Panda Cory (Panda Catfish) Species Profile

Characteristics, Origin, and Helpful Information for Hobbyists

panda catfish
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The panda cory, or the panda catfish, is a South American species of catfish with a black and off-white coloration pattern similar to a giant panda. Generally peaceful and social, panda corys can be a good addition to a smaller freshwater aquarium.

Species Overview

Common Names: Panda catfish, panda cory, panda corydoras

Scientific Name: Corydoras panda

Adult Size: 2 inches (5 cm)

Life Expectancy: 10 years


Family Callichthyidae
Origin Peru; Ucayali river system
Social Peaceful, schooling fish
Tank Level Bottom-dwelling
Minimum Tank Size 10 gallon
Diet Omnivore
Breeding Egglayer
Care Intermediate
pH 6 to 7
Hardness 2 to 12 dGH
Temperature 68 to 77 F (20 to 25 C)

Origin and Distribution

This popular Corydoras (cory) species originates from Peru, where it is found in the Ucayali river system, the main headwater of the Amazon River. First collected by H.R. Richards in 1968, the species was not given its name until three years later when it was assigned the name corydoras panda by Nijssen and Isbrücker. The name was given in honor of the giant panda of China, which has a white body with black markings over the eyes and extremities, which are mirrored in this attractive cory.

The region from which the panda cory originates is known for its blackwater conditions. The water is on the acidic side and quite soft due to a lack of minerals. Additionally, these waters are a bit cooler than other tropical areas, running in the mid to low 70s on average. When initially introduced to the aquarium hobby, specimens were wild-caught, causing them to be rather expensive to purchase. Eventually, captive breeding programs greatly reduced the price, and as a result, the species has become not only quite inexpensive but also hugely popular.

Colors and Markings

The body of the panda cory is off-white to faint pink in color, with three prominent deep black markings. The first begins at the top of the head and covers the eyes, much like the black markings around the eyes of a giant panda. The second black marking covers the dorsal fin, and the third is at the base of the tail, known as the caudal peduncle. The size of this third spot at the base of the tail varies and has given rise to the big-spot and small-spot morphs of this fish, each being named for the size of the tail spot.

Like other members of the cory family, this fish has two rows of overlapping bony plates known as scutes, rather than scales. Panda corys have three sets of paired barbels, as well as several sharp barbs that serve as a defense mechanism. One barb is located under each eye, another in front of the dorsal fin, and another on the adipose fin. Adults can grow up to two inches in length, but quite often they remain smaller.


Panda corys are extremely peaceful fish that enjoy the company of their own kind. They should always be kept in groups, preferably of a half-dozen or more, but keep at least four if space is limited. Panda corys are highly social and are known to tag along with other bottom-dwelling species, most notably clown loaches.

Although they get along well with virtually all species, it is not wise to keep them with large or overly boisterous fish that might pick on them or appear to be threatening. Tiger barbs, for example, are not a good companion due to their tendency to nip at other fish. Small to medium-sized tetras, danios, and rasboras are good companions for panda corys. Other small catfish such as aspidoras, as well as any cory species, are also suitable.

Panda Cory Habitat and Care

Like other corys, the panda cory needs good water quality. Regular water changes are important, as is a good filtration system. Err on the side of over filtering with this species. Water temperature for this species is slightly lower than is typical of other warm-water species, as it originates from a region with slightly colder water than other tropical zones. Since almost all panda corys sold now are captive bred, most can tolerate warmer temperatures.

The substrate should be soft and fine; use either fine gravel or sand. Live plants are ideal, but not required as long as there is plenty of decoration that provides shade and hiding places. Caves, rocks, and driftwood are excellent ways to make this catfish feel comfortable and at home. Floating plants, either real or artificial, are helpful to provide shade.

Panda Cory Diet and Feeding

Panda corys are great scavengers that snap up any food that falls to the bottom. However, if housed in a community tank with other fish, care should be taken to ensure that sufficient food reaches the bottom of the tank for the corys. Sinking food tablets or pellets are a great option, as is lodging food under decor with tongs.

A varied diet is important for optimal health. Include meaty foods when possible, either live or frozen. Shrimp, worms, insects, and any crustaceans are good choices. They seem to be particularly fond of bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia. Several prepared food tablets are formulated specifically for corys and are a great food choice for panda corys. Keep in mind that this species is active at night, so consider dropping a few food tablets in the tank just before turning off the lights for the night.

Gender Differences

The female panda cory is larger and has a more rounded underbelly; females are much wider than the male when viewed from above. Often the rounded belly of the female causes their head to sit a bit off the bottom of the tank. Males are sleeker and shorter in length than females.

Breeding the Panda Cory

Breeding of this species was initially thought to be quite difficult, but time has proven that breeding is possible in the home aquarium. The breeding tank should be furnished with Java moss or other fine-leaved plants for the eggs to be deposited upon. The breeders should be well conditioned with live foods, such as bloodworms, brine shrimp or daphnia. Spawning can be triggered by a partial water change with cooler water to mimic the breeding conditions in nature that occur during the rainy season.

When the female is ripe with eggs, she will accept the advances of the male, and they will assume the classic "T" position seen in many Corydoras species. The female will cup her pelvic fins together and drop one or two eggs, which are subsequently fertilized. She then seeks a place to hide the sticky egg, generally on vegetation. This process will continue for several hours until as many as 100 eggs are laid and fertilized. These eggs are adhesive and light yellow in color.

In approximately four days, the eggs will hatch. They are quite sensitive to water temperatures, which should be no higher than 72 F. Fry do best with infusoria, but may also be fed commercially prepared fry foods if necessary. Water quality is critical, and water changes should be performed only with water that exactly matches the water parameters of the fry tank. It will take up to three months before the fry achieves the panda coloration of the adults.

More Pet Fish Species and Further Research

If panda corys appeal to you and you are interested in some compatible fish for your aquarium, read up on:

Check out additional fish species profiles for more information on other freshwater fish.