Freshwater Aquarium Sharks: Types & Care Guide

aquarium sharks
A helpful care guide on the 7 different types of freshwater aquarium sharks and how to look after them with tank, feeding, tank mates and care guidelines to follow.

Sharks are some really cool, but there are many more than just the hammerhead or great white. There are lots of freshwater aquarium sharks that you can keep at home, with the 5 most common ones being discussed here today.

Today we want to take a look at various freshwater aquarium sharks such as;

  • Bala shark
  • Silver Apollo shark
  • Red tail shark
  • Rainbow shark
  • Columbian shark
  • Iridescent shark
  • Black shark

We will also be going over their care needs, general requirements, feeding needs, tankmates, and more.

7 Types of Freshwater Aquarium Sharks

When it comes to freshwater sharks, there are actually 7 common types of them which you can keep in a home aquarium.

Let’s talk about the 7 common types of freshwater aquarium sharks, their characteristics, and how to take care of them.

1. Bala Shark

bala shark

The Bala Shark is the first of the common freshwater aquarium sharks that you can get your hands on. This is a freshwater fish found in Southeast Asia.

These are actually not sharks at all, but they do have a shark-like appearance due to their rigid dorsal fins and bodies that look like torpedoes.

Bala sharks can grow up to 20 inches in the wild, but in captivity will usually top out at around 12 inches.

Bala Shark Care

One thing to keep in mind about these freshwater aquarium sharks is that it is actually a schooling fish and should not be kept alone or even in pairs. If kept alone, they can become very aggressive towards other tank mates, or they can behave very oddly.

Moreover, if kept in pairs, there will usually be a dominant one which will bully the others. Therefore, bala shark should be kept in quantities of 3 or 4 at the least.

These freshwater sharks need to have around 75 gallons of space per shark, so if you get 4 of them, this means that you will need an freshwater aquarium of 350 gallons.

This freshwater shark should have a tank that is 4 feet long and 2 feet wide, but this will have to be considerably larger for 4 of them.

Bala sharks need plenty of space for swimming so don’t overcrowd the tank with items. A few plants around the perimeter and a bit of driftwood to provide hiding spaces is more than enough.

In terms of water conditions, Bala sharks requires the water to be between 72 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so you will probably need to get a heater. The water will need to have a pH level between 6.5 and 7.8, with a water hardness level of 2 to 10 dGH.

These freshwater shark require a high quality filtration system which engages in all 3 major types of water filtration, which can also move at least 3 times to the total volume of water in the tan per hour. A little aquarium light is something else you will need here.

Bala Shark Feeding

This freshwater shark is not very picky eaters and they are omnivores. They enjoy a broad diet and many different foods.

You can feed them high quality fish flakes, live black worms, brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, chopped fruit, shelled peas, blanched spinach, and a variety of smaller seafood.

Make sure to feed them 3 times per day and feed them as much as they can eat in 3 minutes.

Bala Shark Tankmates

Bala sharks, as mentioned before, should be kept in schools of 3 or 4. They tend to be fairly calm and peaceful, but they are still called sharks for a reason.

These freshwater sharks should not be kept with fish that are much smaller. Anything under 4 or 5 inches in length is not a good tank mate, as anything it can fit in its mouth will be considered food.


2. Red Tail Shark

red tail shark

The Red tail is often a favorite when it comes to freshwater sharks due to their appearance. They tend to have very dark black bodies with a fire-red tail.

The Red tail shark are South American freshwater fish, but have actually gone extinct and can now only be found in private aquariums.

What is important to note is although it looks like a shark, it is actually a type of carp. This is not a particularly easy shark or aquarium fish to care for.

Care

The red tail is not a very large freshwater aquarium shark, as in captivity it will usually grow to around 5 inches in length.

They require a tank of roughly 55 gallons in tank size at the least, as they do like to have a whole lot of swimming room. These are very territorial and aggressive sharks, so they cannot be kept with other sharks of any kind, especially not other red tail sharks.

