10 Explanation On Why Redtail Catfish Care Is Important

Redtail Catfish Species Profile & Care Guide

The Redtail Catfish is an extremely big and very fast-growing freshwater fish species. In the catfish family, this creature is one of the highly attractive members.

Redtail Catfish Care
Redtail Catfish

In the wild environment this species inhabits large lakes and streams, rivers, large waters throughout South America and is native to the Amazon.

Because of its size, it is not suitable for most of the home aquariums, yet it is available to buy in pet and fish stores.

Here, in this article, we will provide you a clear glimpse of all the necessary information you should know about Redtail Catfish care, to make a wise decision about whether or not you have the ability to successfully keep and take care of a Redtail Catfish.

Redtail Catfish Care & Facts

The Redtail Catfish is categorized under the genus Phractocephalus.  

Care Level:Hard
Color Form:Brown/Dark Gray
Lifespan:15 years
Size:48 to 72 inches
Minimum Size of Tank:1000 gallons
Tank Set-Up:Bare tank/Sparse

Redtail Catfish Overview

Redtail Catfish have different names in different places. It is also known as the banana catfish, flat-nosed catfish, the antenna catfish, and RTCs. This species originated from the Amazonian and South American rivers, and can be found in Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and other neighboring countries.

If cared for properly, this catfish has a long lifespan. They can live for more than 15 years.

Red Tailed Catfish will often be donated to public aquariums. The reason for the donation is, while they are placed in aquariums the species was quite small in size (around 5cm), but they quickly grew too big for a lot of aquarists’ tanks. 

With the frequency that the red tail catfish’s growth is happening at, it’s almost impossible to find an aquarium or zoo that will privately accept kept huge fish.

Hence, before we move on, if you are not certain about red tailed catfish care of this size for the period of their life, our suggestion is to avoid this fish.

Mostly, RTCs are kept by experienced, professional aquarists.


Redtail Catfish are colorful and large. The fish have a beautiful red tail and barbels (i.e. long whiskers) on their mouths.

Their color is mostly a paler white/yellow wavy white band that stretches down each side of their body, and brown/dark grey along the top side of its body with tiny dark scattered spots.

The body shape of this creature is cylindrical, with a laterally compressed tail and flat belly.

The top of the caudal and dorsal fin are an orange-red color, three pairs of long barbels are there; one on the upper jaw, and two on the lower jaw.

Growth and Size

Juveniles are usually around 5cm long while imported into pet stores.

You might have been screwed. Your pet-store might have been told that red tail catfish will only grow up 12 inches in the fish tank. This is not the reality. 

A myth that a fish will only grow upto a limited size of its aquarium is actually a dangerous thing in the fish keeping hobby.

When these fish are young, they can easily grow an inch every week; most of the fish can reach two feet within a 12 months period.

In home aquariums this species can reach lengths of more than 4 feet and left in the wild, they grow even bigger.

In the year 2010, the largest recorded Redtail Catfish species was discovered in the Amazon River. It weighs 123lbs and 63 inches in length.


Redtail Catfish will consume anything which fits into their mouth. This creature is not picky eaters.

Although Redtail Catfish are omnivorous, they like to eat meaty foods. Usually, the RTC’s diet should consist of shrimp, meat, cut fish, sinking carnivore pellets, worms and crayfish. In order to provide them the best diet possible, you might also want to make your own fish food at home.

Probably you’ve watched a lot of videos of live feeding on Youtube or other platforms, it is not important. Often feeders are grown in crowded and unsuitable situations  which results in a lot of problems, and one of the problems is that this species has little to zero nutritional value.

Parasites and disease could also be carried by them which may infect the fish. Apart from this, live feeders are relatively expensive if you compare them with more nutritional and healthier alternatives.

One common issue is overfeeding amongst Redtail Catfish.

After each feed this creature becomes very sluggish. They require more time to properly digest their food. 

Feed the Juveniles every next day, however as the babies mature they will only need one large meal pack every week.

When you get to understand the behaviour of your fish, you can notice signs when the fish are sluggish. You’ll observe when your fish become active again and will get to know their feeding time.

The Redtail Catfish can be trained to take food from their master’s hands.

