How To Succeed With Your New Red-tail Catfish (Phractocephalus): Diet, Feeding, Breeding & More

How To Succeed With Your New Red-tail Catfish (Phractocephalus): Diet, Feeding, Breeding & More

March 26, 2024

Catfish are generally a fascinating fish species to raise in lakes and tanks. Some types, like Corydoras or Otocinclus cats, are much better suited to a tank.But here, we’re going to be looking at a type of catfish that is great both for a pond and a large aquarium. And that is none other than the red tail catfish.

The redtail catfish is among the most appealing catfish breeds. But how come these creatures are suitable for both a pond and a large aquarium?

How To Succeed With Your New Red-tail Catfish (Phractocephalus): Diet, Feeding, Breeding & More

First and foremost, that is because we are talking about some massive redtail catfish, so it would only make sense for them to require a minimum of a thousand gallons.

Therefore, whether you’re in a position to install a much bigger aquarium in your house or you are simply wondering about the redtail catfish you once saw in a pond, you can learn everything you wanted to know about this interesting species in this article.

Continue reading below as we delve deeper into some facts and information about the red tail catfish, its diet, breeding, how to feed it, and more!

General Information And Red tail Catfish Appearance

The redtail catfish (Phractocephalus Hemioliopterus) is a gorgeous freshwater species. It is believed to be the last remaining fish in its family, having lived for more than 13.5 million years.

This enormous and magnificent fish is native to South America, where it is known by several different names. For example, it is known as “Cajaro” in Venezuela and “Pirarara” in Brazil.

It gets its name from its striking red dorsal and caudal fins, which are its most distinctive feature.

This fish is very easy to recognize because of its red fins, but other traits can also distinguish it from other types of catfish.

For instance, catfish bodies have the shape of an arrow and are cylindrical, with a flat stomach and a laterally compressed tail.

The redtail catfish also have mouths that are as large as their bodies, resembling a shovel, and long whiskers that protrude from their chins.

Their eyes are located on the top of their heads on either side, while they also have a white stripe that runs from the bottom of their mouth and horizontally goes all the way down to their tail.

This white stripe is uninterrupted on younger catfish, whereas it appears to be fragmented on matured fish.

As for the rest of the colors of redtail catfish, their body is mainly gray with a hint of brown, and they have some tiny, darker markings and beige tummies.

There are, however, some albino redtail catfish that are quite uncommon, but if you see one, you will recognize it by its white color and red eyes.

Other than that, their bodies are exactly the same as those of regular redtail catfish.

It’s vital to remember that, although being advertised as little fish, they develop swiftly and reach a tremendous size of 3 to 4 feet long within a year or two.

This implies that, while they are generally benign fish, they will eventually develop into devouring creatures that consume their smaller friends.

Red Tail Catfish Habitat

Red tail catfish live in the waters of the majority of South American countries, with Colombia, Peru, and Brazil being a few examples.

They may also be found in big rivers as well as basins like that of the Amazon and Rio Orinoco, but also lakes and ponds.

Surprisingly, although being native to South America, they became an invasive species in parts of Asia, where you can also find the Asian redtail catfish variation.

Also in some of the US states like Florida and Nebraska, and other locations where waters are warm enough for catfish.

Despite its complete unsuitability for personal aquariums, it is frequently seen for sale at pet shops. However, redtail catfish are not a good fit for tiny or even medium aquariums.

They are ideal for ponds and massive aquariums like those at Shedd Aquarium.

 This is the main reason why several individuals end up offering them to such facilities when they discover they can no longer ‘pet’ them in their 40-gallon aquariums at home.

Therefore, given that you have a pond that is big enough for them or an aquarium of a minimum 1000-gallon capacity, buying one or more of these incredible fish is a great choice. 

Red tail Catfish Size

Redtail Catfish Size

Inside the domestic tank, redtail catfish have the potential to grow more than 48 inches or 122 centimeters long, while in nature they can even surpass that length.

