Tiger shovelnose catfish: care, feeding and tank mates

The tiger shovelnose catfish is a very interesting freshwater fish that has been capturing aquarist attention for many years. In fact, their unique look has made them one of our favorite large fish you can keep! 

But, if you want one of your own, there are some things you need to know: 

Because of their size and temperament, beginners should avoid these fish until they’re a little more experienced. Good care of tiger shovelnose catfish requires you to be a bit more familiar with their needs than the average fish. 

Luckily this guide covers everything you need to know. You will learn about their size, the rate of growth, the diet and more!

Pseudoplatystoma is a genus of family Pimelodidae from several South American catfish species. The species are known by various common names.

They typically inhabit major rivers, where they prefer the main channels and tend to remain at maximum depth, but some species can also be seen in lakes, flooded forests, and other freshwater habitats.

They have strong bodies and are important fish for food. Due to a variety of factors including overfishing and habitat destruction due to the construction of hydroelectric dams, their population size has been on the drastic decline recently.

Species summary

1. Pseudoplatystoma

Pseudoplatystoma_tigrinum appearance
Image by Lerdsuwa from Commons Wikimedia

The Pseudoplatystoma species are all large, boldly striped or spotted catfish species. They are known for their distinctively marked color patterns. They are also recognized due to a depressed head, an occipital process extending backwards to contact the predorsal plate, and a very long fontanel.

Following gonadal maturation, females tend to grow faster than males. They’ve got a large, depressed head with an expandable mouth. The eyes and teeth are very small. They have dorsal and pectoral fin spines; P. fasciatum also has an additional, smaller, dorsal spinel that precedes the dorsal spine. They exhibit typical catfish barbels, with maxillary barbels sometimes being quite long, especially in juveniles.

2. P. fasciatum

Pseudoplatysoma fasciatum Appearance
Image by Johann Natterer from Commons Wikimedia

It has 10–11 dark vertical bars which are relatively larger than other Amazon species, with fewer white vertical bars than dark ones; pectoral fins and pelvic fins are darker with few or no spots; and the skull is at least one-sixth narrower than other species. Its total length (TL) reaches a maximum of 90 cm (35 in).

3. P. tigrinum

It is characterized by the presence of loop-like bands that connect or extend to the dorsal region and continue to the other side of the body; loop-like bars form cells. The adipose fin also has some loop-like bands and spots, but the sides of the body do not have discrete dark spots. It has a max. size of 130 cm (51 in) TL

4. P. orinocoense

It has straight, vertical bars on its body, longer than P. faciatum and P. punctifer, extending to or connecting dorsally. The anterior region bars extend beneath the dusky dorsolateral area. No spots are normally seen below the lateral line although some people may have two or three. It has a recorded maximum length of 49 cm (19 in) TL

5. P. metaense

Ithas randomly distributed dark spots over his body’s dusky region; there are also no more than five straight, dark vertical bars on the body’s side. There are fewer spots (five to seven) in the adipose fin than in P. tigrinum (eight to 10). The pelvic and pectoral fins are pale with no dusky pigmentation. It has a recorded maximum length of roughly 53 cm (21 in) TL.

6. P. magdaleniatum

At its sides, P. magdaleniatum has broad, straight, dark vertical bars. No loops on the nape and related areas occur. There are no spots to the pectoral fin, few or no spots to the dorsal fin, and six or seven large spots to the adipose. It has a recorded maximum length of 100 cm (39 in.) TL until date.

7. P. reticulatum

Named for its pattern, P. reticulatum has loop-like dark bars that form a reticulated pattern, never straight as in P. fasciatum and P. orinocoense. Its dark, loop-like bars join those that form distinct cells in the dorsal region of the body. It also has longer loops – like dark bars, stretching far below the side line. The head displays spots or loops, either. The anal fin always comes with spots. It points to the lower jaw. It has a recorded maximum length of roughly 60 cm (24 in) TL.

The tiger shovelnose catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum) originated in South American waters. Typically, they can be found in the deepest areas of large rivers, where they have the room to move freely and find food for each (mostly other fish). 

These fish tend to like a bit more shady locations. There will often be a significant amount of vegetation present in these waters and for this reason, it is also common to find them in flooded forests. 

