Freshwater Aquarium Sharks – 15 To Consider

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If you’re looking to add a sense of drama to your tank, an awesome freshwater aquarium shark might be a great option. There is a lot of confusion about what these fish are, and how to care for them. That’s why in this article, I’ll be introducing 15 amazing freshwater aquarium sharks and giving you some solid advice on how to care for them.

So let’s get started!

What Are Freshwater Sharks?

What Is A Freshwater Shark

The first surprise is that freshwater shark fish are actually not really sharks at all! Instead, this popular group of freshwater fish gets their name from the similarities in body shape they share with their famous toothy namesakes. The combination of a sleek body shape, with a high triangular dorsal fin and a big forked tail, makes the resemblance quite clear!

That’s not all these fish have in common with true sharks, however. Many freshwater sharks are also big fish, with aggressive personalities, but thankfully, no razor-sharp teeth.

They range in size from medium-sized, 6 inch fish to huge animals that can weigh nearly 100lbs! These fish vary in color too, from the silvery Bala sharks to the bold colors of red tail sharks.

Most freshwater sharks are Southeast Asian species from the Cyprinidae family, although there are some species from Africa as well. Some other freshwater species like iridescent sharks and the Columbian shark come from a completely different family and are actually catfish.

15 Of The Best Freshwater Aquarium Sharks

There are many great freshwater aquarium sharks available, and you’re likely to spot one or two of the species on this list at just about any aquarium store you visit. Because these fish are usually sold as very small juveniles, many fishkeepers make the mistake of introducing them to a freshwater tank that is too small.

To provide you with the most important information on how to care for these fish, I’ll be adding a list of key information for each species including:

  • Scientific Name
  • Difficulty Level
  • Temperament
  • Adult Size
  • Recommended Tank Size
  • Diet
  • Origin
  • Temperature
  • pH
  • Difficulty to breed
  • Planted tank suitability

So let’s get started!

1. Rainbow Shark

What does a rainbow shark look like
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

Rainbow sharks are relatively small sharks with big personalities! Although these fish do feed on algae, they are not the best fish for keeping your tank clean. If you plan on keeping these colorful sharks, it’s important to understand their behavior.

Rainbow sharks can be aggressive fish and will often harass and nip other species in the aquarium. They should definitely not be kept with any other sharks or similar-looking fish because fighting is highly likely. Instead, keep these fish with other fish that can easily defend themselves.

2. Bala Shark

How Does A Bala Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult Size: 12-14 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 150+ gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

Bala sharks are large schooling fish that love flowing water. These silver sharks need a big tank with excellent water quality, making them a better choice for experienced aquarists with plenty of space.

Bala sharks are active fish that are very strong jumpers, so a solid lid is needed to keep them safely in the water. Adult bala sharks are very social fish, so it is important to keep them in groups to prevent them from becoming stressed and showing odd behavior.

3. Red Tail Shark

What Does A Redtail Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos Bicolor
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 4-5 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallon
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

Red tail sharks are very similar in appearance to rainbow sharks, but with one obvious difference. Only their tails are red, while all the fins of the rainbow shark are this color. These tropical fish are also occasionally known as red tail black sharks.

These territorial fish tend to hang out on their own in their natural habitat. They can be very aggressive, so it’s best to keep just one in a tank and avoid keeping any other sharks with them.

4. Roseline Shark

Roseline Shark
  • Scientific Name: Sahyadria denisonii
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult Size: 4 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallon
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: India
  • Temperature: 59-77°F
  • pH: 6.5-7.8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Yes

The roseline shark is probably the most colorful freshwater shark available in the aquarium trade. They are also known as the roseline torpedo shark or the denison barb. Roseline sharks have silvery bodies with a bold black stripe from nose to tail, and bright red markings as well as shades of blue and yellow.

These fish are beautiful and peaceful freshwater sharks that stay at a manageable size. While they are one of the easiest species to keep in a community tank, they do need pristine water quality. They are also very social fish, so be sure to keep at least 6 of them together in the same tank.

5. Chinese High-Fin Banded Sharks

Chinese High Fin Banded Shark
  • Scientific Name: Myxocyprinus asiaticus
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult Size: 3-4 feet
  • Recommended Tank Size: 1000+ gallons, ponds
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Origin: China
  • Temperature: 59-80°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

And now for a shark species for the big fish lovers. The Chinese high fin banded shark is a striking species that is usually sold at just a few inches long. Don’t be fooled, these fish grow huge!

