The Fish Keeping & Aquarium Guide.

How To Care For a Redtail Catfish?

Affiliate Disclaimer

As an affiliate, we may earn a commission from qualifying purchases. We get commissions for purchases made through links on this website from Amazon and other third parties.

The redtail catfish is the only known living species left from the genus Phractocephalus by which his scientific name is after Phractocephalus Hemioliopterus. It is one of the fancier looking catfishes that are available at pet stores.

They are known for their flat snout, whiskers sticking out and, of course, from its namesake, its beautiful red tail fin and white belly. It has given many names such as banana catfish, Antenna catfish, flat-nosed catfish, South American redtail catfish. It is native in freshwater river basins in South America, such as Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Peru, etc., and Amazon.

They thrive in large spaces of freshwater (i.e., rivers, lakes, and streams with muddy or sandy bottoms) and it can grow up to 5 feet in the wild and 3 feet in large tanks or ponds which makes it a high maintenance fish among fish keepers due to the rapidity of its growth. Because of their large size and beautiful form, they are among the favorite catches among anglers and fishers.

It is not recommendable for most fish keepers, but experienced aquarists like the challenge and fascination to taking care of this fish.

Description (Appearance, Size and Lifespan)

Redtail catfish is a kind catfish, famous for its vibrant tail fin with its color ranging from red, red-orange, and orange. With its creamy white flat belly and the red-orange highlights on the dorsal and caudal fins give it a flair that is an attractive sight for fish keepers and aquarists.

They have flattened heads leading to a protruding snout. Their body can either have grey or brown spots and a wavy, yellow, or white band along the length of their bulky body.

They have three pairs of barbels at its mouth—one is longer, positioned on its maxilla, and the shorter two couples are on its mandible. They have lengthy and wide pectoral and dorsal fins, while its adipose fin is small, also its anal fin long with a short base while the wide caudal is forked.

Redtail catfish thrives in large bodies of freshwater, it prefers a wide swimming space and is deemed as monster fishes because, in the wild, it can grow up to an astounding 1.8 m or 5’11 and weigh up to 80kg. That is equivalent to a human being!

This standard is enough to put it out of the market and unrecommended as a pet, or kept in house tanks, but this doesn’t stop it from being marketable and for certain aquarists take on the challenge of keeping them.

In captivity, they can grow from 20 inches (50cm) to 40 inches (100cm), which is considerably smaller, though still daunting as you keep up with the size and transferring from one tank size to the next.

With their growth, their life span lasts up to over 15 years.


Redtail catfishes are quite aggressive and known to be instinctive predators. They have shy temperament in its juvenile form and increases in confidence and aggressiveness as it grows up and starts to prey on smaller fishes. Due to their hunting instincts, they are quick once set on a target.

As a pet, upon spending time with them, they can relate to you. Low lights will be helpful since they are active at night.

It loves to roam around the tank, so a lot of swimming space is needed, and as they grow, you’re going to have to transfer your redtail catfish in a bigger tank and probably in a pond.

Maintenance (Tank Size and Water Quality)

Taking care of redtail catfish is moderately severe since the biggest concern lies in having the tank’s size prepared to keep up with the rate they’re growing.

The redtail catfish is one of the largest freshwater species and the only one of its kind, a challenge posed for budgeting and catering to their swimming space.

It is recommendable to have a tank that can take up to 220 gallons of water, and for a pond, which is much more viable, should hold 2500 gallons. As they grow older or else, if the tank size is not able to keep up with their growth, they’ll feel constricted and die.

As young redtail catfish are still comfortable in smaller tanks, by which you can purchase them at 3 inches long, they are pretty shy and can get along with other fishes. You’ll need to separate them from the smaller ones since the hunting instinct kicks in.

In terms of cleanliness, a powerful external filter is necessary. They have a huge appetite and correspondingly produce the same amount of biowaste to keep your water in good condition.

