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

The red tail catfish stands as one of the most attractive catfish species. As a member of the Pimelodidae family, the red tail catfish is long whiskered, with a beautiful white belly and red tail.

It is the only member of this genus that has this distinct appearance. The catfish can reach five feet or more and can weigh up to around 180 pounds. To say the least, this fish is really big.

Because of its huge size, it is a favorite game fish. That‘s why anglers love them. This catfish is sometimes known as the Banana Catfish or South American Red Tailed Catfish.

In this article, we will discuss all you need to know about this catfish so that you can make informed decisions on whether or not to keep it in your home.

Being a massive freshwater fish, it might be ideal for experienced aquarists. But we don’t want to leave out people who think they have the capacity to keep it. 

Redtail Catfish Natural Habitat

The Red-tailed catfish is said to be the last living fish in its genus, which is over 13.5 million years. In the world, the red tail catfish inhabits the streams, rivers, and lakes.

It is native to the Essequibo river basins and the Amazon Orionoco of South America. Due to its large size, it might be unsuitable to most home aquariums.

Nonetheless, you can keep it in your home aquarium if you are planning to keep it for a short while.

Though they begin quite small in size, these fish can grow quickly. So, if you don’t have a huge tank, you better avoid this fish. The red tail catfish are mostly kept by professional aquarists.

Some aquarists who keep the fish often donate it to public aquariums when they outgrow their home aquariums. 

Redtail Catfish Tank Requirements

Caring for the red tail fish is not particularly hard, only that it requires space. As stated above, the red tail catfish is not a small fish, so it needs a huge tank.

The minimum tank size of an adult catfish should be between 1,500 – 2,000 gallons. This should keep them enough room to wander around and be active without feeling unhappy or cramped. 

This tank size is obviously quite a lot when compared with most home aquariums. This is where some potential aquarists will call it quits, as it might not be viable.

What you don’t want is to compromise with something like a 1000-gallon aquarium, as it will outgrow the tank, which is quite dangerous. That is why many people prefer to keep them in indoor ponds. 

Note that this fish can grow an inch every week, so most of them will reach two feet within months. With the right conditions in a home aquarium, the red tail catfish can grow to over 4 feet, and when left in nature, they can grow even larger.

In terms of substrate, you can have a bare bottom. The red tail catfish eat literally anything that can fit in its mouth. So, you should avoid gravel, decorations, and loose parts in your aquarium.

But if you don’t like the appearance of the bare bottom tanks, you can use a layer of sand. Being middle to bottom-dwelling fish, you might not need to provide so much lighting. 

Redtail Catfish Water Conditions

Like for any freshwater fish, the red tail catfish requires that you maintain specific water parameters. In the wild, the red tail catfish live in tropical environments, so you need to match these conditions.

They prefer water that is between 20 and 26o °C (68-79 °F). If you stay in an area where the climate drops regularly, you can use a water heater to keep the temperature stable. 

Besides the temperature, the red tail catfish flourish in water with a pH of between 6.0 and 7.5, but anything below 7 is ideal.

Sadly, maintaining optimal water parameters can be challenging, especially with such a big tank. It is completely a different experience heating a tank that is only 20 gallons compared to a huge tank that is almost 2000 gallons.  

Due to the amount of food that red tail catfish eat, they release a lot of waste, which presents another challenge with regards to water quality. You need an effective filter.

Unfortunately, you might not be able to find a suitable traditional filter that will suit the size of the tank. So, using a sump filter might be a better option, but it comes at a cost. If your budget doesn’t allow for a commercial sump, you may want to construct your own.

Redtail Catfish Diet and Feeding

The red tail catfish is a good eater. Period. It can chow down on random things like rocks, driftwood, and even gravel. That is why you should not include much in your tank. 

With the above knowledge, you can feed this fish on anything you want, of course, something nutritious. Just like any aquatic pet, red tail catfish have certain dietary and nutritional requirements. Also, keep in mind that they are omnivorous, so they prefer meaty foods.  

In their natural habitat, these fish eat insects, smaller fish, worms, and even random vegetations that come their way. So, you may want to give something that mimics their diet in captivity. Some good suggestions include:

  • Worms
  • Small fish like crayfish
  • Shrimp
  • Cut up meat

Besides this, there are other pellets and frozen food options you can try to provide a good nutritional baseline. If you are feeding them with pellets, make sure they are sinking carnivore pellets because catfish love to spend time at the bottom. 

While choosing what to give your red tail catfish, make sure to use clean and safe food. Live feeders, specifically, are often grown in unsuitable conditions.

So, they could be carrying parasites and diseases, which, in turn, affect your catfish. In any case, there are several healthy and nutritional alternatives to live feeders. 

It is also critical not to overfeed your fish. These fish can become a bit sluggish after each feed. You need to give them a break to digest food properly.

Preferably, give them one large meal per week. With that said, juveniles should be fed each day. Once you get to know them, you will easily spot signs of sluggishness. It indicates that they need a break. 

Redtail Catfish Tank Mates

The red tail fish exhibit a rather contradictory behavior. Sometimes, it is peaceful and at times it is super aggressive. It can also be shy and inactive.

Basically, it depends on the circumstances it is exposed to. If you place them with small fish, the red tail will be aggressive and predatory. Placing them with species that are of a similar size, it will be peaceful. 

Redtail catfish are known as territorial fish, not only with its one special but even with other fish in the Primelodiae family. Ideally, you can keep the red tail catfish on their own.

But since they love to spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank of hiding in caves, you can encourage them to interact.

Perhaps, place the tank in an area where you spend most of your time so that the fish gets used to interacting with you. The good thing is that red tail catfish can be trained to accept food from your hands.

Even better, you can introduce friendly tank mates such as Stingrays, Gars, Black Pacu, Iridescents, and Datnoids. Oscar’s and Sailfin can also make good tank mates mainly due to their armored defense. To avoid any form of aggression, try to house these tank mates together from a young age.

Redtail Catfish Breeding

There are no reports of these catfish having successfully reproduced in aquariums. This could be attributed to the fact that red tail catfish are territorial in nature, plus they are huge fish meaning you need to provide a large enough tank for them to cohabit.

With that said, breeding has been accomplished in some regions through the use of hormones. 

In the wild, these fish are oviparous and can breed in the same manner as other fish. In these environments, the female often chooses a secluded spot to lay her eggs, usually on a flat surface. In one spawning, several eggs can be laid, sometimes even up to 20,000.

Typically, older and larger females tend to lay the most eggs, while younger females tend to lay the lesser number. 

After the female lays the eggs, the male catfish will spray the laid eggs with sperm for fertilization to take place. The fertilized eggs will take about ten days to hatch.

It is not clear yet about which of the sexes guards the eggs. But the male catfish are usually the ones protecting the fry for the first free days or weeks until they leave the nest. 


Anyone passionate aquarist can keep a red tail catfish. The major deciding factor is the ability to provide the right conditions, including tank size and water quality.

Besides erecting a large tank, you need to set aside time and commitment to feed the fish and change the water.

So, if you are committed to providing your catfish all these needs, then the red tail catfish is a beautiful and interesting fish to keep.

Monster Fish   Updated: June 29, 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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