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10 Awesome Pictus Catfish Tank Mates (Compatibility Guide)

Pictus Catfish are members of the family Pimelodidae, which are very unlike most of the catfish we’ve come to know. When people think “catfish,” what comes to mind is usually a whiskered, rather chunky and slow bottom-dwelling fish that just sucks up whatever they come across.

pictus catfish

Plecostomus and algae eaters are a little more exotic but are still examples of this slow, inactive catfish idea we have.

Pimelodid catfish are very different; the majority are fast, open-water predators that live either singly or in large shoals. Pimelodid catfish are rarely aggressive but they are carnivorous. Any tank mate small enough to be a meal for them will likely be eaten. So keeping Guppies alongside Pictus Catfish is a great way for them to start disappearing when the lights go out and the guppies try to sleep.

But when kept in aquariums alongside other medium-sized fish like Gouramis and Angelfish Pictus Catfish are peaceful, interesting additions to your tank!

Something else to know about Pictus Catfish is that they are mildly venomous. Like most catfish they have strongly reinforced spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins. These spines have either a coating of venomous mucus or have actual poison glands at their base that can cause pain in humans and severely injure a predatory fish that tries to eat a Pictus Catfish. 

The pain is supposedly no worse than a bee’s sting but puncture wounds from a slimy fish are also a great way for bacterial infections to take hold. Also the spines can easily get caught in a net when catching one – or puncture a hole in the plastic bag you are using to bring the fish home. So always be a little careful when dealing with these spiny catfish!

  • Scientific Name: Pimelodus pictus
  • Origin: Amazon & Orinoco River systems
  • Length: 4 to 5 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 40+ gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Predatory
  • Ease of Care: Easy

Pictus Catfish Care

Pictus Catfish Tank Size

Pictus Catfish Water Conditions

When sold as 2-inch youngsters, Pictus Catfish seem like a great addition to smaller tanks. But one, they grow to be good-sized; anywhere from 4 to 5 inches long. Plus they are very active swimmers and need loads of space. Pictus Catfish are also social and should never be kept alone.

All of these demands means that you should be keeping a group of 4 or more in a tank at least 40 gallons in size. Another reason for the larger tank is that these fish are purely carnivorous. All carnivores create loads of ammonia in their waste due to all of the protein being digested and passed on. 

This ammonia means that predatory fish place a higher bioload on the aquarium, meaning you should provide more space for ammonia to keep from becoming concentrated. Meaning, more water volume. Plus more filtration to process it all into nitrite and nitrate through a mature biological filtration system!

Aquascaping for Pictus Catfish

Pictus Catfish are very undemanding when it comes to aquascaping because they are bottom and midwater dwelling fish. The most important elements to give them are space for free swimming and secure places to hide when they want to rest.

Therefore an open midwater region is important for them. This does not mean that you can’t have rocks or driftwood in the tank. But don’t allow too much of the midwater area to be crowded by decor. Background plants like Vallisneria and Hornwort are hardy and provide shade while also soaking up the excess ammonia released by these fish.

Pictus Catfish don’t care much about your choice in substrate, fortunately. You can use either gravel or sand for them. Sand does work a little better since these are scaleless fish. Rough gravel grains can potentially scratch their skin during a sudden dash if frightened. Normally 

Pictus Catfish will heal from any injuries very quickly but it’s also possible for open wounds to become infected. And scaleless fish are always harder to treat for disease since they are more sensitive to medications.

Pictus Catfish Water Conditions

Another reason why Pictus Catfish are so popular is that they are very hardy fish that can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. They will thrive even in the hard, alkaline tap water (pH 7.0+) that is common in most of the world’s countries. However they do come from waters that are soft (low levels of hardness/dissolved minerals) and acidic (pH <7.0).

You will see improved health, appetite, and activity when keeping Pictus Catfish in these conditions. Keeping water acidic can be a bit of a challenge since the mineral levels in tap water can be very high in some parts of the world. But you can buy additives that use plant tannins and humic acids to decrease the pH. Indian almond leaves and driftwood are also slow-release sources of plant substances that bring the pH down to more comfortable levels!

Temperature-wise, these are equatorial tropical fish. Therefore we want to keep our Pictus Catfish nice and warm with levels around 75-82℉ at all times. When temperatures get colder than this their metabolisms start to have issues.

