Tiger Shovelnose Catfish: Species Profile & Care Guide

Catfish staying at the aquarium substrate
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: June 12, 2024
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Are you searching for a fascinating freshwater fish to enhance your collection? Do you have a sizable aquarium or pond that could benefit from some added diversity? The tiger shovelnose catfish, a notably large species, might be a captivating addition to your spacious tank. Written by experienced fish enthusiasts familiar with aquarium settings, this detailed guide is designed to help you determine if the tiger shovelnose catfish meets your requirements.

Article Summary

  • Tiger shovelnose catfish can be territorial and may eat smaller fish that fit in their mouths.
  • These catfish require a large tank, with at least 180 gallons for juveniles and over 250 gallons for adults.
  • Breeding in captivity may require the use of breeding hormones.

Species Overview

Common namesTiger shovelnose catfish, tiger catfish, barred shovelnose, pintadillo
Scientific namePseudoplatystoma fasciatum
SpeciesP. fasciatum
Size3 ft
Lifespan18-25 years
DistributionSouth America
ColorSilver, black, light brown
Minimum tank size180 gallon
Place in tankBottom

History and Background

They are impressive specimens that local fishermen seek out but rarely catch due to their elusiveness and small population.


While this large freshwater fish is much too large for your home aquarium it gained popularity as a freshwater fish that does well in outdoor ponds that mimic its natural habitat.

Where tiger shovelnose catfish from

The tiger shovelnose catfish hails from the Amazon and Orinoco river basins and can be found all over South America including Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru. They typically inhabit major rivers and spend much of their time lurking along the bottom, scavenging for food. They are also sometimes found in flooded forests and other freshwater habitats.


Catfish swimming near the bottom
A Tiger Shovelnose Catfish (Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum)

Their distinct cells filled with color and patterns make for an intriguing appearance as they swim.

What do tiger shovelnose catfish look like

The tiger catfish has distinctively marked color patterns that have inspired its common name. The most noticeable is the loop like dark bars along its body giving it the appearance of a tiger, hence its name. In between the dark vertical bars are fewer white vertical bars. The ‘shovelnose’ name comes from their long, flat mouth that are abnormal in other catfish species.

These fish typically inhabit large rivers where visibility is limited and thus, have evolved to have large barbels (like whiskers) protruding outwards from underneath their mouth.

Tiger catfish have spotted caudal, dorsal, pectoral and anal fins. They have forked caudal fins, and their pectoral fin spines contain toxins that can hurt if stung.

You might also see discrete dark spots on their long flat nose, or few or no spots, as this depends on the individual.


There is only one variety of Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum, but there is a closely related and often confused fish called the Tiger sorubim which doesn’t grow quite as large.

All tiger catfish are big fish and have a dusky pigmentation which makes sense as they are bottom dwellers in their natural habitat.

How big do tiger shovelnose catfish get?

On average the tiger shovelnose catfish grows 2.5 to 3 feet in captivity. In their natural environment of deep rivers they have been known to reach lengths of 4 feet.

How fast do tiger shovelnose catfish grow?

This freshwater fish can grow up to 12 inches every two years until they reach their mature size. It will take roughly 5 to 6 years for this massive fish to reach full size.

Temperament and Tankmates

Catfish and oscars swimming together in a fish tank
(1) Tiger Shovelnose Catfish with Oscar Cichlids In A Fish Tank

Mostly peaceful in nature, the tiger shovelnose catfish will patrol the bottom of your tank all day every day.

How many tiger shovelnose catfish should be kept together?

This fish tends to be an active species and will claim the whole bottom of your tank as its own, regardless of how large your aquarium is. Additionally, these fish tend to be aggressive and territorial when put with others of their species, so we recommend finding other freshwater fish to make suitable tank mates.

Do tiger shovelnose catfish eat other fish?

Yes, as omnivores the tiger catfish is prone to eating smaller fish that can easily fit inside their mouth. When keeping a tiger shovelnose catfish you should choose tank mates that are either larger than half your tiger shovelnose’s size or smaller fish that do not have any sharp fins or spines that could potentially cause problems if eaten.

What fish can live with a tiger shovelnose catfish?

