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FAQs on Phractocephalus, Redtail Catfish

Related Articles: Pimelodid Catfishes

Related FAQs: Pimelodid Catfishes 1, Pimelodid Cats 2, & FAQs on: Pimelodid Identification, Pimelodid Behavior, Pimelodid Compatibility, Pimelodid Selection, Pimelodid Systems, Pimelodid Feeding, Pimelodid Disease, Pimelodid Reproduction, & Pictus Cats, Shovelnose Catfishes (Pseudoplatystoma, Sorubim, Sorubimichthys...), & Catfish FAQs:  Identification, Behavior, Compatibility, Selection, Systems, Feeding, Disease, Reproduction

Now... Phractocephalus; using WWM, the Net       12/3/19
Hai, I need the complete details about the requirements for a red tail catfish of about one feet size.
<This Pimelodid won't stay just a foot in length>
Especially about the water quality and necessary requirements.
I need to know that whether it can be grown in a cement pond without aeration
<No; needs filtered tropical conditions>
and with an occupancy volume of about 2000 litres???
<Not indefinitely>
...Waiting for your response
<READ here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/rtcatfs.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Feeding issues with Red tail catfish.     4/21/19
I bought a new red tail catfish of size about 35cm 1 month ago.
<Nice beast, but enormous when fully grown. Do read up on the needs of these fish. Good choices for zoos and public aquaria, but extremely bad (or at least, expensive) choices for home aquarists.>
But it haven’t eaten anything so far since I bought.
<Almost always an environmental issue when these catfish refuse food. They are very sensitive animals.>
The water conditions are perfect and tank also have enough good spaces for the red tail catfish.
<Okay, first tell me about the environment. "Perfect" isn't enough. What is the size of the tank? Realistically, a Red Tail Catfish this size will need 750-1000 litres, and adults (which can get to over 1 m in length) will need something measured in several thousand litres, 3000-4000 litres minimum. What sort of filtration? Water quality has to be perfect: 0 ammonia and 0 nitrite. So we're talking a heavy duty (likely pond-grade) filtration system. You need to do enough water changes to keep nitrate low, preferably below 40 mg/l, and ideally below 20 mg/l. Realistically, weekly water changes of 25-50%. Water chemistry isn't critical, but something in the range pH 6-8, hardness 2-20 degrees. Like most other large Pimelodids, they come from deeper parts of rivers, so strong currents and not too much heat are needed. I'd suggest a water turnover rate of around 8-10 times the volume of the tank per hour if practical, and a temperature around 22-25 degrees C.>
I need help.. Some times it takes food into the mouth but spits out after some time. I usually offer him meat, goldfish, shrimps.
<Do not use live feeder fish. These are very bad for Red Tail Cats, especially minnows and goldfish that contain both thiaminase and much too much fat. Live feeder fish also introduce parasites, so simply aren't safe. Shrimp is fine, but used sparingly because it contains thiaminase. Never, ever use mammal or bird meat. They'll eat these, of course, but it's bad for them because of the amount of saturated fat in them. Instead focus on white fish fillets, particularly things like Tilapia or Coley/Pollack. Earthworms and cockles are good for smaller specimens. If they're happy, Red Tail Cats will eat almost anything offered, including catfish pellets and carnivore food. Hikari Massivore is an excellent staple. But Red Tail Cats will simply refuse to eat if their environment is wrong.>
But no use. I’m a bit tensed about this.
<I would imagine.>
What shall I do?
<First, tell me about the tank, filter, water quality.>
I’m waiting for the reply.....
<Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Feeding issues with Red tail catfish.      4/24/19

My tank is actually made up of cement and it can occupy around 300 litres of water and it is provided with an air pump sponge filter.
<300 litres? Or 3000 litres? 300 litres is not nearly enough for a Red Tail Catfish. These fish get HUGE! The size of dogs, and need plenty of swimming space.>
Then how can I measure the amount of nitrates, nitrites and hardness?
<A water test kit. You can buy inexpensive strips that do all these tests at once. For example, these:
While not especially accurate, they're "good enough" for most freshwater fishkeeping if used properly.>
I daily changes 25-30% of water every day.
<Good, but long term not a solution.>
This Red tail catfish haven’t eaten anything so far as I mentioned earlier. It’s been over a month now.
<His "world" is too small. Without knowing the water quality, hard to know exactly what's wrong.>
Sometimes it takes the food which I offers such as meats of fishes like mackerels, sardines. But it spits out the food I offer. What may be the reason?
<See above. If he is stressed (e.g., cramped; or nitrite and/or ammonia aren't zero) he WILL NOT EAT.>
How long it can survive without food?
<Depending on his size and body weight, 6-8 weeks.>
Actually I have a 5.5 feet length aquarium which I had put the Arowanas.
<Still too small. Better than nothing, but RTCs are TWICE the size of Asian Arowanas, and need much, much more space.>
It is provided with a high performance internal filter and a sponge filter. Can I introduce the red tailed catfish into this tank and will this be a solution to feeding issues of the catfish. Is it suitable for the Arowanas?
<Has been done, but can cause problems once the RTC gets really large.>
Hope you will read this and respond very soon...
<Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Feeding issues with Red tail catfish.     6/3/19

My red tail catfish has swim bladder disorder and he is floating in the water,
<There's really no such thing as "Swim Bladder Disease". Well, there might be bacterial infections, but really, nobody has to deal with these. When fish float it usually means they're under severe stress. May be bacterial, but in an opportunistic way. In other words, the fish isn't being kept right, and because of that, is now sick.>
How Can I cure this????
<Almost certainly caused by its environment. Red Tail Catfish are very sensitive to cramped conditions. How big is this specimen? Given adults are something between 1.5-2 m in length, such adults will need a tank around 750-1000 gallons (2800 - 3800 litres) in size. They are virtually impossible to keep successfully in home aquaria given their adult size.>
I think he is critical
<Understood. But without a proper home, there isn't much hope. If I recall from your last message, your tank measured 300 litres. This is far too small. Optimising water quality, providing plenty of oxygen, and perhaps using suitable antibiotics could stave off its death for a while. But long term, this fish needs a bigger tank better suited to its very specific needs. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Feeding issues with Red tail catfish.   6/4/19

