Ever since “Jaws” came out we’ve all had great respect for the shark, though most of us got familiar with this creature solely from the TV screen. Years later, as fish keepers, we find ourselves wondering about the cool possibility of owning some of the freshwater-loving aquarium-suitable sharks at home.
Such species do exist but, inevitably, questions about size and diet arise.
Not everyone can afford to have a huge fish tank at their place. Are there pet shark types, that remain small, and won’t outgrow your typical home aquarium? Which one is the smallest one?
On the contrary, are there bigger sharks that enjoy freshwater conditions and will they be suitable for domestic keeping? What food would they need, being a vicious predator and all that?
It’s time to Aquanswer these questions.
Generally, speaking keeping most of these shark wannabes won’t be a challenge for the knowledgable freshwater-oriented fishkeeper. Some will demand a little more resources in terms of living space and food, but there’s a good chance that you’ll find one or more that are suitable for your fish tank setup.
I made sure to give out the initial information about their care alongside some actionable advice for each type.
Which are the freshwater shark kinds suited for home aquariums?
Freshwater aquarium sharks are deliberately employed by some fishkeeping enthusiasts in attemp to achieve the shark-tank look. Listed below are types of fish that can be used to achieve that look, but mind their companions when choosing. Have a look at the freshwater sharks that can be kept in fish tanks at home:
1. Rainbow Shark – Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
|Max. size:||6 inches (15.24 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||55 gallons for a single adult specimen|
|Tank mates:||Rainbowfish, danios, barbs, gouramis, rasboras, semi-aggressive cichlids, NO goldfish and bottom-dwellers|
|Ph:||6.8 to 8|
|Water temperature:||75 to 85 °F (23.9 to 29.4 °C)|
The rainbow shark is a relatively tiny species of fish, reaching up to 6 inches or 15 cm in length.
The tricky part to housing one of these is not the aquarium size, but rather the other inhabitants.
The Epalzeorhynchos frenatum members fall on the aggressive side of the hobby. They will inevitably become territorial with age and will try to occupy certain parts of the fish tank as their own.
They are bottom-dwellers in their nature, so housing them with plecos, loaches and other bottom-feeders is not a good idea.
A smart move would be to introduce them in a community tank with fish that inhabit the top of the aquarium such as danios, barbs and so on.
If you want to keep more than one, I suggest that you provide them with a large tank of at least 100 gallons, that has lots of caves and plants. This way the rainbow sharks can hide and “claim” their living space, without tearing each other apart.
With proper care a rainbow shark will live for about 6 to 10 years, depending on water conditions and stress levels in the tank.
Breeding is possible although, not recommended for beginner hobbyists.
You’ll need a 75-gallon breeder without a filter. You’ll need to manually clean the tank and perform daily 25% water changes.
There’s a high chance the male and female rainbow shark won’t tolerate each other.
Male rainbows have brighter coloration than the female and a body that’s somehow thin, compared to the female’s round-ish torso.
By the way, it’s a common misconception that the rainbow shark is a nocturnal animal. In reality, they aren’t just as active during the day.
2. Roseline Torpedo Shark – Sahyadria denisonii
|Max. size:||5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||75 gallons or more, preferably 125 gallons|
|Tank mates:||zebra danios (school), tiger barbs (school), black skirt tetras (school), siamese algae eaters, fast-swimming cichlids such as the Bolivian ram|
|Ph:||6.6 to 7.6|
|Water temperature:||72 to 77 °F (22.2 to 25°C)|
The Roseline shark, also known as Denison Barb or Red-lined Torpedo barb is a great addition to a home shark-centered tank.
They are beautiful, they school together nicely and do not grow super large in size.
The Roseline shark reaches up to 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) upon maturity, classifying it as one of the smallest shark pets suitable for freshwater home aquaria.
Their growth rate is not that fast either – expect yours to gain about 1.5 inches per a couple of months with good feeding.
The best approach would be to add a few at once, because otherwise, you may witness chasing and bullying.
Given their size and the typical speeding back and forth, it’s advisable to provide them with a long aquarium.
An ideal setup for a shoal of torpedo barbs would be a 125-gallon fish tank that is 6 feet long and has plenty of other fast-swimming community fish.
