12 Freshwater Aquarium Sharks and Tank Setup

Sharks are both an object of people’s fears and fascinations. Every year, Shark Week takes the world by storm, working people into a shark-media feeding frenzy. 

In 2019 alone, 34.9 million people tuned in to the 20 hour program.

Fortunately for aquarium hobbyists, you have options when it comes to sharks. 

Freshwater Sharks are hardy and beautiful alternatives to high-maintenance (and occasionally dangerous) saltwater sharks.

What is a Freshwater Aquarium Shark?

Freshwater Aquarium Sharks are part of the catfish or minnow family; nevertheless, they resemble shark species and are exciting to watch in your home aquarium. 

They come in a vast array of colors and sizes.

Are They Real Sharks? 

No, Freshwater Aquarium Sharks are not technically real sharks. There are some sharks that can survive in Freshwater, most notably, the Bull Shark.

Bull Sharks can and do travel up freshwater rivers. They’ve been found 2,500 miles up the Amazon River! Furthermore, there’s a mostly permanent population in Lake Nicaragua.

Can You Keep Freshwater Sharks In a Home Aquarium?

Yes! However, some species can get quite large, so plan ahead. 

They also may have specific parameters for tank compatibility. Other than that, Freshwater Sharks make excellent additions to the Home Aquarium.

How to Setup a Shark Aquarium?

If you are starting from scratch then check out our complete guide to setting up your freshwater aquarium.

When preparing your tank for aquarium sharks you will also need 

Small Freshwater Aquarium Shark Species

1. Rainbow Shark

Quick Stats:

  • Max. Size: six inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 55 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Barbs, Loaches, Rainbowfish, Gouramis
  • Unsuitable Tank Mates: Bala Sharks, Red-tail Sharks, Cichlids, Catfish
  • Water Temp: 72-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

Rainbow Shark

The Rainbow Shark hails from Southeast Asia and belongs to the family Cyprinidae, which also includes minnows. 

The Rainbow Shark is occasionally referred to as a Red-Finned or Ruby Shark. This species has a black or blue slender body with brightly colored red or orange fins. There is an albino variety of this variety that has a pale body, red eyes, and orange fins. 

This species lives on average six to eight years in ideal water conditions. The males can be differentiated from the females by their brighter fins and the thin gray lines on their tail fins. This species prefers bottom-dwelling with plenty of caves and a sandy substrate. 

Keep in mind when adding this fish to an established aquarium that they are semi-aggressive and are territorial. The Rainbow Shark is an omnivore that eats the algae inside your tank. If there is a lack of algae, your fish can eat algae wafers. 

They also enjoy frozen bloodworms, insect larvae, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.

2. Roseline Torpedo Shark

Quick Stats:

  • Max. Size: six inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 55 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Barbs, Danios, Rainbowfish, Cichlids (of similar size)
  • Unsuitable Tank Mates: live plants, fish not similar in size
  • Water Temp: 60-77 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

Roseline Torpedo Shark

The Roseline Torpedo Shark has many names, such as Denison Barb, Bleeding Eye Barb, Comet Barb, Red Line Barb, and Torpedo Barb. 

This fish is a striking iridescent silver with a black line running down it from head to tail and a red stripe across the eyes. The males and females are not easily distinguishable, but the males are more brightly colored, and the females are rounder. 

From the family Cyprinidae, this fish resides in streams and rivers in southern India. They’re used to highly oxygenated water, so I would suggest putting a powerhead in your aquarium to add extra oxygen to the system. 

These fish prefer schooling with other schooling fish and are relatively docile. Live plants are not recommended since these fish are known to uproot plants darting around their tank. 

They’re omnivores, so their diet should consist of algae as well as meaty foods, for example, bloodworms, daphnia, cyclops, and shrimp.

3. Harlequin Shark

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: six inches at maturity (can get up to 12 inches)
  • Recommended tank: 55 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: none
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: most fish, including other Harlequin Sharks
  • Water Temp: 70-81 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

The Harlequin Shark comes from the murky rivers of the Congo. Another from the family Cyprinidae, it shares a habitat with hippos in the wild. 

They need a sound filtration system in captivity, even though their natural waters are often filled with tannins and have a silty substrate. 

This species enjoys cover in their tanks, such as driftwood and cave areas. 

They’re largely solitary and highly territorial, so tankmates are not recommended. Their coloring is mottled golden orange and brown and they have whispy fins. Harlequin sharks are omnivores and eat a mixture of algae, bloodworms, daphnia, artemia, and flakes.

