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Pimelodus pictus

Pictus Cat




Native to the Rio Orinoco and Amazon basins in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil.


Tends to be found in shallow, flowing waters over sandy or muddy substrates, including both major river channels and their tributaries.

Maximum Standard Length

Around 4.8″ (12cm).

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Given its active nature it really shouldn’t be kept in tanks measuring less than 48″ x 18″ x 18″ (120cm x 45cm x 45cm) – 243 litres.


Does best in a dimly lit environment with plenty of swimming space, and a few hiding places to provide security. You won’t see it move around as much in a brightly lit tank, except perhaps at feeding time. Under lower light conditions it will cruise around at most times of the day once settled. As with most catfish, a fine sandy substrate is preferable. The addition of some driftwood roots and branches and perhaps some smooth rounded stones would help to simulate the kind of riverine environment the species inhabits in nature. Plants can be used if you like but choose hardy species such as Anubias or Java fern, as these have no particular lighting requirements. They can also be grown attached to the decor which will help to maximise the amount of floor space available.

Filtration should be strong and efficient, preferably with a good amount of flow. A strict regime of maintenance is essential as like other “pims” it’s sensitive to deteriorating water conditions, often losing its barbels. Weekly partial water changes should be considered a must.

Water Conditions

Temperature: 72-77°F (22-25°C)

pH: 5.8-6.8

Hardness: 1-15°H


Very easy to feed. It mainly preys on aquatic invertebrates in nature but in the aquarium will greedily accept just about anything offered. Meaty items such as live or frozen bloodworm, Tubifex or small earthworms are particularly relished, but dried sinking foods will also be taken. Take care not to overfeed as this is one of those species that will habitually gorge itself until it can literally take no more, ending up with a hugely distended stomach. It only really needs to be fed every few days when adult.

The feeding response of a group of these is very frisky indeed once they smell food in the water, quickly achieving a frenzied state. You may need to add food at night until the fish are acclimatised to their surroundings.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Peaceful enough but bear in mind this is a predatory species. Unfortunately it’s often sold as a bottom dweller for the community of smaller fish, a situation which must have led to the deaths of countless neons, guppies and similarly-sized species. It’s really only suitable for roomy tanks with occupants that can’t be swallowed. It can also bother slower-moving tankmates (such as many cichlids) with its activity levels and long barbels, especially at night or when feeding. Robust, active species therefore make the best tankmates. Rainbowfish, medium to large-sized characins, cyprinids and tough catfish such as Loricariids or Doradids are all suitable.

Although a single specimen will survive by itself, it’s a shoaling species by nature and will be much more outgoing and active when maintained in a group of six or more. If kept alone it tends to remain hidden during daylight hours, emerging only after lights out.

Sexual Dimorphism

Unconfirmed, although adult females are likely to be stockier in build than males.


Not thought to have been achieved in the hobby.

NotesTop ↑

There are currently 32 genera and over 80 species included in the family Pimelodidae (including Pimelodus), making it the second largest and one of the most diverse amongst catfish. However most experts agree that a full systematic revision of the family is needed, as little information about the phylogenetic (evolutionary relatedness) relationships between the various genera exists. Taxonomy information at the species level is also basic at best. It’s therefore likely that at least some of the Pimelodids will be reclassified at some point in the future.

P. pictus is the most popular member of the genus in the hobby and with good reason, as it’s one of the smaller, prettier species. There are a couple of geographical variants imported. Fish from Colombia have a peppering of tiny dark spots all over the body, whilst the Peruvian form has much larger spots on the body and small spots on the head.

You might also see it for sale as “spotted pim”, “pim pictus” or “angelicus catfish”. The latter name in particular can cause confusion with the popular African catfish Synodontis angelicus. When these two are viewed side-by-side there can be little question which is which though. The Synodontis is almost black in colour with yellow or white spotting, and is a totally different shape to P. pictus.

Take care when purchasing these. When first imported they can be in pretty bad shape, tending to suffer from a combination of malnutrition and oxygen deprivation. Like other pims, it’s a scaleless fish and is therefore also very susceptible to certain diseases such as whitespot. Unfortunately its delicate skin means it’s also sensitive to many of the common medications on the market. Be sure to read the instructions carefully before adding any medication to a tank containing these. If in doubt, halve the dose as a precautionary measure.

Caution must also be exercised when catching any Pimelodus. They have very rigid pectoral and dorsal spines, which can easily become tangled in the mesh of an aquarium net. These can also cause a painful wound if you happen to be impaled. The sensation is something akin to being stung by a bee or wasp, an initial sharp pain being followed by localised swelling and some fairly nasty throbbing sensations. The toxin responsible is not actually injected into the skin, but is contained in the mucus that coats the fin spines. While these “stings” are essentially harmless, they certainly cause a couple of hours of discomfort and you should avoid handling these cats wherever possible. Try using a pint glass or similar instead of a net if you need to move them for any reason.

3 Responses to “Pimelodus pictus (Pictus Cat)”

  • Luis

    I’ve taken care of several P. pictus for over almost a year. I am not entirelly sure that this is a gregarious species as it is said in this article. I have 6 8-centimeter specimens in a 500l tank. During daylight each of them is hiden on their hiding spot, which is personal for each specimen and is defended from other P. pictus and other species. At night, all 6 P. pictus get out and eat and explore the aquarium without any aggressive behavior between them and other species. However, they don’t exactly swim in group or interact with each other. Therefore, my 6 P.pictus don’t interact with each other neither during day nor night, at least from my experience. Thanks.

  • hydie

    I keep hearing everyone say that these guys need to be is groups bigger than 4. I have 3 in my 55gl tank and they do fine as far as I can tell. They swim around everyday almost all day. Its actually a little weird. two of them swim around a lot together and occupy one side of the tank, while the other has befriended the queen loach that I have. They stay by each other all the time and have become very territorial with this rock cave type thing in the tank. They kept chasing the other fish and tipping at them when ever they got close so I had to do a little rearranging. They have calmed down a little since. I just thought I would share this since it was a cool friendship

  • Rey

    @hydie This species seem to only shoal when small, adults are territorial.

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