Redtail Catfish Care Guide: Diet, Breeding & More | 2023

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: August 2, 2023

Redtail Catfish are a popular type of freshwater aquarium fish. They are native to the Amazon Basin and are known for their long tail and red coloration. Redtail Catfish can grow to be quite large, so it is essential to provide them with plenty of space. They are called redtail catfish because of their stunning red color and their long tail.

This guide will be helpful for you to learn how to take care of redtail catfish. This article will tell you how they look, their origin, where they stay in a tank, etc. You will also be informed about their habitat, behavior, heat requirements, filtration requirements, care level, potential diseases, etc. So relax and enjoy reading!

In this article, we will cover everything about redtail Catfish like their size, lifespan, diet, care, appearance, breeding, etc.

Redtail Catfish: Species Summary

Common Name:Redtail Catfish, Common pleco
Scientific Name:Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Origin:South America; Amazon Basin
Size:4 feet (120 cm)
Lifespan:15 – 20 years
Temperature range:68 – 82 °F
pH range:6.0 - 7.5
Minimum Tank size:1000 gallons
Care Level:Easy to Moderate

Redtail catfish are a popular type of freshwater aquarium fish. They are trendy among hobbyists and aquarists due to their physical characteristics and also because of their nature.

They are readily available in almost every pet store. Before you get your redtail catfish, you should understand the right fish to buy. What a healthy fish looks like, and how can you tell which is unhealthy?

So a healthy fish has clear eyes, good coloration, and a diet that is rich in protein. Sick fish may have cloudy eyes and faded coloration and may be skinny or bloated. Also, make sure you go to a reputed dealer or a reputable pet shop to get good quality retail catfish.

Redtail Catfish: Appearance and Physical Characteristics

The Redtail Catfish has a long, slender body that is reddish-brown or greyish in color, with a black dorsal stripe that extends from the head to the tail. The belly is white or cream-colored. The fins are black, except the caudal (tail) fin, which is red.

Redtail Catfish Appearance and Physical Characteristics

The scales on the body of redtail catfish are large and polka-dotted. Their eyes are located on top of their head, and they have a small mouth that is upturned. The color of their eyes is usually light green or blue.

Redtail Catfish: Origin and Distribution

The Redtail Catfish is a native of the Amazon River Basin in South America, but it has also been introduced into other parts of the world, including North America and Europe. It has become a popular pet worldwide and is especially loved in countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Behavior and Temperament

Redtail Catfish are peaceful fish that are not known to be aggressive. They are relatively peaceful but can be aggressive towards smaller fish or fish with long fins. They are mostly nocturnal, meaning they will be active at night.

They are usually solitary fish, but they can be kept in groups if they are kept in a large enough tank. Supporting them with other catfish is not recommended, as they may become aggressive toward each other.

Their behavior towards humans is usually docile. They will usually swim away when they see a person, but they may come up to the edge of the tank to watch you. They are shy and timid. They might also hide when they see a person.

Redtail Catfish: Adult Size and Life Expectancy

Redtail Catfish can grow to 3 to 4 feet (1 meter) and weigh up to 80 kilograms. They have a lifespan of 10-15 years in the wild but can live longer in captivity. This is because, in the wild, they are often preyed upon by larger fish and other animals.


Redtail Catfish are freshwater fish found in sluggish rivers, pools, and backwaters. They are bottom-dwellers and often bury themselves in the mud or sand to hide from predators.

Redtail Catfish Care Guide

Let us discuss the detailed care guide for the Redtail Catfish.

Redtail Catfish: Diet and Nutrition in Captivity

Redtail Catfish Diet and Nutrition in Captivity

In captivity, Redtail Catfish will eat most prepared fish food, such as pellets, flakes, and freeze-dried foods. They will also eat live and frozen insects like crickets, bloodworms, and brine shrimp. Providing a varied diet to Redtail Catfish is essential to ensure they receive all the nutrients they need.

Feeding Frequency

Redtail Catfish should be fed a small amount of food two or three times a day. Overfeeding can lead to health problems, so it is essential not to give them too much food. The amount of food that must be given depends on the size of the fish. Smaller fish will need less food, and larger fish will need more food.