As a matter of fact, the heaviest redtail catfish ever captured weighed 123 lbs. 7 oz. which equals 56 kilograms, and was 63 inches, or 160 centimeters long. 

When in captivity, this fish may survive for approximately two decades, but its lifespan is frequently much shorter since it is rarely provided the necessary living conditions to keep it healthy and strong.

Diet And Feeding

A redtail catfish’s diet includes whatever a redtail can get its hands on.

This fish has a very flexible diet, but if you want them to be as healthy as possible – and we hope you do – you should restrict the available sources of food in their aquarium to ensure that whatever it is that they have left to eat is of a high nutritional value.

Redtail catfish, like any other aquatic creature, has specific dietary and nutritional needs. In their native habitat, these fish consume bugs, small fish, worms, and even random plants.

As a result, you might wish to offer them something that is similar to their food in captivity.

As an omnivorous creature that eats intermittently, its weekly diet should consist of all types of healthy food. For a fish like the catfish that would be plant matter, fruits, invertebrates, and other small fish.

So, for example, you should feed your redtail catfish with stuff like algae wafers, fish fillets, earthworms, prawns, crustaceans, and so on. 

Crustaceans, in particular, contribute to the vibrancy of the colors on the redtail catfish’s body.

As for when and how frequently you should feed your catfish, it is recommended that you treat them with some food once a week when they are mature and every two days when they are still young to promote their growth.

Aside from this, you might try various pellets and frozen meal alternatives to offer a decent dietary basis.

If you give them a pellet, make sure it is a sinking carnivore pellet as this fish spends most of its time on the lower levels of the tank.

Be careful to use good and clean food when feeding your fish. Live feeders, in particular, are frequently cultivated under poor hygienic conditions.

As a result, they may be harboring parasites and illnesses that impact your redtail catfish. In any event, there are various nutritious and healthful substitutes for live feeders.

Be careful, though, not to overfeed them as that is a major concern with these fish. Seeing how they devour anything in their aquariums, they can easily reach the point of consuming too much food without you realizing it.

Therefore, if you are also feeding them too frequently, that will exacerbate the situation and might lead to health complications or even be the cause of death.


A number of variables make hatching redtail catfish exceedingly challenging. It’s so complex that even expert breeders experience difficulties.

The chances of an amateur getting successful with that are low, and from what we’ve seen so far, there are none to be reported to this day.

To begin with, breeding young redtail catfish will be tough due to the difficulty in sexing the catfish.

Physically, no noticeable differences in recognizing which catfish are male and which are female have been observed, which is, of course, a big issue.

Moreover, redtail catfish are extremely difficult to reproduce due to their territorial behavior with their own kind.

Because they are tricky to sex, it is hard to keep them safely in one space and as a group, especially when you want them to mate.

The only thing we know about redtail catfish reproduction is that these fish are oviparous, which means they begin by laying eggs and move on to hatch them later on, in the same way, most catfish do.

They like to put their ova on stones and plants and to achieve that they require a water temperature that ranges from 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

The female will select a quiet location where she can protect herself from enemies. She will then lay her eggs on a level surface there, anything from 100 to 21.000 at a time.

The male catfish will next move on with the fertilization process and spray the eggs with his sperm so that the eggs can then hatch in around 10 days.

The eggs are guarded by one parent, and the male is thought to safeguard the fry for approximately seven days after they are born before leaving them to explore the waters.

Redtail Catfish Care

Redtail Catfish Care

Aquarium Environment

As we have already mentioned, red tail catfish are omnivores and hunters and they will devour almost everything that comes their way.

This implies that their aquariums are best kept relatively empty, with a few or zero other fish to cohabit or other water decorations they can eat.

Red tail catfish also require low lighting, minimal to no decoration, and no greenery, pebbles, or tiny rocks in their aquariums.

Because these fish will eat rocks or pebbles, use bare bottom aquariums or ponds, or add some sand if you are not a fan of the looks of an empty bottom.

