Redtail Catfish: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding, & More)

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

Redtail Catfish are a massive freshwater species of fish that are a challenge for even the most experienced aquarists out there. They are also among the most attractive yet intimidating fish that you can find in the aquarium community.

Even though they are difficult to look after, several people think that they can be easily taken care of in captivity.

If you are fascinated by Redtail Catfish, you don’t need to worry. Our guide is specially designed to help you learn all there is about caring for these species, including their habitat, water requirements, diet, tank mates, breeding, and much more.

Species Summary

Redtail Catfish have the scientific name Phractocephalushemioliopterusand belong to the Pimelodidae family. They are also called the flat-nosed catfish, RTC, antenna catfish, and banana catfish.

These fish are native to South American countries that are located in the northern region of the continent. Some of the common countries where they are found include Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

Life Span15+ years
Color FormDark gray/brown
Care levelDifficult
CompatibilitySimilar sized species
Size48-72 inches
Tank SetupSparse/bare
Minimum Tank Size1000 Gallons

These catfish enjoy spending time in the freshwater river basins of the Amazon and Orinoco, and they can also be found in streams and lakes, scavenging for food.

They are highly sought after in the aforementioned countries, thanks to their large size and the myths surrounding their aggression. They are also highly revered in the region.


The average lifespan of Redtail Catfish spans up to 15 years when they are placed in the aquarium. Although there is no proof or research on this, it is believed that they are known to live longer when in the wild.

These fish also have certain stringent requirements when it comes to caring for them. This also means that if you aren’t equipped with knowledge and well-prepared to care for them, you will shorten their lifespan.

Therefore, you should provide them with quality care, so that they live up to their full potential.


Redtail Catfish looks like standard catfish, and one of their most distinguishable features is the large and unmissable barbels that protrude from their mouth. Moreover, the barbels stick outwards and don’t move even they are swimming.

These fish have a dark grey-colored body along with faint dots scattered all over their bodies. The top of their heads is grey, whereas the bottom is white in color. The white color stretches to the top of their pectoral fins and stretches to the back of their caudal fins.

Their caudal fins and the top third also have red coloring on them, hence the ‘Redtail’ in their name. They have a thick body that becomes slenderer towards their tail. Their underside is rather flat from the head to the tail.


On average, Redtail Catfish grow up between 36 to 48 inches when they are raised in aquariums. However, when they are out in their natural habitat, their size can go up to 60 inches even.

These fish are massive, so you will have to think twice, if not thrice if you want to put them in a home aquarium. For this purpose, you will need a mammoth tank, and you should consider whether you have enough space or not.

Some experts are spreading misinformation regarding the size of Redtail Catfish on aquatic forums. According to them, keeping these baby fish in smaller tanks will hinder their growth, thus making them suitable for home aquariums.

However, even if you keep these fish in smaller aquariums, they would still reach a minimum size of 36 inches. Plus, it isn’t right that you hinder their growth just to make them easier to handle.

Redtail Catfish Care

If you want to keep Redtail Catfish in your home aquarium, you will have to take care of their care requirements, which are something that you can’t overlook or neglect at all. Since they are large and have an aggressive temperament, you can’t slack off on their care one bit.

This is why we are here to help. We have listed down the guidelines that you need to follow in order to look after your Redtail Catfish well.

Tank Size

You might be shocked to know this, but the ideal tank size for a full-sized adult Redtail Catfish should be between 1,500 and 2,000 gallons. This is what we meant by a ‘mammoth tank’, and it would give them enough room to grow properly.

A tank this size won’t be something that you see in people’s homes, and most people often give up after listening to the required tank size.

You also have to keep in mind that with a large tank of this size, you will have to work harder to keep the tank maintained, add accessories to it, replace the water every few days, and much more.

Also, you may think that a tank size of 1,000 gallons would be enough for these fish. As we mentioned above, you have to take care of the stringent requirements of the letter, otherwise, these fish won’t respond well.

Water Parameters

The water parameters are the most crucial aspect of Redtail Catfish care, and even though they are hardy and resilient, this doesn’t mean that you should put their health to the test by subjecting them to unsuitable conditions.

Firstly, you should maintain the water temperature between 68°F to 80°F, and the pH levels between 6 and 7.5. Ideally, it should be below 7, since they thrive in neutral waters.

Keeping these water parameters at the optimal level can be quite complex, especially since you have to take care of such a huge tank. You may manage to get a large enough tank and place them in your home, but a good portion of your entire day will be dedicated to maintaining the tank conditions.

If you have ever kept an aquarium in your home, you would understand the difference between managing a tank that is 20-30 gallons and taking care of a mammoth tank that is 2,000-3,000 gallons.

