Tiger shovelnose catfish are large aquatics of the rivers with long formidable whiskers over their mouth.

These are popular fishes from the Pimelodidae family and are referred to as Surubi in their native region.

It dwells in the freshwaters of South America and is sturdy in its lifestyle. But their inhabitation has been a matter of concern due to the sudden downfall in their average count, which is affected by electric dams, illegal hunting, and invasive companions.

The Pseudoplatystoma fasciatum species is more popularly available in the food and petting industry, but there are about 7 – 8 known species under this genus.

All the species are simultaneously described as tiger shovelnose catfish. Here is an elaborated article with petting instructions and interesting facts.

Species Features

Basic Profile
Genus Name Pseudoplatystoma
Common Names Tiger Shovelnose, Tiger Catfish, Surubi, Sorubim
Family Pimelodidae
Native South America: Brazil, Suriname, Paraguay, Brazil, Peru
Max Life 25 years
Average Length 90 cm
Fish Type Freshwater, Brackish
Color Brown-Olive With Dark Bands
Price Range in Dollars $20 – $30

Their Native Habitat

These species originally belonged to the rivers of the South American Continent. They are spread over a wide range with different species originating in the river basins that flow out into the Caribbean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean.

These fishes prefer swimming in the flowing freshwaters such as lakes and floating meadows and are also observed in the brackish region. The babies stay in the flooded zones till they become adults.

The famous rivers where they are easily found include the Amazon, Orinoco, Suriname, Magdalena, and many other rivers that flow from multiple countries.

The species P. fasciatum is usually found in the greater depth of the river or finds suitable stay in streams hidden under the plants and trees. At the same time, the P.tigrinum dwells in the brackish or estuarine, usually in the upstream basin.

Here we have listed all the species of Pseudoplatystoma, and where their original habitation exists.

Species Name Country/ Region River
P. Fasciatum Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana Essequibo, Suriname river & tributaries
P. Tigrinum Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela Amazon
P. Corruscans Argintina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay Parana & Sao Francisco
P. Orinocoense Venezuela Orinoco
P. Metaense Columbia, Venezuela Meta river (Tributary of Orinoco)
P. Megdaleniatum Columbia Magdalena, Cauca
P. Reticulatum Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay Central Amazon, Parana

Average Size of Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

The most remarkable feature of these freshwater residents is their vast size, which is relatively uncommon among its types. Once the gonadal reaches the maturity level, the size of the fish starts increasing faster and can touch four feet in adulthood.

In the fish tanks, they are observed to grow on an average of 25 inches and hardly up to 36 inches.

So, if you wish to pet this and want it to get elongated, then arrange a higher capacity aquarium, which is beneficial in swift movements, and thus their length also increases.

Fact: The Pseudoplatystoma Tigrinum is the largest species of shovelnose catfish from this genus and can attain a maximum length of about 51 inches.

Features And Appearance

These are comparatively larger fishes, and the vertical un-straightened bands over the skin make them look unique in their appearance.

One of the significant identifications of the tiger shovelnose catfish is the flattened head portion with long maxillary barbels on the mouth end. These barbels or whiskers are straight& stiff and continuously stirring in multiple directions to sense the prey & predators.

The tiny eyes are focused on the front. They have small teeth, but mouths are pouted out and open into a voluminous stretch. The fontanel is pretty long, while the occipital process goes behind to link the pre-dorsal plate.

There are small spines over pectoral and dorsal fins, while some species like P. Fasciatum show a spinelet behind the dorsal spine.

The body color of the adult fishes looks silvery shade with dark spots or thick vertical strips towards the stomach. The juveniles, on the other hand, are entirely different from them.

Author Note: The barbels of the juveniles are comparatively longer in size than the adult tiger shovelnose.

The babies of tiger shovelnose catfish have their bodies in a dark color on the back with a strong division of shades at the sides, separating it to the white belly. They do not have stripe marks on the body.