Is it possible to cure the bacterial infections in my red tail catfish and he is been critical.
<Do read my message please. If this catfish is in a 300-litre aquarium, it will be sick because of its environment. You have told me NOTHING about water quality, water chemistry, diet, tankmates (if any) so I really cannot tell you anything more than general information. I don't know how big this
catfish is, for a start. Or what other symptoms it has.>
Can I hope for the best??
<Nope; it will probably die if it is already 'critical' and you cannot tell me more about how big it is, water
quality, etc. Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Feeding issues with Red tail catfish.   6/4/19

At this present condition what should I do??
<Tell me what I need to know.>
Please help
<I'm trying to. Neale.>

I have a red tailed Amazon cat fish , he is 11in's long & weighs all most 1 pound , I have him in a 55 gallon tank .
<Needs more room than this now... and MUCH more room going forward>

I need help , I do not know what is wrong with him. He has red streaks going down his side & on his fins .
<"Septicemia"... dirty/bacteria in blood... Almost always evidence of  environmental stress... Likely too much accumulated metabolite in this small volume, perhaps too little dissolved oxygen and/or too much CO2.
CHANGE 25% of the water NOW... INCREASE aeration, filtration, circulation.
MOVE this fish to a bigger system>

we got him gave to us through an old friend , he looks bad. They said that they had caves made out of rocks and one of the rocks fell on him , and he has a good size gash on his back , to top that off he has fungus growing all over him & it looks as if he has little pieces of flesh falling off him.
<Very bad>
I don't know what to do for him .
<See the above. ACT NOW>
I took him off there hands because I just knew they would let him die. I at least want to give him a fighting chance , I have him in a 55 gallon medicated tank alone , I've checked all the nitrate levels etc,
<No such word>
and everything was good . What can I do ?
<Read on WWM re Phractocephalus?>

Somebody please help me . This is breaking my heart . He is hardly even moving around , I didn't put any gravel in the tank cause I did not think that would be comfortable for him .the medicine that I'm using is ( MELAFIX )
<Worse than worthless>

