April 9

Redtail Catfish Feeding, Care, Diseases, Aquarium Care Guide


Redtail Catfish

There are many reasons to explore the aquatic world – for its many wonders and features you may opine. But beyond that, the beautiful creatures therein will always make a great appeal to aquarium hobbyists, and the Redtail catfish makes a good case in this wise.

The Redtail catfish goes by the biological name, Phractocephalushemioliopterus. They are also known by names such as flat-nosed catfish, banana catfish, and South American Redtail. The fish is undemanding when it comes to taking care of it, but the massive size could pose a challenge for an aquarium hobbyist.

They are found in wide distribution in medium and large rivers of South America – from Brazil to Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela.

Redtail Catfish Appearance

This particular fish species is unique for its red/orange tail – which earned it the name ‘Redtail catfish’. The fish has a mix of colors all over its cylindrical body; its back is brown; the underside is beige while its fins are black- save for the caudal fin.  There is also a band of yellow wavy lines around its sides

Still on the appearance; the Redtail Catfish has a massive head and large mouth, and can grow up to a length of 180 cm in the wild- but around 50-100cm in the home aquarium – weighing between 56 – 82 kg; they can live for up to 15 – 20 years. They possess six whiskers- three on each side – which are highly receptive to chemicals hence functioning as the sense for smell.

Redtail Catfish Behavior

Redtail catfish tend to be timid, especially when they are young, and would often hide in caves; their timidity seems to fade away as they attain their monstrous size. FYI: they grow very fast, and it’s best to let them be alone in the tank. They are typically bottom dwellers but will seldom venture to the middle level of the tank.

They are quite active although it is not strange to see them staying motionless at the bottom of the tank, particularly after gulping down a meal. That said, they may come to the surface to get atmospheric air in the event of a deficiency in the supply of oxygen in the water; this is one sign you should not ignore.

Redtail catfish are peaceful and sociable when occupying the same tank with fish of similar size but will frequently bring on their aggressive side whenever they feel threatened or when a smaller fish comes around – talk about the act of bullying in the aquatic world. Plus, it is not unlikely for them to exhibit territoriality.

They are also known to be open to learning and would sometimes interact with you should you avail them of such an opportunity. Here is another reason – aside from their beautiful coloration – aquarium enthusiasts, love having them around in the home aquarium; they make an adorable pet.

Redtail Catfish Feeding

Redtail catfish are not so selective when it comes to feeding; they will consume virtually anything that comes to their way – and that includes rocks and debris. However, they are capable of spitting out whatever does not go right with their system, but choking cannot be entirely ruled out. There have been reports of Redtail cats dying after swallowing one unpleasant stuff or the other.

Well, this particular kind of fish is omnivorous in its feeding orientation though it does gravitate more towards eating meaty foods. Based on this, you can feed them with pellets, fruits, frozen and live feeds, shrimps, crabs, worms, prawns, and insects. Redtail catfish, however, often show their predatory instincts lying in water moving stealthily to pounce on their prey.

You can feed the juvenile Redtail catfish once every day, but as it comes of age, the feeding frequency can be reduced to once every week. This should help control their growth rate to some extent; they can grow up to 60cm long within a year. More so, they have a high probability of getting obese. So, it is advisable not to get them overfed.

Redtail catfish may stay inactive for a couple of minutes after eating in order to allow their digestive system to process the food they had taken in. You should avoid feeding your Redtail catfish with fatty foods (like chicken, pork, beef, etc.) to put obesity in check and also prevent the emergence of other health complications.

The rule when providing Redtail catfish with food is to ensure a balanced diet; having a good mix of the feeds will be beneficial for their well-being. Plus, they will appreciate a diet that is rich in protein

Redtail Catfish Care

You might have had a tank fitting for the size of a grown Redtail catfish available, and everything is all set, but there is a need to ponder [and answer] one or two question(s): what is the motive behind purchasing a Redtail cat? Or to be more direct; what do you intend to do with it after it must have somewhat outgrown the tank you have provided for housing it? Answering this question will help you to prepare better for what lies ahead.

