Fish I’ve Kept: Vulture Catfish

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This page lists *my* experiences with Vulture Catfish. While some of the fish-related Web sites you may find may give you the scientific information, very few of them probably tell you the information in this post. I should point out however that these are my personal experiences from three of these fish all kept at different times, your mileage may vary.

Firstly though, here are some scientific facts and figures:
Scientific name: Calophysus Macropterus
Name: Vulture Catfish / Water Vulture
Size: 45cm / 18″
pH range: 6 – 7.4
Temp: 24–29°C / 75–84°F

These fish do not do well in low oxygen. I highly recommend getting an oxygenated powerhead running, especially if your tank runs on the warm side, or you have a heavily planted aquarium with long dark periods, and not much surface flow.

Firstly, a warning:
This is certainly the most beautiful fish I’ve ever kept. The pattern is amazing, the fins are large, and the whiskers are as long as their body. They grow very large, very quickly, and are a good tank mate until they reach (what I assume to be) sexual maturity at about 10-12 inches long. When that happens, they will change overnight. A fish that you’ve been able to keep with it for years will suddenly be bullied and often killed.

I’ve read many times that these fish do nothing to earn the fearsome reputation they seem to have, and that is true, until they do something to deserve it. I kept my Vulture successfully with many different types of fish, most of which were small enough to fit in his mouth and as long as I kept him well fed, he never touched them… Then, quietly, over the course of about two months before the final attacks, all three of these fish that I have kept (one at a time) would change. They’d slowly eat smaller fish, attack bigger ones (waking up to half an Angelfish being my first indication), and gradually whittle down the tank population to just themselves.

Are they placid and nice before they change? Yes, but all three of mine eventually changed. They deserve the reputation.

With that said, let’s move on and talk about the positives of this awesome fish… Because if you want to dedicate a tank to it, or something it can’t hurt? Go for it. It’s an amazing fish.

General behavior

They spend a LOT of time swimming, like most catfish. They’ll find a place with a heavy flow and swim into it for hours. This can be disruptive to your substrate, as the whipping of the tail digs a hole. I recommend getting some powerheads to provide flow, but not placing them in a corner, as the Vulture often swims on the tank sides and will knock them off, even if strongly suctioned (they have a hard head).

When they’re not swimming, they’ll either lay on their belly or ‘perch’ on their Pelvic Fins, ‘standing up’ on them.


Yes. Finding half a fish and a clean cut through both flesh and bone occasionally is a good indication that this fish packs a hefty bite.

You can clearly see a 'tooth' running across the top of the mouth.

You can clearly see a ‘tooth’ running across the top of the mouth.


All mine were fed sinking pellets of various kinds. All of them eventually started eating other live fish in the tanks. They would also be picky of what kind of pellets they were given, and would literally spit out something they didn’t want to eat that day.

Refusing a certain type of food in favor of another.

Scaredy ‘cats’

Of the three fish I have kept, two were not skittish, one was. I’m not aware of any differences in my treatment of them to cause this. The skittish fish would dart away from a perceived danger and hit objects and the side of the tank, occasionally causing bruising or bleeding to the upper jaw and areas surrounding the barbels. He’d heal up very quickly, but I hated when it happened. If you keep them in an environment with driftwood, etc, they’ll scrape and scratch themselves quite often.

Whether you’re keeping them in a tank, moving them, or transporting, you need a tight fitting lid on any container. When netting them, they’ll leap out of the net. I had to pick up all three of mine off the floor after they jumped out of the net by flicking their powerful body before I could reach the bucket. Oh, and by the way, use a towel or something to pick them up, you don’t want a spine from their fins through your hand, do you?

Conclusions on the fish

An amazing fish that I’ve loved keeping, but I think I’m done now. They’re truly beautiful, elegant and awesome… The fact that I’d probably have to give them their own tank to be in any way safe and stop them killing tank mates is too big of a sacrifice to make…

I’m going to miss them! :(

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Aquarium Category Information

My first word was "fish", and my earliest memory is of the fish tank my parents had while I was a baby. Starting with a 10 U.S. gallon tank and easy fish like Zebra Danios, and some Cory Catfish, I quickly upgraded to 55 then 125 gallon tanks, and at one time had seven tanks in a relatively small apartment.

I've had some interesting experiences with my fish, such as moving them 1000 miles across the country and of course going through that lesson everyone needs to learn; not to trust the fish store. I've ordered fish online, but now primarily use a store called Animal Island in Midlothian, Illinois. This store accepts fish returns for partial store credit, so I have used this to my advantage and kept many different types of fish, gaining experience in a short time about a huge number of species.

My favorite fish so far is the Vulture Catfish, which is an absolutely beautiful long-whiskered and active catfish. My current biggest fish is a Fahaka Puffer.

Left: Rotkeil 'Severum'.


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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.