Freshwater Fish

Pictus Catfish 101: Freshwater Catfish Care and Feeding!

If you are looking for an entertaining scavenger for your planted tank, you should definitely check out the fabulous Pictus catfish! These peaceful, active swimmers are one of the smallest freshwater catfish and make a lively addition to large community tanks. Here’s everything you need to know about breeding Pictus Cats!

Spotted Pictus Catfish Introduction

Pictus cats (Pimelodus pictus) are one of the most popular catfish in the aquarium trade and have been for decades. While other catfish can be shy in aquariums, pictus cats are unusually outgoing and often willing to swim and explore during the day, especially if offered food. Are These Spotted Silver Catfish Right For Your Tank?

Natural history of the pictus catfish

The Pimelodella catfish is native to the Amazon River basin and can be found in shallow freshwater streams throughout Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. They were first described by Franz Steindachner, an Austrian scientist and Harvard University professor who joined the Hassler expedition to South America in 1871.

Wild pictus cats live along the bottoms of fast-flowing streams and hide among plants, rocks, and logs when not foraging. Like most scavenger fish, pictus cats will eat anything that fits in their mouths, but they are not very aggressive and do not usually attack small fish unless they are hungry.

How to breed pictus catfish?

All of the spotted catfish you’ll see for sale in aquarium stores and online are either caught as eggs or fried in the wild and raised in captivity until they’re big enough to ship, usually around 2 inches long. No one has succeeded in breeding pictus cats commercially.

We know that they are an egg-laying fish, but beyond that, we know little about their spawning behavior or the conditions necessary to encourage reproduction. They will likely need a very large heated pond or stream to mimic their natural habitat, but that’s all speculation until someone is able to pull it off!

Pictus Catfish: Appearance and Temperament

Spotted pictus cats are some of the most impressive catfish in the trade and look amazing in planted aquariums as they forage for food and swim through currents. Honestly, once you’ve seen a pictus cat, you’ll always recognize their distinctive appearance!

  • Mature pictus cats are 4- to 5-inch-long fish with a streamlined body shape, a fairly flat abdomen, and a wide mouth surrounded by barbels.
  • They have a gray to silvery base color fading to white along the abdomen with dark brown or black blotches on the body, and usually have transparent fins with a large, upright dorsal fin.
  • Their prominent barbels or whiskers are almost white in color and are as long as their body and tail.

Pictus cats use their long barbels to cut their way through muddy water when they swim and forage for food. Their pectoral fins are sharp and serrated and easily become entangled in fishing nets. It is better to capture and transfer them in bowls of water rather than nets, to avoid injury to their fins.

How big do pictus catfish grow and how long do they live?

Pictus cats are usually sold as wild-caught juveniles when they are 2 to 3 inches long. In aquariums, they rarely grow larger than 5 inches, but there are reports of fish reaching 6 inches or more in the wild.

When raised in a spacious 55-gallon tank, an adult pictus cat will typically reach 4.5 inches in length. You will likely need to provide a very spacious tank of 200 gallons or larger if you want your pictus cats to reach their full potential. The typical life expectancy of a pictus cat is about 8 years, but I had one that lived for a decade.

pictus cat behavior

Pictus cats can be a bit contradictory in terms of their personality and behavior. Like most catfish, Pictus enjoy hiding among plants and exploring rocky logs and caves along the bottom of their tank. But they’re not shy like many of their cousins ​​in the catfish family, and they also need plenty of room to swim and explore.

Pictus cats are naturally nocturnal and active at night, and don’t mind the bright lights of many planted tanks. If you shade the open areas of your aquarium, you will likely see your pictus cat swimming during the day. They are also highly motivated by food and usually enthusiastically join the group at mealtimes.

While these cats enjoy hiding at times, they are also very active swimmers who love to play in strong currents. My pictus cat, Glutton, loved swimming up and down the wall of bubbles at the end of my tank or at the outlets of my filters for the decade we’ve had him. He would do it for hours and entertain the whole house with his antics.

Care and feeding of your pictus catfish

Pictus cats are not difficult to care for as long as their primary needs are met, and they are an excellent choice for novice aquarists or those new to planted tank maintenance. Let’s take a look at their ideal setup and the conditions they need to thrive in your home aquarium!

Requirements for aquariums and habitats of pictus cats

The most common mistake beginners make with pictus cats is keeping them in tanks that are too small for their activity level or not providing enough current and open areas to swim. Pictus cats spend most of their time in the lower parts of their tank foraging for food and are considered a bottom feeder.

Ideal Configuration and Tank Size for Pictus Cats

Pictus cats prefer heavily planted tanks with rock caves and logs at the bottom, and do best with a soft, sandy substrate rather than rough gravel that could damage their delicate barbels. While they spend some of their time in hiding, they also need large open areas with a fast current to exercise.