Now to the Caring aspect; Redtail catfish are pretty easy to take care of when you consider their feeding habits and lifestyle- they are pretty hardy – but the humongous size they are capable of attaining could leave you with some arduous task to undertake. While caring for them may not be so time-consuming; it does cost a lot of money to adequately take care of one.

    In taking care of them; you have to monitor the concentrations of substances such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate as they are reported to produce a lot of waste; this must be done on a timely basis.

    Moreover, the presence of ammonium adversely affects the availability of oxygen in the tank. In essence, anytime the fish comes to the surface to take in air, the accumulation of these substances may already be taking place. A 30% water change should be carried out every week.

    Redtail Catfish Tank Setup

    This is another aspect that needs to be done with considerable thoughtfulness. First off, you want to make sure that you stimulate the fish’s natural habitat; this can be achieved by creating a dark substrate using fine-grained sand full-stop snags, bogwood, and large Stones – avoid using small Stones that can fit into their mouth – will also make great additions in the tank. Furthermore, you can furnish the tank with caves and dens to help create hiding spots for them, especially in their juvenile form. You may, however, not need to put in plants as the fish could end up destructing or uprooting them.

    To sound a note of Warning: the large rocks or any other additional items that will be used should not be placed so close to the side of the tank. The Redtail catfish may eventually use its massive head to push the item against the tank’s wall, thereby increasing the probability of the tank getting shattered.

    A tank with a carrying capacity of about 4000 liters is recommended for housing Redtail catfish. Keeping the fish in a smaller tank would make them stunted and deprive them of the freedom to live their normal life; all these could amount to detrimental health status and cause them to die early. Hence, a very large is a sine qua non if you desire to keep this pet for a long time.

    The tank should also be equipped with a highly efficient filtration system- a big sump filter will suffice here – thermometers and other relevant measuring devices. All these should be incorporated into the tank from the outside as the fish could prove destructive if it comes in direct contact with them in the tank.

    Redtail catfish tend to be more active at night, so you may need to keep out the light in the tank during the day or just make it dim. Better still, the tank should be positioned in a spot with low or dim lighting; away from the sun.

    Water parameters

    You should take heed to maintain stable water chemistry as anything, on the contrary, would be debilitating to their well-being. In view of this , the following water parameters should be maintained:

    pH level: The ideal pH range is either slightly acidic or slightly alkaline, and should be between 6.0 and 7.5.

    Temperature: A temperature range between 22° C and 26° C is appropriate for the Redtail catfish. They will hardly survive if the temperature drops below the minimum conditions set for them.

    Water hardness: Redtail catfish will thrive in moderately soft to medium-hard water which puts the range for the degree of water hardness between 3dH – 12dH.

    Redtail Catfish Tankmates

    As a rule of thumb, you should not attempt to put any fish that can be easily swallowed together in the same tank with a Redtail catfish. Aquatic creatures (such as Guppies, tetras, corydoras, snails, shrimps, crabs, etc.) that are relatively small in size may not live to see the next hours when made to share the same tank with a Redtail catfish. However, these creatures mentioned above may be housed in the same tank with juvenile Redtail catfish.

    The right tankmates for this very catfish will be species of similar size, and probably those that do not frequently stay at the same water level as this flat-nosed cat. In this line, you can bring in any stingrays, giant gourami, datnoid, iridescent shark and black pacu to dwell with the Redtail cats in the same community tank.

    Redtail Catfish Breeding

    For want of space alone, breeding Redtail catfish is viewed as an insurmountable and extremely intensive exercise, and for this reason, aquarists rarely attempt to breed them in the home setting. You will require a large aquarium – probably double the size of the tank needed to house one – to breed Redtail catfish. A large pond in the backyard may be a better option, nonetheless.

