Catfish are popular options for freshwater aquariums, and a long-time favorite of mine is the polka dot catfish, commonly known as the Talking or Spotted Raphael Catfish. These lovely black catfish with white spots are reclusive during the day, but once your moonlight switches on you can enjoy their gregarious antics!
Introduction To The Talking Spotted Catfish
The black Spotted Raphael Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons) is a hardy and easy-to-care-for species that makes an ideal option for mid to large-sized freshwater and planted aquariums. Here’s a few quick facts about these vocal and friendly catfish:
- Native to the Amazon River basin in South America, they’ve been popular with aquarists for decades due to their beautiful marking and peaceful temperament.
- A member of the Doradidae or Thorny Catfish family, they are one of several species capable of “talking,” or producing croaks and clicks audible outside your aquarium.
- One of three nearly identical species of Raphael catfish, the Spotted can be distinguished from the Stripped (Platydoras costatus) and Southern Raphael (Platydoras armatulus) by their capture location. All three species may be sold under the same common name.
Spotted Raphael Catfish, Talking Spotted Catfish
up to 5.9 inches in length
Peaceful and shy; gregarious among themselves
Min Tank Size
35 gallons; add 10-gallons per catfish
68 to 79°F
Appearance, Size And Lifespan
The Spotted Raphael has an arrow-shaped, cylindrical body with a prominent head and flattened abdomen. Their wide mouth is surrounded by three pairs of delicate barbels. Armored with a thick, tough scaleless skin, they also have an upright spiny dorsal fin, spines on their pectoral fins and bony scutes along their lateral line:
- Their bodies and fins can range from dark brown or black to nearly blue in color, and usually get darker with age.
- Their abdomen is pale, and they have irregular, random spots on their bodies and fins that vary from a bright white to a vivid yellow hue.
- They make their “talking” sounds by rubbing their pectoral spines against the socket of the fin, and via a special muscle that connects their skull and swim bladder internally.
- But their scutes and pectoral/dorsal spines can also get tangled in fishnets and may even pierce your skin, so it’s best to avoid direct handling and use a glass or plastic container instead of fish net for transferring them.
Spotted catfish are a mid-sized bottom dweller that rarely exceed 5.9 inches in length. It’s thought that their average lifespan in the wild is about 10 years, but fishkeepers have reported these catfish can survive 15 to 20 years in captivity.
Behavior And Temperament
Talking spotted catfish are peaceful and somewhat shy community fish who spend the daylight hours hiding in your substrate or squeezed into crevices amid the rocks and driftwood in your tank. Since they are nocturnal, they rarely emerge under bright lights and are best observed in a deeply shaded tank or by using a moonlight.
Unlike aggressive species of catfish, the spotted Raphael won’t actively hunt the other members of the community, but they will opportunistically snack on smaller fish. You can keep a single catfish in your tank, but they prefer to be kept in groups of 3 to 5 and can be quite gregarious with each other at night.
How To Care For Your Spotted Raphael Catfish
It’s not difficult to care for these spotted catfish, since they are very hardy and tolerate a wide range of conditions. Let’s take a look at their ideal aquarium set-up and community!
Tank Set-up And Habitat Requirements
Spotted catfish may hide during the day, but once the lights go off they are quite energetic in their activities. Here are the key requirements to having a healthy group of catfish in your tank:
While they aren’t very large, these catfish need plenty of room for hiding and scavenging food. They’re not suitable for Nano tanks, however, since you’ll require at least a 35-gallon tank for a single catfish. If you’d like to keep a group of 3 to 5 catfish you’ll need a tank of 55 to 75 gallons.
Water And Temperature Parameters
Spotted catfish do well at temperatures from 68 to 79°F, so you may or may not need a heater for your tank. They prefer slightly acidic water from pH 5.8 to 7.5 but are not overly sensitive to water hardness and tolerate 2 to 20 dGH.