Diet in the wild

Redtail Catfish are omnivorous and will eat just about anything they can find. Their diet in the wild consists of smaller fish, crustaceans, insects, mollusks, and plant matter. Finding food in the wild can be difficult because the Amazon River Basin is a heavily forested area, so they have to be opportunistic feeders.

Different Feeding Methods

There are different ways to feed Redtail Catfish. Every method is discussed in detail below:

Hand-Feeding: This method is suitable for smaller fish that may be intimidated by other fish in the tank. It is also a good way to bond with your fish. To hand-feed your fish, drop the food into the water before them. Be careful not to overfeed them, which can lead to health problems.

Feeding by Sinking a Food: This is the most common way to feed Redtail Catfish. To do this, take the food and sink it into the water before the fish. They will see the food and swim over to eat it.

Feeding with a Feeder Fish: Another way to provide your Redtail Catfish is by using a feeder fish. You will put this live fish into the tank with your Redtail Catfish. The feeder fish will then bait other fish, such as larger catfish, into the tank so that your Redtail Catfish can eat them.

Redtail Catfish: Tank Size, Shape, and Material

The minimum tank size for one Redtail Catfish is 1000 gallons (4000 liters). The tank should be long and shallow, with a gravel or sand bottom. It is essential to have plenty of hiding places in the tank for the fish to hide in, as they are naturally shy.

The tank should be made of glass or acrylic, as metal tanks can rust over time. But, if you plan on keeping more than one fish, you will need a larger tank. The ideal tank size for multiple Redtail Catfish is 2000 gallons (8000 liters).

Redtail Catfish Tank Size, Shape, and Material

If you have the room, a larger tank is always better. The shape and material of the tank are not as important as the size. However, it is important to have a tank with a smooth surface to reduce the chance of injuries to the fish.

Water Parameters

Redtail Catfish are tropical fish and prefer warm water, 68 – 82 °F (20 – 28 °C), and a neutral pH level (6.5-7.5). The water hardness should be less than ten dGH, and the water should be well-oxygenated. The salinity should be less than 1.002 parts per thousand (ppt). The gravity must be less than 1.019 ppt for the fish to be able to swim properly.

Water Changes

It is essential to do regular water changes to keep the water clean and the fish healthy. Water changes should be done every one to two weeks, and the amount of changed water should be 10-20% of the total tank volume.

When changing the water, using a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals and chlorine from the water is essential.

Cleaning the Tank

It is essential to clean the tank regularly to prevent algae from growing and to keep the water clean. The recommended cleaning schedule is every two to four weeks. During this time, you should scrub the sides of the tank with a brush and mild detergent.

It would be best if you also cleaned the decorations when cleaning the tank. Ensure no detergent residue is left before returning the embellishments to the tank.

Water Conditioners

When changing the water, using a water conditioner to remove harmful chemicals and chlorine from the water is essential. Many different types of water conditioners are available, so it is essential to choose one that suits your tank.

You should remember that not all water conditioners are created equal, so it is important to read the labels carefully before purchasing one.

Redtail Catfish: Lighting and Heating Requirements

Redtail Catfish do not need a lot of light. A moderate level of lighting is sufficient. It is important to use fluorescent or LED lights, as these types of lights do not produce a lot of heat.

The temperature of the water should be kept between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit (25 and 30 degrees Celsius). A heater is necessary to maintain the proper water temperature. If you provide your fish with sunlight, you should supplement their diet with a vitamin supplement because sunlight can cause the fish to become vitamin D3 deficient.

Filtration Requirements

A filter is necessary for keeping Redtail Catfish in captivity. The filter will help to keep the water clean. This device must be adjustable so that you can control the flow of water. The type of filter you use will depend on the size of your tank.

A canister filter or an external power filter is recommended for tanks larger. For smaller tanks, a sponge filter or an under-gravel filter is recommended.

Substrate and Gravel

The substrate is the material you use to line the bottom of the tank. The most common type of substrate is gravel. The size of the stone should be 2-4 mm. It is important to choose gravel that is safe for Redtail Catfish. The rock should not contain any harmful chemicals or toxins. The best kind of gravel would be made of natural materials, such as sand or crushed coral.

