Pictus catfish: Care, Size, Lifespan, Diet & More

The Pictus catfish (Pimelodus pictus) is a popular freshwater aquarium fish species from South America. They are easily identified by their long barbels and unique coloration. The body of the Pictus catfish is designed with black spots covering the dorsal (upper) side making them a desired pet fish. They are one of the most beautiful types of catfish in the hobby. 

In this article, you will learn the correct way to care for a Pictus catfish in your home aquarium and all the other information you might need.

Species Profile & Overview

Pictus catfish are popular aquarium fish native to the Amazon River Basins and more specifically in the Orinoco river. They are also found in the nearby rivers but the numbers are usually less.

Pictus catfish is a species in the Pimelodidae family that is known for its super long barbels. Their barbels can sometimes grow to the full length of their body, giving them a very unique appearance.

They also have a unique ability to adapt to a wide range of water conditions, from murky, stagnant waters to fast-flowing rivers. This is thanks to their specially adapted barbells that can find food even if they can’t see.

The Pictus catfish is a peaceful species that does well with other tank mates. They are active fish that enjoy swimming and exploring their environment.

Pictus catfish are one of the most popular aquarium fish for their unique appearance and personality. However, they are not always available in pet stores as they are very hard to ship. Pictus has sharp needle-like spines on their dorsal and pectoral fins that can easily puncture the shipping bags. 

That being said, if they become available in your local pet store, then you are in luck! These fish are hardy and can adapt to a wide range of water conditions, making them ideal for most aquarists. 


Young Pictus Catfish
Young Pictus Catfish

The Pictus catfish is a beautiful species that has super long barbels. This is probably one of their main points of attraction in the aquarium hobby. They are also known for their striking black and silver coloration. 

The barbels grow around their mouth and help the fish navigate and feel their way in the murky waters. This is their main way of identifying food in the wild. These barbels are used in a tank for the same purpose; although they don’t need them as water is super clear.

Their body is long, thin, and streamlined. The thickest point on their body is right where their ventral fins are located, but their body will aggressively taper down to their caudal or tail fin.

This fish gets its name from the Latin word “pictus” which means “painted”. Unlike most catfish, this species has a very sharp contrast between the black spots on their silver or white body. 

If you are looking for an addition to your aquarium that is both beautiful and peaceful, then the Pictus catfish fish can be a great option! This fish comes with unique patterns and barbels, which can add a lot of visual beauty to your tank. 

They are also relatively easy to care for, making them a great choice for aquarists who are looking for an easier fish to keep.

Adult Size

The Pictus catfish is a small-sized catfish that only grows to about 4.5 inches in length. Both males and females typically grow to about the same size. However, there can be some size differences between males and females, with males usually being slightly smaller and thinner than females.

The small size of Pictus catfish makes them good pet catfish to keep in a smaller aquarium. Matching their small size to their peaceful personalities, they can be a must-have in any community aquarium.


Like most catfish, a Pictus Catfish can live around 8 – 10 years in captivity. That being said, the lifespan of this fish can be affected by diet and water quality. If they are not well cared for, they may only live for a few years. 

Genetics can also play an important role in lowering the lifespan of Pictus catfish. Most Pictus that could survive to reach a home aquarium is hardy enough already. 

The other factor that can cause lower lifespan in these fish is high-stress levels and diseases. So make sure to set up the tank properly and never neglect tank maintenance.

Behavior & Temperament

Pictus catfish are generally peaceful fish. They do well in community tanks and get along with most other fish. However, on rare occasions, they can be territorial with other bottom-dwelling fish that have similar body shapes. 

This only happens when there are much different fish cramped up in a small tank and there is no room for them to freely swim. Pictus needs hiding places to hide and enough open space to explore. 

Pictus catfish should be kept smaller and more peaceful fish as aggressive species can bully them. Their large barbels are often bitten by other fish as they mistake it for food. But they seem to not have this issue in larger tanks. 

Pictus catfish are nocturnal species. So you should not expect them to come out during the day as much as they do during the night. This is especially true when you have lots of hiding places for them to hide. 

The schooling and social behaviors of Pictus catfish are very interesting. These fish are known to school together in large groups, often numbering in the hundreds or even thousands in the wild. 