You will need a fairly strong filtration system that can engage in all 3 major types of filtration for these fish.

This freshwater sharks tank should have a variety of live freshwater plants, pieces of driftwood, caves, and hiding spots. You want to split the tank up in case you have other fish in there, in order to create some boundaries.

You will probably need a heater, as these fish need their water to have a temperature between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit.

They require the water to have a pH level between 6.8 and 7.5, with a water hardness level between 5 and 15 dGH. Keep in mind that these sharks do not like fast flowing waters, so the water needs to have minimal movement.

Red Tail Shark Feeding

These freshwater sharks are not very picky when it comes to eating. The are omnivores, and they are also known for being both hunters and scavengers.

They will eat a wide variety of foods, but their main food source should be high quality pellets or flakes. You can also feed them either live or freeze dried brine shrimp, krill, daphnia, and bloodworms, as well as cucumber, peas, zucchini, and various fruits.

If you are feeding them veggies, make sure to blanch and peel them first.

We have covered their diet and feeding in more detail over at this article.

Red Tail Shark Tankmates

You cannot keep this shark with any other red tail sharks, other freshwater sharks, catfish, or anything else with long fins, as well as any other fish that is much smaller than the shark.

It can be very aggressive towards smaller and more timid fish, and it tends to bite at long fins. Any tank mates should be no less than half the size of the red tail shark and should not be scared to put up a fight if need be.

We have covered the ideal 8 tank mates on this article.


3. Silver Apollo Shark

The silver Apollo shark originally comes from Southeast Asia and can be found in countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This freshwater shark tends to be a fairly peaceful and passive aquarium shark that gets along with most others just fine.

In the wild, these sharks will grow to a maximum of 9.5 inches in length, but in captivity they usually only grow to 6 inches.

Silver Apollo Shark Care

The Silver Apollo shark does a whole lot of swimming and needs a lot of space to be comfortable. These freshwater sharks are schooling fish and do not like the without their own kind.

If you get one of these, you actually need to get 5 of them at the very least. In terms of tank size, each Silver Apollo shark requires 30 gallons of space at the very least, so for 5 of them you will need a tank of 150 gallons at the least. This is a very active fish.

The Silver Apollo shark is fairly peaceful, so they mostly get along fine with others. Keep in mind that these fish come from fast moving rivers, so you will need to recreate this environment with a whole lot of water movement.

River gravel and plants found in their natural habitat are highly recommended, as well as some hiding places too. These guys are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrates, as well as pH changes, so you will need a very strong and highly efficient filtration system.

This freshwater shark requires the water to be between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, so depending on where you live, you might not need a heater. They have moderate lighting requirements.

When it comes to pH, it needs to be kept between 6 and 6.5, with minimal or no fluctuations. The water hardness level should be between 5 and 8 dGH. You will need to perform 25% weekly water changes.

Silver Apollo Shark Feeding

The Silver Apollo shark is an omnivore and will eat mostly anything that it can get its mouth on. You need to feed them high quality fish flakes or pellets, ones that are high in protein.

While they are technically omnivores, they do prefer meat, and can be fed fish fry, daphnia, brine shrimp, and small pieces of various seafood.

You should also give them some blanched and peeled veggies on occasion.

Silver Apollo Shark Tankmates

Because these are fairly peaceful and timid freshwater sharks, you can keep them with a variety of other fish as long as they have the same tank and water requirements.

They are still sharks, so anything that can fit in the mouth of this fish cannot be kept with it, but other than that, they can be kept with most fish.


4. Rainbow Shark

rainbow shark

Rainbow sharks are another one which comes from various Southeast Asian countries. These guys can be a bit hard to care for and are not for beginners.

Rainbow sharks usually have dark blue bodies with bright red fins, thus adding a lot of color to any tank. Beware that this is technically a type of catfish, but they are still very territorial and should not be kept with any other sharks.

