8 Freshwater Aquarium Sharks: Care & Tank Setup

Freshwater Aquarium Sharks

Most fish lovers have an aquarium or a tank in their home where they keep their favorite fish pets. If you’re a fish lover yourself, then you probably have a lot of freshwater fishes at home.

But what about sharks? Did you know that you can keep safely keep certain kinds of sharks as pets in your tank at home?

Don’t sharks belong in the sea?

When you think of sharks, you often think of 15 feet long predators with a large jaw, several rows of teeth, and a strong blood oriented sense of smell.

We know from elementary science that sharks need the salty water of the ocean to survive. So what on earth are freshwater sharks and can they be kept in fish tanks?

Freshwater sharks are technically not sharks, as they lack the rows of teeth and taste for blood that the real ones have. Instead, they belong to the family “Cyprinidae”, which is just the zoological term that is used to describe all fishes in this category.

This family of fish is the largest and most diverse of all the fishes in the sea. You’ll see this as you read on, because some of them have beautiful rainbow colors, and others have very dull exteriors. Some of them can even grow up to three times the size of normal sharks.

They are called freshwater sharks because of their striking resemblance with the predators. They have a similar streamlined body and fins to match.

Most of them belong in fresh water, and cannot survive in the salty waters of the sea. One of the few species in this exception is the Columbian shark which needs to adapt to brackish (slightly salty) water as it matures.

If you ever go looking to buy a freshwater shark for your tank, you may hear other names like sharkminnnows or simply sharks. They all refer to these freshwater sharks.

Freshwater Sharks For Fish Tank

So let’s jump right in and review eight different kinds of freshwater sharks, see what’s unique about them and which ones you might want in your tank.

1. Redtail Shark

Redtail sharks are some of the most beloved freshwater sharks partly because they are very attractive to look at. They have a brightly colored red tail, which contrasts heavily with their deep black bodies.

Redtail Shark

They are also known as red tail black sharks, red-tailed labeo, fire tail, and labeo bicolor sharks. Like all the other freshwater sharks, redtails are called sharks because of their streamlined bodies, and the way their fins look.

One amazing thing that makes taking care of redtails so easy is that you can always tell when they are doing fine, and when they are not. Their bodies start to lose their contrast when they are sick or stressed.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

Redtail sharks have some of the longest lifespans of all freshwater sharks and can live up to one and a half decades (15 years). They can grow up to five inches in length, and so need a relatively small tank−at least 55 gallons of water.

They prefer water with a slightly acidic pH of 6.5 to 7.0), and a temperature of about 73 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

Speaking of comfort, redtails are most comfortable in well-decorated aquariums that resemble their natural habitat in the waters of Thailand.

More: Types of Cichlids That Can Live TogetherOpens in a new tab.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Redtail sharks are famous for their aggressive and competitive nature. It is usually not a good idea to keep them in the same tank with other, smaller fishes, especially other redtails, or rainbow sharks.

However, they can be kept with fishes larger than them as this can keep their aggressive nature in check.

What do they eat?

Redtails are omnivores and can generally eat anything you put in the tank from flake and pellet food to crustaceans like crabs, to small insects, and fishes that are much smaller than they are.

2. Bala Shark

The Bala shark is famed for several nicknames like the tricolor shark, the tricolor sharkminnow, the shark minnow, or the silver shark. From the names, you can already begin to guess that the Bala shark has a silver body.

Bala Shark

The “tricolor” in its names comes from its distribution of silver, black and yellow colors. The black is marginalized to its fins, and it is separated from the silver in its body by yellow lines.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

These fishes are very fast growers, being able to grow up to 14 inches. They can also live for as long as eight to ten years. They often outgrow the tanks in which they are kept and because of this, there is often much controversy on the minimum size of aquarium tanks required to properly house a Bala shark.

However, most experts recommend a tank of about 180 gallons for an adult school. In setting up a tank for a Bala shark, be sure to include a lid, as they are very good at jumping out of the water.

They prefer a water temperature of between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit and a moderate pH of between 6 and 8.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Even if you’re not housing these sharks with their species, they are very friendly with other species and can co-exist peacefully. As long as the other species you put with them are not small enough to be eaten, you don’t have to worry about aggression between them and the other fishes.

What do they eat?

In their natural habitat, Bala sharks feed on plankton, crustaceans like crabs, rotifers, as well as small insects. In your aquarium, you can feed them both live and frozen foods such as shrimps, blood worms, and other crustaceans. Adult Bala sharks can eat mussels, prawns, and earthworms.

3. Rainbow Shark

The rainbow shark is also known as whitetail shark, ruby shark, white fin shark, redfin shark, rainbow shark minnow, and whitetail shark minnow.

