Redtail Catfish Care: Complete Guide for Beginners

The Redtail Catfish is an amazing monster fish! In this comprehensive article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about this fascinating species, from identification to breeding. By following our beginner-friendly advice, you’ll soon become a confident and successful Redtail Catfish owner.

redtail catfish

This page may contain affiliate links, which will earn us a commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Redtail Catfish Species Profile and Identification

The Redtail Catfish, scientifically known as Phractocephalus hemioliopterus, is a popular and much-loved species of freshwater fish originating from South America. They have an interesting appearance, with their elongated bodies, flat broadheads, and of course, the iconic red tail from which they get their name.

  • Size: Adult Redtail catfish can reach lengths of 3 to 5 feet, however, in a home aquarium, they usually grow up to 1.5 to 3 feet.
  • Lifespan: With adequate care and a suitable environment, Redtail Catfish can live for 15-20 years or even more.
  • Coloration: They have a dark brown or grayish body with small white spots dispersed all over, and their fins and tails have dark red or orange hues.
  • Temperament: Despite their intimidating size, Redtail Catfish are relatively peaceful and can be kept with other large species.
  • Unique features: Two things make Redtail Catfish stand out: their barbels (or whiskers) near their mouth, which aid in locating prey, and their ability to produce sound using their pectoral fins and air bladder.

Keep in mind that Redtail Catfish require a large tank, specialized care, and can be quite messy; this makes them suitable mostly for experienced fish keepers. By learning about their unique characteristics and care requirements, you’ll be well on your way to giving your Redtail Catfish a happy and healthy life.

Redtail Catfish Supplies

When it comes to gathering supplies for your Redtail Catfish, it’s important to plan and have a clear understanding of what’s necessary for maintaining a healthy environment. In this section, we will outline the essential supplies you will need for the proper care of your Redtail Catfish.

  • Aquarium: Redtail Catfish require a spacious tank due to their rapid growth and large adult size. We recommend a minimum 75-gallon tank for juveniles, but be prepared to upgrade to a 300-gallon or larger tank as they grow.
  • Filtration: A high-quality, powerful filtration system is crucial in maintaining clean and stable water quality. Opt for an external canister filter rated for three to four times the size of your tank.
  • Heater and Thermometer: Consistent water temperature is paramount. Invest in a reliable heater and thermometer to ensure it maintains 76°-80°F.
  • Air Pump and Air Stone: Provide aeration for your Redtail Catfish by installing an air pump and air stone. This helps to ensure sufficient oxygen supply.
  • Lighting: Redtail Catfish don’t require specialized lighting, but a basic aquarium light improves visibility and enhances the beauty of the tank. Keep it on for 12-14 hours a day.
  • Substrate: Redtail Catfish prefer sandy or fine gravel substrates. This creates a more natural environment and reduces the risk of injury.
  • Decoration: Include places for your catfish to hide, such as driftwood, caves, or PVC pipes. These provide a sense of security and keep stress levels low.
  • Water Testing Kit: Regularly monitoring water parameters is vital to ensure a healthy aquarium. A complete water testing kit should include tests for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH levels.
  • Maintenance Equipment: Acquire a gravel vacuum, an aquarium-safe algae scrubber, and a sturdy net for cleaning and maintenance purposes.

Finally, don’t forget to stock up on high-quality pellet or sticking foods specifically designed for carnivorous catfish. Mixing this with a variety of frozen or live foods ensures a well-rounded diet for your Redtail Catfish.

Redtail Catfish Tank Setup

Setting up a proper tank for your Redtail Catfish is crucial for its overall health and well-being. The first thing to consider is the tank size. Redtail Catfish are known for their rapid growth, eventually reaching more than 3-4 feet in length, so it is essential to provide a tank that can accommodate their size.

  • Start with a minimum size of 120 gallons for juveniles.
  • Upgrade to a larger tank, around 300 gallons or more, as your catfish grow.

Redtail Catfish are bottom dwellers that prefer to hide in dark spaces, so it is essential to have a substrate that mimics their natural habitat. A mixture of sand and fine gravel is a suitable choice, as it provides a comfortable surface for resting and burrowing.

A few more aspects to consider while setting up the tank include:

  • Decorations: Add driftwood, caves, and rocks to provide hiding spots.
  • Plants: Include live or artificial aquatic plants for added cover and environmental enrichment.
  • Filtration: Invest in an efficient and reliable external canister filter to maintain water quality.
  • Heater: Redtail Catfish are tropical species, necessitating a heater to maintain stable water temperatures between 72 and 79°F.
  • Aeration: Ensure proper oxygen levels with an air pump and airstones.

Ensure the tank setup is complete before introducing your Redtail Catfish to reduce stress and promote a smoother transition. Once the tank is ready, make sure to acclimate the fish carefully to its new surroundings, following proper acclimation procedures. A well-designed and comfortable tank setup will greatly contribute to the health and happiness of your Redtail Catfish.

