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Spotted Raphael Catfish: Everything You Need to Know About the Talking Catfish

Spotted Raphael Catfish: Everything You Need to Know About the Talking Catfish

The Spotted Raphael Catfish (Agamyxis pectinifrons) is a low-maintenance and tough aquatic animal species, which makes it a great choice for beginners in fish keeping with medium to large-sized aquarium size. Its most prominent characteristics that makes it stands out amongst others is the spotted body and sound producing ability (clicking or croaking) as the fish likes to grind its pectoral fins against the shoulder’s grooves. Find out more about this particular catfish species below.

Visual Appearance, Body Size and Estimated Lifespan

It has been decades that the Raphael Spotted Catfish gained popularity amongst aquarists, mostly due to their stunning visual markings and rather mild temperaments. The fish is spotted for the first time in 1870, according to a record by Cope, in its native habitat in the Amazon basin in South America (Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Bolivia.) As per current, the Spotted Raphael Catfish is not listed under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

The Spotted Raphael Catfish is one of the Doradidae family’s members. It also has plenty of other common nicknames, such as Torny Catfish, Talking Catfish, White Spotted Doradid, White Spotted Talking Catfish, and others. It is not to be mistaken with its close relative which visually is almost identical, the Southern Raphael (Platydoras armatulus) and Stripped Raphael (Platydoras costatus), but it’s not rare for these three to be sold with a single name.

The Spotted Raphael Catfish’s body is cylindrical and arrow-like, with its small eyes, protruding head, flattened stomach, and spread mouth surrounded by three sets of soft barbel. It is covered in a thick and solid skin without scale. This fish has vertical spiked dorsal fins, skeletal scutums over its literal lines, and bones on its pectoral fins. The pectoral bones are interesting because they are able to be lengthened outwards to the sides rigidly, especially when the fish is stressed. As the first spine over the pectoral fins is very solid, it’s beneficial as powerful weapon for defense. It is also the reason behind the ‘Thorny Catfish’ name.

The color of Raphael Catfish Spotted’s body is black to dark brown, decorated by variable small spots pattern in bright white to yellowish colors. The fins also wear this color palette, complete with the spots or stripes. As it gets older, the color only gets deeper. The contrasting tone of black base against white patterns is what makes the fish beautiful and desirable by many. Fun fact, the pattern is unique for each fish, meaning there are no two fishes that look totally identical in the world.

So, how big do Spotted Raphael Catfish get? The species rarely surpass 6 inches in length. Once it reaches adult age phase, the Spotted Raphael Catfish growth rate also gets very slow, with only about an inch addition each year or two.

It is estimated that Spotted Raphael Catfish has 10 years lifespan in average. However, it is not possible to reach around 15-20 years, especially for well-maintained ones.

Behavior and Temperament

The Spotted Raphael Catfish has quite a gregarious living habit, but it won’t suffer as the only specimen of its kind in an aquarium. It is not exactly a sensitive species, although it can get fairly shy, often times choose to be reclusive and hide between crevices such as pipes or driftwood types. Moreover, it is also not aggressive or territorial in particular, but it is still willing and capable to prey on any creatures that can fit the mouth, just like other catfish species.

This fish doesn’t have inclination to damage plants. Instead, it actually like floating plants that can cover its body and create dimly lit environment inside the tank. Young fishes mostly spend their time amongst vegetative plants when provided and only begin to come out when the surrounding gets dark. Even then, they usually prefer to rummage around the bottom of the aquarium tank.

Aquarium Tank Set-up and Habitat Requirements

Taking care of the Spotted Raphael Catfish is not hard at all, as it is naturally very resilient and has great tolerance to various conditions and circumstances. To keep your catfish healthy and happy inside a tank, here are some key things to pay attention to:

Size of the aquarium

The recommended Spotted Raphael Catfish tank size is 35 gallons. Generally, when it comes to this fish species, the larger the tank, the better it is. Minimum 45-gallon tank size is required if you plan to keep several of them.

This is because the catfish tend to be able to grow bigger if it lives in a larger tank. There are reports that the Spotted Raphael Catfish size can reach around 8 to over 9 inches provided they are kept in a supportive environment.

Shape-wise, a rectangular tank is more preferable than a taller type because this fish is a bottom-dweller that needs abundance of space for swimming and exploring around.

Water conditions and temperature

As mentioned above, this fish is a tough creature with high tolerance to various conditions of water. In the wild environment of its natural habitat, they typically live in shallow floodwaters which temperature cool down during the night, so it has great tolerance for an extent time in extremely low temperature.

However, of course such extreme condition is not recommended for an aquarium tank as it may stress the fish. The suggested water temperature for this species is between 68°F and 79°F, so a heater might be needed. Its preference also leans towards a bit acidic water that has around 5.8 to 7.5 pH.

Filtration, Aeration and Lighting

The Spotted Raphael Catfish is fairly low maintenance. At most, it only requires 30% water change once a month and a working filtration setup. It prefers oxygenated water, which can be enhanced by adding an air pump and stone. Furthermore, it also likes water that doesn’t flow a lot. Baffling the filter might be needed to block powerful currents on the bottom area of the tank. In terms of lighting, this fish doesn’t really like bright environment and instead prefer somewhat shaded ones.

