Redtail Catfish. Care, Lifespan, Tank Requirements & More.

The Redtail Catfish is a beautiful and fascinating fish that has become increasingly popular among aquarium fans. However, despite their popularity, many people are unaware of the proper care that these fish require. 

In this comprehensive care guide, we will provide you with all the information you need to ensure that your Redtail Catfish thrives in your aquarium. From their natural habitat and diet to tank setup and maintenance, we will cover everything you need to know to keep these stunning fish healthy and happy. 

So, whether you are a seasoned aquarist or a beginner, this guide will serve as an essential resource for anyone looking to care for Red Tail Catfish.

What is a Redtail Catfish? Where are they from

redtail catfish

Redtail catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) is a species of catfish that are native to South America. They have a bright red tail and sleek, muscular body.

The Redtail catfish inhabits various South American countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. In Venezuela, it is called cajaro, and in Brazil pirarara. Additionally, there is an Asian red-tail catfish species that is mainly found in Thailand.

Redtail Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) Quick Overview

Scientific NamePhractocephalus hemioliopterus
Lifespan10 to 15 years
Care LevelHard
Maximum size5 ft
Weight100 Pounds
Growth RateRapid
Average tank size1300 Gallons
pH Level6.5 – 7.5
Water temperature72-82°F (22-28°C)
HardnessSoft to Medium
Best Tank MatesPacus, Oscars, Plecos, Silver Arowana, Bichirs and large cichlids
DiseasesIch, Fin Rot, Dropsy, Velvet, Columnaris

Red Tail Catfish Color and Physical Appearance

The first thing that catches your eye when you see a redtail catfish is undoubtedly its bright red-coloured tail. The tail is long and narrow, and it tapers off to a fine point. It is this tail that gives the redtail catfish its name, and it is undoubtedly one of its most striking features.

In addition to their red tail, redtail catfish have sleek and muscular body that is built for swimming. They have a broad heads and a mouth full of sharp teeth, which they use to catch and consume their prey. Their body is covered in a layer of smooth, silvery scales that help them to move effortlessly through the water.

Another unique feature of redtail catfish is their large, expressive eyes. Their eyes are set wide apart on their head, giving them excellent peripheral vision. This makes it easier for them to spot potential prey or predators in the water around them.

How big do Redtail Catfish get? Size and Weight and growth rate

red tail catfish

Redtail catfish can grow to be quite large, with some individuals reaching up to 5 feet in length and weighing over 100 pounds. As they grow, their body becomes more muscular and streamlined, making them even more efficient swimmers.

In optimal conditions, they can grow up to 1-2 inches per month during their first year of life, and continue to grow at a slower rate as they age.

The highest recorded size of a red tail catfish is 139 centimetres.

What is the Average Lifespan of Red Tail Catfish?

The average lifespan of a redtail catfish can vary depending on whether they are in the wild or domesticated. 

In the wild, their lifespan is typically around 10-15 years, though some individuals may live longer. Factors that can affect their lifespan include their predation, water quality, and availability of food. 

In captivity, redtail catfish can live longer than they would in the wild, with some individuals living up to 20 years or more with proper care. Factors that can affect their lifespan in captivity include diet, water quality, living conditions, and veterinary care.

To give your redtail catfish the best chance of a long and healthy life, it’s important to provide them with a spacious and well-maintained aquarium or pond, a varied and nutritious diet, and a suitable water temperature and pH level. 

Additionally, regular health check-ups with a veterinarian experienced in caring for fish can help identify any potential health issues early on and ensure that your redtail catfish receives appropriate treatment.

Red-Tail Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) Care Guide.

Redtail catfish are large, active fish that require a spacious and well-maintained aquarium or pond to thrive. Proper care involves providing them with appropriate conditions for their size and activity level, a varied and nutritious diet, and regular health check-ups.

Here is a comprehensive guide to redtail catfish care:

Tank/Pond Size

These big guys require a tank or pond that is at least 300 gallons in capacity. The tank should be long and wide enough to allow the fish to swim and move freely. It’s important to avoid overcrowding, as this can lead to stress, disease, and poor water quality.

