Pictus catfish stats infographicThe Pictus Catfish, also known as Pimelodus pictus, is an unusual, spotted freshwater fish. This spectacular little fish with long barbels adds beauty to your aquarium.

The lively Pimelodus pictus makes an excellent addition to a spacious tank with medium to large peaceful species. It has been sought after by fish hobbyists for quite some time now.

In this guide, you will find information that will help you care for the Pictus catfish. After you’ve read this article, you’ll be ready to add some to your aquarium.

Pictus Catfish Stats

Scientific Name Pimelodus pictus
Common Name Pictus Catfish
Family Pimelodidae
Origin Orinoco and Amazon Rivers in South America
Diet Omnivore; eats commercial pellet diets and catfish flakes; fresh/frozen/dried treats
Care Easy
Activity Level Very active; a strong swimmer
Temperament Peaceful; playful
Adult Size Up to 5 inches
Minimum Tank Size 70 gallons; larger if you have a group
Temperature 75 F – 81 F
pH 7.0 – 7.5
Water Hardness 5 – 15 dGH
Filtration and Flow  Well-filtered, well-oxygenated water with a strong current
Compatibility compatible with larger tank mates or fish of a similar size; gets along with a wide range of community fish; will eat smaller fish
Tank Setup Densely planted; sufficient hiding places; plenty of open space to swim around
Breeding Egglayer; challenging to breed in captivity


Pictus catfish careFrom the Pimelodidae family, the Pictus Catfish is a native of the Amazon River Basin. This species lives along the bottom of swiftly flowing shallow freshwater streams throughout Brazil, Peru, Columbia, and Venezuela.

Franz Steindachner, an Austrian zoologist and ichthyologist, was the first person to describe this breed after he accompanied the Hasssler expedition to South America in 1871.

Although Pimelodus pictus are omnivores and scavengers who happily eat anything they can fit into their mouths, they are not aggressive predators. They don’t tend to go after small fisher unless they are hungry and haven’t been able to find food.

Compared to their more peaceful relatives, Pictus catfish are very active swimmers, pleasantly surprising new hobbyists with their playful behavior.


The average Pictus catfish lifespan is between 8 and 10 years, which is relatively long compared to other favorite aquarium catfish like the Otocinclus.

Appearance, Colors, and Markings

The Pictus Catfish is about 5 inches long with a characteristically smooth body. Like other catfish species, these fish do not have any external scales. The Pictus Catfish is a gleaming light silver with dark dots scattered evenly over their bodies, although there are fewer dots on their stomachs.

The caudal and dorsal fins of the Pictus Catfish are semi-translucent with black spots. Their dorsal fins are a bit clearer than the caudal fins, making them appear even more striking.

The most spectacular feature of Pictus catfish is their barbels that are as long as their bodies, reaching to their caudal fin. These ‘whiskers’ create this breed’s distinctive “catfish” appearance and make them the center of attraction in any community aquarium.

These barbels help Pictus catfish expertly navigate the murky water in their native habitat and explore their surroundings. It’s great fun to watch the barbels sway as your fish darts around your aquarium!

The Pictus catfish has a forked tail and a large, downturned mouth like most other catfish. There is barely any difference in the appearance of the male and female Pictus. The females may be a bit larger and rounder when they are sexually mature.

Pictus Catfish Care

Pictus Catfish are low maintenance, and their care is relatively simple. While Pictus catfish are small, they are swift and energetic shoaling fish. We suggest a minimum tank size of 70 gallons because they are used to having plenty of room to roam around. Keeping them in a tank where they don’t have ample space to zoom about is stressful and affects their well-being.

You must also install an efficient and robust filtration system in the tank because Pictus catfish create lots of waste. The filtration is crucial in keeping water parameters stable since this species does not tolerate nitrates.

Use a quality hang-on-back filter to create the proper flow in your tank. This will help your Catfish stay in good condition as they are used to swift water currents. Maintaining a strict maintenance routine is also vital as Pictus catfish are vulnerable to pollution. It would be best if you carried out partial water changes weekly. Pictus Catfish can lose their barbels if the water is not kept clean.

– Water Parameters for Pictus Catfish

  • Water Temperature    70 F to 80 F; however, 75 F to 80 F is better
  • pH Level                      7 to 7.5
  • Water Hardness          5 to 15 dGH

It is essential to maintain proper water conditions in your aquarium. We suggest regular tests to ensure water parameters are within these recommended ranges to provide the Pictus Catfish with optimum living conditions.