Redtail Catfish Water Requirements

When it comes to providing the perfect environment for your redtail catfish, water quality is of the utmost importance. These fish thrive in clean, well-oxygenated water with stable temperature and pH levels.


The ideal water temperature for redtail catfish is between 75-82°F (24-28°C). It is crucial to maintain consistent temperatures, as sudden fluctuations can lead to stress and illness in your fish. Consider investing in a quality aquarium heater and thermometer to help you keep track of temperature changes.

pH levels

As for pH levels, redtail catfish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. The ideal pH range is 6.0 to 7.0. You can use a reliable pH test kit to measure the pH of your aquarium water regularly.

Water Changes

Regular water changes are essential for maintaining a healthy environment for your redtail catfish. 25-30% water changes should be done every 2 weeks to remove excess waste and maintain water quality. Use a siphon to remove debris from the bottom of the tank during water changes.


Efficient filtration is crucial for redtail catfish, as they produce a significant amount of waste. A strong, high-quality external canister filter is recommended for handling the bioload of these large fish. Adding live plants to your tank can also help with filtration and water quality.

By ensuring that the water requirements for your redtail catfish are met, you will create an optimal environment for them to grow and live happily. Always keep an eye on water conditions and adjust as necessary to keep your fish healthy and thriving.

Redtail Catfish Diet and Feeding

Feeding your Redtail Catfish a well-balanced and diverse diet is crucial for its overall health and well-being. Apart from store-bought pellets or sinking carnivore wafers, these bottom-dwelling species also appreciate a varied diet that resembles what they typically eat in the wild.

  • Pellets: High-quality sinking catfish pellets should be the staple of their diet. Feed your Redtail Catfish pellets daily to ensure they receive necessary nutrients.
  • Meaty foods: Redtail Catfish are carnivores, so supplement their pellet diet with raw or cooked meat, such as shrimp, beef heart, squid, mussels, and earthworms. Feed your Redtail Catfish meaty foods 2-3 times a week to maintain their appetite.
  • Live or frozen foods: Live or frozen foods including brine shrimp, bloodworms, blackworms, and daphnia add variety to their diet and simulate a natural feeding experience. Offer live or frozen foods 1-2 times per week as a treat.

Here’s a simple feeding schedule for your reference:

Day Food
Sunday Pellets + Meaty food
Monday Pellets
Tuesday Pellets + Live/Frozen food
Wednesday Pellets
Thursday Pellets + Meaty food
Friday Pellets
Saturday Pellets + Live/Frozen food

Young Redtail Catfish should be fed twice a day, while adults only require feeding once a day. Keep an eye on the consumption rates to prevent overfeeding, and adjust the feeding schedule accordingly if necessary.

Remember to remove any uneaten food to maintain good water quality and prevent ammonia buildup. Following these guidelines will ensure your Redtail Catfish thrives with a healthy and diverse diet.

Redtail Catfish Care Schedule

Taking proper care of your Redtail Catfish is essential to keep them healthy and thriving. By establishing and sticking to a consistent care schedule, you can ensure that your fish remain happy and stress-free.

  • Weekly maintenance: Perform a 25% water change to maintain optimal water quality. This keeps the water free of harmful compounds such as ammonia and nitrite. Regularly check and adjust the water temperature and pH if necessary.
  • Feeding: Redtail Catfish are carnivores and require a varied diet to keep them healthy. Feed them 2-3 times a week with a mix of high-quality pellets, frozen fish, shrimp, or other suitable meaty foods. Be careful not to overfeed them, as this can lead to health issues.
  • Cleaning: Thoroughly clean the substrate, filter, and decorations in the tank at least once a month. Use an aquarium vacuum to remove any accumulated debris, rinse the filter media, and scrub the decorations with a soft brush.
  • Filter maintenance: Check your filter regularly to ensure it operates efficiently and maintain a balance of beneficial bacteria. Replace the filter media around every 3 months, depending on the filter type and manufacturer recommendations.
  • Aquarium equipment: Inspect all equipment, like heaters and air stones, monthly. Perform any necessary repairs or replacements to keep everything running smoothly.
  • Health checks: Observe your Redtail Catfish closely for any signs of illness or stress. If you notice any changes in their behavior, appearance, or appetite, consult an expert or do some research to identify and address the issue.

By incorporating these care habits into a regular schedule, you’ll be well on your way to providing an optimal environment for your Redtail Catfish. Their stunning appearance and fascinating behavior make them well worth the effort.

