Striped Raphael Catfish: Care, Tank Mates, Diet, & More!

striped raphael catfish at the bottom of the tank
Featured Image – Striped Raphael Catfish

The striped raphael catfish is known by many names in the aquarium world (see our species overview below!), but regardless of what you call it, everyone agrees that this fish makes an excellent addition to freshwater aquariums. We put together an easy to read, everything you need to know about this unique species and how to add it to your tank.

Species Overview

Common namesStriped Talking catfish, Chocolate Doradid, Thorny Catfish, Striped Raphael Catfish, Humbug Catfish
Scientific namePlatydoras armatulus
SpeciesP. armatulus
Size8-10 inches
Lifespan10 years
DistributionSouth America
ColorTan, black, yellow
Minimum tank size50 gallon
Place in the tankBottom
Care levelEasy

History and Background

Known by many different names it is difficult to pin down the exact history of when these popular fish entered the aquarium hobby.


This fish species is native to South America where their distribution is quite large. Observations of the Platydoras armatulus have been made in the Amazon River Basin, Venezuela, and Peru. Wild caught fish are found along the bottom of fast moving streams and rivers near the roots of plants or among submerged vegetation scavenging for food.

Are striped raphael catfish good cleaners?

Yes, like all catfish the striped raphael catfish will scavenge along the bottom of your tank looking for whatever food it can find. For the striped raphael catfish food standards are not an issue, they are known to be opportunistic eaters and will eat anything that can fit in their mouth.

Are striped raphael catfish venomous?

Yes, like other catfish this fish has a sharp hook that runs alongside its spines on the pectoral and dorsal fin. Within this hook contains venom glands that can sting when the fish feels threatened. While most people don’t have a serious reaction to catfish venom it can be painful. 


Striped Raphael Catfish Swimming In A Planted Aquarium
(1) Striped Raphael Catfish Swimming In A Planted Aquarium

The distinct long lateral line at the side of this popular freshwater catfish makes for a unique appearance as it swims by.

What do striped raphael catfish look like

This freshwater fish has a long, torpedo shaped body with black and white stripes. They have three pairs of barbels which they use for sensing their environment. It is an armored catfish meaning that it has sharp dorsal fins along with spines down its lateral line. They also have rigid pectoral fin spines meaning you should practice caution when trying to handle the striped raphael catfish.


Platydoras armatulus is often confused with Platydoras costatus, a species native to French Guiana. However, the Platdoras costatus has a pale stripe that does not extend to the head whereas the Platydoras armatulus does.


The striped raphael catfish has white stripes that run laterally along its entire body contrasting its dark brown or black body color. Depending on the fish some will have a more yellowish tinted stripe.

There are no known variations of the striped raphael catfish, however many people are misled because of the other common names that this fish goes by. Other names include: chocolate doradid, chocolate catfish, thorny catfish, and the talking catfish. All of these names refer to the same fish species: Platydoras armatulus, or the striped raphael catfish.


Platydoras armatulus is referred to as the talking catfish because it makes grunting or squeaking noises which are amplified by the swim bladder when it is out of the water.

How big do striped raphael catfish get

Adult fish grow to roughly 7 to 9 inches, but are extremely slow growing at a rate of one inch every one to two years. Full size will be reached after 5-7 years.

How to tell if a striped raphael catfish is male or female

Both male and female striped raphael catfish are similar in appearance. Some aquarists claim that the striped raphael catfish male tend to be a yellowish tan color whereas the females display a cream color. This isn’t an entirely accurate statement as coloring can change based on genetics and environmental factors.

The two genders can be better differentiated at maturity…

The two genders can be better differentiated at maturity, especially near spawning season when the female will have a slightly rounder belly.

How fast do Striped Raphael Catfish grow?

The striped catfish is a very slow grower and can be expected to grow roughly one inch every one to two years until reaching the full size of 7-9 inches.

Temperament and Tankmates

An Aquarium With Different Fish Species
An Aquarium With Different Fish Species

While semi-territorial, this catfish gets along with most similarly sized fish.

How many striped raphael catfish should be kept together?

The striped raphael catfish does best when kept in small groups of 3 to 5 of the same fish species. This will give them the confidence to show off their individual personalities and feel comfortable in your aquarium.

Do Striped Raphael Catfish eat other fish?

Yes, this fish is well known for eating smaller fishes as they are opportunistic feeders and will eat smaller fish or pretty much anything that moves and fits in their mouth. If you’re planning on having a community tank with this species we recommend not keeping any small fish that can be mistaken for food.