They are amazing-looking fish when young, being striped in black and silver with a huge dorsal fin. They change shape and color a lot as they mature, however, becoming more elongated and changing to a red-brown shade with a smaller dorsal fin.

Chinese high fin sharks prefer a tank with some good water flow, that mimics their natural habitats. Very few people have the space and the means to set up a large enough home aquarium, so this is a fish to avoid for the majority of aquarists. Many people have had good success keeping them outdoors with koi fish, and this is often a more workable solution.

6. Columbian Shark

What Does A Columbian Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Ariopsis seemanni
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 12-14 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 150 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Origin: Central & South America
  • Temperature: 71-79°F
  • pH: 6.8-8.5
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: No

Unlike the other sharks on this list, the Columbian shark is in fact a sleek, silvery catfish! Although Columbian sharks are not true freshwater fish, I’ve added them here because the juveniles tend to be sold as such. In fact, Columbian sharks begin their lives in freshwater, switching to brackish or even pure saltwater as they mature

They are not aggressive fish, but they are predators so they should not be kept with smaller fish that can be swallowed! These fish also have venomous spines on their fins that can inflict seriously painful wounds. For these reasons, I would only recommend these fish to very experienced aquarists that have done loads of research and planning.

7. Albino Rainbow Shark

Albino Rainbow Shark
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

As its name suggests, the albino rainbow shark is a white version of the regular rainbow shark. These fish do have the bright red fins that the species is known for as well as red eyes.

They tend to have the same territorial tendencies as well, so make sure you have a large enough tank set up, and choose your other fish wisely.

8. Cosmic-Blue Glo Shark

Cosmic-Blue Glo Shark
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

The Glo-sharks are the biggest Glofish available in the aquarium trade. These fish have incredible colors thanks to a genetic modification that scientists developed from selecting genes from jellyfish. The purpose of the modification was to use the fish for detecting environmental toxins, but today they are much more popular as colorful pets.

The Cosmic Blue Glo shark is actually a colorful form of the rainbow shark that is at number one on my list. Its care requirements are the same as for the regular species, the only difference being the neon-blue color of its body!

9. Galactic Purple Glofish Shark

  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

The Galactic Purple glofish shark (video source) is another color variation of the well-known rainbow shark. This fish has a light pink/purple body with a white face and a red eye. If you’re looking for a shark that is just bursting with color, this might be just the fish for you!

The bright colors of this fish are, of course, not the result of any dyes or injections. Galactical Purple Glofish are born with their colors and can produce fry with the same amazing looks.

10. Electric Green Glo Shark

Electric Green Shark
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos frenatum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 5-6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Thailand, Cambodia, Laos
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6.5-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

Just like the ‘Cosmic Blue’ and ‘Galactic Purple’ color forms, these sharks are genetically modified versions of the well-known rainbow shark. These ‘man-made’ fish have kept the colorful red fins, but the black body is replaced with a bright glowing green color. If you like bright green fish, this is definitely one to consider!

11. Apollo Shark

What Does An Apollo Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Luciosoma setigerum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult Size: 8-9 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 150 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivorous
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Yes

The silver apollo shark is a fast-swimming shark that must be kept in a school of at least 6 individuals. This silver shark species needs plenty of swimming space, as well as decent water current to simulate their natural river environment.

There is also a similar species known as the long-finned apollo shark that grows quite a bit larger, so be sure to confirm your species before bringing it home.

12. Golden Shark

What Does A Golden Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Leptobarbus rubripinna/ L. hoevenii
  • Difficulty Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 3+ feet
  • Recommended Tank Size: 1000+ gallons, ponds
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Origin: Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Possible

The golden shark, or red-finned cigar shark as it is also known, is another giant freshwater shark for monster fish keepers. These fish need massive tanks and are a much better fit in large public aquariums than in the average home.

If you do have the space, however, these beautiful carp-like fish are not difficult to keep and are easy to feed. Their powerful, red-tipped fins and prominent scales make for a very good-looking specimen!

13. Flying Fox Shark

What Does A Flying Fox Shark Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Epalzeorhynchos kalopterum
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 65 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Algae-eater
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-7.5
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Yes

The flying fox shark is another great aquarium fish with the typical high and triangular dorsal fin of the freshwater sharks. It makes good community fish, as long as it is not kept with any other flying fox sharks or similar species like red tailed sharks.

