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Calophysus macropterus (Lichtenstein, 1819)

ver since I set my eyes on this species, and the only time, was at a fish show that I was judging at in the North of England in about 1998. It was small, about 10ins in length and didn't gain an award, but I have never forgotten it and my memory was jogged once again by an article that was contributed to ScotCat 10 years later in 2008 by German aquarist and author, Wolfgang Ros, which you can read here

Calophysus macropterus

The Pimelodidae family in my opinion always seem to have the species that somehow look what catfish should look like , if you get my drift, and the "Vulture Catfish" is no exception with its sleek look and long barbels and of course its large mouth.


Wolfgang in his article likened Calophysus macropterus to any shark species in the way it moves in the water and its eating habits. The common name of the "Vulture Catfish" complies with the bird species also, in that it will scavenge everything and anything, is very voracious, and has been known to attack the lines and nets of local Fishermen to get at there catches. It also has the repugnant reputation of eating human faeces alongside villages in the rivers where there is a human population.


Calophysus macropterus = showing the mouth.

I must admit that in the "Large Catfish" world this is probably one of the nicest looking and comparatively easy to keep species if you are a big cat enthusiast, and if you are able to give it a large tank to cruise around in.


Wolfgang states that they can be kept with congeners, better with two or three and introduced together in the Aquarium as youngsters. This would precipitate having a larger tank of over 6ft (180cm) in length 2' 6" (75cm) depth and a width of 3' 0" (90cm) so you see this is a fish for the serious catfish keeper.


This species is monotypic (only species in the genus) and as such the fins are different and there are differences in the teeth structure and a reduction in the swim bladder to other members of the Pimelodidae family. There has been calls to place this catfish in its own family but at the moment it is classed in the Pimelodidae.


The body shape is elongate and the head broad, its surface covered in skin. A wedge shaped fontanel extends from about the posterior nasal openings to the the posterior margins of the eyes and another circular one is present at the base of the occipital process. The eyes are superior in position. The barbels are flattened, the maxillary pair long, extending to at least to the end of the adipose fin and often extending beyond the end of the caudal fin. The first dorsal ray in the dorsal fin ray is not spinous, although in some individuals the base is about half as stiff as some spines of other species and longer than the succeeding rays. The adipose fin is long and the caudal fin is deeply emarginate.

Silver/grey body with bluish undertones. The body down to the insertion of the pectoral fins has an irregular spotted pattern and there can be different patterns in different populations of this species. The belly is white.


An out and out predator so should only be kept with larger species such as South American cichlids, Oscars etc. and the larger L-number armoured Loricariids.



Sexual differences
The males will be slimmer than the females.

Shrimps, fish fillets and live foods such as Earthworms. Will gladly take tablet, pellet foods and foodsticks.

Glossary of Terms

Fontanel: The space(s) between the bones on top of the skull covered by skin.

Occipital process: A median bone on the upper surface of the back of the head; pertaining to the occiput.
Anal Fin: The fin forward from the anal cavity.

Dorsal fin is defined as the medial fin on top of back.
Caudal fin is defined as the tail fin.
Pectoral fins are defined as paired lateral fins.
Pelvic fins are defined as paired ventral fins between the pectoral and anal fins.


Calophysus: Greek, kalos, kallos = beautiful + Greek, physa = tube

mactopterus: Large wing, (referring to the fins.)


Burgess, W.E. 1989 An atlas of freshwater and marine catfishes. A preliminary survey of the Siluriformes. T.F.H. Publications, Inc., Neptune City, New Jersey (USA). 784 p.

Ros, Wolfgang; and Schmidt, Jakob; A "shark" in the fresh water aquarium: Calophysus macropterus. ScotCat article no.103. June. 2008.


Photo Credits

  © Wolfgang Ros @

 Catfish and more


Factsheet 145

Pimelodes macropterus, Pimelodus ctenodus, Pimeletropsis lateralis  
Common Name:
Vulture Catfish


South America: Amazon and Orinoco River basins
50cm. (20ins)
22 -26°C (71 -79°F)   
6.5 -7.2.
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                                                                                                                  Factsheet 145 = updated December 14, 2018 , © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top