Pictus Catfish: Complete Guide to Care, Breeding, Tank Size and Disease

Pictus Catfish Overview

A hobbyist looking for fish with an energetic personality and delightful colors should consider keeping the pictus catfish. It has become very popular amongst most aquarists as it exhibits very interesting characteristics. Of course, it requires lots of care too. For that reason, it may not be a very good idea for novices. The fish is more for seasoned hobbyists.

Scientifically, the pictus is known as Pimelodus Pictus. Other names used for these fish include catfish and pictus cat. It belongs to the family of the pimelodidae.

The combination of the popping colors and their friendly and enthusiastic nature isolates them from their tank mates. If you are a hobbyist with a zeal for unique fish species, you are going to love housing this one in your home.

The unique characteristics of this fish can be a challenge to tend to. So, novice fish hobbyists are often suggested to steer clear of it. However, if you do have a preconceived notion about these fish and what they entail, we’d recommend keeping them in your house tank.

This guide will discuss everything there is to know about Pictus Catfish and the basic guidelines to taking care of it.

Information Chart Pictus Catfish
Scientific Name Pimelodus Pictus
Family Pimelodidae
Care level Intermediate to Expert
Temperament Peaceful and active
Color White with black spots
Lifespan Up to 10 years
Size Up to 5 inches
Diet Omnivore
Minimum tank size 50-55 gallons
Temperature 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit
Water conditions Freshwater with strong current
Tank mate compatibility Same species, similar-sized fishes

Appearance of Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish

They are unmistakably white or silver with black spots on the whole body. They also bear white barbels that may stretch to the caudal fin. They have very sharp pectoral fins. Both the caudal and pectoral fins are transparent.

The body is slender. This may stretch to lengths of 5 inches in captivity. In the wild, they often grow longer. Like most catfish, the pictus boasts of a forked tail. The mouth is turned downwards.

Like the majority of the other types of catfish, this one has a staple white to the silver body with specks of black spots all over it. The fins are transparent, adding a unique look to them. If you want to distinguish this fish species from others, the easiest way to spot them is by their whiskers. They are long enough to reach up to their caudal fins, alerting them of danger in the surroundings.

The sharp spines and fins in the pictus catfish protect them and attack other fishes that try to come close to their vicinity. The downturned mouth can make you feel that they are frowning all the time. However, that is how they are shaped.

As for sexual dimorphism, distinguishing the male and female pictus catfish can be a challenge. However, there are slight differences in their shape and appearance that make them stand out. The female ones are slightly larger and have a rounded shape around the abdomen during their peaks of sexual maturity.

Lifespan of Pictus Catfish

The average lifespan of a pictus catfish is between 8 to 10 years. So, if you are looking for a fish species that you can house and bond with, this is a good addition.

However, just because they have a longer average lifespan doesn’t mean you can take their care for granted. Typically, they do need ideal water parameters and additional care to live a comfortable life. A combination of poor diet, ill-breeding conditions, and unclean water can cause premature death of the fish.

Since they live better in the wild instead of in captivity, you must make the efforts to give them a comfortable life they appreciate.

Pictus Catfish Size

The pictus catfish typically grows up to 5 inches in length. This is a very standard size for any catfish species. However, keep in mind that 5 inches is the maximum it can grow. Typically, they range between 4-5 inches in length in captivity.

Much like their lifespan, even their growth is directly proportional to the kind of care. So, ensure that you focus on that without fail.

Natural Habitat and Origin

The pictus fish is native to the Amazon River and Orinoco. It is found in Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and Columbia. It is often confused with the Synodontis Angelicus catfish, which is native to Africa. While they share several similar characteristics, they require very different conditions to survive.

In its wild surrounding, it prefers shallow yet warm waters. It dominates river bottoms with muddy or sandy soils. They are shoaling fishes in the wild and normally live in large groups.

The Pimelodus Pictus is typically a freshwater fish, as most catfish species are. Besides their common and originating habitat in the Amazon River and surroundings, these catfish have been found to shift around too. Drifting from their hotspot, the Pictus Catfish has been found in Peru too.

The fish species was described by Franz Steindachner, an Austrian zoologist, in 1876. It was first found in South America and has been found prevalently there. One trait about this fish that should be noted is that they have extremely sharp pectoral fins.

So, if you are transporting them from the aquarist to your home, practice caution. They will move around and try to break free from the enclosure. Instead of using a regular fish net to transport them, use a plastic container or portal aquarium to transfer them to their new home.

Pictus Catfish Care and Tank Setup

Pictus Catfish Tank Size and Specification

Infected Pictus Catfish Tank Setup and Specifications

Although beginner hobbyists aren’t advised to house a pictus catfish, you can’t deny that this one is quite a versatile choice. If you follow the basic care guidelines, housing this fish in your home aquarium shouldn’t be as difficult as you think.

In this section, we will be sharing all the basic tank requirements that you should follow.

Optimum Tank Size for Pictus Catfish

The recommended tank size for pictus catfish is a minimum of 55 gallons. If you are adding any extra fish to the count, we’d recommend increasing the tank capacity by 40-50 gallons more.

