Redtail Catfish of South America

This beautiful South American catfish is appealing to the home aquarist but is not really practical.

Too big for a home aquarium. Image Source

The Redtail Catfish habitat is in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins of South America. Its Latin name is Phractocephalus Hemiopterus.

The average life span of this catfish is twenty to thirty years because their large size scares off predators.

They are used as a source of food in South America.


The most striking features of the Redtail Catfish are its white throat, speckled body and deep red tail. This makes this fish a desirable addition to a home aquarium.

Baby Redtail Catfish are four to five inches long so they appear to pose no threat when sold in a retail store. As juveniles, these catfish will grow to one or two feet in length. At maturity, it can reachfour to five feet long.

Eating Habits

As it matures, this species develops a voracious appetite and will eat virtually anything that it can put in its mouth!

In captivity, the babies are fed live and frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. They also will eat flake, pellets and vegetables.

Shortly after emerging from the fry stage, young Redtail Catish are fed larger live food such as river shrimp, minnow and feeder goldfish.

There will come a point in time where feeder goldfish and minnows will not be sufficient to sustain the Redtail Catfish. These live foods are expensive so it can become very costly to keep a Redtail Catfish on this diet.

They can be fed beef or chicken heart and raw hamburger which is a bit more economical.


When Redtail Catfish are young, they can be kept with other fish as long as the tank mates are too big to fit in their mouths. This will be short lived.

With the quick growth and huge appetite of the Redtail Catfish, they should not be kept with any other fish.

Tank Size and Requirements

Baby Redtail Catfish can be kept in a tank that is decorated with small plants and rockery. As soon as the fish begin to grow larger, these items need to be removed because they will be eaten.

By the time a Redtail Catfish matures, it will need a 4000 gallon tank!

This fish are actually sold in stores. At four to five inches, an uninformed buyer may not realize the adult size of Redtail Catfish will be four to five feet.

Inexperienced staff may forget to mention to buyers that this fish will require a very large tank and will be very expensive to feed.

Unfortunately, people who buy the Redtails are forced to dispose of these fish when they realize they are too big for a home aquarium.

Some people are lucky and are able to donate their Redtail Catfish to public aquariums. Others people end up throwing them in a lake or river, or even kill them.

Redtail Catfish is a beautiful species and should be admired at public aquariums but not purchased for home aquariums.

My name is James, and I’m in love with aquariums and fish since I was 12 years old. Back then my dad gave me a goldfish, and it’s been 35 years learning about this fascinating hobby. I’ve had some freshwater aquariums, tried my hand with marine tanks for 10 years, and kept some reefs for a while too. Here in the website I try to share some of my knowledge and experiences on fish keeping.


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