What to Know About Pictus Catfish

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 09, 2023
5 min read

The pictus catfish is a freshwater species that’s part of the Pimelodidae family of fish, or long-whiskered catfishes. Because of their unique appearance, these fish make popular pets, especially for those looking for something that’s easy to care for. Pictus catfish is just one of the many beautiful species of freshwater fish to include in your aquarium. Read on for pictus catfish facts.

Pictus catfish (also known by its scientific name, Pimelodus pictus) is a long-whiskered tropical fish breed.

The pictus catfish was first documented by Australian zoologist Franz Steindachner who discovered them swimming through the warm waters of South America in 1876. These fish can be found in Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia, though they are more densely located in the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers.

Pictus catfish color. These fish have a white and silverish tone as their primary coloring, with a distinct black spotted pattern along their body. These spots extend through their fins, though they’re less often present on their stomachs.

Pictus catfish size. If raised in captivity, the pictus catfish can grow to be anywhere between 3-5 inches in length. In a very large aquarium, it could even reach a maximum size of 6 inches. 

Pictus catfish appearance. Like all catfish, the most distinguishing feature of the pictus catfish is its long whiskers or barbels. These barbels are extremely long and can even extend down to the tail fin. Pictus catfish don’t have scales, but they do have sharp spines along their dorsal and pectoral fins. For this reason, it’s best to not use a net to remove them from their tank when cleaning, as they can easily get caught in the net. Instead, use a plastic container to scoop them out. While it's difficult to tell the male and female pictus catfish apart, the adult female is usually slightly larger than the adult male. 

Though they are generally harmless to humans, it's important to note that the spiny dorsal fin of the pictus cactus is mildly venomous and can sting upon touch, so be sure to handle them with caution. These sharp spines can also sometimes cause damage to other fish.

Pictus catfish are relatively peaceful fish, though they do need a lot of space to swim as they are high energy. For this reason, they do best with other more active species of fish. While these fish are active, they may take some time to adjust to their surroundings, so don't be surprised if you find your pictus catfish hiding around the decorations — the pictus catfish will most likely become less shy with a bit of time.

Because of their sociable nature, pictus catfish are best suited to groups of three or more. In fact, when it comes to these fish, the more the merrier — just be sure they have plenty of space to swim.

While not generally predatory or territorial, it's best to keep them around fish their same size or larger. Avoid smaller species, like neon tetra-sized fish. The nocturnal pictus catfish has a deceptively large mouth and could try to eat smaller tank mates if it's hungry enough.

Some suitable tank mates include: 

  • Giant danios
  • Opaline gourami
  • Raphael striped catfish or other catfish species

Both in the wild and in captivity, the pictus catfish uses its long barbels to swim through muddy waters and sense its surroundings. This also helps it more easily find food.

Pictus catfish tank size. Pictus catfish need a tank between 55 and 75 gallons for them to be able to swim happily. If sharing with 3 to 5 other tank mates, you should consider a bigger tank that's around 150 gallons. Tanks that are too small can lead to stunted growth and other health issues, so if you're ever in doubt, go with a bigger tank. 

Pictus catfish temperature and pH. These fish do best in water that's between 75°F-82°F. A difference of a degree or two in either direction should be fine, as the pictus catfish can acclimate to the temperature as needed. The PH level of the water should be neutral — anywhere between 7.0-7.5 is ideal. 

Substrate and filters. Since pictus catfish are native to the Amazon River, they do well in similar environments. Luckily, it's fairly easy to do this in a home aquarium using a hang-on back filter that creates a river-like flow in the water. You can also purchase sand substrate at your local pet store and scatter it at the bottom of the aquarium. Pictus catfish like the sand, which also helps protect their long sensory barbels. These fish are natural bottom dwellers, so you'll likely see them swimming along the sand especially at nighttime.

Tank decorations. While pictus catfish are fast and active swimmers, they also like having places to hide and rest. It's best to decorate the tank with rock piles, driftwood, and dense plants they can hide in when not exploring. Any river rocks or cave-like ornaments would suit them well. Just be sure not to get anything with sharp edges that could injure them. 

Lighting. Pictus catfish prefer tanks with dim lighting, since they're primarily nocturnal creatures.

Pictus catfish are omnivores, meaning their diet includes both meat and plants. Being omnivores makes it easier to adapt their diets when there is less of one food source available. Pictus catfish that are kept as pets should receive close to the same nutrition as those in the wild. Therefore, their diets should include a mix of plants, algae, and sources of protein.

Some foods to consider include:

  • high-end pellet food
  • bloodworms
  • blackworms
  • brine shrimp
  • frozen beef heart

Be sure to leave food out for your pictus catfish during the nighttime, since they are nocturnal and will come out of hiding to eat. Keep in mind that pictus catfish are bottom dwellers, so giving them sinking pellets is the best way to ensure they get enough to eat.

There are many factors that determine how long your fish will live, including tank size, tank mates and diet. Generally, pictus catfish live around 8 to 10 years. Wild pictus catfish can live even longer.