Pictus Catfish – Species Profile & Facts

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It is easy to spot a Pictus Catfish thanks to its unique head and body composition. Based on its name, you might already suspect what characterizes this fish the most. That’s right, it has a few long barbells around its mouth, just like cats.

The unusual appearance of the Pictus Catfish makes it widely popular among fish enthusiasts. Fortunately, it is not hard to get one either. Its whole body is decorated with black spots on a silver, blueish or brownish background.

Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

This is one of the more active species you can find with fast movement and interesting behaviors. Although Pictus Catfish are not exactly for beginners, we strongly encourage them to accept the challenge.

If you learn everything about how to keep them healthy and put it into practice consistently, then you will be more than proud of the result. We are here to help you out and share our knowledge about this wonderful species.

Keep on reading and you will find out more about how to properly take care of them and which other species you can put them together with.

Pictus Catfish Aquarium Requirements

You have probably already read this elsewhere but the rule of thumb is to mimic the natural habitat of any aquarium species. The Pictus Catfish is no exception from this rule. Your aquarium setup should contain a sandy substrate and plenty of plants and decoration.

Pick any decoration that can be a good hiding place for this species and put them in your aquarium. Decorative caves, rocks and even driftwood are ideal for this purpose. While you design the tank, don’t forget to leave a bigger space for them to freely swim around.

You will often see them quickly swim back and forth in the tank and they need plenty of space for that. Since they mostly thrive during the night, make sure not to install strong lights and go for the dimmer ones. The minimum tank size for the Pictus Catfish is a 55-gallon tank.

They live in rivers and streams out in the wild which needs to be emulated in the tank as well. By installing a good filter, you can generate a decent water flow throughout the tank. Just go for a top-notch hang on back filter and the result will be more than satisfactory.

Water Parameters for Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish Water Parameters

Pictus Catfish Water Parameters

They live in the warm riverbeds down in the South American rivers and streams. The water in your tank should be as warm as 75-81°F. If you vary this too much or even let it warm up or cool down too much, then you also make them more vulnerable to diseases.

The Pictus Catfish doesn’t have scales. It looks awesome but it also makes them more vulnerable so that’s something you should keep in mind. The acidity in the aquarium should also be stable and somewhere between 7.0 and 7.5 pH.

Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

Pictus Catfish Tank Mates (sourceCC BY-SA 4.0)

You need to choose tank mates wisely, as the Pictus Catfish will eat smaller species if it gets hungry. It won’t do it out of aggression but rather because of hunger. They will simply consider it live food however noble or colorful the target actually is.

As peaceful as it is, we are still talking about an energetic, fast swimmer. They are quicker than most other aquarium fish. Therefore, it is not recommended to choose slower fish as tank mates. For example, most cichlids like to peacefully swim around.

The Pictus Catfish will only irritate them with its hyperactive behavior. On top of that, they can’t swim around tactfully. They will bump into their tank mates and even damage them with their barbells. Community fish such as Neons and Guppies are completely out of the question.

We can call the Pictus peaceful, yet still predatory. The only way to avoid complications is to make sure it is the smallest fish in your tank. These are the general advice we can give you about picking tank mates.

To be more exact, here are the species we recommend: Opaline Gourami, Giant Danios and there are also numerous catfish you can choose from.

As long as they are strong and full of energy, they will make perfect tank mates.

Feeding Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish are known as scavengers in their natural habitat. For them, almost anything is considered as food that can fit into their mouth. Whether it is plant or meat and whether it is alive or not, they will eat it. This is perfect for fish keepers because there is no need to really think about it.

If you give them meat and plant-based food alternately, they will be more than grateful. To make things simple, you can buy nutritious pellets in the fish store and feed it to them on a regular basis. Now since Pictus Catfish are bottom dwellers, the pellets have to sink down to their layer.

Of course, giving them only pellets is not the ideal diet so you should mix it up sometimes and give them veggies, frozen foods and such. In addition, they will eat the algae that gets in its way. This is really an all-in-one species when it comes to its diet and it even cleans up your aquarium.

Pictus Catfish Diseases

If you have ever seen a Pictus Catfish, it is conspicuous that they don’t have scales. Species like them are more prone to catch diseases. It most likely won’t be anything unusual, just the most common aquarium diseases. Things that make them vulnerable are improper water parameters and contaminated water.

The temperature and acidity in the tank should be ideal and as stable as you can manage it to be. It has to be checked and corrected regularly and they will be fine. The most common thing is when itches and white spots appear on their body. The Pictus Catfish can’t be cured easily either.