<Put it and more back on>

<Bob Fenner>

Red Tail Catfish; sys., sel.... and Arius hlth....       4/23/13
<Hello Monica,>
Subsequent reading the many posts within your site about these particular fish, I am not only disappointed he chose this breed yet certainly at my wits end in trying to save my fiancé's baby.
<Understandable. Red-Tail Catfish can make excellent aquarium fish, but their size requirements are colossal, and for almost all home aquarists they're impossible to keep properly. Do start here:
Bear in mind these catfish get to about the size and weight of a German Shepherd dog, and occasionally more.>
He purchased both a ten gallon and twenty gallon set up and ran both systems for a week prior to introducing a red tail along with two black fin sharks at a local pet store.
<Two problems here. Firstly, the Red-Tail Cat needs a bigger tank even as a "kitten". I'd not even try keeping a youngster in less than 55 gallons, and realistically, you'd want 100 gallons at your disposal within six months of purchase. Red-Tails can grow very quickly, and unfortunately, they're also very sensitive to water quality, so in small tanks can quickly sicken.
Secondly, Black Fin Shark Catfish, also known as Columbian Shark, are brackish to marine species, and incompatible with Red-Tail Catfish in the long term. They'll do okay for a couple months in freshwater, but beyond that really do need brackish conditions (around one-quarter normal seawater salinity, i.e., around SG 1.005 at 25 C/77 F) and as they approach adulthood, they should be moved into a marine aquarium alongside standard marine fish, or at least a high-end brackish system with Monos, Scats, and so on. Do read:
plus the links above.>
Once placed in the 20 gallon things were fine for a few days. All of a sudden one shark began showing signs of Ich and then the other.
<If kept in brackish water the Ick will fade away within days.>
I removed filters and treated for Ich for two days. One shark died and the other is still covered with the white spots.
<A common problem when Columbian Sharks are kept in freshwater. Again, brackish water is the cure.>
The red tail is now laying on the bottom obviously with severe signs of labored breathing and feelers are curled up.
<I bet. The Whitespot parasites are infecting his gills, and that's causing the stress.>
He did this after a day of hanging out at the top of the tank.
<Lack of oxygen. Whitespot and Velvet parasites both attack/infest the gills almost before any other part of the fish, so problems with breathing are often the first clue something is amiss.>
The tail is rather curved as well. Since there was no change other than the red tail getting ill, I place the filters back in, tested my water and have added aquarium salt to replace the lost electrolytes.
<Largely a myth. That said, using salt at 2 g/litre can be a very good fix for Whitespot if used quickly and alongside a temperature rise to 28 C/82 F, though the warmer the water, the less oxygen it contains, and given the catfish you have and the very small tank, there's a risk involved in doing this. Not that you have much choice: they'll die if you don't.>
My water levels yesterday were; nitrites 0, nitrates 0, ammonia 0 and Ph balance of 7.6 respectively.
<Do review the water chemistry requirements for Columbian Sharks; these are brackish/marine fish, and need hard, alkaline water with a moderate to high salinity.>
His diet has been pre-mixed flakes from the owner of the aquarium, pellets enhanced with seaweed and the aquarium owner suggested feeder fish which I quarantined for a few days prior to introduction. I sincerely have no clue what is going on with these fish and with that uncertainty I am lost. If you could give me any directives in this matter it would be greatly appreciated.
<See above. Do also visit the Planet Catfish website; they have a forum, and you may be able to find someone (relatively) local who can rehome this monster.>
Thanks for your time.
<Most welcome.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Redtail Shovelnose Cross... mis-stkg, sys., fdg., reading    /BobF      5/11/11
Hi, I have a red-tail shovel nose hybrid catfish and I bought him about 5 and a half months ago. He started out in a 37 gallon aquarium so he could get big enough to go into my 75 with a 13 inch brown bullhead catfish.
<Mmm, these two "like" very different water quality... soft/acidic and tropical, vs. hard/alkaline and cool temperature. Not really compatible>
The 75 is linked to a 40 gallon reservoir tank using an overflow box in order to increase the volume of the tank so that it can handle the catfish producing their heavy waste. In the forty gallon is a small 6 inch bullseye catfish. I do about 50 gallons worth of water changes every week on the system. I know that a 75 is way to<o> small for him but since he is only about 8.5 inches and the levels are fine
<What levels? Numbers please>
I figured it is okay until I get him into the tropical pond in about a week and a half. The levels are fairly good in the system. The pH is usually between 6.5 and 7.2 and the ammonia never gets above 0.25.
<Toxic! Has to be 0.0>
The nitrates are about 30
<Too high as well; should be kept under 20 ppm. Read here:
and the linked files above>
and the nitrites are 0. I recently have started hand feeding the hybrid every other day frozen beef
<... a very poor idea. Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/TerrAnimalsAsFWFud.htm
hearts until his stomach is somewhat bulged. I am wondering if I am doing something wrong because some places on the internet have said their growth rate should be faster than his is. When I got him he was about three inches and now he is about 8.5 inches so that's like an inch a month. Is that a slow growth rate?
<Not in my experience, no>
Within about a week and a half I am transferring him to an outdoor heated tropical pond in my backyard.
<Wow! Where do you live? How will you heat, pay for heating this volume throughout the year?>
The pond is about 350 gallons and it is 8 feet long, 5 feet wide at the top, and at the deepest point of about 17 inches about 18 inches wide.
<Mmm... do cover this system. These Pimelodid crosses can launch themselves out>
It is going to have heating on it for up to 500 gallons and filtration on it for up to a 1600 gallon pond along with 2 to 3 heavy power heads and a UV sterilizer. I know once he gets into that pond he will probably be good for a long time. Thanks, Alex
<Mmmm. Do learn to/use the search tool, indices on WWM ahead of writing us... Bob Fenner>
Redtail Shovelnose Cross   /Neale   5/11/11
Hi, I have a red-tail shovel nose hybrid catfish and I bought him about 5 and a half months ago. He started out in a 37 gallon aquarium so he could get big enough to go into my 75 with a 13 inch brown bullhead catfish. The 75 is linked to a 40 gallon reservoir tank using an overflow box in order to increase the volume of the tank so that it can handle the catfish producing their heavy waste.
<For a few months, anyway. These catfish get gigantic. Expect at least 120 cm/4 ft, and quite likely much more than that, perhaps as much as 180 cm/6 ft. Adults weigh about as much as German Shepherd Dog. So realistically, we're talking about a 400 gallon aquarium, quite possibly rather more, 750 gallons being about the minimum for humane, sensible maintenance. Your 75 gallon tank has no long-term value here at all.>
In the forty gallon is a small 6 inch bullseye catfish. I do about 50 gallons worth of water changes every week on the system. I know that a 75 is way to small for him but since he is only about 8.5 inches and the levels are fine I figured it is okay until I get him into the tropical pond in about a week and a half.
<I see. Now, the thing with saying levels are "fine" is that it doesn't tell me much. In any case, even if fine today, it might not be tomorrow, and there's a delay between water quality problems and health problems.>
The levels are fairly good in the system. The pH is usually between 6.5 and 7.2 and the ammonia never gets above 0.25.
<This is too much ammonia.>
The nitrates are about 30 and the nitrites are 0. I recently have started hand feeding the hybrid every other day frozen beef hearts until his stomach is somewhat bulged.
<Beef heart is okay now and then, but shouldn't be the staple. Mix things up with earthworms and whole river shrimps for their indigestible matter, much the same as fibre helps us keep healthy. Use good quality catfish pellets at least once a week for their vitamin content. Strips of tilapia fillet are good too. Remember, these fish shouldn't be fed as much as they want! A healthy catfish will have a very gently rounded belly, but shouldn't look "full". It's safer to offer daily small meals than to gorge them on big meals every 2-3 days, even though the latter is what happens in the wild.
Why? Because catfish are prone to regurgitating food if overfed, messing up water quality.>
I am wondering if I am doing something wrong because some places on the internet have said their growth rate should be faster than his is.
<Growth rate is difficult to predict with these fish.>
When I got him he was about three inches and now he is about 8.5 inches so that's like an inch a month. Is that a slow growth rate?
<Not really. An inch a month is about right if given a moderate diet. The aim isn't to grow the fish too fast, but to keep it healthy.>
Within about a week and a half I am transferring him to an outdoor heated tropical pond in my backyard. The pond is about 350 gallons and it is 8 feet long, 5 feet wide at the top, and at the deepest point of about 17 inches about 18 inches wide.
<That should be adequate for the first year or so.>
It is going to have heating on it for up to 500 gallons and filtration on it for up to a 1600 gallon pond along with 2 to 3 heavy power heads and a UV sterilizer. I know once he gets into that pond he will probably be good for a long time. Thanks, Alex
<Sounds like you have a good idea of what you need to do here. So basically stick with what you're doing, don't worry too much about growth rate, and instead focus on ensuring your catfish receives a healthy, balanced, moderate diet. Don't use those foods likely to introduce parasites, such as live feeder fish, as internal parasites such as tapeworms can indeed cause slow growth rates alongside various other problems. Move the catfish to the bigger tanks or ponds as soon as practical; the bigger the home, the healthier the fish will be. Cheers, Neale.>