Water Quality

The water in the tank or pond should be well-filtered and well-aerated to maintain good water quality.

The ideal temperature range for redtail catfish is 75-82°F (24-28°C), and the pH range should be between 6.5-7.5.

It’s important to perform regular water changes to remove waste and prevent the buildup of harmful chemicals.

Tank/Pond Decor: What to put in Redtail Catfish tank

Redtail catfish prefer a dimly lit environment with plenty of hiding places, such as caves or plants. It’s important to choose decor that is sturdy and cannot be easily uprooted or knocked over by the fish. Driftwood, rocks, and artificial plants can make good additions to the tank or pond.

Read our guide on best fish tank accessories to see beautiful and creative fish tank themes, backgrounds, necessary accessories and decors,

Health Check-ups

Regular health check-ups with a veterinarian experienced in caring for fish can help identify any potential health issues early on and ensure that your redtail catfish receives appropriate treatment. Signs of illness in redtail catfish can include lethargy, loss of appetite, and abnormal behaviour.

Diet and Feeding

red tail catfish

Redtail catfish are opportunistic predators with a varied diet in their natural habitat. Their diet can consist of fish, crustaceans, insects, and other aquatic animals.

In the wild, redtail catfish are active predators that hunt at night. They use their excellent sense of smell and lateral line system to detect prey, and their sharp teeth and powerful jaws to capture and consume it.

In the aquarium, redtail catfish should be fed a varied and nutritious diet consisting of high-quality protein sources such as fish, shrimp, and krill. They may also be given occasional treats such as earthworms or pieces of fruit. Make sure you do not overfeed but provide them with the appropriate amount of food for their size and activity level. Overfeeding can lead to health problems such as obesity and poor water quality in their tank or pond.

Note that redtail catfish are messy eaters and can produce a lot of waste. Regular water changes and tank maintenance are necessary to maintain good water quality and prevent health problems.

RedTail Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) Behaviour and Temperament.

Redtail catfish are large and powerful fish with a reputation for being aggressive.

Here are some key points to consider regarding their behaviour and temperament:


Redtail catfish can be highly aggressive, especially towards smaller fish or those that resemble their natural prey. They may also become territorial and aggressive towards other fish in the tank or pond. It’s important to provide them with ample space and hiding places to reduce stress and minimize aggression.

Social Behavior

Redtail catfish are not highly social fish, but they may form small groups in the wild. In captivity, they may become more social if kept with compatible tank mates. It’s important to monitor their behaviour and adjust their living conditions accordingly.

How to Handle and Care for Red Tail Catfish

This catfish should be handled with care, as their sharp teeth and spines can cause injury. It’s best to use a net or a container to move them, and to avoid touching them directly.

They may also become stressed or agitated during transport, so it’s important to provide them with appropriate conditions and to minimize transport time.

What fish can live with a Red tail catfish? The Best Tank Mates for Redtail Catfish

When considering tank mates for a red-tail catfish, it’s important to keep in mind their size and predatory nature. 

They should not be kept with smaller fish or those that may be seen as potential prey. Peaceful and larger fish such as Pacus, Oscars, Plecos, Silver Arowana, Bichirs and other large cichlids may make good tankmates for redtail catfish.

Here are some fish species that may make good tank mates for redtail catfish:

1. Pacus.

Pacus are large, peaceful fish that can coexist with redtail catfish. They are herbivores and will not compete with the catfish for food.

2. Oscars.

Oscars are another large, peaceful fish that can coexist with red-tail catfish. They are omnivores and will eat a variety of foods.

3. Silver Arowana

These are large, predatory fish that can coexist with red tail catfish. They are best kept in large aquariums with plenty of hiding places.

4. Plecos.

Plecos are peaceful, bottom-dwelling fish that can coexist with redtail catfish. They are known for their ability to keep the tank clean by eating algae.

5. Bichirs.

Bichirs are also known as dinosaur fish and are large, predatory fish that can coexist with redtail catfish. They are best kept in large aquariums with plenty of hiding places.

