ith some predatory catfish species it surprises me why they
are not more popular. Pimelodus ornatus which is native
to many streams of northern South America belongs to this group.
Because this species of the large family of the Pimelodidae
has a comparatively acceptable final size, is less predatory
and quite active. In addition it looks good, so within the genus
Pimelodus it takes all the honours for its name as
a “pretty boy”.
Description of species
For P. ornatus the three black strips are characteristic,
of which two run lengthwise along the collateral line respectively
at the back and the third extends crosswise from the beginning
of the dorsal fin up to the underside of the belly. In addition
there is the black mark on the dorsal fin which is typical for
this species. The top side of the smooth body is brownish to
silver-grey, partly with a bluish shimmer, the belly is white.
For a predatory catfish the long stretched
slim shape appears really quite fragile. Completely in contrast
to it stands the quite large head with its expressive eyes.
Young specimens especially have a strong attraction to the viewer.
All in all P. ornatus works a
little like the “large brother“ of the well known
and popular Pimelodus pictus. With specimens at first
of equal length of both species a lighter size difference becomes
visible after approximately two years. Then the longer and somewhat
slimmer specimens turn out to be males.
P. ornatus is not particularly fast-growing, with good
care however it can reach an age of over 20 years and in this
time can become considerably large. In the wild animals of 40
centimetres and over have been caught. Aquarium specimens reach
only a length to the also impressive 25 to 30 centimetres.
Therefore, and because the species is
often in motion, it fits only into tanks starting from approximately
500 litres capacity. The substrate should be gravel with a small
granulation or better, sand. One should respect on a sufficiently
free swimming area and at the same time with floating and larger
specimen plants and one should also provide darker zones as
possible retreats. If there are additional hiding places under
stones, slates or roots, P. ornatus rapidly loses its
Since the species originates from flowing
waters, the water should be clear and with a high oxygen content.
From there a stronger circulation pump provides the current as
well as a good filtering. It is best to keep P. ornatus at
a temperature of 24 degrees Celsius, with good ventilation occasional
higher values are also tolerated. If the pH value lies around
the neutral point and the hardness lies to 18° per degree
of total hardness of water, according to German standards, and
in addition weekly partial water changes to prevent bad water
conditions, and with an involved impairment of the barbles, these
conditions are optimal. When catching the animals some caution
is required, because injuries can be caused by the pectoral fin
and pricks from them can cause strong pain for a while due to
secretions of poison.
My four specimens originated from Peru and
are active during the day as well as dusk. As soon as they are
hungry they will search the tank also during the day for any food.
With both maxillary barbles extending behind the ventral fins
and with the four smaller mandibular barbles the animals can locate
all possible food on the ground, whereby one never sees them digging,
so plants are not damaged. However the swimming movements of P.
ornatus are to be described only rarely as being calm. With
these rapid movements the cichlids from the genus Heros,
which I had socialized from the beginning with the four P.
ornatus, first had to get accustomed to this trait. At night
the catfish due to their hectic and sudden movements with their
barbles which enabled them good orientation worried the cichlids
in such a way that several times they dashed around the tank hectically,
but after a short time the cichlids got accustomed to the catfish
and there has been no more incidents. Therefore for socialization,
rather robust species are recommended. South American cichlids
are applicable especially L-Catfish and Doradidae and also predatory
catfish such as Sorubim lima or Hemisorubim platyrhynchus.
Territorial ambush predators such as Pseudopimelodus bufonius
however are less suitable.
The shape of the snout is
a typical identification.
ornatus meets Pseudopimelodus bufonius.
Smaller fish like the living-bearing Poeciliinae
will be regarded as food from these predatory omnivores which
devour what they can overpower, and disappear over night. The
snout of P. ornatus with its pointedly running out flat
snout is not able to separate smaller pieces from a bigger piece
of food, however it can directly take up amazingly large portions.
After devouring, P. ornatus then takes his time and as
with the really large predatory catfish it indicates the associated
efforts even hours later by an increased respiration rate, so
if one wants to avoid losses with its keeping in the community
aquarium, the socialized fish should be parallel to the growth
of the catfish and exhibit at least one third of their body length.
Substrate living fish should be even half as large so that they
can exist together with P. ornatus in the longer term.
If then beside the usual meals, the catfish is fed additional
foods at least once in the week with larger piece of food, nothing
stands in the way with socialization.
P. ornatus can devour quite big pieces of fish!
The species accepts without any problems
a conventional mixed food diet. At least until freshly imported
animals have acclimatized themselves, some weeks will pass in
which they completely refuse mixed feeds and therefore the keeper,
for a transition period preferably and only after switching
the lighting off, should offer younger specimens live foods
such as red mosquito larvae (if need be frozen) or medium sized
earth worms. Afterwards you can feed smaller off-cut pieces
of fish such as, Tilapia filets, or from trout. As soon as these
pieces of fish are in the water, P. ornatus immediately
takes up the smell traces and starts to search for the food
frenetically. Only later one can try it with mixed feeds such
as FD-tablets or sticks. Pellets for sturgeon or trout, which
this catfish - if at all - however, takes this far less greedily.
Rather the exception: two specimens close together.
Here even the larger
conspecific is bitten.
My specimens live with different South American
cichlids of medium size very peacefully and share even their hiding
places with them. Completely different is the behavior between
each other. Even if younger catfish lie close together, then one
finds already animals starting from 15 centimetres of length regularly
in their own hideout. They show their territorial behavior by
the fact that their own hiding place is defended with threatening
gestures like lateral striking with the tail, and if also required
very fast to smaller violent biting attacks against species conspecifics,
thereby the beaten rivals can sustain clearly visible skin injuries
up to bent barbles which fortunately heal rapidly and regenerate.
Also outside of the hiding places each specimen seems to occupy
its own area, more or less. So P. ornatus is not such
obviously sociable and one can keep it also alone with a clear
conscience. It may be that this catfish species is somewhat more
active, if one keeps it in a small group, however it is questionable
whether it feels better with these many frictions and in any case
at least one hiding place must be available for each specimen.
Other species of sufficient
size (here: Heros efasciatus spec. "blue“
and "red neck“) are
tolerated even in the proximity of their own dwelling
and cichlid share even the same hiding place.
acclimatized the species is quite resistant and very hardy.
If the catfish feel threatened or my Heros snatches
at them, they give out a clear audible noise accompanied with
the vibrating of the entire body, which deters the aggressor.
In every detail these catfish register any
disturbances outside of the aquarium, one moment spooking in the
tank, and on the next approach they first disappear into their
hiding place with their head out in order to observe immediately
from there what is going on, and are very curious.
A very cheeky P. ornatus?
When growing one finds them more frequently
outside of their hiding places. The more hungry they are the
more attention they pay to their keeper. Each animal has its
own personality, and so it was easy for me after a short time
to be able to differentiate the specimens which are slightly
different due to certain behavior peculiarities from each other.
They have the appearance for me that they are more active but
also more tame since I had created additional hiding place possibilities
by artificial caves at the tank sides. If I feed their favourite
food, they purge into a kind of food frenzy, then the catfish
devour greedily the large earthworms even from my hand and their
bellies swell to a considerable size. On this food however the
animals can live without further food for some days.