Amazon Red Tailed Cat Fish... not eating, likely env., poor nutr.    5/5/11
We have a 7 month old ARC that refuses to eat.
<Worrisome. Phractocephalus rarely refuse food, unless something is very wrong. Abysmal water quality, something stuck in their GI tract>
He was eating us out of house and home until we upgraded his home and for a few days while we were setting up his new tank, he was in a pretty small aquarium.
<Oh; herein likely lies the reason>
Ever since we put him back into the big aquarium he wont eat. It has been two weeks since he has eaten anything. He takes the food we offer and puts it in his mouth and then spits it out. Beef heart mix (which he usually pigs out on), blood worms, earth worms, gold fish.......nothing.
<... I would get out of using terrestrial/mammal and goldfish... both are damaging, hard to digest, and the last involves vectoring pathogens for sure. Look instead to whole meaty aquatic foods, frozen, defrosted, and a good quality pellet diet>
He acts like he might be hungry but he never swallows the food. His water conditions in his new tank are optimal from everything that I have read and the filtration is superb. Is this just the stress from moving to the small tank and then again to the big tank?
<Maybe... or a problem from the mentioned foods>
Or could he have some kind of blockage that wont allow him to swallow the food?
What should I be looking for? What can I do to help him??
<There are laxatives of use... but I would focus on improving this animal's world, nutrition and be patient at this point. How large a system, shape?
Filtration, water quality test results?>
Any info would be greatly appreciated.
<Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/rtcatfs.htm
re the species, and the linked files above re the Family. Bob Fenner>
Re: Amazon Red Tailed Cat Fish  5/5/11

He is in a 180 gallon tank for now...a bigger one is on the way.
<How big is this fish?>
Water tests are 0 Nitrites, around 10 Nitrates, PH is right about 6.0 .
<Mmm, too low. At the lower margin that allows nitrification. I would be checking, assuring that there is adequate alkaline reserve/alkalinity>
Filtration is a large canister with a UV Sterilizer, along with a 70 gallon overflow and pump that filters at about 800gph. He was thriving in these same conditions until the move, so I'm almost convinced its the stress that caused him to get "constipated"?
<A factor>
I don't give any of my fish "feeder" fish, the only reason I put 3 small goldfish in with him was to see if the "hunt" for food might stimulate his need to eat. He definitely seems hungry but cant swallow anything, and obviously when no food goes in....none comes out.:( You mentioned a laxative?
<I do not suggest doing this here>
I'm willing to try it if it might help him. Its been two weeks since he's eaten anything.
<If in a good index of fitness, this isn't a big deal>
Id like to know more about my options in this matter. I want to be patient but I'm afraid if he has to go much longer without eating he might start really having problems
<Not likely, no. Keep changing water (even daily) and read re pH and alkalinity, at least on WWM>
so I don't think waiting to see if he settles down is a great idea?
<Settles down? BobF>

Please help (Red-tail Catfish not doing well; need more data)  11/19/10
I was reading through your forums, and it seams you know a lot about red tail catfish, so I was hoping you could help me with my fish Whiskers. I've had him about eight months and it has been challenging to say the least. I was keeping him in a 55 gal. aquarium, but he started getting to big for it so I bought a 240 gal. tank, the only filtering is through over flow's which go to a 100 gal. sump under the tank. I ordered two external canister filters, each good for 150 gal. tanks. They should be here in three or four days, but I'm afraid he wont make it that long. I noticed all my fish rubbing against rocks and gravel more and more the last few days. it started after I brought home two fish from the fish store, which one died after his eye started protruding from his head. Any way Whiskers is not eating, I usually feed him earth worms. He's floating head up, tail down and seams weak. He also has red patches around his lips and under side, and
now he's losing his color on his back, its turning grayish white. I treated the tank for white spots, since then I have removed him to a separate container ( about35 gal. ) added a air stone and a small pump on bottom to keep water moving on bottom. and put in some medicine for septicemia. It's a new tank and I put them in to soon, the second day ( I did add the water from the old tank to the new one ). What can I do in addition to what I have already done to help him? any advice would be greatly appreciated.
<Don, the most important thing to know about Red-tail Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus) is this -- they are unsuitable for home aquaria. Once you understand that virtually no hobbyist can provide the
space and filtration they need, everything else becomes obvious. Whatever else is wrong with this catfish, its environment is almost certainly the root cause. Let's review things from the top. Even a specimen around 30 cm/12 inches long will need 150-200 gallons, and an adult is realistically only going to be "happy" in something much, much larger; even 1000 gallons is a puddle for a fish like this, and barely acceptable. Filtration must be very substantial, with turnover rates of at least 10 times the volume of
the tank per hour. So for 240 gallon tank with 100 gallon sump, i.e., 340 gallons altogether, we're talking 3,400 gallons/hour. So a big canister filter like an Eheim 2217 with a turnover rate around 250 gallons/hour will provide only the tiniest fraction of what's needed. You'd actually need about fourteen Eheim 2217s to get the sorts of filtration rate considered optimal for a catfish this size! As should be obvious, you won't be using off-the-shelf filters, but rather pond-grade filters equipped with very
heavy duty pumps. Forget about the idea of using two canister filters each meant for 150 gallon tanks -- that's 150 gallons stocked with small fish like barbs or perhaps Mbuna cichlids -- not a catfish the size of a large dog! To be sure, once tanks get into the high hundreds in volume, the turnover rate can be reduced somewhat, so its more in line with a pond than an aquarium, but the fact remains that without massive filtration, these catfish rarely live for long. What else? Water chemistry isn't terribly important, but water quality is critical. 0 ammonia and 0 nitrite are essential, but nitrate levels must also be low, 20 mg/l or less. Water temperature is another often overlooked aspect of their care. Like most of the large Pimelodids, these catfish live in deep rivers that are cooler than the shallow streams inhabited by tetras and cichlids. You're aiming for 22-24 C/72-75 F. As for diet, like other predators you need to create a safe and varied menu. Live feeder fish must be avoided. Use them even once, and you risk exposing your catfish to parasitic infections. Use them repeatedly and Thiaminase and fat become major problems. So, no goldfish or minnows! These catfish are actually fairly omnivorous and take good quality catfish pellets without complaint. They also enjoy strips of tilapia fillet and trout, and if used sparingly, prawns and mussels are acceptable, despite containing a lot of Thiaminase. Fruits are a significant part of its diet in the wild, and things like cooked peas and soft fruit can be offered now and again, ideally after a period of fasting. These offer not just fibre but also vitamins lacking in meaty foods. There are two schools of thought when it comes to feeding big catfish. One recommends feeding fairly large meals very occasionally, in some cases once a week. Others prefer to offer very small meals daily. I tend to favour the latter approach simply because it minimises any problems with regurgitation, a fairly common occurrence among large catfish. Either way, the aim is to avoid overfeeding. Healthy catfish should be rounded but should not look
like they have swollen bellies. If you catfish is obviously fat or bloated, or its stomach pokes out from its slightly convex underside, then you've fed it too much. Anything else? Yes! Like all Pimelodids, this catfish is sensitive to copper and formalin, so medications should be used very carefully. When treating Whitespot, use the salt/heat method instead. Use antibiotics for treating Finrot. Supplementary aeration is very useful when medicating sick catfish. All catfish are prone to burns, so either keep the heater out of the tank or secure it behind a heater guard. One last thing. Although these are apex predators in the wild and territorial among their own kind, they are not especially aggressive, and can in fact be nipped or bullied by other fish. Choose tankmates with supreme care. Bottom line, your catfish is indeed sick, likely a combination of environmental stress, secondary bacterial infection, and perhaps poisoning through misuse of medications. It may recover given optimal living conditions and suitable antibiotics, plus a varied diet as described above, but do please understand almost no-one in the hobby has the wealth or space to keep this gigantic catfish happy for long. Here in England the Maidenhead Aquatic chain does good work rehoming these catfish, so if you live in the UK, a phone call to your local branch might be helpful. Otherwise, animal rescue, public aquaria and aquarium clubs might be able to provide a similar service. Hope this helps, and good luck. Cheers, Neale.>

