Freshwater Sharks – A Complete Care Guide

Introduction

freshwater sharks

When you hear the terms “freshwater shark” and “home aquarium” used together, your brain might get a little twisted. But the reality is that aside from the 290-pound Bull Shark, freshwater sharks are not true sharks; they are large fish that have a shark-like appearance.

Usually, freshwater sharks are types of catfish or carp relatives. Aside from some shark characteristics, like aggression, body shape, and dorsal fin, it’s difficult to lump all freshwater sharks in the same category since they are largely unrelated.

Most freshwater sharks come from the: 

  • Pangasiidae family 
  • Cyprinidae family 

Freshwater sharks, sometimes called imposters or mini-sharks, can be a great addition to your home aquarium if you pick the right one(s) for your biome. They do well in tanks and can liven up your aquarium. Just bear in mind that some freshwater sharks are more aggressive and see smaller fish as prey. In addition, some of these miniature sharks are not mini at all and at their adult size are inappropriate for a home aquarium.

CategoryRating
Care Level:Advanced
Temperament:Peaceful to Aggressive
Color Form:varies
Lifespan:Up to 20 years
Size:6 inches to 5 feet
Diet:Omnivore
Family:Pangasiidae and Cyprinidae
Minimum Tank Size:20+ gallons
Tank Set-Up:Freshwater 
Compatibility:varies

 

Overview

These freshwater fish are “imposter” sharks from the Pangasiidae family of shark catfish and the Cyprinidae family of carps and minnows. Their dorsal fins, forked tails, and torpedo-like bodies are reminiscent of sharks, as are their personalities — they are somewhat aggressive and active creatures that prefer mid to bottom swimming. The “shark” name was adopted in response to the similarities and to make them an exciting marketing option for aquarium enthusiasts.

Native to tropical areas such as Central America, Africa, Southeast Asia, and China, most of the freshwater sharks you’ll find for sale for your home aquarium are bred in commercial fish farms. Freshwater sharks are easy to feed, and they are amenable to various water conditions, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to keep.

Pro-Tip: We don’t recommend freshwater sharks for beginning aquarists. Many can grow to be very large and/or very aggressive, and they need very large tanks. If you are a beginning enthusiast and have a strong desire to add a freshwater shark, we recommend the Roseline Torpedo Shark, which is peaceful and smaller than other types.

Common traits of freshwater sharks include:

  • Pointed dorsal fins
  • Torpedo-shaped bodies
  • Forked tails
  • Breed in captivity (given enough space; home breeding is not recommended)

We’ll examine the traits, habits, and care requirements of the various freshwater sharks, organized by family.

Catfish Freshwater Sharks (Pangasiidae)

freshwater sharks

The Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark

  • Scientific Name: Myxocyprinus asiaticus
  • Origin: China
  • Length: 4-5 feet
  • Aquarium Size: 300+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Like many of the freshwater sharks we’re talking about today, the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark is endangered in its wild habitat in China, so most of the Chinese High-Fin Banded sharks are bred in captivity in Asia.

However, unlike most of the tropical freshwater sharks, these are coldwater fish, and their lifespan is 10-15 years, although in the wild they sometimes live longer.

Appearance

While some children resemble their parents, such is not the case with the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark. The young shark has a beautiful peach colored body covered with a lovely brown and black bands and patterns and a dorsal fin that sits high on the back like a sail.

Within two years, however, this beauty loses its peach color, with the females turning purple and the males red. The dorsal fin doesn’t grow very much, so it looks tiny on the adults and regal on the young shark.

Another notable aspect of their appearance is their flat belly indicative they are bottom dwellers. They have large pelvic and pectoral fins, which help them live up to their shark name. 

Their mouth, however, is distinctly catfish, with thick, fleshy lips — the adults have sucking mouths reminiscent of Chinese Algae Eaters.

Given the proper amount of space, these freshwater sharks can reach a weight of 80 pounds and a length of 5 feet — quite a lot of growth from the 3-inch shark you brought home.

Behavior

Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks are one of the non-aggressive breeds of freshwater sharks. They are very peaceful and not super active — they like to rest and swim around the bottom of the tank and get along well with tankmates.

The generous amount of rest does not reduce their appetite; they are excellent eaters.

