Vulture Catfish Care Guide: Diet, Tank Mates, Diseases, Breeding & More

Updated: October 25, 2022

The vulture catfish is a large, unique, and fascinating freshwater fish that is native to South America.

This fish gets its name from its vulture-like head, which is large and distinct.

The body of this fish is long and eel-like, and it can grow to be over 3 feet in length!

Despite their intimidating appearance, vulture catfish are actually quite peaceful and make a great addition to any community tank.

In this guide, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about vulture catfish care. Tank size, diet, tank mates, and more.

Species overview

Vulture Catfish (scientific name: Auchenoglanis occidentalis) are a freshwater species that is most commonly found in Africa. They are native to the Congo River basin but have also been found in the Zambezi and Okavango River basins.

They prefer slower moving water with a lot of vegetation. This is something that is fairly common among many catfish species.

The vulture catfish is a bottom feeder and scavenger. In the wild, they will eat just about anything they can find including plants, insects, and small vertebrates.

Due to their hardiness and ability to adapt to a wide range of conditions, vulture catfish are a popular choice for many aquariums. They are also a good choice for beginner aquarists because they are relatively easy to care for.


Vulture Catfish

The first thing you’ll notice about the Vulture Catfish is their large size. This is definitely a fish that you don’t want to underestimate. They can easily grow to be over two feet long!

The body of the Vulture Catfish is long, thin, and eel-like. They have a dorsal fin that runs almost the entire length of their body and an anal fin that’s about half the size. Both of these fins are tall and thin.

They also have a long, thin caudal fin that’s forked. The Vulture Catfish has a very long head with small eyes that are set far back.

They have a small mouth that’s filled with sharp teeth. These teeth are perfect for tearing apart their prey. The Vulture Catfish is a bottom-dweller so their belly is white. The rest of their body is a dark gray or black.


Vulture catfish have a lifespan of around 10 to 15 years. This is a pretty long time for a freshwater fish and it’s a good reminder of how important it is to take good care of them.

Like any fish, there are a number of things that can impact their lifespan. Poor water quality, for example, can shorten their life significantly.

As long as you provide them with the proper care, though, they should be around for a very long time.


Vulture Catfish can reach lengths of up to 24 inches, but are more commonly around 18 inches long. These fish are also quite slender, so they don’t need a ton of width in their tank.


Tank Size

Vulture Catfish need a minimum of a 125 gallon tank. If you want to keep more than one vulture catfish, you will need an additional 55 gallons for each fish.

Water Parameters

Vulture catfish are not fussy when it comes to water parameters. They are found in slow-moving rivers and streams with muddy bottoms.

In the wild, the water is typically soft with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. The temperature ranges from 72 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the region.

In captivity, you can maintain similar water conditions.

  • Water temperature: 72 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit
  • pH levels: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Water hardness: 2 to 12 dGH
  • Alkalinity Levels: 4-8 dKH

What To Put In Their Tank

Vulture Catfish are a species that originates from fast-moving rivers. Because of this, you’ll want to recreate some of their natural habitat in their tank.

A good place to start is with the substrate. Vulture Catfish like to have a substrate that’s made up of small rocks and gravel. This gives them something to root around in and provides a little bit of cover as well.

You can also add some plants to their tank if you want. Vulture Catfish aren’t known to be plant eaters, but they can be a little bit clumsy. Avoid adding anything too delicate or with fragile leaves.

Something else you’ll want to include in their tank is a good amount of hiding places. Vulture Catfish are a nocturnal species so they’ll be spending a lot of time hiding during the day.

Caves, driftwood, and rocks all make great hiding places. You can even add a few plants in there to give them some extra cover. Just make sure there’s enough room for them to swim around!

Last but not least, you’ll want to make sure there’s a good amount of water movement in their tank. Vulture Catfish come from rivers so they’re used to a good current.

You can achieve this in a few different ways. The easiest is to just get a powerful filter. You can also add an air stone to create some extra surface agitation.

Common Diseases

Vulture Catfish are pretty hearty fish, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get sick. In fact, there are a few diseases that are pretty common in this species.

The most common disease you’ll see in Vulture Catfish is hole-in-the-head disease. This is a parasitic infection that’s caused by poor water conditions.

It presents itself as, you guessed it, holes in the head of your fish. These holes can be pretty small at first, but they will eventually get larger and can even kill your fish if left untreated.

The best way to prevent this disease is by maintaining high-quality water conditions in your tank. If you notice the early stages of this disease (small holes in the head), you can also try treating it with a medication like Metronidazole.

Another disease that’s common in Vulture Catfish is ich. This is a pretty well-known disease in the fish-keeping world, and it’s caused by a parasitic infection.

The most obvious symptom of ich is the presence of white spots on the body of your fish. It can also cause your fish to scratch themselves on objects in the tank, and it can lead to a loss of appetite.

If you think your fish has ich, the best course of action is to treat the entire tank with a medication like Copper Sulfate.

Behavior & Temperament

Vulture Catfish have a few things in common with their namesake. For starters, they’re both scavengers. These fish will eat just about anything they can find, including algae, dead fish, and even other live fish!

Another similarity is that they’re both relatively lazy. Vulture Catfish spend the majority of their time at the bottom of the tank, just hanging out. They’re not known for being particularly active, so don’t expect to see them swimming around much.

The final similarity is that they’re both a bit unsightly. Vulture Catfish are not the prettiest fish in the world. In fact, they’re quite ugly. But, if you can get past their looks, they can make interesting pets.

When it comes to temperament, Vulture Catfish are relatively peaceful. They’re not known for being aggressive, although they may go after smaller fish if they’re feeling hungry. Other than that, they usually leave other fish alone.

Tank Mates

The vulture catfish is a peaceful species that is compatible with most tank mates. These fish are not aggressive and will not bother other fish in the tank.

In fact, they’re more likely to be on the receiving end of aggression since they’re a slow-moving bottom-dweller.

As a result, it’s best to add tank mates that are peaceful and won’t bully the vulture catfish. Some good choices include:

  • Corydoras Catfish
  • Plecostomus Catfish
  • Otocinclus Catfish
  • Loricariids Catfish
  • Tetras
  • Guppies
  • Danios


The vulture catfish is a hardy species that can be easy to breed in the home aquarium. They are not too picky about water conditions, but there are a few things you should keep in mind to ensure success.

Vulture catfish are egg-layers. The female will lay a large batch of eggs, which the male will then fertilize. After that, the male will guard the eggs until they hatch.

You don’t need to do much to trigger spawning. Just make sure the tank is at least 30 gallons and has a good amount of hiding places. The water should be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the female is ready to lay eggs, she will do so on a smooth surface like a rock or piece of driftwood. After the eggs are fertilized, the male will guard them until they hatch.

It takes about a week for the eggs to hatch. When they do, the fry will be very small and vulnerable. It’s important to remove the adults at this point, as they will likely eat the fry.

The fry can be fed baby brine shrimp or other small live foods. They will need to be fed several times a day to ensure they are getting enough to eat.

As they grow, you can start to feed them larger foods like bloodworms or pellets.


The vulture catfish is a great addition to any freshwater aquarium. They’re relatively easy to care for, and they’re a lot of fun to watch.

They’re not the most active fish, but they’re definitely not boring.

If you’re looking for a fish that’s a little bit different and you don’t mind having a bottom-dweller, then the vulture catfish is a great choice for you.