Epalzeorhynchos frenatum

This freshwater shark is one of the most popular sharks on this list. The rainbow shark gets its name from its multi-colored body. It has a long black, darkish blue, or a bright blue body.

Its fins, on the other hand, are red or orange-red. When you combine their beautiful, multi-colored body with the fact that they are underwater, you get the sense that you’re looking at an actual rainbow.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

These freshwater sharks can grow up to 6 inches or 15 cm long and can live from 5 to 8 years. When preparing a tank for rainbow sharks, you need a tank of at least 55 gallons of water or more.

More: Freshwater Fish for 10 Gallon TankOpens in a new tab.

The fishes also prefer a well-decorated aquarium, complete with artificial decors and plants. Maybe they just like to be around beautiful things because they have such beautiful bodies.

You also need to keep the water a very controlled temperature, between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and an equally controlled pH of between 6.5 and 7.5. Like the Bala shark, they are also fantastic jumpers, and so be sure to keep a lid on their tanks.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Besides their multi-colored exterior, rainbow sharks are also famous for their aggression and intolerance for other fishes. When placed in the same aquarium with other smaller fishes, they can become combative.

So, you should never keep them with more than 5 to 6 fishes in the same aquarium. They are also particularly aggressive towards other brightly colored fishes, so other rainbow sharks and red tailed sharks are out of the question.

What do they eat?

When roaming their natural habitats (basins of Indonesia and Thailand), rainbow sharks are omnivores, devouring all kinds of plankton−zooplanktons, and phytoplankton−as well as algae.

While in the tank, they can be fed algae flacks, wafers and tablets. They also eat live food like insect larva, tibiflex worms, water-based insects, as well as crustaceans.

4. Albino Rainbow Shark

The albino rainbow shark is the rainbow shark’s pale brother. They have a pale silver or light yellow body with red fins. You may be tempted to think that since the albino rainbow shark is not as colorful as the rainbow shark, it may not be as aggressive towards other brightly colored fishes.

But, that’s not true, as they are just as aggressive. In fact, other than their color, albino rainbow sharks are exactly like other multi-colored rainbow sharks.

5. Siamese Algae Eater

Their bodies are long and narrow body and are usually pale grey or gold in color. They also have a wide black stripe that extends from their heads, down their bodies all the way to their tails.

Siamese Algae Eater

Sometimes, the stripes fade when they are in mating season, or when they are trying to camouflage themselves from predators. Fortunately for them, they won’t have any predators in your aquarium and should be just fine.

How did they get their name?

Siamese Algae eaters are one of those fishes that serve a useful purpose. As you might have guessed, they eat algae, and they do it extremely well.

That is not to say that you do not have to clean your fish tank or take other sanitation precautions at regular intervals. It just means that these fish can help make the job much easier for you to do.

Speaking of making your job easier, the Siamese algae eater is a very active fish, and it can cover the entire tank within a very short period of time, which means it can rid its tank of algae that much faster.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

Siamese algae eaters can grow up to six inches in length and can live up to ten years. The females of the species often grow up to a third bigger than the males.

They can be found naturally in the streams of Southeast Asia where the water is slightly acidic (pH 6 to 8), and so, they prefer their water the same way.

They also prefer sand and other soft materials at the bottom of the tank because they spend most of their time there. A 20-gallon tank with a temperature of between 75 to 79 degrees Fahrenheit will accommodate these fishes nicely.

If you want to add more Siamese algae eaters to the tank, you should add ten gallons of water for every other fish you put in the tank.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Siamese algae eaters are peaceful fishes who just want to mind their own businesses and eat algae all day. However, if you have some trouble makers in the tank, they could pick a fight with the algae lovers.

Unfortunately, these fishes spend most of their time hiding from predators in their natural habitat and so, they will usually not win in a fish standoff. You’re better off putting fellow mild-mannered fishes in the tank with them.

What do they eat?

By now, you’re probably an expert on what Siamese ALGAE fishes like to eat. But in case you missed it, they love to eat algae. However, they are equally comfortable eating most things that you feed them.

This could range from food flakes and pellets, brine shrimp, and bloodworms. They are also indiscriminate eaters and can often overeat, so you need to be careful how much you feed them since algae already tend to form on the tank.

6. Columbian Shark

The Columbian shark is also known as the tete sea catfish, the silver tipped shark, the white tip shark catfish, the black fin shark, the Christian catfish, and the west American catshark.

Ariopsis seemanni

With such a long list of names, it’s no wonder that this freshwater shark is often misrepresented in pet stores as its name is often spelled wrong.

Other times, it is put under an entirely different name. Disregarding their misrepresentation, these fish are very beautiful to look at as they represent a mixture of a shark and a catfish. They have the streamlined body of the sea predator while retaining the whiskers of the catfish.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

They can grow up to 20 inches and require special tank configurations as they do so. The Columbian shark is more of a brackish water fish than a freshwater fish, and will often need to be acclimatized into more salty waters as it grows older.

