Pictus Catfish – Care, Tank Mates, Habitat & Full Details!

The Pictus Catfish, affectionately referred to by many as the “playful whiskered swimmer”, is undoubtedly one of the most beloved freshwater aquarium fish.

Their charming aesthetics, coupled with their peaceful nature, endears them to both seasoned and novice aquarists.

Known scientifically as Pimelodus Pictus, these delightful catfish are primarily found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America, though they have also been discovered in Peru.

Their popularity in the aquarium world can be attributed to their low maintenance requirements and the unique visual flair they bring to any tank.

One interesting aspect about Pictus Catfish is their unexpected agility. Unlike their more sedate catfish cousins, Pictus Catfish are lively swimmers, often surprising new owners with their surprising speed.

The Pictus Catfish, an intriguing freshwater species, has captured our hearts. Dive into this comprehensive guide to learn all about them, from their care to their unique features.

The Pictus Catfish, an alluring inhabitant of freshwater aquariums, has captivated our hearts with its unique appearance and charming nature.

Let’s delve deeper into understanding this beautiful species, its care needs, and the rich environment it hails from.

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Quick Stats About Pictus Catfish

Care Level: Easy
Temperament: Peaceful
Color Form: Black, white
Lifespan: Over 8 years
Size: Up to 5 inches
Diet: Omnivore
Family: Pimelodidae
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Tank Set-Up: Freshwater: driftwood and caves
Compatibility: Not applicable

Appearance of Pictus Catfish

Gaze upon the Pictus Catfish and you’ll instantly be drawn in by its striking looks. The first feature to grab your attention will undoubtedly be its lengthy barbels.

Often likened to whiskers, these impressive appendages, known properly as barbels, are a signature trait of this species.

Interestingly, the barbels serve a crucial purpose. They help the fish navigate and sense its surroundings in murky water, improving spatial awareness and ensuring they can comfortably find their way around.

Even in clear aquarium waters, these barbels add an extra touch of intrigue as they sway elegantly with the fish’s movements.

When it comes to color, the Pictus Catfish sports a sleek, shiny, silver body. Its shimmering surface is uniformly covered, with a slightly lighter hue on its belly.

Remarkably, this fish species does not have scales, further enhancing its glossy appeal.

Adorning the silver body of the Pictus Catfish are dark spots that seem almost scattered at random.

These spots, more concentrated on the upper body and less prevalent on the stomach, extend to their dorsal and caudal fins, adding a dash of contrast and uniqueness to the overall appearance.

Speaking of fins, these catfish display semi-translucent dorsal and caudal fins. The dorsal fin has a hint of additional transparency, giving a fascinating view from the right angles.

However, it’s worth noting that the pectoral fins and forked tail are quite sharp – they can cause scratches to an unsuspecting hand or other tank mates.

Natural Habitat of Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish naturally thrives in freshwater habitats, notably the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America.

These bodies of water present a lush environment, filled with plenty of vegetation and hiding spots, such as riverbed rocks and driftwood.

Their natural environment is dynamic and teeming with life, which Pictus Catfish navigate with agility and speed.

They’re known to find comfort in the shelter of submerged roots, hollow logs, and dense vegetation while enjoying the spaciousness to swim freely.

Origin and Distribution

Hailing from the Pimelodidae family, the Pictus Catfish boasts South American roots. They’re primarily found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins but are known to have ventured further afield, even as far as Peru.

Since their initial discovery, these charming fish have made a considerable splash in the aquarium world, becoming a beloved favorite among aquarists.

The catfish’s energetic swimming style, coupled with its distinctive appearance, has cemented its popularity in freshwater tanks worldwide.

Growth, Size & Lifespan of Pictus Catfish

On average, a fully grown Pictus Catfish reaches a length of about 5 inches. However, the size they attain significantly depends on the quality of care and diet they receive.

If the fish was in a healthy state at the time of purchase, and if you provide them with a well-balanced diet and a suitable environment, they may exceed this average size.

When considering lifespan, Pictus Catfish are quite impressive, living on average between 8 and 10 years. This longevity surpasses many other popular aquarium catfish species, such as the Otocinclus.

However, their lifespan can be influenced by several factors, including diet, water conditions, and overall stress levels.

With a blend of the right care, a balanced diet, and a stress-free environment, your Pictus Catfish can lead a long and healthy life, providing you with years of enjoyment as you watch them navigate your tank with their charming agility and grace.

Pimelodus pictus Pictus Cat

Pictus Catfish Behavior and Temperament

Pictus Catfish are best known for their active and lively demeanor. These delightful fish are always on the move, darting around with a playful and engaging energy that’s sure to capture the attention of any onlooker.

Pictus Catfish are predominantly nocturnal, with their activity levels peaking during the evening and night.

Despite their playful nature, Pictus Catfish exhibit a peaceful temperament, making them ideal for community tanks.

They’re generally not aggressive towards other fish, but their size and active nature may inadvertently stress smaller, more timid species.

One key characteristic to note is their schooling nature. Pictus Catfish prefer to be in groups, ideally of five or more. They’re known to exhibit signs of stress if kept in smaller numbers or individually.

Therefore, providing them with a sense of community within your tank will allow them to thrive and exhibit their naturally playful behavior.

Perfecting Your Tank Setup

Creating a comfortable environment for your Pictus Catfish involves careful attention to several key elements.

Let’s delve into these aspects to help you create the perfect setup.

Tank Size

The size of your aquarium is of paramount importance. For these active swimmers, a tank of at least 55 gallons is recommended.

Remember, Pictus Catfish are schooling fish, meaning you’ll want to accommodate several of them comfortably. If you’re planning on keeping a larger school, you may need to consider a larger tank.


Pictus Catfish spend a considerable amount of time near the bottom of the tank. Therefore, a soft, sandy substrate is ideal. This soft substrate is gentle on their sensitive barbels and allows them to exhibit natural foraging behavior without risk of injury.

Decorations and Hiding Spots

In the wild, Pictus Catfish find comfort in the shelter of dense vegetation, roots, and hollow logs. Replicating this environment in your aquarium is crucial.

Incorporating driftwood, caves, and plants will give them the hiding spots they need and encourage natural behavior. However, ensure there’s still plenty of open swimming space.

Water Parameters

Water parameters are another critical element. These catfish thrive in water with a pH range of 6.0-7.5 and a temperature between 72°F and 78°F.

Regular water testing is crucial to ensure these conditions remain stable.

Filtration and Aeration

Being from fast-moving rivers, Pictus Catfish prefer well-oxygenated water. A high-quality filter that provides both mechanical and biological filtration is essential.

An air pump can also enhance oxygen levels in the water, mimicking their natural environment more closely.


Pictus Catfish are not particularly sensitive to lighting. Moderate lighting that allows them to distinguish day from night should suffice.

However, since they’re more active during the night, providing some shaded areas can help them feel more comfortable.

Tank Mates

Choosing tank mates for Pictus Catfish is generally straightforward due to their peaceful nature. Fish of similar size that won’t be intimidated by their active swimming are ideal.

Avoid keeping them with much smaller fish, as they may be seen as potential meals.


Pictus Catfish are omnivores. Their diet should consist of a balanced mix of high-quality sinking pellets, frozen foods, and occasional live foods.

They’re also known to appreciate vegetable matter, adding a valuable source of fiber to their diet.

Feeding should take place once or twice a day, with only as much food as they can consume in a couple of minutes.

Pictus Catfish Tank Maintenance

Maintaining a healthy aquarium environment is essential for keeping your Pictus Catfish happy and thriving.

By ensuring regular maintenance, you’re promoting an ideal habitat for your lively swimmers.

Let’s explore each of these maintenance steps in detail.

Regular Water Changes

Just like fresh air for humans, fresh water is vital for your Pictus Catfish. A regular water change routine should be on the top of your aquarium maintenance list.

About 20-30% of the tank water should be replaced every two weeks. This process helps to dilute toxins, eliminate waste products, and replace vital nutrients.

Be careful to match the temperature and pH of the new water to that of the tank to avoid shocking your fish.

Cleaning the Tank and Decorations

Over time, algae and waste can accumulate in your tank and on decorations, negatively affecting the quality of the water. Cleaning these elements regularly ensures a clean and healthy environment for your Pictus Catfish.

Start by scrubbing the interior glass of the tank using an algae scraper or pad. Then, gently clean the decorations and artificial plants with a soft brush, being careful not to damage them.

Natural plants will shed leaves, so these should be removed during the cleaning process.

Filter Maintenance

The filter is one of the most vital components in an aquarium. It removes waste, excess food, and toxins, ensuring that the water remains clean and safe for your fish.

Maintaining your filter involves regular cleaning and replacing the filter media as recommended by the manufacturer.

However, remember not to change all the filter media at once, as this can remove beneficial bacteria essential for a healthy tank.

Monitoring Fish Health

Observing your fish regularly is one of the most effective ways to ensure they’re healthy. Look out for any changes in behavior, appearance, or eating habits.

If your Pictus Catfish seem less active, are not eating, or show signs of physical distress, they might be ill.

Remember that preventive care is always better than cure. By maintaining good water conditions, feeding a balanced diet, and ensuring regular tank maintenance, you’re well on your way to keeping your Pictus Catfish healthy and active.


Acclimating Pictus Catfish

This phase requires your undivided attention, as the process determines how well your newly purchased Pictus Catfish adapt to their new home.

Just like humans adjusting to a new city or country, fish also need time to acclimate to a new tank. Gradual acclimation reduces stress and avoids potential health issues.

Here are the steps:

  1. Floating the Bag: Start by placing the unopened bag, which contains the Pictus Catfish from the pet store, into your aquarium. Allow it to float for about 15 minutes. This step helps to balance the temperature of the water inside the bag with the tank water.

  2. Mixing Tank Water: After 15 minutes, open the bag and add a cup of your tank water into it. Repeat this every 10 minutes for the next hour. The aim is to gradually acclimate the fish to the water chemistry of your tank.

  3. Release the Catfish: After an hour, use a net to gently transfer the Pictus Catfish into their new home. Try to avoid transferring the pet store water into your tank, as it might contain harmful chemicals or diseases.

Pictus Catfish Diet and Feeding

Pictus Catfish are well-loved by aquarists for their energetic personalities. But they are not just active swimmers; they are voracious eaters too.

They will keep the bottom of your tank clean by eating leftover food, but that’s not enough to keep them healthy and happy.

Let’s explore the diet of a Pictus Catfish in more detail.

  • Protein-Rich Foods: A high-protein diet is crucial for the growth and overall health of Pictus Catfish. Feed them with meaty foods like bloodworms, brine shrimp, and insect larvae. You can give them these as live, frozen, or freeze-dried treats.

  • Pellets and Flakes: Quality sinking pellets and flakes should form the core of your Pictus Catfish’s diet. These foods are usually well-balanced and provide essential nutrients. Remember, Pictus Catfish are bottom dwellers, so sinking food is a must.

  • Fresh Foods: You can also include fresh or cooked peas, spinach, and zucchini in their diet. These fresh foods provide necessary fiber and help with digestion.

  • Feeding Frequency: Younger Pictus Catfish require feeding twice a day, while adults do well with once-a-day feeding. The key is not to overfeed, which can affect the water quality and lead to obesity.

Remember, a balanced and varied diet is the key to keeping your Pictus Catfish healthy and active.

Ideal Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

The energetic and peaceful Pictus Catfish make great community tank inhabitants.

However, it’s vital to choose the right tank mates to ensure harmony.

Let’s explore some of the best tank mates for your Pictus Catfish:

  1. Angelfish: Known for their majestic beauty, Angelfish can co-exist peacefully with Pictus Catfish, given that both species prefer similar water parameters.

  2. Corydoras Catfish: These small, bottom-dwelling catfish make good companions for Pictus Catfish due to their peaceful nature and similar dietary needs.

  3. Plecostomus: Another excellent choice due to their peaceful demeanor and bottom-dwelling lifestyle.

  4. Rainbowfish: Their fast-paced swimming and vibrant colors make Rainbowfish a perfect match for the lively Pictus Catfish.

  5. Large Tetras: Species like the Congo Tetra or Bleeding Heart Tetra can hold their own with Pictus Catfish, thanks to their larger size.

Tank Mates to Avoid

Despite their friendly nature, there are some species you should avoid pairing with your Pictus Catfish:

  1. Small Fish and Invertebrates: Pictus Catfish have large mouths and can easily consume small fish or invertebrates such as shrimp or small snails.

  2. Slow-moving or Long-Finned Species: Pictus Catfish may nip at slow-moving or long-finned fish, including Bettas or Fancy Guppies.

  3. Aggressive Species: Fish that are territorial or aggressive, like Cichlids or Red-tailed Sharks, may not get along with Pictus Catfish.

  4. Small Tetras: Small-sized Tetras, such as Neon Tetras, are not recommended as they can become an easy meal for the Pictus.

  5. Goldfish: The cold-water Goldfish have different water requirements and diets, making them unsuitable companions for the tropical Pictus Catfish.

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Breeding Pictus Catfish and Fry Care

Breeding Pictus Catfish in a home aquarium is quite a challenge, even for experienced aquarists. There are few recorded instances of successful breeding.

This rarity is due to a lack of understanding of their breeding habits in the wild.

If you are lucky enough to have a breeding pair, here are some general guidelines:

  • Environment: Replicating conditions from their natural habitat can encourage spawning. This could involve adjusting water parameters or mimicking rainy season conditions.