In an aquarium, they also need to be in groups of six or more. These fish will swim super fast like tiny torpedoes in your tank. So it’s best to open up some of the bottom areas of the tank for them to be able to exercise their natural instincts. 

Pictus catfish Care

The Pictus catfish are relatively easy to care for. They are peaceful bottom-dwellers that do well in a community tank with other peaceful fish. They prefer to live in groups, so it is best to keep at least six of them together. 

Pictus catfish are very adaptable species and can live in a wide range of aquarium parameters. However, it is important to match their aquarium parameters to what they have in the wild to ensure their long-term health and well-being.

Wild Pictus catfish live in freshwater rivers and streams with moderate to high flow rates. They prefer such an environment in their aquarium. 

If you’re thinking about getting a Pictus catfish, or already have one, we compiled the next few sections to help you properly set their tank up. 

Tank Size

A Pictus catfish needs a minimum tank size of 50 gallons and can live in a group of 6 fish. Pictus catfish are schooling species and you should get a few of them to ensure they feel safe in your tank. This is why it’s important to have a group of 6 Pictus catfish in a 50-gallon aquarium.

If you want to have a larger group of them, then you will need a bigger aquarium. The larger the bottom of the tank the better it is for this fish. They are mainly at the bottom of the tank so a large aquarium is needed.

What To Put In A Pictus catfish Tank

To decorate the aquarium for Pictus catfish, you will need to create a habitat that is similar to their natural environment. This means adding plants, rocks, and driftwood to the tank. 

You will also need to make sure that there is plenty of open bottom space for the fish to explore. Because they stay at the bottom of the tank they need a soft substrate like sand to ensure they don’t accidentally harm themselves. 

The substrate will also provide a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow, which helps to break down waste products in the aquarium. Which will result in keeping the water column clean and clear.

While Pictus catfish don’t need any particular decorations in their tank, they do prefer hiding spots. This can be something as simple as a cave-like decoration or even a few overturned pots. The important thing is that the hiding spot is large enough for the fish to comfortably fit inside.

There are many benefits of using natural decorations like rocks and driftwood in an aquarium. While they help the tank to look more beautiful, you must not overcrowd the bottom of the tank with decorations. 

Plants are super important in a Pictus tank because they help to keep the water clean and provide shade for the fish. They also provide oxygen for the fish and help to keep the tank healthy. 

One of the great things about keeping Pictus catfish is that they are compatible with a wide variety of live plants. In fact, many aquarists believe that live plants help keep these fish healthy and thriving. 

While many different live plants can be used in an aquarium with Pictus catfish, some of the more popular choices include Java fern, Anubias, and hornwort. You can also select any other plants you wish to add.

When choosing live plants for your aquarium, make sure to select hardy varieties that can withstand a fair amount of abuse from these active fish. Also, be sure to place the plants securely in the substrate as Pictus swim very fast and can accidentally uproot them.

Young Pictus Catfish
Young Pictus Catfish

Light Requirements

Some aquarists believe that a Pictus Catfish looks more beautiful when the light is dim. They say that the fish’s colors seem to “pop” more in low-light conditions. However, this is due to their reflective scale less skin and that reflects light in lower lighting conditions. 

In our opinion, the best type of light for an aquarium is a full-spectrum LED light. These lights provide the full spectrum of light that plants and fish need to thrive. They are also more energy-efficient than other types of aquarium lights.

Keep in mind that these fish need plants and caves to hide when the lights are on. When using a full spectrum light caves and plants are a “must-have” in their tank.

Water Conditions & Parameters

Pictus catfish are fairly adaptable and hardy fish. They can survive in a wide range of water parameters, but there is a recommended window that you should aim for if you want them to be as healthy as possible.

The natural habitat of this fish is in slow-moving rivers and streams with sandy bottoms. The water in the natural habitat of this fish is typically murky and visibility is low and has a moderate temperature. 

Although aquarium water is clear, matching the water parameters to the natural habitat of these fish will benefit them in the long run. This will help the fish to be more comfortable and less stressed in their new environment. 

