Red-tailed Catfish

Flat-nosed Catfish - Antenna Catfish

Family: PimelodidaeRed-tailed CatfishPhractocephalus hemioliopterus
Latest Reader Comment - See More
Hey I have 2 red tail catfish. One of them is doing great but another one didn't even move and eat. I just wanted to get any advice and what to do to make it... (more)  Khai

   The Red-tailed Catfish is quite an attraction. The beautiful red tail and the white belly are unmistakable characteristics of this fish!

   This fish gets very large. They are only able to be kept in a smaller aquarium as juveniles. Being fast growers they will quickly need a larger and larger aquarium. As they reach up to 3 feet or more (there are some reports of specimens reaching up to 5 feet!), they will ultimately need a very large tank. For the largest sized ones that could be 1500 gallons or more. This is a huge tank, making them not really suitable for most home aquarists.

   They are not very active and would prefer a large cave or den to hang out in. They can't be kept with smaller fish as they will become lunch sooner or later. This fish has a big mouth and a hearty appetite. Even though the Red-tailed catfish is one of the larger fish in the Amazon, this is not a food fish for the natives. It has a dark colored flesh and the natives will only eat white flesh!

  There is only one species in the genus Phractocephalus, the Red-tailed Catfish and a unique phenomena with this fish, as stated by author Hans A Baensch in Aquarium Atlas Volume 2, is that "...the red colored tail fin secrets a substance which colors the hands an intense red on contact".

For more Information on keeping this fish see:
Guide to a Happy, Healthy Freshwater Aquarium

Geographic Distribution
Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Pimelodidae
  • Genus: Phractocephalus
  • Species: hemioliopterus
Pet Supply Comparison Shopping
Red-tailed Catfish - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive - Predatory
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult to Impossible
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced
  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Minimum Tank Size: 2,000 gal (7,570 L)
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
  • Range ph: 5.5-7.2
  • Hardness Range: 3 - 12 dGH
Enter a Freshwater Aquarium
  • My Aquarium - Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Popular Searches

Habitat: Distribution / Background

   The Red-tailed Catfish are found in South America in the Amazon river, Rio Negro, Venezuela and Guyana. Prefers deep pools in rivers.

  • Scientific Name: Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


 The Red-tailed Catfish are dark grey on the top of the body covered with small darker spots. The shovel-like mouth is as wide as the body and the lower part of the mouth white. The white coloration under the mouth extends in in broad horizontal stripe to the tailfin. As a juvenile it joins with the white under the mouth, as it gets older, it is broken up by the dark grey coloration. The tip of the dorsal fin and the tail fin are slightly pinkish red. The eyes are set on either side of the head near the top.

  • Size of fish - inches: 53.0 inches (134.62 cm) - There are reports of fish reaching sizes upwards of 5 feet in the wild, although the largest doccumented size was 53 inches.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Difficult to Impossible - This fish requries a massive tank and a diet of live fish. It is generally agreed upon that is is not really suited for the home aquarium at all.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Advanced - This fish is too large for all but the most extremely oversized of tanks.

Foods and Feeding

   Red-tailed Catfish are omnivorous but prefer meaty foods. As juveniles, they will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet everyday. As they grow go you can go to higher percentages of either pellets or live foods.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: No
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes - This fish will ocassionally accept processed food but prefers a diet of live prey or meaty foods.
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Most of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Weekly - Juveniles should be fed about every other day, but as the fish ages this should be reduced to a weekly feeding. Reduced activity levels and its preference for high protein diet will otherwise lead to excessive weight gain.

Aquarium Care

  • Water Changes: Bi-weekly

Aquarium Setup

  • Minimum Tank Size: 2,000 gal (7,570 L) - Juvenille specimens will quickly outgrow a small tank, and if kept in overly cramped quarters this species will die very young. This fish is active and likey plenty of swimming space which is difficult to offer a fish of this size.
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
  • Range ph: 5.5-7.2
  • Hardness Range: 3 - 12 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: Bottom - These fish will swim in the bottom of the aquarium. As they get older, they may stay motionless for long periods of time.

Social Behaviors

The Red-tailed Catfish are generally a good community fish with tank-mates their own size. Not much is known about keeping more than one in the same aquarium. Don't keep with fish that are much smaller since they are predaceous.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Large Aggressive - Predatory - Peaceful although somewhat territorial. Red-tailed Catfish are highly predatory.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes
    • Peaceful fish (): Threat
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Safe
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

   Not known.

Breeding / Reproduction

   The Red-tailed Catfish have not been successfully bred in aquariums.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown - This fish is too large to be bred in a home aquarium.


   The Red-tailed Catfish is available from time to time and is usually expensive.


