Red-Tailed Catfish in Home Aquariums
Can red-tailed catfish be kept in home aquariums?
By Jeremy Gosnell
Q. The owner of my local fish store (LFS) sold me a red-tailed catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus). The fish is growing
quickly. I recently learned that the red-tailed catfish could get up to 5 feet long. I have a 225-gallon aquarium. I don’t think
that will be large enough. My LFS’s owner told me this fish shouldn’t get larger than 12 inches in a tank the size of mine.
What should I do?
A. Your local fish store’s owner is not correct about a red-tailed catfish growing only 12 inches in your aquarium. These
South American fish hail from the Amazon and grow to be humongous. Not only do they get extremely large, but they have
voracious appetites and swallow anything they can. This includes fish and tank decorations. I have read about red-tailed
catfish that swallowed large pieces of rock and quartz. In some cases, the fish perished and in others the animal’s owner
was able to get the fish to regurgitate the unintended food source. I have been against the sale of red-tailed catfish for a
long time. They don’t really belong in home aquariums and are best suited for public aquariums that have large Amazonian
Luckily, your situation may not be as dire as you think. Depending on how large your red-tailed catfish is now, he should be
able to hang out in a tank as large as yours for a while. There is a fish store not far from me that has a 225-gallon aquarium
that has housed an adult red-tailed catfish (about 3 feet, 6 inches long) for several years. If you start looking for a future
home now, you just might be able to secure one before the fish gets too large for your aquarium.
I would recommend trying local zoos or aquariums, though I know firsthand that they are usually apprehensive about taking
fish from private aquarists. The Pittsburgh Zoo, where I volunteer as a diver, gets many calls per week trying to secure
homes for large aquarium livestock. Their policy is zero tole