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Perrunichthys perruno  Schultz, 1944

he fourth month of the new decade (2010) brings us to another indepth look from the catfish world from regular contributor, aquarist and author, Chris Ralph. His subject this month is the Leopard Catfish. I now hand you over to Chris.


Perrunichthys perruno belongs to the family Pimelodidae or Long-whiskered catfishes from South America and is documented as being native to Venezuela and Colombia from the Rio Negro system. The type locality for this catfish is documented as being the Rio Negro below the mouth of the Rio Yasa, 75km south of Rosario on the west side of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, hence the reference to this catfish occurring in the Lake Maracaibo basin.

Perrunichthys perruno


The fact that this catfish has distinctive markings and very long maxillary barbels make it easily identifiable. Perrunichthys perruno is sometimes confused with Leiarius pictus (Sailfin pimelodid) and Leiarius marmoratus (Marble antenna catfish).

Perrunichthys perruno is a predatory fish in its natural habitat, feeding upon any unsuspecting fish which happen to get in the way of its relatively large cavernous mouth. Whilst these are magnificent fish to observe they are not ideally suited to life in captivity, unless being looked after in a large Public Aquarium. It is suggested that the scientific name is derived from the local name of ‘bagre perruno’ by the local people of the Maracaibo basin (bagre is the South American name for a catfish). I have kept a number of these catfish over the years and have noted that they can fast for periods of time which can be slightly worrying when this happens, and tends to coincide after having a particularly heavy meal. The longest fast lasted 4 weeks.


Perrunichthys perruno prefer to be kept in water which has pH in the range of pH 6.0 -7.2 and hardness up to 18ºdGH. This catfish is ideally suited to temperatures in the range of 22-26ºC or 72-79ºF. It does not tolerate poor water quality, and it very important to ensure optimum conditions are provided when keeping this species.


I would suggest a minimum size of 72”x 24”x 24”for an 18”specimen. Anything over this size I would suggest a very large purpose built aquarium or a heated tropical pond, or better still if you are unable to provide adequate accommodation in the first place please do not attempt to keep this monster catfish, magnificent as it is. As with all other species of fish, water quality and general husbandry is very important, especially so with large predatory fish such as this species and I would recommend that a minimum of 25% water is changed on a weekly basis.



With regard to the anatomical characteristics of Perrunichthys perruno the head is described as being greatly depressed, with a broad snout and wide sub-terminal mouth. The body is described as being elongate and naked. The upper jaw is described as being slightly longer than the lower jaw. The maxillary barbels in adult specimens are described as being long, extending to the caudal fin. This catfish has two pairs of shorter mandibular barbels. The dorsal fin is described as having 7 soft rays. The caudal fin is described as being large and deeply forked.


The overall base body colour of Perrunichthys perruno is described as being dark chocolate brown with lighter reticulated markings on the body and fins. The underside of this catfish is much lighter in colour. The barbels have annulated markings sharing the same body colouration. In some specimens it has been noted that the dorsal and paired fins can sometimes be spotted as opposed to being reticulated in terms of colour pattern.

Wherever possible I would recommend that the aquarist keep these catfish in a species only aquarium as individual specimens. This catfish should not be kept with small species of fish as they will be eaten! This catfish can be kept with other large catfish such as Pseudodoras niger/Oxydoras niger, Pterodoras granulosus, Megalodoras uranoscopus (formerly M. irwini), Oscars and larger characins.

There are no documented reports of successful aquarium spawnings of Perrunichthys perruno, this is most likely due to the size that these fish can attain and hence the subsequent size of aquarium in which to spawn them.

Sexual differences

Generally unknown although there are some thoughts on this subject; the males tend to be more slender than females especially noticeable when these catfish are in breeding condition.



Fish and crabs are documented as being amongst the food types consumed by Perrunichthys perruno in the wild. In an aquarium this catfish can be persuaded to eat pieces of dead fish, prawns, mussels, earthworms, and can even be persuaded to eat sinking catfish pellets. This catfish is described as being piscivorous in terms of its natural diet of fish.


Perruno: Spanish meaning canine and Greek ichthys meaning fish. It is documented that the full name of this species is dogfish; dog presumably in reference to its unfussy and gregarious eating habits.

Glossary of Terms

Caudal fin is defined as the tail fin.

Pectoral fins are defined as paired lateral fins.

Dorsal fin is defined as the medial fin on top of the back.

Adipose is defined as a second dorsal fin.

Anal fin is defined as the medial fin immediately posterior to the anus.

Ventral fins are defined as the paired fins between the pectoral and anal fins.

Depressed is defined as flattened from top to bottom.

Maxillary is defined as being in relation to the maxilla, the bone of the upper jaw.

Mandibular is defined as being in relation to the mandible or lower jaw.

Annulated is defined as having rings or belts.

Sub-terminal is defined as being just below.

Photo Credits
Factsheet 166

Common Name:
Leopard Catfish, Perruno Catfish, Reticulated Pimelodid
Not confirmed most likely Pimelodidinae/Sorubiminae.
South America; Venezuela and Colombia from the Rio Negro system. The type locality for this catfish is documented as being the Rio Negro below the mouth of the Rio Yasa, 75km south of Rosario on the west side of Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela.
600mm+ or 24”+ s.l. (standard length – this is the measurement of the fish from the tip of the snout to the base of the caudal peduncle).
22-26°C (72-79°F)  
Up to 18ºdGH
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                                                                                                                             Factsheet 166 = updated December, 2009 © ScotCat 1997-2018  Go to Top