Pictus Catfish: Care, Diet, Lifespan, Tank Mates and More

Pimelodus Pictus swimming close to the substrate

There are few good reasons why Pictus Catfish have become one the most kept freshwater catfish among hobbyists.

Firstly, they are stunningly beautiful thanks to their silver-colored body and the glass-like fins. You can’t mistake them with any other catfish or any fish for that matter.

Secondly, as opposed to most catfish, they are very lively. They don’t just stick to the base of the tank, scavenge for food and that’s it!

Thirdly, they are considerably low maintenance and have straightforward requirements. Keeping them isn’t so challenging and even beginners can pull it off provided they understand their requirements.

This guide covers everything you need to know about keeping the Pictus Catfish from tank size, water parameters, diet, tank mates and much more. 

By the time you are done reading it, you will have all details you need to successfully keep them.

Let’s get started!

The Pictus Catfish (pimelodus pictus) is a member of the Pimelodidae family generally known as the long-whiskered catfish. Although there are some well-known species in this family such as the Tiger Shovelnose Catfish, none is quite as popular as the Pictus Catfish. 

These Catfish originated from south America between Orinoco and Amazon River basins. A small concentration of them was also recorded in Peru. These areas contain sandy river beds.  

When setting up their tank its best to emulate their natural environment conditions so they can adapt easier and realise their full potential. 

Pictus Catfish Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 5.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 55 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner – Expert
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Temperature: 75°F to 81°F
  • PH: 7.0 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 5-15dH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Striped Raphael Catfish, Rainbow Sharks, Opaline Gourami, Giant Danio, et Cetra.


One of the most noticeable features of the Pictus Catfish are the barbels. This feature gives them a distinctive catfish look and in the wild help them navigate effectively in dirty waters.

Many people refer to them as whiskers but I feel barbel is a more appropriate term. After all, these barbels can sometimes grow so long that they reach their caudal fin. Have you ever seen whiskers that grow that long? haha.

The barbels make them looks stunning when cruising around the tank. 

They have a long slender body that tapers towards the back. The body is covered in an attention-grabbing silver with lots of black spots.

The black spots extend up to their dorsal and caudal fin but are less frequent on their stomach. Their body does not contain scales.

They have a fairly see-through dorsal fin. Their caudal fin is a bit duller than the dorsal fin. Like most catfish, their tail is forked.

Another thing that deserves a mention is the spines on their fins are rather sharp and can accidentally injure other fish in the tank. While that hardly happens it helps if you pay extra attention to your fish for this reason. 

Regrettably, it’s incredibly difficult to sex the Pictus catfish because there aren’t many obvious differences to take note of.

It’s just that the Females are usually rounder and tend to grow a bit larger when matured. 

Pictus Catfish swimming in the lower section of a tank

Pictus Catfish Size

The Pictus Catfish are among the average-sized catfish you can have in your aquarium. They are not as small as the Otcocinclus Catfish for example, and also not as large as the Tiger Shovelnose Catfish or the Redtail Catfish. 

The average maximum size of Pictus Catfish is around 5 inches long. They can exceed this size in very rear cases. Ideal tank conditions, quality of care and size of the tank affect how large they grow. 

Remember that these are active fish and need lots of stretching room. If they are cramped with no space for that it will affect their psychological state and hence will not grow as they should.


Under the right tank conditions and proper care, Pictus Catfish lifespan is between 8 to 10 years. This is very impressive compared to catfish like Corys and Otocinclus which both hardly make it past 5 years. 

Be aware that they can fail to approach that 8 years’ mark if they are receiving subpar care. 

Likewise, a spacious tank can also affect the lifespan the same way it can affect their maximum growth. So, these are the major things that you must ensure if you want yours to have a short at making it to the 10 years’ mark. 

Temperament and general behavior

Pictus catfish have a laid-back temperament and aren’t aggressive in the least. Consequently, they can be conveniently kept in many community tanks.

