Pictus Catfish Species Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

If you want a lively big fish in your freshwater aquarium, the pictus catfish is here to impress you. The shiny fish with its long whiskers adds a hint of elegance to well-researched community tanks.

Beloved by aquarists with moderate experience, this peaceful and gluttonous catfish is here to steal your heart.

So, if you’re interested in getting this fish, let’s know everything about it…

What is a Pictus Catfish?

A pictus catfish is a freshwater fish that belongs to the Pimelodidae family and has a silver body with big black spots on it.

OriginAmazon and Orinoco River basins, South America
Scientific NamePimelodus pictus
Common NamesPictus catfish, pim catfish
IUCN Red List StatusNot Evaluated
AppearanceWhite body with black spots, transparent fins, spines of dorsal and pectoral fins, downturned mouth, forked tail
Size (Adult)Up to 12 cm (4.7 in)
Lifespan4-8 years, 10 years with best care
TemperamentMost peaceful of its kind, predatory species in general
Tank LevelBottom dweller
Water Temperature72-77 °F (22-25 °C)
pH Level6-7.5
Water HardnessUp to 15 dGH
Care LevelIntermediate
Minimum Tank Size55-75 gallons for 1
Tank EnvironmentSandy substrate, subdued lights, plants, plenty of swimming space
DietOmnivorous with carnivorous tendencies
Tank MatesOwn group, bigger fast swimming species

What is the Natural Habitat of Pictus Catfish?

Native to South America, the pictus catfish is found in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins of Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and Peru. It’s spotted mostly in shallow-flowing regions with muddy or sandy substrates.

Which family does Pictus Catfish belong?

This catfish belongs to the Pimelodidae family under the Siluriformes order. Popular as Pimelodus pictus scientifically, it’s known as pictus catfish and pim catfish worldwide.

Fun Fact: Pictus catfish is often referred to as Angelica cat in the aquarium trade. However, the latter is actually an African catfish (Synodontis angelica).

How does a Pictus Catfish look?

Pim catfish

If you want to get a detailed description of this catfish, let’s get started here…

What is the Size of Pictus Catfish?

In captivity, the pictus catfish grows up to 12 cm (4.7 in). But in the wild, it can reach up to 20 cm (7.9 in). However, if sick or not fed well, it may not reach the regular size.

What is the Color of Pictus Catfish?

Pictus cat has a smooth silver body with black spots all over it. It also sports transparent fins (the dorsal fin is far more clear than the tail fin) and white barbels. The belly is of lighter color and has slightly less black spots.

There are two types of pictus catfish – large spotted and small spotted type. The first one is the most common in the aquarium trade.

What are the Features of Pictus Catfish?

This catfish has a long and slender body with no external scales. It has long barbels that may reach the tail – used to search for food in the substrate and navigate muddy waters in the wild.

Pictus also has sharp spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins. These may hurt other fish. Besides that, it has a large downturned mouth and a forked tail.

How is male and female Pictus Catfish different?

The sexually mature female pictus catfish is a bit larger than the adult male. Other than this, there is hardly any difference between the two.

What is the behavior of Pictus Catfish in an aquarium?

Pictus cat is the most peaceful and shy catfish. Compared to others of its kind, it prefers to stay hidden most of the time, especially if alone. In groups, it’s an active swimmer. It also becomes quite active during meal times.

However, the nocturnal bottom feeder is definitely a predatory species. So, if there’s any fish that fits its mouth, it’ll eat them.

What is the Lifespan of Pictus Catfish?

On average, the pictus catfish is known to live around 4-8 years. However, according to my experience, you can sustain it for 10 years with good care.

Author’s Note: While taking care of your fish, be careful, as you might get pricked by its spine. So, use a plastic box to handle it. If you get pricked, don’t dip your hand back in the water. Seek medical attention immediately to avoid getting fish handler’s disease or fish tuberculosis.

How to take care of Pictus Catfish?

Group of pictus

If you plan to make this fish the next addition to your tank, let’s read about how to give it the right home…

What is the Tank Size for Pictus Catfish?

A 55-75 gallon tank is enough for a single pictus. However, this species feels more comfortable in groups. So if you get 3 of them, get at least a 150-gallon tank. Thereafter, if you add more, keep adding 40-50 gallons more for each additional fish.

What is the Water Chemistry for Pictus Catfish?

Your pet fish’s life depends mostly on the quality of water. So, keep an eye on the water parameters and maintain the following:

  • pH Levels: 6-7.5
  • Water Temperature: 72-77 °F (22-25 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 15 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Less than 15 ppm

What is the Tank Environment for Pictus Catfish?

Other than the water, you must also focus on what goes in your tank, such as decor, equipment, and everything else, to create its perfect habitat!

Which Substrate does Pictus Catfish prefer?

The most preferred substrate for this fish is sand for the delicate scaleless fish. Besides that, you can strategically place a few smooth, rounded rocks to mimic its natural habitat, the riverbed.

Which Plants do Pictus Catfish prefer?

Add hardy plants with low lighting needs, like Java fern, Java moss, Hornwort, Anubias, Elodeas, and Vallisneria.

Try to attach them to the decor so that your pictus catfish gets the most space at the bottom. Otherwise, plants on the substrate will get in the way of your fast-swimming and scavenging pet. The plants might get uprooted while the fish explore.

What type of Lighting is needed for Pictus Catfish?