Here is the specific tabloid description about the physical description of different species under Pseudoplatystoma, that look too similar to confuse with their appearance.

Species Name Max Size Body Appearance Fins Description
P. Fasciatum 90 cm Also known as Barred Sorubim, 10-11 Dark wide vertical bars, a few white bars Dark spotless pelvic & pectoral fin, narrow skull
P. Tigrinum 130 cm Also known as Tiger Sorubim, Loop-like bands till the dorsal region on both sides, loop-like bars from cells Adipose fins have look-like bands & spots, no dark spots on the sides
P. Corruscans 114 cm Also known as Spotted Sorubim, 4-13 pale vertical bars, large spots in 6-8 rows Adipose fin has either 0 or 5-10 spots; Caudal fin has few
P. Orinocoense 49 cm Longer vertical bars uptill dorsal, Anterior bars extend below dorsal area Usually, 0 or 2-3 spots below the lateral line
P. Metaense 53 cm 5 straight vertical bars on the sides, Random dark spots on the dusky region Adipose fin has 5-7 spots, Pale pectoral & pelvic fins with no dusky shade
P. Megdaleniatum 100 cm Dark vertical bars, Straight & wide, No loops Adipose has 6-7 wide spots, No spots on pectoral & dorsal fins
P. Reticulatum 60 cm Spots or loops on head, Loop-like dark bars join dorsal region to form different cells, Loop bars till the lateral line Anal fin has spots, Pointed lower jaw

What is Their Average Lifespan?

Though the tiger shovelnose fish looks hardy with its enormous size, it does not enjoy a very long life. Their average life is only up to 20 years.

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The survival ability of specific species in the genus are almost the same, and their lifespan comes under the range of 18 – 25 years.

It lives longer when left on their own in the wild, though they are caught as food products in many regions. But when in captivity, they live even lesser than what they can outside.

It becomes difficult to pet an adult shovelnose due to their size. And despite all the care and precautions, it breaks down in a few months or years after 18 years.

Gendering the Shovelnose

It is tough to identify the gender of tiger shovelnose catfish, as they do not exhibit any physical features that distinguish their sexes.

Few experts suggest a standard method of observing these fishes and figure out whoever is bloating or swells could be a female, as its stomach is gravid with eggs.

Another known pattern that helps signify the gender of shovelnose catfish species is that the adult females reach their max length quickly while the males take more time.

Average Pricing of the Fish

The shovelnose fish has always been in demand across the South American nations. Their attractive appearance makes them the choicest ornamental aquatic in household fish tanks of American people.

These are popular in the food industry and are the favorite cuisine of many due to their high-quality yellowish flesh, which is boneless and juicy. The flesh quality makes shovelnose catfish a commercially well-paid fish.

70% – 80% of the total fish in the trade are harvested every year. Unregulated fishing has led to their extinction from many small rivers of the continent.

Note: These fishes grab lesser sales for petting because of their colossal size and matchable tank mates that can stay safe, along with the trouble of arranging a larger quantity of food.

A young tiger shovelnose catfish for sale would cost around $30. These are about 2 inches in size. A full-grown fish of this species is priced at around $250 – $300or more.

Care Reference

Quick Details
Care Level Simple – Moderate
Social Interactive
Predators Yes
Temperament Aggressive
Diet Piscivorous
Breeding Difficult

What do the Shovelnose Eat

The tiger shovelnose catfish are a typical carnivore animal. But because their preference mainly includes fishes, they are kept under the piscivorous category.

Few aquarists list them as omnivorous as they claim to observe them nibbling over the leafy plants. The fact is that they are never seen consuming the plants but only keep looking out for meat particles around the leaves.

These fishes are traditionally nocturnal, and hence they search for food or get involved in any other activity, usually when it is dark. So, you can provide them with food in the tank and leave them for some time to let them eat sufficiently.

Apart from being fish lovers in their dietary chart, the shovelnose equally accepts other meat products and supplements when hungry. Here is a list of items that you can feed your fish.

