Red Tail Catfish Care: Lifespan, Tank Mates, Diet, & Health

Written by Ricky

Origin: The Red Tail Catfish are originated in the South American and Amazonian river basins. Brazil. This long-whiskered species can be vastly found in Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Peru and other neighboring countries.

Max Size and Age

Red Tail Catfish can grow up to the length of 5 feet in the wild. However, in an aquarium they reach an  average length of 3 feet, reaching 5 feet is possible if cared for properly. The weight can vary with the length and on an average; they can weigh between 30 to 50 kilograms. They usually have a longer lifespan that can extend up to 20 years or more.

Red Tail Catfish Features

Red Tail catfishes are easily recognizable for its feline whiskers on the mouth and beautiful red tail. They are generally brown or gray in color with spots all over the body. A prominent wavy white band stretches through either side of the body till the tail. These species are also known as banana catfish, Flat-nosed catfish or antenna catfish. Almost all the varieties are huge in size and the current world record weight for red tail catfish is 56 kilograms.

Red Tail Catfish Tank Size and Setup

Red Tail Catfish is one of the largest species of freshwater aquarium fishes and for obvious reasons, they need a huge tank. You can keep a young one which I few inches in length in a smaller tank but they will outgrow their size in the first year itself and would need a bigger tank or an outdoor pond. To keep a small group of Red Tail Catfish in your home, you might need a huge tank or pond of 2500 gallons. This is certainly not possible for normal hobbyists and only professional breeders or experienced aquarists should opt for this variety.

Apart from the large tank size, the Red Tail Catfish would need moderate level maintenance and care. Make sure to have the best filter for your large aquarium as possible as they are voracious eaters and produce a lot of biological waste. This needs to be cleaned to maintain good water conditions. Red Tail Catfishes are good with soft or neutral water so you should keep the pH level below seven. Water temperature should be kept between 20 to 28 degrees Celcius. Red Tail Catfishes have a tendency to swallow inedible small objects so you must be aware of this fact before adding any decoration in the tank.

Feeding Red Tail Catfish


Red Tail Catfish eating chicken breast.

As said above, red tail catfishes are voracious eaters and live, meaty foods are best for their huge appetite. In the wild, they eat smaller fishes, worms, insects, tiny animals or even fruits. You can feed them a variety of live foods including smaller fishes, shrimps, worms and prawns. Be careful with live foods though, as they may carry diseases.

Frozen foods and pellets foods are recommended as they have the same nutrients as live food (maybe more) AND there’s no worrying about diseases being carried over. You can also train them to hand-feed from a young age. You must feed your red tail catfishes often, always make sure their belly is bloated as you never want to see it sunken in. I highly recommend feeding Hikari’s sinking carnivore pellets, what’s good is there’s a 2lb bag available. It’ll last you some time before having to buy food again.

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How to Keep Red Tail Catfish Healthy and Care Tips

Red Tail Catfishes are considered to be hardy in nature with rare chances of diseases. But you should take extra care and make sure they don’t gobble up the inedible stones or other things meant for decoration. This may injure your catfish or even kill them.

This specimen dwells in the middle or at the bottom of the water. Also, the young ones need a place to rest and hide from time to time. So, it is best to add some big structures like PVC pipes that can serve like a cave for your red tail catfishes.

Red Tail Catfish Tank Mates

Red Tail Catishes are carnivorous in nature and are natural predators. They will attack the smaller fishes in the tank. So, while choosing tank mates you must look for species that are larger or are of the same size. Gars, stingrays, datnoids and other large varieties can become good tank mates if they are clubbed together from a very young age.

The tank you choose must be huge as they grow very fast and attain their maximum size in the first year itself. It would be best to leave them in your backyard pond or the public aquarium if you are unable to provide such big space. Tank maintenance and water filtration are of utmost importance to keep your catfishes healthy for decades.

Bichirs, like the Dinosaur Bichir (a personal favorite) make excellent tank mates for Catfish and they get along great.

Final Thoughts

There are no specific distinguishable features between the males and females. Also, chances of breeding are very low in captivity. This species of monster fishes are popular among fish lovers and are relatively easy to find. However, due to their huge size and a big appetite, only advanced aquarists are recommended to keep this species. The natives of Amazon basin don’t eat red tail catfish as their flesh is darker compared to the other fishes.

Last update on 2021-10-01 at 14:49 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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    • Cichlids may bully them if they’re significantly larger.

      Stingrays usually keep to themselves. I would put the red tails in a grow out tank then add them when they are close to the size of your cichlids.

  • Do their fins and tail grow if they were eaten by another fish in the tank- he has been removed from said tank

    • Yes, for the most part depending on the damage done. In the meantime make sure to keep your water quality in check to reduce stress and promote healing.

  • I just recently added a red tail about 4 inches long with my Oscar fish who is very old but big. I also have 2 silver dollars and 3 cichlids who are about 8 inches as of now. Do you think this will be a problem? I have a 120 gallon tank. So far the catfish hides behind a moss ball and haven’t caught him eating the bottom feeder pellets I’ve been giving him.

    • Your RTC should catch up in size in no time once he starts eating. Soon I’d be worried about your cichlids becoming snacks and your tank being too small, these fish have a potential to grow around 5ft long.
      He may be stressed and adjusting to the environment. Give him a week or so and he should be eating in no time.
      Also most catfish are nocturnal, try feeding when the lights are off.

    • They will honestly eat anything they can fit in their mouth. I’ve read stories of owners waking up to a dead red tail catfish because it tried consuming a rock that was in the aquarium.