They are also pretty sensitive when it comes to tank conditions.

Rainbow Shark Care

This shark is not overly large and will usually max out at around 6 inches in length, so they do not need super large tanks, but to be comfortable, they should be kept in a tank of at least 50 gallons so they have enough room to swim.

These freshwater sharks are fairly territorial and do not get along well with other sharks, so you should not have more than one in the same tank. These sharks also like to hide and get a lot of privacy, so lots of aquarium plants, rocks, caves, and other hiding spots are highly recommended.

In terms of the tank conditions, water flow should be moderate, but you do need a good filter that engages in all 3 major forms of filtration, as they are somewhat sensitive to high levels of ammonia and nitrites, as well as pH changes.

For water temperature, rainbow sharks require the water to be between 75 and 81 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should get a heater. The pH level of the water should be between 6.5 and 7.5, with a water hardness level between 5 and 11 dGH. Keep in mind that sudden pH level changes can cause illness and aggressiveness. They have moderate lighting requirements.

Rainbow Shark Feeding

Rainbow sharks are also an omnivore, one that tends to be a bottom feeder and scavenger more than a hunter. It requires a variety of high quality foods, preferably anything that will sink to the bottom of the tank.

High quality fish flakes and pellets are one option, plus chunks of meat, some boiled and peeled veggies, and a variety of frozen foods are all go to choices here.

To help them achieve their maximum brightness and awesome coloration, regular meals of brine shrimp and bloodworms are recommended.

Rainbow Shark Tankmates

These sharks are territorial and aggressive, so if you are looking for a peaceful aquarium, you should not keep them with other rainbow or other freshwater sharks.

Any smaller and timid fish is a big no-no, as this aggressive fish will harass and bully them. These guys are bottom dwellers, so avoid other bottom dwellers and anything that looks remotely like rainbow sharks, because a territorial dispute will occur (more on good tank mates here).


5. Columbian Shark

The Columbian shark is one of the harder freshwater sharks to care for as it can be very aggressive, it gets quite large, and it needs a whole lot of space.

This is a fish that comes from various Central and South American countries. Do keep in mind that this is actually a brackish water fish, not a pure freshwater fish.

What you need to know about the Columbian shark is that it is technically a catfish, and even more importantly, these things have venomous dorsal spines that can put a serious hurt on anyone that comes in contact with them.

Columbian Shark Care

The Columbian shark will get fairly large and can grow up to 20 inches in length, and therefore they also need a whole lot of room. These sharks require a minimum tank size of 75 gallons, or even larger if you want them to be truly comfortable.

They have been known to be kept together in groups of 2 or 4, so if you want more than one of them, you will need a very large tank. They are usually quite aggressive towards smaller and peaceful fish and will eat anything that can fit in their mouths.

These are quite active swimmers, so you should get only a few aquarium plants and hiding spots, but most of the aquarium should be open water.

The Columbian shark prefers moderate water movement and they need a really strong filtration system. You need a filter that can turn over at least 3 times the amount of water in the tank per hour, plus it should engage in all 3 major forms of aquarium water filtration.

You will most likely require a heater, as this shark requires the water temperature to be between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. In terms of the pH level, it needs to be between 7 and 8, with a water hardness level between 5 and 20 dGH.

Keep in mind that these are brackish water fish, so you will need some aquarium sea salt to keep them alive.

Columbian Shark Feeding

The Columbian shark is a catfish, so they are bottom dwellers and mostly scavengers. They will eat smaller fish if they can fit in its mouth.

For the most part, these guys will eat anything that sinks to or sits at the bottom of the tank. They will eat algae and plant matter, boiled and peeled veggies, and some fruits, as well as some live and frozen animals too.

You can feed them sinking catfish pellets, sinking shrimp pellets, and live or freeze dried blood worms and brine shrimp.