The faster movements will stress out the slow swimmers, so it’s not a good idea to house Roseline sharks with angelfish or discus.
Good tank mates for a school of red-lined barb sharks will include zebra danios, black skirt tetras, tiger barbs, siamese algae eaters, Bolivian ram cichlids etc.
3. Bala Shark – Balantiocheilos melanopterus
By Dale Robertson
|Max. size:||15 inches (38.1 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||75 gallons for a single specimen and 200 (but preferably 400) gallon tank for a school of 3 or more|
|Tank mates:||semi-large peaceful fish, that do not fit in the Bala’s mouth. clown loaches, gouramis, angelfish, tiger barbs, cichlids, even Oscars|
|Ph:||6.5 to 7.8|
|Water temperature:||72 to 83 °F (22.2 to 28.3°C)|
The Bala shark is a welcome option for medium-sized tanks, as this fish reaches around 15 inches (38 centimeters) upon maturity.
This means that one Bala would feel comfortable in a 75-gallon tank.
However, this fish is somewhat social and, unlike most other aquarium shark species, prefers the company of its own kind.
A school of 3 is recommended if you want it to feel welcome and happy in your fish tank.
This implies a much larger tank though: 200 gallons of water with plants and decor would be best as a setup.
The Balantiocheilos melanopterus is a relatively fast grower at first, but after passing the 5-inch mark, it will gradually slow down its growth.
They do live long – a lifespan of 10 or more years is to be expected with proper care and stress-free environment.
The tank companions of the Bala shark should not be aggressive and small enough to get eaten.
Avoid housing them with smaller tetras, danios, guppies, platies, mollies, and smaller cories.
This leaves lots of options, and I’ve seen people housing them will almost any semi-large fish.
Here’s a video of a fellow fishkeeper showing off with his beautiful aquarium of a school of 3 Balas and a couple of other suitable tank mates.
A tricolor shark (the other name of a Bala) will eat almost everything it’s given.
Not a picky eater by any means they will munch on small crustaceans such as shrimp, bloodworm, earthworm, small insects, mosquito larvae and even some forms of algae. Being omnivorous the silver shark will also accept blanched vegetables and high-quality flake foods in its diet.
The Bala shark is also really hardy when it comes to water parameters. This makes the larger tank size the only barrier that newer fishkeepers are facing if pursuing a Bala-centered tank.
4. Harlequin Shark – Labeo cyclorhynchus
|Max. size:||6.5 inches (16.5 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||55 gallons|
|Tank mates:||semi-large fast-swimming fish with a similar temper|
|Ph:||6.5 to 7.5|
|Water temperature:||72 to 83 °F (22.2 to 28.3°C)|
An uncommon home aquarium shark species that has an unusual appearance.
Youngsters have a brighter coloration that will fade upon entering maturity, but not entirely.
Still a stunning look, in my opinion.
The maximum size of the harlequin sharks in captivity would be around 6 inches or 15.2 centimeters.
They are a suitable addition to your 55-gallon tank when it comes to size.
These guys are your typical shark-like creature though.
Like many on this list, a harlequin shark won’t tolerate its own.
In fact, it hates being around anything that even resembles their own. So much that there was never a record of successful breeding in-house.
They lean heavily on the solitary side of life.
Other catfish (or bottom-dwellers, for that matter) will inevitably get bullied and if given the opportunity, killed.
If you plan to get this shark for your freshwater tank, don’t ever add anything that even gets close to the bottom.
They like their safe space as well.
Your tank must be well-planted, with plants that are durable and robust. The decor should include driftwood and rockwork that provide enough hiding places for the shark to explore.
The harlequin shark is an aufwuchs grazer, which means it will snack on biofilm, detritus, and algae.
Keep your harlequin shark with similar-sized fast swimmers that inhabit the mid and topwater column.
Minnows and carps will do well, as will larger barbs and danio species.