The primary reason why this fish species requires such a large tank is due to its active nature. They don’t sit in one place and relax. So, despite their comparably smaller size, you will need to have a larger tank to keep up with their energy levels. For more than three, a tank of 150 gallons should do.

Housing them in smaller tanks can cause distress in the long run, putting them in discomfort, leading to premature death.

Filter Type

Since they are freshwater fish from larger water bodies, they require the river water flow. If you can’t emulate the same in captivity, they will have difficulty growing to their full potential.

For the best replication of natural habitat, we’d recommend integrating a hang-on back filter. They create a consistent flow of water and keep the fish healthy and in the best living condition.

A high-power filter is needed to reduce the biowaste these fish create. So, if you are sitting here expecting things to clean for themselves, it won’t. You need to get rid of the excess waste to reduce the ammonia and nitrate levels in the water.

A hang-on filter could also be a suitable choice as it offers a good water flow. It also keeps the nitrate concentration in the tank to a minimum. The pictus are quite sensitive to nitrates.


Since the pictus catfish has a white and lighter appearance, a dark-colored substrate is considered ideal. Also, as for the texture, we’d recommend going for a sandy texture instead of the roughened rocks and big chunks that take up the entirety of the tank.

Water Parameters for Pictus Catfish

The pictus stays in warm waters in its natural environment. That is why it is found in shallow streams or rivers. To ensure it remains healthy in captivity, the same water temperatures should be maintained in the tank. The following tank requirements will do for the fish:

Water Temperature

The ideal water temperature for Pictus Catfish is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a slightly warmer temperature, so you need to set up the tank accordingly.

pH Level

The perfect water pH level for Pictus Catfish is between 7-7.5. This suggests that they enjoy neutral to ever slightly alkaline pH. However, some hobbyists suggest that the fish thrives well in a mildly acidic pH of 6.5.

Water Hardness

The ideal water hardness should be between 5-15 dH.

Pictus Catfish Tank Landscape

Pictus Catfish Tank Landscape

The Pictus Catfish, although quite an active fish, does require a definitive setting in the tank. The best would be to replicate what they experience in the wild. The lighting should be dim. If not, the plant canopy will have to be heavy to provide some level of darkness at the bottom of the tank.

Place several rocks with crevices to allow them to hide in the daytime. Also, you will need to add enough sand and some earth to give them a muddy feel. They love to swim in mud in their natural habitat. Try to mimic this. Put in some driftwood and add plants with wide leaves to provide a canopy. Java moss, hornwort, and moss balls are some of the best plants for the tank.

Provide a filter for the tank that will ensure there is a strong current flow.

While decorating the inside of the tank, keep in mind that the last thing you want to do is go overboard with them. They need enough space in the tank to move around without any restrictions. Also, as weird as it sounds, this fish has a habit of stretching its fins to relax after a hard swim time.

Feeding Pictus Catfish

In the wild, pictus catfish eat about anything. They scavenge for any type of food they can chance upon. Since they are considered omnivores, they eat both meat and plants.

Foods to keep them healthy in the aquarium are:

  • Insects like black-worms, earthworms, ants, dragonfly larvae and snails. Clean the worms properly to avoid contaminating the tank. Also, be sure they (insects) do not have insecticides if they are offered live.
  • Frozen foods are a specialty too. Frozen daphnia, bloodworms and brine shrimp are a delicacy to them.
  • They also feed on small fish. Avoid keeping them in the same tank with fish like neon tetras.
  • Feed them vegetables like lettuce and spinach.
  • They mostly settle at the bottom of the tank. Put the feeds at the bottom so that they enjoy their meals. Placing food at the top may irritate or stress them.
  • They are scavengers who are likely to disturb the substrate as they look for feeds. This means that the bottom of the tank needs lots of reinforcement so that it is not skewed.
  • They have a large appetite that must be minded. If not, they may be aggressive to the smaller fish. Not to forget is the fact that cleaning the tank regularly is a necessity. Leaving the tank with waste for long periods may contaminate the tank and the food therein.

Also, since they are significantly larger than several other freshwater fish species, you need to be vigilant about the tank mates. Avoid putting them with smaller fishes like neon tetra since they will end up becoming their meals.

Another feeding factor worth considering is the fact that they are bottom feeders. This means they need sinking pellets for their food instead of the flakes that will float on the surface. It is also thus important that you don’t go overboard with the food you are giving them in the tank. Overfeeding from the bottom can result in health issues and distress.

Pictus Catfish Behavior and Temperament

Pictus Catfish don’t want trouble. And, that reflects in their behavior too. So, if you want a peaceful fish for your home aquarium that will keep to themselves, this is a good choice.

Since they are bottom feeders, that is where you will find them most of the time. They are either swimming around in search of food, or they like to explore the substrate and the hiding spots. Since they live their privacy so much, it isn’t a question that decorating the tank accordingly is important.

You want to provide them with enough hiding spots to make them feel safe and at home. This is typically what they do out in the wild, so there’s nothing to be afraid of.