It usually requires a minimum tank size of about 75 gallons because it is an active swimmer and can often cover distances quickly.

Their water should be kept at 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, and a pH of between 7 and 8. These sharks can live between ten and 15 years.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Columbian sharks are very mild and peaceful fishes. However, they are known to eat smaller fishes placed in the same tank with them.

As such, you should only keep them with non-predatory larger fishes. Also, because their tanks need to be adapted to brackish conditions after a while, you should only keep them with other brackish water loving fishes.

What do they eat?

Besides smaller fishes, Columbian sharks also eat food pellets. They are primarily scavengers, so they look to the bottom of the tank for their meal. They can also be fed blood worms and shrimp pellets.

7. Iridescent Shark

Iridescent sharks get their names from the bright iridescent bodies that they have as they grow to adulthood. They also have two back black stripes on and beneath their lateral lines. However, the adults generally have a uniform grey color all over their bodies.

Iridescent Shark

Also called sutchi catfish, and like the Columbian sharks, they are a combination of catfish and shark. These fishes naturally live in muddy waters where their whiskers help them navigate their environment.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

They can grow to be up to an incredible 50 inches, and so need a lot of room. A unique feature of iridescent sharks is that they grow very rapidly.

While a 100-gallon tank may be sufficient to house a luminescent young fish, you need up to 300 gallons to keep the adult comfortable.

Unfortunately, most home tank configurations stunt the growth of these sharks and they may never grow more than 12 inches.

Furthermore, even though they can live up to 20 years, most of them kept in home tanks die prematurely. They prefer water around 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit a pH of between 7 and 8.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

Iridescent sharks are very peaceful fishes and do not exhibit aggressive behavior. However, because of their potential to grow very large, they may threaten other fishes that share the tank with them.

Generally, the best option for them is a very large tank, with other non-aggressive fishes. They can also co-exist with aggressive fishes like the redtail shark without problems because their large sizes keep them in check.

What do they eat?

Like most freshwater sharks, they are omnivores and generally eat anything they can find. The young iridescent fishes love to eat live and meaty foods like blood worms and crustaceans. The older greyer ones, on the other hand, are vegetarians.

8. Silver Apollo Shark

The Silver Apollo shark has a long cylindrical body with whiskers and a pointed snout. Their bodies are divided into two different colors by a black lateral line extending from their snout to their tail fin.

freshwater shark

Above the line, they are olive green and silver-white in color below. That’s where they got the silver in their name.

What’s the best tank configuration for them?

They can grow to a maximum length of 10 inches and can live up to 14 years. The Silver Apollo shark needs its tank water kept in excellent clean conditions because it can be very intolerant of organic build ups.

They are very active swimmers and mostly occupy the upper section of the tank. Their tanks, therefore, require some a lid or at least some shelter.

They need a tank of at least 30 gallons and can live comfortably in waters of between 72 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, and a pH level of between 6.0 and 7.8. Adult Apollo sharks will need a tank of up to 120 gallons of water.

Are they aggressive? And do they like roommates?

They can often co-habit with other fishes of their own kind and can be kept in groups of six or more. However, they can be aggressive with the school if there are only a few fishes present (2 or 3).

In this situation, they can exhibit dominant behaviors. However, the larger the school the lower the chances of this happening.  Also, they tend to eat their fellow fishes if they are small enough to swallow.

What do they eat?

Besides other smaller fish, Silver Apollo sharks can be fed frozen foods, as well as blood worms, insect larvae, shrimps and flake, and pellet food.

Are freshwater sharks dangerous?

This is probably one of the most logical questions you can ask. If you’ve ever seen a movie like jaws, then you’ll know that sharks are not the kindest fishes in the sea.

But you don’t need to worry because, like we already established, freshwater sharks are only similar to real sharks in their body shapes, and nothing more.

However, some of them have been known to be aggressive towards their fellow fishes, showing territorial dominance. But as we will see, the behavior varies widely from one species to the next.

This post breaks down eight different kinds of freshwater sharks, their behaviors, how best to take care of them, and what kinds are best for your aquarium.

What else do I need to know about freshwater sharks?

The most important thing to know about freshwater sharks is that they are actually not really sharks, and they got their names from the way they look.

You should also know that they vary widely from one to the other, and can be as small as 5 inches or as large as 50.

Generally, the care that they require varies from one species to the other, and you will need to study whatever kind of freshwater shark you want to get as a pet before you get one. If properly taken care of, freshwater sharks make for great aquatic pets.

Saurabh Kumar

I am a passionate fish keeper, with years of experience. You will find some really useful tips and information on this blog about Freshwater Aquariums.

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