a heater.

Set the heater to between 68°F and 77°F. The pH should be 6.0-7.0.

What Size Aquarium do they need?

panda catfish

Panda Catfish are small (only 2 inches), so they can be kept in small aquariums. This is useful for aquarists with limited space.

You must keep them in groups though, so the amount of space required goes up as the group gets larger.

You should be able to accommodate a small group (4-6) in a 10-gallon aquarium, but the more space you can provide, the happier they will be.

If you’re a beginner, bear in mind that larger fish tanks are easier to maintain. They will be less affected if you make small mistakes.

How Many Can be kept per gallon?

You need to provide extra space for each additional fish in your shoal of Panda Catfish. Ensure that there are 3 gallons for each individual, but more space is always better if possible.

Tank Mates

This species is perfectly suited for a peaceful community aquarium. They have no aggressive tendencies, so they can live side by side with other peaceful fish.

Territorial tank mates will be problematic as they won’t like having a group of Panda Catfish encroaching on their personal space.

The biggest risk to your Panda Catfish is any fish large enough to eat them, so try to choose tank mates of a similar size.

There are so many suitable species, so you have the freedom to design your own community. Some easy options for beginners include Neon Tetras, Zebra Danios, and Mollies.

To diversify the aquarium a little, you could add some invertebrates. Shrimps and snails are the most common choices, and there are so many species of these to pick from.

Your Panda Catfish should ignore invertebrates.

Can You Keep Panda Catfish Together?

You should only ever keep Panda Catfish in a shoal, never keep them singly.

They naturally group up to reduce the risk of predation as they move around in search of food. There really is “strength in numbers”, especially when you are so small.

A lonely fish will become shy and hide away most of the time. It will also be stressed and more likely to pick up a disease.

Purchase a shoal of at least 4-6 to keep them happy and healthy. They will move around together, making them more confident to be active and explore.

Diet

These fish are omnivores, meaning that they will happily accept meaty foods and vegetation as part of their diet.

This makes them very easy to feed in captivity because most common aquarium foods will be accepted. Beginners will appreciate this since picky fish can be difficult to deal with.

Dried foods (like flakes, pellets, and wafers) are always the easiest option because they are cheap, widely available, and simple to store.

Avoid designing the diet solely around dried foods as their nutritional value is low since most of the nutrients are lost during the manufacturing process.

Supplement dried foods with live/frozen foods. These are packed full of nutrients. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia are all easy examples to find in stores.

Another option is to add green vegetables from your kitchen, such as lettuce, spinach, or broccoli. Chop these up into small pieces. Remove them if they are being ignored by your fish.

You could even try making some homemade fish foods.

A varied diet is always the best way to keep your fish healthy, as they will receive an array of different nutrients.

Feed them 2-3 times a day, but only give them an amount they can finish within 2 minutes. 

Spreading out the feeding eases the work on their digestive system, and helps to recreate their scavenging behavior; they would naturally be searching for food most of the day.

Panda Catfish are good at clearing up food that has been missed by fish from higher up in the tank. Make sure that some food is actually reaching them though.

Care

Panda Catfish are very easy to care for, so they are often recommended for beginners who are looking for some bottom-dwelling fish for their aquarium.

Like all fish, they need a clean environment that resembles their natural habitat. Assuming that you have designed your aquarium as outlined above, maintaining it should be simple.

Perform regular partial water changes to reduce the buildup of nitrates and other pollutants. Wipe away excess algae too.

Using a water testing kit each week is a good habit to get into. You will be able to spot changes in the water conditions quickly, giving you the best chance at fixing the problem before it can affect your fish.

Disease should be rare in a clean fish tank; poor water conditions can be a breeding ground for pathogens.

Watch your fish for signs of disease. They are usually quite obvious, perhaps producing markings on their body or affecting the way they move around.

White Spot Disease (also known as Ich) is a common example. As the name suggests, white spots will appear across a fish’s body.

If you spot a disease, move that afflicted fish into a quarantine tank, hopefully before the pathogen can spread to the rest of your fish.

Use the quarantine tank to treat the fish. Medications for most common diseases are available in stores. You can return the fish to the main tank once the disease has fully cleared.

Quarantining fish from a pet store before adding them to your aquarium is a good idea. Pathogens are often introduced to people’s homes from pet stores.

Breeding

panda catfish

Breeding Panda Catfish can be difficult, but it is possible to do in a home aquarium. 

A clean tank is essential for getting your fish ready to spawn. A nutritious diet is important too, should give them plenty of live meaty foods.

Add plenty of live plants to the aquarium. These should be fine-leaved so that eggs can be attached to them.

Gently reducing the water temperature is a good way to trigger spawning, as it replicates the rainy mating season. You can do this with partial water changes of cooler water.

When the female is ready, you’ll notice a pair begin to court.

The female will then release a couple of eggs for the male to fertilize. These will then be attached to surfaces around the tank, usually live plants.

The process repeats to potentially produce 100 fertilized eggs.

The eggs will hatch after about 4 days. You can feed the fry infusoria until they are large enough to accept an adult’s diet.

For the fry to survive, water conditions will have to be perfect. Do not let the temperature exceed 72°F and pay extra attention to the water chemistry by using a water testing kit more regularly.

You may have to intensify your cleaning regime.

Are Panda Catfish Suitable for Your Aquarium?

Everyone should be able to care for Panda Catfish.

Their peaceful nature means that compatibility will rarely be a problem, and as omnivores, it is very easy to provide a healthy diet.

By regularly testing the water and cleaning the aquarium, you should be able to keep your Panda Catfish for up to 10 years.

As a small species, they can fit into smaller tanks, but make sure you have enough space for a small group, as these fish will get very lonely when kept on their own.

Both beginner and experienced aquarists will be glad they got some Panda Catfish. They are one of the best ways to fill the lower regions of your aquarium.

Are Panda Catfish your favorite Corydoras species? Let us know in the comments below…

About Robert 390 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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