Diet

Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks consume algae, waste, and debris from rocks, so they clean your tank while they are eating.  Although many mistake them for herbivores, they are actually omnivores that will eat almost everything they can. 

High-protein snacks, live or frozen, are a good nutritional addition to their diets. Brine shrimp and worms are good options. As they get older they can also handle bits of shrimp, insects, and snails.

Tank Conditions

Habitat

Choose a gravel substrate and add some hiding places: plants, rocks, and wood. They need hiding places, but they also need space to swim — how much space? Keep reading.

Aquarium Size

A young Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark can survive in a 55-gallon tank, but after a year, they will need at least a 300-gallon tank, and in order to safely grow to size (4 and a half to 5 feet!), they should be transferred to a pond with several thousand gallons of water. If they don’t have room to grow, they are less likely to survive.

Water Specifications

The Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark can survive at 75°F (12°C) water, but they do better in cooler water and are happy in outdoor ponds. The best temperature range for these sharks is 55-75°F (12.8C-23.9°C). The pH level should be 6.8-7.5, and you should maintain a water hardness range of 4-20 dGH. When temperatures drop to 40F (4.4C), the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark enters hibernation.

Even at their mature size of 24 inches (61 cm), they produce a significant amount of waste (and imagine how much at 4-5 feet!), so you need a heavy-duty filtration set-up to keep ammonia and nitrate levels in check.

The Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark prefers moderate water flow.

Care

The most important thing you can do for your Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark is to maintain the water parameters discussed above, keep the water clean, and feed them a healthy diet. 

Like other freshwater fish, Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks get ich, swim bladder disease, dropsy, bacterial, and fungal infections. Proper water care will prevent most of these issues.

Tankmates

Goldfish and Koi are good tankmates for the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark. They also like being together in groups.

Breeding

It is extraordinarily difficult to breed Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks, and because it can cause undue stress on your sharks.  We advise that you don’t attempt to breed these creatures. 

Professional breeders use hormones that you don’t want to mess with, and you will be unable to provide the wild conditions in which Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks successfully breed. 

If you care about your fish, let them be.

 

Columbian Shark

  • Scientific Name: Ariopsis seemanni
  • Origin: Central and South America
  • Length: 10-20 inches
  • Aquarium Size: 75+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Unlike the peaceful Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark, the Columbian Shark sometimes called a Silver Tipped Shark or Tete sea catfish, the Columbian Shark is a predatory fish that requires special care.

They originate in the wild in rivers and estuaries in Central and South America, and like the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark, have a lifespan of 10-15 years.

Appearance

When they are young, Columbian Sharks are pretty colorful, with a silverfish blue appearance that fades as they get older. They have a white belly with semi-transparent black fins and you may see a white stripe on the anal, pelvic, and pectoral fins. 

They also have the trademark catfish whiskers.

Juvenile Columbian Sharks are about 3 inches (7.6 cm). At full size, the Columbian Shark is between 10-14 inches (25 and a half to 35 and a half cm) long. Given enough room to grow, they are capable of growing to 20 inches (51 cm).

Columbian Sharks have extremely largemouths, and with their pointed dorsal fin, connected to a gland that produces a venom, is capable of a painful sting that will leave their owner with some decent swelling. Read on for more information about their behavior.

Behavior

Even though Columbian Sharks are predators, they are not super aggressive towards other fish. However, they will eat smaller fish; it’s in their nature. In fact, the Columbian Shark can swallow a maximum of 65% of their body length, so be mindful of letting them share space with fish half their size.

Also, make sure the lid of your tank fits tightly since they have been known to escape.

They usually stay in the bottom to middle range of the tank, but if they feel comfortable, they might go higher.

Diet

Columbian Sharks are omnivores, so you can feed them a variety of foods:

  • flakes and sinking pellets
  • earthworms
  • shrimp
  • live fish

Columbian Sharks will overeat when given the opportunity, so give them only what they can eat in five minutes, and feed them twice daily.

Tank Conditions

Aquarium Size

They need an aquarium that’s at least 75 gallons if you’re only housing one shark. If you have more, you’ll need at least 100 gallons and probably more. 

Water Specifications

Because they originate in estuaries and rivers that connect to the Pacific Ocean, they need brackish water, and you should transition them to saltwater when they are adults.

Columbian Sharks do best in temperatures ranging from 74 to 80 °F (23.3 to 26.6°C) with a pH level of 6.6 to 7.5 and a water hardness range of 10 to 12 KH.