Tank Decorations

Redtail Catfish do not need a lot of decorations in their tank. However, it is fun to add some decorations to make the tank look more festive. The decorations should be something that the fish can swim through and around. You should avoid using decorations that are made of sharp materials, as these can injure the fish. Some good options for decorations include live plants, plastic plants, driftwood, and rocks.


Redtail Catfish do not eat plants, so you can add live plants to the tank without worrying about them being eaten. Live plants will provide the fish with shelter and a place to hide. Many different types of plants are suitable for aquariums. Some good choices include Java Fern, Anubias Nana, and Hornwort.


Driftwood is a type of wood that has been waterlogged and washed ashore. Driftwood can be found at pet stores or online. It is essential to choose driftwood that is safe for aquariums. Driftwood will provide the fish with a place to hide, and it will also help to create a naturalistic environment.


Rocks can be used to create hiding places for the fish and can also help produce a naturalistic environment. It is essential to choose rocks that are safe for aquariums. Stones made of limestone or sandstone are not recommended, as they can dissolve in water and release harmful chemicals.

Ammonia and Nitrates Level

It is essential to monitor the levels of ammonia and nitrates in the tank. High levels of these chemicals can be harmful to the fish. The best way to control the ammonia and nitrate levels is to use a water filter. You should also perform water changes regularly. The level should not rise above 0.5 mg/L for ammonia and 20 ppm for nitrates.

Protein Skimmer

A protein skimmer is a device that is used to remove waste from the water. This device is not necessary, but it can be conducive in keeping the water clean. A protein skimmer will help to remove organic waste, such as uneaten food and fish waste.

Gravel Vacuum

A gravel vacuum is a device used to clean the gravel in the tank. This device is unnecessary but can help keep the tank clean. A gravel vacuum will help to remove uneaten food and fish waste from the gravel.

A gravel vacuum has a hose that is attached to a canister. The canister is filled with water, and the hose is inserted into the tank. The gravel vacuum will suction the water from the tank and suck up the gravel. The gravel will be released from the hose and fall back into the tank.

Water Test Kits

It is essential to test the water regularly. Water test kits can be purchased at pet stores or online. Water test kits will help you to monitor the levels of ammonia, nitrates, and other chemicals in the water.

Transportation and Handling

When transporting or handling Redtail Catfish, it is important to be careful. These fish can be injured very easily. You should always use a net when catching the fish and avoid handling them by the body.

If you need to move the fish to a different tank, use a water hose to pour water into the new tank slowly. Please do not pour the fish into the new tank, as this can injure them.

Compatibility and Tank Mates

Redtail Catfish can be compatible with many different types of fish. Some good tank mates include other catfish, cichlids, tetras, and barbs. It is important to remember that Redtail Catfish can grow very long, so you need to choose tank mates that can live with them.

Introducing A New Fish To The Tank

It is essential to introduce a new fish to the tank slowly. It would be best to quarantine the new fish in a separate tank for a few weeks before adding it to the main tank. This will help to prevent the spread of disease. When you are ready to add the new fish to the main tank, add a small amount of water from the quarantine tank to the main tank.

This will help to acclimate the new fish to the water parameters in the main tank. Slowly add more water from the quarantine tank until the fresh fish fully adjusted. Do not add the new fish to the main tank until it is fully adapted.

Sexing the  Redtail Catfish

It is not easy to have sex with Redtail Catfish, but there are a few ways that you can try. One way to determine the sex of the fish is by looking at the anal fin.

The anal fin of a male Redtail Catfish will be larger and more elongated than the anal fin of a female. Another way to determine the sex of the fish is by looking at the body shape. Male Redtail Catfish will have a more elongated body shape than female Redtail Catfish.

Reproduction and Breeding

Redtail Catfish are not easy to breed in captivity. They are known to be egg scatterers. The female will lay the eggs, and the male will fertilize them. The process begins with the male courting the female. He will swim around her and nudge her with his nose.

If she is receptive, she will release her eggs, and the male will fertilize them. The eggs will be sticky and attach to the tank's surfaces.

Conditioning the Parents

It is essential to condition the parents before breeding. This means that you will need to feed them a high-protein diet. You can feed them live food, such as bloodworms or brine shrimp. You should also make sure that the water parameters are correct.