While having a peaceful temperament tiger shovelnose catfish owners often have trouble finding the right tank mates because smaller fish quickly turn into a snack. Some suggested companion fish include

  • Oscar Fish – a fish hailing from the cichlid family and native to South America, Oscar Fish are large enough to not be eaten and will add bright colors to your tank.
  • Giant gourami-growing to sizes of 18 inches these fish have a peaceful attitude and will lazily swim about the upper portion of your tank.
  • Redtail catfish-A similar fish in size and water requirements, as long as you have a large amount of surface area along the bottom of your tank they could make excellent tank mates.

Tankmates to avoid

  • African Cichlids– though it might be tempting to put these two species together, the African Cichlid is known for being nippy and will likely bite at your tiger shovelnose barbels.
  • Guppies-they will become a snack for your larger fish very quickly!
  • Other tiger shovelnose-the tiger catfish is a fairly lonesome fish and does not appreciate tank mates of the same species.


Once you find tank mates be sure to keep an eye out for any bullying. While your tiger cat is big and generally dissuades any aggressive fish, part of tiger shovelnose catfish care is monitoring their whole body for fin nipping or barbel pulling.

Tank Requirements

big empty fish tank on white background
Big Empty Fish Tank on White Background

An easy tank setup and low maintenance is one of the perks of this species.

Tank Size

One of the most common reasons for aquarists to not get this large catfish is because of its extensive tank size requirements compared to traditional smaller freshwater species.

What size tank does a tiger shovelnose catfish need?

For juveniles of this species (under 6 inches) your aquarium should be at least 180 gallons. Adult fish should have a habitat that is greater than 250 gallons. It is also important to keep your aquarium fairly open to encourage swimming and exploring with a few decently large rocks or plants to hide in.

Water Parameters

Tank Size>250 gallons
Water TypeFreshwater
Water Temperature72-79 
Water pH6-7.5
Water Hardness6 to 20KH

Tank setup:

What kind of substrate to use?

For this freshwater species you should opt for sand, mud, or very fine gravel as substrate with a few pieces of driftwood or large rocks scattered throughout the habitat. As a large catfish that is scavenging the bottom of your habitat for food you don’t want to include substrate that has sharp edges or pieces which can lead to injuries on your fish. Additionally, don’t choose medium or large gravel as it will likely get swallowed by your fish and can potentially cause intestinal blockages and constipation.

Do I need a filter?

Having a proper filtration system is absolutely necessary to avoid poor water quality and provide the best possible tiger shovelnose catfish care as well as benefiting all other aquatic animals in your habitat.

Should I get a pump?

While it is not necessary to have a pump in your aquatic habitat it can be beneficial for adding even water flow throughout that area and providing dissolved oxygen in the lower areas of the habitat. You can assess the necessity of a pump by observing your tank species and see if any of them are rapidly gasping for air or heavily breathing.

Water heaters: Necessary or no?

While this interesting freshwater fish can tolerate a small range of temperatures (72-79) you will likely need a good quality water heater to keep your aquatic habitat within the temperature range. These fish thrive in the tropical waters of South America and their enclosure should replicate this environment.

How much lighting to use:

These fish are nocturnal hunters, and while they will move around the tank throughout the day they prefer low light environments. If you have other fish that need a brighter environment you can provide some low lighting zones by having large leafed plants and many caves.

Can I have a planted tank?

The tiger shovelnose will do well in a planted tank that replicates their natural environment. Water wisteria and hornwort are favorites because of their hardiness and adaptability to water conditions.


Other tank decorations should include driftwood, caves, and decently sized rocks.

Diet and Health

Variety of Fish Food
Variety of Fish Food Placed in A Container

As nocturnal feeders, creating a diet around these fish’s eating habits can be a challenging and fun exercise.

What do tiger shovelnose catfish eat

This fish will eat a wide variety of food and it might take you quite a while to find a mixture of foods that your fish enjoys and provides a balanced diet. When planning a healthy diet you should aim for one consisting of 80% commercial food such as pellets or flakes, and 20% supplemental nutrition including fresh or frozen foods or algae wafers.

Catfish pellets should make up the majority of their diet as these will provide the proper vitamins and minerals that your fish needs

Catfish pellets should make up the majority of their diet as these will provide the proper vitamins and minerals that your fish needs to stay active and healthy. Be sure not to give too much meaty protein rich foods or else you can cause constipation and bloating.

