Fish, Tanks and Ponds

Fish, Tanks and Ponds
A comprehensive guide to fish

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus

Red-tailed catfish

Red-tailed catfish, Phractocephalus hemioliopterusRed-tailed catfish, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus
Photos by Andy Rapson


Phractocephalus: Greek, phraktos = fence + Greek, kephale = head

General Notes:

There is an ethical consideration to think about before purchasing one of these fish as a very young juvenile at around 3" long, and that is. What happens when the fish grows?
In reality this is another species which should be left for public displays due to its immense size when the fish is adult at some 3 to 5 feet in length and very heavily built. That 6ft tank which seems huge in a domestic home suddenly would look very cramped and inadequate if an adult red-tailed catfish was placed in it. Realistically an aquarium of some 1,500 gall (7,500 litres) is the minimum required to give an adult red-tailed catfish enough room to live in (imagine a weekly 30% water change on that). 99.9% of red-tailed catfish sold to the public will die well before reaching their expected twenty year natural lifespan. Please think before you buy.


Feed on fish, large inverts, and vegetable matter. Very small individuals will probably accept dried food such as flake or pellets but as the fish grows these items will no longer sustain it.


An aggressive and territorial species which won't get along with others of its own species but other fish which are to large to eat i.e. bigger than the red-tailed catfish itself will probably be ignored. Ideally Phractocephalus hemioliopterus should be housed alone or with larger fish.


Not really known, from the one reported spawning the female was larger and more brightly coloured than the male.


There is just one spawning reported from an hobbyist but the eggs failed to hatch. The eggs were quite large at 6mm and were copper coloured. The fish has been bred commercially  through the use of hormones for use as food fish.

Wild status

Red-tailed catfish have not been evaluated by the IUCN Redlist, it isn't even on their list. But it has been introduced in to several locations beyond its natural range and as mentioned it is bred commercially as a food fish so any local threats are unlikely to have much effect on the population overall.

Additional information

Red-tailed catfish are scaleless and like other scaleless fish they will react badly to most aquarium remedies and the use of these remedies may even prove fatal to them.

Information at a glance

pH: 5.5 - 6.8
dGH: 4 - 12
Temperature: 22 - 28°C (72 - 82°F)
Diet: Omnivore
Size: 134cm (53.5in)
Min tank size: Public aquaria.
Difficulty level: Do not keep.
Aquarium type: Species
Swimming level: Bottom

Distribution and habitat

distribution map for Red-tailed catfish, Phractocephalus hemioliopterus

Origin: S America, Amazon and Orinoco River basins

Habitat: Fresh water only. Rapids to flooded forest, usually in deep pools.


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Pimelodidae
Genus: Phractocephalus
Species: P. hemioliopterus (Bloch & Schneider, 1801)

Other common names:
Banana catfish,

Phractocephalus bicolor,
Rhamdia grunniens,
Pimelodus grunniens,
Silurus hemioliopterus,