The ideal setup for a single pictus cat is a 55 to 75 gallon long style aquarium with live plants and natural rocks or branch decorations along the back and sides and open areas in the center. By organizing your filter outlets, you can easily direct a steady stream along the bottoms of open areas for your catfish to enjoy.

Water parameters: What temperature do pictus cats prefer?

Pictus cats are tropical freshwater fish that prefer stable temperatures of 75 to 81°F. They do well with a water pH of 7.0 to 7.5 and are usually found in soft water in the wild. However, as long as the water hardness is stable and does not change, the fish should easily adapt to local water conditions.

Pictus cats need clean, highly filtered water that is changed regularly. Since they also enjoy swimming in fast currents, canister filters are often best for catfish communities as their outlets can be more easily adjusted. You will definitely need at least a filtration system and a robust heater for a catfish tank.

Can you keep Pictus cats together?

Pictus cats will rush to school and sandbars together when kept in a group, but you can also happily keep a single catfish in your community tank. Pictus cats need at least 50 gallons of water each, so if you want to keep a group of three, you’ll need to get a 150-gallon or larger tank for them.

Equipment Needed for a Catfish Tank

In the interest of keeping things simple, here is a basic shopping list for setting up a suitable tank for a single pictus cat and a variety of other peaceful community fish:

  • 55 gallon aquarium with hood/cover/lights
  • Sand or small gravel substrate
  • Canister filter and filter media
  • aquarium heater
  • bubble wall or air stone and pump
  • Live plants, rocks and logs.
  • Commercial catfish flakes or pellets
  • Live / frozen / dried delicacies

Diet and feeding: What do pictus cats eat?

Pictus cats are keen eaters, and like most catfish, they are omnivorous scavengers, eating anything they can swallow. There’s a reason we call our pictus cat «The Glutton.» He would get so excited about eating that he would scoop flakes out of the other fish’s mouths and eat until his stomach was bloated!

The best food for your pictus cat is a commercial catfish or omnivore diet in flake or sinking pellet form, supplemented several times a week with algae wafers and live/frozen/dried treats such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, Daphnia eggs and mosquito larvae. Pictus cats really enjoy live foods, so be sure to offer them at least occasionally.

It’s best to feed your pictus cat every day, as these scavengers don’t do well on fast days and may decide to eat smaller fish instead. I usually offer them all they can eat in 2 minutes and then take away most of the leftovers. If you feed your fish on a regular schedule, they will learn to come out at feeding time!

Pictus Catfish Compatibility and Tank Mates

The key to having a community fish tank with a pictus cat is to match the sizes. As long as you keep your catfish with fish that are too big to swallow, you’ll probably avoid trouble. While they are not active predators, they will eat smaller fish like neon tetras just as readily as their commercial diets!

There is a wide variety of species suitable for pictus tanks, so look for large, peaceful community fish such as:

  • zebra danios
  • gold or cherry picks
  • gourami
  • Rainbow Fish
  • Mollies and Platies

Pictus cats also often get along with other catfish such as Upside-Downs, Otocinclus, and Plecostomus. Avoid keeping them with cichlids or territorial bottom feeders, as their constant activity is likely to create stress. I’ve also kept pictus cats with a few species of freshwater sharks, so you’re spoiled for choice.

Quick Pictus Cat Grooming Sheet

Scientific name Pimelodus pictus
Common name Pictus Catfish, Pictus Cat, Angel Cat
Family Pimelodidae
Source Orinoco and Amazon Rivers in South America
Diet Omnivore and active scavenger. Enjoy commercial catfish flake and pellet diets along with fresh/frozen/dried treats like brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae
level of care easy to moderate
Exercise Active, curious and strong swimmer
Temper Calm
Adult size range Grows up to 5 inches long
Minimum tank size 55 gallons (50 gallons per catfish)
Temperature range 75 to 81°F
Hardness of water 5 to 15 dH
pH range 7.0 to 7.5
Filtration / Flow Rate It prefers well-filtered, oxygenated water and likes to swim in strong currents and play with filters, bubble walls, and air stone outlets.
Breeding Egg mincer, but no reports of successful breeding in captivity
Compatibility It works best with larger tank mates of a similar size, but gets along with a wide variety of community fish, such as large Danios, Tetras, Gourami, Barbs, and Rainbow Sharks. Excellent option with other catfish such as Otocinclus, Upside Down Cats and Plecostomus
Is it ok for planted tanks? Yes! They enjoy densely planted aquariums with plenty of natural hiding places as long as they have open, dimly lit areas with a fast current for exercise.


Pictus cats are fun, attractive and active community fish that generally get along with others. These spotted silverfish are ideal for planted freshwater tanks 55 gallons and up and do well in mixed communities. While they can eat Nano-sized fish, pictus cats are non-aggressive and highly entertaining.

Did you like this pictus cat guide and find it helpful in deciding if these wolverine catfish are right for your community tank? Tell us about your pictus cat in the comments or join us on social media! We can exchange stories; I have some great stories from my decade with Glutton!

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