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Best Freshwater Sharks for Aquariums

Today, we’ve got a curated list of the best freshwater sharks for aquariums but we need to clear up some confusion front and center…

What Is a Freshwater Shark?

The term freshwater shark is bandied around often but not always correctly.

When you think of sharks, the first thing that typically springs to mind is a shark living in a marine environment. Despite most sharks living in marine areas, you can also find some capable of thriving in freshwater as well as salt water.

Today, the fish we’ll be looking at are commonly referred to by the name of freshwater sharks despite not actually being sharks. These sleek fish resemble sharks but most come from the Pangasiidae or shark catfish family. The other main group represented is the Cyprinidae or carp and minnow family.

Not only do the fish commonly known as freshwater sharks look like sharks, they also have some shared characteristics. Often aggressive and content to loiter at the bottom of the tank, these freshwater sharks will quite happily feast on any smaller fish in your tank.

Most freshwater sharks are pretty easy to raise even if you’re a complete beginner keeping fish. The key in most cases is to make sure you’ve got a tank fit for purpose. As a rule of thumb, start with at least a 10-gallon tank if you intend to keep freshwater sharks. The more space you can provide your fish, the happier and healthier they will be.

So…

Now you know not all freshwater sharks are really sharks, we’ll highlight the leading options at your disposal if you fancy raising a fish with a difference.

Top 10 Freshwater Sharks for Aquariums

  1. Bala Shark
  2. Black Sharkminnow
  3. Columbian Shark
  4. Harlequin Shark
  5. Rainbow Shark
  6. Red Tail Shark
  7. Roseline Torpedo Shark
  8. Siamese Algae Eater
  9. Silver Apollo Shark
  10. Violet Blushing Shark

1) Bala Shark

When you see a young bala shark measuring as little as 2 or 3 inches, it’s easy to be fooled into thinking they’ll stay dinky. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fully-grown balas are normally at least a foot long and they can even grow 20 inches long.

You’ll need an aquarium at least 4 feet long with a capacity of at least 75 gallons to allow a bala enough room to stretch their fins out. As with most of the fish termed freshwater sharks, the bigger the tank the better.

Bala sharks are not too aggressive so you can allow them some carefully chosen tankmates without too much concern. Make sure you choose something that’s too large to fit in the bala’s mouth and is not overly aggressive.

Caring for balas is straightforward. They are omnivores and, while not picky eaters, they do appreciate a variety of foods.

2) Black Sharkminnow

Unlike the bala shark, the black sharkminnow is not beginner-friendly but why is that?

Also known as black labeo, the black sharkminnow not only grows up to 30 inches in captivity but it’s also highly aggressive. Occupying the bottom of the tank, you won’t be able to accommodate a black sharkminnow along with other bottom-dwellers.

If you fancy the idea of a tankmate for your black labeo, look for fish that swim mainly in the upper part of the aquarium. You’re probably better off leaving your freshwater shark on its own.

You’ll need a 200-gallon tank. As we mentioned, the black sharkminnow is not an easy fish to keep in any sense. If you have a range of fish in the tank, make sure you introduce the black sharkminnow last. If not, it will endlessly menace newly-introduced fish.

You need to make sure you’ve got an outstanding aquarium filter due to the size of the fish. Well-oxygenated water is a must for black labeos.

Fine sand works well as a substrate but sharp decorations should be avoided. 

Feed your black sharkminnow twice a day and allow them to graze as they would in the wild.

An albino black sharkminnow was bred specifically for aquariums.

3) Columbian Shark

The Columbian shark, commonly known as a black fin shark, is frequently described as a freshwater tank fish but this is not entirely accurate. 

You can keep juveniles in brackish water but Columbian sharks need to shift to a saltwater tank as they get older.

Growing up to 20 inches, Columbian sharks can get even bigger if you treat them right.

You’ll need to invest in a tank at least 75 gallons in capacity since these freshwater sharks like to dart around the tank at speed. Try to introduce some current to the tank if you want to keep Columbian sharks happy. 

These omnivores often eat smaller tankmates if they start to outgrow them. They prefer living in groups of 4.

Columbian sharks can swallow more than half their body length. Avoid keeping Columbians with fish less then twice their size or you’re asking for trouble. Suitable tankmates include aggressive marine fish like the moonfish, scats, and mollies.

You should feed these freshwater sharks a varied diet with both meat and plant-based foods. This should give them all the minerals and vitamins they need for robust immune system health. Use pellets, freeze-dried worm, flakes, an occasional feeder fish and small crustaceans.

By nature, Columbian sharks are bottom-feeders prone to scavenging. They sometimes roam for food higher up, too.

4) Harlequin Shark

Harlequin sharks are quite rare and their appearance is striking. When young, they are brilliantly colored. This coloration fades as they age but still lingers somewhat.

Growing to 6 inches or so, you could easily add a harlequin shark to a 55-gallon tank when the time is right.

