Synonyms: Phractocephalus bicolor, Pirarara bicolor, Silurus hemioliopterus
Physical description: An elongated catfish with a rounded snout. Three pairs of barbels are located around the mouth. The base body color is light black and little dark spots can be seen on the head. A wide, white band extends from the caudal penuncle to the tip of the snout. The belly is black, as are the fins. The caudal fin is a stunning red color. The upper tip of the dorsal fin may be orange to red.
Size/Length: To 40" (100 cm) in nature, not usually more than 18" (45 cm) in captivity.
Similar species: None
Habitat: South America; in deep river channels and pools of the Amazon and the Rio Negro.
Aquarium: 72" (200 cm) or 100 gallons (378 L). A large tank is needed for the Red tail catfish. Large open swimming areas should be provides. Large, hardy plants should be used for small ones will be hopelessly buried or uprooted. Use a large cave or grouping of rocks for a hiding area.
Water chemistry: pH 5.5-7.2 (6.8), dH 3-12 (8), 68-79 °F (20-26°C)
Social behavior: A large, nocturnal predator that will eat any tank mates that it can swallow. Only combine with large, robust fish. During the day the Red tail catfish remains motionless, but when evening comes, it searches the tank for prey.
Suggested companions: Large cichlids, large characins, Arawana, large loricarids
FOOD: Live; fish, earthworms, crabs, other large live foods; occasionally tablets
SEX: Unknown; possibly males are slenderer with a brighter red color.
Breeding techniques: Impossible in an aquarium because of required size of tank.
Breeding potential: 10. Breeding has not be accomplished in aquaria.
Remarks: The Red tail catfish is not recommended for private aquaria. When handled, the Red tail catfish secretes a red substance from its tail. Some specimen have lived for over 20 years. The Red tail catfish will try to consume anything it can accommodate into its mouth-including heaters, rocks, and air diffusers. Phractocephalus is a monotypic genus -- including only one species.
Difficulty of care: 8. The Red tail catfish is difficult to care for, requiring a huge tank and a diet of live fish. This catfish is difficult to combine with other fish because of its predatory nature.
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