Effects of Gill Curl -- to Neale  (RMF, can you add anything?)   7/30/09
Hello Neale!
Happy belated birthday!
<Thank you! But having turner 38, I'm not really sure I want to be reminded...>
I have been conversing with platitudes on the message board, and she suggested that I contact you with some questions I have about my Red-Tailed Catfish's gill curl.
<I see.>
Guido, my RTC, lives in a 1000 gallon indoor pond with two Red Belly Pacu.
<Sounds great!>
He is about 20 inches, or maybe 22 inches, long. Originally, I had only planned on one Pacu, but after seeing him try to school with the catfish, I thought he could use a friend. The two do interact quite a bit, so I'm glad I did add the second one.
<Indeed, Pacu do seem fairly sociable, but watch them: they can be unpredictable, and have incredibly strong jaws.>
My question, though, is about Guido and his gill curl. I have researched the internet on gill curl, and am aware of its supposed causes, none of which I believe Guido has been exposed to, as he has always had plenty of room, a varied diet, and good water quality, and has never eaten a feeder, but alas, he began showing signs at about eight inches long.
<Right. As you've correctly established, Gill Curl is usually associated with catfish exposed to stressful conditions, typically overcrowding and/or poor water quality. It is almost entirely a problem seen with big fish, and presumably these are the ones most likely to be kept in tanks without enough space or oxygen. I'm not sure I've read anything convincing about its causes; hypothesis vary from bacterial infections of the gill membrane through to lack of exercise because the fish isn't moving much! Cures vary from surgery to remove the curled tissues (not something I'd recommend without going to veterinary college first) through to simply adding salt to the water to see if that helps. It should be noted that large Pimelodidae have quite a good tolerance for brackish water, so adding a little salt, 1-3 grammes per litre say, across the short term wouldn't do much harm. But really, I've not come across anything convincing in terms of precise causes
or cures, simply that Gill Curl usually appears in fish that are kept in limited space and, if caught early, can go away by itself. Do review water quality, and even if you have the 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, and below 20 mg/l nitrate recommended for Red-tail Cats, do also reflect on water circulation and oxygenation. Because these catfish live at the bottom, they're especially sensitive to sluggish water currents that don't carry oxygen down from the surface. I'd be looking at turnover rates of 10 times the volume of the tank where Red-tail Cats are concerned to match their riverine habitats. If you already have an adequate filter, then a pond pump like that used to drive a fountain might be just the thing to safely add some more current at the other end of the pool. Do also review temperature; the big Pims almost to a man (fish) like things a little on the cool side; after all, they inhabit the deep, shady parts of rivers rather than shallow swamps or streams where the sunlight can warm the water. So, you're aiming for something in the 22-24 degrees C bracket (72-75 degrees F). Anything warmer will reduce the amount of oxygen in the water while simultaneously raising the metabolic rate of the catfish, a combination you definitely don't want. Your Pacu, by the way, won't object to slightly cooler water either.>
The little bit of information I find about its effects seem widely varied.
I have read that it causes frequent bacterial infections, chronic pain for the fish, and early death. In any case, Guido acts completely normal, and eats well, and grows, grows, grows, so I don't think he currently suffers any ill effects from his condition.
<The problem is that it can get worse, because in theory, Gill Curl obstructs ventilation of the gills, making breathing difficult.>
However, I'd like to know your opinion on what effects this condition might have on him, both now and in the future.
<Since it's all speculative so far as hobbyist discussion goes, and none of my fish health books say anything about the disease, this would be one of those times locating a fish-friendly vet would make sense.>
For example, should I be on the lookout for bacterial infection, or possibly treating every now and then just in case?
<I'm not a huge fan of "treating just in case". More often than not, you're wasting money, and potentially, you're poisoning your fish. Better to wait until you have a positive ID on a problem, and then pick your medication. On the other hand, given good conditions, many problems can fix themselves, and the use of things like salt and Epsom salt carry little/no risk to even delicate fish, so can be used proactively without too much guilt.>
I thank you for your help on this. Additionally, I very much enjoyed both of your recent articles; one, on the community aquarium, and the other, on Corydoras.
<The ones in Aquarium Fish magazine? Glad you enjoyed!>
Thanks for what you do!
<Cheers, Neale.>
<<Neale, Melinda... I concur with what Neale has written. I would NOT attempt to but away the deformity of the gill covers, NOR treat the water. BobF>>
Re: Effects of Gill Curl -- to Neale
(RMF, can you add anything?), pump sel.  7/30/09
Hello Neale--
Thank you so much for your quick reply!
<My pleasure.>
The filter of the pond is built-in, with about 7 ft by 1.5 ft by 3 ft of plastic spaghetti/filter pad stuff. We use pond pumps to run water over the wall, under the pads, and then it comes back up, creating a waterfall.
Right now, we only run pumps which equal about 4000 gallons per hour, which I know will not be enough in time, but we're up to three pumps!
<Well, that's the problem with huge tanks!>
What are some large pumps that you can suggest? I'd love to run only two, and still filter 10x per hour.
<Honestly, this is well outside my range of expertise; for one thing, I've never had a tank this big, and for another, my experience of fishkeeping is largely in the UK, where the manufacturers are different. Do read Bob's piece of pumps for ponds, here:
The linked articles and FAQs may help, too. If you want to write/send a separate message for Bob, I can make sure he looks at it and offers some hardware recommendations, if relevant.>
The pond has its own breaker, but another can be installed if the large pumps require it. Right now all of our pumps are Tetra Pond. The temperature does stay quite cool in the pond, ranging from 70 to 78, depending if the air conditioner is on, or not. There are two large airstones with TetraTec Deep Water Air pumps. I was able to locate a fish vet in my area, and am going to speak with him when he is in the office.
<Ah, probably the best thing all around.>
Thank you for your advice. I want to do the best for Guido; he really is a wonderful fish, and we are quite attached to him (obviously, this pond wasn't in our house before... it's all for him!). Thanks again.
<Good luck to you both! Neale.>
<<Mmm, the Sequence line of pumps (variously re-labeled and sold... but all with Baldor motors) is still exemplary for these sorts of applications (lower pressure, higher volume, low cost of operation, quiet...). BobF>>