5. Red-tailed Black Shark – Epalzeorhynchos bicolor
|Max. size:||5 to 6 inches (12.7 to 15.2 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||55 gallons or more|
|Tank mates:||zebra danios, tetras, tiger barbs, clown loaches, angelfish, gouramis|
|Ph:||6.5 to 7.6|
|Water temperature:||74 to 80 °F (23.3 to 26.6°C)|
The Red Tail Shark (Epalzeorhynchos Bicolor) is an outstanding example of a freshwater shark fish.
It has a dark blue to a black-colored body which compliments its red tail.
They can reach up to 6 inches in size (15.2 cm), though most of them tend to grow up to around 5 inches (12.7 cm). With its rather tiny size, this mini fish pet is suitable for smaller home aquaria.
Unlike with most other sharks listed here you can get away with a 55-gallon tank for that shark species.
Their lifespan is around 7 years with good care.
The aquarium décor is important for the well-being of the red-tailed sharks – they need plenty of wood, different-sizes rocks, opulent planting and a touch of fine gravel.
It’s advisable to place some tree roots and branches, as they need their hiding places.
Use bright lighting – it will cause the accumulation of algae, which is important for the Red Tail Shark’s diet. However, don’t consider it a tank cleaner, as the amount of algae it consumes is not by any means impressive.
To supplement a healthy menu you should feed maggots, small crustaceans like brine shrimp and also some veggies such as spinach, cucumbers, and the occasional slice of fruit.
When juvenile this fish is timid and it will mainly look for places to hide.
When it matures, however, the red-tailed black shark will become pretty territorial.
This is why some of the hobbyists tend to avoid this species.
Still, being informed is an advantage as there are some compatible tank mates to choose from.
It’s simple – just avoid other species that have similar appearance and shape or red coloration – as they will be considered targets.
The Red-Line Torpedo and other freshwater shark species like the Rainbow shark are to be avoided as tank companions.
Housing your Red-tail with other species that roam the bottom is not a good idea as well.
You can pick tank mates, who spend most of their time in the upper level of the tank.
Some strong and healthy barbs and tetras, for example, are a good option, but make sure they form a school to avoid further aggression.
Robust loaches can be suitable as well but do proper research beforehand.
The Red Tail shark prefers the solitary lifestyle and it tends to look for a friend only when sexing.
6. Siamese Algae Eater – Crossocheilus siamensis
by Emilia Murray
|Max. size:||6 inches (15.2 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||20 gallons long|
|Tank mates:||barbs, tetras, and danios (if in a school of 4 or more), gouramis, angelfish, corydoras, guppies, swordtails|
|Ph:||6.5 to 8|
|Water temperature:||76 to 80 °F (24.4 to 26.6°C)|
The Siamese algae eater (SAE for short) is notorious in the aquarium trade for its ability to destroy algae infestations top to bottom.
In fact, I’ve listed it at #1 in my list on the
17 19 finest aquarium algae eaters.
It resembles a small shark in appearance, same as the flying fox fish and the Chinese Algae Eater.
It should be noted that these are all different species of shark look-alikes because there’s too much disinformation online claiming otherwise.
Anyway, the SAEs grow up to 6 inches in length (a little over 15 centimeters).
Unlike other aggressive fish on this list, it is quite peaceful in nature and likes to hang out with other peaceful community fish.
The only fish it won’t really tolerate would be other similar-shaped shark-like freshwater species such as the rainbow and red-tailed shark.
Because of its calm temper, you can get away with a smaller tank for its habitat.
A 20-gallon long tank could be enough, but, of course, in this hobby, bigger is better.
My experience has been that you can house multiple Siamese algae eaters in the same fish tank, without any territorial issues among them. There’s a very basic rule of mine that I follow:
Introduce roughly one SAE per 15 gallons of water, but this does not equally apply to mature full-grown ones, as they’ll need more than that because they are bottom-dwellers after all.
Appropriate tank mates for a Siamese algae grazer are virtually all non-aggressive community fish.
7. Black Sharkminnow – Labeo chrysophekadion
|Max. size:||35 inches (88.9 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||200+ gallons for adults|
|Tank mates:||fast-swimming fish that do not look like sharks and inhabit the upper space of the water column|
|Ph:||6.6 to 7.5|
|Water temperature:||75 to 82 °F (23.9 to 27.7 °C)|
The black shark minnow is not for everyone and definitely to be avoided if you’re new to the hobby.
