If you’re interested in sharks, you’ve probably wondered about having one as a pet.
While it’s next to impossible to keep a real shark as a pet, there are plenty of freshwater aquarium sharks that thrive in a home aquarium.
Technically, these fish aren’t actual sharks.
They’re large fish with shark-like appearances that typically belong to the catfish or carp family.
That said, they look and often act like sharks, which is how they earned their name.
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6 Types of Freshwater Aquarium Sharks
When it comes to freshwater sharks, there aren’t that many varieties that are suitable to be kept as pets. That said, there’s still a nice variety to choose from.
Here are some freshwater sharks that are suitable for a home aquarium:
1. Bala Shark
Young Bala sharks are only about 3 inches long but don’t let their small size fool you. On average, they grow to be around a foot long in adulthood though they can reach up 20 inches.
Balas need an aquarium that’s a minimum of 75 gallons and at least 4-feet long to give them enough room to stretch their fins. Balas, like with most freshwater sharks, thrive in a large tank so it’s a good idea to get the largest one you can afford.
Taking care of them is pretty easy. They aren’t picky eaters but they are omnivores and do like a variety of food.
One great think about Bala sharks is that they’re not particularly aggressive so you don’t have to be too careful about choosing tankmates.
Just make sure whatever you choose is too big to fit inside a Bala’s mouth and isn’t too aggressive.
2. Columbian Shark
The Columbian shark is actually a large catfish and has the characteristic high fin and long whiskers you’d expect.
They need an aquarium that’s at least 75 gallons and it should be set up to resemble their natural environment with plenty of plants and rocks.
Columbian sharks are not the easiest sharks to keep and might not be ideal for a beginner. They prefer brackish water and should actually be transitioned to saltwater in adulthood. Juveniles are about 3 inches long but can reach 20 inches or more.
These fish are predators and will eat everything in the tank that is small enough to fit in their mouths. They actually have venomous dorsal fins so be extra cautious during tank maintenance.
For these reasons and their water requirements, it’s often best to keep Columbian sharks in a tank of their own.
3. Red Tail Shark
Red Tail shark are very distinctive looking. The sleek black body and bright red tail really stand out in a planted tank.
In fact, their preferred environment is one with plenty of hiding spots among plants, rocks, and driftwood so a planted tank is the perfect place for them to be.
One thing to keep in mind is that these sharks don’t like one another so you can only have one in your aquarium.
Avoid other sharks and catfish, too, as well as any fish with long fins. Redtail sharks are very territorial and can be quite aggressive.
These sharks aren’t picky about food but do like a variety of meat and plant-based foods. A pellet of flake-based diet is fine but adding in some brine shrimp a few times a week will keep your red tail very happy.
4. Rainbow Shark
Another freshwater shark that’s actually a catfish is the rainbow shark. They’re a great addition to a planted tank.
Because they like a lot of hiding places, make sure to give them plenty of dense plants, caves, and dens for them to explore.
Rainbow sharks are very territorial and shouldn’t be kept with other sharks, especially red tails. If you’re looking for tank mates, try fish that are larger than them with a similar temperament. They should not be overly aggressive but still able to hold their own.
Rainbows will harass peaceful fish so avoid them at all costs.
While Rainbows prefer the bottom of the tank, they have sensitive barbels around their mouths that can be easily injured.
Choosing the right substrate is key to avoiding an injury. Use only sandy or smooth substrate as larger, rougher rocks can do some damage.
These fish tend to stay on the bottom of the tank but will explore everywhere. Believe it or not, they’re actually pretty good jumpers so make sure you keep the top of the tank covered.
5. Iridescent Shark
If you’re looking for a shark that’s, well, gigantic, the iridescent shark is about 3-inches long as a juvenile but can grow to over 50 inches.
To keep an iridescent shark, you’ll need an aquarium that’s at least 300 gallons.
In the right conditions, iridescent sharks will live for up to 20 years if properly cared for. While it may be tempting to try to keep them in a smaller tank, it’s not a good idea. This pet is definitely an investment and is not for everyone.
Although Iridescent sharks are technically catfish, they’re not bottom feeders. They’re very active and need a lot of room to swim around different levels in the tank.
Iridescent sharks are really mellow but they will eat any fish that fits in their mouth and, since they get so large, they’ll eventually be able to eat just about anything. If you really want tankmates, try tinfoil barbs or plecos.
