Red-Tailed Catfish: Facts, Diet, Caring & More

Now you might have wondered one day if red-tailed catfish are just good for fishing or if they can also make good pets? Is it just a big meal, or can it be a big pet?

Well, this huge freshwater fish is great for both activities! Whether you are a hobbyist that likes to keep fish around or you just like fishing, red-tail catfish are great for both.

You can keep a red-tailed catfish in your private pond or even in a large aquarium in your home. In this detailed guide, I’ll tell you all you need to know about the red-tailed catfish and how to take care of it as a pet at home.

Detailed Identification

Red-tailed catfish are very interesting fish to keep around at home, whether in a pond or in a very large aquarium. They need a lot of space as they take a lot of space themselves. In other words, they need the space because they’re huge.

To give you an idea, they need at least 1000 gallons of water around them (3785.41L), which is huge. Red-tailed catfish can be difficult to maintain because of their size, but overall it will be worth it! If you really don’t want to go through all the fuss, consider owning smaller fish.

Below you’ll find more interesting information about red-tailed catfish.

Fun Facts

Here are some fun facts for you about red-tailed catfish:

  • They can talk to other fish and alert them of danger with a clicking sound they make.
  • The largest one recorded was 53.2 inches (134cm) and weighed a bit more than 88.18 pounds (40 kilos).
  • A lot of people like to eat them as they’re very nutritious and can feed a large family, due to their size!
  • Breeding this fish is so difficult that apparently, no reported hobbyist has managed to do that yet!
  • They have extra sensorial cells: the whiskers will act as an additional source of smell, as they’re very sensitive and have chemical reception smells.

Identification And Family

The red-tail catfish is also known as banana catfish (I swear I’m not making this up), antenna catfish, South American redtail, flat-nose catfish, or even RTC. Its scientific Latin name is Phractocephalus hemioliopterus.

Its name comes from its color: it has caudal fins and a red dorsal. The fish also has different names in different regions. For example, in Brazil, it’s called a pirarara, and in Venezuela, it’s called a caiaro.

This fish comes from the Pimelodidae family, which is the long-whiskered catfish family. So this fish is basically a variety of catfish.

Natural Habitat

Usually, you can find red-tailed catfish in South America. But, they can also be found in other South American countries, such as Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Colombia in the Rio Orinoco basins and the Amazon.

They like to live in large streams and rivers, as well as lakes, flood plains, flooded forests, lagoons, and rapids. Generally, they like to stay in warm places.

Red-tailed catfish originally come from South America, but you can also find them in Asia and North America, especially in Nebraska and Florida. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about the Amazon-specific red-tailed catfish.

Physical Aspect

As mentioned before, the red-tailed catfish have red caudal fins and also have a red dorsal. Plus, the body has a cylindrical shape, almost like an arrow, with a thin, narrow tail and a beige-toned flat stomach. As for its eyes, they’re on each side of its head.

As for the other part of the body, it looks grayish-brown and can have some small dark spots. Sometimes, the red-tailed catfish can be albino, meaning it will be kind of white with pink or red eyes.

Also, the fish’s mouth has long whiskers coming out of its chin, and the mouth is as large as the rest of its body. A white horizontal stripe runs through the lower mouth of the red-tailed catfish and the rest of the length of the entire body.

This stripe is broken for older red-tailed catfish near their mouth, while younger red-tailed catfish still have an unbroken stripe.

This distinguishes the fish variety from other varieties of catfish, along with other things.


Red-tailed fish grow extremely quickly, although they’re usually sold as small fish. They will reach their full growth (approximately three feet in length to four feet, so 91.44cm to 121.92cm) in one or two years.

If they grow in captivity, they can reach up to four feet in length (121.92cm). Sometimes, they can even grow up to five feet (152.4cm), and if they grow in the wild, they can reach six feet (182.88 cm).

While the red-tailed catfish is not an aggressive fish overall, as it grows larger, it will anything smaller than itself, including smaller fish.

Weight And Lifespan

Red-tailed catfish can weigh over 100 pounds (around 45.35 kilos), which is huge.

As for their lifespan, they can live up to 20 years, which is pretty long for fish. Of course, they’ll live longer if you take good care of them and will live shorter if you don’t.

Domesticated Habitat

If you want to buy a red-tailed catfish, you should keep it in a huge aquarium or in a pond. It will not fit in smaller aquariums, not even the larger ones, so you really need a huge aquarium to fit the fish’s huge size. Think Shedd Aquarium size, for example.

You will need at least 1000 gallons of water capacity for either your fish tank or pond. So you need to be ready to make that kind of commitment if you want to own your own red-tailed catfish (3785,41L).

Really, it’s important you realize how big this fish you’re getting is. I can’t stress this enough. Many people don’t and end up donating them to aquariums. Sometimes, they don’t realize its size or the amount of maintenance the red-tailed catfish aquarium.