Pond on covered porch... but will it work?   8/20/08 Hello Crew-- I appreciate the invaluable service that all of you provide, and hope you'll have some tips to offer as my husband and I plan our next, larger endeavor. We have four Oscars, about ten inches each, as well as three Plecs, from thirteen inches to about seven inches, and (the real reason for this entire project) a (currently small and really cute) three inch South American Redtail Catfish. <"Egads what a monster"... Dune, in ref. to Shai-Halud> Not all are in the same tanks currently, and Guido (catfish) is in a 125, which should give us about six to eight months to complete this. What we would like to do is build a 1000 gallon concrete pond on our back porch, which is covered and has this weird screen/plywood deal that the previous homeowners probably thought was a grand idea. Anyway, it's there, and it basically creates a thin wall against the elements. And we want to build this pond for these fish, in coastal Virginia. I have several questions that I haven't been able to find answers to on the site, and I hope you have some pointers for us. 1. We are prepared to heat the pond; however, we're wondering about the maximum temperatures these fish will collectively thrive at. <The upper 60's F is likely the most reasonable lower limit for the Pimelodid> I know they are warm water fish. There are about two or three summer months where temps could reach 85-87 degrees in this pond; would this work? <Mmm, yes... with plenty of aeration, should be fine> 2. With this gallonage (calculated to allow us to still be able to navigate about the porch and get to the laundry room, so kind of important) could we add any additional fish? (More Oscars, or a Pacu?) <Could, but I'd be careful re overstocking... Should something go wrong (power outage, overfeeding...), your "window" of possible recovery will be too small...> 3. Do we need to cover this pond at 3.5 feet deep? <I would, yes... the catfish is a very powerful jumper> I am prepared to figure out some sort of screen/weight thing to do so, but I was hoping to get a turtle, and I can't imagine him wanting to bask under a piece of screen. <Not a problem, I assure you. Get, use screen of larger diameter openings> Again, I appreciate any help you can give, and if I've missed anything on the site that applies to our situation, please direct me to that location. I hope that with the correct (read: HUGE) filtration and stable temp (even if a little higher than ideal) we can offer these fish a large, happy new home. Thanks again. --Melinda <Sounds/reads like a very nice project indeed. Have seen some very nice ponds with these animals in them. Most recently the Moody Gardens in TX. Bob Fenner>

A BIG Catfish, sys. 1.. We have a South American Redtail Catfish that is about 20" long and has outgrown our 90 gallon tank. We need any advise that you can give us as he really needs a larger environment than a home tank. We can't get any response from the closest fish aquarium. >> Ahh, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus... don't I remember my Pimelodid catfishes... Yes this fish does get at least 80 pounds (have seen them in the wild this big... and at least half that in captivity)... Other than pleading with people to not keep these too-big animals... feed them sparingly (to limit their rapid growth)... And then, at your stage: to call their local BIG fish stores, and public aquariums... to see if they can use (another) Red Tail Cat, Arowana, Pacu... So, I'd either get a humongous tank (with a very sturdy top... most of these cats perish from jumping out), feed the animal sparingly from now on... and/or call those shops, public institutions. Bob Fenner who really likes large fishes... but whose wife won't let him silicone glass over the front door and fill the house up with water...