As a reminder, they need brackish water when they’re young, and should transition to saltwater when they reach maturity.

They also are strong swimmers and do best with a strong current.

Habitat

Columbian Sharks need to have a replica of their natural biome and should have plentiful rocks and plants.

Care

One of the main causes of disease or death in Columbian Sharks is a lack of brackish water. It’s important to test the water regularly and remember that they are not true freshwater fish.

Otherwise, they’re susceptible to all the diseases as other aquarium fish. One thing that is different is that Columbian Sharks have no scales, so you need medicine with formalin or Malachite rather than copper-based treatments.

Tankmates

Columbian Sharks are good community tank mates. You just need to make sure that you choose other fish who also need brackish water.

One good choice is other Columbian Sharks — they enjoy being in groups of three or more; be mindful of your tank size, though. 

Other good tank mates include Arches, Garpikes, Gobies, Moonfish, Mollies, Monos, Scats, and Targetfish, but make sure to watch for any aggression on the part of the Columbian Shark. Also remember that Columbian Sharks, much like humans, may grow out of their tank community. As they get physically larger, you may need to change tankmates. When you’re moving them to a saltwater tank, that would be a good time to change their friend group.

Breeding

Like some of the other brackish-water fish we’ve written about, Columbian sharks breed in the ocean saltwater and hold onto the fries until they reach freshwater. Because it is impossible to create those conditions in your home tank, attempting to breed Columbian Sharks in your aquarium is an all-around bad idea.

Iridescent Shark

freshwater Shark

  • Scientific Name: Pangasionodon hypophthalmus
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Length: 36-48 inches (91.4-122 cm)
  • Aquarium Size: 300+ gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Iridescent Sharks are freshwater sharks, but inappropriate for most home aquariums due to their large adult size. They are a close relation to the 10-foot-long Mekong Giant Catfish and have a lifespan of up to 20 years. 

Although Iridescent Sharks are only 3 inches long when you bring them home, they can grow to over 4 feet long, so it’s vital to be realistic about your ability to keep them when they reach full size, especially considering that they are schooling fish.

Fun fact: The Iridescent Shark is found in fish markets for consumption, labeled as Swai.

Appearance

The Iridescent Shark, as the name indicates, has a purplish-black iridescent tone with pale white tones. It’s quite a stunning creature that definitely adds finesse to a tank.

Behavior 

Unlike most catfish, Iridescent Sharks dwell in the middle of the tank rather than the bottom. They’re fast swimmers and don’t mind getting food from the water’s surface. 

They’re peaceful, but they are predatory and will eat fish that are smaller than they are.

Diet

They require a balanced diet but will eat a variety of living, frozen, or pellet/flake foods.

You should feed your Iridescent Shark 2 or 3 times a day, but don’t give them more than they can eat in 5 minutes. Feed them flakes and add variety with:

  • bloodworms
  • brine shrimp
  • live feeder fish
  • crickets
  • worms

Tank Conditions

Aquarium Size 

To keep an Iridescent Shark, you’ll need an aquarium that’s at least 300-400 gallons. They need plenty of space for swimming and exploring. 

 

Water Specifications

The best water temperature for these sharks is 72-79°F (22.2-26.1°C), with a pH of 6.5-7.5 and a water hardness of 2-20 dGH. 

They prefer a moderate water flow for their constant swimming.

Habitat

The most important habitat consideration is space. If the Iridescent Shark feels confined, it will have stunted growth and die prematurely. 

Care

Changing 25% of the water every week and using a strong filter will make sure you provide a healthy biome for your Iridescent Shark. If they get ich or other diseases, remember that they don’t have scales and their medication will be different.

Tank Mates

Iridescent Sharks do well with larger, non-aggressive fish. Definitely avoid any fish that will fit into the shark’s mouth, or you won’t have that fish anymore.

Because the Iridescent Sharks a mid-dwellers, it’s OK to put a bottom feeder with them

Some good fits are:

  • common Plecos
  • larger Minnows and Carps
  • Oscars
  • Pacus 

Breeding

Because the Iridescent Shark migrates during the spawning season, it is impossible to breed these sharks in captivity, so don’t try it in your home aquarium.