Like most fish Pictus Catfish are endothermic, meaning their bodily processes are regulated by external heat. When kept too cold they start having digestive issues and diseases become more common in them.

What Do Pictus Catfish Eat?

Pictus Catfish are purely carnivorous fish, meaning they feed exclusively on other animals. Small worms, small fish, little shrimp, baby snails, and other items are all fair game for them. They use their speed and surprisingly largemouths when giving chase and their extra-long facial whiskers to track prey even in murky water. 

Their whiskers are long enough even to reach their tails, giving them a tactile sense that complements their already excellent eyesight and sense of smell. 

That said, Pictus Catfish are not at all picky about what you offer them. A mixture of prepared, fresh, and frozen food is best. Start off with a high-quality, protein-rich flake or pellet blend. By looking at the ingredients on the label you can tell something about the quality. Is it full of cheap corn, wheat, soy, or potato starch? Or does it use whole fish, shrimp, squid, and krill as the base?

Fresh foods like slices of white fish, shrimp, or squid will be greedily eaten so long as it’s cut small enough. Seafood in general is the best source of food for them. Also feel free to offer fresh, live, or frozen aquarium foods like brine shrimp, blood worms, black worms, and tubifex worms. 

Just don’t offer too much tubifex or earthworms. All annelid worms are a little high in fat and should be fed sparingly!

Breeding Pictus Catfish

Breeding Pictus Catfish

Unfortunately breeding Pictus Catfish is very difficult to do in home aquaria. Not impossible but very unlikely for you to succeed. The main issues are that they are schooling and that telling the sexes apart is nearly impossible.

Since they live in groups of dozens to hundreds of individuals in the wild, Pictus Catfish are much more likely to spawn when given the visual and hormonal cues that come from living alongside large groups of their own kind. 

They likely respond to seasonal cues as well. While in the equatorial rainforests the temperatures don’t change all that much there are still some slight shifts that happen over the months. 

Water levels often rise and fall as well with the rainy and dry season, which also affects the water chemistry. Since fish in home aquariums rarely experience these signals it is harder to get them to spawn. But one good way to do so is to simulate seasonal changes by letting the aquarium water level get low and then suddenly adding a huge influx (50%) of fresh water and then elevating the temperature to 82-85℉. 

This simulates the spring rainy season, which stimulates much Amazonian fish to spawn. Not just Pictus Catfish; it’s also a great trick for keepers of Dwarf Otocinclus, Discus, Bristlenose Plecos, and Neon Tetras!

Sexing Pictus Catfish

And as I said earlier, telling male from female Pictus Catfish is just about impossible. When fully grown there is plumpness to the females that is sometimes visible to a dedicated Pictus Catfish aquarist. But these fish will also gorge themselves on food whenever they can so it might just be around food belly you’re seeing instead of ovaries full of eggs.

Otherwise, males and females are about the same length. The catfish can tell each others’ sexes apart from hormonal and behavioral cues that we aren’t able to see.


The 10 Compatible Pictus Catfish Tank Mates

Here are 10 compatible Pictus catfish tank mates that you should consider:

Blue Gourami

Opaline Gourami

Blue Gourami are one of the oldest aquarium fish and have been in the trade for decades. As a result they come in several stunning color morphs, including Platinum, Gold, Opaline, and Albino.

They are laterally compressed and have delicate feeler-like pectoral fins for navigating through weed-choked waters. Like their close cousins the Betta, Gouramis are partial air breathers and periodically take gulps of oxygen-rich air!

Blue Gourami are known to be semi-aggressive, which often surprises aquarists. This aggression is more pronounced in males and is much worse when they are kept in smaller aquariums.

Since they can reach up to 5 inches in length you’ll want at last 30 gallons for a single Blue Gourami. When keeping them in pairs the male will place more of his attention on his potential mate or rival, sparing his tank mates.

  • Scientific Name: Trichopodus trichopterus
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Bucktooth Tetra

Bucktooth Tetras have some of the strangest eating habits of any Tetra. Since they grow fairly large they will gladly eat Guppies and other smaller fish. However they are also scale-eaters and will nip the flanks of similar sized or larger fish!

In nature they move in massive schools and will even behave like piranha if hungry enough. However Pictus Catfish make great tank mates for Bucktooth Tetras! They are too large to be eaten and their scaleless flanks are of no interest to the Tetras.