Redtail Catfish Health Problems

Redtail catfish, like any other aquatic species, can encounter various health problems. Providing a clean environment, proper diet, and appropriate tank mates can prevent most ailments. Here are some common health issues you may face while raising a redtail catfish:

  • Ichthyophthirius multifiliis (Ich): Ich is a common freshwater parasite, causing small white spots on the fish’s body and fins. To treat Ich, gradually increase the water temperature to 86°F (30°C) and introduce an Ich medication into the tank.
  • Fin Rot: Fin rot is a bacterial infection that causes the fish’s fins to appear ragged and discolored. Treat fin rot using an antibacterial medication specifically designed for fish, and improve water quality to prevent reoccurrence.
  • Fungal Infections: Fungi can grow on the fish’s body, causing cotton-like growths. You can treat fungal infections using an antifungal medication and maintain high-quality water conditions to minimize the risk.

Preventative measures for redtail catfish health problems include:

  • Regular water changes: Maintain a regular schedule of water changes to keep the water clean and free from harmful chemicals.
  • Proper filtration: Invest in a high-quality filtration system to remove debris and maintain water chemistry.
  • Monitor stress levels: Ensure your redtail catfish is not over-stressed by monitoring its behavior and making adjustments to the environment as needed.
  • Quarantine new fish: To prevent introducing diseases or parasites into the tank, always quarantine new additions for two to four weeks before introducing them to the main tank.

Redtail Catfish Tank Mates

Finding suitable tank mates for your Redtail Catfish can be a challenging task. Due to their size and predatory nature, it’s essential to choose the right companions for them to ensure a harmonious aquatic environment.

Tank mates to consider:

  • Other large catfish species: Examples include Tiger Shovelnose Catfish, Giraffe Catfish, and Lemon-spotted Catfish. These species can coexist well with Redtail Catfish as they are also large and have similar habits.
  • Large cichlids: Common large cichlids that can be good tank mates for Redtail Catfish include the Oscar and Jaguar Cichlid. Keep in mind that the aggression levels of cichlids can vary, so it’s important to monitor their interactions.
  • Large characins: Fish like the Black Pacu and Silver Dollars can peacefully coexist with Redtail Catfish due to their size and fast swimming nature.

Tank mates to avoid:

  • Small fish species: Redtail Catfish are known to eat smaller fish, so any fish small enough to fit in their mouth should be avoided. This includes Tetras, Guppies, and Corydoras.
  • Slow-moving fish: Fish that have a slow swimming speed or are not used to living with aggressive species may have a hard time escaping Redtail Catfish’s predatory behaviors. Examples of these fish are Discus and Angelfish.
  • Territorial species: Putting territorial fish in the same tank with Redtail Catfish can lead to fights and injuries. Avoid species like Flowerhorn Cichlids or aggressive Plecos.

Providing an appropriately-sized tank and keeping a close eye on the interactions between your Redtail Catfish and its tank mates will ensure their compatibility in a shared environment.

As a beginner, choose tank mates that have been proven to work well with Redtail Catfish and seek advice from experienced hobbyists or professionals if you’re uncertain about a particular species.

Redtail Catfish Breeding

Breeding Redtail Catfish in a home aquarium can be quite challenging, as they require specific conditions to breed successfully. However, with the right knowledge and setup, you can increase the chances of breeding your beloved Redtails. Here are some essential aspects to consider when trying to breed your Redtail Catfish:

  • Tank Size: Redtail Catfish can grow to massive sizes, so they require a large tank for breeding. Ideally, you’ll need a tank of at least 1000 gallons. This ensures there is enough space for the fish to interact and lay eggs comfortably.
  • Water Parameters: Maintaining stable water parameters is essential for successful Redtail Catfish breeding. The ideal water temperature for breeding is around 77°F (25°C), with a pH level of 6.5-7.0.
  • Sexing Redtails: To breed Redtail Catfish, you’ll need to have both a male and a female in your tank. Males tend to have more elongated pectoral fins and a more slender body shape, while females have bulkier bodies.
  • Spawning Site: Providing a suitable spawning site is crucial for successful breeding. Redtail Catfish typically lay their eggs among plants, driftwood, or rock caves. Providing a good mix of these in your tank will encourage natural spawning behavior.
  • Diet: A high-quality and varied diet is essential in promoting healthy breeding behavior, including live or frozen foods such as shrimp, earthworms, or even small fish. Be sure to provide the proper nutrition leading up to breeding attempts.

Remember, breeding Redtail Catfish may not be easy, but with patience and dedication, you might be able to achieve it. Be prepared to invest time, effort, and money into creating and maintaining the ideal breeding environment for them. And, most importantly, be prepared to learn from your experiences and adjust your approach when necessary.


Caring for a redtail catfish can be a rewarding experience, as long as you’re prepared to provide the necessary space, water conditions, and diet it requires. With patience and proper care, your redtail catfish will thrive and become an interesting and unique addition to your aquarium. What has been your experience with redtail catfish? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *