Redtail Catfish – Care, Size, Tank Mates, Food & Details!

Redtail catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) is a fresh-water ray-finned fish from the Pimelodidae family or Flat-headed catfish. Redtail catfish can grow up to 135 CM in size which is quite a lot.

Not all aquarists like small fish. Some of them tend to keep a small number of large fish.

If you belong to this category and have the opportunity to start an aquarium with several tons of water, then the Amazonian handsome red-tailed catfish will be an excellent choice. You will learn how to keep such a giant at home from our article. Let’s Begin!

Quick Stats

Scientific Name: Phractocephalus hemioliopterus

Care Level: Difficult
Temperament: Aggressive
Color Form: Dark Gray/Brown,
Lifespan: 15+ Years
Size: 4 – 6 feet
Diet: Carnivore
Family: Pimelodidae
Minimum Tank Size: 1000 Gallons
Tank Set-Up: Sparse/Bare Tank

General Information

It is characterized by rather large sizes (up to 130 cm). It is hard to imagine, but such a giant has become a fairly common aquarium fish.

Unfortunately, there are still places where juveniles of these catfish are sold as beautiful ornamental fish and sellers never reveal the immodest size of adults to the buyers.

Surprisingly, the growth of red-tailed catfish does not even constrain the volume of the aquarium. Excellent appetite and unlimited gluttony lead to the fact that the fish grows right before our eyes.

Redtail catfish hunts at night from an ambush and Inhabits in South America.

The local population uses redtail catfish as a food item, although their meat is dark in color. The species is artificially bred in fisheries of some countries in Southeast Asia, from where it also goes on sale as aquarium inhabitants.

To scare away larger predators or simply unwanted guests, the red-tailed catfish can make loud noises that resemble the roar of an elephant. To do this, the fish sharply passes a mixture of water and air through the tightly pressed gills.

For this feature, the nickname “screaming fish” is also given to this catfish.

It is worth noting that the Redtail catfish is easy to care in maintenance, quickly gets used to the owner, and even allows itself to be stroked and hand-fed. Often found in public aquariums and aquariums.


Redtail catfish have an elongated, powerful body. The head is large, flattened with a wide mouth and large eyes. The mouth opening is bordered by three pairs of long whiskers – one on the upper jaw and two on the lower.

All fins are well developed. The tail is single, there is a well-defined adipose fin.

The color of the Redtail catfish is quite attractive. The upper body is dark, the lower is white. Numerous black spots are scattered on the head. The tail is bright orange or red, contrasts sharply with the body. The apex of the dorsal fin has the same color.

The maximum recorded body size is 135 cm. In small-volume aquariums, the fish rarely grows more than 60 cm.

Red-tailed catfish is a true long-liver, able to live in captivity for up to 20 years.


The homeland of the redtail catfish is the warm tropical waters of the rivers of South America belonging to the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

The water here is soft and sour, at the bottom you can find a large number of snags, which serve as shelters for twilight hunting. Catfish was artificially populated in the southern states of the USA and countries of Southeast Asia.

Redtail Catfish Care and Maintenance

Given the enormous size of red-tailed catfish, You will need an aquarium of a very large size. One individual should have at least 300 liters, although the aquarium with several tons of water capacity is considered ideal for this species.

The redtail catfish lead a near-bottom lifestyle, therefore the bottom area should be as large as possible. The older the individual, the more time she spends without movement, lying at the bottom.

In an aquarium, Redtail catfishes do not abuse the decorations. They can easily turn over any poorly fixed thing, and in the worst case, even break the glass. The design should be as austere as possible.

You can put several large snags, which will become a fish refuge. It is not recommended to use sand and small pebbles as soil. Red-tailed catfish love to swallow soil and pass them through the gills.

To prevent fish from accidentally damaging them, it is better to stop on medium and large stones, or even leave the aquarium without soil, which will also facilitate the cleaning of food debris.

Planting living plants in the home of red-tailed catfish is completely impractical. They will be quickly destroyed by this flat-headed predator.

Natural voracity and preference for animal food require the installation of powerful filters and compressors. Red-tailed catfish do not like bright light, preferring soft and muffled.

It is important to note that, if possible, it is necessary to use external equipment (for example, a temperature regulator, thermometer, etc.), this giant can break anything even with a small blow of the tail. Once a week, it is necessary to replace 20% of the volume of water in the aquarium.

The optimal water parameters for the content: T = 22-28 ° C, pH = 6.0-7.0, GH = 2-10.

Redtail Catfish Compatibility

At first glance, it seems that a phlegmatic catfish constantly lying at the bottom is not capable of offending anyone, but this impression is false. At any moment, a sharp throw can be made and an unlucky fish will be in the huge mouth of a predator.

Therefore, the combined content of red-tailed catfish with any species, smaller than its size, is doomed to failure. Moreover, even large fish are not safe from being eaten by this catfish.

Hence the conclusion: the ideal aquarium for keeping red-tailed catfish would be a large aquarium with a single inhabitant.

If you wish to keep this catfish with other fish then you can think of keeping them with large aquarium inhabitants – Arowana, Oscar Fish, Jaguar Cichlid, black pacu, Leopard Pleco, Pangasius, etc.

However, do not forget that each new large tenant will require a proportional increase in the volume of the aquarium. The spacious aquarium may contain several individuals of red-tailed catfish, but we must not forget about their pronounced territoriality, which often leads to bloody clashes.

Red-Tailed Catfish Feeding

The natural diet of red-tailed catfish is extremely diverse. This resident of Amazonia is completely illegible and eats everything that he can catch: fish, worms, crustaceans, and fruits that have fallen into the water.

If the opportunity presents itself, he will easily feast on small amphibians, reptiles, and even rodents. As you can see, preference is given to animal food.

The basis of nutrition for such a large predator is, first of all, seafood: white fish fillet, mussels, peeled shrimps. It is useful to introduce small pieces of fruit, scalded lettuce into the diet.

It is not recommended to feed red-tailed catfish with products from the meat of warm-blooded animals (chicken, beef, etc.), because they are practically not digested by fish, which can lead to obesity and problems with internal organs.

Unfortunately, most catfish, especially adults, do not favor dry food. Sinking tablets for bottom fish can be offered, for example, Tetra Tablets TabiMin (XL). There are cases when they fell to the catfish’s taste.

Always offer catfish a varied diet. It is noted that when feeding with the same product every day the fish get so used to it that they refuse other food. It is necessary to feed young fish daily, it is better for adult individuals several times a week.

Follow the feeding standards, remember that catfish will swallow food, again, and again, they have no sense of proportion, and this is a direct way to obesity and quick pollution of water.

Breeding Redtail Catfish

It is possible to get offspring from red-tailed catfish at home only if you are the happy owner of a warm decorative pond for several tons of water. It is in such conditions that fish are bred in fish farms in Southeast Asia.

Cases of breeding in the aquarium have not yet been recorded.

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