Phractocephalus Hemioliopterus (Redtail catfish)

phractocephalus hemioliopterus

Last updated on July 28th, 2022 at 08:22 pm

The phractocephalus hemioliopterus, or Redtail catfish as it’s more commonly known, is an aggressive predator often kept in community tanks due to its beautiful coloring and hardiness. However, these catfish need their own private tank and special care in order to thrive, so you should only consider adopting one if you know what you’re doing and have plenty of space available in your tank.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is one of the most common species of catfish available in aquarium stores, and one of the most colorful. However, the Redtail has several requirements that aren’t immediately obvious to new hobbyists who may be drawn to the fish’s striking appearance, especially when it comes to water chemistry and diet needs.

You should feed your phractocephalus hemioliopterus several times per day, and water changes should be done every two weeks, at least. Clean your fish tank regularly with an algae-control solution, and make sure the temperature stays at around 68 degrees Fahrenheit, or the colder end of its preferred temperature range of 64 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

This guide covers everything you need to know about raising healthy Redtails in your own home aquarium.

Origin and descriptions

phractocephalus hemioliopterus

The redtail catfish is a freshwater fish native to East Africa. It is also known as red tail, golden-mouth, and phractocephalus hemioliopterus. They have an elongated body with scales that are not easily scraped off. They have four dorsal fins and only two pectoral fins. Their coloration can vary from brownish yellow to orange on their back and sides.

One characteristic of these fish is their noticeably large eyes. The adult size of these fish ranges between 40–70 cm in length, while they weigh anywhere between 0.5-1 kilograms (1-2 pounds). Redtail catfish are usually found in rivers or streams throughout all African basins at depths of 0–150 meters (0–500 feet). They do best when kept in tanks containing soft muddy bottoms where they spend most of their time grazing for algae and vegetation on hard surfaces above them.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is widely known as an invasive species. It can be identified by its high dorsal fin and single stripe extending from the base of the tail to the top of the head. The redtail catfish is typically 1.5 meters in length. This catfish typically weighs about 1 pound when fully grown, but some have been found to weigh over 180 pounds.

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Due to its aggressive nature, you should never house more than one Redtail catfish together. These fish will often bully other tank mates until they become so stressed out that they begin to eat their own scales!

Species profile

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is a predatory freshwater fish of Central America and Southeastern Mexico and from the Pimelodidae family. It is found in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.

It has also been spotted in Belize and Panama. Phractocephalus hemioliopterus can reach up to 1.5 meters long and weigh upwards of 180 pounds. They are best kept alone due to their aggression toward other species and tank mates.

This is one of two types of fishing catfish that you should consider if you want to keep an upside-down catfish in your aquarium. Another commonly available member of its genus is Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps, which prefers cooler water than Phractocephalus hemioliopterus does.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus habitat

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus are freshwater fish and like most other fish, do best in clean water. The water temperature should be kept between 25 and 27 degrees Celsius or 77 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. In an aquarium setting, PH levels should stay between 6.5 and 7.5. If you are using a filtration system with your tank, that number can be lowered by a few decimal points but never should fall below 6.0 or rise above 8.0 respectively.

Redtail catfish size and weight

This species can reach a size of up to 1.5 m (5 ft) in length and can weigh around 82 kg (180 pounds).

Redtail catfish tank size

Due to their big size, the minimum recommended tank size is 1,500 – 2,000 gallons

Tank requirements

The red tail catfish does well in many tanks. It prefers slightly acidic water that is between 73 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit (23.3–24.4 degrees Celsius). The phractocephalus hemioliopterus eats meat, such as earthworms, shrimp, small fish, and occasionally live fishes. A breeding tank of about 1800 gallons is recommended for an adult pair of red tail catfish.

To maintain optimal water conditions for your fish, you must constantly replace about 20 percent of your tank’s water each week with clean water. Additionally, keep at least one airstone running at all times and remove any uneaten food from your aquarium.

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You should also perform regular gravel cleaning with a siphon every three weeks or so to maintain healthy bacteria levels in your aquarium. If your tank temperature drops below 72 degrees Fahrenheit, add a submersible heater to maintain water temperatures between 73 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

Do not add substrate or decor containing copper into your aquarium because these objects can affect enzymes in catfish skin that help them breathe. If you want plants in your red tail catfish tank, choose species without sharp leaves since these can injure them if touched accidentally by your pet.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus tank mates

While phractocephalus hemioliopterus are generally peaceful fish, they can become territorial if housed with other fish of a similar size. It’s best to house them with fish that require less swimming space, like tetras or angelfish. These schooling fish will also help distract the attention of your catfish when feeding time comes around. You should also plan on adding one or two snails to help keep algae and biofilm from building up in your tank’s filter and heater.