Like most Amazonian natives, Bucktooth Tetras prefer acidic tropical conditions (pH 5.5-7.0, temperature 77-84F). Use care when introducing them to planted tanks because these fish will even chew on softer plants. Keep them with Anubias, Java Fern, and other tough, bitter plants!

  • Scientific Name: Exodon paradoxus
  • Origin: South America
  • Size: 4-5 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Predatory

Glass Catfish

glass catfish - Kryptopterus vitreolus

While they look quite different Glass Catfish are very similar to Pictus Cats in habit. Both are active predators that move in large schools. Both Catfish should be given feeder Guppies and freshly thawed meaty items like Brine Shrimp or Bloodworms.

The see-through bodies of Glass Catfish inspires their other common name: Ghost Catfish. These striking fish can be somewhat sensitive to abrupt changes in water conditions. When shopping at the pet store never buy a Glass Catfish that’s no longer transparent. This is a sign that the fish is likely to die.

Provide them with soft, acidic water chemistry and temperatures from 75-80F to keep them healthy and active! Heavily planted aquariums plus the company of their own kind goes a long way towards keeping them happy.

  • Scientific Name: Kryptopterus vitreolus
  • Origin: Thailand
  • Size: Up to 5 inches
  • Temperament: Predatory; Schooling

Blue Gularis Killifish

Unlike the majority of Killifish the Blue Gularis isn’t a small, peaceful micropredator. This large Killi is rather aggressive and will gladly snap up smaller tank mates if possible. However they rarely cause too much trouble towards tank mates that are both faster and too large to eat, such as Pictus Catfish.

Their fins look like brilliantly colored flags and the riot of colors on their flanks make them a star attraction for any aquarium setup. Like most West African fish the Blue Gularis needs tropical temperatures and soft, acidic water chemistry for optimal health.

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As a predator you should feed them a mixture of protein-rich live and frozen food, supplemented by a high quality pellet. Since many popular prepared formulas use a lot of vegetable-based fillers I recommend Fluval Bug Bites for carnivores. The major ingredients are insect larvae and fish protein; perfect for both Pictus Cats and Blue Gularis!

  • Scientific Name: Fundulopanchax sjoestedti
  • Origin: West Africa
  • Size: 5 inches
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Silver Dollar

silver dollar fish

When looking for large dither fish I always recommend going with Silver Dollars. These large schooling characins are related to both the toothy Piranha and the massive Pacu. Yet they aren’t nearly as large as Tinfoil Barbs or Pacus, making them better suited to aquarists with medium-sized tanks from 55-125 gallons.

Silver Dollar is a generic name for several closely related fish. All have a metallic silver base and several species have red in their fins or flanks as well.

While peaceful, Silver Dollars can be extremely skittish and will run into glass and decorations if a sudden movement causes the school to panic. Thankfully, they tend to calm down when paired with peaceful, active tank mates like Pictus Catfish.

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Silver Dollars are completely vegetarian as well. Besides high quality Spirulina-based formulas you should also offer them parboiled vegetables like peas and zucchini! Unfortunately, they are entirely unsuitable for planted tanks. Even the toughest plants will eventually be eaten by them!

  • Scientific Name: Metynnis sp.
  • Origin: South America
  • Size: 6-8 inches
  • Temperament: Shy; Schooling

Rubber Pleco

Included in my list of the best algae eaters is the Rubber Pleco, a somewhat uncommon species that’s quite different from the Common Plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus). Rubber Plecos have a distinctive blunted snout and a subdued striping that’s very attractive.

They also remain much smaller and rarely grow larger than 4 inches. This makes them perfect for smaller aquariums; Common Plecos can reach 18-24 inches and grow aggressive with age.

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Since they are such talented algae eaters you’ll need to keep watch to make certain your Rubber Pleco is well fed. I typically add a few vegetarian algae wafers at night to ensure they remain plump. Like many of the more unusual Plecos they also prefer having soft, mature driftwood to rasp on.

  • Scientific Name: Chaetostoma formosae
  • Origin: South America
  • Size: 4 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Shy

Angelfish & Discus

Discus (Symphysodon), multi-colored cichlids in the aquarium, the freshwater fish native to the Amazon River basin

Angelfish are some of the most iconic aquarium fish you can get and they are fantastic tank mates for Pictus Catfish. While they are medium to large cichlids, Angelfish are very mild mannered and have mouths much too small to do real harm.

