Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish Care Guide

Catfish are one of the most sought-after freshwater aquarium fish for beginners setting up a new home aquarium. One of the most common species of catfish you will find in aquariums all across the globe are the Pictus Catfish.

Naturally found in shallow flowing waters of the Orinico and Amazon Rivers, these small catfish are pretty easy to distinguish from other types of freshwater aquarium fish.

Their whiskers are extremely long, as you would expect from any species of catfish, and their fins and tail are sharp, allowing them to swim at an incredibly fast pace. The colors you will typically see on a Pictus Catfish are silver, with black spots across the entire length of the body. The dorsal fin is generally black in its entirety, but as with all fish, there are often some exceptions.

The ‘whiskers’ that are found on all species of catfish are actually called barbels, and they are what the catfish use for navigating in muddy waters, as well as feeling around for any spare food that they can get a hold of.

Watching the Pictus Catfish navigate the tank with its extremely long barbels is one of the reasons why they are such an entertaining fish to own.

Our comprehensive Pictus Catfish care guide will explain everything you need to know before adding this beautiful creature to your own aquariums. Let’s start with the aquarium itself…


Pictus Catfish Housing & Tank Set Up

best catfish for aquarium

As the Pictus Catfish is a shoaling species, in the wild, you will find them in large groups, so it’s important that you keep this in mind when setting up your home aquarium to house this species of fish.

They rarely grow anything over 5 inches, so if you are worried about them taking up a tonne of space, don’t be!

The minimum tank size that we would recommend for the Pictus Catfish is around 50 Gallons. We recommend keeping them in groups of at least 5, preferably more.

With all that being said, the Pictus Catfish is a very active fish, so the more room that they have to swim around in, the healthier and happier they will ultimately be.

There are a few important pieces of information that you must keep in mind when setting up housing for your Pictus Catfish. Firstly, this species of fish is native to the warm waters of the Amazon River, so the temperature of the tank water must reflect that. We recommend anything between 70 – 80 degrees Fahrenheit (20 – 27 Celcius), with the pH set to around 5.5 – 7.0.

The next thing to keep in mind is that the Pictus Catfish is primarily a nocturnal fish, but a dimly lit environment may encourage activity during the daytime. Keeping your aquarium dimly lit is absolutely crucial if you want to keep your Pictus Catfish as happy as possible.

As well as dimly lit aquarium lighting, you also want to make sure that you have plenty of shaded areas and plants for them to hideout in. Driftwood, artificial rocks and clay plant pots are great ways to provide sufficient shade, and hiding places.

Low light plants that we would recommend are Hornwort, Java Moss or any other moss varieties that are available to you.

In terms of the type of substrate you should use, you want to try and imitate a river bed as much as possible, so a sandy substrate will be optimal. The one that we use regularly is AquaNatural Oolitic Aragonite Aquarium Sand.

Pictus Catfish in the wild are constantly at battle with water currents, so in order to replicate their environment properly, you could add a Circulation Pump.

For filtration, any good quality filtration system will suffice, but the type we would recommend would be a hang on back filter, simply because of the current that they can create. Pictus Catfish are notorious eaters, so they produce a lot of waste. Combine that with their sensitivity towards nitrates, and you will understand how important it is for your filtration system to be as good as possible.

We recommend having a good quality water test kit on hand to make regular tests of your aquarium. The one we use (and the best on the market) is the API Freshwater Master Test Kit

Pictus Catfish Diet

In the wild, Pictus Catfish are omnivorous by nature, so they will eat pretty much anything that comes their way. This makes our job as fish keepers a whole lot easier!

The base of your Pictus Catfish’s diet should be a high-quality sinking pellet. Since the catfish like to spend the majority of their time weaving in and out of plants, and hidden within shaded areas, it’s important that you choose a sinking food, which is easy for them to find.

If you are unsure about which sinking pellet food to purchase for your Pictus Catfish, then we would highly recommend Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets.

In addition to a quality sinking pellet, we would also recommend including some invertebrates in their diets, such as brine shrimp.

Frozen foods (and live foods) are also a good treat for your Pictus Catfish, and we regularly feed our own a bunch of different ones such as Daphnia, bloodworms and blackworms.

As we previously mentioned, the Pictus Catfish is an incredibly greedy fish, who will not hesitate eating other smaller fish in your aquarium if they are not fed enough, so make sure you are feeding them some good quality food, and you are feeding them often.

Neon Tetras are an example of the types of fish that the Pictus Catfish has been known to munch on when it gets hungry.

Breeding Pictus Catfish

Unfortunately, it’s not really possible to breed a Pictus Catfish in a home aquarium, simply because of the lack of open space that the fish needs to reach its full sexual maturity. If you are housing your Pictus Catfish in an enormous tank, then it may be possible, but if you are working with anything less than a couple hundred gallons, then the chances of you seeing them breed are incredibly slim.

On top of that, the Pictus Catfish is very hard to sex. The females are often said to be the larger of the sexes, but there is nothing else that really distinguishes the differences between them. We have been keeping Pictus Catfish for several years, and we still can’t identify what sex they are.

Suitable Tank Mates

How To Care For Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is generally a non-territorial and non-aggressive fish, so you should have no problems keeping them with most other species of fish.

The only issues that we have found is that the Pictus Catfish will not hesitate eating smaller fish if they are in the least bit hungry, so keeping them with fish that are small enough to fit into their mouths is always a risk.

