Tigrinus Catfish (Brachyplatystoma tigrinum) 101: Care, Max Size, Lifespan, Tank Mates & Feeding


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The Tigrinus Catfish (Brachyplatystoma tigrinum) is one of the most appealing and interesting species to have. Unfortunately, these fish are rare in the aquarium trade.

Due to their unique coloration and body shapes, Tigrinus Catfish are often sought after by aquarium enthusiasts. These fish grow to be quite large, so they need a lot of space. They are also known to be poor eaters, making them difficult to care for.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Tigrinus Catfish for your aquarium, you need to know what you’re doing.

This care guide will cover everything you need to know about keeping Tigrinus Catfish in your aquarium, including diet, tank setup, and feeding problems. Tigrinus Catfish can be a rewarding and long-lived addition to your aquarium with the proper care.

Species Summary

The Tigrinus Catfish (Brachyplatystoma tigrinum) was formerly described as Merodontotus tigrinus, native to the Amazon River basin in South America. Also known as Zebra Shovelnose, Rio Madeira, or Tiger striped catfish, these creatures come with very distinct characteristics.

The Tigrinus Catfish is a bottom-dweller, so it spends most of its time near the bottom of the tank.

This species is one of the large-growing catfish but only aggressive towards smaller fish. Being an opportunistic predator will eat just about any small fish that can fit in its mouth.



Tigrinus Catfishes have a very unique look. They have a long slender white body that is covered with remarkably black stripes. These continuous strips run horizontally along the body and continue on their dorsal, adipose, and caudal fins.

These fish are often mistaken with Brachyplatystoma juruense, which has divided strips and a short upper jaw. Juvenile Tigrinus Catfish are mostly grayish and are not equipped with these strips. They develop these strips as they mature.

Their elongated head and long “whiskers” or barbels make the Tigrinus Catfish look very elegant in the aquarium. Sometimes, their maxillary barbels may reach half the length of their body.

The adipose fin is large and rounded, while the dorsal and caudal fins are both forked. Like many other long-whiskered catfishes, the Tigrinus Catfish lack scales.

Tigrinus Catfish Max Size

What is the expected maximum size of Tigrinus Catfish? The Tigrinus Catfish can grow quite large, with some specimens reaching up to 23.6 inches (60 cm) in length. However, the average size is usually around 20 inches (50 cm).

Their sizes are also largely dependent on their genetics and the quality of care they receive.


The average Tigrinus Catfish lifespan is somewhere between 10 and 15 years. That’s significantly longer than most other freshwater fish, which tend to have lifespans of 5 – 10 years or less. 

As always, there are no guarantees when it comes to species’ life expectancy. Since these fish need specific requirements, it’s very common for Tigrinus Catfish to have a shorter lifespan in captivity.

Well, if you provide your Tigrinus Catfish with the right environment and care, you can enjoy many years of watching them grow and interact in your aquarium.

Care and Tank Setup

Tigrinus Catfish care is actually pretty simple once you know the basics. While they are relatively easy to care for, there are a few things that potential Tigrinus Catfish owners should keep in mind. 

This section will break down the essentials of care so you can provide your fish with the ideal habitat possible. 

Tigrinus Catfish Tank Size

The recommended tank size for a full-grown Tigrinus catfish is 180 gallons with a large footprint (as long and wide as possible). If you plan on keeping young Tigrinus Catfish in your aquarium, you will need to increase the tank size accordingly.

These fish are known to grow fast, and they can outgrow small aquariums pretty quickly. If you keep them in a small tank, that will stunt their growth and can cause long-term health problems.

Not only do Tigrinus Catfish need a large tank, but they also need a lot of hiding spots and places to explore. They are very active fish that enjoy swimming around, so you’ll want to make sure there’s plenty of open space in their tank for them to move around.

Water Parameters

In their native habitats, these fish are found in the fast-flowing murky waters with a high proportion of dissolved oxygen and solids. Maintaining a high level of dissolved oxygen is very important for Tigrinus Catfish.

Tigrinus Catfish are very tolerant of a wide range of water parameters, but the following conditions should be met for optimal care: 

  • Temperature: 75.2 – 82.4°F (High Oxygen Level)
  • pH: 6.8 – 7.6
  • GH: 0 – 18
  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0ppm
  • Nitrate: <30ppm

To mimic their natural habitat as much as possible, increasing water movement with a powerful filter and pump is recommended. 

