Karyotypic and cytogenetic characteristics of catfish Harttia carvalhoi (Paraíba do Sul River basin, São Paulo State, Brazil) were investigated using differential staining techniques (C-banding, Ag-staining) and fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) with 18S and 5S rDNA probes. The diploid chromosome number of females was 2n = 52 and their karyotype was composed of nine pairs of metacentric, nine pairs of submetacentric, four pairs of subtelocentric and four pairs of acrocentric chromosomes. The diploid chromosome number of males was invariably 2n = 53 and their karyotype consisted of one large unpaired metacentric, eight pairs of metacentric, nine pairs of submetacentric, four pairs of subtelocentric, four pairs of acrocentric plus two middle-sized acrocentric chromosomes. The differences between female and male karyotypes indicated the presence of a sex chromosome system of XX/XY1Y2 type, where the X is the largest metacentric and Y1 and Y2 are the two additional middle-sized acrocentric chromosomes of the male karyotype. The major rDNA sites as revealed by FISH with an 18S rDNA probe were located in the pericentromeric region of the largest pair of acrocentric chromosomes. FISH with a 5S rDNA probe revealed two sites: an interstitial site located in the largest pair of acrocentric chromosomes, and a pericentromeric site in a smaller metacentric pair of chromosomes. Translocations or centric fusions in the ancestral 2n = 54 karyotype is hypothesized for the origin of such multiple sex chromosome systems where females are fixed translocation homozygotes whereas males are fixed translocation heterozygotes. The available cytogenetic data for representatives of the genus Harttia examined so far indicate large kayotype diversity.