Because they grow super large and are highly aggressive, that’s why.
A black labeo (as they are also known) will reach around 30 inches in captivity (75 centimeters).
It will become very aggressive towards other smaller fish, once they grow large enough.
The black shark will occupy the bottom of the tank, so housing it with other bottom-dwellers or similar-looking fish is definitely not recommended.
They may get along with tank mates that mainly swim in the upper space of the aquarium.
If you’re about to introduce this fish to your *ahem* 200-gallon tank, make sure it is the last newcomer there.
Otherwise, they won’t allow other newly-introduced fish to feel comfortable and will chase them around, stressing everyone.
Looking after a black labeo is definitely for monster-lovers and often the best practice is to have a single shark in a tank with no other tank mates.
If you can provide it with a larger tank of about 400 gallons, then housing it with fish similar in size would be possible, but only if these are dwelling the mid and top of the tank, as I already mentioned.
Given the size of this fish, a top-notch aquarium filter is a must.
Another thing to keep in mind when caring for these robust monster-sharks is well-oxygenated water.
They will appreciate large water changes.
Use fine sand as a substrate and avoid sharp decorations, as the black sharkminnow is prone to damage from these.
8. Iridescent Shark Catfish – Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
|Max. size:||47 inches (120 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||400 gallons for a single specimen|
|Tank mates:||larger minnows and carps, Oscars, pacu fish, common pleco, NO fish that will fit in the ID shark’s mouth|
|Ph:||6.2 to 7.5|
|Water temperature:||72 to 79 °F (22.2 to 26.1°C)|
The reason I’m including the Iridescent shark in this list is that I see it being sold in almost every fish pet store.
However, my intentions are to warn people that want one of these for their aquarium.
Read on carefully and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
The Pangasianodon hypophthalmus has a natural lifespan of 15 years, with some individuals making it to 20.
The long life comes with being a rather slow grower. An Iridescent shark will grow with roughly 1-1.5 inches per 3 months. If being fed more often and given a spacious living space, they won’t feel confined and may grow a bit faster than that.
The thing is…
these creatures grow large.
Many of the other sharks on this list that end up super huge are not so easy to find in fish stores and are only delivered by special vendors.
However, the ID shark, despite being endangered can be found in most LFS and people do buy them, not knowing what to expect.
Pangasianodon hypophthalmus members can reach up to 3.3 feet (1 meter) in length.
They are also quite the active swimmer and don’t like to rest around like other big aquarium fish.
In the wild, they migrate to far away places and are used to constant swimming.
This implies you’ll need no less than a 400-gallon tank for a single mature specimen.
The more responsible fishkeepers keep them in 1500 gallon tanks, where they feel a little less confined.
Another thing to be aware of is that if you keep your ID shark in a smaller tank, it won’t grow much (around 12 inches) but it will die prematurely.
Getting one of these is not a good idea unless you’re prepared.
Only get one if you’re one of those fishkeepers that would provide it with a comfy home.
A suitable home with good tank mates for the iridescent shark would be one with larger none-aggressive fish in it.
Territorial bottom-dwellers such as plecos are fine because the ID shark occupies the middle and top of the water column.
9. Silver Apollo Shark – Luciosoma Setigerum
by Enrico Richter
|Max. size:||9 inches (22.9 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||75 gallons long and above for a single specimen, and 150 or more for a school|
|Tank mates:||other similar-sized cyprinids, barbs and loaches, Bala sharks, calm plecos|
|Ph:||6 to 6.5|
|Water temperature:||70 to 78 °F (21.1 to 25.5°C)|
Two species are known under the name Silver Apollo Shark – Luciosoma Pellegrini and Luciosoma Setigerum.
Both have similar needs in terms of care and share almost identical behavior.
Their max size in captivity is 9″ (or 22.9 cm).
The Silver Apollo Shark is an actively schooling fish, who feels best in a group of at least 6 members.
They mainly occupy the middle and the top of the aquarium and they like to roam the tank a lot.
A single specimen needs at least 75-gallon long aquarium for its swimming space.
You can decorate your fish tank with floating plants to make them feel at home.