Below is the ideal range of parameters for Pictus catfish in captivity:

  • Temperature: 72 – 80 Degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • TDS: 100 – 220 PPM

It is important to change the water in an aquarium on a weekly basis to ensure the health of the fish and other aquatic creatures. By removing and replacing a portion of the water, you are able to remove any built-up toxins and impurities, while also replenishing the water with fresh, clean water.

Filtration System

A good filtration system is key to the health of these fish. One of the best ways to protect your Pictus catfish from disease is to maintain a clean and healthy environment in their tank. 

It is important to choose a filter that is appropriate for the size of your tank and the number of fish you have. Pictus are a type of catfish and they can produce a lot of waste. So the filter should be able to remove all the waste and debris from the water while also providing adequate aeration. 

Not only will the right filter keep your water clean and clear, but it will also help to maintain healthy levels of beneficial bacteria in the tank. So the larger the filter the better it is for a tank.

However, there are a few things to consider when choosing a filter for your aquarium, such as the size of the tank, the type of fish you have, and the level of filtration you need.

We recommend a canister filter that is rated for the size of your tank. Canister filters are one of the most reliable types of filters in the hobby. They will also help your tank with the water flow that Pictus needs.

Common Diseases and Prevention

Many diseases can affect Pictus catfish, ranging from bacterial infections to parasites. Many of these diseases can be deadly, so it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of each one. Some common diseases include Ich, Fin Rot, and skin infections. 

If you have a pictus catfish, it’s important to be aware of these diseases. These diseases are among the most common diseases that can affect this type of fish. 

To prevent diseases, it is important to keep the water clean and free of toxins. It is also important to quarantine new fish before adding them to the main tank. If fish do get sick, you will need to separate the sick fish and treat it accordingly.

Diet and Feeding Requirements

Pictus catfishes are bottom feeders and will eat just about anything they can find on the river bed. This includes dead fish, larvae, crustaceans, and plant matter. They are not fussy eaters! 

To find their food, pictus catfishes use their long barbels (whiskers) to feel around in the dark for something to eat. Yes, they are nocturnal species that prefer to look for food at night.

To maintain good health, Pictus Catfish should be fed a variety of live, frozen, or freeze-dried foods. Bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia are all good choices. Tetras should be fed in small amounts several times a day.

Dry, commercially made fish foods are not very nutritious for the Pictus catfish fish. They are typically made from cornmeal, wheat flour, and other fillers that provide little nutritional value. 

Fish food may also contain artificial colors and flavors that can be harmful to the fish. So it’s important to check the ingredients of the food before purchasing. Not all fish foods are good for fish!

Frozen aquarium fish foods are a great way to add variety to your Pictus catfish’s diet. They also give your fish all the vitamins and minerals that dry foods can’t provide. Frozen foods should be given 2 – 3 times per week.

Overfeeding your fish is unhealthy for both the fish and the aquarium. When fish are overfed, they produce more waste, which pollutes the water and can lead to health problems for all the fish in the tank. 

Breeding Pictus catfish

To breed Pictus catfish can be rewarding but it’s not an easy task and we advise you to not even attempt to breed them. The male and females of these fish are nearly identical so you will need to have a large breeding group to start with.

They also mature at 4 – 5 years of age so you will have to invest a long time. During the time they grow and become mature, they should have clean water and a large aquarium to properly develop.

Once they reach sexual maturity, it’s too tricky to create similar conditions as what they have during their breeding season in the wild. So it’s very hard and a challenge only expert catfish breeders take. 

Tank Mates

The Pictus catfish fish is a peaceful community fish that does well with other tank mates. They are shy fish though and may hide if there are too many fish in the tank or if the tank is not large enough. A larger tank size will allow them to swim around more and feel more comfortable.

The Pictus catfish is a nocturnal bottom-dweller species that does best in a tank with other similar-sized fish. They are great with other small and peaceful fish that can tolerate similar water conditions. 

They are shy by nature and can be easily intimidated or outcompeted for food by larger, more aggressive fish. Considering these points here are our top pics of tank mates for Pictus Catfish:

Young Pictus Catfish
Young Pictus Catfish


Pictus catfish are unique-looking fish that can have a long lifespan. They are easy to care for, and they are interesting to watch. They are also one of the few catfish species that can be kept with other fish without causing problems. If you have a larger tank we definitely recommend getting a group of them!