What fish can live with a Raphael catfish?

The striped raphael catfish is known to be an aggressive fish if they feel threatened or like their territory is being encroached on. Good tank mates would include fish that occupy the middle or top sections of the tank and stay away from this aggressive species.

Compatible tank mates

  1. Black skirt tetra – If you’re looking for a fish that will compliment your striped raphael catfish colors the black skirt tetra could be for you. While the striped raphael catfish has lateral stripes, this tetra has longitudinal stripes. As both swim through your freshwater aquarium you might feel like there’s an optical illusion.
  2. Oscar fish – A peaceful fish that your catfish is not likely to bother due to it’s size. However, this pairing will need a very large aquarium as they are both species that take up a lot of room.
  3. Jaguar cichlid – Another species that usually gets a bad rap due to it’s aggression, it can be placed in a community tank with the striped raphael catfish and do well. They have similar coloring to the catfish species but will spend a majority of their time at the top of the tank. If keeping these two species as tank mates be sure to provide them with a larger fish tank to reduce aggression.
  4. African butterfly fish – A fish that often doesn’t do well with other fish species because of its aggression the African butterfly fish is compatible with the striped raphael catfish because the sharp fin rays of the catfish will deter the butterfly fish from even getting close. 
  5. Congo tetra – If you’re looking to add some color to your tank the congo tetra will add orange, gold, and blue to your aquarium. While a smaller fish, they are compatible because they will mostly stay out of your catfish’s way, and travel in schools which deter the catfish from attacking.

Tankmates to avoid

Despite looking mean this large catfish gets along with most other freshwater fish meaning there are not many tank mates you should avoid.

  1. Snails-they are likely to become fish feed if your striped raphael catfish is hungry.
  2. Bottom dwelling fish species-several species such as the bumblebee catfish, bristlenose pleco or pictus cat are listed in other striped raphael catfish care guides as being good tank mates. However, these fish can get into fights due to territorialism of the bottom section of the tank. When it comes to fights between these tankmates the striped raphael catfish will always win due to its sharp pectoral fins and curved spines.

Tank Requirements 

Empty Aquarium
An Empty Aquarium

Proper striped raphael catfish care includes understanding and providing a pristine tank environment. While this fish is hardy and can tolerate a range of tank conditions, it will experience the best quality of life when parameters are maintained in the ranges mentioned below.

What size tank does a Striped Raphael Catfish need?

Keeping striped raphael catfish requires a minimum tank size of 50 gallons. Because of the striped raphael catfish size and their preference to be in a group they require a large area despite not being very active.

Water Parameters

Tank Size>50 gallons
Water TypeFreshwater
Water temperature75-80
Water pH6.0-8.0
Water Hardness4 to 20 dKH

Water parameters include slightly hard water, almost neutral pH, and tropical water temperatures.

Tank Setup:

What substrate should I use for striped raphael catfish?

The striped raphael catfish natural environment includes fast moving rivers that have a nice sandy bottom substrate. These fish burrow and scavenge along the bottom of the tank looking for leftover fish food and dead plant matter.

Do I need a filter for my catfish tank?

Yes, the striped raphael catfish requires well maintained aquarium conditions and water parameters. A filter is necessary to maintain good environmental conditions. 


Having a filter is not a replacement for general tank maintenance and routine water tests.

Should I get a pump for my tank?

A pump is beneficial for the striped raphael catfish because they require a high oxygen environment.

Should I use a water heater for my striped raphael catfish tank?

Striped raphael catfish hail from South America tropical waters and require water temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Farenheit meaning you will likely need a water heater to provide adequate temperatures and water parameters.

What plants do striped raphael catfish like?

We recommend keeping live plants in your tank as they will provide extra hiding places for your catfish as well as another surface for algae to grow on. Because your tank will have a sandy bottom, and sand is not a good substrate for planted tanks, you might not be able to root plants super well. We suggest using floating plants instead as they won’t be bothered if your catfish tries to dig. Java moss, Amazon Frogbit, and Duckweed are floating plants that are well known for their hardy nature.

What sort of lighting should I use for my tank?

The striped raphael catfish prefers a dimly lit environment, and will probably spend most of the light hours hiding in a cave. If you choose to add floating plants to your aquarium it can help partially shade the environment while providing areas of light for other fish that need it.

Diet and Health

Catfish Hiding in the aquarium plants
(2) Catfish Hiding in the Aquarium Plants

This fish is not a picky eater, but just because they will eat almost anything doesn’t mean you should feed them everything. A high quality and well balanced diet will ensure the best life for your fish.

