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5 Monster Catfish Kept in Home Aquariums

Anyone who has ever kept freshwater aquariums will know of these Monster Catfish. Many will have seen them in shops and public aquariums but rarely in people’s home aquariums.

Simply due to the size that these fish can grow to and size of aquarium needed to keep them will restrict them being kept by most aquarists.

That’s not to say we don’t want to!

When I started my first job in a local aquarium store, I saw a big bag of fish being unloaded from the Styrofoam box. This box had around 15 – 20 small brown and white catfish with a little hint of red on their tail.

Later, I became aware of these fish and found out they were Redtail Catfish.

Cute I thought!

Slowly we sold them one by one, until after 2-3 months we only had one left. I still didn’t really know what these little Monster Catfish were and didn’t know their true potential.

It was only after 5-6 months when the last one still hadn’t sold and I noticed it was already 3-4 Inches. WOW! This catfish was quickly turning into a little Monster Catfish right in front of my eyes.

We ended up keeping him and making him the star attraction in our store. We had a custom aquarium made with a 10x3x3 Aquarium with custom filter units.

When I got another job and left this aquarium store (to a bigger aquarium store), the Redtail was at around 18-20 Inches in length.

It was at that point I realized that these Monster Catfish are only for the very dedicated and committed aquarists.

Let us take a look at 5 Large Catfish Popular for Home Aquariums

Shovelnose Catfish (Merodontotus Tigrinus)

tiger shovelnose catfish complete care guide

Also known as Tiger Catfish, these fish come from the rivers in South America and can be found in Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, and Paraguay. In the Amazon, it is considered a sports fish where they are fished and also eaten by locals who report them to be very tasty.

They are very large catfish that can grow to over 4 feet in length in the wild and in a home aquarium they often reach between 2-3 Feet given the right size tank, water conditions, and food.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish are highly active fish, and a tightly covered aquarium lid should be used at all times to prevent themfrom jumping out of the tank.

They have a huge appetite and will devour any small fish, so choose their tank mates carefully. They are also aggressive swimmers and have been known to knock and even kill other fish whilst swimming and feeding.

Scientific NamePseudoplatystoma fasciatum
FamilyPimelodidae
TemperamentAggressive
Common NamesTiger Catfish, Shovelnose catfish
Care LevelMedium level
DietOmnivores
FoodsLarge meaty foods, Live feeders and Large pellets when juveniles
OriginSouth America
Tank Size180 Gallons+ Juveniles
250-400 Gallons+ Adults
Suitable first fish?No-They grow too large and fast for beginners to care for
SizeCaptivity 2-3 feet in the wild 3-4 feet
Water ConditionsSoft acidic Freshwater-75-82° F, KH 6-20, pH 6.0-8.0
DecorLarge items, rocks, driftwood
DesirabilityHigh amongst catfish lovers
Jumpers?Only when scared or first introduced
PricePrice: $20 Juvenile - $300 Adult
Star rating4.5 out of 5

Red-Tail Catfish (Phractocephalus Hemioliopterus)

REDTAIL CATFISH

The Red-tailed Catfish Phractocephalus hemioliopterus is easily recognized and is one of the most adored and prized catfish species for freshwater catfish enthusiasts. These fish are members of the Pimelodidae family and look stunning with their beautiful red tail and white belly and unmistakable characteristics. 

It is also known as the South American Red-Tailed Catfish, Banana Catfish, and Redtail Catfish. As I mentioned in the start of this post, these catfish can grow to over 3 feet or more in captivity and there are reports of specimens reaching up to 5 feet in the wild. 

These Monster Catfish have the power to match their looks and has led people to fish them for sport in the wild. You can imagine how much fight a 5 feet specimen would put up.

Scientific namePhractocephalus hemioliopterus
Common NamesSouth American red tail, banana catfish, flat-nose catfish, antenna catfish, RTC
Family
Pimelodidae
OriginSouth America
Lifespan20 years
Sociability
Peaceful but predatory
Growth
3-4 feet in captivity. In the wild 6 feet max
DietOmnivore
Minimum tank size:1000 Gallons plus
Tank levelBottom to middle
Care levelModerate to advanced
Water parameters68-79℉ or 20-26.1℃, 5.5-7.2 pH, 3-12 dGH
BreedingOviparous
Suitable First FishNo- Due to how fast they grow and the size of aquarium needed
Community FishNo- They will eat smaller fish. Only house with fish of similar size
Food TypesJuveniles- pellets, meaty foods. Adults- Feeder fish, meaty foods and larger pellets
Cost:From $17 - $500 depending on size

Giraffe Catfish (Auchenoglanis Occidentalis)

monster catfish

The Giraffe Catfish is a large species that requires not only an expert keeper but the equipment to go with it. A huge aquarium and powerful filtration are just a couple of things that you’ll need plus a food budget bigger than a pet dog’s.

In the wild, these hefty bottom-dwellers are known from a plethora of shallow lakes and rivers with muddy substrates; indeed, this species has a huge distribution area, which encompasses much of West Africa, Lake Chad, the entire Congo River system, the Nile, East African lakes, and the rivers Omo and Giuba.

Giraffe Catfish can be very characterful and can recognize and interact with their owners within days of being purchased. You can see by their face the look and almost smiling expression on their face.

Not often seen in the home aquarium due to their size but found in many Zoos and public aquariums due to their looks, size, and personality.