Carp and Minnows (Cyprinids) 

freshwater Shark

The Red Tail Black Shark

  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos bicolor
  • Origin: Thailand
  • Length: 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cm)
  • Aquarium Size: 55+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Nearly extinct in the wild, the Red Tail Black Shark is being successfully bred in captivity. Sadly, the Red Tail Black Shark’s native habitat in Thailand has disappeared due to modernization. Breeders are hoping that one day those born in captivity can be safely released into the wild.

Appearance

As you might imagine, the Red Tail Black Shark gets its name from its color: bright red tails and sleek black bodies. They also have a small white dot on the end of their dorsal fin. The young fish are about 2 inches (5.08 cm), and they grow to about 6 inches (15 cm). 

You can’t distinguish between males and females at birth, but females have a more rounded abdomen when they mature.

Behavior

Although the young Red Tail Black Sharks are shy and hide, adults are territorial and aggressive — they don’t even get along with other Red Tail Black Sharks. You should introduce them to an aquarium last to avoid confrontations.

They will attack slower fish in the bottom to mid-water, even though they don’t have big teeth, they can grab onto the fins and bodies of other fish.

Make sure you have a tight-fitting or weighted lid as they have a tendency to jump. 

Diet

Red-Tailed Black Sharks are omnivores and will happily eat whatever you give them, as long as you provide a variety of meals. They’ll eat algae in the tank and you can feed them:

  • pellets or flakes
  • brine shrimp
  • maggots
  • spinach
  • cucumbers
  • fruit

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

As long as they have a tank with a minimum size of 55 gallons, Red-Tailed Black Sharks should thrive in a semi-aggressive community tank.

Water Specifications

Red-Tailed Black Sharks are strong swimmers and prefer a fast flow of water. Water temperature has a fairly small range of 74 to 80 °F (23.3 to 26.6°C), and pH should range from 6.5 to 7.6.

Habitat

Gravel and pebbles are the best substrates, and they like a cave or piece of wood so that they have a hiding place and something to defend. This setup allows the other tank mates to live in peace.

If you have bright lighting in your tank, algae will grow and the Red-Tailed Black Shark will have some of the nutrition it needs.

Care

The best thing you can do for your Red-Tailed Black Sharks is to provide them with a pristine and regularly tested aquatic environment. They are susceptible to the same diseases as other freshwater fish.

Possible diseases are Ich and fin rot, both of which are largely preventable.

Tank Mates

The Red-Tailed Black Sharks are not fond of each other, so don’t put more than one in the tank.

You should also keep them away from other sharks, catfish, or any long-finned fish — avoid any fish that resemble the Red-Tailed Black Sharks, as they will be targets.

Some possible matches include: 

  • Angelfish
  • Clown Loaches
  • Gouramis
  • Tetras
  • Tiger Barbs
  • Zebra Danios

Since the Red-Tailed Black Sharks stay on the bottom of the tank, choose tank mates who stay on the upper part of the tank.

This way it won’t be able to mark most of the aquarium as its own and the number of territory disputes can be greatly decreased.

Breeding

Don’t try to breed them at home. They don’t care for each other, so they won’t tolerate being together for longer than it takes to breed.

In captivity, commercial breeding farmers use hormones. Before they were extinct In the wild, the Red Tail Black Shark lay eggs in caves; it took 40-60 hours for fertilized eggs to hatch.

Rainbow Sharks

freshwater sharks

  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Length: 6 inches (15.24 cm)
  • Aquarium Size: 55+ gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

Closely related to the Red-Tailed Black Shark, the Rainbow Shark has similar coloring but its body is lighter and it has red on its fins, too.

Rainbow Sharks are one of the more popular freshwater sharks.  Their lifespan is 6-10 years and they’re one of the smaller freshwater sharks, growing to about 6 inches (15 cm).

Appearance

The Rainbow Shark is dark gray to black with pink or red fins and tail. The females are not as brightly colored as the males.

Additionally, the adult female Rainbow Sharks are rounder, while the males are thinner. 

These sharks also have sensitive barbels.

Behavior

Don’t be fooled by their tiny size. Rainbow Sharks are semi-aggressive and will eat other fish if you don’t have a large enough aquarium. 

They are territorial and if mid- and bottom dwellers swim too slowly in “their” territory, they will be bullied. 

