Pictus Catfish Fish Species Profile

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Two Pictus catfish in an aquarium

The Pictus catfish is a suitable addition to many freshwater community tanks. Its nocturnal nature just requires dim lighting or places to hide during the day. These fish have the potential to grow up to a yard long, but most Pictus catfish bred in captivity do not end up that large.

Species Overview

Common Name: Pictus catfish, Pictus cat

Scientific Name: Pimelodus pictus

Adult Size: 5 to 6 inches

Life Expectancy: 4 to 8 years

Characteristics Family Pimelodidae Origin  South America  Social  Peaceful  Tank Level  Bottom dweller  Minimum Tank Size  50 gallons  Diet  Omnivore  Breeding  Egg layer  Care  Beginner pH  7.0 to 7.4 Hardness  50 to 100 mg/L Temperature  74 to 78 F (23 to 26 C)

Origin and Distribution

The Pictus catfish is a nocturnal fish native to South America. They are found in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins but have been kept in aquariums for many generations.

Colors and Markings

The Pictus catfish has a characteristic silvery, smooth body with black spots. Like other catfish species, they do not have any external scales. They have the common barbels, used for tasting food deep in the substrate, and sharp spines on their pectoral and dorsal fin. Take great care when handling these fish to avoid getting poked by these spines. These fish are often snagged in nets, so using an open container to handle these fish is recommended.

If your hand is perforated by a catfish spine, clean it carefully and do not return your hand to the tank water. Fish Handler’s Disease can be caused if these wounds are not treated carefully. If you have any family members with compromised immune systems, including young children and elderly, there is also the risk of Mycobacteria spp. infection, commonly known as “fish tuberculosis,” with fish-related injuries.


Being peaceful, nocturnal fish, the Pictus catfish can be kept with many different species, provided they are not too aggressive during the daytime while the Pictus catfish is hiding. You can keep more than one Pictus catfish in a tank, just keep in mind their large tank size requirement.

When selecting appropriate tankmates for peaceful community aquariums, make sure their water quality parameters, specifically pH, kH and temperature, all agree.

Pictus Catfish Habitat and Care

The most important part of the Pictus catfish habitat is a quiet, daytime resting place. Do not expect to see your Pictus catfish much during the day unless you use subdued, muted lighting on your tank. During the daytime be sure to have a cave or log for your Pictus catfish to hide in. If you have other Pictus catfish, nocturnal species or bottom feeders, such as Plecostomous spp., be sure you have enough hiding places for everyone.

Pictus Catfish Diet and Feeding

The Pictus catfish is an omnivore and will adapt easily to a pelleted diet. Since they are nocturnal fish, be sure to leave some food out for them when you turn off the tank lighting. In tanks with dim lighting, you may see your fish come out to eat with the rest of your tank inhabitants. You are welcome to supplement your Pictus catfish with both meaty and veggie treats.

Don't expect this species to clean up after your other fish. Although they are bottom-feeders and will likely snack upon some detritus, it is not their primary diet and they will often require separate feeding due to their nocturnal nature.

Gender Differences

Unfortunately, the Pictus catfish does not have any external sex characteristics. With individuals of the same age and care, the females may be larger than the males.

Breeding the Pictus Catfish

Breeding the Pictus catfish is not an easy endeavor. Many advanced hobbyists struggle with providing a suitable habitat for these fish to lay their eggs. A very large tank is recommended and using a group of fish will certainly increase your chances. Always make sure to properly quarantine all your new breeding fish, especially if they are coming from various sources.

As with any indoor aquarium setup, it is recommended to provide a breeding or spawning tank separate from the home tank in order to manipulate the water chemistry and provide a safe environment for any offspring. Due to the static nature of most indoor aquarium setups, changes to the water temperature or other water chemistry parameters are often required to initiate spawning.

More Pet Fish Species

If you are interested in the Pictus catfish, we recommend you check out some of these other fish species:

  • Suckermouth catfish
  • Panda cory (Panda catfish)
  • Upside-down catfish

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