You better prevent them for getting sick or otherwise there is a high risk they will just end up dying. If you are a beginner then you really need to make it a habit and check the water parameters frequently.

Breeding Pictus Catfish

We don’t want to say it is impossible to breed Pictus Catfish in a community tank but it is going to be awfully difficult for sure. And it’s not about the skill at all. You can know a lot about this species and still not be able to breed them because of the size of your fish tank.

A normal community tank is simply not big enough for them to reach maturity. If you are willing to buy at least a 200-gallon aquarium then you will have a better chance to breed them. In case it is a bit smaller, you can only pray for them to reach maturity.

Still, we can’t even bring up examples when fish owners succeeded in breeding Pictus Catfish at home. It is so unprecedented that there are only rumors about aquarists breeding them or figuring it out. All we can say is that during the breeding period, the female lays down eggs in the desired spot.

Then, it is up to the male to go there and fertilize them.

Are Pictus Catfish Aggressive?

The rule of the thumb is to pick tank mates that are big enough not to get eaten by them.  There are a few cases when the Pictus Catfish can get aggressive and they also don’t shy away from eating the smaller fish they encounter. They have a big mouth especially when they reach adulthood.

There are plenty of semi-aggressive species you can surround them with and they won’t bother each other. Although the Pictus Catfish is rather peaceful as a youngster, it gets more and more territorial with other males of the same breed as it ages.

If you don’t surround them with enough females, they will eventually beat each other up while fighting for their territory. The other frequent problem is when you put them into an aquarium that is too small. They need to have enough space to swim around comfortably and get away from each other.

Do Pictus Catfish Need a Filter?

If you want to keep Pictus Catfish, you need to get a filter that also ensures water flow. A moderate water flow is not enough, as this species got used to strong currents in the wild. What you need is a top-notch hang on back filter from.

It is certainly worth the price, as it will provide the water flow your Catfish needs while keeping the water crystal clean. The filter has to be frequently set on. By regularly changing the water in your tank, you will be able to keep it clean from nitrates.

One of the weaknesses of the Pictus Catfish is that they are very sensitive to nitrates. To take your water filtration game to an even higher level, it is a great idea to implement a sponge filter as well. If you invest into an effective enough filtration system, it will eliminate the waste produced by your Catfish.

This species definitely produces more waste than the average aquarium fish. Therefore, this is something you should monitor every couple of days. 

Do Pictus Catfish Need a Heater?

It is important to set the temperature to a value that resembles the warmth of their natural habitat. Pictus Catfish live in waters with temperature that ranges from 70°F to 80°F which is considered quite warm. This species is native to the Amazon River which is known for its hot and humid climate.

It is enough to buy a heater that provides 5 watts of power for every single gallon in your tank. Let’s say you want only one Pictus Catfish. Then you would ideally buy the 55-gallon tank we suggested and a 275W heater, which is 5 times 55. It’s as simple as that. If you buy a large tank, then we recommend you to install a heater on both sides and divide the wattage.

Be careful not to overheat the water because it will only cause them to be stressed. Also, the higher the temperature, the less oxygenated the water will be. Check the water temperature consistently and make sure it is stable. This will reduce the chance that your Catfish will get sick. 

What is the Lifespan of Pictus Catfish?

Assuming that you consistently apply all the advice we gave you; your Pictus Catfish will be able to live up to 10 years. Under normal circumstances, you can expect them to live for at least 8 years. The lifespan of any fish species depends on whether they are properly nourished and the tank conditions.

This maximum lifespan turns out to be rather long when you compare it with other catfish. It is worth to mention that the number of breeding attempts is another factor that determines their life expectancy. The more breeding periods they go through, the shorter they will live.

If you are willing to put in some extra effort, then you can ensure a long life for them for sure.


What do you think? Will it be hard to take care of a Pictus Catfish in your aquarium? We hope this article helped you to get familiar with the needs and behavior of this species. This is the kind of fish that requires you to do a bit more research.

However, once you get through the hard part and figure things out, you will realize how much it is worthwhile to take care of one. They might require a larger space to swim around but just the sight of them swimming and thriving will make you a proud fish keeper.

Most people say that Pictus Catfish are not suitable for beginners. In our opinion, if you truly want things to work out nicely for this breed, then it won’t require that much extra effort. Pretty much all the essential information can be found in this article.

If it all sinked in successfully, then all you need to do is to close this page and get to work.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.

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