  • Diet: A protein-rich diet is crucial in the weeks leading up to breeding. Providing a mix of live foods and high-quality pellets or flakes can improve the fish’s overall health and fertility.

After laying eggs, the Pictus Catfish parents show no parental care.

Hence, it is essential to:

  • Separate the Fry: Once the eggs are laid, transfer them to a separate tank to protect them from being eaten.

  • Fry Care: Initially, feed the fry infusoria or commercially available fry foods. As they grow, they can be switched to brine shrimp, then to adult food.

Despite the challenges, breeding Pictus Catfish can be a rewarding experience. The important thing is to have patience, provide optimal conditions, and never stop learning about these fascinating creatures!

Identifying Stress in Pictus Catfish

Recognizing signs of stress in your Pictus Catfish is crucial for their health. Stress can make your fish susceptible to diseases and even shorten their lifespan.

Let’s go through some key indicators of stress:

  1. Change in Behavior: If your typically active Pictus Catfish becomes lethargic or shows unusual behavior such as hiding constantly or swimming erratically, this could signify stress.

  2. Loss of Appetite: Another clear sign of stress is a noticeable decrease in your fish’s appetite or a refusal to eat.

  3. Physical Changes: Look out for physical signs like faded colors, clamped fins, or the appearance of spots or marks that weren’t present before.

  4. Gasping at the Surface: If your Pictus Catfish often gasps for air at the water’s surface, it might mean that your fish is stressed due to poor water quality or lack of oxygen.


Common Health Issues and Treatments for Pictus Catfish

Just like any other pet, Pictus Catfish can suffer from various health issues:

  • Ich: A common ailment in aquarium fish, Ich appears as white spots on the fish’s body. Treat this disease by gradually raising the tank’s temperature and using over-the-counter Ich treatments.

  • Fin Rot: This disease, characterized by fraying or discolored fins, is often caused by poor water quality. Regular water changes and antibacterial medications can help treat Fin Rot.

  • Fungal Infections: Fungal infections are typically spotted as cotton-like growths on the fish’s body. Antifungal medications can treat this disease effectively.

Remember, the best defense against these health issues is preventative care – a clean, well-maintained tank and a healthy diet can ward off many common diseases.

Additional Tips for a Healthy Aquarium

  • Regularly check and maintain appropriate water parameters.

  • Clean your tank consistently, ensuring leftover food and waste doesn’t build up.

  • Avoid overcrowding your aquarium, which can lead to high stress and aggression.

  • Keep a varied and balanced diet for your fish.

  • Always quarantine new fish before adding them to your main tank.

Should You Get a Pictus Catfish for Your Aquarium?

If you’re looking for a lively, entertaining fish that’s relatively easy to care for, then a Pictus Catfish could be a great addition to your aquarium.

Their silver bodies and long barbels add a unique beauty to any tank. However, they do require a spacious tank, regular maintenance, and specific tank mates.

Overall, if you’re ready to meet their needs, Pictus Catfish can make rewarding pets for both novice and experienced aquarists alike.

After all, their engaging behavior and stunning appearance are bound to bring endless delight to any fish enthusiast.

Conservation Status of Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish, like many freshwater species, isn’t currently listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.

However, this doesn’t mean they are free from threats. Their natural habitats often face challenges such as pollution, deforestation, and human interference.

It’s crucial that we understand and respect these creatures’ natural environments to ensure their continued survival.

Availability & Pricing of Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is a popular species in the aquarium trade due to their unique appearance and lively behavior. They are readily available in most local pet stores and online platforms specializing in fish and aquarium supplies.

The price of a Pictus Catfish can vary based on factors such as size and age, but they are generally considered an affordable choice for aquarists.

As of my knowledge, you could expect to pay between $5 to $15 per fish.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pictus Catfish

1. How large can a Pictus Catfish grow?

Ans – A healthy, well-cared-for Pictus Catfish can grow up to 5 inches in captivity.

2. Can Pictus Catfish live alone in a tank?

Ans – While Pictus Catfish can live alone, they prefer to be in groups of three or more.

3. What should I feed my Pictus Catfish?

Ans – They are omnivores, enjoying a varied diet of both plant-based and protein-rich foods.


The Pictus Catfish, with their active nature and unique appearance, make a fascinating addition to any home aquarium.

While they have specific care needs – like a spacious tank, a balanced diet, and appropriate tank mates – the reward is a lively and engaging pet that adds beauty and charm to your underwater world.

Keep in mind that proper care and respect for their natural habitats are crucial for their well-being and the survival of their wild counterparts.

It’s always a privilege to share our homes with these beautiful creatures, so let’s ensure we give them the best possible life.

Happy fishkeeping!