Red Lizard Whiptail Catfish Tank Size & Care: A Vibrant and Unusual Aquarium Delight

Species Snapshot

  •       Species Name: Rineloricaria sp.
  •       Common Names: Red lizard whiptail catfish, red lizard catfish
  •       Size: Up to 4.5 inches
  •       Lifespan: 5-8 years
  •       Native Distribution: South America

Though certainly one of the more striking suckermouth catfish available to modern aquarium hobbyists, the origins of the red lizard whiptail catfish are veiled in mystery. Many believe it to be a man-made species, perhaps a hybrid of Rineloricaria lanceolata, but some suggest this catfish derived from a wild-caught species of Paraguayan origin.

Regardless of whether the red lizard whiptail catfish is a naturally occurring species or not, it’s rapidly rising in popularity within the aquarium hobby. Specimens available for sale are exclusively tank-bred and are generally hardy and adaptable. Here’s what you need to know about these beautiful catfish.

Anatomy and Appearance

A member of the family Loricariidae, the red lizard whiptail catfish is a small suckermouth catfish. It’s referred to by the species name Rineloricaria sp. or the L-number L010a/L10a. This species grows to a maximum of just under 4.5 inches and it has a long, thin, twig-like body.

As the name would suggest, red lizard whiptail catfish are red. Juveniles may appear rusty red and variegated with shades of brown or tan. As the fish matures, however, the red color becomes more dominant—especially with a diet of meaty foods.

Ideal Aquarium Setup

Though not a naturally occurring species, red lizard whiptail catfish look very striking in a natural tank setup. Their color stands out against light sandy substrate and could be complemented by a scattering of leaf litter. Driftwood, rockwork, and live aquarium plants support the look.

Tank Size

While one of the smaller Loricariids, these catfish still require a spacious tank—a minimum volume of 30 gallons is recommended. Red lizard whiptail catfish are generally solitary but can be kept in groups for breeding purposes. Just be sure to scale the size of the tank with the number of catfish you keep.

Water Parameters

Because they’re tank-bred and not a naturally occurring species, red lizard whiptail catfish are very adaptable to different tank conditions. Like most fish, however, they prefer a stable tank environment and will do best when introduced to an established tank.

Thought to be bred from South American species of suckermouth catfish, the red lizard whiptail catfish prefers warmer water that is soft and slightly acidic.

The ideal water parameters for this species are:

  •       Water Temperature 75-84°F
  •       pH Level: 6.0-7.5
  •       Hardness: 2-15 dKH

Adequate filtration is important for this species to keep the water clean and clear. That said, red lizard whiptail catfish seem to prefer low to moderate flow, so avoid creating too much water movement with powerheads or filter outlets.

Tank Décor

Red lizard whiptail catfish will appreciate a spacious tank that provides plenty of hiding places as well as surfaces on which algae and biofilm can accumulate. These fish are more voracious algae-eaters as juveniles, however, so algae growth may become less important as the fish mature.

Be mindful that this species can be shy, especially when first introduced to a new aquarium. Instead of hastily purchasing any aquarium, invest time in identifying the optimal red lizard whiptail catfish tank size for a thriving aquatic environment. Hiding places should be large enough to accommodate the fish’s long body—rockwork caves or even pieces of PVC pipe work well. Bright lighting should be avoided as this species is largely nocturnal.

Diet and Feeding

Like other suckermouth catfish, this species is omnivorous. Juveniles will feed voraciously on algae growth, though specimens of any age will accept algae wafers, sinking dried foods, and blanched vegetables. Life and frozen foods like daphnia and bloodworms are acceptable as well.

Temperament and Tank Mates

When selecting tankmates for your red lizard whiptail catfish, it’s important to consider the species’ docile temperament. This species doesn’t have the same territorial tendencies seen in other Loricariids, so they may be compatible with other algae-eaters and bottom dwellers. The key is to avoid fish that are aggressive or highly active which might outcompete your catfish for food.

Red lizard whiptail catfish generally do well in peaceful community tanks. Small tetras, rasboras, and danios work well as tankmates, as do medium-sized community fish like pearl or honey gouramis. Avoid fin-nipping species like tiger barbs as well as large or aggressive fish like cichlids.

Invertebrates like snails and shrimp may make good tankmates for red lizard whiptail catfish, as long as there’s enough food to go around. Some specimens may get along with dwarf shrimp, though they may predate upon the fry.

The perfect red lizard whiptail catfish tank size.

Breeding Red Lizard Whiptail Catfish

The red lizard whiptail catfish appears to breed fairly readily in the home aquarium. That said, the fry can be challenging to raise. It’s best to start with an established tank and introduce a group of six or more juvenile catfish, giving them time to pair off as they mature. For spawning surfaces, provide several lengths of 2-inch PVC.

To encourage breeding, condition your catfish with nutrient-rich foods—be sure to include protein-heavy foods like bloodworms as well as blanched vegetables like spinach and kale. Water parameters in the breeding tank should be just slightly acidic and soft.

When the fish are ready for breeding, you may notice the male selecting and cleaning a cave for spawning. If the female is receptive, she’ll enter the cave to lay her eggs and the male will follow to fertilize them. Once fertilized, the eggs are solely cared for by the male who guards them and fans the eggs with his fins. If you plan to raise the fry, consider removing other fish from the tank or moving the cave and the male to a separate rearing tank.

Fertilized red lizard whiptail catfish eggs hatch after 4-5 days and the fry become free-swimming after another 2-3 days. Start feeding the fry immediately after they become free-swimming. Provide constant access to nutritious food sources like blanched veggies, microworms, and baby brine shrimp. As the fry grows, you can transition them onto larger foods and they’ll begin to feed on algae in the tank as well.

Though the details of this species’ origins are cloudy, there’s no doubt that the red lizard whiptail catfish is a beautiful and unique species. If you’re looking for a peaceful catfish that stays on the smaller side to add to your community tank, this could be a good option.

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