You can say they are shy, seeing as they mostly spend most of their time hiding in the lower half section of the tank. But you have to understand that they differ from other timid species in the sense that they are highly active. 

You will see them move swiftly when they see something interesting or when its feeding time. After they are done, they retreat to hiding. In some days you may not see them throughout. 

Though it may sound boring, this behavior is actually fascinating. You will always be looking forward to seeing them dart from one part of the tank to the other, and that’s what is exciting about it. 

Because of their love of hiding, you must equip their tank with plants and decoration that will provide lots of hiding spaces.  

Pictus Catfish cruising in a tank

Tank size and Requirements

For keeping a single Pictus Catfish, the recommended minimum tank is 55 gallons. This may seem a bit much considering tanks smaller than this are sometimes used for species within these catfish size range. 

The reason for this is like I said above, they are very active swimmers and the more space they have the happier and healthier they will be.

Tank size can also determine their size and overall lifespan. Not to mention that they put out considerable waste and when fish is like this, more space is always better. A small tank will become contaminated quicker than a larger one. 

Moreover, Pictus catfish usually live in a shoal in the wild for social reasons. Therefore, it helps if you can have 3-4 in your tank in which case you would have to go for a minimum of 150 gallons.

Next to selecting a suitably sized aquarium is equipping it all the fish requires to adapt easier, live happier and healthier. It all comes down to mimicking their habitat as much as possible.

These are some of the elements that will help you achieve that: substrate, aquascaping, tank decoration, lighting and filtration.

Substrate for Pictus Catfish

Sand is the best substrate to use in the Pictus catfish tank, not only because its what you will find in their habitat but also anything rough could injure their delicate body. 

Remember! they don’t have scales that will protect them.


Pictus catfish habitats are characterized by the presence of vegetation. To mimic this, easy-care aquarium plants such as Java Moss, Hornwort should be used in their tanks. 

Having said that, it’s important you don’t cramp up the tank with plant so that they have ample space they can roam about. Let the vegetation be moderate.

Tank decoration

Including tank decorations such as caves, driftwoods and pieces of rocks will help by creating hiding places which the catfish love so much, but again make sure you don’t overdo it to ensure they have the space they need. 


Pictus Catfish tank should have a low level of lighting seeing as they are nocturnal. 

Filtration for Pictus Catfish

As I mentioned before, these fish put out a lot of waste which is why it’s detrimental to not have a good quality filtration system for their tank.

I recommend you use a good quality hang-on-back filter to avoid nitrates build up in the tank which they are quite sensitive to. 

Pictus Catfish Water Parameters

It has been established that Pictus Catfish do best when kept in pH level of 7 to 7.5 and water hardness of 5 to 15dH.

They can survive a temperature range of 70°F to 80°F but it’s best to keep the temperature between 75°F to 80°F. 

You must maintain the water parameters within these ranges, otherwise you will risk problem for your fish.

Fluctuations in water parameters can lead to health problems and Pictus catfish are especially more vulnerable due to the absence of scales on their body. 

Make sure you test their water as often as you can with good quality test kits to avoid any complications. 

Finally, it’s highly recommended you replace 25% of their water at least twice a month. 

Food and Diet

As scavengers, Pictus Catfish are opportunistic feeders and will eat virtually anything they can find. Insects, snails, small fish, plants detritus and algae are what mostly make up their diet in the wild, meaning that they are omnivorous. 

Likewise, in captivity, they will eat nearly anything you put in the tank. With that said, you have to realize they will appreciate if their diet is varied, just like any other fish. 

You can make high-quality pallets to make the core of their diet. But you have to use sinking ones seeing as they mostly spend their time hiding near the bottom of the tank. 

To diversify the diet, you can feed them frozen foods such as bloodworms, fresh foods such as brine shrimp and Vegetables such as peas.

These foods will provide all the nutrients their body need and they will have a good shot at reaching their expected maximum growth. 