Silver Apollos also play around wood structures such as driftwood.
They do require noticeable water movement and, of course, high-end filtration to thrive.
The recommended temperature is between 70 and 78 deg F (~21 to 26 deg C). They enjoy an acidity of 6 to 6.5 and moderately soft water conditions – 5 to 7 dH.
The Silver Apollo Shark is quite the impressive jumper when challenged, so make sure that you place a hood or some sort of cover-up over your tank.
This freshwater shark is an omnivore and it likes most floating foods – flakes, pieces of veggies, krill, small river shrimps, small pieces of prawns.
Insects and worms as an occasional treat will be greatly appreciated.
These Silver shark pets are rather peaceful, just make sure that their tank mates are big enough and don’t fit in their mouth.
Most species that mainly live and feed on the water’s bottom are a good idea as companions.
Just avoid keeping them together with Rainbow and Red-tailed sharks, unless your tank is above 100 gallons.
Schools of barbs, tetras, and non-aggressive loaches are all good tank mates for your Silver Apollo.
When juvenile the long-finned Apollo still looks larger than the others, so you might be able to tell it’s not what you’re looking for by the size.
10. Violet Blushing Shark – Labeo boga
|Max. size:||12 inches (30.5 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||preferably 125 gallons|
|Tank mates:||Clown loaches, larger peaceful Cyprinidae, rainbowfish, Devarios|
|Ph:||6.6 to 7.9|
|Water temperature:||68 to 77 °F (20 to 25°C)|
The violet blushing shark is another freshwater fish that’s worth mentioning.
It’s part of the Labeo genus, which consists of sharks quite similar to the representatives of the Epalzeorhynchos genus (such as the Red Tail shark and the Rainbow shark). However, these guys are larger and have a bit more elongated body shape.
The VBS can reach up to 12″ in size (or around 30 cm).
This shark pet is not the most outstanding one as there are others that would immediately catch your eye with their vibrant colors.
The thing is that if you consider getting this blushing friend, you’ll need a big tank – at least 125 gallons.
These guys enjoy a current and some rocks, branches and soft gravel so that the surrounding environment reassembles the bed of a flowing river.
The Violet Blushing Shark is a bottom feeder – it will happily feed on dried fish food and frozen bloodworm.
The only rule is not to house it with other species with a similar shape, especially other members of their Labeo genus, as they will become territorial and aggressive among each other.
11. Columbian Shark – Ariopsis seemanni
by Andy Rapson
|Max. size:||20 inches (51 cm), but there are records of them growing bigger|
|Suggested tank size:||preferably 125 gallons|
|Tank mates:||Moonfish, Mollies, Scats and other semi-aggressive marine fish|
|Ph:||6.6 to 7.5|
|Water temperature:||74 to 80 °F (23.3 to 26.6°C)|
I often see the Columbian shark listed as a freshwater tank fish, which is… misleading the least.
That’s why I decided to feature this compelling candidate on this list.
I’d really like to finally bust that myth going not only around the internet but even in some of the pet stores that I’ve visited.
I can clearly see why the Black Fin shark (another name for a Columbian shark) is used as a clickbait – it has a really impressive appearance – at least in my opinion.
Of course, there is some truth to the information that the click baiters use:
In terms of size the Columbian Shark can reach up to 20 inches (51 cm) and if treated well they can grow even bigger.
Bear in mind that you’ll need at least a 75-gallon long tank, as they also love swimming far and fast.
They do enjoy current based on my observations so if you want to make them happy do a setup properly.
The Columbian sharks prefer to be in groups of 4 or more.
They are omnivores and they tend to eat smaller tank mates when they outgrow them.
They can swallow up to 65% of their body length. This implies that they should not be housed with fish that are less than twice of their size.
It’s a common practice to keep them alongside smaller species, for example, some less aggressive Cichlids at first.
When the Shark cats are still small it will be fine.
However, monitor their growth and make sure you move them to a bigger MARINE tank with suitable tank mates before it’s too late.
These sharks should be fed with various foods – meat and plants that have the vitamins and minerals needed to maintain a strong immune system.