Columbian Shark Tankmates

You can keep the Columbian shark with other fish that can tolerate brackish water and the same tank conditions.

It is recommended to keep these guys with fish that are not small enough to be eaten, as this shark is known to eat smaller tankmates.

To avoid confrontation and territory issues, this fish should not be kept with other bottom dwellers.


6. Iridescent Shark

Iridescent Shark

The iridescent shark is also known as the Siamese shark or the Sutchi catfish. Yes, in case it was not clear, this is not actually a real shark, but a type of catfish. The iridescent shark is native to Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, and they are usually found in rivers of all sizes.

Iridescent sharks are technically schooling fish, so they should not be kept alone, but for the most part, they are peaceful and non-aggressive, and therefore make for decent community aquarium fish. Keep in mind that these iridescent sharks can grow up to 4 feet in length, so they do need a whole lot of space.

In terms of appearance, these catfish do look more like sharks than anything else, mainly due to their pointy fins and torpedo-like bodies.

They often feature a mix of grey and white, black and white, silver and white, or in some cases even a dark red and white. That said, as they reach adulthood, you will notice that they will be more grey than anything else, often fully grey.

Care

One thing to note in terms of caring for iridescent sharks is that you do want to put them in a quiet place. Although they may look intimidating, they are easily scared. When they scare, they often swim quickly in a random direction and may injure themselves on the glass or on aquarium décor.

In terms of tank size, these are very large creatures and a tank of no less than 300 gallons is recommended for a single iridescent shark. Also, keep in mind that these are schooling fish, so keeping one on its own is not really an option.

In terms of the tank setup, yes, you do want a few plants and rocks, but remember that these are fairly active swimmers and they enjoy a lot of open tank space to swim around in.

In terms of the water, these are messy fish and they dirty up aquariums real fast, so you will want a super powerful and efficient filter for them, as only the best will do to keep the tank clean.

The iridescent shark needs the water to be between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit, with a water hardness level between 2 and 20 dGH, and an acidity level (pH) between 6.5 and 7.5. These catfish prefer a moderate amount of light with a moderate water current.

Feeding

Iridescent sharks are omnivores, they are not picky, and will eat mostly anything that they can catch and fit in their mouths.

What is interesting is that they are far more carnivorous as juveniles, but as adults, lean more towards vegetarianism, and they often lose many of their teeth as they age.

This means that you should feed them high quality and nutritionally balanced fish flakes or pellets. Feed them 3 times per day, and no more than they can eat in 5 minutes per feeding. Every 2 or 3 days, you can supplement their diet with some freeze dried bloodworms, brine shrimp, and other such treats. Yes, you can also feed them feeder fish.

Tank Mates

The main thing to remember when it comes to iridescent shark tank mates is that anything small enough to fit in its mouth is a big no-no.

Guppies, danios, tetras, small goldfish, betta fish, and anything else of the sort is out of the question. Also, crustaceans of any kind, as well as animals like snails, are also likely to end up being meals for these fish.

That said, these catfish are quite peaceful, so anything large enough to avoid being eaten will do fine. Some examples of good iridescent shark tank mates include plecos, large catfish, silver dollar fish, Oscars, Texas Cichlids, and other such fish.


7. Black Shark

The black shark, scientifically known as the Labeo chrysophekadion is a tropical freshwater fish from the Cyprinidae family. Unlike many of the other “sharks” look at here today, the black shark is in the same family as minnows and carp.

The black shark originates from various countries in Asia, ones including Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Sumatra, Borneo, and Thailand. It resides mostly in river basins that feature moderate to low currents.

One thing to keep in mind here is that mature black sharks are not peaceful. As they mature, black sharks become increasingly aggressive and territorial. In no way are they suited for community aquariums.

The black shark will typically grow to around 2 feet in length, making it a sizable fish. In terms of their appearance, they have more of a goldfish-like body, as they are quite plump.