If you do decide to use décor, then get some adornments that are bigger than the fish itself so that it will be impossible for it to destroy them or eat them.

In addition, make sure that the decorations are heavy enough too so that the catfish won’t even try to move them or won’t be able to. For these fellas, treated driftwood is the ideal aquarium decoration.

Water Temperature, Hardness, And pH


Red tail catfish are fish species that prefer a temperature range from 68 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 25 degrees Celsius).


Red tail catfish can develop better in waters with a pH of 5.5 to 7.2, but anything below 7 works great.


The optimal water hardness for red tail catfish ranges from 3 to 12 dGH.

Unfortunately, keeping acceptable water conditions may be difficult, especially when talking about aquariums that are big enough to fit a large red tail catfish.

It’s a very different thing from warming up the water of an aquarium with a capacity of only 30 gallons to heating the water of a tank that is over 1000 gallons.

Because of the quantity of food that red tail catfish consume, they produce a lot of waste, which raises another issue in terms of water quality; to make sure the water is clean at all times, you will definitely have to buy the best filters on the market.

However, do keep in mind that the search for a perfect filter won’t be that easy.

The aquarium market does not have many filters available that fit the dimensions of aquariums that big, but that does not mean that it is impossible to find one. You will just need to do a bit more search.

You can certainly use a sump filter, but you will have to pay more for that. Therefore, if you are on a low budget, you could perhaps consider building your own filter to save money.

Diseases And How To Treat Them

The following are the most prevalent diseases that create problems for redtail catfish:

Fin rot: Treat fin rot in redtail catfish with fish doxy or amoxicillin.

Ammonia poisoning: Preventing ammonia toxicity is crucial! However, if they become unwell, lower the pH levels and make water adjustments to stabilize their health.

Red pest disease: Monacrin, acriflavine, and tetracycline are used to cure red pest disease.

Redtail catfish care is often simple provided they dwell in a suitable pond or aquariums that are big enough for them. They are generally robust in terms of their health and resilience, yet they are sensitive to freshwater fish illnesses.

They are also likely to be overweight, due to their inherent size and dietary requirements, as well as because of the owners who frequently overfeed them.


The red tail catfish has rather paradoxical behavior. It may be calm at times and quite violent at others. It can also be timid and passive.

Essentially, it is determined by the situations to which it is subjected. If you keep them around little fish, they will become hostile and dangerous. Yet, they will be calm if they are placed with animals of comparable size.

Redtail catfish are recognized as territorial species, not only with their own species but also with other Primelodiae family members.

Preferably, you should be able to keep the redtail catfish in an aquarium of its own to avoid any conflicts.

However, because they like spending most of their day at the bottom of the tank or hidden in caverns, you can try and help them be more interactive.

You can, for example, install the aquarium someplace where you like spending most of your time so that the redtail catfish can get used to seeing you around and interacting with you.

The good news is that this fish can be even taught to eat from your palms.

Even cooler than that is the fact that you can add some amicable tank mates like Gars, Black Pacu, and Iridescents, among others.

Stingrays and Sailfins are also suitable aquarium companions thanks to their armored resistance.

To discourage hostility, attempt to keep these different species together from a very young age so that they can get used to one another from early on.

The Bottom Line

A redtail catfish may be raised by any enthusiastic aquarist.

The individual’s capacity to offer the proper environmental conditions, including the aquarium’s size and the quality of its water, is the most important decision criterion.

Aside from installing an immense aquarium, you must devote time and energy to feeding the catfish and changing the water frequently, but also be careful not to overfeed them or treat them with food that is not healthy, as that may be a cause of disease or even death.

If you are determined to meet all of your redtail catfish’s demands, then this intriguing and visually unique fish is one great option for your aquarium.

However, we cannot stress enough how important it is for it to live in the right habitat, so, once again, make sure that you do provide it with one.
Aleem Ahmed