It doesn’t hurt if you have some algae at the bottom of the tank because they will conveniently clear it out.

I had to stress you make sure any food you use, get to them, because they will ignore most floating food in the tank. 

Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

Don’t let their non-aggressive and territorial nature make you think that they can be thrown in any community set up you like.

For starters, you should not keep Pictus catfish with nano fish such as the Neon Tetra or Galaxy Rasbora, otherwise they will most likely get eaten. 

Recall when I said they are opportunistic feeders, that means they will gobble almost anything that will fit in their mouth and that include fish.

Also, they are used to eating small fish in the wild. Keeping this in mind, I say its best if Pictus Catfish is the smallest fish in your tank.

Temperament is always an important factor to consider when choosing tank mates. In light of their peaceful nature, you should not keep them with species that are excessively aggressive like the Oscar Cichlid or the Jack Dempsey Cichlid

All things considered, these are some of the most ideal Pictus Catfish tank mates

  • Striped Raphael Catfish
  • Clown Pleco
  • Opaline Gourami
  • Giant Danio
  • Rainbow Sharks

Before considering any other tank mate, I recommend you add more Pictus Catfish in your tank if you only have one and if you have space. That is because they are usually more social when in a group of 3 to 4. 

Pimelodus Pictus swimming close to the substrate


Ah! Here comes the most challenging part of keeping the Pictus Catfish. The good news is, it is not a necessity like feeding for example, so you don’t have to do it. 

In fact, like most expert aquarists suggest; I recommend you skip breeding them because of the following reasons. 

Sexing them is the first obstacle you will hit. True, there are many fish that are hard to sex, but theirs is a whole new level of hard. And without having mating pairs in your tank you can forget about breeding.

The next problem is, Pictus Catfish require an enormous amount of open water to reach sexual maturity. Yes, majority of the ones you see in captivity have not really reached full sexual maturity, its very peculiar. 

Lastly, there isn’t much known about their breeding habit which is why I was not able to find any report or case study from anyone breeding them in home aquariums as of writing this guide. 

All that is known is, in the wild Pictus Catfish are egg layers. 

Common Diseases

Common freshwater diseases such as parasitic, bacterial and fungal infections are what you have to watch out for if you are keeping the Pictus Catfish. In most cases, infections happen when the water quality goes down. 

Ich is one of those infections and its caused by a parasite that causes the body of the fish to appear as if it’s sprinkled with salt.

Fish afflicted with this disease experience the feeling of itch in which case you will see it attempting to rub itself against objects in the tank. 

Fortunately, you can significantly lower the chances of your Pictus Catfish getting sick by maintaining first-rate water quality. This means you need to keep performing the scheduled water changes and test the water as often as you can. 

Proper diet, spaciously adequate tank and ideal tank mate inclusion all help a long way in preventing diseases. 


I hope by you have understood any sketchy part you might have had about keeping the Pictus Catfish. 

Their care is quiet straightforward all you need is at least a 55-gallons tank and you can have one. It would be better if you have a 150-gallons tank so that you can keep 3 or 4.

Next is equip the tank with plants and some tank decorations so that they can have the hiding places they crave. But not so much that they will not have the cruising space they need.

A water condition that closely resembles their habitat is a must if you want them to thrive. So is a high-quality varied diet.

In case you decide to include other species in the tank, make sure they are ideal.

This virtually sums up the Pictus Catfish care. I add by saying I recommend you develop a habit of observing your fish which isn’t much of a struggle seeing as they are amazingly beautiful.

This will help you spot problems early on. Don’t fret! As long as you are doing things as recommended, there will be a very small chance of that happening.

Hopefully, this guide has provided all you needed to know about keeping this catfish. If you are contemplating whether to keep it or not, I hope it helps you make the right choice.

Please feel free to rich out if you have any question we haven’t covered or if you have any info you think will help improve this guide. We’ll be more than happy if you do.

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