The Panda Garra, also known as Garra Flavatra, are so cute and adorable that they can definitely take over the top of anyone to get the fish list. They are very active, playful, inquisitive, and peaceful fish.
So, if you are looking for fish with great personalities, intelligence, and those you can interact with, in this case, Panda Garra fit all the requirements.
This complete care guide for Panda Garra covers all aspects, from natural habitat conditions and how they should be cared for within your aquarium, to dietary requirements and how to breed them.
Quick Notes about Panda Garra
|Other Names||Panda nibblefish, Striped garra, Rainbow garra|
|Scientific Name||Garra Flavatra|
|Tank size (minimum)||20 gallons (~80 liters)|
|Keeping||Easy – Medium|
|Size||up to 8 cm (~ 3.5 inches)|
|Optimal Temperature||21 – 25 °C (70 – 77 °F)|
|Optimal PH||6.5 – 7.5|
|Optimal GH||2 – 12|
|Optimal KH||2 – 8|
|Dwellers||Mid and bottom|
|Nitrate||Less than 20|
|Life span||up to 6 years|
|Color Form||Dark with yellow spots|
Note: Although Panda Garra were first collected in 1998 by Dr. Sven Kullander and Dr. Ralf Brits, they were brought into the aquarium hobby only in 2005. Since then, their popularity has been increasing all the time. They have become a good alternative to some of our more common biofilm and algae eaters.
Natural Habitat of Panda Garra
The Panda Garra is native to the Rakhine mountain range in Western Myanmar. The fish have been found in rivers and streams located on the western slopes.
The species normally prefers highly oxygenated and fast-flowing waters where they maintain themselves against swift currents by clinging to the substratum, mainly by means of their suctorial disc but also by the horizontally placed paired fins.
However, Panda Garra have been also found alive in slow-moving waters with low amounts of oxygen. They seem to be very adaptable when it comes to their living conditions.
Description of Panda Garra
The species is relatively small and normally grows to a maximum of 2.5 – 3 inches (6 – 7 cm). Although there have been reports that some Panda Garra that have grown to be 4 inches (10 cm). I have never seen one that large.
Most species of Garra are nearly uniformly brownish to blackish, with sparse, insignificant markings. However, Garra flavatra is unique in the genus with a contrasted pattern of dark brown vertical bars with yellowish interspaces. The fish are normally lighter colored with darker blotches of color.
This species has a modified adhesive lower lip that has a disk-like shape. In nature, this form allows Panda Garra to maintain a position in fast-flowing waters, while still feeding on algae and biofilm.
Once a proper aquarium is set up and optimum living conditions are met, Panda Garra can live up to 5 – 6 years or slightly more.
Panda Garra Behavior
Panda Garra are not shy fish. On the contrary, they are very active fish and prefer spending most of the time in the open looking for food. They also get very tame and associate you with food very fast. They will eat out of your hand and eventually even chill in your hand.
Although they also do not mind the company of their own kind, Panda Garra are not considered as schooling fish and can be kept alone in the tank.
In the company of their own, they love to chase each other in a playful way but in some cases, they can show aggression against each other. If you see that they start losing black coloration and become more yellowish, it is a sign that they are irritated and ready to fight.
Well, the fight is a big word for that, it is more like a scuffle when they start pushing each other from the territory. Once the battle is won and the opponent is not seen, Panda Garra do not chase and do not harass the loser. In addition, they go back to their normal colors almost instantly.
Tip: It is not recommended to buy a small group of Panda Garra. In small numbers, they are more aggressive to each other. Therefore, it should be either one or at least 4 – 6 of them.
Nonetheless, the good thing about them is that Panda Garra will not have any issues with other species of fish. They simply do not care about anybody. Therefore, it makes them a good choice for a community tank of non-aggressive and small fish species.
Panda Garra are very active and constantly exploring and scavenging around all levels of the tank
- Social: Yes
- Active: Yes (Very)
- Peaceful: Yes (with other fish species)
Feeding Panda Garra
Actually, the species is omnivorous, which means that the Panda Garra will eat a variety of different foods, including foods that contain protein. You can feed the Panda Garra:
This species is great cleaners. They do enjoy grazing on micro-organisms in the biofilm and algae. So, you may also want to make sure that there are adequate algae and biofilm growth in your tank.
However, it is understandable that some aquarium owners may not feel comfortable growing algae for their fish. Some tank owners may also lack the knowledge needed to grow algae. This is often the case with first-time aquarium owners. If you don’t feel comfortable growing algae, you can give your fish algae wafers instead.
