Large chain catfish are frequent inhabitants of large aquariums. They have a beautiful appearance and are of great benefit by eating algae fouling in the aquarium. Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps, or leopard catfish, will be discussed in our article.

Scientific namePterygoplichthys
Common namesPterygoplichthys, Janitor fish, armored catfishes,
Natural range
river systems of the Amazon, Orinoco, the Brazilian rivers of Xingu, and Tefe
Sizemature 15 (6inch) - 20 (8inch) cm / up to 50 (20) cm
Tank sizeneeds a lot of water 250 L (66 gallons)
Life spanup to 20 years
22-26 C. or 72-79°F
pH 6.5-7.5
GH 2-15
Colormain brown chocolate or almost black
Foodbetter to feed 80% plants and 20% animal food
Breedingvery hard / in home aquarium is not possible
Temperamentpeace-loving catfish
at age of 3 years
Eggs120-500 eggs per female

General information

Pterygoplichthys (Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps) belongs to the Armored catfishes family, one of the largest representatives of its kind.

Despite its impressive size, pterygoplichthys is a peace-loving fish. And their gastronomic interest is almost completely limited to vegetation. These fish are good helpers in the fight against algae growths on the walls of the aquarium.

They are mostly nocturnal. When kept with closely related species, skirmishes are possible, during which an interesting form of behavior is observed – pterygoplichthys raise the dorsal and spread the pectoral fins in all directions. In nature, fish thus deceive predators, visually increasing their size.

Under natural conditions, during dry periods, pterygoplichthys can be buried in the ground and hibernate before the onset of the rainy season. Also, these catfish are characterized by intestinal respiration: with a lack of oxygen, the fish is able to swallow air above the surface of the water and absorb it using the circulatory system of the intestine.

Being pulled out of the water, pterygoplichthys can make hissing sounds. It is believed that this is also an adaptation in order to scare predators.


The species name very clearly reflects the distinctive features of the fish. Pterygos – “wings”, hoplon – the so-called shield of the ancient Greeks, ichthys – “fish”, gibbiceps – “hump on the head”.

Pterygoplichthys catfish has an elongated body, slightly flattened on top. The entire body, with the exception of the abdomen, is covered with dense bone plates. The head is large, with characteristic protruding nostrils. The mouth is modified into a large suction cup, with the help of which the fish can be held on vertical surfaces. It is so strong that it is not possible to tear off the fish without damage. At the base of the oral suction cups are thick antennae.

The eyes are small, located on the top of the head. They are arranged in such a way that the fish sees not only what is happening in front of it, but also able to observe the situation from behind or from the side. Only the space above the catfish remains in the dead zone.

The dorsal fin is large, sail-like, has at least twelve rays. The pectorals resemble wings and are located very close to the abdominal. They are very powerful and help the fish dig into the ground.

The main body color is chocolate or almost black, with a large number of beige lines that create a pattern resembling a leopard skin. With age, it can fade and disappear completely. There are albino forms.

The pectoral fins are also large, composed of thick bones, which helps the catfish dig into the ground.

Under suitable conditions, brocade catfish can grow up to 50 cm.


The birthplace of pterygoplichthys is South America. They can be found in the river systems of the Amazon, Orinoco, the Brazilian rivers of Xingu, and Tefe. Fish prefer slow-flowing rivers, settle mainly on the shallows in those places where there is a lot of silt. Often gather in large groups. During the wet season, they are very active and voracious – they feed on vegetation and carrion. In dry times, they dig into wet sludge and hibernate to survive adverse conditions.

Currently, they are actively bred in Asian countries, from where they are supplied worldwide.

Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps. Птерики взрослые, но не максимум.

Care and maintenance

Pterygoplichthys is a very large fish, the minimum volume for keeping one individual is at least 250 liters. Coarse sand or small pebbles are suitable as soil. It is recommended to install a variety of shelters in the aquarium: caves made of stones, ceramic or plastic pipes. There must be a natural snag. Having eaten it, pterygoplichthys get cellulose important for digestion.

The aquarium should be equipped with a powerful external filter and compressor, fish like clean oxygenated water. It is worth paying attention that intestinal breathing cannot replace aeration. If pterygoplichthys often pops up for a portion of air, then there is a problem with the oxygen content in the aquarium. Also, they do not like fish of a strong current. We must not forget about weekly (up to 30%) water changes.

The optimal parameters of water for the content: T = 22-26, pH = 6.5-7.5 GH = 2-15.

When choosing plants, one should take into account the fact that pterygoplichthys can easily dig any aquarium plant, so it is better to dwell on species that are well-rooted: cryptocorynes, Aponogeton, Vallisneria. They must be stoned without fail. With a lack of food, plants can suffer.


Pterygoplichthys are peace-loving fish, but it will be wrong to hook small species to them, they can become an accidental victim of a giant fish. It is best to stay at large neighbors: cichlids, Polypterus, giant gourami. Even the Flower Horn that destroys all the flowers will not be able to do anything armored pterygoplichthys.

Pterygoplichthys gibbiceps catfish are quite zealous in their territory and can drive away unwanted guests. Conflicts may arise, first of all, with their relatives, closely related species (ancistrus), Gyrinocheilus.

Life expectancy in the aquarium is up to 20 years.

Feeding Pterygoplichthys

For the full growth and development of Pterygoplichthys, their diet should consist of plants (80%) and animal food (20%). Some aquarists prefer to feed these catfish with natural vegetables and herbs: zucchini, spinach, carrots, cucumbers. The disadvantages of such feeding is a high probability of deterioration in water quality in case of incomplete eating of fish food. Pterygoplichthys will not refuse from the natural animal food: bloodworms, tubifex, but it is not recommended to feed the fish with live food, i.e. it can introduce the infection into the aquarium.

Dry feeds are ideal for Pterygoplichthys catfish. For example, Tetra Pleco SpirulinaWafers. Thanks to modern technology, it became possible to combine two components in one tablet: a high-protein feed from fish components and a spirulina algae concentrate. The tablets quickly sink to the bottom and for a long time retain their shape. They are great for both young and older catfish.

To diversify the diet, we recommend giving the Tetra Pleco Veggie Wafers catfish – tablets with zucchini to improve well-being and maintain the vitality of fish.

Tetra Pleco Tablets is a well-known palatability tablet, a fully balanced feed for all types of herbivorous bottom fish. It is enriched with spirulina and seaweed, contains all the necessary vitamins and minerals.


It is very important that there is driftwood in the aquarium with Pterygoplichthys, scraping it, catfish get the cellulose necessary for proper digestion.

It is best to feed the fish after turning off the light and make sure that more active neighbors do not encroach on their food.

Thanks to their special love for algae, Pterygoplichthys will be good helpers in maintaining the cleanliness of the aquarium.

Breeding and breeding

Pterygoplichthys puberty occurs at the age of about three years. At this time, fish usually reach a size of 15-20 cm. Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced. The most accurate way to determine gender is by the shape of the genital papilla.

Breeding Pterygoplichthys catfish in a home aquarium is not possible. Indeed, in nature, fish dig deep tunnels in silt, where they lay eggs. After which the males guard the fry. Reproducing such conditions is difficult. At fish farms, Pterygoplichthys is bred in special ponds of large volume.

Spawning occurs at night. One female can lay 120-500 eggs. The fry is distinguished by a gray-gray color with black dots and, after resorption of the yolk sac, they are fed with pills for catfish.