The tiger shovelnose uses its barbels to navigate through the dark, turbid waters they occupy. This helps them understand not just where they are going, but where they happen to be their prey.

Those fish are sought after by local fishermen because of their size and taste.

Lifespan of tiger shovelnose catfish

A shovelnose catfish ‘s lifespan can range from 18 to 25 years in any place. Genetic factors and the quality of care they are receiving in captivity can significantly impact this range. 

It’s rare for these fish to hit the upper limits of that captive lifespan. For large freshwater fish, this is not unusual but you should be aware of it before you get one.


Tiger shovelnose catfish appearance
Image by Lerdsuwa from Commons Wikimedia

The tiger shovelnose catfish appearance is what makes them so outstanding in the first place. 

These fish have a long, wide, and flat mouth, as you would expect with their name. This is a great design allowing them to scarf down prey and skim the riverbed when needed. 

They have rather long barbels protruding from their mouth’s front, and are angled slightly forward. These are helping them to feel their way around turbid waters. 

These fish’s dorsal fins are in a shell-like shape averaging in size and fan backward. Catfish Tiger shovelnose have forked caudal fins containing black spots. Their pectoral and anal fins both have a smaller side and a similar pattern.

The coloring and pattern on their body is a dark silver with large black stripes running from front to back vertically (usually). Also these fish are spotted so you will typically see spots between the stripes in different areas.

Tiger shovelnose catfish Size

The average size of the tiger shovelnose catfish in captivity is around 2.5 to 3 feet. These fish may grow even larger in the wild but in their natural habitat rarely exceed 4 feet. 

There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding their growth rate. These fish are growing quite fast and you’ll have to be ready to handle that. No matter how little you feed them or how small their tank is, they are going to grow rapidly and end up being quite big.


There are certain elements that are straightforward for tiger shovelnose catfish care and others that require some knowledge and preparation. This section will outline the essential things you need to know if you want to help these fish thrive and live a happy, long life.

Tank size and setup

tiger shovelnose catfish tank setup

Since tiger shovelnose catfish are rather large, it is important to ensure that they have a tank which is large enough to make them comfortable. 

For these fish, the ideal tank size is 180 to 200 gallons for juveniles and 250 + for adults. If you can’t provide a tank of this size to these people then these aren’t the fish you want. 

A large part of the care of tiger shovelnose catfish makes sure these fish are comfortable and do not feel cramped. This will cause them to live in a stressful state that can shorten their lifespan (and on a moral level isn’t fair to them).

Water parameters

tiger shovelnose catfish Water Parameters
Image from Pexels

Tiger shovelnose catfish is a hardy freshwater fish species, which can tolerate a flexible range of water parameters. This gives you some room for error, but still, you should try to keep things as consistent as possible. 

  • Water temperature: 75°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 6-8
  • Water hardness: 6-20 KH

Always ensure consistent water level checks are carried out with a reliable test kit to ensure all looks good. This will help you catch any unwanted shifts before they turn into an issue and impact your fish’s health.

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What to put in the tank?

tiger shovelnose catfish Question mark symbol
Image from Pexels

Tiger shovelnose catfish are relatively low maintenance, but setting up their tank in a way that keeps them happy and enriched, is important. These fish can be prone to stress or aggression if kept in a tank that is bland or bare. 

Try to include items in your tank that mimic as much as possible of their natural environment. This means mostly a mixture of vegetation, driftwood, and rocks. 

When setting up your tank you may experiment with a variety of plants. Hornwort and water wisteria are two of our favorites due to their flexibility. 

Placing some decently sized rocks on the substratum and driftwood can also make a big difference. They ‘re used to having plenty of these in rivers, so your tiger shovelnose feels right at home!

Tiger shovelnose catfish Diseases

Tiger shovelnose catfish have no unique illnesses or sicknesses they are prone to get. Instead, when monitoring their health you need to adopt a more general approach. 

Like other species of freshwater, tiger shovelnose can develop common illnesses such as ich. This is often caused by the poor quality of the water or by the addition of another fish with ich in the tank. 

