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Family: Pimelodidae

Common Names: Pictus Catfish

Origin and Habitat: Amazon river basin (Brazil, Peru) and Rio Orinoco basin (Columbia, Venezuela). Found in shallow flowing waters (rivers and streams) with a substrate of sand or mud.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful but it is predatory and as it matures it will eat small fish. Should be kept in a small group of at least 5; single fish may pine away. Tankmates should not include sedate fish like angels, discus, gourami and even cichlids as these will be pestered by the nocturnal habits of this catfish, nor nippy fish like barbs. Medium-sized characins, larger rasbora, rainbowfish are suitable.

Pictus Catfish Diet

Feeds on aquatic invertebrates (insect larvae and crustaceans) and small fish in its habitat. In the aquarium will accept most foods, and is a very greedy feeder so care must be taken not to overfeed. Sinking foods, frozen bloodworms [an ideal food to acclimate new fish to the tank], live worms including small earthworms. One good feeding will last it several days. Goes into a feeding frenzy when food is placed in the aquarium.


Attains almost 5 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

48 inches in length to provide swimming space for a group.

Water parameters for Pictus Catfish

Soft to medium hard (< 12 dGH), acidic (pH below 7) water, temperature 22-25C/71-77F.


This striking catfish should only be kept in a group of 5 (more if space permits); when kept singly the fish is frequently less active and more prone to stress-related health issues. The aquarium requires at least a moderate flow from the filter to provide a current; plenty of swimming space is needed, as this is a very active fish. Fine gravel or sand substrate with some rounded rocks and bogwood or branches providing hiding places will replicate this fish's habitat. Naturally nocturnal and more active during darkness, very dim lighting will result in this fish being more active and it will feed during the day; new fish may require feeding in the evening after the light is out, and frozen bloodworms are an excellent initial inducement to eat. Given the low light, hardy plants like Anubias and Java Fern would be suitable. Plants plus weekly partial water changes will help to maintain very good water conditions; otherwise barbel loss may occur.

There are no identified external differences of gender, though females are likely to be rounder. Spawning in the aquarium has not been reported.

This fish has small hooks on the dorsal and pectoral fins that frequently will be caught when netting the fish; a plastic container is preferred for catching this fish. Like other fish in the family, these are scaleless and thus highly susceptible to diseases and treatments. Medications must be administered very carefully.

The family Pimelodidae contains some 80 species in 32 genera, but the subject species is the one most often seen in the hobby. There are two pattern variants; fish from Columbia have small spotting over the entire body, while those from Peru have larger spots on the main body--but this is only reliable with equally-sized fish as the pattern can alter with age. There is a resemblance to the African fish Synodontis angelicus, and the Pictus Catfish is sometimes commonly called "Angelicus," but the African fish is dark with white/yellowish spotting and a slightly different shape.

The species was described in 1876 by F. Steindachner. The genus name derives from the Greek pimele [= fat] and odous [= teeth]. The species epithet pictus is Latin for painted, referring to the spotted pattern. To date its classification has not changed, but the family is the second largest and very diverse among the Siluriformes (catfishes) and phylogenetic relationships have not been well studied.

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The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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