    It is essential to feed them well with foods that are rich in protein at this stage. Notwithstanding, sexing the fish should be the first prerogative for any adventurous aquarist who intends to go ahead with the spawning process. The primary sex differences lie in the size and Color; the femaleRedtail catfish is reported to be larger than the male, and its color – particularly around the tail region – is usually more striking than that of the male.

    So after sex, you should introduce the pair into the breeding tank, raising the water temperature to 27°C. Every other water parameter should be sustained, and the lighting should be dimmed out; the filtration system is also very crucial here. The female Red-tail cat tends to be more active during spawning, and upon mating (with the male), the eggs are released with her holding them with the ventral fins.

    The eggs are then placed at a safe spot within the aquarium as the adult Red-tail cat appears to keep its offspring out of the reach of any predator. The female then collects the sperm from the male with her mouth and goes on to spray on the eggs for fertilization to begin. The eggs should be hatched within 4 – 5 days, and you should expect to see the free-swimming juvenile in no time- they can grow 1 inch every week.

    Despite the information [on the breeding of Redtail catfish] shared here, a limited success rate has been recorded by aquarists who attempted breeding them in the home. In some instances, a hormone is used in inducing spawning in this fish species.

    NB: The egg-laying capability of female Redtail catfish is dependent on their age; the younger ones are able to lay more eggs than the older ones. Plus, they can lay up to 150- 200 eggs [or more] during a spawning session. As an aside; feeding the juvenile with crustaceans is beneficial for the development of their coloration.

    And, it is worth stating here that breeding Redtail catfish in the home aquarium is not advisable. For one, you may end up having some much litter (that is the number of juveniles) that you may not be able to handle. So, rather than waste them, it’s wise to look away from venturing into breeding.

    Redtail Catfish Diseases

    Though hardy, the Redtail catfish is not immune to certain diseases, and as with most aquarium fishes, poor water quality, stress, and unbalanced or unhealthy diet are risk factors that may cost this fish its well-being. That said, some of the diseased conditions that Redtail catfish may suffer include:

    1. Fin rot: Fin rot is a bacterial infection that affects many freshwater fishes. At the onset of this disease, the edge of the Redtail catfish start eating away – due to the activity of the bacteria – and if not treated, this (eating away) could affect other parts of the fish’s body.

    An affected fish will eventually lose coloration; experience lethargy and suffer a loss of appetite. Inflamed patches may also be seen on the body. Antibacterial medications like fish doxy and amoxicillin have been found to be effective in the treatment of fin rot.

    2. Ammonia poisoning: Redtail catfish are not so tolerant of ammonia, and as such, their health can be adversely affected whenever there is a spike (in ammonia concentration) in the aquarium. Ammonia poisoning can damage and disturb the functioning of the gills, thereby leading to respiratory complications. A high level of ammonia may also result in a burn on the fish.

    A Redtail catfish that have been predisposed to ammonia poisoning may develop red streaks on the body; have torn fins; experience lethargy and become somewhat reclusive. It may even be observed to portray unusual aggressive tendencies. This sort of poisoning is, however very much preventable if you regularly check the concentration of ammonia in the tank- it’s best to keep the concentration at 0 mg/l.

    Notwithstanding, in the event of having a build-up of ammonia; reducing the pH level, consistently making several water changes, and discontinuing feeding should be useful in taking care of the situation. The fish should be fine again after the condition has been returned to normal.

    3. Red pest disease: Redpest disease is caused by a bacterium that targets the fish’s circulatory system as well as other tissues and organs in the fish. This disease can cause the fish to bleed internally, and the symptoms usually include a bloated stomach, red streaks on the fins, and tail rot. Infected fish may also swim in an uncoordinated manner and frequently comes to the surface as it gasps for breath.

    Treatment of red pest disease may be achievable with the use of a combination of medications monacrin, acriflavine, and tetracycline.

    Besides the disease discussed above, Redtail catfish are also very much prone to constipation due to their voracious eating habit. You have to be watchful to observe any behavioral change that might be indicative of a diseased condition in the fish and treat such as soon as possible before it turns to something terminal.


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