The Pictus Catfish: The Fish That Needs A Shave?!

At first glance, there is no doubt that this fish is a type of catfish! Just check out those catfish whiskers! They are nearly as long as the fish's body! It looks like this catfish needs a shave! But there is much more to this catfish than long whiskers! Read on to find out more about one of the most popular catfish in the freshwater fish hobby: the Pictus Catfish!


Pictus CatfishWhen I began buying fish for my first freshwater aquariums, I sought out a lot of freshwater shark species. Now, I understood that they weren't really sharks, but they were called sharks and some even looked like a shark. I purchased some red finned cigar sharks, bala sharks and iridescent sharks. The iridescent sharks were actually a type of catfish, so I decided to check into some other catfish, since they are really distantly related to sharks. The first catfish that caught my eye was the pictus catfish.


The pictus catfish is one of the more striking and attractive catfish in the freshwater fish hobby. They have an elongated body that is silver and white in color with several black, oval shaped spots on it's body and fins. Like many catfish, their dorsal fin is large. This fin usually has a black tip on it. It's other fins may also have some black markings on them, as well. Due to it's markings, you may find the pictus catfish available under the names polka dot catfish or polka dot pictus. But the color of this fish is not what you will notice first.


The first thing you will notice about this catfish is it's extremely long "whiskers", which are actually called barbels. Not only are these barbels attractive and entertaining on this small catfish, they are also beneficial to the pictus catfish. The pictus catfish uses these barbels to locate food and navigate it's way around in dark and muddy waters. For this reason, some people refer to these barbels as "feelers". Along with these "feelers" and a very acute sense of smell, the pictus catfish makes a good scavenger fish that will clean any uneaten food from the bottom of it's tank.



The pictus catfish shouldn't have to rely on food scrapes for it's diet. The pictus catfish is classified as a carnivorous species, although it doesn't limit it's diet to meaty foods. The pictus catfish will clean up any uneaten flake foods that sink to the bottom, but they prefer meaty foods. The pictus catfish prefers worms, but it will also eat shrimp pellets, sinking catfish wafers and bloodworms. Just make sure you feed your pictus catfish well. If it is underfed, the pictus will start searching for food, and usually finds it in the form of the small fish in it's tank! While the pictus catfish is not an aggressive fish, it will eat smaller fish when hungry, usually fish like neon tetras.

Since the pictus catfish is not an aggressive fish, it makes an ideal tank mate for many fish. Some people keep their pictus catfish with oscars and other cichlids. I have kept pictus catfish in a community tank with iridescent sharks, red finned cigar sharks, loaches and eels. Just be sure not to place them in any tank with fish that are small enough to fit into their mouths. If you do, the first time one of the pictus catfish is hungry, one of those small fish will become a quick meal. Aside from that, the pictus catfish will be a peaceful tank mate.


Some people may think the pictus catfish is aggressive because of it's sharp fins. On occasion, the pictus catfish's sharp fins may indeed injure another fish. This is only by accident or if the other fish foolishly tries to attack the pictus catfish. These fins can not only injure an attacking fish, they can also injure anyone who tries to handle the pictus catfish. Like many catfish, the pictus catfish has sharp serrated pectoral and dorsal fins which contain a type of poison. For this reason, the pictus catfish should never be handled! If it is handled, the handler can expect a very painful stab or cut, followed by a swollen wound! The poison in the pictus catfish's fins won't kill you, but it will make you wish that you had never thought about touching the fish!


You should also avoided netting the pictus catfish because of their sharp fins. If you use a common aquarium dip net on the pictus catfish, it will become entangled in the net. In some cases, you will have to either break the pictus catfish's entangled fin or dislocate it, something that will probably result in death for the fish. The one time I made the mistake of netting a pictus catfish I had to carefully cut around the fin where it had become entangled in the net, all the while keeping the fish submerged in it's tank and avoiding receiving a stab myself. The fish lived, but from that point on it had tiny green pieces of net on the ends of two of it's fins! To prevent this, you should seek out safety nets. Some of these are made of plastic, while others are made up of a fine fabric without the holes that the common net has. Also, take care when purchasing the pictus catfish. Make sure your pet store double bags the fish, or they may puncture their bag before you get them to their new home!


The pictus catfish will not take up a lot of space because they aren't a large catfish. An adult pictus catfish will usually range in size from 4 to 6 inches in length. You should keep the pictus catfish in groups, since they prefer to school. Usually four to six pictus catfish will be ideal for a 30 gallon or larger tank. Kept in a school of this size, the pictus catfish will be very active during the day, often playing with and chasing each other. In fact, if the pictus catfish are kept in schools of this size, you may be able to hear them "talking" to each other! Like many catfish, the pictus catfish can make grunting noises. They usually make these noises when they are feeling territorial toward each other, and the grunts can be heard outside of the tank!


If you are trying to match up males and females, that may prove to be difficult. While it is nearly impossible to determine the sex of the pictus catfish, in most cases, the females will be larger than the males. However, if you are buying the pictus catfish as juveniles, this method of sexing will prove almost useless.



When setting up an aquarium for the pictus catfish, it must reflect their natural habitat of southern Mexico, Columbia and other areas of Central and South America. Their water temperature will need to range anywhere from 72 to 78 degrees with a pH level from 5.8 to 7.2. The pictus catfish will also need their tank decorated moderately with rocks, plants, driftwood and plenty of cave-like hiding places.


The pictus catfish is classified as a nocturnal fish, but that doesn't mean this fish won't be seen in your tank until you turn the lights off. It doesn't take long for the pictus catfish to adjust to a lighted aquarium. In fact, many of the imported pictus catfish may already be adjusted to a lighted tank when you purchase them from your pet store. However, the pictus catfish will still need caves to hide out in.


Once a pictus catfish becomes acclimated to your tank, it is a fairly hardy species, living for around 8 years or so. However, it does have a few drawbacks. Since it is a scaleless fish, the pictus catfish is highly susceptible to white spot, or ich. And the main reason this fish shouldn't be recommended for the beginners in the freshwater fish hobby is it's sensitivity to water conditions. The pictus catfish is prone to disease if water quality deteriorates. If the water conditions deteriorate, the pictus catfish will start breathing heavily, go into shock and quickly die. In many cases they will do this so quick, you won't be able to correct the water conditions in time to save them. Anytime our water conditions dropped, the pictus catfish were always the first to let us know, and we lost many of them before we could correct the conditions! If you are keeping pictus catfish, you will need to be prepared to make a lot of water changes and closely maintain water conditions everyday.


You should have no trouble finding the pictus catfish. They are imported regularly, and are easily found and nearly any pet store at a reasonable price. If you are an experienced freshwater fish hobbyist, these catfish would make an ideal addition to any of your tanks. If you are a beginning hobbyist, reread this, consider it experience and try out the pictus catfish for yourself!

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