A water heater is also a must since the climate and temperature that redtail catfish thrive in is in tropical zones, therefore keeping your tank 72 degrees to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, which is quite warm, would be optimal for them.

In terms of design, shelters are a must-have to mimic their habitat and not only for decoration. A makeshift cave will be a great hiding place for them, especially when they’re young, but as they grow, they’ll lie over logs or under rock caves.

For fish keepers, please do not put any decorations like rocks since they tend to swallow anything they can fit in their mouths. Also, invest in a fixed bottom since, with their size and strength, they can break the tank glass.


Redtail catfish are omnivores and will eat a wide variety of food from fruits to dried or frozen fish food to live ones. Mixing the variety would also be recommended, but mainly their diet should compose of sinking carnivore pellets, cut fish or meat from shrimps, crayfish, or worms.

It is advisable to purchase frozen food and pellets from the market since they contain the necessary nutrients that are equal to live food caught from the wild and prevent contamination.

Fish keepers are cautious when catching live food from the wild since the food may contain diseases that will affect not only the catfish but also their tankmates. Live food is a fascinating treat for redtail crayfish and fun for observation since you’ll be able to catch them displaying their predatory tendencies.

How many times should you feed your redtail catfish? It is advisable that for juvenile redtail catfish, feeding them every other day will be optimal. But as soon as they grow into adult size, feeding them a large meal once a week will be sufficient.


Since redtail catfishes are carnivorous predators and are known for their aggressive and territorial nature, having tank mates from its juvenile state will make it used to its companions from early on.

Preferably these tank mates should equal your redtail catfish in size, although this doesn’t ensure the fights and hierarchy that will happen in your aquarium while adjusting happens between tank mates.

The best species for redtail catfish to get along with are Datnoids, stingrays, black pacu gars, iridescent shark, giant gourami, or some armored catfish like sailfin or common pleco.

Though redtail catfish are not compatible with its relatives, so it would be better to have a redtail catfish apart from other catfish.


The redtail catfish is a beautiful and fascinating creature to behold. It is one of its kind in all aspects.

Taking care of the redtail catfish is a great experience. It is fun to have around with its behavior and appetite. Though it is crucial to have a big tank or pond space to cater to their needs, a high-quality filter will do the enthusiast a lot of good in maintaining the quality of its habitat.

With proper care and maintenance, they can live in your aquarium for decades and are considered monster fish but are well-loved by aquarists.

This fish is fish keeper goals, but keep in mind that this is a huge commitment requiring the necessary utilities and budget to keep redtail catfish.

Latest posts

  • Are Sea Anemones Hard to Care For: Essential Tips for Maintenance

    Are Sea Anemones Hard to Care For: Essential Tips for Maintenance

    Sea anemones, often found colorfully adorning aquariums, are marine invertebrates with distinctive tentacles. They are part of the Cnidaria phylum, which includes corals and jellyfish and are known for their symbiotic relationships with clownfish and other species. Tending for sea anemones in a home aquarium requires specific attention to water quality, lighting, and feeding. Maintaining…

    Read more

  • Are Sea Anemones Dangerous to Humans: Uncovering the Truth

    Are Sea Anemones Dangerous to Humans: Uncovering the Truth

    Sea anemones are often perceived as exotic and colorful ocean-floor dwellers that have garnered attention for their unique appearances in marine environments. Their vivid colors and graceful tentacle movements can capture the interest of divers and aquarium enthusiasts alike. Generally, they are not considered a threat to humans; most species have a sting that is…

    Read more

  • Why Are Sea Anemones Sticky: Uncovering the Secrets of Their Adhesive Powers

    Why Are Sea Anemones Sticky: Uncovering the Secrets of Their Adhesive Powers

    Sea anemones are fascinating marine creatures, often admired for their vibrant colors and graceful tentacle movements. The sticky sensation one experiences when touching an anemone might not be immediately apparent. This trait serves a crucial role in their survival. The stickiness is due to a specialized type of cell called a cnidocyte, which contains a…

    Read more