Pictus Catfish Species Profile: Size, Care, Tank Mates & Lifespan

Author: Hasty Fish

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If you’re a fish enthusiast, you’ve likely heard of the Pictus Catfish. These playful and energetic fish are attractive and popular, often kept by beginners and experienced aquarists alike.

They are well-known for their vibrant appearance, which includes striking spots and stripes that add a pop of color to any aquarium.

However, ensuring that your Pictus Catfish thrives in its environment requires knowledge and understanding of the species.

This species profile covers everything you need to know about Pictus Catfish, from their origin, lifespan, and feeding requirements to ideal tank conditions and compatible tank mates.

Pictus Catfish Species Overview

Pictus Catfish Species Profile

The Pictus Catfish, also known as the Pimelodus Pictus, belongs to the Pimelodidae family and is a fascinating species of fish that is incredibly popular with aquarium hobbyists.

With its attractive coloration and ease of care, it’s no surprise that this petite freshwater fish stands out from the crowd! They are a perfect choice for anyone looking to add a bit of distinctive color and a “catfish” look to their tank.

1. Origin & Distribution

Pictus Catfish are native to South America, specifically the Amazon and Orinoco river basins, and are primarily found in slow-moving waters. They prefer murky, densely vegetated, and dimly-lit waters with lots of hiding places as they are nocturnal.

2. Lifespan

Pictus catfish are a resilient, hardy species that can provide years of enjoyment to their owners. With proper care, these fish can live between 8 and 10 years, providing ample time for their owners to admire their unique features and watch them develop their colorful personalities.

By providing a spacious and secure environment and offering a balanced diet tailored to their needs, aquarists can help their Pictus catfish achieve their maximum lifespan, ensuring a long and happy life for these fascinating fish.

Appearance, Colors, & Markings

Pictus catfish have a long, slender body with an overall silver coloration and lots of fairly evenly spaced black spots on their head, body, and fins.

The most distinctive feature of Pictus Catfish is perhaps their long, protruding barbels. Some people also call them “whiskers” because of their resemblance to, well, whiskers!

It’s not uncommon to see their barbels outgrow their bodies. They use these barbels to navigate and sense or feel their way through murky, dirty waters in search of food, although they won’t need to use them much in a well-maintained aquarium.

Pictus Catfish also have a forked tail and semi-translucent fins, with the dorsal fin being more transparent than their caudal fins.

Both their pectoral and dorsal fins contain a venomous substance that can inflict severe pain on predators or attackers, although Pictus Catfish generally don’t use them aggressively. Rather, the fins serve as a defense mechanism that can come in handy when the fish feels threatened.

That being said, it’s still best to practice caution when handling them. Using an open container to dip them out of the tank is a better idea as the sharp spines on their fins are often caught in nets, which can cause injuries and potentially infection if there’s a piece of the net left in the wound.

Pictus Catfish Size

The Pictus Catfish grows to an average of 4-6 inches (10.16-12.7 cm) in length. Some can surpass this size, although this is not common. Factors that impact their growth and affect how big they can get are diet, water quality, tank size, tank mates, and genetics.

Habitat & Care

As previously mentioned, Pictus Catfish are native to slow-moving waters and prefer dimly lit environments with plenty of hiding places.

A well-maintained aquarium that mimics their natural environment is the best way to ensure they thrive in captivity.

But what’s the exact setup you need to provide?

Read on to learn more!

1. Recommended Tank Size

Pictus Catfish is a highly active and playful species that requires ample swimming space to stay healthy and happy.

Since Pictus Catfish can grow up to a maximum length of 5 inches, a minimum tank size of 50 gallons is recommended when keeping these fish, and 40 gallons more for each additional one you want to add. This means you’ll be looking at a 170-gallon tank for four Pictus Catfish.

Even if you don’t plan on keeping a large school of Pictus Catfish, providing a larger tank is always better as it gives the fish more room to explore and move around and, as a result, a healthier, more comfortable living environment.

Yes, it does take more effort to maintain a bigger tank, but it’s well worth it in the long run. Plus, you get rewarded with the sight of multiple healthy and vibrant Pictus Catfish swimming around your beautiful, better-viewing tank!

2. Ideal Water Parameters

Pictus Catfish are hardy fish that can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and water conditions. However, that’s not to say that any temperature or water condition is ideal for them. In fact, failure to stay within the recommended ranges provided below can result in severe consequences for your fish.

The optimal water parameters for Pictus Catfish are as follows:

  • Water temperature between 75-81°F (23-27 °C)
  • Water hardness between 5-15 dH
  • pH of 7.0-8.0
  • Nitrite and nitrate levels below 2 ppm

By providing the right water parameters, you can be sure that your Pictus Catfish will stay healthy and happy for a long time to come. So keep an eye on these conditions since they change over time. Regularly testing the water is a must!