4. Red-tailed Black Shark

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 6 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 55 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Bala Sharks, Barbs, Danios, Angelfish, Gouramis, Tetras
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: any bottom-dwelling fish, other Red-tailed Black Shark
  • Water Temp: 73-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

Red-tailed Black Shark

The Red-Tailed Black Shark is aptly named. It’s a black fish with a vibrant red tail. This fish is found in Thailand and enjoys rocks, caves, and plants in their tank. 

This shark has a few other names, including Red-tailed Shark, Red-tailed Labeo, and Labeo Bicolor. 

The Red-tailed Black Shark lives 5-8 years and is reasonably easy to keep. 

This is a highly active fish, and although they do not nip at other fish, they go out of their way to chase others, often to the point of exhaustion. 

Red-tailed Black Sharks are from the family Cypridiridae and enjoy an omnivore’s diet. 

Pellets and flakes should make up the majority of their diet, with meats and vegetables occasionally. They happily eat daphnia, krill, and bloodworms.

 5. Siamese Algae Eater

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 6 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 35 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Guppies, Barbs, Danios, Gouramis, Tetras
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: Cichlids, Red-tailed Black Shark
  • Water Temp: 75-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.0 

Siamese Algae Eater

The Siamese Algae Eater is a bright slender fish with a bold black stripe down its center, from head to tail. This fish is found in Southeastern Asia and belongs to the family Cyprinidae. 

The Siamese Algae Eater is excellent for tanks with excessive algae growth, living up to their namesake. These fish must remain in motion due to an absence of swim bladder. It’s best to keep a sandy substrate in your tank for when they finally decide to rest. 

The Siamese Algae Eater is not territorial and gets along well with most fish. However, they can stress out sensitive fish due to their constant movement. 

They enjoy having tunnels and hollowed-out logs in their aquarium décor. 

They are omnivores and will eat meat, although I would give it sparingly if you want them hungry enough to clean your tank.

Large Freshwater Aquarium Sharks

6. Bala Shark

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 12 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 120 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Rainbow Fish, Tetra, Roasbora, Gouramis, Bala Sharks
  • Unsuitable Tank Mates: Neon Tetra, Guppies, Harlequin Rasbora (anyone that can fit in its mouth)
  • Water Temp: 76-78 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-8.0

Bala Shark

The Bala Shark lives in fast-flowing rivers and streams in Southeast Asia. These sharks live up to ten years in ideal water conditions. 

Although not an expert level fish, the Bala Shark is more easily stressed than some of the other varieties we’ve covered. It needs its water quality monitored carefully. 

This shark is also called: Tricolor Shark, Silver Bella, Silver Shark, and Tri-color Minnow. It belongs to the family Cyprinidae. 

This shark is friendly but should not be paired with smaller fish that can easily fit in its mouth. It’s a shimmering silver hue and features pronounced fins. 

These fins are dusted with a rosy peach coloring and outlined thickly in black. Something important to keep in mind with this fish is that they are jumpers, so make sure to put a lid on your tank. 

Bala Shark’s are omnivores and should receive a mixed diet. They prefer bloodworms, pellets, flakes, and plankton. 

7. Silver Apollo Shark

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 10 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 125 gallons minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Tinfoil Barbs, Bala Sharks
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: anything small or taking up the upper water column
  • Water Temp: 75-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.0-7.5 

Silver Apollo Shark

The Silver Apollo Shark has a silver body that turns a greenish hue with age. A long black stripe runs down its body and the curves of the tail fin. 

This fish is not common in the fish trade and can be challenging to find. But if you do, they’re a long-term commitment. They can live to be over fourteen years old! 

If you choose to keep a Silver Apollo Shark, keep in mind that they are highly active and need lots of room, so décor must be at a minimum. 

It’s also suggested to keep a secure lid and implement a powerhead to provide ample water movement. These fish belong to the family Cyprinidae and eat an omnivore diet. 

The Silver Apollo Shark particularly enjoys meats and can be fed bloodworms, frozen fish, Mysis, chopped worms, and mosquito larvae.

8. Violet Blushing Shark

Quick Stats:

  • Max. Size: 12 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 125 gallons minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Rainbowfish, Loaches
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: unless schooling with six or more fish, other violet blushing sharks
  • Water Temp: 68-78 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.6-7.9

The Violet Blushing Shark originates from Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. It has several names, including Violet-gilled Shark and Red-gilled Violet Shark. 

These names allude to the violet complexion found around their gills. They are a slender pale fish with a dash of blush pink and a transparent gill cover. 

This fish is familiar with foraging for algae, so they prefer a soft sandy substrate and a lack of sharp décor. They enjoy bloodworms, algae wafers, and dried fish. 

This variety can be semi-aggressive.

