Tiger Shovelnose Catfish: Care, Size & Tank Mates

The tiger shovelnose catfish is a very interesting freshwater fish that has captured the attention of aquarists for many years. Their unique look has actually made them one of our favorite large fishes you can keep!

However, there are some things you need to know if you want one of your own:

Due to their size and temperament, it’s recommended that beginners avoid these fish until they’re a bit more experienced. Good tiger shovelnose catfish care requires you to be familiar with their needs a bit more than the average fish.

Fortunately, this guide covers everything you’ll need to know. You’ll learn about their size, growth rate, diet, and more!

Species Summary

The tiger shovelnose catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum) originates from the waters of South America. You can typically find them in the deepest areas of large rivers where they have the room to move freely and find food to each (primarily other fish).

These fish tend to like locations that are a bit shadier. There will often be a significant amount of vegetation present in these waters, and it’s common to find them in flooded forests for this reason as well.

The tiger shovelnose uses its barbels to navigate in the dark and murky waters they occupy. This helps them understand not only where they’re going, but where their prey happens to be.

Due to their size and taste, these fish are sought after by local fishermen.


The lifespan of a shovelnose catfish can range anywhere from 18-25 years. This range can be significantly impacted by genetic factors and the quality of care they receive in captivity.

It’s uncommon for these fish to hit the upper limits of that lifespan in captivity. This isn’t unusual for large freshwater fish, but you should be aware of it before getting one.


The appearance of tiger shovelnose catfish is what makes them stand out so much in the first place.

As you would expect by their name, these fish have a long, wide, and flat mouth. This is a great design that allows them to scarf down prey and also skim the riverbed when necessary.

A tiger shovelnose catfish in a tank

They have rather long barbels that protrude from the front of their mouth and are angled slightly forward. These help them feel their way around murky waters.

The dorsal fins of these fish are average in size and fan backward in a shell-like shape. Tiger shovelnose catfish have forked caudal fins that contain black spots. Their pectoral and anal fins are both on the smaller side and contain a similar pattern.

The coloration and pattern on their body is a dark silver with large black stripes running vertically (usually) from front to back. These fish are also spotted so you’ll typically see spots in different areas between the stripes.


The average tiger shovelnose catfish size is around 2.5 to 3 feet in captivity. These fish can grow even larger in the wild but rarely exceed 4 feet in their natural habitat.

A large pseudoplatystoma fasciatum

There’s a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to their growth rate. These fish grow quite fast and you’ll need to be prepared to handle that. No matter how little you feed them or how small their tank is, they will grow fast and end up being pretty big.

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish Care

There are some elements of tiger shovelnose catfish care that are straightforward and others that require some knowledge and preparation. This section will lay out the essential things to know if you want to help these fish thrive and live a long, happy life.

Tank Size

Since tiger shovelnose catfish are rather large, it’s important to make sure they have a tank that’s large enough for them to be comfortable.

The ideal tank size for these fish is 180-200 gallons for juveniles and 250+ for adults. If you’re unable to provide these with a tank this size then these aren’t the fish for you.

A large part of tiger shovelnose catfish care is making sure that these fish are comfortable and don’t feel cramped. This will cause them to live in a state of stress which can shorten their lifespan (and isn’t fair to them on a moral level).

Water Parameters

Tiger shovelnose catfish are a hardy species of freshwater fish that can tolerate a flexible range of water parameters. This gives you a little room for error, but you should still try and keep things as consistent as possible.

  • Water temperature: 75°F to 82°F
  • pH levels: 6-8
  • Water hardness: 6-20 KH

Always make sure to perform consistent water level checks with a reliable testing kit to make sure everything looks good. This will help you catch any unwanted shifts before they become a problem and impact the health of your fish.

Author Note: Don’t forget to perform regular water changes as well. Water quality is one of the most important parts of good fish care, and taking it seriously will ensure that your fish lives a long comfortable life.

What To Put In Their Tank

Tiger shovelnose catfish are fairly low maintenance, but it’s important to set up their tank in a way that keeps them happy and enriched. These fish can be prone to stress or aggression if kept in a bland or bare tank.

Try to include items in their tank that mimic their natural environment as much as possible. For the most part, this means a mix of vegetation, driftwood, and rocks.

You can experiment with a variety of plants when setting up their tank. Hornwort and water wisteria are two of our favorites because of the flexibility they offer.

Placing some decently-sized rocks and driftwood on the substrate can make a big difference as well. The rivers they’re used to have plenty of these, so your tiger shovelnose will feel right at home!

Common Possible Diseases

Tiger shovelnose catfish don’t have any unique diseases or sicknesses that they’re prone to getting. Instead, you need to take a more general approach when monitoring their health.