Animal-World References
Freshwater Fish and Plants Tropical Fish ~ Freshwater Fish ~ Aquatic Plants

Author: David Brough. CFS.
Available From These Merchants
Bio Pure Freeze Dried Bloodworms 1.76 Oz. Bio Pure Freeze Dried Bloodworms 1.76 Oz.
Offered By: That Pet Place
Price: $17.29
Compare products and prices!
Freeze Dried Bloodworms 1.75 Oz. Freeze Dried Bloodworms 1.75 Oz.
Offered By: That Pet Place
Price: $11.33
Compare products and prices!
Freeze Dried Bloodworms 0.5 Oz. Freeze Dried Bloodworms 0.5 Oz.
Offered By: That Pet Place
Price: $4.97
Compare products and prices!
Freeze Dried Bloodworms 9.45 Oz. Freeze Dried Bloodworms 9.45 Oz.
Offered By: That Pet Place
Price: $46.46
Compare products and prices!
Freeze Dried Bloodworms For Bettas 0.04 Oz. Freeze Dried Bloodworms For Bettas 0.04 Oz.
Offered By: That Pet Place
Price: $1.13
Compare products and prices!

Lastest Animal Stories on Red-tailed Catfish

Khai - 2014-02-20
Hey I have 2 red tail catfish. One of them is doing great but another one didn't even move and eat. I just wanted to get any advice and what to do to make it active? Please help!

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-02-20
    Sounds stressed, like its sick or its unhappy. Things that come to my mind... is the tank big enough for these two huge fish to be comfortable? it could be a housing issue, And how long have you had it, if its new, has it been this way since you got it? if so, it may have had problems, and you should talk to your fish store right away
Jeremy Galloway - 2007-12-30
I have a RTC that is roughly 30 inches in length. He is great! He has eaten from my hand since he was only around a half an inch long. I started feeding him red worms and moved up to earthworms and then too catfish food and for the last couple of years he has been eating kibbles and chunks dog food. I feed him about six pieces twice a day and am careful not to over feed him. I would love to show you how he acts! He has toys in his tank that he loves to play with (nothing he can swallow) and loves to be played with. I take my hand and pet him and also wrestle with him by grabbing his tail and pushing him through the water. He will actually put his tail in my hand and want me to push him. He has a ball in his tank that he will balance on his head and push throught the water from one end of the tank to the next. He loves attention and if he wants it he gets it by splashing water or hitting the tank lid or his new thing is to spit water half way across the room. He is truly a great pet and i consider him part of the family.

  • Jay - 2013-02-22
    Is your Rtc on YouTube if so send me a link.
FMF - 2008-12-29
I bought a 3 inch redtail catfish in march, he has grown extremely fast. We started off feeding him bloodworms, nightcrawlers, and live feeder goldfish.. He is currently in a 125 gallon tank and has officially outgrown it. The width of the tank is 19 inches and he has a tough time turning around in it. But we are fixing the problem and are currently building a indoor pond that is 6ft long, 5 feet wide and 4 feet deep. My math may be wrong but that is just under 1,000 gallons. In the pond there will also be his friends that are a Tiger Shovelnose that is 21 inches long, albino channel thats 12 inches, and the oscars that are all over 12inches... And when i fed him last night he ate a whole shad that was just under 12 inches long...

  • cain - 2010-10-21
    WOW! That sucker's got a mouth on him! Keep feeding him like that and he'll outgrow that pond as well! I just got my first 3-4 incher and he is such a beast!
Delshawn Christian - 2008-08-24
I own 2 RTC and have had them for about 1.5 years. I have them in a 220 gal tank with a Florida gar. They are big red (2ft) and little red (16 in), and get a long ok. They were housed with 4 Oscars, the gar and each other in a 125 gal tank before I moved them into the 220g. I love these fish because they grow so fast and eat anything. I feed them pellets, hamburger, shrimp, feeders, crayfish and earthworms which is their favorite. RTC are great fish to own but need very big aquariums to be housed in.

Jack Wood - 2006-02-24
Hi friends,
Indeed these fish get quite huge! This presents monetary and logistical problems for would be keepers. One inexpensive way to keep these monster fish happy and long lived is to keep them in a 300 gallon stock tank available at your local farm supply store. The fish look just as great from the top, and you absolutely can't beat the price for one of these tanks! Make sure, of course that the tank is on a solid concrete base, as 300 gallons is very heavy. Also, I've had good success with using bulk catfish food (also at farm supply stores) as a base food. This food is designed for feeding channel catfish in the food industry, so the feed is very nutritionally balanced. Also, you really save the bucks, with a fifty pound bag costing just a few dollars.
These are just a couple ideas for those of us that want to keep these beautiful fish but don't have unlimited means.

Ryan - 2004-05-05
This catfish gets MUCH larger than 24 inches. The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha,Nebraska has a two that rival the size of any blue cat I have seen, and I have seen photos of these fish approaching 5 feet. Keep this in mind when the pet store says this fish will stop at 15-20 inches.I have seen verified weights well over 60 pounds, and I think the world record was nearly(or maybe over) 100 pounds.


Copyright © [Animal-World] 1998-2012. All rights reserved.