Pictus Catfish are also fast, vigorous swimmers, and their fins and barbels are sharp, so if you are housing any slower swimming fish in your tank, then they could potentially cause some issues. It’s not uncommon for the barbells to accidentally injure other fish in close proximity.

The sharp barbels are not only a danger to other fish in your aquarium, but also to yourself when trying to transport them from tank to tank. The long barbels are sharp enough to pierce a humans skin, and the venom they possess, while not harmful to humans, can leave us with a lot of pain and swelling for several hours.

When moving the Pictus Catfish from tank to tank, we recommend a plastic container of some sort, or something with smooth, hard edges that are impossible to break. Using plastic bags which is usually common practice is a big no-no, as one prick and the bag will easily split.

One other recommendation is to never use a fishing net to transport the Pictus Catfish. The barbels can become tangled in the net, causing damage to the fish while it forcefully tries to break free. Damaging the barbells or any of the fins could result in a slow painful death.

Common Pictus Catfish Diseases

The Pictus Catfish, like most other species of catfish, is a scaleless fish, which you probably already know means they are more susceptible to common aquarium diseases such as Ich and White Spot.

Other diseases may also be present if the water conditions are not maintained, and the fish is not as healthy as it should be. Pictus Catfish have been known to go downhill very quickly at the onset of disease, often leading to sudden death. For this reason, we would not recommend the Pictus Catfish to absolute beginners.

We would recommend learning more about the common fish diseases by checking out the articles in our Diseases & Cures section.


Frequently Asked Questions:

How Long Does The Pictus Catfish Live?

Assuming proper care, the Pictus Catfish will generally live to around 8-10 years.

What Is The Scientific Name of the Pictus Catfish?

The scientific name is Pimelodus Pictus, and some alternative names include the Angelicus Catfish, Polka Dot Fish and Polka Fish.

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  1. Linda Spence says:

    Great advice and information

    1. Hi Linda! I’m glad you found this piece helpful. We post more informative articles every month!

  2. Thank You so much for the information ! Very helpful, thanks again Deb

  3. Carol Hall says:

    I have 3 Pictus catfish. Recently added two of them. My oldest largest Pictus has stopped eating and is hanging out in a cave. Is my Pitcus sick or afraid? They were all getting along fine. I’m concerned.

    1. Hi Carol! From this description, your pictus may be getting accustomed to the new tank setup. Remember to keep an eye on him for any tell-tale signs of illness and distress

  4. Meagan Borchart says:

    Awesome information. I just got my first pictus and while I’m not an entry level aquarist this fish has me stumped. I have a black bullhead catfish I caught in the wild, he was injured so I brought him home and nursed him back to health. He’s fat and happy now even let’s me pet him. I also have an iridescent shark (not in the same tank lol) and while both are catfish their temperaments and behaviors are absolutely day and night. This catfish is proving to be the very opposite of what one expects from a catfish snd their behaviors. I worried that I had something wrong but checked the water pH and temp and it’s all perfect. The tank has been set up so it wasn’t a cycling issue. The bio is in place. The plants and hiding spots are on point. I can’t figure it out why he continues to dart in the glass surfing type behavior. I’ve read that it is somewhat common for these fish but to me it seems frantic. And my iridescent shark was doing the same when I got him until I got a few schooling fish and he calmed right down. So I can tell natural swim pattern and okay glass surfing from panic surfing. To me it seems that is what this catfish is doing. Because I’ve checked every other feasible issue it could be I’m left with it being that he is just new to the environment and it will take a few days or more to adjust or it is because he is not with a group of pictus catfish now. What’s your thoughts?

    1. Andrew Andrew Silver says:

      Hello Megan,

      Fish engage in glass surfing for a variety of reasons. It appears that you have already ruled out a number of the possibilities (water quality). Other things you may want to consider is the size of the tank. Is your tank large enough for your bullhead? You normally want to provide one gallon of water for every inch of fish.

      My next thought is refuge. You mentioned that you have plants in the aquarium. However, do they provide a sufficient hiding place for your bullhead? Lastly, it may be a compatibility issue. It maybe that your bullhead is intimated by your iridescent shark.

      Hope this helps.

  5. I have a weird question but I am genuinely curious. If catfish eat the bacteria and poop in the water the what would eat their poop? Or does it go in them as bad bacteria and algae and come out good?

    1. Andrew Andrew Silver says:

      Hello Nicki,

      Your question is not weird as it is frequently asked. Catfish do not eat poop as it provides no nutritional value. Sometimes, cat fish will mistakenly nibble on poop. However, they will stop doing so when they realize what it is.

  6. Kay and Ged Hocknell says:

    Hiya, really enjoyed reading your very useful article, thank you. My beautiful whiskers, is now going in 6yrs, apprx 4.5″ long. But, over last couple yes, all our small fish, zebras, neons,guppies etc,regularly met there demise! Coz we suspected ” him”, we havnt replaced fish so now for 6mnths he’s beeb alone,feeling guilty bout that. Please could you advise us what would be safe and how many to put in, or is he OK on his own? He displays all behaviours you describe, enjoys tickles when cleaning him out,defo no’s our voices. Many thanks in advance, Kay and Ged x

    1. Hi friends! Pictus catfish aren’t usually aggressive, so we might be able to clear his name :). But some situations like illness and spacing can certainly trigger aggression. What size is your aquarium?

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