– Tank Setup and Decor

Tank setup is an essential part of caring for your Pictus catfish. It would be good to replicate the natural environment of these freshwater fish. They are used to the warm rivers and streams of South America.

Pictus catfish are a nocturnal species. Their natural habitat is flowing water with dense vegetation. Hence, a heavily planted aquarium with subdued lighting is ideal for the Pictus Catfish.

A quiet, daytime resting place is vital for this nocturnal breed. You can create a natural riverine environment using driftwood, roots and branches, and smooth round stones. It would be best to have a fine sandy substrate so their delicate barbels aren’t injured.

We suggest hardy plants such as Anubias, Java fern, and Hornwort, which tolerate dim lighting. You can attach them to the decor to leave plenty of space for your Pictus Catfish to swim around.

A certain amount of plants, logs, and driftwood are essential to provide the Pictus catfish with a comfortable environment. However, it is essential to balance the open space and the decor. These energetic fish are speedy swimmers. Filling up too much of their tank with plants, rocks, and driftwood won’t leave enough room for them to swim around.

You must provide your Pictus catfish with a cave or a log where it can hide in the daytime. If you have other Pictus catfish, bottom feeders like Plecostomus spp, or other nocturnal species in your community tank, it is advisable to have plenty of hiding places for everyone.

– A Word of Caution

Pictus catfish dietYou must take care when purchasing Pictus Catfish. They can be in poor condition when they first arrive as they may suffer from insufficient oxygen and nutrition during transportation.

The Pictus Catfish, a scaleless fish, is primarily prone to white spot or Ich diseases. Furthermore, treatment is tricky since its delicate skin makes it sensitive to commonly used medications. You must read instructions carefully before you add any medication to a tank with these little fish. If you’re not sure of the proper dosage, reducing the dose to half would be advisable.

You can ensure the health of your Pictus catfish by paying strict attention to regular testing and water changes to keep the water clean.

Another thing to be wary of is the Pimelodus pictus’ sharp, serrated pectoral fins. Extra care is required when catching these fish since these spines can get entangled in the mesh of a net. It is best to use an open plastic or glass container to prevent injuries as the fish struggles to free itself from the mesh.

You must also exercise care to avoid being cut by the spines because it can be pretty painful, like being stung by a wasp or a bee. The toxin, which is in the mucus that coats the fin spines, is generally harmless. However, you will be uncomfortable for an hour or two because of the swelling and the throbbing pain.

If your hand does get cut by a catfish spine, you must clean the wound thoroughly. It is advisable to wait until the cut is completely healed before putting your hand in the tank water. These wounds can lead to Fish Handler’s Disease if you do not take immediate action and treatment.

If you need to move the Pictus catfish to another tank for quarantine or any other reason, use a wide jar to catch it. This precaution will help avoid injury both to you and the fish.

– Pictus Catfish Diet

Pictus catfish are easy to feed; however, understanding their natural diet will ensure that you give them correct nutrition.

Like all members of the catfish family, Pictus catfish are omnivores and enthusiastic scavengers. They eat a wide variety of plants, algae, and proteins. You will need to see they get a balanced diet.

You can feed the Pictus catfish both freeze-dried and live food. Frozen foods flakes or pellets are more manageable. In addition, offer them algae wafers and frozen or dried treats, like Daphnia eggs, bloodworms, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae, and frozen plankton,

Along with pellets and dried food, Pictus catfish need quality protein. This breed enjoys live foods, so be sure to offer it at least once a week.

  • Some good options for live food are:
  • Live blood worms
  • Beef heart
  • Tubifex worms
  • Glass worms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Fish

Compatible Tank Mates for the Pictus Catfish

The Pictus Catfish’s peaceful nature makes it an excellent community fish for your aquarium. The list of potential tank mates is pretty long as you can keep them with any species that are comfortable with soft water.

While the Pictus catfish are not aggressive predators, they will happily gobble up smaller fish like neon tetras. You must take care not to add small fish to the aquarium that will fit in the Pictus catfish’s mouth. Tetras, Guppies, and other nano fish may likely end being a tasty meal for the spotted catfish.

