Pictus Catfish: Food, lifespan, breeding, size and temperature

Pimelodus pictus, also known as pictus cat or pictus catfish, is a small member of the Pimelodidae catfish family, native to the basins of the Amazon and Orinoco rivers and commonly kept as a pet in freshwater aquariums.

Pictus catfish are sometimes mislabeled in the aquarium trade as Angelicus cats but the latter name refers to an unrelated African catfish, the mochokid Synodontis angelica.


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Pimelodidae
Genus: Pimelodus
P. pictus
Binomial name
Pimelodus pictus


Like other members of the Pimelodidae, Pimelodus pictus is well known for having extremely long barbels.

Those can extend to the caudal fin all the way. The fish with black spots and stripes are silver-coloured.

They have sharp spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins, making shipping a challenging task as the spines can pierce plastic bags and get caught in netting.

The sexual dimorphism is relatively small, with females slightly larger than males. P. pictus has a down-turned mouth and a forked tail like many catfish.

These fish are active swimmers, and nocturnal bottom feeders, like many catfishes. There are two forms known; a large spotted shape, and a small spotted shape.

Of the two, in aquarium trade, only the large-spotted form is commonly seen; it does not grow as big as the small-spotted form.

Those fish prefer soft water in captivity and are omnivorous; pictus cats eat bloodworms, heart beef, insects, vegetables, and prepared fish foods.

Depending on the size of the catfish they will mostly eat very small fish such as neon tetras. Despite this, they are usually non-aggressive and will not harm fish too large for them to eat.

A larger tank is required as these fish are agile and fast swimmers. They are non-territorial as well, and can be maintained with other P. pictus.

They are generally harmless to humans, apart from the mildly venomous sting imparted by the dorsal spine.


A member of the Pimelodidae family is the Pictus Catfish (Pimelodus Pictus) also recognized as Pictus Cat and Angel Cat.

It is one of the most popular catfishes in the aquarium trade, and in any tank can be a standout.

It was first outlined by an Austrian zoologist Franz Steindachner in 1876, yet was found throughout South America in the warm rivers.

They have an unmistakable white body highlighted with black spots and huge barbels that reach to their caudal fin all the way down.

You’ll notice it’s a very active and fast fish that works well in larger aquariums (more than 100 gallon tanks).

It should be noted as a word of caution that their pectoral fins are incredibly sharp so you need to be very careful when transporting them.

Don’t use a regular fish net as they will get their fins stuck and this can cause some damage. You should be using a plastic container instead.

Pictus catfish Appearance


The catfish is colored in silver with lots of black spots. It has white barbels and transparent fins. Its body is long and slender and generally grows to 5 inches in length in captivity.

One of the Pictus Catfish’s most distinctive features is its ‘whiskers.’ They are actually called barbels and have them by all catfish.

These barbels may reach to the caudal fin all the way down. Use your barbels in the wild catfish to help navigate in muddy waters.

They ‘re also known to have sharp spines and fins known to harm other fish. The Pictus catfish also has a forked tail, and a large, downturned mouth, similar to many other Catfish.

The differences among both male and female are incredibly slight, with females at sexual maturity being slightly larger and more rounder.

They often get confused with Angelicus Catfish, at last. Angelicus Catfish are actually a separate upside-down catfish species and tend to have much shorter barbels.

Pictus Catfish Habitat and Tank Needs.

Like always, we suggest your aquarium should match the natural conditions of your species as best as possible.

Pictus is found in South America’s warm rivers and streams; generally in sandy riverbeds.

So you should start with using a sandy substrate. Also, you should try emulating the river water flow, so use a good quality hang-on-back filter.

This will generate a sufficient amount of current to keep your Catfish healthy. With Pictus Catfish the filtration system is essential because they create a lot of waste.

So a healthy amount of filtration helps to stabilize water parameters, because they are extremely sensitive to nitrates.

Next there are plants and adornments. Because Pictus Catfish is found in dense rivers throughout the forests of South America, you should include lots of hiding places like driftwood, river rocks and caves for them.

In addition , large open spaces are also needed for swimming and exercising.

Because this Catfish is mostly nocturnal, its tank should be dimly lit. You can also include live plants such as Hornwort and Java Moss, due to their low light requirements.

Pictus catfish tank size

In the wild you will find Pictus Catfish in shoals so keep this in mind when making plans your aquarium. You should have at least a 150 gallon tank if you plan to keep a shoal; this will support 3-4 Pictus Catfish.

If you plan to keep a single specimen then the minimum size required is a 55 gallon tank.
Undoubtedly though they’re an active swimmer, they will be healthier and happier more and more space they have.

They are much more vulnerable to common aquarium diseases since they are a scale-less fish, so you need to pay close attention to the water parameters.

As regards water temperature, the water should be kept between 75-81 ° F and the pH should be between 7.0 and 7.5.

Diet and feeding Pictus catfish

You will find that Pictus Catfish are scavengers in the wild, and will eat almost anything they can find.

They are omnivorous by nature because they will eat both meat and plant matter.

They are to be found eating insects (dragonfly larvae), snails, small fish and algae in the warm waters of South America.

This makes catfish very easy to keep and feed. They are going to consume pretty much all you put into the aquarium.

