Zebra Shovelnose Catfish 101: A Comprehensive Care Guide

Brachyplatystoma tigrinum in a minimal tank
Dr. Mollie Newton
Published by Dr. Mollie Newton PHD| Senior Editor
Last updated: July 20, 2024
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Admire the **striking** black and white stripes of the zebra shovelnose catfish, a top pick for freshwater aquarium fans. Its **eye-catching** look and lively behavior make it a prized addition to any fish tank. This fish really **steps up** the beauty and excitement in any aquatic setting. Dive into the **captivating** world of these playful fish. 🌊

Article Summary

  • The zebra shovelnose catfish is a popular freshwater aquarium fish known for its striking black and white stripes and energetic behavior.
  • Scientifically known as Brachyplatystoma tigrinum, it belongs to the family Pimelodidae and is native to the Amazon River basin in South America.
  • Its natural habitat is primarily in the Upper Amazon basin, with locations in Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.

Species Overview

The zebra shovelnose catfish, scientifically known as Brachyplatystoma tigrinum, belongs to the family Pimelodidae. It is commonly referred to as the Zebra Shovelnose. This species is a member of the order Siluriformes and is native to the Amazon River basin in South America.

Origin and Distribution

The zebra shovelnose catfish can be found primarily in the Upper Amazon basin. Its type locality is the falls of Cachoeira do Teotônio in Rondônia state, Brazil. It can also be found in Colombia and Peru, mainly around Iquitos in the Loreto Region.

Physical Characteristics

One of the distinctive features of this species is its black and white striped pattern along its body. These stripes give it its common name, Zebra Shovelnose.

Size, Growth Rate, and Lifespan

The zebra shovelnose catfish has the potential to grow up to 24 inches in length or a maximum standard length ranging from 450 to 500 mm. As for their growth rate and lifespan, these factors may vary depending on various environmental conditions and individual specimens.

Now that we have covered some key points about this fascinating species let’s move on to explore more aspects related to zebra shovelnose catfish!

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Zebra shovelnose catfish, native to the upper Amazon basin, require specific aquarium conditions to thrive. Let’s dive into the key factors that contribute to their well-being.

Tank Size and Set Up

These catfish prefer spacious tanks with ample room for swimming. To accommodate their needs, a large aquarium is recommended. This allows them to move around freely and exhibit natural behaviors.

Water Parameters

Maintaining optimal water conditions is crucial for the health of zebra shovelnose catfish. They thrive in temperatures ranging from 72°F to 80°F (22°C – 27°C). They require water with high dissolved solids, low transparency, high dissolved oxygen levels, and a neutral pH.

To replicate their natural habitat near cataracts and rapids, it is essential to provide strong water flow within the tank. This can be achieved through an efficient filtration system and regular water changes. The following parameters are ideal:

  • Water temperature: 22 – 32 °C
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.6
  • Hardness: 18 – 215 ppm
Amazon River
Amazon River

Substrate and Decor

Creating a suitable environment for zebra shovelnose catfish involves considering the substrate and decor in the tank. Mimicking their natural habitat, a sandy substrate works best for these catfish.

In terms of decor options, driftwood or a bare setup can be used. These choices provide hiding spots while allowing enough open swimming space.

By ensuring proper aquarium tank size, maintaining appropriate water parameters, and providing suitable substrate and decor options, you can create an optimal habitat for your zebra shovelnose catfish.

Tankmates and Temperament

It’s important to consider their behavior and compatibility. These catfish are not overly aggressive but will eat fish that can fit into their mouths. Therefore, it is best to keep them with similarly sized tankmates who are mid to top-level swimmers.


The zebra shovelnose catfish should be kept with companions that are of a similar size. While they may not be excessively aggressive, they will prey on smaller fish that can fit in their mouths. It is crucial to choose tankmates wisely to ensure the well-being of all the inhabitants in the large aquarium.

Compatible Tank Mates

To create a harmonious environment, it is recommended to keep zebra shovelnose catfish with species that are large enough to avoid predation and under similar environmental conditions. This means selecting tankmates that are capable of holding their own against these catfish and can thrive in similar water parameters.

Some examples of compatible tank mates for zebra shovelnose catfish include:

  • Large cichlids such as Oscars or Severums
  • Bigger tetra species like Buenos Aires tetras
  • Peaceful bottom dwellers like plecos or larger Corydoras species

By choosing suitable companions, you can minimize territorial conflicts and promote a more peaceful coexistence within the large aquarium.

Tank Mates to Avoid

It is important to avoid keeping zebra shovelnose catfish with aggressive or fin-nipping species. These types of tankmates can cause stress and potential harm to the catfish. Smaller fish may become targets for predation by the zebra shovelnose catfish due to their size.