Rainbow Sharks do not get along with each other.  If you want to put multiples in a tank, make sure the tank is very spacious and has lots of places to hide. 

Although these fish explore all areas of the tank, they certainly prefer the bottom. They’re skilled jumpers, so make sure your tank cover is well fitted.

Diet

Rainbow Sharks have the same diet as the Red-Tailed Black Shark. In addition to algae, try:

  • pellets or flakes
  • brine shrimp
  • maggots
  • spinach
  • cucumbers
  • fruit

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

You’ll need at least a 55-gallon tank, and if you want to keep more than one, you’ll need to up that number to at least 100 gallons.

Multiples also need lots of plants and caves for hiding and claiming territory to keep everyone safer.

Water Specifications

The best water temperature range for Rainbow Sharks is 75 to 85 °F (23.9 to 29.4 °C), with a pH of 6.8 to 8. The Rainbow Shark should not have a tank with a filter, so you have to perform 25% water changes every day and clean the tank manually.

Habitat

As we mentioned, they need lots of plants (choose robust plants because they will chew them), dens, caves, and wood. 

They require a smooth or sandy substrate to prevent injury.

Care

Primarily, your Rainbow Sharks need clean water and plenty of space to make sure they thrive. Maintaining the right conditions will prevent stress and ward off common fish diseases. 

Tank Mates

Rainbow sharks, as we mentioned, are territorial and you should not pair them with other sharks, particularly red tails. Also don’t pair them with goldfish. Stick to fish that are larger than they are and that are not bottom dwellers:

  • Barbs
  • Cichlids (semi-aggressive)
  • Danios
  • Gouramis
  • Rainbowfish
  • Rasboras

Breeding

Breeding is not recommended for hobbyists; leave it to the commercial breeders.

Roseline Torpedo Shark

freshwater Shark

  • Scientific Name: Sahyadria denisonii
  • Origin: India
  • Length: 5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cm)
  • Aquarium Size: 75+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

The Roseline Shark, indigenous to southern India, is one of the best freshwater sharks for the home aquarium. In captivity, they max out at about 4 inches, and you’ll enjoy about 4-5 years with these beautiful creatures.

The Roseline Shark, also called Denison’s Barb or Red-lined Torpedo Barb, is a shoaling fish, so you can add a number of these fiery-hued sharks to really make your aquarium pop.

Sadly, these freshwater sharks are endangered, so make sure to get yours from a breeder rather than taking one of the precious few from the wild.

Appearance

Roseline Sharks have bright red and yellow stripes displayed laterally on their silver base and have patterned tails. They have a lovely green hue on their heads.

Behavior

You should ideally have 6 Roseline sharks, but add a few at a time to decrease aggression and territorialism. 

Diet

Feed your Roseline Sharks live food, including:

  • bloodworms 
  • cyclops
  • daphnia
  • shrimp
  • spirulina
  • vegetables

Add flakes and pellets. Make sure to feed your Roseline Sharks twice a day for 2 minutes to avoid them overeating.

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

Since they love swimming so much, you want to hook them up with a long aquarium of at least 6 feet and 125 gallons (75 is a bare minimum). Space is key.

Water Specifications

Roseline Sharks thrive in a water temperature range of 72-77 °F (22.2-25°C), a pH of 6.6 to 7.6, and a water hardness of 5-25 dGH.

They need lots of oxygen to match their environment in the wild.

Habitat

Roseline Sharks do best in a habitat that mirrors the one they are accustomed to in the wild. 

They need a substrate of fine gravel or sand, after which you can add plants (make sure they are well-anchored). Give them some hiding spots, such as caves, rocks, and driftwood. These conditions ensure that your fish will be unstressed and joyful.

Care

The little guys do best when they are surrounded by friends. They need their social circle, so to care for them in the best way, make sure they have at least six in a group. Keep their water clean to prevent common fish diseases. 

The most important thing you can give them is plenty of room to swim. It will affect their mental and physical health and also how big they grow.

Tank Mates

Since Roseline Sharks are fast swimmers, you want to make sure that you keep slow swimmers like angelfish and discus out of your tank so as not to stress them out. 

Good tankmates include:

  • Black Skirt Tetras
  • Bolivian Ram 
  • Siamese Algae Eaters
  • Tiger Barbs 
  • Zebra Danios

Breeding

Due to the unlikelihood of creating the conditions necessary for procreation, attempting breeding of Roseline Sharks in your home aquarium is strongly discouraged. 