While you can expect not to see them for days at a time because they prefer hiding, it can be the opposite too. On some days, they can be extremely active and come out of their hiding spots and have fun around. You need to check them out on those days and try and interact with them if needed.

Also, they are quite fast on their “feet.” Yes, they will zip around the perimeter of the tank in a matter of seconds, especially when there is food involved.

Pictus Catfish Tankmates

Pictus Catfish with Gourami

The pictus is known to be non-aggressive. They are not territorial either. All the same, certain factors must be kept in mind when keeping them in the same tank with other fish. They are likely to eat smaller fish if not well fed. When choosing tankmates, avoid smaller fish that can fit into their mouths. They are also very active fish that swim about the whole tank. Slower fish like the cichlids should not be kept in the same tank. As earlier stated, they have sharp fins that may harm other fishes.

Keep the pictus with other tankmates only if it is the smallest, known to be predatory. This way, the tank will be safer for the other species. Good candidates for sharing the same tank with the pictus include the giant danios, opaline gourami, and other catfish.

Even though pictus catfish is often not advised for beginners, when a keeper sets the mind to offer all tank requirements and feeds, the fish should do just fine, even for a novice.

Besides the guidelines for housing them in a community tank, there are restrictions to housing them together. While many individuals will suggest keeping them in groups, we can assure you that they can survive without their kind.

However, for better behavior and interactions, keeping them in a shoal is a preferred choice. Make sure you house 3-4 at a time and not more. The reason why they are kept in a shoal is because it brings out their best. They are more active and interactive when they have other playmates of their kind.

If you are keeping around 6-7 at a time, we’d recommend housing them in a larger aquarium of 150-200 gallons capacity.

Breeding Pictus Catfish

Like several fish, the pictus’ sex is not easy to determine. Both the sexes look alike. However, the females become rounder during their breeding periods.

So far, not much has been recorded about the pictus fish breeding in captivity. However, stocking a number of them can give one the chance to breed them for trial purposes. Some aquarists have successfully breeding fish, not because they know how to distinguish between the sexes but because their trials succeeded.

Pictus catfish live as a group. When three or four are placed in a tank, there might be one male among females or vice versa. Chances of breeding are high. An enthusiast may just try.

The reason hobbyists suggest leaving out from trying it in the first place is their difficulty in sexual dimorphism. It is close to impossible to distinguish between the male and female fish.

Also, breeding this species is considered difficult because they need to be in the open to reach sexual maturity. So, if your pictus catfish has grown up in captivity, that becomes a problem.

We’d simply recommend buying them from pet stores and commercial aquarists who have the resources and knowledge that go into the successful breeding process.

Pictus Catfish Diseases and their Treatment

The good thing about pictus catfish is that they are hardy. Until you have managed to mess up their living conditions and the water parameters completely, they are good to stay in captivity and grow to their full potential.

Infected Pictus Catfish

However, like any other catfish species, Ich is a common issue that can put them at risk. Your safest bet with these fish species is to be vigilant. If you notice something amiss, remove them. If you find them not coming out of their hiding spot, isolate them and give them the treatment they need.

Taking care of the pictus catfish is not as complicated as it sounds. All you need to do is clean up the tank and change the water as advised.

Also, keep the water parameters in check. Any sudden change to the water temperature or pH can make it difficult for the fish to adapt. That is possibly the last thing you need.

Are Pictus Catfish Right for You?

The Pictus Catfish, although a predator, is an amazing addition to any aquarium. If you have the means to accommodate them, we’d recommend you add them. They do come with specific care instructions, but every other fish does too.

With a few tweaks and consistent practice, even a beginner can effectively take care of these beautiful fish species without any complications.


Which fish species go the best with Pictus Catfish?

Since the pictus catfish is predatory, aquarists are often concerned about which species to add and which ones do not. If you ask us, we’d recommend housing them with Angelfish and discus. Both of them are freshwater fishes and require similar water parameters to the Pictus.

Can a Pictus catfish live in a 10-gallon tank?

Although the pictus typically grows up to 5 inches, they still need their space. Considering a 10-gallon tank for them isn’t enough. It will suffocate them and put them at risk of premature death. So, try to ensure that you introduce them to a larger tank to keep them in shoals.

Can Pictus catfish live with guppies?

Pictus and guppies aren’t compatible tank mates. The primary reason is due to their drastic size difference. The guppies are extremely small in size and will become food for the catfish. So, avoid housing them together.

Will Pictus eat neon tetras?

Like the guppies, even neon tetras are small in size. So, if the pictus is hungry and there’s no food in the vicinity, they will munch down on the neon tetras thinking they are food.

Can I keep just one Pictus catfish?

Although it isn’t uncommon to house them alone, keeping them in a shoal of 3-4 is ideal. This brings out the fun side to them and keeps them more active in the tank.


We hope you have all the information needed to house some fun and interactive pictus catfish in your tank if you have reached till here. They are a good species to observe from the outside. However, they do need some work. So, if you are willing to commit, we’d recommend that you get into housing them in your home aquarium without any further questions.

For the readers who have further queries, make sure you leave them for us in the comments, and we’ll get back to you with the answers.

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