Pictus Catfish – A Complete Guide (Care, Diet, Facts)

If you are on the hunt for a great freshwater fish for your tank, the Pictus Catfish should not be overlooked. They are one of the most popular freshwater fish among aquarium hobbyists.

They have one of a kind, energetic personalities that make them a joy to have in your tank. Also, their bright and vibrant coloration makes for excellent contrast against other fish and plants.

If the Pictus Catfish has spiked your interest, keep reading to find our full guide down below.


About the Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish, scientifically known as Pimelodus pictus, is one of the smallest members of the catfish family Pimelodidae. This fish originates from Amazon and Orinoco river basins in South America. They have a lifespan of around 8-10 years if taken care of properly.

The word “pictus” is derived from a Latin word that means painted spots on the body.

This fish was discovered in 1876 by Franz Steindachner, an Austrian zoologist. It was found in the rivers of South America, and they are rarely seen in any other body of water.

They are commonly kept in freshwater aquariums, and they are very popular amongst fish tank owners. They are very fast and energetic, so they do best in larger aquariums (60 gallons or more).

This catfish typically has a bright white body with various dark-colored spots. Its fins are usually transparent. They can also have purple and silver color variations. The shape of their bodies are usually long and slender, and they typically grow to around 5 inches in length. When not being kept in captivity, they can grow much larger.

Something that distinguishes the Pictus Catfish from other fish is its whiskers which are usually called barbels. All catfish have these. In the wild, catfish use these to navigate through waters where it is hard to see.

They are known for having sharp spines that can be damaging to humans and other fish if not handled properly. When transporting this fish, it is important to keep caution. Also, check to see if other specific fish are compatible with this fish to prevent any harm. Read more about this in the section about compatibility.

There are not many differences between the males and females for the Pictus Catfish. The only slight difference is that the females are a little bit larger once they reach full maturity.

Benefits of the Pictus Catfish

Visually appealing – Something very appealing about the Pictus Catfish is the way they look. Their coloration, spots, and whiskers make them stunning to look at in your fish tank.

They eat algae – This fish loves to forage in the substrate where algae tends to grow. They are the type of fish that actually eat the algae. This limits the amount of algae removal you have to do since this fish pretty much does it for you.

Not picky with food – Something great about this fish is that they are not picky when it comes to food. They are omnivores, so they will eat both meat and plant-based foods. However, there are some foods that are better than others. Read the section below about maintaining the Pictus Catfish in order to get their diet specifications.

Requirements for the Pictus Catfish

Tank size – If you are keeping only one Pictus Catfish, the tank should be at least 55 gallons in size. However, these fish do typically like to be in schools. If you have them in groups, you will need to go up to 100 gallons in size. As a measure of what sized tank you should have, a 150-gallon sized tank should support around 4 Pictus Catfish. They love to have a wide area of swimming space due to their energetic behaviors, so it is very important to abide by this requirement.

Water – Keeping the water at proper standards is crucial for all types of fish. For the Pictus Catfish, the water’s temperature should be between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The water’s pH levels should be between 7.0 and 7.5 pH, and the hardness of the water should be between 4 to 15 dGH.

Substrate – Our recommendation for a substrate is sand. These fish are native to river basins, specifically in sandy riverbeds. Incorporating sand into a tank with a Pictus Catfish will make them feel more in their natural environment which will help them to be stress-free and nourished.

Lighting – The tank should be dimly lit. The natural habitat that this fish lives in is river basins where lighting is not a prominent feature and these fish are nocturnal. Therefore, it is important to keep the lighting very low in the tank. Also, having low lights is going to help prevent the growth of algae that could potentially harm your aquatic life.

Filtration – The Pictus Catfish comes from the river basins in South America. Therefore, in order to emulate their natural environment, you need to stimulate the flow of water. Using a hang-on-back filter is going to best resemble the natural flowing rivers of the rivers they originate from. Also, a filter is going to clear the water of any bacteria that could harm the fish. Investing in a high-quality filter is going to really enhance your tank and make it a healthy environment for your Pictus Catfish to thrive in.

Maintaining a Pictus Catfish

It is important that you resemble an environment that is close to the Pictus Catfish’s natural environment. This will make them feel less stressed and more comfortable.

They come from sandy riverbeds, so a sandy substrate is recommended. Since a sand substrate should be used, it is a good idea to have a strong filter. A strong filter is going to maintain the substrate and quality of the water. Also, the flow rate is going to emulate the flow of the rivers they come from.