The water should be between 68 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit, and the pH should be between 6.5 and 7.5.

Gestation Period and Eggs

The gestation period for Redtail Catfish is about 28 days. After fertilizing the eggs, they will incubate for another 28 days. You can set this by using an egg Incubator, or you can use a Styrofoam cup. The number of eggs produced will depend on the size of the female fish.

Large females can lay many eggs. The eggs will be a dark brown color, and they will be about 1.5 mm in diameter.

Raising the Fry

The eggs will hatch within 5-7 days of being fertilized. The newly hatched fish will be very small, and they will not have any scales. They will also be unable to swim or feed on their own. The parents will not care for the young fish, and will die if they are not removed from the tank. The fry can be fed baby brine shrimp or micro worms. They will grow slowly, and reaching adulthood may take a long time.

Different Color Morphs

Redtail Catfish is available in a few different color morphs. The most common color morph is the albino Redtail Catfish. This fish has a white body with red fins.

The gold Redtail Catfish is another popular color morph. This fish has a yellowish-gold body with red fins. The leopard Redtail Catfish is a rare color morph that has black and brown spots on its body.

How many redtail catfish can be kept in one tank?

The number of Redtail Catfish that can be kept in one tank will depend on the tank size. A 1000-gallon tank could house a few dozen Redtail Catfish. A 2000-gallon tank would be able to house a few hundred Redtail Catfish.

Potential Diseases and Their Symptoms

Redtail Catfish are relatively hardy fish but can be susceptible to some diseases. Some of the potential diseases that they can get include:

Bacterial Infections

Bacterial infections are one of the most common diseases that affect Redtail Catfish. The symptoms of a bacterial infection include lethargy, loss of appetite, flashing, open sores, and red streaks on the body.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections are another common disease that affects Redtail Catfish. The symptoms of a fungal infection include white spots on the body, skin lesions, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Parasitic Infections

Parasitic infections are also relatively common in Redtail Catfish. The symptoms of parasitic illness include lethargy, loss of appetite, flashing, and scratching.

If you see any of these symptoms in your Redtail Catfish, you should take them to a vet for treatment. When left untreated, these diseases can be fatal.

Treatments and Medications

If your Redtail Catfish become sick, you must treat them with medications. Many different types of drugs can be used to treat fish. Some of the most common medications include erythromycin, neomycin, and kanamycin.

These medications can be purchased at your local pet store or online. Your fish should not be given any medicine without consulting a vet.

Caring for Redtail Catfish can

Caring for Redtail Catfish can be a lot of work, but it is worth it! These fish are beautiful, and they make excellent pets. Following this article's simple information, you can keep your Redtail Catfish healthy and happy.

Advantages of having them in your tank

There are many advantages of having Redtail Catfish in your tank. Some of these include:

  • They are beautiful fish that will add color to your tank.
  • They are hardy fish, and they are relatively easy to care for.
  • They can survive in a wide range of water conditions.
  • They can grow up to 120 centimeters in length, so they are a good fish for a large tank.

Disadvantages of having them in your tank

There are also some disadvantages to having Redtail Catfish in your tank. Some of these include:

  • They can be aggressive and attack other fish in the tank.
  • They need a lot of space, so they are not good fish for a small tank.
  • They can be expensive, so you must ensure you are prepared to spend the money on them.
  • Maintaining them can be a difficult task for an inexperienced person.

Wrapping It Up

If you are looking for a beautiful and hardy fish, the Redtail Catfish is a great choice. These fish are easy to care for and can survive in various water conditions. However, they can be expensive, and they may be aggressive towards other fish. Before you get one, ensure you are prepared to provide them with the necessary space and care.

At last, they are fantastic pets that will add striking colors to your freshwater tank. Be sure that you do your research correctly and then bring home these extraordinary water creatures. Because every fish is different as every species has its own needs, understand their needs, and they will definitely prove to be your beloved big-sized freshwater pets. Thank you for reading!

Disclaimer does not intend to provide veterinary advice. We go to great lengths to help users better understand their aquatic friends. However, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. For more information, please read our disclaimer.

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