  • Pellets
  • Flakes
  • Frozen meat
  • Live worms
  • Small fishes
  • Loricariids
  • Cichlids
  • Electric Knifefishes
  • Characters & Characins
  • Sabalos
  • Bogas
  • Crustaceans (Shrimps, Crabs)

Pro Tip: The adult fish will require a large amount of food, but overfeeding will cause health issues. So, you should only provide optimum nutrition as per the individual’s practical limit.

The Social Connectivity

The tiger catfish are night hunters, but unlike many other nocturnal species, these are seen actively roaming around in the tank, even in the daytime.

While in the rivers, it prefers to stay and swim in the great depth or the mid-levels. The same characteristics are observed in aquariums.

Due to its length and nature of swift movements, you should specifically put them in big-size tanks that enable metabolism activities and keep them healthy.

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They easily get irritated against unfamiliar activities and may even disrupt the beautification of the tank if it is hindering their predatory activities or mobility. They often behave belligerently towards their mates in the tank.

Tip: Researchers say that observe the tiger shovelnose, and if it sits back for a long time, consider a quick health check from an expert veterinarian.

Hence, the tiger shovelnose catfish should either be kept alone or with similar companions to neither predate them nor get predated.

Reproduction or Harvesting

These 7 – 8 sisters are found in the maximum number of rivers and their tributaries of South America. That’s because they usually travel long distances to find an appropriate partner and suitable climatic conditions for reproducing their new generations.

Most of these species start migration during the dry period before monsoons to find a partner and begin the spawning culture as soon as the rains start.

The males are more desperate and behave aggressively during the reproductive period. About three males pair with one female when they reproduce in the wild.

Fact: During the research, scientists found that the males are ready to reproduce as they grow up to 63.3 cm, while females are ready at 92 cm. They also found the maximum length of a reproducing male to be 97 cm, but females could breed until 144 cm in length.

After a brief analysis of the theories defining the breeding mannerism of the tiger shovelnose catfish, you need to make specific arrangements before getting them into the reproductive cycle.

Necessities in Breeding

The fish is very particular about its choices, whether in food or connecting with a partner. They reproduce far from their native place, which signifies how difficult these fish are for artificial breeding.

But since the fish is in high demand, many people are involved in the shovelnose catfish harvesting industry. About 80% of the total supply is fulfilled through this channel and the rest through open fishing.

Thus, it is hard to make them reproduce in an artificial setup; the harvesters use hormonal injections, which catalysis the whole process.

You should be careful while arranging suitable partners. Make sure they are of the opposite gender, which is a tricky identification. There is little known about the age at which they mature, so you can only keep a check on their average maturity length.

Tip: If you avoid injections, then to reduce the negative results from breeding, you may also try the whole process with about 2 – 3 males and a female in the tank.

Two tanks are necessary because you will have to shift the fish after fertilization.

Mating Process

Induce the fishes in the water tank and maintain the temperature at about 27 degrees Celsius.

Once they feel comfortable, you may inject them with two doses of Ovaprim hormone in 24 hours. The first dose will contain 10% quantity, and the rest 90% will be injected as the second dose. After the double dose, you can leave them alone for some time.


The potential partners start mating once they get in a comfortable situation and environment. The eggs get released after eight hours of mating.

Now transfer the eggs into Zug containers, where they stay in warm temperatures fixed at 26.5 degrees Celsius for 24 hours.


The larva comes out of the eggs in a days-time. For the initial two days, they feed over the vitellus, after which you need to provide sufficient food such as juvenile Artemia nauplii 7 – 8 times in 24 hours.

You should let the larva stay in the dark till all the lavas hatch. After 15 days of the eggs hatch, you may feed them with ground mammalian liver, and once they are 20 days old, they can consume pelleted food.

Hybrid Species

The breeders of tiger shovelnose catfish have also developed cross breeds that appear and behave similarly to the parent fish. Here is a brief description of a few popular ones.