They still somewhat have that torpedo-like shark shape, but tend to be a bit plumper. As you can probably tell by the name of this fish, it’s usually black, but may also be dark grey.

Care

When it comes to caring for the black shark, remember that it is a pretty big fish, and each one requires at least 150 gallons of tank space.

You do need to give them plenty of space, and if you plan on housing any other fish with them, the black shark should have at least 200 gallons of space to itself.

In terms of the tank setup, you want to provide the black shark with plenty of large caves and pieces of driftwood, as they do like their privacy.

If you plan on housing it with other fish, you definitely need these hiding spots to create a sense of privacy. Small gravel substrate is as well, although the middle and top of the water column should be relatively open for swimming.

Black sharks are not huge fans of strong currents, so you do want to keep the water flow moderate, but that said, they can still create quite a mess, so a very strong filter is recommended.

This fish needs the water temperature to be between 73 and 82 degrees, with slightly to moderately hard water, and a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5.

Feeding

Black sharks should be fed a nutritionally balanced mix of pellets, flakes, brine shrimp, blood worms, and other such foods.

Feed them 3 times per day, and no more than they can eat in about 3 minutes per session. These are omnivores, so you can also give them feeder fish to let them put their hunting instinct to use.

Tank Mates

In terms of tank mates, there are not many that are suitable for black sharks, as they are extremely territorial and aggressive.

The only viable options are large fish which stick to the top of the water column. Any other tank mates should be avoided.


Common Aquarium Shark Questions

These are answers to some of the common questions we hear about aquarium sharks

What Shark Can You Keep In A Fish Tank?

Well, this really depends on the resources at your disposal. The freshwater aquarium sharks we have discussed above are not actually real sharks for the most part.

Real sharks get very big and are far too aggressive to handle in any manner. However, if you want something that looks like a shark, options include any of the ones we have discussed above, including rainbow sharks, Silver Apollo sharks, red tail sharks, Bala sharks, and a couple of others too.

Will A Shark Outgrow A Fish Tank?

No, a freshwater aquarium shark is not going to outgrow its fish tank, well, at least not if you get the right tank size for fully grown adults.

However, they only grow so large and won’t keep growing infinitely, so that is some good news. Yes, these are all really active fish for the most part, and they do require a lot of space.

If you want them to be truly happy and have plenty of room to swim and create their own territory, you will want to go a couple dozen gallons over the recommended minimum tank size.

How Big of An Aquarium Do I Need For A Shark?

As you can probably tell from what we have discussed so far, freshwater aquarium sharks can get pretty large, they are very active, territorial, and require a whole lot of space.

Even a small 6 inch freshwater aquarium shark requires a tank of 50 gallons at the very least.

Therefore, this is not a fish you would get if you have limited space in your home or limited funds to create a large and proper freshwater aquarium shark setup.

Can You Have A Great White Shark As A Pet?

Great white Shark

This is definitely not something you would ever want to try and you won’t be able to keep a great white shark as a pet.

A fully grown great white shark can grow to 20 feet in length and weigh well over 2,000 pounds. These are aggressive and carnivorous hunters that require hundreds of kilometers of territory to be happy, as well as unimaginable amounts of food.

In terms of feeding a great white, it is you who should be worried about being eaten by it. So no, you cannot keep a great white shark as a pet.


Conclusion

There you have it folks, the 7 most common types of freshwater aquarium sharks and how to properly take care of them. Do keep in mind that these are called sharks for a reason, and it is not only due to their appearance.

These things can get quite large, they are usually very territorial and aggressive, they need a lot of food and even more tank space.

A freshwater aquarium shark is not something a beginner should get, nor is it something to get if you do not have ample space in your home and ample funds to support it.

 

Photo Credits

An Ta from Flickr CC

Gogo78 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

MerlinSenger [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Jeremy Baucom (FlickrCC).

Elias Levy (FlickrCC).

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