Filtration, Aeration And Lighting
Spotted catfish prefer well filtered and oxygenated water with a minimal rate of flow. You may need to baffle your filter to prevent strong currents in the lower parts of your tank. An air stone and pump is helpful for maintaining high oxygen levels. They don’t like bright lights and prefer tanks shaded with decor or floating plants. The best way to observe your catfish at night is with a blue LED or moonlight.
Substrate, Plants And Decorations
It’s best to use soft aquatic sand, soil or fine gravel as substrate in your tank to prevent your catfish from being injured by harsh gravel. Provide your catfish with plenty of large rocks, driftwood and branches to hide in during the day. Dense groupings of live plants can also provide shelter for juveniles, and the adults won’t damage or eat them.
Spotted catfish are sensitive to aquarium waste products like ammonia, so changing the water on schedule and keeping your filter maintained and filled with fresh filter media is crucial to their health. Monthly water changes are usually sufficient for these catfish in tanks 55 to 75 gallons, although smaller tanks may need them more often.
Talking Spotted catfish are omnivores and are not picky about their diet, and as scavengers they’ll help keep your tank clean of food scraps. To avoid overfeeding and problems with obesity, it’s best to feed them once a day near dusk:
- Drop some sinking catfish or spirulina pellets near their hiding hole and you can train them to come out for food!
- You can also offer them treats like brine shrimp, bloodworms, crustacean or insect eggs a couple of times a week.
Compatibility And Tank Mates
While you can certainly keep your catfish in a single-species tank, their peaceful nature makes them an excellent option for midsize to large community aquariums. Avoid keeping your catfish with fish, shrimp or snails small enough to be a snack. Consider an Amazon-themed tank with medium to large fish like:
- Central and South American cichlids
- Other friendly catfish like the Pictus Cat
It’s thought that the talking spotted catfish is a bubble-nest builder, but we don’t know much about their reproduction behavior. Captive-bred fish are rarely available and have only been reported by breeders using artificial hormones to induce spawning.
Catfish are hardy fish that don’t typically have many health concerns (other than obesity from being overfed). They are susceptible to the water-borne diseases carried by your other fish and can contract illnesses like White Spot disease from the community. As scaleless fish, they are especially sensitive to medications that contain copper, so be cautious when medicating your catfish tank.
Spotted Raphael Catfish Aquarium Set-up: Supplies And Equipment List
For a community tank that includes a group of 3 talking spotted catfish, you’ll need:
- 55-gallon or larger aquarium with a cover or lid
- Aquatic sand, soil or fine gravel substrate
- Filter, air stone and air pump
- Decor such as rocks, driftwood branches or roots and live or plastic plants
- A bottle of water conditioner
To feed your catfish, you’ll need:
- Commercial sinking catfish pellets
- Spirulina pellets
- Treats such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, shrimp eggs or mosquito larvae
Optional but helpful equipment includes:
Common Name (species)
Spotted Raphael Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons)
Amazon River Basin in Brazil, Columbia, Bolivia and Peru
Diet and Feeding
Omnivore; Ideal diet is a mix of sinking catfish and spirulina pellets
Nocturnal and hides during the day; active scavenger at night
Peaceful, shy community fish but gregarious with each other
Minimum Tank Size
35 gallons; add 10 gallons per catfish
68 to 79°F
2 to 20 dGH
5.8 to 7.5
Well-filtered and oxygenated water with little to no current
Extremely difficult to breed in captivity
CIdeal for Amazon Basin communities with midsize to large fish like cichlids, tetras and gouramis. Avoid keeping with small fish or invertebrates
OK for Planted Tanks?
Great option for planted aquariums and won’t eat or damage live plants
When it comes to catfish in aquariums, the peaceful and shy Spotted Raphael is a great option for community aquariums 35-gallons and up. They prefer to be kept in a group, though, and are a lot of fun to watch scavenging and playing together under a moonlight. Have you had a spotted catfish? We’d love to hear your comments, or join us on social media and share your aquatic community with the whole group!