These fish are algae eaters, but probably not the best choice if you’re wanting a fish specifically for that purpose.

14. Chinese Algae Eater

What Does A Chinese Algae Eater Eat
  • Scientific Name: Gyrinocheilus aymonieri
  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult Size: 8-11 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 80 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Algae-eater
  • Origin: South East Asia
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Yes

The Chinese algae eater is also known as the sucking loach, and ironically, does not occur in China. This is an aquarium shark with a reputation for a strange and worrying habit.

These fish will occasionally latch onto other fish, particularly large slow-moving species. They do this to feed on the unfortunate victim’s slime coating. More usually, they will feed on regular food sources like algae, and can be pretty good at keeping the tank clean.

15. Siamese Algae Eater

What Does A Siamese Algae Eater Look Like
  • Scientific Name: Crossocheilus oblongus, C. langei.
  • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult Size: 6 inches
  • Recommended Tank Size: 30 gallon
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Algae-eater
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 6-7.5
  • Difficulty to breed: Advanced
  • Planted tank suitability: Yes

Siamese algae eaters or SAEs are actually a group of about 3 different species from the Crossocheilus genus. Not all Siamese algae eaters are as good at cleaning algae, and C. langei seems to do the best job.

These small sharks are one of the few species that are truly peaceful community fish. Siamese algae eaters have the amazing benefit of being one of the very few aquarium animals that happily feed on pesky ‘black brush’ algae (BBA). This makes them an awesome fish for planted freshwater tanks.

Freshwater Shark Tank Setup

Just like any other aquarium fish, freshwater sharks will do best in a fish tank that provides the kinds of conditions they are used to in their natural habitat. Let’s take a look at how to set up the perfect shark aquarium.

Aquarium Size

Freshwater aquarium sharks range in size from the small Siamese algae eater, right up to massive fish like the Chinese high fin banded shark or the iridescent shark. Therefore, your choice of fish tank size will have to match the needs of your shark species. If you already have a fish tank, then your challenge is to find a shark that will be a good fit!

Most freshwater sharks need plenty of space, and some are just way too big for your average home aquarium. When it comes to selecting a tank for your freshwater sharks, bigger is always better. A long aquarium is also a better option than a tall tank because it will provide more swimming space and floor area for foraging.

Decor, Substrate & Plants

Most sharks are not too particular about the layout of their tank. Nevertheless, you’ll want to set up an aquarium that looks great and keeps your fish feeling at home.

Remember, most freshwater aquarium sharks come from flowing river environments, so try to create something similar for them in your aquarium. A sand bottom with some interesting pieces of driftwood and a few hides would be an ideal setup.

To complete the layout, a few hardy aquarium plants like Java ferns and anubias plants will look great attached to your hardscape. These plants are tough, easy to care for, and don’t need much in the way of light and fertilizers.

Most freshwater sharks are omnivores and will feed on some plant material. Much of this comes in the form of algae, but soft-leaved plants and mosses might also be on the menu. This means sharks can be kept in planted tanks, but probably should not be the first choice for planted tank enthusiasts.

Lighting & Filtration

Freshwater aquarium sharks need excellent water quality, and this means you need to run good quality filtration to keep them healthy. Most freshwater sharks also enjoy good water flow, so the best types of filters to use are external canister filters and larger hang-on back filters.

Both of those types of filters will create good movement in the water. If you’re happy with the performance of your filter, but want a little more flow, installing a simple powerhead will do the trick. These pumps can also assist in stirring up waste, which can then be processed by your filter.

Unless you plan on growing some live plants in your fish tank, bright lighting will not be necessary. One point to consider though is that light is important for the growth of algae, which is a food source that many freshwater sharks enjoy. Whichever lighting you choose to use, your fish must get a natural cycle of light and dark each day.

Tank Mates

When setting up a tank for fish that can be aggressive, selecting the right tankmates is a very important step. Typically you’ll find a tank full of small peaceful freshwater sharks at your local fish store and you might think it’s fair to assume you could do the same at home. The problem is that these fish do not become aggressive until they have grown a little older and larger.

This means planning from the start is the right way to go. The best fish to keep with the more territorial species like rainbow sharks and harlequin sharks are larger fish that are not easily intimidated and do not share the same part of the tank. Some good options include:

Another thing to bear in mind is that sharks tend to grow surprisingly large, so they might start out at the same size as your tetras, but end up swallowing them whole in a few years. Make sure you research the adult size of your fish!