When we say Redtail Catfish will consume anything which fits in their mouth – we literally mean that they will eat stones, gravel, any loose filter parts. We will discuss this in the section of aquarium requirements.

Tank Mates and Behavior

The nature of  juvenile Redtail Catfish can be very shy. A few expert recommendations to help the juveniles to overcome their shyness include: keeping the aquarium in an area where you spend a lot of time so they get used to interacting with you and provide them cave areas to hide out in (ensure that they’re not too small to eat).

Generally, Redtail Catfish should be housed on their own.

If you need a tank mate for your Redtail Catfish, make sure that whatever tank mate you put in with your Redtails can’t fit into their mouth.

Anything can be consumed easily that is half the size of their body, and even will have a go at eating things that are bigger than half their body size – as they may choke it can be fatal.

RTC’s are natural predators. They will attack and eat tiny fish. Therefore, any fish which are smaller than RTC’s can’t be termed as good tank mates.

Tank mates of Redtail Catfish should be an equal size; appropriate tank mates include: Datnoids, Gars, and Stingrays. It’s recommended to keep them all together from a very young age.

RTC’s can be kept together. Their breeding chances in a home tank are very low. Again, you should also remember one thing that there aren’t any distinguishing features which can estimate their sex at their juvenile age.

Tank Requirements

Redtail Catfish require huge tanks to survive, such as the tanks you’ll see in zoos and public aquarium parks.

Our expert suggestion is – only buy the RTC’s when you have a huge aquarium and you are able to maintain it properly. Don’t buy RTC’s; thinking you’ll purchase a huge aquarium in one or two years, because people very rarely will do so.

There is so much debate around the acceptable aquarium size for this creature.

Our expert recommends as a bare minimum, Redtail Catfish will require a 1000 gallon tank. Their tank size should be at least 12 x 4 x 3 foot, even for a fully matured RTC, this tank size would not be perfect. 

A lot of people decide to prefer indoor ponds for this species instead of huge aquariums which is a better housing solution.

Earlier, we mentioned that RTC’s will literally consume anything which will fit in their mouth, that’s why they need very sparse aquariums. Avoid loose filter parts, gravel, and decorations in your aquarium.

In terms of aquarium substrate, Redtail Catfish eat gravel and stones. So you should provide them with a bare bottom tank. However, you could use a layer of sand in the bare bottomed tank if you don’t like the appearance of bare bottomed tanks. Remember that a bare bottomed tank is relatively easier to clean.

This species prefers low lighting and are middle to bottom dwelling fish.

Ideally Redtail Catfish prefer to live in a tropical environment, so conditions of their tank require it to match this. Their tank water should be maintained in-between 20 to 26oC (68-79oF).

If you’re in a climate that regularly drops below the above mentioned temperatures then you’ll require a water heater. The water temperature of your tank should be kept as stable as possible.

The pH level should be maintained between 6.0 and 7.5.

Provided the tank size, it is near impossible to find a traditional aquarium filter that will be quite effective. Therefore a sump filter is the best option for a large tank.

Usually commercial sump filters tend to be highly expensive. If your budget doesn’t allow for a commercial sump, then you can create your own.““`

Should you keep a Redtail Catfish?

In order to help decide, there is one question to ask yourself whether you really want to keep a Redtail Catfish. Meaning, can you give your RTC’s the best possible life for the rest of their life?

It encompasses a huge aquarium which is enough for their survival, usually, a pond is preferred, the time commitment to alter the tank water and feed, and being prepared to care for the fish and research on them.

If you are really committed to providing a Redtail Catfish with all of the above-mentioned facilities. Again if you like the thought of keeping and caring for a huge fish, then a redtail catfish is a very unique and beautiful fish to keep.

Let us know in the comment section below if you have any experience in keeping Redtail Catfish, or you’re thinking of getting them. We would like to hear your stories…


Dibyajyoti Bordoloi is the creator and author of FishCampRehab.com, a third-generation experienced fish keeper and owner of a successful pet breeding farm. He is also a member of the Center for Wildlife Rehabilitation And Conservation (Assam), the Marine Aquarium Societies of North East India, and the Kaziranga Nature Conservancy of Assam.

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