"Brown tailed" Red Tailed Catfish Hello, how is everyone. Good I hope.  <much better now that Bob has recovered from that bizarre accident that he had with a safety razor when trying to shave his belly for a finger painted living portrait to be displayed in an act of performance art> Everything's fine here (thanks to your website, you guys really are a godsend. I read over your faq's every night.) <outstanding!> I've written a couple of times with saltwater questions but tonight I've got a freshwater question. In my 120 gal. long tank I have a baby red tailed catfish.---I know, I know, way too small a tank for this guy.  <yep <G>> I'm working on an 8ft by 6ft pond in the "office" in my house.  <that will be wonderful! And not a Chihuahua to be seen for miles once it is up and running. The housecats better get hip to it too> And for now, I do a 75% water change at least twice a week to keep everyone in there happy. <look for excessive yawning by this species to indicate poor water quality and nitrogen poisoning> Mondee (as my two year old calls the sea monster) has grown from about 6 inches to a little over a foot in a month and a half. These fish grow incredibly fast!!! I'm amazed, he makes my Oscar look like a guppy!! <They get huge indeed... perhaps over six feet long> Anyway, I was wondering, when (if ever) can I expect his tail to start to turn red? It's a dirty faded brownish maroon color right now. I feed him floating cichlid pellets, frozen krill, silversides, and bloodworms, and earthworms and waxworms etc. from the bait shop. Is this diet okay?  <overall very good... but you could make your own food for color enhancing with paprika or carotenoid pigments, or feed a lot more crustacean foods with shells on (cocktail shrimp, crayfish)> Do I need to feed him something different to enhance his color or is he just not a very colorful catfish?  <no... should actually be easy to enhance its color. Hikari brand pellet foods also have super color enhancing varieties of pellets ("Bio-Gold")... do consider> The rest of his color is pretty good. Dark sooty almost black on his back and head with black spots and the white areas are well defined and a nice cream color.  <enjoy it while its small... they get muddier in color with age> Even if he never does color up, he's still my favorite fish in the world--- dirty brown tail and all. He really is an awesome fish.  <yes... they have great personalities> I just want to make sure I'm giving him the best possible care. thanks for your help once again. Kristen:) <best regards, Anthony>

Red tail catfish Two weeks ago yesterday, I moved a red tail catfish from a 55 gallon tank into a new 125 gallon tank. The fish is approximately 20 inches long and had a great appetite prior to the move. Since the move, it has eaten almost nothing and has made the tank a relatively safe place for the goldfish now swimming with it. Other than the loss of appetite and associated weight loss, the fish seemed perfectly healthy and active until yesterday. While still active, it now has what seems to be a reddish  growth or swollen gland above and to the right of its mouth. The ph is between 7.2 and 7.4. It was higher, but I've been using ph Down to lower it. The water temperature is between 78 and 80 degrees. In addition to the goldfish, I've tried to feed it shrimp, silversides and floating cichlid sticks. I don't know what to do next. Any insight will be greatly appreciated. Thanks Joe Agresti <Joe, this is a large fish (4+ feet), at 20in he has pretty much out grown the 125gal.  This fish may have been/still be suffering from nitrate poisoning, did he ever exhibit any yawning behavior?  Water quality is always going to be an issue with big messy fish in small tanks.  Large weekly water changes and larger tank will be needed.  As far as the feeding issue, he should come around in time, it is not uncommon for large predatory fishes to refuse food after a move.  Best Regards, Gage>

Re: red tail catfish Thank you. What size tank would you recommend? <To live a long happy life it would need over 1000 gallons.  I'd go with a large rubber lined pond in the basement with good filtration.  That way if the neighbors cats get out of line you can make them disappear. -Gage> Thanks Joe Agresti

Just bought a 2.5" red tail baby Amazon catfish 3 days ago, <decided to get a tank buster eh?  These grow to be enormous fish in a relatively short amount of time.  I've wanted one myself for a long time, just haven't had a tank that could house them properly. > he was fine the first 2 days, then started 'floating around' the tank, without swimming.. kinda like he's dying...kinda letting the current take him, <these fish are bottom dwelling, and floating of any kind is not good.> this is a small 5 gallon tank, was setup 1 month ago, 3 weeks ago got 3 zebra tetras / 2" Pleco / whole bunch of good established gravel and they are doing great. <They maybe doing great but that tank is way too small for all of those fish.  Pleco's and Catfish are very messy fish!  The water parameters can become bad fast with the amount of waste these fish are producing!> 75-78 degrees, ph 7.0-6.8..he is also kinda breathing harder, if you try and touch him with your finger, he'll try to escape. but he just floats around. when he looks more coherent sometimes he is upside down. Hadn't eaten, but looks like he just ate a shrimp (freeze dried 1 cm long shrimps). <I suggest you get your larger tank up and running very soon! This tank is not going to work for these fish! What you need to purchase is Freshwater Test Kits.  These will tell you the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels in your tank.  With high ammonia and nitrite levels it effects the fish's breathing.  Ammonia damages the gills, and nitrite hinders the fish's body from using the oxygen from the water.  The water parameters must be at Ammonia=0, Nitrite=0, Nitrate being as close to zero as possible.> I'm calling the fish store, but was wondering if this is totally bad. the tank should be ok <No, it's not okay.  way to small.  It's like keeping an elephant in spare bed room.  Just because it fits inside doesn't mean it's okay.> (by the way, he's moving in 2 months to a 55 gallon and then a 200 gallon at least to start with, then a pond eventually.) <that is a good plan, but you should have gotten this fish when you had the larger tank ready.  Don't put the cart before the horse.  have the environment ready for the animal, it's easier on you and the fish.> Have wanted one of these for years, please help, only 3 days in !!! --Dave <I've wanted these myself, but realized that they can become monster sized, and need a home to fit their needs.  See if your Local fish store will hold the fish for you as you get your larger tank set up. You will need to do some water changes on this 5 gallon to help bring the water levels back to normal this will help.  during this time you will need to start setting up the larger tank  for him.  good luck and remember to research and have things ready well in advance before purchasing any animal. -Magnus.>