As always a high quality pellet ought to be the core of your Catfish diet. You will remember we said during the behavior section that catfish spend large periods of their time in hidden areas, near the bottom of the tank.

  • Fresh foods (Shrimp brine and heart beef)
  • Frozen foods (bluetongues and blackworms)
  • Veggies

They will also spend some time foraging in your aquarium substratum, so you can leave any algae growing because it will be eaten by your Pictus.

As a rule, they will ignore most top living foods because they don’t like to venture away from the tank ‘s bottom.

It should be repeated, at last, that they have a great appetite. To avoid aggressive behavior on smaller fish in the tank, you should make sure you keep them full.

Furthermore, since they produce a lot of waste, you should make sure that you change water at least bi-weekly (25 percent).

While the Pictus Catfish is known to be both non-aggressive and non-territorial, there are still a number of things to know about keeping them with other fish:

  • Firstly, if they get hungry they will eat much smaller fish. You’ll know this happens a lot if you read the diet section above. So make sure they don’t keep them small enough with fish to fit inside their mouth.
  • Second, Pictus is known to be a very active fish; swimmers are quick and energetic. However , you should avoid adding slow swimming fish (such as cichlids) to your tank, as the Pictus can irritate them with their sharp barbels and cause them injury.
  • Third, sometimes they’re sold as bottom dweller community fish, that’s wrong. If your community tank is full of popular community fish like, guppies and neons then avoid this.
  • Fourth, as a general rule, make sure the Pictus is the tiniest fish in your tank. Ultimately it is a peaceful fish but it is still a predatory species.

If you keep these points in mind, you’ll have no problems introducing other species of fish into your tank.

Now as to which species make a good Catfish tank mate you can include strong, energetic species such as:

  • Giant Danios
  • Opaline Gourami
  • Other Catfish

Keeping the catfish pictus together

Holding Pictus Catfish as a single specimen is not uncommon to people; they will survive without any problem on their own.

Keeping a shoal has the advantage that they are much more active and will be more outgoing. They do well in a 3-4 group but you can generally keep up to 6 at once; just make sure your aquarium is big enough.

When we keep a shoal we would recommend a tank of at least 150 gallons.

Check this out Complete care for oscar fish

Pictus catfish breeding

The Pictus Catfish is also exceptionally difficult to breed in a home aquarium, similar to other freshwater fish we’ve talked about.

The reason for this is that typical home aquariums aren’t large enough for them to achieve sexual maturity; they need plenty of space to reach sexual maturity.

Ideally you should target at least 200 gallons for a tank, anything less than this and the chance your catfish reaches sexual maturity is slim to nil.

There is not much general knowledge about the breeding properties of Pictus Catfish. There is egg laying in the wild Pictus which means that the female lays eggs first and then the male fertilizes them.

Is this fish right for your aquarium?

Having read our full Pictus Catfish guide, I hope you can now decide whether it is the right fish to add to your Aquarium.

It is a fantastic fish which would add greatly to most aquariums. Just make sure you ‘re able to provide the space required to keep them healthy.

You may want to check this article on oscar fish

While some people claim that Pictus Catfish isn’t friendly to beginners, we would disagree and even beginners can keep them successfully with the right planning and care.

They personally have an energetic and entertaining and offer community characteristics that not many other catfish do.

Pictus catfish Food

It is not a difficult task to feed a pictus catfish, but like many other catfish they will eat almost anything they can fit into their mouth.

This will become dangerous if you have any small fish in the aquarium and in pictus catfish tanks fish such as neon tetras should be avoided.

They are omnivores in the wild and they consume invertebrates, plant matter, and algae.

The whole diet can be recreated in the home aquarium by feeding them a diet that includes a high-quality sinking pellet, and frozen foods including frozen bloodworms, daphnia, blackworms and brine shrimp.


It can be difficult to transport these catfish, as they come equipped with venomous spines that can pierce bags and give someone unlucky enough to touch one painful, stinging like wounds.

Although the venom is harmless, it will leave you for several hours in great pain, and may cause swelling.

Nets should also be avoided with pictus catfish, as the spines may get clogged in the net and injure the fish.

If you need to catch and move one of those fish, it is best to use a cup, or something else with smooth sides.

How big do pictus catfish get?

They usually grow to a maximum size of 5 inches in the home aquarium, although there is a rarely seen small spotted variant that can grow even bigger. The majority of pictus catfish commonly available in the aquarium hobby are the large spotted variant.

What do Pictus catfish eat?

These fish prefer soft water in captivity and are omnivorous; pictus cats eat bloodworms, heartbeef, insects, vegetables, and prepared fish foods. Depends upon the size of the catfish they will also eat very small fish such as neon tetras.

Pictus catfish Lifespan

The lifespan of pictus catfish is usually about 8- 10 years. However, it depends on the environment the catfish is living in.

Pictus catfish with goldfish

While some goldfish may acclimatize to about 74, and the pictus may also acclimatize to about 74, this doesn’t mean that either fish is the best choice.

If you decide to try it, please ensure that you have a backup plan to move the pictus back to the original tank and acclimatize both species to the times slowly.

Thanks for reading and have a great day. You can always contact us to provide feedback and suggestions.

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