Redtail Catfish: A Complete Guide for Beginners with Pics

In some amusement aqua parks, we often see an aquatic live show open for the public. People get so excited about this as it lets them witness the breathtaking tricks of different water creatures. This is something rare, unique in characteristics, and fascinating to watch. But, there’s this one fish that you might not probably know of yet. I’m sure you know about the common catfish, but have you ever seen a redtail and white belly catfish?

What is redtail catfish?

The Redtail Catfish or Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is long-whiskered catfish. It came from the rivers of South America and the Amazon. They are also present in Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Colombia, Orinoco, Essequibo, and their neighboring countries.

This fish belongs to the Pimelodidae family and is considered one of the most attractive catfish in their circle as it is the only member with a distinct appearance. It’s just confusing with their odd hybrid that suddenly appears from time to time.

These water creatures are also known as Flat-nosed Catfish, South American Red-tailed catfish, Antenna catfish, and the Banana catfish. These are the generic names applied to red-tailed and also with some members of their family. They have a long lifespan as they can live for 15 years. However, it still depends on the quality of care they received.


redtail catfish apperance

Redtail Catfish are one of the largest fish in the Amazon River. So clearly, they are large-sized species. Their body figure is cylindrical arrow-shaped with a flat belly. They have a laterally compressed tail. Redtail catfish are look stressed because of their shovel-like mouth. Their whiskers make them look like a cat. Their whiskers are unusually long, and their eyes independently function on either side of the head near the top.

These fish are not associated with only one color. Instead, the colors are mix with dark gray on the top, covered with darker spots. Their lower part of the mouth is white that extends in a horizontally broad stripe back to the tail fin. While they are young, the white stripes blend under the mouth. When they get older, white stripes turn to dark gray coloration. The tip of the tail fin and dorsal fin were light pinkish red.

Average Cost Of Buying Redtail Catfish

So, how much is the average cost of Redtail Catfish? Typically, they cost around $17 – $500, depending on size. If you consider buying a juvenile redtail catfish, then it is more likely cheaper than the adult ones. But why do people buy this kind of fish?

Can we eat a redtail catfish?

Some people do not even dare to eat them because of their black coloration that makes it look toxic. Some people swore that it tastes like pork. Whatever it is, you should establish awareness before you try.

Another reason why people buy this fresh water creature is they want to make it their pet. Aquatic hobbyists recommend getting a small one first for familiarization and observation about these species so that when they grow, you can now handle them appropriately.


While some fish lives cut short because some fish are primarily foods for humans, this redtail catfish lives long. The average lifespan of this fish is around 15 years in captivity. They may live longer if you are ensuring the best possible care for them. While in the wild, they are likely to live longer than their average lifespan in captivity. It is because they have all the resources in their natural habitat.

Just like other animals living in captivity, they have specific requirements in terms of care. Aquarists are known experts to extend their lifespan significantly as they know these species more than anyone else. Lack of attention for this large fish will quickly shorten their years of living.


The temperament of this redtail catfish is quite confusing. Some will say these fish are aggressive, and others will say they rather be alone peacefully. The tank setup is one factor that may influence this fish on how they react to things. If you think their natural predator instincts are aggressive, then a redtail catfish would be of quality.

It’s not even an equal label because they are just doing what they know. Their aggression is of non-hunting actions that can harm another fish. But in other circumstances, this fish can display this behavior less likely. 

Another thing that they enjoy doing is to roam around the tank as normal catfish do. They won’t change no matter what, not even when you give them tank mates. So, if you want to add more fish to the tank, you better observe your redtail catfish behavior first.

Tank Size

A redtail catfish are monster-sized fish that are not that active as other big-sized fish. People with adult redtail catfish require a 1000 or 3,785 L gallon tank with a filtration system installed. For a larger one, 1500 gallons or more is enough. Whether you own a juvenile one, you need to think advance and get them a large tank as they grow very fast. You can also upgrade the tank, however, upgrading the tank might be stressful for this fish because they are not used to it, so make sure the water parameters are the same.

You can also transfer the old filter to help cycling the new tank. Make sure that the nitrification cycle is complete before you put the fish.

Tank Accessories

Wondering what decorations are suitable for your red tail catfish tank? Well, you don’t have to put that much as long as their tank has adequate space.

Redtail catfish enjoys eating. They can bite anything that they see randomly. If you have driftwood, rocks, and gravels, then they would probably chow down these decorations too.

The ideal tank is spacious enough to accommodate the them. But do not use the space to put many decorations inside the tank.

The redtail catfish are confident fish. They would not prefer to isolate themselves in a hiding place. They like to roam around and consume whatever they find pleasing to their eyes.

Avoid too much substrate. Redtail catfish can take small bites of it, and it is not okay for your fish. Make your tank a substrate-free. It may look like a boring tank, but choose what’s essential for your fish.