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3. What To Put In Their Tank

Your goal is to create an environment that closely resembles their natural habitats. This means the tank must be densely planted with plenty of hiding spots. Things you need to add include:

  • Rocks & Caves
  • Logs
  • Driftwood
  • Live or artificial plants

Plants you can consider include Java moss, Anubias, Java fern, Hornwort, and Amazon Sword plants. These are all good choices as they provide lots of cover while also helping to keep your tank looking beautiful.

As for the substrate, you may have heard of people recommending gravel, but I’d suggest you stick with sand instead. The reason is that Pictus Catfish are bottom-dwellers. Using sand means a softer surface and no rough edges, which can help prevent injuring their sensitive underbelly and barbels. Besides, sand also mimics their natural habitat much more closely.

4. Common Pictus Catfish Diseases: What To Look Out For

Despite being a hardy fish, Pictus Catfish, like any other freshwater fish, are vulnerable to the typical freshwater diseases that commonly affect other species too.

One of the most common ailments is Ich, a fish disease caused by the protozoan parasite Ichthyophthirius multifiliis. It is also known as “White Spot Disease” due to the white spots appearing on the body of affected fish and can be fatal if left untreated.

So if you notice any signs of Ich, seek veterinary advice right away and treat accordingly. Some people will recommend raising the water temperature, but I advise you not to do it as it will put additional stress on your already ill fish.

And as the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So take proactive measures such as maintaining high water quality and quarantining new fish, plants, or invertebrates before introducing them to your tank. This will help keep not only Ich but also other common diseases at bay.

Diet Of The Pictus Catfish

Being one of the most popular, if not the most popular, Catfish species, Pictus Catfish are omnivores and have a hearty appetite. They are not fussy eaters and will accept pretty much any form of food, whether it’s live, frozen, or processed.

Well. That’s why they’re so popular with fishkeepers, after all. And as a matter of fact, they’ll search and scavenge just about anything that’s edible in the wild.

Since they are bottom-dwellers, you’ll want to feed them food that sinks to the bottom.

Live foods such as daphnia, bloodworms, and brine shrimp are their favorite. If that’s not available, though, frozen or freeze-dried equivalents will do just fine. Processed foods like pellets or flakes are also great.

Be sure to mix it up and feed various foods, including vegetables, to ensure your fish receive all the essential vitamins and minerals they need for optimal health. And don’t forget to leave some food and snacks out for them when you switch off the aquarium lights at night, as they are nocturnal.


Pictus Catfish are peaceful and shy fish, which makes them a great addition to community tanks. They don’t like trouble and won’t bother other fish, and in fact, you’ll find them staying hidden in the shadows most of the time.

You may disagree with me on what I’ve said, as you probably have heard or witnessed some Pictus Catfish being aggressive. But there are usually two reasons why this happens.

The first is overcrowding. When too many fish are crammed into a small tank, it causes stress and can result in aggression. That’s why it’s crucial to use the right tank size and never overstock.

The second is unsuitable tank mates. Avoid keeping Pictus Catfish with overly aggressive fish, as this can cause them to become stressed and act out. Stick with other peaceful species that won’t bother them, and you’ll be good. Also, you’ll want to avoid keeping them with small fish like neon tetras, as they may end up being eaten because Pictus Catfish are greedy and are opportunistic feeders.

Although mellow and peaceful, Pictus Catfish are very active at night when the lights are off! If you take a peek in your tank during the evening hours, you’ll most likely spot them out and about at high speed, prowling around for food, then back to their hiding spot. It’s really an amazing sight to behold!

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Compatible Tank Mates

Finding suitable tank mates for Pictus Catfish is fairly easy, thanks to their peaceful nature.

However, as we lightly touched upon in the previous section, you’ll want to avoid housing them with overly aggressive species, for instance, Jack Dempsey fish and African cichlids, as well as small fish that could fit into their mouths.

But other than that, just about any peaceful fish will work! Some good options include:

  • Opaline gourami
  • Glass Catfish
  • Silver Dollar
  • Rubber Pleco
  • Red Irian Rainbowfish
  • Giant Danios

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Breeding The Pictus Catfish

Thinking about breeding Pictus Catfish? Unfortunately, it’s virtually impossible in home aquariums for several reasons.

For starters, differentiating between male and female Pictus Catfish is tricky, as their differences are subtle. Even if you put multiple Pictus Catfish in the same tank, hoping that there are males and females, there’s still another obstacle.

For Pictus Catfish to breed, they need to reach full sexual maturity. And for that to happen, they need to live in open space, which basically puts an end to the possibility of breeding them in home aquariums unless you have a gigantic tank!
All in all, don’t even attempt to breed Pictus Catfish in the home aquarium, as it’s hardly ever successful. Just enjoy them for what they are and be happy!


Pictus Catfish make excellent tank mates for other similarly sized species. They’re shy and will usually stay hidden in the shadows of the aquarium most of the time. So be sure to provide them with plenty of hiding spots!

They’re relatively easy to care for and enjoy being in groups of four or more of their own kind.

Overall, if you’re looking for a peaceful fish that will help bring some life to your aquarium, the Pictus Catfish is an excellent choice! Plus, they’re great for beginner aquarists or those who want a low-maintenance fish. Enjoy them and have fun!