The Panda Garra will have no problem taking any kind of food as far as the food offered is small enough to fit into its mouth for mastication and digestion. If it is too big, they will push it until it breaks.
Some supplemental foods to give your Panda Garra may include blanched zucchini, spinach, peas, and cucumber. Make sure that all vegetables added to a tank should be verified as pesticide-free.
Note: Their mouth is not really designed for catching floating foods out of the water column. They prefer to pick what lands on the substrate. So food on the bottom is the best for them.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- Food Preference: Algae
- Feeding Frequency: Daily
You can read more about it in my articles:
- How to Blanch Сucumbers and Zucchini for Shrimp, Snails and Fish the Right Way
- Indian Almond Leaves and Alder Cones in a Shrimp Tank.
Are Panda Garra Plants Safe?
Yes, Panda Garra are completely plant safe. They will not eat, uproot, or damage plants in the tank.
Plants like mosses will also greatly benefit them. The structure of the plan acts like a spider web, it catches all the free-floating particles. Therefore, it creates a natural feeding ground for the Panda Garra. Their small size lets them get into places bigger fish cannot. Therefore, they will be often grazing on moss.
Note: Plants with large leaves in the lower half on the tank will be a great hammock for them to rest as well.
Keeping and Housing Panda Garra
Panda Garra are a hillstream species, and while adaptable, they will certainly do much better in a system that is more focused on their needs. Therefore, if we want to create the best possible conditions for them in our tanks, there are still some rules to follow and remember.
Before introducing them to the tank, it should be cycled and fully established.
10 gallons (~40 liters) is the absolute minimum tank size you can keep one Panda Garra in (only if you have a suitably sized pump in there to push the water around sufficiently). Anything smaller and you will have food problems and the fish will not be too comfortable either.
If we are talking about the group and that you need to keep at least 4 of them, Panda Garra should be kept in at least a 20-gallon (80 liters) tank. The species may be small but you do not want the tank to contain too many. The residents of the tank will try to outcompete each other for resources.
A good rule of thumb is that you can have 1 Panda Garra for every 5 gallons of water. Therefore, a 20-gallon tank would be acceptable to house a group of four Panda Garra.
Note: Panda Garra can jump and even climb the walls of the aquarium using their mouths. So, it is better to have a cover.
Temperature: The water in the tank should be anywhere between 70- and 77-degrees Fahrenheit. The equivalent in Celsius is 21 to 25 degrees Celsius. If the temperature of your home normally falls in this range, you are set. You will not need a tank heater to maintain the correct temperatures.
If your house tends to get colder, you may need to invest in a tank heater for your tank. At the same time, Panda Garra do not like the very warm temperature in the tank. So, it is better to keep on the lower end of that recommended range.
Hardness: The tank itself should preferably have a medium water hardness. However, anything in the 2 – 12 dGH range is fine.
pH: Panda Garra also prefer a neutral pH level. A healthy range falls between 6.5 and 7.5 pH.
Ammonia and nitrites should be as close to 0 ppm as possible. You should also keep Nitrates near 0. However, it is okay if the Nitrate levels aren’t exactly at 0ppm. Algae is near impossible to grow when there are no Nitrates in a tank.
When it comes to the tank water, you should change it on a weekly basis. Any water that you add to the tank should also be at least dechlorinated. Dechlorinators are available at any pet store (for example, Seachem prime).
You can start with a 20 – 25% water change and adjust the amount of water removed if needed. You may need to remove a different percentage of water depending on your filter and other tank factors.
Note: If you are planning to keep shrimp in the tank with Panda Garra, keep in mind that dwarf shrimp do not like big water changes. It can cause them to have some molting problems.
The tank with Panda Garra can have a sand or pebble substrate. A mixture of the two is also fine.
You can also keep the tank bottom bare if you wish. However, you may miss out on some of the normal habits of this species.
The species can survive in slow-moving waters but they tend to prefer fast-flowing waters. This preference has contributed to how the Panda Garra have evolved over time.
As I have already mentioned, the lower lip of the Panda Garra is shaped in a way that makes it easier for the fish to maintain a position in fast-moving waters. This is useful at feeding time when the fish need to maintain their ground while eating.
Filtration and Air Stones
Ideally, it is recommended that tanks have a powerful external canister filter or filters that may create at least a strong flow.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Panda Garra prefer highly oxygenated waters. You may also want to add air stones to the water if you feel that there isn’t enough oxygen in the tank.