They also come from the Amazon Basin and prefer soft, even blackwater environments with plenty of plants to dart through. Angelfish even form shoals in nature and occasionally pair off to breed. Like most Cichlids Angelfish are excellent parents, though they are also almost impossible to tell male from female.

Discus are another Amazonian Cichlid that have similar habits to Angelfish. Discus come in hundreds of color morphs and are almost like Koi in terms of their variety and breeding potential.

Discus are more shy than Angels, however, and somewhat sensitive to poor water conditions.

  • Scientific Name: Pterophyllum scalare & Symphysodon aequifasciatus, S. discus, S. tarzoo
  • Origin: South America
  • Size: 5-6 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive

Rainbow Shark

rainbow shark in aquarium

Rainbow Sharks are closely related to the more aggressive Red Tail Black Shark (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor). However, they are slimmer, more of a grey to light black in color, and have orange to light red fins rather than a scarlet tail fin.

They do have the distinctive shark-like dorsal fin and active prowling habit that gives them their name, though! I specifically recommend Rainbow Sharks because they are far less territorial.

Red Tail Sharks will tend to dominate the bottom of an aquarium and will give Pictus Catfish a hard time. Rainbow Sharks still prefer having a cave or other dwelling to call their own, though.

Like most large Cyprinids (Barbs, Goldfish, Danios, etc) Rainbow Sharks are omnivores that eat both plant and animal matter. Fresh tubifex worms, blanched vegetables, flakes, and even algae are all happily accepted by them.

  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Size: 6 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Tiger Barb

tiger barb

Tiger Barbs are ideal Pictus Catfish tank mates: too large to be eaten while mostly ignoring their tank mates. They are occasionally fin-nippers but are more threatening towards Bettas and other slow moving fish.

Tiger Barbs are very easy to keep and since all are tank bred they thrive in a wide variety of water conditions. Neutral to slightly acidic suits them best, however. Like most Barbs they are active schooling fish; a single Tiger Barb tends to be skittish and easily stressed.

Tiger Barbs are also a variety of the genetically engineered Glofish that contain fluorescent coral and jellyfish proteins. These radical new fish have a permanent, non-dye based glow and suggest a very interesting future for the aquarium hobby!

  • Scientific Name: Puntigrus tetrazona
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Size: 3 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive; Schooling

Red Irian Rainbowfish

rainbow fish

Rainbowfish are a large family of aquarium fish; some are smaller than an inch long and would be an easy meal for a hungry Pictus Catfish. However the Red Irian Rainbowfish is one of the largest species.

Like many fish Red Irian Rainbowfish are sexually dimorphic. The males are a vibrant shade of crimson while the females are silver to brown in color. However, you’ll need a few females for him to impress if you want to see the best color and interesting social interactions.

Red Rainbows are schooling fish and considering their size you’ll need at least 55 gallons of space for a small shoal of 5-6 individuals. They are also quite easy to breed and I strongly recommend doing so. Tank bred Rainbowfish are always in high demand and it also takes pressure off of wild stocks!

  • Scientific Name: Glossolepis incisus
  • Origin: Irian Jaya, Indonesia
  • Size: 6-8 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful; Schooling

Frequently Asked Questions about Pictus Catfish

How Big Do Pictus Catfish Get?

Pictus Catfish are medium sized aquarium fish, reaching between 4 and 5 inches in length as adults.

What Do Pictus Catfish Eat?

Pictus Catfish are carnivorous predators that feed on smaller fish and invertebrates like worms, shrimp, and insect larvae. This means that they should not be kept with fish small enough to be eaten. They aren’t aggressive but they are opportunistic predators.

Can Pictus Catfish Live With Cichlids?

Pictus Catfish can be kept with cichlids so long as you choose the cichlid carefully. Pictus cats are very fast but they share the same bottom and midwater region that cichlids do. Especially aggressive or breeding cichlids can do them a lot of harm since your Pictus Catfish won’t be able to easily leave the space they have claimed. 

They have no scales to deflect bites from a determined cichlid and their delicate whiskers are easily harmed as well. So don’t keep them in alongside more aggressive cichlids in smaller aquariums.

How Long Do Pictus Catfish Live?

Pictus Catfish are fairly long-lived fish that will thrive anywhere from 8 to 10 years of age!

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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