Tank mates should be chosen carefully and introduced gradually to minimize stress and aggression. Additionally, the tank should be large enough to accommodate all fish comfortably, with plenty of hiding places and adequate filtration. Providing a varied and nutritious diet will help reduce aggression and promote peaceful coexistence.

Diseases of the Red Tail Catfish

Like all fish, redtail catfish can be susceptible to various diseases. Here are some common diseases that affects it:

1. Ich (Ichthyophthirius multifiliis)

 Ich is a parasitic disease that appears as white spots on the fish’s body. It can be treated with medication and improved water quality.

2. Columnaris (Flavobacterium columnare)

Columnaris is a bacterial disease that can cause lethargy, loss of appetite, and white or grey lesions on the skin. It can be treated with medication and improved water quality.

3. Dropsy

This is a condition where the fish’s body swells due to a buildup of fluid. It can be caused by poor water quality or bacterial infection. Treatment may include medication and improving water quality.

4. Fin Rot.

Fin rot is a bacterial infection that can cause the fins to appear frayed or discoloured. It can be treated with medication and improved water quality.

5. Velvet (Oodinium)

Velvet is a parasitic disease that appears as yellow or gold dust on the fish’s body. It can be treated with medication and improved water quality.

Are Redtail catfish good to eat?

Redtail catfish are edible and can be consumed, but they are not typically considered a popular food fish. In some countries, such as Brazil and Peru, they are occasionally eaten and considered a delicacy. 

Breeding and Reproduction of Redtail Catfish.

Breeding and reproduction of redtail catfish in captivity can be challenging and not commonly attempted by hobbyists. Here are some details about their breeding and reproduction:

Sexual Maturity

 This catfish reach sexual maturity between 2-4 years of age and can reproduce annually once they reach maturity.

Spawning Behaviour

Redtail catfish are known to be egg scatterers, meaning the female lays eggs and the male fertilizes them externally. However, little is known about their specific spawning behaviour in captivity.

Incubation and Hatching

 After fertilization, the eggs of red tail catfish typically hatch within 2-3 days, depending on water temperature and other factors. The larvae are then able to swim freely within a few days.

Rearing a Redtail Catfish Fry

Rearing a redtail catfish fry can be challenging and requires specialized equipment and knowledge. The fry is initially very small and delicate and needs to be provided with appropriate water conditions, food, and shelter to ensure its survival and growth.

Breeding this catfish in requires a significant amount of space and resources, and is generally only attempted by experienced aquarists or commercial breeders.

Conclusion on Redtail Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus)

The redtail catfish is a beautiful and fascinating fish that can make a great addition to an experienced aquarist’s collection. With their impressive size and unique appearance, they can be a real centrepiece in a large aquarium. However, it’s important to remember that red tail catfish require specialized care and a lot of space to accommodate their potential size.

In this comprehensive care guide, we have covered all the important aspects of caring for redtail catfish, including tank size and water parameters, diet and feeding habits, behaviour and temperament, common diseases, and breeding and reproduction.

By following these guidelines and providing optimal conditions for your redtail catfish, you can ensure they have a long and healthy life in captivity.

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FAQs on the Redtail Catfish

Can Red Tail Catfish sting?

No, red tail catfish do not have a venomous sting. They do have sharp spines on their fins, including their dorsal and pectoral fins, which can cause injury if handled improperly. However, with proper handling and care, red tail catfish are generally not a threat to humans.

Are Red Tail Catfish good pets?

Red Tail Catfish can make interesting and entertaining pets for experienced fish keepers. However, they require a very large tank (at least several hundred gallons), a powerful filtration system, and careful monitoring of water parameters to ensure they stay healthy. Additionally, they can be quite aggressive and may not be suitable for all households.

Are Redtail Catfish endangered?

Red Tail Catfish are not currently considered endangered, although overfishing and habitat destruction are threats to their populations in the wild. However, they have sometimes been considered an invasive species in areas outside of their native range, such as parts of the United States, where they can negatively impact local ecosystems.

Edet Ubok-Obong
Edet Ubok-Obong

Edet Ubok-Obong is an experienced Writer with a deep passion for Gardening, Fishing and home improvement. He shares his knowledge of these fields through this website.