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The Pictus Catfish

Updated on January 20, 2013

The Beautiful Pictus Cat

Pictus Catfish
Pictus Catfish | Source

The Pimelodus Pictus in Your Aquarium

I have been a serious freshwater aquarist for a few years now and one of fish that I've grown the most fond of is my pictus catfish. He is currently the biggest guy in the tank, but he is also the most easy going. Compared to most of the drab-colored freshwater fish (not considering cichlids), he is a show stopper. The pictus has long barbels and a shimmery silver body with black spots. He is a great swimmer and not a picky eater. He prefers to hide in caves when the lights are on, but becomes quite active in the evening when the tank is dim. I feel that the pictus is a great addition to any freshwater tank. If you are thinking of getting a pictus, read on to learn more about them.

Their Origins

In the wild, pictus catfish are found in the Orinoco and Amazon river basins. They are found in South American countries like Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and Peru. Considering their natural habitat, it is recommended that if you keep pictus that you have in a tank with plenty of caves, roots and driftwood. A sandy substrate is also recommended. This will simulate their natural habitat and the soft substrate is also more gentle on this bottom feeder's belly and barbels. These fish are fast, athletic swimmers so leave plenty of open area for swimming and darting around.

Water Conditions

The pictus prefers soft water that is anywhere between 75 and 80 degrees. The pH should be between 7.0 and 7.5. Water hardness should fall somewhere between 4 and 8 general hardness. Pictus are considered "scaleless" fish, so they are more sensitive to water quality. Stable water conditions are a must with the pictus. Also, copper based medicines and salt is harmful to the pictus and should not be used with them in the tank. If you ever have to remove them from the tank for cleaning or hospitalization, do NOT net them. They have very sharp dorsal fins and long barbels that will easily become tangled in the net, often injuring your fish (it is recommended you catch them with a bowl, pitcher or measuring cup...punch some small holes in the bottom of whatever you use to speed up movement underwater). Also, take care to avoid the dorsal fin when handling the pictus since it will provide a slight sting to your hands.

The Pictus Swimming

Feeding Your Pictus

The pictus is by no means a picky eater. Personally, I feed mine bottom feeder pellets. Mine will also nibble on algae wafers and flake food. This fish is omnivorous, eating both meat and plants. Generally speaking, the pictus catfish likes live food like blood worms, tubifex worms and invertebrates. They also enjoy packaged beef heart, glass worms, tubifex worms, blood worms, brine shrimp, insects and vegetables. They will also eat the excess food that is found on the bottom of the tank. These fish are nocturnal, so it is a good idea to drop some food into the tank after lights out at night.

Breeding Your Pictus

As adults, the female is bigger than the male. The pictus is an egg layer that is extremely difficult to breed in captivity. Personally, I have never heard of anyone successfully breeding pictus catfish in an aquarium setting.


The pictus cat is considered semi-aggressive. This is not because it is a bully fish, but because it has a big mouth and will eat almost anything. This means that if you have small fish and the pictus is hungry it is very possible the smaller fish will be dinner. Because of this it is recommended that fish small enough to fit into its' mouth not be housed with the pictus. Otherwise, the pictus is a peaceful fish. It is recommended that you keep them in groups of 3-5 since it is a schooling fish. These generally grow to about five inches in length so keep them in tanks at least 70 gallons. This will give these agile fish plenty of swimming space. The pictus can be kept with pretty much any other semi-aggressive or peaceful soft water fish of the same size.


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    Ghost32 5 years ago

    That IS one cool cat!

    I'm not a fish-keeper but had to admire the silver shark my 6th ex-wife had when I met her. Her aquarium was open-topped, and that little shark (about 6 inches) was DETERMINED to be free. I don't know how many times it managed to jump out over the top of the tank, landing on the floor. Why I didn't insist she let me get a screen to put over there, I can't recall...unless I figured I was with the fish: LIVE FREE OR DIE.

    I'd not hear of the pictus catfish before, but I'll remember it now.

    Voted Up and More.

    Uh...this doesn't seem to want to Post. If I hit the button too much & you get a double (or multiple) comment, feel free to Delete the excess!