When you consider what plants to place in your tank, keep in mind that this species needs fast-flowing water. Not all plants will thrive in these conditions (for example, Duckweed, Guppy grass, etc.).
Plants that have a lot of surface area for biofilm growth will be a good choice for an aquarium with Panda Garra. Some suggested plants for the tank are Anubias, Amazon Swords, Vallisnerias, Java Ferns, Java moss, etc.
Keep in mind that plant growth competes with algae growth in a tank. Due to the way that the Panda Garra like to graze on algae, you want to be sure that algae exist in your tank. So, you will also want to expose your tank to high amounts of light in order to encourage algae growth.
Basic Tank Equipment (links to check the price on Amazon)
Sexing Panda Garra
Sexing your Panda Garra can be difficult. You have to wait until they reach maturity. Until they reach maturity, your Panda Garra will look extremely similar.
- When females mature, they tend to be plump compared to males.
- Males tend to be slimmer and they develop tubercles on their heads.
- In addition, the male’s tail color usually changes during the breeding season from bronze to reddish.
If you are able to sex your Panda Garra, they are in breeding condition.
Breeding Panda Garra
Panda Garra are easy to keep and care for but very hard to breed. The main problem is that they are seasonal breeders and require special conditions to initiate the process.
In nature, Panda Garra start breeding from May to July (rainy season). Therefore, the waters should be highly oxygenated and the pH should be neutral. It is also recommended that your water has a low TDS (40 – 60) or conductivity of 80 µS.
After sexing, your Panda Garras, choose a male and a female that you would like to breed. Prepare a tank for them to live in while the breeding process is underway. You can also help the breeding process by feeding your pair foods that contain high amounts of protein.
If you are lucky, the couple will complete the mating ritual. The female will normally lay her eggs in the morning. Eggs tend to hatch within 24-36 hours.
Important: Panda Garra do not have a parental instinct and should be removed immediately after the eggs are laid. Otherwise, they can eat all of them.
The rearing tank should follow the usual tank conditions for the species. It is a good idea to use a sponge filter in order to prevent fry from being sucked into the filter.
You will not have to feed the hatched fry initially. They will feed off of their own egg sacks for the first 3 days. They are then fed yolk particles and they transition to eating artemia in a week.
Potential Problems with Panda Garra
This species has a strong suction cup. They are completely capable of climbing tank walls while feeding. Therefore, it is good to have a tank cover for your tank so that your fish do not try to escape. You should also keep in mind that the Panda Garra can squeeze into extremely small areas.
The Panda Garra is also considered to be a semi-aggressive species to their own kind. Due to its temperament, it can take part in the occasional territorial dispute.
To get around this problem, you can add more plants to your tank. This allows the species somewhere to hide when disputes break out. Anubias plants are a great choice for planted tanks.
Panda Garra and Suitable Tankmates
Panda Garra are not normally aggressive with other species. They are best kept in a community tank of non-aggressive and small fish species.
They do tend to quarrel with each other though. Of course, it is a good idea to monitor the interactions of new and old fish. There could be some behavioral issues that you should be aware of.
Generally, Barbs, Endlers, Tetras, Royal Farlowella, Albino Bristlenose Pleco, Pygmy Cories, Otocinclus Catfish, Harlequin Rasboras, Zebra Danio, Medaka Ricefish tend to be good tank mates for the Panda Garra. Some other good tank mates are hillstream Loaches, Red-tailed rasboras, and White clouds.
Note: There are some reports that Panda Garra can eat the slime coat off slow-moving fish (for example, Angelfish). I have asked some friends of mine but none of them saw anything like that.
Keeping Panda Garra and dwarf shrimp is possible but it may be a little bit stressful for the shrimp. These fish are very active and seems like never stop. Their playfulness and inquisitive character do not correlate well with quiet and calm shrimp.
In addition, Panda Garra are omnivores. Therefore, if baby shrimp are tiny and fit in the mouth, there is always a chance that they will try to snack on them.
Panda Garra are compatible with any freshwater snail. They will do a good job of scavenging for food particles, plant matter, and algae along the lower levels of the tank.
Crayfish and Crabs:
Buying Panda Garra
The Panda Garra are harder to find in person. Many tropical fish stores do not have this species of fish. However, you can buy the fish online. Many sellers have a live delivery guarantee.
This species of fish is great for intermediate leveled aquarists. It does take some research to make sure that all components of the tank are compatible with each other. For example, some plants may not be able to survive the fast-flowing water.
However, Panda Garra prefer fast-flowing water. Temperature compatibility may be another issue that you run into because the Panda Garra thrive in warmer waters.