Dolphin Head Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

As the name suggests, the head of this fish looks identical to dolphins, although the head is somewhat flat like the shovelnose instead of a beak-like structure of dolphins.

The head is light brown with black spots, while the body is in silver color with vertical black stripes.

These fishes are highly ornamental in their appearance and are very rare in the market. They are sold at an average price of $2400 in America.

Red Tail Tiger Shovelnose Catfish

These are intentionally created hybrids of the red tail catfish from the Amazon River and the shovelnose by fishing industries.

They are popularized in the aquarium trade as they look stunning in the combination of silver with black spots.

The red tail fishes grow too fast even before they reach maturity and become giant tiger shovelnose catfish. It can open a large mouth to hunt and eat whatever is available in the tank.

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Their average price ranges around $35 in the USA.

Health Conditions

These fishes are hardy by nature, and they do not easily get affected by ill-causing infectious bacteria or viruses.

However, as the tiger shovelnose grows in size and maturity, it gets vulnerable to many common illness issues.

Some of the common health problems it has to face are briefed below.

  • Hole in the head
  • Ich

While it is obvious to visit a veterinarian for treatment, you can take care of them by adopting some precautionary steps, such as regulating water quality and other hygiene modes.

Fish Tank Care & Regulation

Capacity 1000+ Litres
Water Temperature 75 to 82 F
Hardness Range 6 to 19 KH
Tank Lighting Not Required
Water pH Level 6 to 8
Tank Type Singular Tank
Substrate Gravels, Rocks, Driftwood
Brackish Yes

Appropriate Fish Tank Size

The tiger shovelnose catfish undoubtedly require enormous tanks. Even if you purchase them as juveniles, they won’t take much time to grow longer, and low mobility space will significantly affect their health.

The recommended aquarium size for tiger shovelnose catfish is about 200 Gallons. It enables a comfortable stay if the fishes are newborns or young and few numbers.

While if you own an adult species, you must get a tank sizing 250 Gallons or more.

Setting up the tank

These fishes are aggressive and quickly get annoyed if it finds the environment to be disturbing. They do not need much decoration, but an empty tank will still make them tense.

Quick Tip: You must tightly close the top lid of the tank because these fishes are capable of taking long jumps and can try to dive out of the tank, thereby hurting themselves.

So, it won’t be good to keep just anything randomly in the tank. Here are a few suggestions by us that you can include in the shovelnose tank.


Keeping natural plants in the tank creates a soothing environment for the fishes as they mostly love to be among nature.

While in the rivers, they are often seen nibbling on the leaves, not as food but may be searching for food items, or they like this activity.

Floating plants are one of the best options for shovelnose catfish. Plants like hornwort or water wisteria are good choices but do not overpopulate the place.


Though the tiger shovelnose catfish keeps moving all day, it is a typical nocturnal creature and prefers to find food in the dark. The barbels work like an antenna to give signals about food and predators.

These fishes prefer to stay in the deep, low-light regions of the rivers. Hence, they do not need much visibility in the water as the other senses work pretty well.

You can install a dim light bulb in the daytime and turn it off after some hours to mimic the difference between day & night.


These fishes usually stay close to the water bed; therefore, creating a natural setup at the surface will keep them stress-free and at home.

The tiger shovelnose catfish are bottom feeders of the aquarium, as they usually graze on the surface to consume the food items. Hence, placing gravel sand at the surface will be a good choice.

Gravel gives a realistic outlook for the fish, while it also filters the water to some extent and minimizes bacterial infections. You can also put some rocks and driftwood in the tank.

Water Filters & Oxygen

These are tough fishes and can even survive ill-suited water conditions to some extent, but ultimately bad water will affect their health.

These giant creatures produce a lot of waste, so you should prefer installing a powerful water filter into the tank that keeps removing the waste material.

It will clean the space and increase the tank’s oxygen levels.

Decoration Elements

After inducing the items like vegetation and substrate, there is no need to fill the leftover area with artificial products.

