Pictus Catfish – Habitat, Care, Feeding, Tank Size, Breeding

The pictus catfish is a common catfish species in the aquarium trade. It belongs to the Pimelodidae family, whose members are distinguished by their extremely long barbels. The fish has a silver body with dark spots and stripes. The sharp spines on their pectoral and dorsal fins can easily get caught in nets.

There are two types of this fish, namely the small-spotted variety and the large-spotted kind. The latter is more prevalent in aquariums and they are smaller than the small-spotted fish.

Pictus catfish are active swimmers, and they prefer to feed at night.

Pictus Catfish Natural Habitat

This catfish was first described in 1876 by the Austrian zoologist Franz Steindachner with populations in the warm waters of South America. The fish is found in Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia, and it has been recorded in the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers. 

Wild pictus catfish have adapted to shallow waters where they swim in large schools. They like rivers with a steady flow of water and a sandy or muddy bottom. The fish is sometimes confused with the Synodontis Angelicus catfish from Africa because they share similar characteristics.

Pictus Catfish Tank Requirements

If you want to keep pictus catfish in an aquarium, you should consider mimicking their natural habitat. Also, there are some things to consider before buying a pictus catfish:

– Tank Size

The pictus catfish averages at 5 inches in size. Although it is a small fish, it needs a lot of room to roam and swim as it is quite active in the aquarium. The minimum tank size for this catfish is 55 gallons. If you keep them in a cramped space, the fish will quickly get stressed and sick.

The pictus catfish especially thrives in a wide tank, and 150 gallons would be perfect for three of them. Try and keep at least 4-5 of them to bring out their shoaling characteristics. You will, therefore, need a large tank if you are going to accommodate the adult sizes of several of them.

– Substrate

The pictus catfish is adapted to sandy and muddy river beds in the wild. You can use a sand-based substrate to mimic this natural habitat.

– Plants and Decor

You will need plants, driftwood, and ornaments to replicate a riverine biope in your tank. Plants like Java Fern, Hornwort, Amazon Sword, and Anubias are hardy, and they do not need a lot of light. You can attach these plants to decorations and maximize the floor space that is available for the fish.

Use river rocks, clay plant pots, smooth stones, wood, and caves in the tank, but leave plenty of open areas for swimming.

– Lighting

The pictus catfish is a nocturnal species, and it will retreat to caves and crevices during the day. In the wild, they inhabit thickly planted regions and dimly lit waters. You will hardly see them moving if your tank is brightly lit.

Your tank should be placed away from direct sunlight, and you can use floating plants to reduce light. Rocks and plants will also provide a lot of shaded areas. When choosing plants, select low-light varieties.

– Filter

Pictus catfish prefer a strong current, and it is best to over-filter your setup. A canister filter is ideal because it offers a decent amount of water flow and great ability to purifying the water.

You can also use a circulation pumps or power heads to provide strong currents. The fish are sensitive to nitrates, and you want to use an effective filtration system.

Pictus Catfish Water Requirements

Ensure that you give your pictus fish enough room to swim. They are an active species, and they roam in groups of 4-5.

The ideal temperature range is 75-81 °F with the PH at 7.0-7.5. The fish are particularly sensitive because they are scale-less, and you need to perform regular water changes.

Pictus Catfish Diet and Feeding Requirements

Wild pictus fish are scavengers, and they will look around for plant matter and meat. They eat algae as well as insects, small fish, insects, and snails. This catfish is easy to feed because it will accept whatever you provide. You should avoid keeping small fish like neon tetras that can fit into the mouth of the pictus catfish.

The base of their diet should be high-quality, sinking pellets. You can use wafers, in addition, to live foods like daphnia, mosquito larvae, shrimp, and bloodworms.

Once you add the fish to your tank, they will become frenzied during feeding times until they get used to the environment. This catfish is known to eat until it cannot take more, and it often ends up with a distended stomach. Adults can feed every few days since they will forage around the substrate for algae and leftovers.

Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

The pictus catfish have a mellow temperament, and this peaceful nature has made them a staple in community tanks. They love to retreat to crevices, but they dash out at lighting speeds during feeding times. You may fail to spot this catfish for days, especially if your aquarium is brightly lit.

The pictus fish thrives in groups of the same kind. You can keep up to six of them in a large tank and watch them shoal together.

The fish can consume smaller fish as long as they can fit in its mouth, and it should, therefore, be the smallest in a community tank. This catfish is also a vigorous swimmer, and it can easily injure slower species like cichlids.

The fish is not aggressive but it has been known to harm fish near it with its sharp barbels. These barbels can also injure people, and you should move them in sturdy containers.

You can keep the fish with catfish of similar size or larger. Other ideal tankmates include rainbow sharks, giant danios, and opaline gourami. Avoid aggressive varieties like the Jack Dempsey fish and the African cichlid.

Pictus Catfish Breeding

Breeding the pictus catfish is notoriously hard. For the fish to achieve sexual maturity, they need to spend most of their lives in open waters. This means that you will need to raise them in several hundred gallons for there to be even a chance of them breeding.

The fish is also tricky to sex, and there are no significant differences between the male and female.

How Big do Pictus Catfish Grow?

Pictus catfish usually grows to a size of 5 inches (12-13 cm). They will reach their maximum size at around 2-3 years of age.

Are Pictus Catfish Aggressive?

No, pictus catfish are not-aggressive at all. In fact, they often will get bullied by aggressive tank mates. Even though, they are not aggressive, they will eat smaller fish. Pictus catfish will practically eat any fish that fits into their mouth.

What is the Lifespan of Pictus Catfish?

If kept in good conditions, pictus catfish can live up to 8-10 years. You can extend the lifespan of your pictus catfish by providing good water quality, good tank mates, quality and variety of food. Also, pictus catfish tend to live more if they are kept in a group.


The pictus catfish is a peaceful addition to aquariums, but its sharp barbels can injure slow swimmers. The fish is quite active, and it demands a lot of open space.

You can keep up to six pictus catfish, but there are slim chances of them breeding.

Catfish   Updated: May 15, 2020
avatar Hello, my name is Fabian, and I am the Chief Editor at Aquarium Nexus. I have over 20 years of experience in keeping and breeding fish. The aquarium hobby brings me immense joy, and I take great pleasure in sharing my experiences with others.

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