Additionally, Tigrinus Catfish are voracious eaters and will produce a lot of waste. Filtration is essential for keeping these fish healthy and preventing them from polluting the water – 2 or more canister filters are a good choice so that if one fails, the other can take over.

Regular water changes and testing will help prevent nitrates and ammonia buildup before they become a problem for your Tigrinus Catfish.

Substrate And Plants

Decorating an aquarium for Tigrinus Catfish can be pretty simple and is a matter of personal preference.

Live or fake plants are not necessary. Robust live plants are a good idea. They should not be eaten but maybe uprooted by Tigrinus Catfish. Just make sure the plants are securely anchored. 

For substrate, Tigrinus Catfish prefer a sandy substrate with some flat rocks, driftwood, or bogwood as hiding places. They also like to dig through the substrate, so you’ll want to avoid using anything that’s too small or too sharp.

The lighting should not be too bright. Running your blue moon lights on a very low intensity after your main lights turn off creates a sparkling moonbeam effect that helps to encourage these fascinating fish to show their best colors and antics. 

Food & Diet

As we mentioned before, Tigrinus Catfish are entirely piscivorous and will consume fish they can fit into their mouths.

Tigrinus Catfish are also a notoriously finicky species when it comes to their eating habits. In the wild, they subsist primarily on a diet of smaller fish and crustaceans. However, in captivity, new fish often refuse to eat anything that isn’t live food. These problems can be overloaded in a community tank.

As a result, Tigrinus Catfish owners must take special care to ensure that their fish are getting enough to eat.

One method is to feed Tigrinus Catfish live freshwater bait fish. This will stimulate their natural hunting instincts and encourage them to eat.

However, there is some debate over whether Tigrinus Catfish should be fed with shrimp and other shellfish or not. Almost half of the keepers suggest not to provide them with any shellfish as young Tigrinus Catfishes’ diets, even if they are freshwater. While the other half argue that Tigrinus Catfish can consume shrimp after they reach 12 inches.

Given the records and associated risks, it is the best way to avoid them no matter your fish’s age and size, and there are plenty of food options out there. Tilapia, live blackworms, and nightcrawlers have been proved to be the Tigrinus Catfish’s favorites. Some catfish pellets will work as well. The most popular ones are Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets and Hikari Massivore Delite.

Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets for Pets,...
  • Perfectly balanced to offer a daily diet most carnivores love
  • Higher levels of carotenoids promote brilliant colors
  • Free of unwanted parasites and bacteria common with live foods
  • Higher digestible protein levels that carnivores need
  • Absorbs water rapidly taking on a texture of a live fish

Small Tigrinus Catfishes are very sensitive to any slight change in the tank. You should keep them in a small tank without other tank mates so that they can find the food easily.

These fish are prone to be stressed out with other fish in a community tank during the feeding. It’s best to set up a divider or basket for a few weeks until your Tigrinus Catfish has established himself in the tank.

Photo: longislandfishguy

Like most wild-caught species, Tigrinus Catfish can be trained to accept frozen food and pellets with patience and trial and error, but be prepared; it may take a long time.

Tigrinus Catfish Tank Mates

Due to the fact that feeding these fish can be tricky, young Tigrinus Catfish are not recommended for most community tanks. It’s best to keep them isolated in their own grow-out tanks until they reach 12 inches.

When choosing tank mates for your adult Tigrinus Catfish, it’s best to steer clear of many small fish, as they may become prey. You also want to avoid aggressive fish that may nip at their delicate fins and long filaments.

Here are some potential tank mates to consider:

  • Clown loaches
  • Endlicheri Bichir
  • Johanna Pike Cichlid
  • Silver Cichlid


The Tigrinus Catfish has not been bred in captivity.

Final Thoughts

Like any other precious and rare species, The Tigrinus Catfish is a beautiful and unique fish that can make a great addition to your aquarium. 

They are not aggressive but do require some specific conditions to thrive. 

We’ve heard from countless owners that the most important thing to remember when keeping Tigrinus Catfish is to be patient. These fish may cost a thousand dollars or more, so educate yourself before making the purchase.

If you have any stories about your precious or something we didn’t cover in this guide, please share them with us in the comments below!

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Jeff Colt

Jeff Colt

Hello, I'm Jeff- an aquarium enthusiast with over 25 years of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish, including koi, goldfish bettas, cichlids and more! For me: Aquariums are like jello - there's always room for more!

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