The synthetic materials may only work to raise their temper resulting in distortion of everything.

If you wish to beautify the view, only prefer small indestructible items that do not fill too much space.

Water Specifications

The tiger shovelnose catfish are natural habitats of tropical regions, and hence the body responds well to moderate temperatures.

Some of these species also stay comfortable in the forest floods, proving that they are firm fish with a high survival rate.

But we advise you to monitor the below-given factors for maintaining a healthy and active tiger shovelnose.

  • Water temperatures should be between 23 – 27 degrees Celsius.
  • A filtration system is necessary.
  • Change of water at regular intervals.
  • The best pH value for them is 7pH.
  • Water hardness should be kept below 15KH.

Suitable Tank Mates

The tiger shovelnose catfish are large, and the predatory food habits make them hostile towards other creatures too. These are piscivores and do not hesitate to hunt anything of smaller size.

Hence while choosing tank mates for them, you must remember to keep optimum sized non-aggressive fishes that do not hunt but can still defend themselves.

Few tank mates that you can opt for are listed below.

  • Redtail Catfish
  • Giant Gourami
  • Pacu
  • Oscar Fish
  • Arowana

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Zebra Shovelnose Catfish Hybrid Creatures?

No, zebra shovelnose catfish is not a hybrid. It belongs to the same Pimelodidae family as the tiger shovelnose. These are naturally found in the upper Amazon river around Brazil. They have a maximum length of 50 cm, and the body is yellowish-white with black vertical stripes.

Are tiger shovelnose catfish easy pets?

This fish has recently been introduced as possible pets, and their designer skin patterns with unique behaviors attract a lot of viewers. They can easily survive environmental changes, and juveniles can settle down in comparatively smaller tanks.

But the fish may become challenging to tolerate once it starts growing. It requires immense space and a lot of food, or it will begin to hunt other smaller companions.

Can they survive without oxygen?

Unlike other fishes, the tiger shovelnose can stay out of water for hours to a few days and can breathe through an accessory organ in the gill cavity. It can wait on the land for a long time until it rains.

How quickly does the shovelnose reach its full length?

These are fast-growing fishes and can enlarge at 6 inches per year. They can attain their maximum length of six years in the wild. In captivity, the owner should feed enough protein and meat products and provide a large tank volume to get them long-sized sooner.

Are they dangerous to humans?

These fishes are considered harmless to humans. Instead, they are excellent food products for human beings. Many of these are negligibly seen in their native rivers. The continuous and illegal fishing of this species has led to the risk of extinction.

Conclusive Thoughts

The tiger shovelnose catfish has become famous for its ornamental looks and its nutritious value in the food industry.

Due to their increasing commercial value, people are getting involved in the profitable business of harvesting, where about 27000 tonnes of these species are reproducing each year.

Though petting them in home aquariums is complex, these can be a good choice for expert fish keepers with their exclusive global value and eye-catching color pattern.

About the Author

Shelby Crosby

Shelby is a passionate fishkeeper who has been writing about fish for over 5 years. She is a pro aquarist and holds a BSc Honors Degree in Wildlife and Fisheries. She creates her own beautiful aquarium layouts and loves to share her knowledge of tropical fish with other hobbyists.

Career Highlights:

  • Has worked with several aquarium manufacturers as a consultant
  • Organized and hosted workshops on freshwater fish keeping at retail stores, educational facilities, and libraries
  • Released content for the amphibian community through her writings

Educational Highlights:

  • BSc Honors in Wildlife and Fisheries in 2011 (University of Northern British Columbia)
  • Completed her undergraduate thesis on the effects of zoochlorella supplementation on the growth and health of fish.

Writing Experience

Miss Crosby is a Freelance blogger; many of her articles are posted online on various blogs. She has also written a few short articles for "Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine" in the past. She is a regular contributor to FishParenting.com. Her education, first-hand experience with fishkeeping, and in-depth knowledge in aquaculture make her one of the most competent writers in the industry.

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