Tank mates to avoid when keeping zebra shovelnose catfish include:

  • Aggressive cichlids such as Jack Dempseys or Red Devils
  • Fin-nipping species like Tiger Barbs or Serpae Tetras

By avoiding these types of tankmates, you can help create a more peaceful and stress-free environment for your zebra shovelnose catfish.

Zebra Shovelnose Catfish Care

To ensure the well-being of your zebra shovelnose catfish, there are a few essential care recommendations you should follow. Regular water changes play a crucial role in maintaining good water quality for these fish. This helps to prevent the build-up of harmful toxins and keeps their environment clean and healthy.

Zebra shovelnose catfish thrive on a varied menu. It’s best to provide them with a mix of pellets, frozen foods, and live prey to mimic their natural feeding habits. These catfish are predominantly piscivorous, meaning they primarily feed on smaller fishes in the water column. In captivity, they can adapt to dead alternatives such as prawn, shrimp, mussel, and more.

Types of fish food laid on a surface
You have to know what type of food your fish prefer!

Adult zebra shovelnose catfish typically require only one meal per week. Overfeeding can lead to health issues and poor water quality in the tank. Therefore, it’s important not to exceed this recommended feeding frequency.

While the zebra shovelnose catfish are generally hardy and disease-resistant, they can still be susceptible to common fish diseases like ich (white spot disease) and fin rot. Monitoring ammonia levels is crucial as zebra shovelnose catfish are sensitive to high levels of toxins in the water. Ensuring proper filtration and maintaining optimal water parameters will help prevent these diseases from occurring.

Breeding the Zebra Shovelnose Catfish

Breeding zebra shovelnose catfish can be quite challenging, requiring specialized techniques and a deep understanding of their specific needs. In captivity, successful breeding is often achieved through methods like hormone injections to stimulate reproduction.

Recommended Tank Set Up

To increase the chances of successful breeding, it’s essential to create an environment that mimics their natural habitat as closely as possible. Here are some key points to consider:

  • Size: These catfish can grow quite large, so a spacious aquarium tank is necessary to accommodate their size.
  • Water Parameters: Maintain stable water conditions with a pH range between 6.5 and 7.5 and a temperature around 75-82°F (24-28°C).
  • Filtration: Use high-quality filtration systems to ensure optimal water quality.
  • Substrate and Hiding Places: Provide a sandy substrate for them to dig in and create hiding spots using rocks or driftwood.

Breeding Process

In their natural habitat, zebra shovelnose catfish typically spawn during the rainy season when water conditions are favorable. However, breeding this species in captivity has been largely unrecorded.

While replicating the exact conditions of their natural spawning process may be challenging, there are some general considerations for encouraging breeding:

  1. Select Healthy Adults: Choose sexually mature and healthy adult catfish for breeding purposes.
  2. Separate Males and Females: Keep males and females separated until you’re ready for them to breed.
  3. Adjust Water Conditions: Mimic seasonal changes by gradually increasing water temperature and performing partial water changes.
  4. Introduce Males into Female’s Tank: Place the male fish into the female’s aquarium once she shows signs of readiness such as increased appetite or swollen abdomen.
  5. Observe Spawning Behavior: Watch for courtship rituals like chasing or nudging between males and females, indicating that spawning is imminent.
  6. Provide Suitable Spawning Site: Offer flat surfaces or caves where the female can deposit her eggs.
  7. Remove Adults After Spawning: Once spawning has occurred, remove the adults from the breeding aquarium to prevent them from eating the eggs.

It’s important to note that breeding zebra shovelnose catfish in captivity can be quite challenging due to their specific requirements and limited documentation. Patience, careful observation, and attention to detail are key when attempting to breed this fascinating fish species.


What size aquarium tank do I need for a Zebra Shovelnose Catfish?

Due to their large size potential (up to 3 feet), these catfish require plenty of swimming space in large aquarium tanks of at least 180 gallons or more.

Can I keep multiple Zebra Shovelnose Catfish together?

It is generally not recommended to keep multiple adult Zebra Shovelnose Catfish together as they may become territorial and aggressive towards each other.

What should I feed my Zebra Shovelnose Catfish?

A varied diet consisting of high-quality pellets or sticks supplemented with live or frozen foods such as worms, shrimp, or small fish will help meet their nutritional needs.

Are there any specific water parameters I need to maintain?

Zebra Shovelnose Catfish prefer slightly acidic to neutral water with a pH range of 6.5 to 7.5 and temperatures between 75°F and 82°F.

Can I keep Zebra Shovelnose Catfish with other fish species?

While it is possible to keep them with compatible tankmates such as larger cichlids or other large catfish, careful observation and monitoring for aggression are necessary to ensure the well-being of all inhabitants.

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