How To Care For Aquarium Sharks

Apart from setting up a large enough aquarium, and selecting the right tankmates, caring for your freshwater shark is pretty straightforward. Here’s how:

Aquarium Maintenance

If there’s one thing that freshwater sharks need, it’s excellent water quality. Having a big enough tank and a powerful water filter will go a long way towards keeping your water pristine, but you’ll still need to get your hands wet on regular basis.

You will need to test your water parameters with a basic aquarium water test kit every week and start up a routine of regular water changes that suit you and your fish. I would recommend starting out with a 30%-50% water change every week, but testing will confirm whether this is adequate.

If your shark aquarium maintenance routine is good, you should read the following parameters at the end of the week:

  • Ammonia: 0ppm
  • Nitrite: 0ppm
  • Nitrate: <10ppm

Make sure you vacuum up any uneaten food or waste from your substrate regularly, and avoid overfeeding your fish or overstocking your fish tank.

Freshwater Shark Behavior

The different freshwater shark species have different behaviors. Some of them, like bala sharks and roseline sharks, are peaceful schooling or shoaling fish that actively swim in the midwater of the fish tank. Other species, like the red tailed sharks and harlequin sharks, are very territorial and will do much better if they are the only sharks in the tank.

Feeding habits also differ, with some species looking out for food on the surface of the water, while others constantly forage for algae and food organisms on your hardscape and substrate. Columbian sharks are predatory fish, that will happily swallow smaller fish in the tank.

Freshwater sharks tend to be very active fish, and all of them are difficult to breed. It does happen in the home aquarium from time to time, but this is usually more luck than technique.

Feeding

The different types of sharks have different diets, but most species are omnivorous. This means they feed on both plant and animal matter. It is best to provide your sharks with a healthy, balanced diet, rather than a single food source, and feed them at least once a day.

Here’s a few healthy food sources for your freshwater sharks:

  • Shrimp pellets
  • insect larvae
  • Brine shrimp
  • bloodworms
  • blanched vegetables and peas
  • bottomfeeder tablets

Unlike the sharks from the Cyprinidae family, Columbian sharks are predators that will do best on a high-protein diet.

Where To Buy Freshwater Sharks

Freshwater sharks are popular aquarium fish that can usually be found at aquarium and pet stores. Before buying these fish, make sure you can confirm their species and adult size. Never buy wild-caught freshwater sharks because many species have become very scarce in their natural ranges.

To avoid these common mistakes, I always advise buying from a trusted online retailer. A good retailer will list out the max size and tank size minimums of each fish species.

FAQs

Are there freshwater sharks for aquariums?

There are just a handful of true freshwater shark species known, and none of them will work in your home aquarium. Fortunately, there are plenty of cool freshwater fish that look similar to sharks, so you can still set up your own freshwater shark tank.

Are freshwater aquarium sharks really sharks?

The fish that are known as freshwater sharks in the aquarium hobby are not really sharks at all, they just look like them. These fish tend to have streamlined bodies, big triangular dorsal fins, and strongly forked tails, just like their oceanic lookalikes.

What fish can you put in a tank with sharks?

Unfortunately, some of the freshwater sharks have a reputation for being territorial and aggressive. To prevent this behavior, be sure to keep just one shark in your fish tank.

Any tank mates you choose should be large, confident fish. Some species like the roseline shark, for example, are very peaceful fish that do great in community fish tanks.

What size tank do you need for a shark?

Some sharks need very big fish tanks, and some will do just fine in your regular home aquarium. It really depends on the species.

Remember, the freshwater sharks at your local fish store are usually juveniles that have a lot of growing to do! Do your research on each species before you take any new fish home because the pet store might not have a large enough tank to take the fish back if it outgrows your own aquarium.

Which shark is best for aquarium?

When it comes to freshwater aquariums, the easiest and most peaceful species are probably the roseline sharks or the very useful Siamese algae eater. If you ask me, all freshwater sharks are awesome!

Final Thoughts

When it comes to freshwater fish that have that ‘wow factor’, freshwater aquarium sharks are about as cool as they come. Keeping these mean-looking animals can take some dedication, however, most particularly when it comes to the giant species. If you plan to start keeping these fish, just make sure to read through this article a second time, and remember to do all your homework.

Do you also love freshwater sharks? Let me know which is your favorite in the comments below.

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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