The tiger cat are opportunistic feeders and might snack on their tank mates food. If you notice this happening, be prepared to give your other species a little extra food during the daytime when your tiger cat isn’t as active.

What to feed tiger shovelnose catfish?

Like many other fish the tiger shovelnose can eat a wide variety of fresh, freeze dried, or frozen foods including:

  • Insects
  • Bloodworms
  • Earthworms
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Mysis Shrimp

As well as pellets and supplemental veggies such as blanched spinach or lettuce.

How often to feed tiger shovelnose catfish

There is no exact science on how often to feed your fish and thus you will have to closely watch their behavior to monitor how voraciously they eat the food you present them with. Start by feeding adults twice a week and juveniles once a week and increase or decrease food availability based on demand.

How much to feed tiger shovelnose catfish?

You should aim to feed your tiger cat roughly 1-2% of its body weight. Below you can find a table based off of research by Richard King referencing the fish’s metabolic weight based on its length.

Length (in)Metabolic Weight (grams)

For example, if your fish is 12 inches in length their metabolic weight is 581 grams. 1% of 581 grams is 5.81 grams of food.

Note: this is a very rough estimate of fish metabolism as compared to their size and can vary from fish to fish and is dependent on their activity level. It is meant to be used as a tool to help you begin to figure out how much to feed your fish.


As a nocturnal species you might have to leave food out overnight which can potentially affect your water quality. Be sure to monitor water quality parameters and change feeding strategies if they start to degrade.

Common diseases of tiger shovelnose catfish

While this fish is fairly hardy, part of proper tiger shovelnose catfish care is knowing potential diseases that your fish can get.

Ammonia Poisoning

Caused by poor water quality and high nitrates, ammonia poisoning can be fatal for your fish.

Symptoms include;

  • Lethargy
  • Irritation of the skin and gills
  • Loss of appetite.

Treatment includes an immediate water change to the tank and close monitoring of its inhabitants. Indian almond leaves can be added to the aquarium as their tannins will provide soothing relief to the inflamed areas.


A large problem for all fish owners, ich can be fatal but is easily curable with the proper treatment and a timely response.

Symptoms include;

  • White spots along the dorsal fin, tail, and body of the fish
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Itching against tank objects.

Treatment includes quarantining, aqu

arium salts, and broad spectrum antibiotic treatments.


An ailment that is caused by overfeeding, but is easily treated.

Symptoms include;

  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite.

Treatment includes reducing feedings, increasing fiber intake, as well as feeding shelled peas.

How long do tiger shovelnose catfish live

The average fish lives to be 18-25 years old when given the proper fish care.


Tiger Shovelnose Catfish At The Bottom Of the Tank
(2) Tiger Shovelnose Catfish At The Bottom Of the Tank

While you technically can breed tiger shovelnose catfish there is not much information regarding breeding practices and most fish come from harvesting or open fishing.

Can you breed a tiger shovelnose catfish?

The tiger cat has very specific breeding habits which make it extremely difficult to breed in captivity.

In the wild the tiger catfish will travel large distances to find the right mate, which makes breeding in captivity very difficult. Most breeders use breeding hormones to help increase the chances of success. Aquarists that don’t have access to hormones should at least keep one female for every three males to increase chances of reproduction.

How to breed a tiger shovelnose catfish?

To begin the process of breeding the tiger catfish you will need a large breeding tank as well as another large tank to put the adult fish in after they spawn.

To pick out your breeding groups you will need to closely monitor each fish’s length which is indicative of the fish maturity. Female fish are considered sexually mature at 22 inches, while males are mature at 18 inches.

Not much is known about sexing tiger shovelnose catfish and breeders will have to use deductive reasoning to determine which of their stock is male or female. Females tend to have a fuller stomach and be larger than male fish.

Other than this information, not much is known about the breeding process or how fry fish care.

Is the tiger shovelnose catfish for you?

After reading this guide we hope you love the tiger shovelnose as much as we do and appreciate its potential to do well in properly sized aquariums.


In conclusion the tiger shovelnose catfish can be a valuable addition to your next aquarium as long as certain considerations are taken into account such as size, food requirements, and nocturnal behaviors.

Featured Image – Chrumps, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(1) ​Russian Wikipedia user Швецова Ирина Владимировна, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
(2) I, KENPEI, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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