Pictus catfish care guide

Pictus catfish (lat. Pimelodus pictus) is a tank fish of average size, it is a member of the catfish family Pimelodidae. Further in the article, you’ll find out how to keep pictus catfish, feed it, select tank mates, and breed it.

Habitat in the wild

Pictus catfish birthplace is in South America. It is spread over Amazon and Orinoco rivers within Peru and Colombia. It is often confused with an upside-down catfish, but these are two completely different species, Synodontis dwells even in Africa.

In the wild pictus catfish inhabits in lentic waters and as a rule lives where the water flow is slow, the bottom is sandy or muddy. This is a schooling fish and you can often encounter it swimming in large schools.

This fish is a benthopelagic one. It requires clean freshwater. This is a bottom dweller that becomes active when it starts getting dark. The fish feeds on small fishes, snails, prawns as well as larvae, fruits, insects, detritus. This catfish uses its barbels to find the prey.

Scientific NamePictus catfish
Common NamesPictus catfish; pim pictus; pictus cat
Range and habitatSouth America
Size11 centimeters (4.3 in)
Lifespan3-4 years
Ease of keepingEasy
Minimum tank size160 liters (40 gallons) and more
Temperature72°F- 78°F (22 to 26 °C)
Water hardness5-20 dGH


In a tank pictus catfish can grow up to 16 centimeters (6.3 in) long, but as a rule it is 11.0 centimeters (4.3 in) long. The lifespan is 7-8 years.

Pictus catfish has a tall elongated body with a tall triangle dorsal. The fish has three pairs of short barbels and one pair of barbels on its upper lip is long. These barbels help the fish find food in very muddy water.

Pictus catfish has a bilobular tail fin with deep cut-out. The main color of the body is silvery with round black spots both on the body and fins.

To move the Pimelodus pictus from one tank to another use a dip net, since the fish has very sharp spines on the first rays of its pectoral fins that may cause very painful injury.

Difficulties in keeping

This is a simple fish in terms of keeping in a tank, but it becomes active only in the evening and at night (as it does in the wild). Another thing is that this catfish just like the others can hunt small fishes at night.

Care and keeping in a tank

You should be especially careful when transporting the fish since it has poisoned spines that can stab a package and hurt the owner. The wound isn’t toxic, but it is quite painful and may hurt for several hours. Therefore, you mustn’t touch the Pimelodus pictus with your hands! To catch and transport the fish use plastic containers.

Tank size

This is an active catfish and it needs a large and spacious tank with a lot of space for the fish to swim. Minimal tank capacity for this catfish is 200 liters (44 gallons). We should mention that even in a tank of 200 liters capacity you can keep several species, since the fish is not a territory dependent one and it can easily dwell together with its kind.

It’s better to keep them in a small school of at least 5 species.

Water parameters

Tank water parameters to keep catfish should be the following: water hardness 6-15°, pH 6.0-7.5, water temperature 22 — 26 °C.

Tank decor

Tank lighting should be dim and not bright, especially there shouldn’t be any bright light on the tank bottom. The thing is that the fish will hide during the day if the tank is lighted too brightly. However, if the light is dim it’ll be active.

There should be lots of shelters and nookeries in the tank, where the fish can hide during the day. This is a crucial thing if you want to keep pictus catfish successfully.

It’s better to create a biotope that resembles a river – with snags, sand and stones. Since it’d be rather difficult for tank plants to survive in a shaded tanks, it’s better to use undemanding kinds of tank plants – java moss, anubias nana.


As for the water filtration, it is very important and it’s better to use a medium powered external filter. Due to it you can create moderate water flow, that the fish likes a lot.

It is of crucial importance to renew tank water and clean the bottom regularly, since pictus catfish is very sensitive to ammonia and nitrates content in the tank water.


It’s not a troublesome thing to feed pictus catfish. Just like many other catfishes they eat almost everything they can swallow. In the wild the fish is omnivorous, it feeds on insects, fish juveniles, algae and water plants.

Tank mates

This catfish is a predator that will eat everything it is capable to swallow if it comes to small sized fishes. Though the pictus catfish demonstrates completely peaceful behavior towards large and average sized fishes.

You should keep the fish only with equal sized tank mates. All small sized fish species like: guppies, neon tetra, cherry barb will be eaten. Catfish gets on well with clown loach, rainbow shark, tiger barb and other large or fast fishes.

Gender differences: male vs female

How to tell between female and male is still unclear. There is an opinion that the females are larger than males and they have fatter abdomen.


There is no reliable information about breeding either. Even the behavior that looks like a spawning one was quite seldom seen.