Pictus feels most comfortable exploring throughout the tank in a subdued or dimly lit environment. It won’t swim around much in bright tanks, except at mealtimes. Keep your tank away from direct sunlight.

Which Décor is needed for Pictus Catfish?

As decor, go for driftwood roots and branches to create a natural underwater scene. Additionally, get some caves and logs for them to rest during the day. If there are other bottom feeders, ensure there are lots of hiding spots.

What is the Filtration system for Pictus Catfish?

The fish creates a load of waste, and it’s pretty sensitive to water quality. So, use a strong and efficient hang-on-back filter. Poor water quality may also make it lose its barbels. So, 25-30% weekly water changes are a must!

What is the Water Flow Rate for Pictus Catfish?

Ensure there’s a good amount of water current for a healthy, well-oxygenated, and clean environment. The flow created using a hang-on-back filter is good enough.

Care Tip: Use the least décor and plants while creating the tank. This will make your pictus feel the most comfortable.

What do Pictus Catfish eat?

In the wild, the pictus mainly consumes invertebrates. However, in captivity, the fish accepts all sorts of food. It’s omnivorous but loves carnivorous food more. Make sure you put it on a major-carnivorous diet of:

  • Tubifex
  • Brine shrimp
  • Bloodworm
  • Blackworm
  • Beef heart
  • Krill
  • Shrimp
  • Gammarus
  • Small earthworm
  • Daphnia
  • Snail
  • Small fish
  • Insect larvae

A small part of its diet must include veggies and traditional aquarium food like:

  • Algae wafer
  • Salad
  • Blanched vegetables (spinach, zucchini, and broccoli)
  • Flake
  • Granule
  • Tablet
  • Sinking pellet
  • Dried sinking food

Make sure you don’t overfeed the fish. It has a bad reputation for eating too much to the point that it gets a distended stomach. The adult fish must be fed once every few days.

If its stomach is bulging, don’t feed it anymore. Feed it next when its stomach looks fat.

Since it’s a bottom-feeder, many assume it’ll keep the tank bottom clean of all detritus or leftover food. However, that’s not the case at all. So, don’t count on this one as a bottom or algae cleaner.

Which are the Tank Mates for Pictus Catfish?

Before you get other tank mates, ensure you have at least 3-5 pictus in the tank. Other than that, the best tank mates for pictus cats are other sturdy, slightly bigger, and active species. Some options are:

  • Rainbowfish
  • Medium-to-large-sized characins
  • Tough catfish (Loricariids, Doradids)
  • Cyprinids
  • Giant danio
  • Opaline gourami
  • Larger platy
  • Larger rasbora

Note: All tank mates must be significantly bigger than the size of an adult pictus.

Which Tank Mates to Avoid for Pictus Catfish?

As a rule of thumb, never house the following types of fish with pictus:

  • Smaller fish: They may get preyed on by the pictus.
  • Slow-swimmers: They may get stressed or damaged by the fast-swimming pictus.

Namely, you must always avoid these:

  • Guppy
  • Neon tetra
  • Cichlid
  • Angel
  • Discus
  • Regular-sized gourami
  • Cory catfish

What are the Common Diseases in Pictus Catfish?

The pictus catfish is vulnerable to the most common fish diseases. So, let’s know all of them and their treatments here…

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
IchExternal Protozoan ParasiteDrowsiness, appetite loss, white spot, flashingAdd ich medicines, elevate aquarium temperature
Fin rotBacterial InfectionDrowsiness, appetite loss, fin fraying and/or disintegration, fin discolorationImprove water quality, remove physically injurious objects, administer antibiotics
ColumnarisBacterial InfectionDrowsiness, appetite loss, gray/white patches, fin frayingImprove water quality, add antibiotics, reduce stress

Quick Tip: Since the pictus catfish is scaleless, avoid using copper-based medicines.

This fish’s health, once sick, is known to decline drastically to death. So, it’s best to prevent diseases by providing the best care.

How to Breed Pictus Catfish in a tank?

It’s not easy to breed the pictus catfish. Even experts struggle to recreate the perfect environment for breeding or egg-laying of the fish in captivity.

According to some, the fish needs a spacious tank (200 gallons) to reach sexual maturity. Home aquaria don’t provide enough space. Moreover, it’s also difficult to sexually differentiate the fish.

If you still want to try your luck breeding the fish, some suggest the following:

  • Use a large separate breeding tank (minimum 200 gallons). This will help in water chemistry manipulation.
  • House several pictus catfish (one male with about three females) together to increase mating chances.
  • Try to switch the water chemistry to induce spawning.

Breeding Tip: It’s best if you don’t try at all, as there’s no report of successful breeding of the fish within the hobby.

How to Buy Pictus Catfish?

While choosing pictus catfish, check for these signs of good health:

  • Active behavior in dimly-lit aquarium
  • Long intact barbels
  • Intact fins and spines
  • No discoloration
  • Good appetite

A word from FishInAquarium

Pictus catfish is a fantastic choice if you want to challenge your fishkeeping skills. With the necessary environment and the right tank mates, the inexpensive fish will help you build a unique and attractive aquarium.

A small group of these energetic fish adds lots of fun and enjoyment to your tank. In fact, they can keep you entertained for hours. So, you must definitely give these cuties a shot!

If you found this article helpful, share it with fellow aquarist friends and let them know the joy of raising the fish. Do you have some queries? Drop us an email and we’ll get back to you!

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.