Bala Shark

freshwater sharks

  • Scientific Name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus
  • Origin: Malay Peninsula and Indonesia
  • Length: Up to 13 inches (25-30 cm)
  • Aquarium Size: 125+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Bala Sharks are another popular aquarium shark that is deceptively small when purchased as juveniles (2-3 inches or 5-7 cm) and quickly become too large for many home aquariums. 

Farm-bred in Thailand, the Bala Shark originates in Southeast Asia and can grow up to 13 inches (25-30 cm). These creatures have a lifespan of about 10 years.

Considered an endangered species in their wild native habitats, Bala Sharks are also referred to by several alternate monikers: 

  • Silver Bala
  • Silver Shark
  • Tricolor Minnows
  • Tricolor Shark

Appearance

Bala Sharks have a stunning appearance, and are yellow, black, and gray, with contrasting black edges on their fins and aluminum-looking scales. Unlike some freshwater sharks that lose or change their color as they mature, Bala Sharks maintain their markings.

They’re called sharks not because of their shark-like personality, but because of their triangular dorsal fin which is set high on their shark-shaped body.

Behavior

Bala Sharks are much calmer than some of the other freshwater sharks we have looked at.  They are less aggressive and territorial and really don’t share any shark personality traits. 

These sharks travel in schools and like each other’s company.  So keeping in mind how large they will get, consider the increased tank size requirements to hold multiple Bala Sharks.

Like a number of the other freshwater sharks, Bala Sharks are jumpers, so you should ensure that your aquarium has a weighted or tight-fitting lid.

Although they are peaceful, they will eat smaller fish as they grow larger, and they have a voracious appetite. Read on to see what else they eat.

Diet

Bala Sharks are omnivores and will choose algae, crustaceans, insects, larvae, and plants when they are in their natural habitat. In your home tank, they will accept a variety of food choices, but remember to keep their protein levels high:

  • dried flake food or pellets
  • bloodworms
  • fruit
  • plankton
  • shrimp
  • vegetables

To ensure portion control, feed your Bala Sharks for 2-3 minutes thrice daily.

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

Your Bala Sharks will need a minimum 120-150 gallon tank, and larger if you are accommodating a school. 

As Bala Sharks reach maturity, you should switch them to a larger aquarium. Be sure to give them at least a month to acclimate to their new tank, and make sure you have a good filtration system.

Water Specifications

You’ll need a heater to ensure that your Bala Sharks’ water temperature is at least 77°F (25°C). pH ranges should be between 6.5 and 8 pH, and water hardness between 10 and 13 dGH.

To keep your Bala Sharks happy and healthy, you should renew approximately 25-35% of the water weekly.

Bala Sharks prefer a stronger current that mimics their natural habitat.

Habitat

Plants and roots provide a safe haven for Bala Sharks when they tire of swimming and need to rest. They are fond of hiding places and will appreciate it if you provide them.

As for lighting, a freshwater lamp — nothing fancy — will suffice for the Bala Shark. 

Care

The most important thing you can do to ensure your Bala Sharks thrive is to provide them with clean and regularly tested water. This will prevent many common diseases, such as dropsy, which causes swelling, and ich, noticeable as white spots on the scales. 

Tank Mates

One thing to keep in mind with tank mates for the Bala Shark is that the tank mate compatibility may change as they grow to their adult size. 

You should watch your tank to make sure relationships are not strained at the Bala Sharks grow. One way to ensure the safety of smaller fish is to provide a larger tank so that everyone has sufficient space.

As we mentioned before, Bala Sharks are pretty mellow tank mates, and one of the less aggressive freshwater sharks. Good community mates include:

  • Angelfish
  • other Bala Sharks
  • Clown Loaches
  • Gourami
  • Rainbowfish
  • Rasbora
  • Tetra
  • Tiger Barbs

Here are some species that are not compatible with Bala Sharks:

  • Cichlids (will threaten Bala Sharks)
  • Guppies 
  • Harlequin Rasbora 
  • Mollies 
  • Neon Tetra
  • snails
  • smaller fish

Breeding

Breeding Bala Sharks is not recommended, as hormones and a special breeding tank are needed, and because fish in captivity do not usually reproduce. 