Water Parameters

As a general tank requirement, you should prioritize the water temperature of the tank. Redtail catfish has specific required water parameters too. They need temperatures of 68-79℉ or 20-26.1℃, so you might need a heater as this fish lives in a tropical environment. During winter, they need a warmer place as they don’t likely to survive in cold areas. A heater is essential during cold seasons as they regularly drop down the temperature. As much as possible, you should keep the temperature stable. Changing temperatures can cause serious trouble to your fish.

The pH level should be between 6.0 and 7.5.

Tank Mates

Redtail catfish is known as territorial fish by its species and other catfish in their family. They can do well without companions. However, good community tank members make it better. They are provided with spacious size aquarium to fulfill lots of exciting practices together. Experts recommended raising potential tank mates and redtail catfish together starting from their young age.

Different fish species can get along well with redtail catfish likes:

  • black pacu
  • stingrays
  • datnoids
  • iridescent sharks
  • arapaima gigas
  • gars, datnoids
  • sailfin
  • common plecosstamus
  • Oscars

Sailfin and common plecostomus can also make good tank mates because of their armored defense. You can also consider the Oscars as their tank mate.

Baby Redtail Catfish

You can see a baby redtail catfish in pet stores that are usually 5cm long. These juveniles are introverted. To overcome their shyness, you need to provide them isolation area such as a cave for them to the hideout. Make sure that the materials used in building this material are not small enough for them to eat. Place the tank in an area where you usually spend your time. When these juveniles see you often, they will get used to your presence.

Feeding baby redtail catfish should be carefully measured since they are still young and fragile to handle. Feed them every other day with nutritional diets that are suitable for these young ones.

How big do redtail catfish grow?

Before even considering to make a redtail catfish as your aquatic pet companion in your home aquarium, it is essential to know their size and how enormous they can be. The minimum requirement tank size would be unusual for beginners. And yes, they need a huge one to make them feel relatively comfortable.

In the wild, they can grow closer to 5 feet or above. It typically depends on their genes. But living in captivity makes them a bit short to 3-4 feet in length.

How fast do redtail catfish grow?

How fast do red tail catfish grow? It is not your typical fish to handle. Be ready for this as they quickly grow to a large size. Juveniles grow an inch every week. In 6 months, they usually grow up to 14 inches, and most of them can reach two feet within a year. How amazing is that?

When they are in huge home aquariums, they tend to grow around 3 feet long, and in the wild, they grow even larger. Captivity can restrict their movement compared to when they are living in the wild. It is the reason why they won’t grow as large as they would in their natural habitat. You can see an overall 4 feet long redtail catfish in the wild, and that can be scary.

Best Food A For Redtail Catfish

Redtail catfish requires a varied and well-balanced diet too. They have food requirements that you need to follow because simply it’s for the best. In the wild, they eat fish, crab, and crustaceans with fruits and seeds. They are also known as opportunistic predators as they wait for the food to come along. Like when a fruit falls into the water.

Redtail Catfish in captivity need food that won’t ruin their diet. Overfeeding can result in obesity, and that can be something that you should prevent as early as possible. So, train them to eat at their own risk.

The suitable foods for your redtail catfish are foods high in protein. It includes crayfish, mussels, cockles, prawns, lancefish, and earthworms. As they grow, they can now eat whole white fish. Crustaceans should be on the list as they help enhance the red color in their tail. Vegetables are also recommended regularly for a well-nutritional balanced diet.

Can redtail catfish live with Koi?

Putting a koi and redtail catfish together can be suicidal for both fish. If you want to know if redtail catfish can do well with a koi, the answer is a big NO. These two fish tend to fight with each other. Since redtail catfish are known for being a predator to small fishes and are bigger in size, they can eat the koi.

However, there is the slightest chance to see these two fishes in one aquarium, and that is if your redtail catfish is male. But, keep in mind that it is too risky. It should be lead with supervision.

If the koi is larger than the redtail catfish, they can be tank mates just for a short time as red-tailed catfish quickly grow in just a week. So, it is much better to avoid putting these two fishes in one tank.

Do redtail catfish have teeth?

Typically, mostly of the known fish types have teeth. But before you generally claim that all of them has a set of teeth, exclude the redtail catfish. Since they can be dark gray, black, or brown in color and size as tall as some humans, these characteristics make them more intimidating. Still, they are not considered endangered species. The surprising part is, they have no teeth.

Unlike most Amazon fishes, redtail catfish have no spines and teeth that make them easy to lift through their pectoral fins.

Final Thoughts

No doubt, the redtail catfish is one of the must-haves fish to own. They belong to someone who appreciates the size of their pet and would love to keep a monster fish despite the size.

Taking care of these fish is a commitment. You have to be careful, be responsive to their needs, and treat them as one of your family members. Make them feel loved in many ways. However, you need to prepare extra money to fund their needs. It is going to be an expensive one as they can live long.

It is nice to know that they can live long. Therefore, these redtail catfish can be a living witness to your breakthroughs in life. Everyone would be glad to keep one as they are one magnificent giant creature.

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