Red-tailed Catfish Hello, I bought a baby Redtail catfish about 4 weeks ago and it doesn't seem to be eating much. My catfish is about 3 inches long and it seems to only eat earthworms and hotdogs. I have tried feeding it a number of other pellet form foods and it still will only eat the earthworms. I have tried withholding the earthworms for a couple of days and it still doesn't eat any of the other foods that I feed it. I have tried feeding it Hikari sinking pellets, Algae wafers, and a few other types of sinking pellets but they all seem to not get eaten. Is this a problem? Would there be any other types of food that you would suggest feeding my baby Redtail catfish? <Hotdogs? Let's do a few water changes to remove the grease and spice from your water. Then try some frozen fish food like Mysis Shrimp and Bloodworms. You can also try any human saltwater seafood. Small shrimp, scallops, squid and the like, cut bite size of course. No land mammal meats. Try teasing him with a worm held up to the glass. When he gets interested, remove the worm from view and throw in whatever you are tying to feed him. Right now he does not recognize unnatural foods. Soon enough he will eat anything, and anyone, in his tank. Please test your water often. He can make a mess of things very quickly. Do as many water changes as needed to keep ammonia and nitrite at zero, nitrates below 20ppm. That will become a real chore as this fish grows. But there is a bigger problem here. That is the keeping of this fish in captivity in the first place. In my personal opinion no one should keep a Redtail. They are awesome fish, striking colors with personality to boot. But there is simply no home aquarium that can house an adult. Your baby will grow to over 5 feet and will need thousands of gallons of water. Unless you have a large pond in a warm weather climate, you can't keep one into adulthood. They should therefore be left in the wild. Don>

Redtail Catfish death, is a GSP the Culprit? Our South American Redtail Catfish looked like it went into shock, and eventually died awhile later. We have a green spotted puffer in the tank too, is the puffer poisonous, and could he have killed the catfish? The catfish was a very good size, a lot larger than the puffer. Ricardo & Stephanie <GSP's are not "that" toxic... the cause of death very likely unrelated. Most often Phractocephalus die from mis-feeding (feeder goldfish, or choking on another too-large, spiny fish), or "jump out"... Bob Fenner> 

RTC with bloat or dropsy? HELP!!! Phractocephalus  12/20/2005 I have a 2 ft long RTC in a 400gallon aquarium. Recently his stomach has swollen many times its original size and I do not know if this means that he is suffering from dropsy or bloat. <Could be n/either... but... from what cause? Most such symptoms are from mis- and over-feeding in this large Pimelodid> He is still very hungry and the distended stomach appeared just one morning, subsided the next, and reappeared at night, all while I did not put any food in the tank! <Are all tankmates accounted for?> He appears distressed and has turned rather dark in colour, and there is some bleeding at his stomach. How do I treat him or tell if he has been infected by bacteria? Help please!!! <This fish can/could be injected with antibiotics... in a timely manner... but need to know much more re the system, water make-up, maintenance, foods/feeding to proffer an opinion. Bob Fenner>

Compatible Aggressive Fish   7/24/06 I have a 100 gallon tank with 2 red devils, red tail catfish, <Phractocephalus.... this cat by itself needs or will need more room> 5 flower horns, <? small I hope/trust> 2 algae eaters and 2 jewel cichlids. What are other compatible fish mates? <Umm... nothing. You're already more than "topped off" stock-wise here> I also have a 55 gallon that I want to start as saltwater. I have been getting mixed responses on how to start it. Please give me your input! <Take a read on WWM, Fishbase.org re the ultimate likely size of these fishes... the cat will get large enough to inhale all... Bob Fenner>

P. orbignyi compatibility with Redtail Catfish? fdg., comp.... A large S. Am. Ray and VERY large Catfish... in a 29?!  Need to read...  02/17/07 Hi, <Kev... we'll skip the epaulettes> I currently have a 29 gallon tank with a  6 inch Redtail Catfish and a few small fish that are there just to take up a little space. <?...> I can assure you that I have no plan on putting any size ray in a tank that small.  I will be buying a all-glass 210 gallon tank(72Lx24Wx29H) within 2 months. <Oh. This will still be too small in time> I will be running 2 Fluval FX5's and sand for substrate.   <I'd use other... posted...> I read that the P. orbignyi and the Redtail Cats are both native to the Orinoco river Basin. <With spelling improvement, yes>   That leads me to believe that they are compatible. <In terms of water quality at least> Here's my question. Would it be advisable to house these animals together? <Mmm, not really> From what I read, my tank will be large enough and I don't think that the filtration will be a problem. <Will be inadequate> I already feed my Redtail Cat bloodworms, feeders and ghost shrimp (at least 10 in the tank at all times).   <The feeders are an exceedingly poor idea... see WWM re> Lastly, where can I find the stingray.  Price doesn't really matter.  I'm just looking for a baby.  I've tried to find them online and I haven't seen them in any local pet stores. Thanks, Kevin from Az <Go to the Internet, Go to the Internet... Bob Fenner>

911 Redtail Catfish losing flesh!  7/20/08 I have 3 red tail catfish. One started floating upside down so I moved him to another tank. The other two are still healthy. The sick one is now losing his flesh. It is attached but it is floating in a big chunk. His eye is cloudy and it look at first as if he had ick. I treated him with parasite medication. At first he seemed to get better but then got worse. Now he is losing his flesh but he is still alive. I'm assuming it is hopeless for this one but what could cause this? Rochelle <Rochelle, there are two obvious problems here. Firstly, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is a territorial species that will attack and kill any fish it views as a rival -- especially its own species. To keep more than one specimen would require a tank something bigger than a swimming pool! So your fish may simply be attacking one another. Secondly, these fish are hugely sensitive to poor water quality, and parasitic infections are highly likely related to these fish being kept in inadequate conditions (as is almost certainly the case). These fish grow to well over 1 m in length and require massive tanks with prodigious filtration, as well as extremely careful control of how much food they receive. Please let me have more information on the size of these fish and more important the aquarium. In the short term though you will need to isolate all three specimens in their own tanks containing not less than 200 gallons of water each, provided with filters rated at not less than 2000 gallons per hour, and perform not less than 50% water changes weekly. Stop feeding. Treat all fish with an appropriate antibacterial or antibiotic such as eSHa 2000 or Maracyn. The fish with a chunk bitten off from it may need veterinarian attention depending on the damage; you will certainly need to clean the wound and determine whether it is better to painlessly destroy the fish or treat it. Let me be crystal clear about this: Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is not a viable choice for the home aquarium. Cheers, Neale.>

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