Water Requirements

Here are the following water requirements you should follow to keep the best water conditions in your pond or fish tank for your red-tailed catfish:

  • The water pH should be between 5.5 and 7.2 since red-tailed catfish are freshwater fish.
  • The water hardness should be between three to 12 dGH.
  • The water temperature should be between 68 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 26.11 degrees Celsius).

Tank Requirements

There a few things you need to know to set up your fish tank optimally for your red-tailed catfish.

Firstly, as you know now, you’ll need a tank that can support at least 1000 gallons of water (3785,41L as crazy as that might seem). Ideally, it should be able to support 2500 gallons of water (9463,529L).

Your aquarium has to be a commercial aquarium to be able to support the size and weight of your red-tailed catfish. Or, you could own a pond. Ideally, if you live somewhere warm, have an outdoor pond, as it’s complicated to have the space or the budget for such a big aquarium or indoor pond at home. But if you can, that’s great!

Then, you should make sure you’re using the right filter for your tank. In this case, the only one that will work is a large sump. The filtration system has to be powerful, and you should provide extra airflow to your fish tank with water pumps.

Tank Decoration And Lighting

Don’t put any decoration or landscape in your fish tank. No gravel, no plants, or stones of any size should be in the tank with your red-tailed catfish, as your fish will ingest almost anything.

If you really don’t want a spare tank, you can add some sand at the bottom. And if you want decorations, ensure your red-tailed catfish can’t eat them. To do so, the decorations have to be quite large and heavy, so your fish can’t move them or eat them. Treated driftwood is a good material for decorations to stay in place.

As for the tank lighting, it should be very low. So keep the lights low!


Red-tailed catfish are omnivorous and will eat basically anything that comes near them. You should feed them once or twice a week when they’re adults, and every other day when they’re younger.

Make sure to give your fish nutritious, varied food. Here are the big categories of food you should give your red-tailed catfish: fruits, invertebrates, fish, and plant matter. Some examples of protein include crustaceous, shrimp, worms, smaller fish, and cut-up meat.

Also, don’t overfeed them, as they will really eat anything immediately.

If you want to feed your fish other fish, don’t get the fish from a pet store as they could carry some diseases. Ideally, you should give red-tailed catfish a mix of protein (other fish) and plant matter.

Red-tailed catfish will feed during the evening or at night time, never during the day. They stay motionless during the day.

Possible Diseases

There are some diseases your red-tailed catfish could get. Firstly, they can easily get obese as they will eat anything, as established above. To prevent that, make sure there’s nothing else in the tank they can eat except their weekly food, and don’t overfeed them.

Here are diseases they could get: red pest disease, fin rot, and ammonia poisoning.  You can treat red pest disease with acriflavine, tetracycline, and monacrin. To treat fin rot, use amoxicillin or fish doxy. To prevent ammonia poisoning, change the tank water regularly to reduce the pH levels.

Generally, antibiotics will help, and changing the water regularly, as well as giving your fish healthy food will keep your red-tailed catfish healthy. If there are still problems after doing all of this, contact a vet and get their opinion.

Behavior With Other Fish

Red-tailed catfish are quite peaceful, but you shouldn’t put them next to smaller fish. You should keep them with fish that are approximately the same size, and they will surely be peaceful, with low energy, and won’t be aggressive.

Be careful not to put your red-tailed catfish with other red-tailed catfish! If you put them together, they will get territorial and fight.


Unless you’re a professional, it will be almost impossible to breed red-tailed catfish yourself. There’s almost no way of telling if you own a male or female. Also, catfish are territorial, so they’ll be aggressive to others of their kind.

Care Level

If you look at all the requirements above, red-tailed catfish are not that difficult to take care of. They’re viewed as difficult because of their size and weight. So they need a huge aquarium or pond. They can also be difficult with their behavior.

Some people think that since red-tailed catfish are small when they’re young, they can just buy a smaller aquarium and then, later on, invest in another. And then they don’t, and either give their red-tailed catfish away to aquariums or even releasing them into the wild.

So overall red-tailed catfish are not too difficult to take care of compared to other fish. But you need to remember the size and weight it will be when it grows. So make sure you have the right equipment before buying this fish variety!

Final Thoughts

Now you know a lot about red-tailed catfish and you can impress other fishkeeping hobbyists! But, it’s up to you to decide if you want to commit to having a red-tailed catfish or not. Although they are not too difficult to take care of, you need to control their weight and behavior with other fish. Also, you need to consider spatial and financial practicalities.

For example, do you have a pond or a fish tank comparable to an aquarium? If the answer is yes, or if you’re ready to buy one of these, then I am sure you are meant to own red-tailed catfish. Not everybody could, but maybe you would!

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