Just like other freshwater species, the tiger shovelnose can get common diseases like ich. This is often caused by poor water quality or the inclusion of another fish with ich in the tank.

Overall, your best bet is to follow the main principles of fish care. Stay on top of their water quality, feed them a healthy diet, and reduce stress. If you do these things there’s a good chance your tiger shovelnose will live for quite a while!

Food & Diet

In the wild, these fish mostly eat smaller fish and crustaceans. They have been known to nibble on plants here and there, but spend most of their time looking for meaty protein-rich foods.

This means it’s important for you to have a significant amount of food in stock at all times. Since these are large fish, they’ll obviously eat a lot more than your traditional smaller freshwater species.

Aim for a mix of frozen foods, worms, and pellets to give them a balanced diet. For a treat, you can drop in pieces of fish for them as well. We like doing that from time to time because it’s a nice snack and a good source of enrichment (tiger shovelnose catfish like variety just like we do).

Author Note: It’s important to make sure that you’re giving these fish the proper amount of food. Due to their size, it can be easy to get tricked into overfeeding them.

Always keep an eye on how much food they’re eating and if there’s any going to waste. This can lead to health problems and a decrease in water quality. Monitor this especially closely while they’re still growing.

Behavior & Temperament

Tiger shovelnose catfish are an active species that can show aggression in certain circumstances. While this is always something to be aware of, their size makes it an even greater priority.

Like we mentioned earlier, these fish are used to deep rivers. Just because they’re catfish you shouldn’t confuse them with pure bottom feeders. These massive fish will spend a lot of time being active and swimming throughout all levels of the tank.

A tiger shovelnose catfish swimming along the substrate

This makes them very fun to observe, but also easy to monitor when it comes to health. Unlike passive aquarium catfish that sit around most of the day, the tiger shovelnose will be in motion often. This means if you see them acting lethargic you should seriously consider the possibility that they might be sick.

Tiger shovelnose catfish are on the aggressive side of things, so you need to plan around this before you purchase one. They will pick on other fish that can’t stand up for themselves and get territorial (especially if there isn’t enough room).

Tiger Shovelnose Catfish Tank Mates

The most important thing to remember when it comes to choosing the right tank mates for these fish is size and temperament. Tiger shovelnose catfish are quite large, which means they can easily injure other smaller fish (or even eat them).

This means other freshwater fish that are large enough to defend themselves or not be considered a target are a must. Obviously, this will impact the size of the tank you need as well because two large fish need room to stretch out.

You’ll also want to try and find tank mates that aren’t overly aggressive. Any fish that are extremely territorial or feisty won’t make for a good fit. While your shovelnose will likely be able to defend itself, you never want a tank where there’s frequent fighting.

Some examples of fish that make suitable tank mates are arowana, other large catfish like the redtail (if you have enough room), giant gourami, pacu, and even Oscar fish. Some people have recommended iridescent sharks, but we think they’re a bit too skittish to consider.

Author Note: Making sure your tiger shovelnose catfish is well-fed is something that can impact their ability to get along with other species as well. While you never want to overfeed them, a hungry shovelnose is more prone to being feisty in the tank.

Breeding Viability

If you’re thinking about attempting to breed tiger shovelnose catfish, you’re in for a challenge. While it’s definitely possible, there’s not much information floating around online about the process.

This means that aside from sticking to best practices and replicating their natural habitat as much as you can, there’s an element of uncertainty that you need to accept. It’s also worth pointing out that breeding can shorten the lifespan of your fish, so this isn’t something we recommend trying just for kicks.

Right off the bat, you face two significant challenges. The first is that you’ll need to have the space to accommodate a large breeding tank. You’ll likely need to transition the adults out once the process is finished as well, so there needs to be space for another tank too.

The second challenge is with actually finding fish to mate. Sexing tiger shovelnose catfish is not easy, and you’ll probably hit a few bumps in the road simply trying to find a male and a female. If you do, there’s no guarantee that they will be compatible and even attempt to breed in your tank.

In short, there are a lot of “ifs” when it comes to breeding this species. It’s our recommendation that you simply don’t attempt it at all. Simply enjoy the beauty of these creatures and leave it at that.


You should now have a better understanding of the tiger shovelnose catfish and how to care for them. These fish are impressive specimens that are a treat to observe in your tank.

The raw size, power, and unique appearance will make them an instant standout no matter what other fish you own. Their activity level makes for fun viewing as well since they’re always up to something!

If you want to learn more about the tiger shovelnose catfish or ask specific questions you can always reach out to us directly. We love talking with the fishkeeping community, especially when it comes to less-common fish like this!

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