We recommend that you not attempt to breed your Bala Sharks as it can cause undue stress on the fish and will likely not produce a fruitful result.

Harlequin Shark

  • Scientific Name: Labeo cyclorhynchus
  • Origin: Congo River Basin in Africa
  • Length: About 6 inches (15.2 cm) in captivity
  • Aquarium Size: 55+ Gallons
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive

The Harlequin Shark mirrors both the appearance and care of the Red-Tailed Black Shark and the Rainbow Shark.

Harlequins are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and are found in the lower and middle areas of the Congo river basin. They are also present in the Central African Republic of Gabon in the Ubangi River, by the Ogooué or Ogowe drainage area.

African Harlequin Sharks, also known as harlequin shark minnow or variegated sharks,  is a semi-aggressive omnivore that has a lifespan of about 5-8 years. In captivity, they are about 6 inches (15.2 cm) but have been known to grow to 16 inches (40.6 cm) in the wild.

Appearance

The Harlequin shark is a stunning creature that will add color and depth to your aquarium. Its base body color is a rich yellow and it has gray and black markings. 

Like many of the freshwater sharks, their coloration is much more vibrant when they are young and then fade in the shark’s adult life.

Its long shark-like body and dorsal fin allow its entrance into the freshwater “shark” family. Speaking of the dorsal fin, Harlequins can be identified by their 12 curved dorsal rays. 

Like the Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark, Harlequins have thick lips. For Harlequin Sharks, these lips are a result of the rows of transverse ridges in their lips; their two pairs of barbels provide sensation.

Female and male Harlequins have few characteristics to distinguish them, save for during spawning time.

Behavior

These sharks are extremely territorial and need a cave or other hiding place on which to stake their claim. Without their own “property,” they will squat across the entire tank bottom and bully the rest of the tank community. 

They should be kept away from other Harlequin Sharks, with whom they’ll fight constantly. They are solitary creatures.

Diet

The omnivorous Harlequin shark is not a picky eater at all. It will happily graze on algae along the bottom of the tank. You should offer them live, frozen, or freeze-dried protein sources:

  • bloodworms
  • brine shrimp
  • daphnia
  • mosquito larvae 

and supplement with 

  • algae wafers 
  • flakes
  • fruits 
  • sinking granules
  • vegetables

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

You should start with a minimum of 55 gallons in a tank for Harlequin Sharks. If you’re going to add tank mates, you should choose something larger. 

Water Specifications

The ideal water temperature range for Harlequin Sharks is 72 to 83 °F (22.2 to 28.3°C) and the pH range is 6.5 to 8.

Because its natural habitat is rivers, Harlequins are strong swimmers and prefer a faster and stronger current. A filter that provides a stream current will keep them happy and create the right biome environment for healthy sharks.

Habitat

Harlequin Sharks, like other sharks, like places to hide and claim as territory, so add caves, rocks, and driftwood for your shark’s habitat. 

They love to snack on plants, so choose plants that can withstand regular nibbling.

Care

Like the other freshwater sharks, Harlequins need an impeccable aquarium habitat; cycle water regularly and test often and the likelihood of your shark getting sick will decrease significantly.

Tank Mates

Harlequins would do OK with semi-large, semi-aggressive fish that are fast-swimmers and prefer the mid and top areas of the tank. Keep bottom dwellers (including Catfish) out of an aquarium with a Harlequin Shark.

Acceptable tank mates:

  • Angelfish
  • Barbs
  • other Carps
  • Corydoras
  • Gouramis
  • Guppies
  • Minnows
  • Swordtails
  • Tetras

To reduce the amount of conflict, Harlequin Sharks should be the final addition to the tank. This will allow them to carve out their own territory in an already established tank without claiming the entire tank.

Again, providing spacious quarters for all tank dwellers will reduce chances of the Harlequins bullying or killing the other tank inhabitants.

Breeding

Attempting to breed Harlequins is strongly discouraged. Since they have a strong dislike of each other, they will not tolerate sharing a tank.

Silver Apollo Shark 

Silver Apollo Shark 

  • Scientific Name: Luciosoma Setigerum
  • Origin: Southeast Asia, Borneo
  • Length: 6 inches (15.2 cm) 
  • Aquarium Size: 125+ Gallons
  • Temperament: peaceful

Silver Apollos are omnivorous passive schooling fish that do well in groups of at least five and grow to about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long.