What do striped raphael catfish eat

The striped raphael catfish is an omnivore that will eat a variety of food including small crustaceans, organic debris, small fish, and insects.

What to feed striped raphael catfish?

In an aquarium setting you should feed your fish a high quality diet including sinking catfish pellets, live or frozen food, and plant matter. A good rule to follow is 80% of their diet should be made up of commercially available food and the remaining 20% of supplemental food sources such as brine shrimp, or bloodworms. 


Feeding your fish commercially available food is extremely important because it is specially formulated to provide the minerals and vitamins they would receive in their natural environment but are likely not receiving in captivity.

How often to feed striped raphael catfish

These fish are prone to overeating so you must be strict when it comes to their feeding schedule. There are no defined rules when it comes to feeding raphael catfish, but providing food once or twice a day and using the three minute rule to manage the amount will ensure that your fish are getting the nutrition they need but not overeating.


If your aquarium has lots of algae and you notice your catfish routinely grazing on it, it might not be necessary to feed it twice a day. Observe it’s feeding patterns during feeding time, if it seems uninterested by the food you can change the schedule to only feeding it once a day.

How much to feed striped raphael catfish?

We recommend using the three minute rule to effectively monitor how much you are feeding your fish. This technique is when you drop two to three morsels of food in the tank and start a timer.

Allow your fish to eat at their own pace adding more food once they have eaten everything until three minutes is over. At the end of each feeding session you should remove any uneaten food from the aquarium.

Here’s a video of feeding a group of hungry striped raphael catfish.

Striped Raphael Catfish (Platydoras armatulus) Feeding

Common diseases of striped raphael catfish

While this fish is fairly hardy it is susceptible to the same diseases that other tropical fish are if conditions are less than ideal. We’ve listed the top three diseases commonly seen in tropical fish.

  1. Ich: otherwise known as the white spot disease, ich is dreaded by every aquarist. Hard to treat and even harder to identify symptoms, ich is often severe before fish keepers discover it in time. Treatment can include aquarium salts and broad spectrum antibiotics. 
  2. Fin rot: A disease often caused by injury (fin nipping or sharp decor) and exasperated by poor tank conditions. Fin rot is due to a bacteria infecting and injury, and sometimes comes with a secondary fungal infection. Treatment can include salt baths, broad spectrum antibiotics, and anti-fungal medicine.
  3. Constipation-a disease often seen in fish that overeat, symptoms include lethargy, loss of appetite, and trouble swimming. Treatments include feeding a diet of shelled green peas and blanched lettuce and spinach to supplement fiber intake.

How long do striped raphael catfish live

In ideal conditions the striped raphael catfish have an average lifespan of 10 years.

Where should you not touch a catfish?

It is dangerous to touch a catfish along its dorsal and pectoral fins

It is dangerous to touch a catfish along its dorsal and pectoral fins because you run the risk of being “stung” by their spines. The sting doesn’t come from a stinger like bees and wasps, instead it is the result of venom glands that run along each spine. When threatened the catfish locks these spines in place causing the venom to be released when pressure is applied.

While the venom won’t kill a human it can be very painful and some people are allergic to it, causing hives and swelling.


It is recommended to use a glass or plastic container instead of a net when catching striped raphael catfish for water changes or transportation. Nets can potentially entangle them, whereas using a container would be safer.


A pair of striped raphael catfish
(2) A Pair Of Striped Raphael Catfish

It is impossible to breed the striped raphael catfish in captivity and there is no record of a home aquarist doing it.

Can you breed a striped raphael catfish?

As of right now it is almost impossible to breed this species in captivity and the fish that you see at fish stores are either wild caught or have been treated with hormonal injections to breed.

The difficulty of breeding in captivity is thought to be due to the spawning fish of this species preferring to lay their eggs in fast moving rivers and streams which is hard to simulate in an aquarium environment.

Is the striped raphael catfish for you?

If you are looking for a low maintenance fish to occupy the bottom of your tank and provide some interesting entertainment the striped raphael catfish could be for you!


While not as well known as the goldfish or the corydora catfish in the aquarium trade, the striped raphael catfish is a valuable addition to any freshwater tank and will help maintain excellent tank conditions.

Thank you for taking the time to read my striped raphael catfish care guide, and I wish you the best of luck on your aquarium adventure.

Featured Image – Manuel M., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) Astellar87, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(2) Piotr Kuczynski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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