Information, Catfish, Freshwater fish, Long-whiskered catfish, Species

Pictus Catfish: Complete Species & Care Overview

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by Jason Matthews



Whether new to the aquarium world or a veteran, you must have heard about the pictus catfish. They are hugely popular in the industry for different reasons, such as being easy to care for and being peaceful and attractive. Their stunning colors and energetic personality make them a great addition to your tank.

If you are considering getting pictus catfish for your tank, here’s a guide on everything you need to know about this fish species, from the appearance, ideal tank size and conditions, tankmates, and dietary requirements.


Scientific Name: Pimelodus pictus
Common Name: Pictus catfish, pictus cat
Life Expectancy: 4 – 8 years
Adult Size: 5-6 inches


Primary DietOmnivore
Beginner FriendlyYes
Tank PreferenceBottom dweller
Water Temperature74 – 78F
Tank SizeAbout 50 gallons
Water ParametersA pH of 7 -7.4, water hardness 5-15 dGH
BreedingEgg layer

Fun Fact Corner

The pictus catfish are known for producing low-frequency and high-frequency harmonic sounds when the pectoral fin spines rub together.


This fish species is the most popular catfish among aquarists. It’s native to the rivers in South America and was first described in 1876 by Austrian zoologist Franz Steindachner. Although it was initially found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, it tends to drift further away from this location.

They have also been found in Peru. Today, pictus fish varieties are a common feature in most aquarium tanks.


Spotted Pimelodus or Pictus Catfish, pimelodus pictus
Image: slowmotiongli, Depositphotos

The pictus catfish has a distinct light silver body covered with black spots. The body is slender and long with no external scales.

This fish species also have transparent fins and barbels that look like whiskers. The barbels stretch all the way to the caudal fin and are used to dig into the substrate at the bottom of the tank.

Additionally, they have sharp spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins, which can poke you and other fish species. These fins are semi-translucent, giving them a more stunning look.


The differences between the male and female pictus catfish are not too distinct. They don’t have external sex characteristics. However, as they mature, you’ll notice that the females are slightly larger and appear rounder.

Average Size

As adults, the pictus catfish grows to about 5 to 6 inches in length. It’s rare for this fish species to exceed this size, but it’s possible. Their size is determined by the diet and quality of care you provide.

The size also varies based on the state of the fish when you buy it from the aquatic pet shop. To ensure that your pictus catfish grows to a good height, ensure that you get them from a reputable seller.


Pictus catfish are popular among aquarists because they are peaceful. They don’t cause any trouble; therefore, you can keep them in your community tank.

Pictus catfish are also nocturnal; therefore, you’ll find them hiding in the lower half of the tank for most of the time. However, despite being peaceful, they are also quite active swimmers. When they come out of their hiding spots to eat, they dart around the tank at lightning speed.


The most important factor to consider when choosing tankmates for your pictus catfish is size. If you place your pictus with smaller species, they may treat them like food when hungry.

Ensure that the tankmates are not small enough to fit inside their mouth. On the other hand, pictus are quite active; therefore, they should not be stocked with slow-moving fish varieties.

The ideal tankmates for pictus catfish are giant danios, opaline gouramis, rainbow sharks, large platies, and catfish of a similar size. You also need to keep in mind that their sharp spines can harm other fish in a community tank. To avoid such cases, carefully monitor the tank.

Tank Size and Conditions

We recommend keeping the tank conditions as close as possible to the natural habitat. In the wild, pictus are present in warm waters of South America and river beds. Therefore, as you set up your tank, you need a sandy substrate and a good filter to maintain the water currents.

Your tank should also have enough plants and decorations to act as hiding places for the fish. While you need to add caves, river rocks, and driftwood in the tank, you should also leave a lot of swimming space in the tank for this active species. In addition, pictus are nocturnal; therefore, you should ensure the tank is dimly lit.

The minimum tank size for pictus fish is 50-55 gallons. However, if you plan to keep a shoal, you need a bigger tank, more than 100 gallons.

If you keep them in a tiny tank, they become stressed out. Ensure that you maintain the water parameters to keep them healthy. Ideally, the pH should be about 7.5, water hardness between 5-15 dGH, and temperature between 70-85F.


Pictus catfish are omnivores; therefore, they will quickly adapt to most diets. They mostly feed on plant life, algae, and protein sources in the wild. Therefore, in captivity, you should ensure they get the same nutrients.

You should feed them high-quality pellet food, frozen foods like bloodworms and blackworms, and a mix of vegetables.

Since they spend most of their time at the bottom, you can add sinking pellets to the tank to ensure they get a chance to eat. In addition, since they are nocturnal, you should leave out some food at night for them to eat when they come out of hiding.


Breeding the pictus catfish takes work. Even the most advanced aquarists struggle providing a suitable habitat for this fish species to lay their eggs.

However, if you want to try, ensure that you have a separate tank and provide the right environment for the fish to spawn. Additionally, you’ll need a massive tank to mimic the open waters in their natural habitat.


Pictus fish are a perfect addition to your community tank. They are peaceful, don’t cause any trouble, and are fun to watch. You won’t have any problems keeping the pictus catfish as long as you provide the right conditions.


Jason Matthews

My name is Jason Matthews, and welcome to my website. When other kids were bragging about how their dog could sit and roll over, I was bragging about my latest Betta Fish and the cool sea castle I just added to his aquarium. 

Jason aquariume

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