Another thing you need to know about is that Redtail Catfish produce a lot of waste because they eat a lot of food. Therefore, you will have to change the water regularly, which can be quite a major challenge.

What to Put in Their Tank?

When setting up the tank to keep your Redtail Catfish, you don’t have to place a lot of things in their tank.

These fish love to keep munching, and they will devour animals, plants, rocks, driftwood, and anything else they can find. This means that you need a huge tank with not many accessories or plants in it.

Since they are larger and aggressive, they also don’t need any hiding spaces, and they like to swim out in the open.

First and foremost, you should keep a soft and sandy substrate in the tank. However, if you notice your fish nibbling on the sand, then you may have to remove the substrate altogether.

Although it might not look as appealing, it will be beneficial for the fish’ safety and wellbeing. Last but not least, you can make do with a standard lamp in the tank.

Common Diseases

Generally, Redtail Catfish are quite hardy, but this doesn’t make them immune to certain diseases. Apart from this, poor water quality, stress, and poor diet can also contribute to their sickness.

One of the common diseases that they are affected by is called fin rot, which is a bacterial infection affecting freshwater species. The bacteria eat away at the edges of their fins and if not treated properly, the rot will spread to other parts of their body.

Fin rot also causes discoloration of the fish’ fins, and they may also experience inflammation, which causes the formation of patches on their skin. Apart from this, they can experience lethargy and a loss in appetite. To treat them, you will have to administer over-the-counter medication to your fish.

Another problem that these catfish face is called ammonia poisoning, which is caused by raised levels of ammonia in the water. Whenever the ammonia concentration increases in the tank water, their health will be severely affected, and it would also harm their gills. Moreover, the high ammonia levels will cause their skin to burn.

Redtail Catfish that are prone to ammonia poisoning will also experience red streaks on their body, and their fins will also start to chip away. Plus, they will start becoming more aggressive.

Therefore, you should keep the ammonia levels of the water in check from time to time. If the fish are suffering from poisoning, you should change the water right away.

Apart from these diseases, Redtail Catfish can also be affected by red pest disease. It is caused by bacteria that affect the circulatory system, as well as their tissues and organs. It is a much more severe disease that can cause internal bleeding in the fish, and you can diagnose it through a bloated stomach, streaked fins, and a rotting tail.

Luckily, you can treat red pest disease can be treated through a mixture of different over-the-counter medications.

What Do Redtail Catfish Eat?

Redtail Catfish love to eat, which means that you can feed them anything and they would enjoy it. However, you should be mindful of what goes into their mouth, because you need to fulfill certain nutritional requirements in order for them to grow healthy.

In the wild, they feast on worms, small fish, insects, and even vegetables. Therefore, you can add small fish, worms, shrimp, and bite-sized pieces of meat to their regular diet. Apart from this, you can also give them sinking pellets and frozen food to complement their diet.

Behavior & Temperament

There are several things you may have heard about the temperament of Redtail Catfish – some say they are aggressive, while others consider them to be peaceful.

However, the defining factor is their tank setup, as well as the water conditions you maintain for them. Moreover, they have natural hunting instincts that may lead you to call them aggressive.

Generally, these fish will spend most of their time around the bottom layer of the tank. This is something that doesn’t change with the choice of tank mates for them.

Redtail Catfish Tank Mates

Since they are incredibly large and can easily prey on any smaller creature that they can find in the wild, it can be quite difficult for you to choose tank mates for them. The problem is that there are hardly any freshwater fish that aren’t smaller than them, which narrows down your options.

Size is the one factor you need to look out for when you are thinking about tank mates for your Redtail Catfish. Basically, if any fish is smaller than them, they are a big no. So, you will have to look towards similar-sized species with a non-aggressive or predatory temperament.

Most of the time, these fish will keep to themselves, which is why it won’t be the worst idea for you to keep them on their own. Plus, the more fish you add to the tank, the larger the tank will have to be. Plus, if you are pairing them with other fish and you don’t feed them on time, they might attack any fish that come in their way.


If you think taking care of a 4 or 5-foot fish is difficult, then you should know that breeding them is extremely difficult. If you still want it to happen, you will need a tank size of more than 2,000 gallons and only a single pair in them.

What’s even more difficult is that with these fish, you can’t identify their gender. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to choose a pair for mating.

Final Thoughts

This brings us to the end of our guide on caring for Redtail Catfish. By following this guide, you will be able to take care of them in a better way.

However, if you are serious about keeping them in an aquarium, keep in mind that caring for them will occupy a large portion of your daily routine, and it can get difficult at times. If you are a novice and are looking for a starter fish, then these aren’t for you.