Additionally, a good filter is important to have because this fish tends to create a lot of waste. They are extremely sensitive to different chemicals like nitrates, so a filter is going to eliminate any harm being done to this fish.

Lots of plants should be incorporated into the tank. Their natural environment is filled with lots of plants and rocks, so they naturally like to hide in these places. Having rocks with holes in them is going to be best for this species. However, do not include too many plants that it takes up the whole tank. These fish love to be playful and exercise, so they also need large, open spaces to swim in.

In the wild, Pictus Catfish tend to be scavengers and eat pretty much anything they can find. They are omnivores, so they will eat both meat and plant-based foods. This makes the feeding aspect very simple for this species of fish.

It is important to provide this fish with a variety of different foods. Their diet should include frozen foods, fresh foods, and vegetables.

One thing to note about feeding this fish is that they will not go up to the top of the tank to get food. They generally stay at the bottom level at the tank, so feed foods that will not float at the top. Therefore, fish flakes and other similar foods and supplements are typically not recommended for this fish.

As far as cleaning their tanks go, they produce lots of waste. Therefore, their tank needs to be cleaned more often. As a general rule, you should change approximately 25% of the water in the tank every 2 weeks or so. This is going to ensure that the water is in good condition and will not be damaging to your fish or plants.

Another common cleaning routine for this fish is changing 10% of the water every week and replacing 25% of the water when you do your monthly deep cleaning process.

One thing to note about changing the water is that you are keeping all of the water requirements the same. This includes the water’s temperature, pH levels, and hardness.

Since they typically remain at the bottom of the tank, a lot of their waste can be scattered on the substrate. To clean this, you may want to invest in a vacuum substrate cleaner. This is a much easier way to clean your substrate that is both simple and effective. If you have larger aquarium rocks, clean them with detergents that do not have any chemicals in it. Instead, use a soft liquid soap and cloth to carefully clean the rocks and sides of the tank. This is going to ensure that the rocks and substrate do not have any harmful bacteria that could be dangerous to the fish.

Common Issues with the Pictus Catfish

Even though this fish generally has no issues, there are some things you need to look out for.

If you have a shoal or school of this fish, you need to be sure that one of them is not being left out or attacked by the group. There is a possibility that this fish can abstain from the group.

They are prone to fungal infections. This can be easily prevented from taking care of your tank properly and meeting all of the requirements.

If you notice that your Pictus Catfish is not eating as much as they normally do, they could be experiencing a lack of appetite. In this care, it is important that you change up the food in their diet and find a diet that works for them.

If you notice the fish has trouble breathing or it is swimming on its side, it could be at risk for an infection. Look out for these symptoms to determine whether your fish is in danger or not.


Something very important to consider when having a Pictus Catfish (or any fish) is its compatibility with other fish and plants.

While this fish is typically not aggressive or territorial, they are some fish that you must be careful of blending with the Pictus Catfish.

First, there are a few things you need to know. These fish will definitely eat much smaller fish if they are hungry. As a general rule, make sure that the Pictus Catfish is the smallest fish in the tank. Since these fish are energetic and playful, they should not be kept with slow-moving fish such as cichlids.

Species that make good tank mates with the Pictus Catfish are Giant Danios, Opaline Gourami, and other Catfish.

In terms of plants, you should incorporate plants that have the same lighting conditions as the Pictus Catfish does. Plants that this fish does well with include Java Moss and the Hornwort plant.

Breeding Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish is actually quite difficult to breed. This is because at-home aquariums are not typically large enough for the fish to reach their full maturity. To successfully breed a Pictus Catfish, you would at least need a tank that is 200 gallons or more in size.

For this reason, only a few people have reported actually breeding Pictus Catfish in their homes. Most of the people who have reported this have not even done it successfully – they have just reported breeding behaviors. This speaks to how unattainable breeding this species of fish is.

In the wild, the female lays eggs in warm water and the male fertilizes them and protects them. However, there is typically not enough space for this process in at-home aquariums.

If breeding fish is important to you, the Pictus Catfish would definitely not be your best option.

The Bottom Line

The Pictus Catfish makes a great addition to freshwater tanks if kept properly. It is important that you meet all the tank requirements and only keep fish and plants that are compatible with this species.

Some say that this fish shouldn’t be taken care of by beginning fish tank owners, but this is untrue. The Pictus Catfish can be taken care of by anyone willing to put in the time and effort to take care of it properly.

The Pictus Catfish is an energetic and appealing fish that is going to enhance your freshwater aquarium.

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