Pictus Catfish 101: Care, Diet, Tank Size, Tank Mates and More

The Pictus Catfish, or Pimelodus pictus by its scientific name, is an absolute favorite freshwater fish among aquarists all over the world. This is due to their peaceful nature and the fact that they are easy to care for, as well as their distinctive and dramatic barbels of course!

They are a surprisingly active species compared to most of their more sleepy catfish relatives and therefore add lots of fun and activity to any freshwater tank.

The Pictus Catfish hails from the Orinoco and Amazon river basins of South America and has also been discovered further afield in waters as far away as Peru. As soon as it was discovered, this beautiful and characterful fish became a regular addition to freshwater aquariums everywhere.

Care Guide

Tank Size

Although the Pictus Catfish is a relatively small aquarium fish it is advisable to have a tank of 50-55 gallons in size. The reason for this is that these fish love to roam, and they can become distressed and despondent when they aren’t able to. Stress will impact on the fish’s overall health and can even affect their lifespan.

Therefore 55 gallons is an ideal tank size, with an additional 40-50 gallons of space for every extra Pictus Cat you keep. This way you will be able to watch them zip about happily and not feel that you have denied them freedom and enrichment.

Tank Mates

It is probably easier to list the species of fish that don’t make good Pictus Catfish tank mates because they rub along so well with most fish.

Due to their docile nature they can be put in a tank with almost any freshwater companions, however it is better if those fish are a similar size, if not larger, than the Pictus Cat. If put in a tank with certain tiny fish and neon tetras they can sometimes mistake them for a lunchtime snack! Which isn’t ideal!

In the same way, it isn’t great to put Pictus Cats in a tank with very large and boisterous fish  like some African cichlids or Jack Demppsey fish. These guys are a bit too aggressive for the Pictus Cat and will cause them undue stress.

Good tank mates include rainbow sharks, larger platies, opaline gourami and giant danios. And of course, Pictus Cats love other catfish of the same size or larger.

Same Species Tanks

Really, Pictus Catfish love to share a tank with their own species and are most active and happy when shoaling. They do also require plenty of space, but if you have the room for it then it is recommended that you get a few rather than just one. 

Water Parameters

Though the Pictus Cat is a fairly straightforward and low maintenance aquarium fish, it is of utmost importance that you provide the correct water parameters in order to keep them healthy.

Their water temperature should be kept between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and preferably, you should aim to keep it at the upper end of this range. A water temperature of between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.

The PH levels in the water should be between 7 – 7.5, although you can go slightly lower as these fish do enjoy soft water.

The water hardness should be between 5 – 15dH.

However, the most important thing about these water parameters is that they remain constant because fluctuations in temperature and acidity levels can negatively impact your fish and cause them unnecessary stress.

What To Put In Their Tank

When it comes to decorations it is important to try to emulate the conditions of the Pictus Cat’s natural habitat as closely as possible. For this reason, you should add plenty of plant life and vegetation to your tank since they enjoy weaving between tendrils and leaves when in the wild. Plants like Hornwort are a great option and will really help to make the Pictus Cat feel at home. 

Rocks and driftwood also work well in a Pictus Cat’s tank as they supply nooks and crannies for the fish to hide in. These places help them to feel safe and secure as they mimic the riverbeds of the Amazon and Orinoco basins.

One very important point is that you shouldn’t over-fill your tank with plants and other decorations because the Pictus Cat is a very active and speedy swimmer and will value open water and space very much.

Common Diseases

Though the Pictus Catfish is a fairly resilient tank resident, it is of course susceptible to all the usual freshwater diseases that plague so many aquarists. The most common problem among Pictus Catfish is a parasitic infection called Ich which presents itself as small white dots on your fish’s body.

However, if you look after your fish’s water quality and diet then this should be a big problem, and this is true of most freshwater fish, not just the Pictus Catfish.

Make sure that you perform regular water tests and provide spacious, stress-free living conditions and you’ll find that your Pictus Cat is happy and healthy.

Food and Diet

Pictus Catfish are omnivores, meaning they need both meat and protein as well as algae and plant life in order to have a balanced nutritional intake.

They are scavengers in the wild, nibbling on whatever they find drifting on the riverbed, therefore you should try to mimic this eating behaviour by dropping sinking pellets into their tank which will lie on the bottom where they can snack on them throughout the day.

You should not try to encourage your Pictus Cat to eat, but rather just provide food and allow it to nibble when it chooses. 

In addition to pellets, the Pictus Catfish requires some protein-rich options like bloodworms, daphnia and brine shrimp too. It is perfectly acceptable to feed them some frozen foods for convenience, but you should try to provide some live foods as well in order to supply enough enrichment and nutrients, as well as encourage activity.


If a Pictus Catfish is well looked after, it can live for up to 10 years, with the average Pictus lifespan ranging between 8-10 years. This is an impressively long time when compared to other aquarium catfish and makes the Pictus a particularly good investment for aquarists.

These beauties live long enough for you to form a real bond with them, however it is a fish keeper’s responsibility to feed and care for them adequately to ensure they live as happy and healthy a life as possible.


The most distinctive thing about the Pictus Catfish are its amazingly long barbels, or whiskers as they are sometimes termed. These are what give it that catfish character, and are incredibly mesmerizing to watch as they sway about in the water.

But the barbels aren’t just pretty. They help the Pictus to orientate itself and navigate through dirty waters, as well as affording it greater spatial awareness. 

The coloration of the Pictus Catfish is beautiful. It has a silvery body covered in delicate and evenly spaced flecks of black. The fish’s belly is lighter than its back and sides and does not have as many black dots, however the black dots do extend over its fins and tail.

The Pictus Catfish does not have any scales, and its dorsal and caudal fins are translucent apart from the black dots. It is important to know that the fish’s pectoral fin and forked tail are both rather sharp, so be careful not to brush against them in the wrong direction if you don’t want a nasty cut.


The Pictus Catfish grows to approximately 5 inches long, and very rarely exceeds that size. The size of your fish will depend on its quality of care, diet and also on the conditions it was reared in. 

Behaviour and Temperament

Pictus Catfish are very peaceful and mellow in their nature. This is what makes them such a favorite with aquarists. They tend to spend much of their time hiding at the bottom of the tank where they feel most safe and secure.

However, they are prone to sudden bursts of energy and activity which can be very entertaining to watch. These little gems can swim at quite a speed and will whizz about at feeding time or if something interesting happens in the tank, before returning to their hiding place as if they never left! They are very sweet and docile tank residents.


Pictus Catfish do not breed well in domestic aquariums and it is therefore best not to even try to encourage them. The reason for this is that in order to reach sexual maturity these fish need to have spent lots of time in wide open water (strange but true).

Therefore, unless you have a whopping great big tank at home, you will not be able to get your fish to breed and it is best not to distress them by trying.

Gender Differences: Male vs Female

Another factor that makes breeding Pictus Catfish so hard is that it is very difficult to tell the males and females apart and therefore you can’t always be sure that you have made a suitable pairing.

These fish are very slightly dimorphic, in that the females are minutely larger than the males, but the difference is very difficult to distinguish. 

Fun Facts

  1. The Pictus Catfish has a combined respiratory system, meaning that it has to rise to the surface periodically to trap an air bubble in order to breathe!
  2. Pictus Catfish are part of the Pimelodidae family, which are known for having the longest baubles of any catfish family!
  3. The Pictus Catfish’s baubles can grow as long as it’s entire body length!