9. Columbian Shark

Quick Stats:

  • Max. Size: 10 inches at maturity (can reach 20 inches)
  • Recommended tank: 75 gallons minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: Scats, Monos, Targetfish
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: any fish that is smaller and cannot tolerate brackish conditions
  • Water Temp: 76-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 7.0-7.6

The Columbian Shark can also be known as the Black Fin Shark, Silverfin Shark, and Jordani Shark. These fish belong to the family Ariidae and reside in both Central and Southern America. 

The Columbian Shark can be found in freshwater, brackish, and saltwater and needs to be slowly acclimated to a saltwater fish tank as they age. I do not suggest this fish tank for beginners, seeing that you would need to mix most of your salt. 

They also have venomous dorsal spines. Plants and rocks are desirable with plenty of room for swimming in your fish tank. 

A silverfish with long whiskers and black fins, this fish most closely resembles a catfish. A variety of foods is beneficial to your fish, such as shrimp pellets, freeze-dried foods, bloodworms, and flakes. 

Aggressive, this fish would certainly eat any tankmates smaller than it, so choose with caution.

Large Freshwater Aquarium Shark Species

10. Chinese High-fin Banded Shark

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 4.5 feet
  • Recommended tank: 55 gallons minimum for younger specimens
  • Suitable Tankmates: other large community fish
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: aggressive or small fish
  • Water Temp: 65-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.0-8.0

Chinese High-fin Banded Shark

The Chinese High-fin Banded Shark is also known as the Chinese Banded Shark, Chinese Sailfin Sucker, Banded Loach, High Fin Loach, and Sailfin Sucker. 

This fish is striking, with a shimmering silver-white body and three black bands striping across its body. They have a pronounced dorsal fin, which is lost once they reach 12-14 inches. 

This docile fish hails from the Chinese Yangtze River and is accustomed to highly aerated water. Caution is required when keeping this species. It produces a large amount of nitrates, which require frequent water changes. 

This shark lives up to twenty-five years and belongs to the family Castomidae. They are agreeable tankmates for larger fish and can be fed brine shrimp, bloodworms, earthworms, annelids, algae, flakes, crustaceans, and insects. 

They are difficult to find in pet stores and you may need to seek out specialty private breeders.

11. Black Shark Minnow

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: 24 inches at maturity
  • Recommended tank: 125 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: large new world cichlids
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: smaller fish
  • Water Temp: 76-82 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

The Black Shark Minnow belongs to the family Cyprinidae and is found in South East Asia. This is a large black fish with a heavy dorsal fin.

They grow to be rather large and prefer long aquariums that give them plenty of room to swim around. 

It is best to avoid live plants since they will eat them, and it makes their tank room smaller. Offer them plenty of space, with wood pieces and rocks at the bottom of the tank for décor. 

This fish is semi-aggressive and will try to claim your entire aquarium, so be careful with tankmates. Make sure to put a secure lid on your tank; as they are known to jump. 

Feed them an omnivore’s diet of flakes, pellets, bloodworms, tubifex worms, and veggies.

12. Iridescent Shark Catfish

Quick Stats

  • Max. Size: up to 4 feet
  • Recommended tank: 300 gallon minimum
  • Suitable Tankmates: other iridescent shark catfish, Plecostomus, silver dollars, cichlids, fire eels
  • Unsuitable Tankmates: any fish easily eaten or fast-moving
  • Water Temp: 72-79 degrees Fahrenheit
  • PH: 6.5-7.5

The Iridescent Shark Catfish is a large freshwater fish from the family Panasiidae that is found in Southeast Asia. 

This fish is a dark silver grey with black outlines on their fins. These peaceful beauties can live up to 20 years and should have ample room to grow. 

They are easily startled by movement and are known to hit their head against the sides of their tank. Keep them in a quiet area with little movement, and provide rocks, driftwood, and a secured lid. 

This species is used to looking for food on the ground and should have a soft substrate. They are omnivores, but they eat more meat as juveniles and more of a vegetarian diet as an adult. This is partially due to the fact that they lose their teeth. While they’re young, you can offer them worms, feeder fish, and crickets. 

They enjoy high-quality flakes, bloodworms, and brine shrimp as well. Like most large fish, this species produces a large amount of waste and should receive frequent substantial water changes. 

Make sure you invest in a good filter as well. They are susceptible to ich and fungus when in poor water quality conditions.

Feeding a Freshwater Aquarium Shark

What do they eat

All of the Freshwater Shark species we’ve talked about are omnivores, although some prefer more plants or more meat. 

It’s best to read into the species-specific needs and try to rotate between different foods to keep a healthy balanced diet for your aquarium fish.

