Redtail Catfish Care Guide | The Aquarium Guide

Redtail Catfish Care Guide | The Aquarium Guide


Redtail catfish live relatively long lives. In captivity, data shows that they can live to about 15 years. It is assumed that they exceed this number in the wild due to more suitable environments. They are quite a demanding species of fish, and what they require may be difficult for aquarists to provide in home tanks. This is a factor that can shave years off its life.

To create the perfect situation for these creatures to thrive, you need to pay attention to the different subsections we have listed below. We can say for now that to give them enough space, the right food and ideal tank conditions are crucial elements for the phractocephalus hemiolipterus to thrive.

Remember that this particular catfish is native to South America, more specifically, in the river basins. This means that they are considered freshwater fish that need an aquarium with water and temperature similar to that in South America.


What do red tail catfish eat? Fish this size need to eat a lot of food, right? You’re right! Redtail catfish are big eaters and will eat just about anything. Just because that is the case, it doesn’t mean that that is what you should do. Simulating their natural diet in the tank will help prolong their lifespan. In nature, the phractocephalus hemioliopterus eats worms, other fish of a smaller size, insects and vegetation along the bottom of the river basins.

In captivity, you can also opt to feed them smaller fish and worms but substitute the others with shrimp, and some pellet food. Flakes are advised against since flakes don’t generally sink. If you opt for pellet food, you need to choose the sinking variety as that is where your redtail catfish spends most of his time.

They are omnivorous fish but prefer meats. This is why having a supply of frozen food can help satisfy their hunger. They don’t actually need to be fed much. The younger phractocephalus hemioliopterus need food every other day but full-grown redtail catfish can do well with one large meal a week.

You know when it’s time to feed them when your fish become active again. This is because the phractocephalus hemioliopterus need time to digest their food and become lethargic after feeding (sort of like you after turkey dinners). Overfeeding is an issue commonly seen among fish. It’s hard to gauge when some of species need food but consistency is key and remember that they can go a long while without food.

Can you eat a redtail catfish? This is a funny question that we are often asked. Because of their size, they are unfortunately considered game by some. However, the natives of South America don’t generally eat the meat because the fish is often dark in color.


The redtail catfish is of the primelodidae family (whiskered catfish) under the phractocephalus family in the hemioliopterus genus. They are primarily found in the South American Amazon Orinoco river basins but have now been introduced to other parts of the world, including Thailand. They can also now be seen in Florida as well.

Tank Conditions

Minimum Tank Size

As we mentioned, this catfish with a red tail is not easy to care for. If you are determined to keep one in your home, here are a few things that are absolute musts. Just knowing the tank size may put you off a bit. In order to have enough room for ONE adult redtail catfish, the tank size you are looking at is about 1500-2000 gallons. No, we did not include an extra zero.

Since they get to about 3-4 feet, this is the adequate size to keep them happy and have enough room to roam. The tank size is definitely something that you cannot compromise on. With this, many people forget about ever owning a redtail catfish because a tank this big just isn’t doable for regular people.


As mentioned, redtail catfish are very resilient and can withstand and adapt to many conditions, but getting the water conditions just right will only further benefit the phractocephalus hemioliopterus. The ideal water temperature should be between 68 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (20-26 degrees Celsius) with pH levels sitting between 6 and 7.

Water Conditions

The water quality is among the toughest to maintain for a redtail catfish. This is due to the enormous size of the tank and the fact that they eat a lot. The more fish eats, the more waste there could possibly be. Suffice it to say, most of your time may be spent on monitoring the water conditions.

In terms of decoration and populating the tank with substrate, don’t put too much! As we mentioned, the phractocephalus hemioliopterus eat just about anything. We mean anything ranging from gravel to pieces of floating debris and even the plant substrate. So you are looking at a very large and sparse tank. This is great in a way because a tank with less in it can mean less cleanup and maintenance.

It may not look as nice as a lush green tank, but it’s what they need. Speaking of what they need, since they are bottom dwellers, place the tank in low light areas as well.

Maintenance and Care

The water conditions need to be regularly maintained. Since they are freshwater fish, you may need to pay a closer eye on the soiling of the water due to waste. River basins generally do not have a high flow rate so still waters are fine. For such a large tank, traditional filters may have a difficult time dealing with the water, so opt for a sump filter instead. Unfortunately, a good sump filter can really rack up the bill.

Since they are considered tropical (due to them originating from The South American Amazon Orinoco river basins), you may need to invest in a separate water heater if you are unable to maintain the constant warmer temperature. Since the aquarium tends to be much larger in size compared to regular tanks, it may cause your heater to work overtime and rack up the electricity bill.

They can get used to different environments and water flow rates, but what’s more important to keep an eye on would be the water temperature, tank size, and what you keep in the tank with them.

Suitable Tank Mates

Imagine a single catfish floating around with no friends in a sparse tank. The situation seems pretty bleak, but it’s okay, you can add some tank mates (on the condition that they are suitable of course). It’s tough to find the right aquarium buddies for these fish because they are large, somewhat aggressive, and will eat almost anything. The phractocephalus hemioliopterus eat smaller fish, so definitely make sure the tank mates you select are not much smaller.


Look for fish that are the same size or larger with a focus on non-aggressive temperament. Introduce your catfish to his or her new friend early on so they have time to get acquainted. To minimize trouble, those that do go ahead in keeping redtail catfish usually only keep one. Adding more creatures to the tank only adds more issues such as tank size and having to add some sort of substrate and plants to accommodate the other species can compromise your catfish.

Beautiful stingrays can be optimal tank mates. Some beautiful smaller sharks such as the iridescent shark can also hold its own against the phractocephalus hemioliopterus. Ideally though, we suggest keeping your catfish solo in a tank.


Breeding with these large fish is extremely difficult. A regular aquarium even one of 2000 gallons may not be large enough for 2 of these might catfish and this makes it tough to create the circumstances in which they mate. Even in large ponds it can be difficult for successful breeding.

We think you may be interested in: Best Pond Liner

Source link

Leave a Reply