Some other good tank mates are large stingrays, iridescent sharks, gars, bichirs, and large datnoids

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus breeding

phractocephalus hemioliopterus

It is important that you know what you are doing when you are breeding these fish because if it is not done correctly, it can have devastating consequences. Make sure that you have everything in place before beginning your journey into redtail catfish breeding.

A good thing to do is when you’re ready, get an aquarium with live plants, driftwood pieces and rocks that are going to be used for spawning purposes.

These three items will give your new born fry shelter from predators until they get big enough to fend for themselves, in addition, it gives them something solid to hide behind once they become adults. Also, make sure that your tank has a tight-fitting lid as adult redtails are amazing jumpers which means you need to prevent them from escaping at all costs!

To increase your odds of having a successful spawning experience, make sure that you feed your catfish very well. Feeding them more food than they would normally eat will cause their reproductive hormones to spike which will lead to egg fertilization and sperm development.

Are phractocephalus hemioliopterus aggressive or peaceful?

Redtail catfish are generally peaceful and easy-going. They get along well with other species of fish and thrive in community tanks. They don’t usually bother live plants, but they may occasionally nip at them if they become bored with swimming.

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Despite their size, redtails rarely harm smaller fish or invertebrates unless threatened. Some hobbyists keep them in large public aquariums alongside predatory species without any problems.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus care

phractocephalus hemioliopterus

They are omnivores. Feed them flake food and brine shrimp occasionally. Never feed them beef heart, turkey, or chicken livers as they can cause disease in your catfish and eventual death. They will eat just about anything you put in their tank, but it is best to feed them good quality flake food regularly so that they do not become accustomed to live foods only. Leave some sinking algae wafers/sticks in with them at all times as well.

Keep an eye on how much they consume at each feeding because if left uneaten, it will start to pollute the water. If your fish develop slimy skin, stop feeding them for a few days until their skin looks normal again before giving them another feed.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus are recommended for intermediate and experienced fishkeepers only. These fish require brackish water, as they are part of a tropical species that live in estuaries and mangrove swamps.

They need salt concentrations of at least 1/3 that of seawater; when kept in freshwater, their gills will not be able to process oxygen properly, which may result in death. The salinity is usually supplied by adding marine salt mix to their tank, but sometimes it is possible to acquire tap water that has been specially treated with a device called an ion-exchanger.

The pH should also be between 8.0-8.4 and ammonia levels 0 ppm or less; nitrites under 5 ppm and nitrates should also be maintained below 20 ppm. To bring up these numbers from tap water can take several weeks or months if you are doing regular partial water changes.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus food

Their diet should consist of bloodworms, brine shrimp, blackworms, beef heart (chopped), beef kidney (chopped), or any other food designed for fish. Give them only as much as they can eat in five minutes at least three times a day. Be sure to replace all uneaten food with fresh each time you feed them. To avoid putting extra waste into your tank, don’t overfeed your fish.

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Feeding redtail catfish can be difficult, as they prefer live feeder fish. However, these fish may also eat commercial flake foods with ease. You should try to mimic their natural diet if possible. Make sure your flake food is of high quality and does not contain dyes or preservatives that could harm your pet. Feed sparingly; if you have too much food in your tank at one time, your pets may resort to fighting over it instead of eating it.

Phractocephalus hemioliopterus lifespan

phractocephalus hemioliopterus

These species live up to 15 years with good care and proper water parameters.

Parasites and diseases

Like most fish, redtail catfish are susceptible to a number of common parasites and diseases, especially if housed in an unsterilized or untreated tank. External parasites like ich (pronounced ick) can be treated with medication purchased from aquarium supply stores, while internal infections are often signs of unhealthy water quality—treat both by performing regular water changes.

Your local veterinarian might also recommend treating certain illnesses with antibiotics. Be sure to read up on your chosen breed before purchasing any new fish: some breeds are more aggressive than others, which will play a role in their care requirements.


Because it has poisonous flesh, your redtail catfish won’t be having many predators. You should still keep them in an aquarium with strong, tightly-fitting lids, though. These fish are powerful jumpers and can easily clear an open tank lid if they have any chance at all of getting away from their captors.

Do Phractocephalus hemioliopterus make good pets?

Yes. Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is an attractive, algae-eating fish that is well suited to home aquariums. They are considered schooling fish and will do best in groups of three or more.

While they tend to be relatively gentle fish overall, they have small teeth and can bite if provoked. This species is native to subtropical regions of Asia, but aquarists report success with keeping them as pets in various parts of North America.