Your best bet overall is to follow the core principles of fish care. Stay on top of the quality of your water, feed them a healthy diet and reduce stress. If you do these things your tiger shovelnose has a good chance of living for quite a while!

Tiger shovelnose catfish Feeding

Wondering what to feed your tiger shovelnose catfish? In the wild, the majority of these fish eat smaller fish and crustaceans. They were known to nibble here and there on plants, but spend most of their time seeking meaty protein-rich foods. 

That means that it is important that you always have a significant amount of food in stock. They will obviously eat much more than your traditional smaller freshwater species, as these are big fish. 

To give them a balanced diet, aim for a mixture of frozen foods, worms, and pellets. You can also drop to them in pieces of fish for a treat. We like to do that frequently because it’s a nice snack and a good source of enrichment (like variety like tiger shovelnose catfish just like we do) which will help fish grow faster.

These fish are nocturnal hunters, mainly piscivorous, who feed on fish like electric knife fishes, cichlids, loricariids, and characins. They may eat on other fish like sabalos and bogas. They may also feed opportunistic feeders on crustaceans, such as crabs or shrimps.

Behavior & Temperament

Tiger shovelnose catfish are an active species that may in some circumstances show aggression. While this is something you should always be aware of, its size makes it an even greater priority. 

Those fish are used to deep rivers, as we mentioned earlier. You shouldn’t confuse them with pure bottom feeders simply because they’re catfishes. These massive fish will spend a great deal of time being active and swimming all over the tank level. 

This makes them looking very fun, but also easy to monitor when it comes to health. Unlike passive aquarium catfish, which are sitting around most of the day, the tiger shovelnose is often in motion. This means that if you see them acting lethargically you should consider seriously the possibility that they might get sick. 

Tiger shovelnose catfish are on the aggressive side of things, so before you buy one you need to plan it around. They will pick on other fish that can not stand up for themselves and become territorial (especially when there is not enough room).

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Tank mates

When choosing the right tank mates for these fish the most important thing to remember is size and temperament. Tiger shovelnose catfish are fairly large, which means they can easily injure (or even eat) other smaller fish. 

This means other freshwater fish are a must if they are large enough to defend themselves or not to be considered a target. Obviously, this will also impact the tank size you need because two large fish need space to stretch out. 

You’ll want to try to find tank mates who aren’t too aggressive, too. Any fish which is exceedingly territorial or feisty will not make a good fit.

While your shovelnose will probably be able to defend itself, you never want a tank where fighting is frequent. 

Arowana, other large catfish such as the redtail (if you have enough room), giant gourami, pacu, and even Oscar fish are some examples of fish which make suitable tank mates. Some people have recommended iridescent sharks, but we think they are too skittish to take into account.


If you are considering trying to breed tiger shovelnose catfish, you ‘re in for a challenge. While it is definitely possible, there isn’t much information about the process floating around online. 

That means that besides sticking to best practices and replicating their natural habitat as much as you can, there is an element of uncertainty that you must accept. It’s also worth noting that breeding can shorten your fish ‘s lifespan, so that’s not something we recommend trying just for kicks. 

You are facing two significant challenges right off the bat. The first is that you will need the space to fit a large breeding tank.

You’ll probably need to transition the adults out once the process is finished too, so there’s also need to be room for another tank. 

The second challenge is to find fish to matt in fact. Sexing tiger shovelnose catfish isn’t easy, and you’ll probably hit a couple of bumps down the road just trying to find a male and a female. If you do, there’s no guarantee they’ll be compatible with your tank and even try to breed. 

In short, when it comes to breeding this species there’s a lot of “ifs.” It’s our recommendation to just not try at all. Just enjoy and leave the beauty of those creatures at that.


Let’s take the right decision! You should understand the tiger shovelnose catfish better by now and how to care for them. These fish are impressive specimens in your tank which are a treat to observe. 

The raw size, power and unique look make them stand out instantly no matter what other fish you own. Their level of activity makes viewing fun as well because they are always up to something! 

If you want to learn more about the tiger shovelnose catfish or ask specific questions, you can contact us directly at any time. We love talking to the community of fishkeepers, especially when it comes to less common fish like this!

You may contact us here. We at Planet fish value your feedback and suggestions.

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