You can choose suitable tankmates for your Pictus catfish from this extensive list of medium-sized fish:

Pictus catfish live happily with other catfish such as Otocinclus, Plecostomus, and Upside-Downs. However, the constant activity of the Pictus catfish may be troublesome for slow-moving cichlids or territorial bottom feeders.

Take care not to keep any aggressive breeds like the African cichlids or the Jack Dempsey fish likely to trouble the spotted catfish.

Pictus Catfish Behavior & Temperament

Pictus catfish are very endearing and display a wide range of behavior. Like its other relatives, this spotted fish loves to hide beneath plants. They will happily explore the rock caves and logs you have placed on the bottom of your aquarium.

Pictus catfish are a naturally nocturnal species. They are not comfortable in brightly lit aquariums and will spend their time in hiding. However, if you keep them in a dimly lit tank or use plants to create shade in the open areas, you will see these pretty, spotted fish swimming during the daytime too. They are also very greedy and will join the other fish enthusiastically at feeding time.

The Pictus Catfish is a shoaling species. You can keep just one catfish by itself. However, if you want to see them display their natural, outgoing behavior, we suggest you keep them in a group of six or more. If you have only one spotted catfish in your community tank, it will remain hidden during the daylight and only emerge at night after you turn off the lights.

Pictus catfish are contradictory little creatures – shy at times and playful at others. Sometimes they spend a lot of time hiding out in the lower half of the tank among the caves and logs, and you may not see them for days.

And then suddenly, you will see your Pictus Catfish zooming around the tank. They are active swimmers who enjoy strong currents. You will enjoy watching them play in the bubbles near the filter outlet.

Pictus catfish need privacy, so you must create plenty of hiding places in your aquarium where they feel safe and comfortable.

Although you may be concerned when your spotted catfish has been hiding out for a long time, you needn’t worry! Your Pictus catfish will dart out like lightning when it’s feeding time or if they sense some exciting activity taking place. Your Pictus catfish will zip around to investigate, and once the fun is over, they will go back to their cave.

Breeding Pictus Catfish

While Pictus catfish care is very straightforward, breeding this egg-laying catfish in an aquarium is challenging even for experienced fish hobbyists.

The spotted catfish available for sale in pet shops or aquarium stores and online are raised in captivity. They are caught as eggs or fry from their natural habitat and bred in tanks until they’re big enough for shipping, generally when they are about 2 inches long.

The first obstacle is sexing the Pictus catfish since there is no significant difference in their appearance. Moreover, this species needs to live in open water to reach sexual maturity.

You will need to put a group of Pictus catfish in a very large spawning tank to ensure your chances of success. You may need to manipulate the water chemistry by changing the water temperature or pH to encourage the fish to spawn.

The possibility of breeding Pictus catfish is slim since we don’t have much information about their breeding habits.


Pictus catfish are not difficult to care for, so they are excellent for beginner hobbyists and fishkeepers who want to try their hand at planted aquariums.

Let’s summarize how you can help them thrive in your aquarium! Here is the information about the appropriate tank size and compatible tank mates. We have also shared the proper water parameters and diet requirements.

  • The Spotted Pictus Catfish is a peaceful breed
  • They are spectacular little fish with long barbels
  • Pictus Catfish is a native of South America
  • An exquisite feature of this small fish is their translucent fins
  • They are very active swimmers
  • This species lives for 8 to 10 years
  • Pictus catfish are scaleless fish, so they are prone to white spot disease
  • They are suitable for spacious community tanks with robust, active breeds
  • The Pictus Catfish is a shoaling species and displays its natural behavior when it is kept in a group
  •  Rainbowfish, medium to large-sized Characins, Cyprinids, Loricariids, or Doradids make good tankmates
  • This species can annoy slow-moving tankmates because they are so active
  • Pimelodus pictus is a nocturnal breed
  • They are happiest in a tank with dim, subdued lighting
  • Sometimes they spend a lot of time hiding among the caves and logs
  • You must be very cautious when handling them because of their sharp, serrated fins
  • The Spotted Pictus Catfish is a mellow breed favored by aquarists. These gorgeous freshwater species are low maintenance and will give you hours of entertainment with their playful antics.

Pictus catfish lookWe hope you will consider this stunning, spotted little fish that doesn’t cause any trouble for your community aquarium.

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