Scientific nameAuchenoglanis occidentalis
FamilyClaroteidae
GenusAuchenoglanis
HabitatEast Africa to West Africa.
First Discovered1840
Size90-95cm Max
DietLive foods, Frozen Seafood, Large Pellets
Tank size200 Gallon Minimum
LifespanUp to 18-20 Years
Water Conditions24 - 28°C, pH 6.5 – 7.8

Paroon Shark-Catfish (Pangasius Sanitwongsei)

Paroon Shark-Catfish

The Paroon Shark Catfish for me is totally unsuitable for home aquariums due to its skittishness when kept in cramped conditions. It is a super-fast and active species of catfish, especially when feeding.

This can lead to problems with the fish banging into rocks, substrates and decor, often resulting in harm and injury to the fish.

These fish are often kept as prize trophy fish and kept in unsuitable conditions.

The reason they are not suitable for most aquariums is not the outright size of the fish but the speed and activeness of the species which requires a lot of water to swim around in. Compare this to many other large catfish that hardly move at all.

Scientific Name
Pangasius sanitwongsei
FamilyPangasiidae
Native Habitat Southeast Asia
Max size48 Inches
DietOmnivore, Frozen Seafoods, Live foods, Large pellets, Earthworms
Water Conditions75 to 81°F (24 to 27°C)
pH: 6.5 to 7.5
Tank Size250 Gallons Minimun for Juvenile
Lifespan18-20 Years

Ripsaw Catfish (Oxydoras Niger)

Ripsaw Catfish

The ripsaw catfish or cuiu cuiu is a species of thorny catfish native to the Amazon, Essequibo and São Francisco basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru and Venezuela.

This fish, although classed as a Monster Catfish, can live in a home aquarium if the tank is very long and has a good size water volume. In captivity, it normally grows no bigger than 3 feet but in large public aquariums and zoos it has been seen as big as 4-5 Feet.

Ripsaw catfish are slow-moving and so their bony scutes on the sides of their bodies act as a defense and weapon against predators, hence the name.

These fish are messy eaters and therefore produce a lot of nitrogenous waste, so it is essential to run powerful filtration on your aquarium like Fluval FX6 canister filters and in an aquarium of 200-500 Gallons you’ll need at least two of them.

Scientific nameOxydoras niger
FamilyDoradidae
Native HabitatAmazon, Brazil, Bolivia, Columbia
Max Size36-40 Inches
Tank Size250 Gallons Minimun for a Juvenile
DietOminvores- Live foods, Earthworms,Large Pellets, Frozen Meaty Foods
Water Conditions70 – 77°F (21 – 25°C) – pH: 6.0 – 7.0
Lifespan17 Years

Aquarium Requirements

As you can imagine, the aquarium you need to house one of these monsters is going to be large, very large indeed. If you’re wanting to keep one of these large catfish all the way through their lives to fully grown then you’ll need to plan and take into consideration the size of the aquarium and water volume first and foremost.

Secondly, you’ll need to consider the height and width of the tank. It’s not just the water volume that’s important but also the space they have to swim around.

Catfish like the Paroon Shark need a really wide aquarium and can get spooked really easily and jump out of the aquarium. So, a wide aquarium is needed.

The minimum size aquarium recommended for juveniles is 6 x 2 x 2 Feet and as they grow, you’ll need to increase the size of the aquarium and the water volume.

Many people in warm climates choose to keep them in ponds and pools. These have many advantages over aquariums. They offer more water volume and the room to swim. Often 1000 Gallons which is perfect for a medium sized monster catfish.

If it’s going to stay in your home, you’ll need to provide at least an 8 x 3 x 2 feet aquarium.

Water Conditions

There are many types of freshwater fish, in fact 1000’s, but the vast majority will fit into the community aquarium category and will need certain water parameters.

Catfish are no different. The key water quality parameters which need to be continually monitored are temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and ammonia.

Water parameters should be 75-82° F, KH 6-20, pH 6.0-8.0

water quality

Feeding Habits

The majority of large catfish are omnivores and require a substantial amount of food as you can imagine.

Feeding a monster Catfish is not a difficult due to the fact that it is not a picky eater. In the wild, these catfish will eat fish and crustaceans. In the aquarium setting, assorted worms, frozen foods, sinking catfish pellets, and dry foods will provide the proper nutrition.

As the fish grows in size so too will their appetite and the portion size will increase. With this not only comes a bigger food bill but also more mess and waste within the aquarium.

You’ll need to ensure you have a suitable filter. As a basic filter, you could try the Fluval FX6. You may even need two or three of them running side by side.

We find creating your own filter and thinking larger scale, maybe a good option.

Biggest Freshwater Catfish in the World

The Mekong Giant Catfish is the world’s largest species of catfish found in Mekong river basin in Southeast Asia. The giant catfish of the Mekong river is a critically endangered species and the biggest freshwater fish in the world.

Mekong giant catfish grow extremely quickly, reaching a mass of 150 to 200 kg (330 to 440 lbs) in six years.

You would think from the size of these fish that they would eat anything that comes in their way, a full grown one could eat a small horse. However, the Mekong giant catfish are toothless herbivores that live off of the plants and algae in the river.

That being said, you don’t see them in public aquariums and definitely not often seen in home aquariums.

Conclusions: Heavyweight Freshwater Catfish

As you can see there are some Monster Catfish available to home aquarists. However, there are vigorous debates on whether these fish should be kept in a home aquarium due to their size and demands.

You can see why; if your Red-Tail Catfish grows to 2-3 feet in length, then what size aquarium is needed and suitable? In fact, would any fish tank be suitable?

I’ll leave this debate for another day and another article.

But one thing is for sure, if you’re looking or asking your local pet store or aquatic shop to find you a freshwater Monster Catfish then one of these 5 Large Catfish will probably the ones they tell you about.

Just be warned what you’re getting yourself into!

Carl Broadbent