Like many freshwater sharks, harlequins don’t tolerate their own. Indeed, these freshwater sharks loathe one another to such an extent there’s never been any successful in-house breeding.

If you have any other fish in the tank, make sure they’re not bottom-feeders or bottom-dwellers. Your new harlequin will bully and potentially kill them. You should also introduce your harlequin shark to the aquarium last.

Plant your aquarium well with rugged plants. You should also include plenty of hiding places using driftwood and stones.

Aufwuchs grazers, harlequin sharks trough on algae, biofilm, and detritus.

5) Rainbow Shark

The rainbow shark is actually a catfish. If you have a planted tank, these freshwater sharks make a thoughtful addition.

Aggressively territorial, you should keep rainbows away from other sharks, red tails in particular. If you must give a rainbow shark a tankmate, opt for larger fish with similar temperaments. If you have peaceful fish in the tank, your rainbow will harass them mercilessly.

Include lots of hiding spots for rainbow sharks. They also enjoy dense plants and rock-riddled caves to explore. When it comes to substrate, though, keep it smooth and even.

Since rainbow sharks are quite capable jumpers, you should always keep the tank covered.

6) Red Tail Shark

The distinctive red tail shark has an elegant black body complemented by a stunning red tail that means you’ll have no problems spotting it even in a heavily planted tank.

Red tails prefer tanks with plenty of space to tuck themselves away between the plants, rocks, and wood in a red tail-friendly environment.

Red tails don’t tolerate one another so stick to one in the tank. You should not keep them with other sharks or catfish either. Territorial and aggressive, they are solitary freshwater sharks who cope well alone.

Mix up their food giving them plant-based feed as well as plenty of meat. Pellets, flakes, and brine shrimp will also go down well with red tail sharks.

7) Roseline Torpedo Shark

Roseline sharks, also know as red-lined torpedo barbs or Denison barbs, make a great addition to a home shark tank.

Arguably one of the most beautiful freshwater fish, roseline sharks don’t get too big and they school together well. Keeping them in schools of 5 or more helps to tamp down their natural aggression. Introduce them to the tank at the same time to minimize the chance of bullying and chasing.

Growing perhaps 6 inches, roseline sharks are one of the smallest shark-style fish you can get that works well with freshwater aquaria at home. You should provide them with a long tank affording them plenty of space to speed back and forth. 125-gallon tanks work well. These are roughly 6 feet long. You should keep roseline sharks with quick-swimming community fish.

Tiger barbs, Siamese algae eaters, black skirt tetras, and zebra danios make good tankmates for roseline sharks.

You should feed these freshwater sharks live food like shrimp and bloodworm. They also eat vegetables and these will promote better digestion.

8) Siamese Algae Eater

The Siamese algae eater (SAE) can decimate algae infestations in a tank.

Looking very much like a shark, these striking fish grow to about 6 inches.

Peaceful and disinclined to chase, SAEs like living among similarly relaxed community fish.

While they co-exist with most fish, Siamese algae eaters won’t tolerate rainbow sharks or red tail sharks. They dislike any freshwater species looking the same.

Small tanks work well with the placid SAEs. Anything from 20 gallons and upward is ideal. As always with keeping these types of fish, the bigger the better on the tank front.

Almost any non-aggressive community fish and other Siamese algae eaters make good tankmates for these commanding shark-like creatures.

9) Silver Apollo Shark

Passive schooling fish, silver Apollo sharks grow to around 6 inches long.

They thrive in groups of 5 and upward. Swimming rapidly, you’ll need to keep your tank covered as they might leap out.

Docile and easy to feed, silver apollo sharks are nevertheless a nuisance to keep. They don’t respond well to even the tiniest changes in levels of nitrites and ammonia in the water. You’ll need a robust filter and weekly 25% changes of a quarter-tank of water.

Silver apollo sharks are not aggressive but they live near the top of the tank and will fight for food, possibly stopping slower fish from eating their fill.

10) Violet Blushing Shark

The violet blushing shark is part of the labeo genus which includes the rainbow shark and the red tail shark. VBs are slightly longer, though growing up to 12 inches long.

VBs are peaceful and calm. They aren’t especially territorial either. 

You will need to make provision for a large tank, though. You need a 125 gallon capacity to give violet blushing sharks a suitable environment.

The tank should have some current along with plenty of rocks and wood. Soft gravel completes the feel of a flowing river and bed.

Bottom feeders, violet blushing sharks will gorge on frozen bloodworm and dried fish food of all types.

Keep VBs away from similarly-shaped shark-like fish, other members of the labeo family in particular.

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Closing Words

Well, we hope today has given you some inspiration to pop something a little different in your home aquarium.

Come back soon and bookmark Pet Gear Zone as we’ll be continuing our series on the fascinating fish you can keep at home if you stray away from the normal offerings at your local pet store. Imagination is your only limitation and there’s no reason not to happily keep freshwater sharks if you’ve got the space to accommodate them.

See you soon!

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