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Bunocephalus amaurus Eigenmann, 1912

his month (May 2019) we concentrate on a family of catfish that are, on the most part, overlooked by even the most ardent catfish hobbyists. The Aspredinidae family are what is known in the hobby as " Banjo Cats" or "Guitarrita" (little guitar) owing to their long flattened banjo/guitar shape. They are even cited as "Frying Pan Fish". You will probably get my drift now on the shape of this months factsheet individual, namely, Bunocephalus amaurus, the "Camouflaged catfish".



Bunocephalus amaurus - male
Bunocephalus amaurus - male
Bunocephalus amaurus - female
Bunocephalus amaurus - female


The Aspredinidae family is divided into two subfamilies, Bunocephalinae, this months subject, and Aspredininae and can be told apart by the longer anal fin of the latter, and also the longer body.


Similar looking to B. coracoideus but is rarer in imports. Frequently occurs in creeks where it plays the role of a typical bottom cleaner, possessing a broad food spectrum. Lives in the leaf litter in small forest creeks of the interior.




Bunocephalus amaurus - male dorsal head view showing the 'Y' shaped nuchal crest.


Bunocephalus amaurus - male dorsal head view showing the 'Y' shaped nuchal crest.


These catfish are quite often overlooked by the aquarist, most likely due to the fact that they usually hide in the tank or just generally look as if they are dead. The very fact that these catfish give the appearance of death is a natural defense against potential predators—after all, not many fish would be interested in eating something resembling a fallen leaf. Their typical colouration, which is predominantly brown, also helps them to blend in with their natural surroundings.



Type locality: Konawaruk, British Guiana (Guyana)

Type locality
Konawaruk, British Guiana (Guyana)

It is documented that some of the aspreniids are salt tolerant and as such are naturally occurring in estuarine environments. Banjo catfish are generally found in fresh water, with some occasionally being found within brackish-water environments of tropical South America. It is also documented that some members of the subfamily Aspredininae live in coastal brackish waters.


Lives in the coastal rivers of northern South America between Orinoco to Amazon mouths. Present in all freshwater rivers except the Marowijne River where it is replaced by B. aloikae.




The head plate has a shallow 'Y' shaped nuchal crest, its base just in front of the dorsal plate extending forward and dividing level to the base of the pectoral spine. Head and body covered in minute tubercles, plus nine rows of conspicuous tubercles around the tail.

Dark chocolate brown with lighter saddle between the nuchal crest and the dorsal spine and lighter patches on the back between the dorsal and caudal fins. Barbels banded. Dorsal, caudal and anal fins dark brown to black with a white margin, first rays of dorsal and anal and outer rays of caudal banded. Ventral fins mottled with a white margin. Pectoral fins dark brown to black, last rays lightly mottled.

Aquarium Care

Can be kept in groups and are non aggresive inmates in a shallow tank. The main problem is seeing them as they are a nocturnal species and you may be able to spot them if you feed at lights out in the dusk of a half lit room or fishhouse. Provide sand as a substrate as they will dig themselves into this and will smell food as it is introduced.



No problem to keep in a community tank and they will forage out in the open when food is introduced.

This species has not been recorded but B. coracoideus has been bred with the eggs boasting a total of 4,000 and are laid in the sand and would probably be better served if they are removed to a smaller tank or container, and when hatched will need to be fed very fine first foods such as brine shrimp and micro worm, after they have used up their yolk sac. They can then be weaned onto small worm foods such as grindel worm and tubifex.

Sexual differences
Sexing out this species is not easy but a rule of thumb is that the females are larger and fuller in the belly and usually a little darker in colouration.


Adults when settled in their tank are not fussy feeders and can be fed a healthy diet of worm foods such as frozen bloodworm and tubifex and also tablet and pellet foods at lights out.

Glossary of Terms

Caudal fin: The tail.
Dorsal fin:
The primary rayed fin(s) on top of the body
Nuchal: Area between the skull and dorsal fin.
Pectoral fins: The paired fins just behind the head.

Tubercles: Tentacle-like projections.
Ventral fins: The paired fins, between the pectorals and the anal fins.


Bunocephalus: Buno = mound; cephalus = head.(with bumps on the head) 



Friel, J.P. 2003 Aspredinidae (Banjo catfishes). p. 261-267. In: R.E. Reis, S.O. Kullander and C.J. Ferraris, Jr. (eds.) Checklist of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America. Porto Alegre: EDIPUCRS, Brasil.
Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2009.FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication. www.fishbase.org, version (01/2011).

Catfish Association Great Britain: Magazine No. 14, April 1977. Page 8.
Ralph, Chris: Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. The Banjo Catfishes, Issue November 2007.
Mol, H.A. Jan, The Freshwater Fishes of Suriname. BRILL, Leiden Boston, 2012. 889 p.


Photo Credits
© Steven Grant
Factsheet 275

Dysichthys coracoideus amaurus, Bunocephalus amaurus aloikae, Bunocephalus amaurus sipaliwini
Common Name:
Camouflaged catfish


South America: Coastal rivers of northern South America between Orinoco to Amazon mouths. Type locality: Konawaruk, British Guiana.
12.0cm. (4¾ins)
25-28°c (77-83°f.)
6.0 -8.0.
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                                                                                   Factsheet 275 = updated May 2, 2019 , © ScotCat 1997-2019  Go to Top