That includes but is not limited to catfish pellets, shrimp pellets, frozen worm, high-quality flakes, an occasional feeder fish, small life crustaceans, cucumbers, etc.
They are scavenging bottom feeders in nature, but may also roam the water column for food.
Compatible companions would be semi-aggressive marine fish such as the Moonfish.
12. Chinese High-Fin Banded Shark – Myxocyprinus asiaticus
|Max. size:||50 inches (127 cm)|
|Suggested tank size:||300 gallons, larger ponds|
|Tank mates:||loaches, koi fish, goldfish|
|Ph:||6.8 to 7.6|
|Water temperature:||55 to 75 °F (12.7 to 23.8°C)|
Stunning appearance at first glance!
Though it looks like one the High-fin banded shark is not an actual shark but rather a catfish.
What you should know about these fish?
Well, stay away from them.
Unless you’re a monster fishkeeper with a 300-gallon tank in your basement I’d recommend to avoid buying one of these.
This fish grows immensely large for a home aquarium and will quickly outgrow whatever you were thinking to house it in if that’s under 300 gallons of living water space.
The Chinese high-fin starts out small at about 2 or 3 inches.
In some fish stores, they may get recommended as an algae eater.
Not really a bad recommendation, as they are aufwuchs grazers and will snack on algae.
However, by the end of year 1, your high-fin banded shark would be nearing 9 inches in length.
Fast forward 3 years and you’ll have a monster that’s over a foot long (50 centimeters or more).
This fish grows at a fast pace.
Its final maximum size will depend on the environment, but a common measurement states over 4 feet.
It will quickly turn in to a single-species aquarium, unless you provide it with a really large tank or, perhaps, a pond.
The Chinese high-fin tolerates colder water temperatures, so it’s a great option for people with koi ponds.
It’s a really calm fish and it doesn’t swim much.
It’s not aggressive by any means and it can be housed with smaller fish such as clown loaches.
As a juvenile, it can be kept in “shark tank” types of habitat as long as the temperature is lower and the water is not acidic (below 6 pH).
Later, when they get bigger a relocation to a koi pond would be a good idea, because of the behavioral similarities they and the koi fish share.
As I mentioned earlier it’s an algae grazer so it will need vegetable matter in its diet.
Supplying your high-fin banded shark with bottom-dwelling invertebrates and crustaceans is also a good way to diversify its menu.
Taking proper care of your shark pet
As you can see the first step towards picking a vicious-looking predator as a home pet is choosing the right setting and the right tank mates.
Aside from that, there are a couple of things you need to remember if you are to become the owner of a shark fish:
- Get the long tank – aside from growing, fish that exhibit shark-like behavior are natural explorers. Mostly being bottom-dwellers what concerns them is the total area of your aquarium’s bed. A longer tank will provide your pet with lots of roaming space, making it feel like a real sneaky predator.
- Provide a decent filtration – larger fish produce more waste. Larger carnivorous fish produce EVEN more waste. Having a decent aquarium filtration system is a must when keeping such creatures. Ammonia spikes are pretty lethal to fish tank inhabitants and the higher possibility of inducing one should not be taken lightly. Canister filters are currently best at providing a safe level of filtration for larger fish tanks containing messier fish.
- Keep a tight lid on at all times – few exceptions aside, the freshwater sharks are jumpers. Keeping an eye for a possible fish suicide spoils the fun of having an aquarium in the first place. Make sure there’s a lid over yours.
- Set a soft substrate – bottom-dwellers still have sensitive bellies which predispose them to injury from sharp decoration. Either a smooth surface or a fine sand substrate will be an appropriate choice here. Are you a fan of cool-looking black sand? Here’s a sneaky way to get a hold of that while saving some cash.
- Provide a well-decorated tank with robust dense plants – these are your little shark’s getaway to a stress-free life. Having a planted tank ensures the peace of mind of other tank mates as well, potentially eliminating the possibility of chasing and bullying. Cave-like hiding places will be greatly appreciated.
Not all aquarium sharks tend to be aggressive and not all will fit your tank setup. I know that appearance will be your first concern when choosing, but with these fish, it’s important to mind companions. Give it a thought and make your pick wisely. Having a complete shark tank to flaunt with is where the fun begins.