Substrate, Plants and Decorations

Soft aquatic soil/sand and small gravel are recommended as the tank’s substrate, because harsh gravel may harm the catfish. You can put additions such as branches, driftwood, or sizeable rocks inside to help the fish nest and hide.

Juvenile catfish like a dense set of living plants, and it is unlikely to damage them once it grows older. While floating vegetation of any kind won’t bother the fish, it normally doesn’t go well with carpet-type plants because they can close the access to the substrate, thus preventing the fish from foraging and burrowing itself.


The Spotted Raphael Catfish is quite sensitive to waste products of an aquarium such as ammonia. This is why keeping schedule of changing the water and filter is important to its health. In general, smaller tanks require water changes more often than larger ones which are sufficient with once a month changes.

Compatible Tank Mates

Its peaceful nature makes this fish suitable to live inside a community aquarium tank. The Spotted Raphael Catfish tank mates can range from medium- to large-sized fish, because smaller ones may get eaten. It also has great defense mechanism against aggressive tank mates, thanks to its thorny protection. Some of the recommended options are Trichogaster, Pimelodus, larger characins, and other species within its family. It’s also been said above that the Spotted Raphael is a naturally gregarious catfish species above, but it doesn’t mean that you can keep only a single one.

Feeding Requirements

The Spotted Raphael Catfish diet is very simple, as it originally omnivore and doesn’t have picky tendency. In its natural habitat, it primarily eats small invertebrates and crustaceans. In the aquarium, it will happily eat dry, frozen, or live meaty foods as well as plant-based matters. This means you can feed various foods to the catfish including live worms, small shrimps, flakes, sinking pellets, frozen bloodworms, and so on.

In addition, as the Spotted Raphael Catfish likes to scavenge around, it also eats scraps within the tanks. This provides a benefit for the aquarium owner as well because the fish will practically help to clean up variety of things that decent to the bottom of the tank.

Be aware if you keep snails, small crabs, and shrimps inside the tank too, because this catfish eat invertebrates and mollusk that can fit its mouth. On the bright side, this helps to control the amount of snail too.

The Spotted Raphael Catfish’s craving can be quite wild, so the owner needs to prevent it from overeating. The recommended feeding schedule for the fish is once a day, before the lights of the aquarium turned off. It will be more effective if the food is inserted around its hiding place, even though typically it will learn to emerge from the hideaway if it detects food over time. Treats can be given to a couple of times weekly.

Breeding Details

Differentiating between Spotted Raphael Catfish male or female is quite easy, at least after it has turned into an adult. Female specimens of Spotted Raphael are typically plumper and have more full-body structure compared to the males.

In the wild, the Spotted Raphael Catfish is believed as a bubble-nest builder, especially in-between floating vegetation. Some reports say that the fish build nest from various materials like debris, leaf litter, and wood scraps.

Unfortunately, at this point, not much is known about the fish species’ reproduction behavior. It is very rare to find captive-bred fish and if there is, most of them are bred through artificial hormones that can affect spawning.

Health Concern and Disease Prevention

The Spotted Raphael Catfish, at least the adult ones, is quite resilient. Aside from the chance of catching obesity from overfeeding, it doesn’t typically possess plenty of health concerns. At most, they may suffer from common tropical fish diseases like bacterial or fungus infections. That being said, given that they live in good environment, there’s a low chance that the catfish catches diseases. The common problem which may affect their health is injury gained during transportation and netting.

The fish’ barbels may get infected if the nitrate level of the water is too high, as they will encounter difficulty in navigating the space and feeding. That’s why it’s important to maintain the nitrate level below 20 ppm by performing water change and monitoring nitrate level monitoring using a kit periodically.

As the Spotted Raphael Catfish is not covered in scale, it’s important to not use copper-containing medications or potassium permanganate. Some safe ingredients are formalin or malachite green that can be given at a half or a quarter or the normal dose.

To make sure your catfish is healthy, never forget to quarantine new specimens that are going to enter the tank, at least for two weeks. Bacteria and parasite can also affect the aquarium through the substrate, plants, or decorations. That’s why you need to make sure that everything is washed in a gentle solution of water and beach mix, then washed using tank’s water again, before put in the aquarium. Alternatively, the plants can be quarantined for at least a week as well to ensure that they aren’t carrying and importing eggs of snail, even though the snails have low chance to survive long considering the high opportunity to be eaten by the catfish.


The Spotted Raphael Catfish makes a fitting choice if you want to create a soothing and visually-pleasing fish community that most time just live peacefully as they scavenging the bottom of the tank. The Spotted Raphael Catfish price is also typically reasonable and they’re widely available online or at fish stores.

You can enjoy the low-hassle pleasure of keeping a small group of the Spotted Raphael Catfish in a well-kept aquarium for years. At night, you’d be able to watch their nocturnal activities when they are exploring the surroundings as the lights go out, be it under the soft LED light or simply by the help of the moonlight.

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