Pro tip: We are describing the Silver Apollo Shark here. There is a similar breed, the long-finned Apollo shark (Luciosoma spilopleura), which is a little larger than the Silver Apollo, but the information here is specific to the Silver Apollo (Luciosoma setigerum).

Silver Apollos are semi-aggressive and have a lifespan of more than 14 years.

Appearance

Silver Apollo Sharks are silver (surprise!) and have a dark lateral stripe that feeds into a black spot on the upper caudal-fin lobe, and there is a submarginal stripe on the lower caudal-fin lobe.

Silver Apollo Sharks have barbels and no tubercles on their snouts.

Behavior

Silver Apollo Sharks are peaceful predators, so as long as you have a big enough tank and don’t fill it with fish that are small enough to be their lunch, everyone should live in harmony.

Unlike other freshwater sharks, Silver Apollos live near the surface rather than the bottom. Watch out for slower fish, who might not get enough to eat around the sharks.

Silver Apollos are skilled jumpers, so make sure your tank has a tight-fitting lid, or get a weighted lid. 

Diet

Like many of the freshwater sharks, Silver Apollo Sharks are omnivores and can and will eat pretty much anything. They’ll eat small fish in the tank, and they enjoy food that’s floating on the top of the tank.

They’ll enjoy fresh, frozen, and free-dried foods equally. Some ideas for the accommodating shark:

  • bloodworms
  • brine shrimp
  • frozen fish
  • mosquito larvae
  • chopped worms
  • pellets & flakes

The routine is the same as for other freshwater sharks: feed them 2 or 3 times a day for 3-4 minutes as a way to achieve portion control.

Tank Conditions

Tank Size 

You need a long 75-gallon tank for one shark, and 150 gallons minimum for a school.

Water Specifications

Water temperature should be in the 72-78° F (22–25 °C) range, with a pH of 6.0-7.5, and water hardness should be 2–20 dGH.

The reason that Silver Apollo Sharks require an intermediate level of care is that they are extremely sensitive to changes in pH and ammonia/nitrites. You need to perform 25% water changes every week. 

They also need a strong filter, both for the water quality and to provide them with a stronger swimming current.

Habitat

Silver Apollos will appreciate floating plants, wood structures such as driftwood, and rocks. As we mentioned above, they need a strong water current to replicate the swimming conditions in their natural habitat.

Care

Silver Apollo sharks are easily stressed, so choose low lighting to keep them calm.  Because they are so sensitive to pH changes, it is vital that you maintain the proper water environment for your freshwater sharks.

Tank Mates

Although they are predators, Silver Apollo Sharks are peaceful and get along well with other non-aggressive fish and also co-exist peacefully with bottom dwellers.  

Some ideas of good tank mates include:

  • Bala sharks
  • Barbs
  • Cyprinids (similarly sized)
  • Loaches
  • Tin foils

Silver Apollo sharks should be kept away from smaller fish, fish with long fins, and silver-colored fish, as the color similarity will result in fighting.

Breeding

There are no recorded instances of aquarium breeding of Apollo Sharks. They are born in the wild, so don’t try to breed them in your home aquarium. 

What is the Smallest Aquarium Shark?

The closely related Rainbow Shark and Red-Tailed Black Shark, as well the Roseline Shark, are all about 6 inches. But keep in mind that small does not always mean benign; the Red-Tailed Black Shark is a fairly aggressive fish, so you’ll have to be careful about tank mates.

And always remember that the size of the shark you bring home may look small, but may grow to be much larger than you can handle.

Are Freshwater Sharks Suitable for Your Aquarium?

freshwater sharks

Freshwater aquarium sharks, which are really not sharks but freshwater fish, are beautiful creatures that add appeal and color to a home aquarium. However, not all of them are suitable for the home tank. 

Many of the sharks we’ve looked at today are only 3 inches long when you bring them home as a juvenile freshwater shark but grow to 3-5 feet. For this reason, it’s important to research the type of freshwater shark that you are planning to bring home since it might not safely fit in your aquarium in a year.

Freshwater sharks can also be aggressive, so we recommend that you consider tank mates carefully. 

But if you have a big tank or an outside pond, a freshwater shark may be right for you; and they have a long lifespan, so you’ll enjoy them for years.

About Robert 263 Articles
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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