How to Feed them

The method depends on the fish. Some food can be dropped directly into the tank, while fish with more territorial mannerisms should be tong fed to make sure everyone in the tank is getting a fair share of food.

How much do they eat?

Most fish should eat a minimum of once a day, although it’s better to feed smaller meals multiple times in the day. 

While you’re getting the hang of your feeding schedule, make sure to watch your water quality to see if you’re overfeeding your tank.

How to Setup a Shark Aquarium?

If you’re new to the aquarist hobby then check out our , I suggest reading as much as you can before starting your tank. 

Certain aquatic species require more equipment and generally larger investments in both time and money.

A common misconception is: 10 gallons of space for every one inch of fish. This is not a good rule.

The tank size is highly dependent on the specific fish. Some varieties produce more waste than others. 

I would suggest going with a larger tank rather than a smaller one. 

Larger tanks make it easier to deal with some of the issues that new tanks run into, i.e. nitrogenous waste, second cycling, and poor dissolved oxygen due to the smaller surface area.

Step 1:

Once you have found your tank, begin by picking out a substrate and any décor you would like for your tank. 

I live near a canal, so I’m partial to collecting and treating wood pieces from there. This creates a nice, natural look for my tanks.

Keep the size of your tanks and the comfort of the fish in mind. If every square inch is covered in décor, the fish might not feel that it has adequate room. 

On the other hand, a bare tank might leave a fish feeling exposed.

Ideally, offer your new friend a place to hide. When adding either substrate or decorations to your aquarium, make sure to rinse thoroughly with fresh water.

Step 2:

Start your tank off with either reverse osmosis water or water treated with a water conditioner. 

The treated water helps to remove impurities found in regular tap water. 

Remember, your fish are taking in their oxygen from the water, so we want to keep the water as pure as possible.

Step 3:

Add a submersible heater and lighting based on the size of your tank. A 10-gallon tank only needs a 25 to 50-Watt heater, while a 100-gallon tank needs a 300-Watt heater. 

You might notice elaborate light setups at the pet store. Trust me, any basic light will get the job done.

It’s a good idea to keep a thermometer on the side of the tank. 

Fish are easily stressed out by water changes, so keep an eye on the water temperature.

Step 4:

The next step is choosing the right filter. I would suggest a power filter, but feel free to explore your options.

There are plenty out there!

Step 5:

The most important step after the whole tank is setup is to allow your water to cycle. There are many ways to do this, and it can take anywhere from two weeks to two months.

Get an API freshwater test kit and add nitrifying bacteria directly to the water supply. When testing daily, you should see a spike in ammonia followed by nitrite, and eventually, all you should find is nitrate. 

I recommend waiting at least one week after only nitrate is found before adding fish. 

Continue monitoring the water quality for a possible mini-cycle after the fish are added.

Don’t forget to properly cycle your tank and don’t try to cut the time short. 

Improper cycling is easily one of the biggest mistakes that new aquarists make.

Step 6:

Add your fish! You’re finally there, but don’t rush it! If there is anything that keeping an aquarium teaches you, it’s patience. 

We talked about how fish do not like changes in their water quality, which is why you should spend time acclimating your fish to their new environment. 

If your fish arrives in a bag, a simple method is to place the bag on top of the water and allow the bag to sink slowly, adding small amounts of water to the bag. 

A minimum suggested acclimation time would be 30 minutes.

Pro tip: If adding a fish to an aquarium already inhabited by other fish, make sure to feed the aquarium before adding their new friend. 

Another way to help ease any tension amongst the inhabitants is to rearrange the decorations.


Will these creatures outgrow the size of their aquarium?

Yes, many of these fish will outgrow their aquariums. 

Therefore, it’s prudent to think ahead before getting a larger freshwater aquarium shark. With larger aquariums comes greater time commitments.

Will freshwater sharks eat their tank mates?

Some will and some won’t. Many of these fish are docile and make excellent community fish tank members. 

Some would not think twice about eating a new friend! 

We have done our best to specify which breeds are more likely to be poor tank mates, but you never know what may happen. 

What is the Smallest Aquarium Shark?

The Rainbow Shark is the smallest to keep in an aquarium.

Which breed is most suitable for a beginner? 

I recommend the Siamese Algae Eater. They clean their own tank and they’re easy to feed since they’re primarily eating the algae out of their tank. Win-win!

Final Word

Freshwater Aquarium Sharks make the dream of having your own pet shark, just that much more accessible. 

But, as always, do keep in mind that picking out a new pet should not be taken lightly. 

Plan ahead, choose the right fish for you, and enjoy your new aquatic friends!

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