6. Silver Apollo Shark
Silver Apollos are actually schooling fish that are quite passive and grow to about 6 inches long.
Because they like company, they’re best kept in groups of 5 or more. They’re fast swimmers and can even jump out of the tank so make sure to keep it covered.
Although easy to feed and peaceful in nature, silver apollos can be difficult to keep because they’re really sensitive to pH changes and even the smallest amount of ammonia and nitrites present in the water. They require a strong filter and weekly 25% water changes.
These freshwater sharks are pretty easy to live with as long as their tankmates aren’t small enough to be eaten.
While they’re not aggressive, they are fast and live near the surface so they will compete for food and may prevent slower fish from getting enough to eat.
What is the Smallest Aquarium Shark?
If you’re looking for something small and easy to keep, try a rainbow shark. They grow to about 6 inches long and work well in planted tanks.
Keep in mind they require a smooth or sandy substrate to protect the delicate barbels around their mouths.
Another option is a red tail shark. They also grow to about 6 inches long but are more aggressive and a little more difficult to house in a community tank.
If size is a concern, be sure to avoid an iridescent shark at all costs. While they look small in the pet store, they can grow tremendously large and are not a good fit for everyone.
How to Setup a Shark Aquarium?
When you decide which freshwater shark you prefer, be sure to research the specific requirements you need for the aquarium.
That said, there are some basic things that most of these freshwater sharks have in common when it comes to their environment.
Tank Size and Environment
One of the most important things to consider when it comes to a shark aquarium is size. These are big fish – in some cases, very big fish – and you will need a tank that’s at least 100 gallons. If you choose a larger variety, you could be looking at a 300-gallon tank.
Although you should research the specific shark you’re keeping, most varieties prefer heavily planted tanks with a lot of places to hide.
Most varieties of freshwater shark originate in large rivers in Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia and you should aim to recreate that environment.
Artificial plants will do but live ones are better. Be sure to add a lot of rocks, wood, and caves along the bottom of the tank where they can hide and establish their own territory.
Part of an aquarium set up is the other fish in the community and it’s worth mentioning again that freshwater sharks should only be kept with fish that are too large to eat and have an even temperament.
Most freshwater sharks can tolerate a pretty wide pH range with a temperature between 74 and 80 degrees F. There are some specific requirements for each shark.
For example, Colombian sharks prefer brackish water and silver apollos are very sensitive to ammonia levels.
Filtration is really important as are water changes. You should change 10% of the water weekly (25% with silver apollos) and make sure to use an aquarium vacuum to clean up uneaten food and other waste.
What to Feed Freshwater Aquarium Sharks?
Freshwater sharks are omnivores and they aren’t picky about what they eat. For most varieties, their diet consists of flakes, pellet, or freeze-dried foods.
They should be given brine shrimp, vegetables, and some live food a few times a week to add some variety.
If you’re not sure what to add to their diet, try algae wafers, insect larvae, crustaceans, brine shrimp, and bloodworms. As far as vegetables, add some spinach, lettuce, zucchini, and peas in a few times a week to help keep their immune systems strong.
Keep in mind that most freshwater sharks won’t hesitate to eat or try to eat their tankmates so make sure you do your best to satisfy their appetites.
How to Feed Aquarium Shark?
Most freshwater sharks are bottom feeders. Some will come to the surface to get pellets and flakes occasionally but, for the most part, they eat what sinks to the bottom of the tank.
Feeding should be done 2 to 3 times a day. Give your sharks as much as they can eat in 5 minutes.
If there is food left at the end of this time frame, it’s likely you’re overfeeding your sharks. Be sure to clean up whatever is left behind to keep ammonia levels under control.
One of the important things to keep in mind when feeding a freshwater shark is that they’re pretty aggressive and will easily prevent less aggressive fish from getting enough to eat.
This is another reason why it’s so important to have the right tankmates for a freshwater shark.
With their large size and physical characteristics, freshwater sharks make an interesting pet for any aquarium enthusiast willing to take them on.
Care of a freshwater shark isn’t especially difficult but that doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for everyone. These fish get really big – anywhere from 6 to 50 inches one they’re fully matured.
They need large tanks that give them the room they need to grow to their full potential.
Still, with the right tank and careful planning, you can create a nice home for your freshwater shark and a few tankmates that everyone will be talking about.