Nothing brings more excitement to a neighborhood pet store than advertising live shark feedings. People that might not ever darken the door of a pet store come to meet Jaws and expect a feeding frenzy extravaganza.
Although some people come to these promotional events just out of curiosity, many guests, both young and old, get hooked on fish-keeping and conservation after the experience.
Watching the shark feeding behavior of a Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus) is mesmerizing.
In their natural habitat, they are apex predators skilled at hunting down prey from reef ledges into the open ocean over vast distances. In captivity, this happens quite quickly as they are literally hunting for fish in a barrel.
However, unless you have corporate backing or stacks of gold coins from your latest robbery at hand, you probably won’t be able to afford a blacktip reef shark or hammerhead any time soon.
National aquariums, research institutions, and large pet store chains are the only ones that can reasonably spend the hundreds of thousands needed to house such large, complex, saltwater (or modestly-salinated) specimens.
Let’s look at some more affordable, practical, and equally fascinating freshwater sharks and their near-cousins you can keep in your home for the average hobbyist.
We’ll also cover some of those to avoid along with better alternatives for those of us without a knighthood, decades of time, or wishing to prevent harming already vulnerable species.
1. Pink-Tailed Chalceus Shark (Chalceus macrolepidotus)
Most sizeable cartilaginous fish, including sharks, live a very long time. So much so that premium specimens (and their holding facilities) have even been included in estate planning.
Pink-Tailed Chaceus Shark provides all the trimmings of a shark in a 10-inch ‘Tetra’ pack whose lifespan rarely exceeds a decade. Add in a flash bright pink tail with the energy of a toddler, and you have yourself a decent-sized pet predator at hand.
They are very low maintenance as long as they have a steady supply of prey and clean, well-filtered water.
In nature, they thrive in oxygenated top layers of South American coastal rivers, so the key to keeping them healthy and happy is to mimic their natural habitat. This can be done with a decent filtration system and moderate powerhead.
Although near-impossible to breed in captivity, give this carnivore a chance! He’ll eat almost anything (including smaller tank mates) and provide entertainment and beauty for several years to come with little or no fuss. That is unlike our next potential match or contestant number two.
Size: 10 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons
Temperature: 77° – 80° F, (25° – 26.6°C)
2. Colombian Shark (Ariopsis seemanni)
Although incredibly shark-like in appearance and behavior, Colombian Shark or Tete sea catfish is actually a type of saltwater tolerant catfish.
They are incredibly popular as collector items and often peddled as freshwater fish, posing a severe problem with conservation.
While they can survive in freshwater conditions, they usually reside in the brackish waters of tropical river deltas. Their species specifically adapted to thrive in ever-changing water conditions between tides and expect their home to be similar.
So, although mimicking these exact parameters (silty, well-aerated, brackish delta water) at home is difficult, finding a suitable salinity balance is tricky but always possible with due care.
Sadly some vendors (willingly or unknowingly) sell them as freshwater fish repleted with care guidance that is frankly unsuitable or will kill your fish.
If you are considering buying a Colombian shark, please be sure to consult our detailed guide on how to manage the tank parameters, including slight salinity correctly.
Otherwise, their size, longevity, diet, and behaviors are similar to their tropical, true freshwater cousins. One unique feature is that they have very long pairs of barbels that function like a cat’s whiskers; these help them navigate and find food.
Other than these whiskers and size differential, they are covered in shades of black, gray, and silver, shaped just like a Leviathan facsimile replete with a triangle-shaped dorsal fin. Just know that they will NOT live very long in freshwater conditions.
Size: 14 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallon
Temperature: 75° – 80°F (23.8° – 26.6°C)
3. Rainbow Shark (Epalzeorhynchos frenatum)
Rainbow Shark (also known as the Red-Finned Shark or Ruby Shark) is considerably less finicky. This fiery red-tailed predator belongs in freshwater and flourishes in the streams and rivers of the South-East Asian tropics.
At home, they are a hit with young and old alike as they dart around in their punkish, partly see-through attire.
If you ever wanted a see-through shark, this minnow-family member fits the bill. Parts of their fins are semi-transparent and allow viewers to see their exquisite rays in action. Few ray-finned fishes are stunning pets but can sometimes be unpleasant neighbors.
They see anything smaller than them as a potential food source. Fortunately, they spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank and can peacefully co-exist with others that use other portions of the water column. Just be sure to judiciously choose tank mates as these omnivores won’t think twice about adding guests to their pantry.
To avoid this, also try and vary their diets to include live crustaceans, high-protein pellet, and flake formulations, as well as live plant options. When there is less competition for good food, there are also fewer casualties in the great tank war or anarchist overthrow.
Size: 6 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Temperature: 72° – 81°F (22.2° – 27.2°C)
4. Chinese High-fin Banded Shark (Myxocyprinus asiaticus)
This poor creature has been at war for survival the last few years and is highly sought after by collectors worldwide.
Their main challenge is that too many have been taken for the aquarium trade. Those few remaining in the wild are hard-pressed by habitat degradation and insufficient numbers for stocks to self-replenish sustainably.
They are also called by dozens of common names: Asian Sucker, Asian Zebra High Fin Shark, Banded Loach, Chinese Banded Shark, Chinese Sailfin Sucker, Highfin Loach, Sailfin Sucker, and Siamese Sucker.
To avoid uncertainty if you are set on adding one to your family, be sure to only go with reputable vendors and breeders.
Chinese High-fin Banded Shark is critically endangered, and although high-caliber research facilities and breeding programs exist throughout the world (including China), it cannot tolerate losing any more natives from the wild.
Many fish farms have been built to meet the ever-growing demands for this food source to alleviate these stressors. While this and legislation to prevent harvesting wild-caught specimens have helped, illegal poaching still occurs, and the species remains vulnerable.
These popular fish have distinctive dark bands wrapped around their rears when they are young, topped off by a stereotypical shark-like dorsal fin. With age, these patterns change and eventually fade with their hormone levels, kind of like a mood ring.
However, once they change color in adulthood, their size can balloon dramatically. Chinese High-fin Banded Sharks will need a huge tank to thrive into maturity and often live many decades. Sadly this means many are abandoned early in life or simply outlive their owners.
To complicate things further, they are schooling fish and prefer to live in groups of their own kind. It is difficult at best to keep one large marine animal at bay but even harder to find an aquarium large enough for an entire school.
So, unless you plan to run a wildlife sanctuary, fish farm, or build a headquarters for world domination, maybe it’s best to skip out on this option.
Size: 54 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 300+ gallons
Temperature: 55° – 75° F, (12.7° – 23.8° C)
5. Harlequin Shark (Labeo cyclorhynchus)
Harlequin Sharks are far easier to keep and, although smaller, can prove equally interesting, beautiful, and engaging.
They are lone wolves, though, and highly territorial, so if you are planning a shark tank that includes a Harlequin, do so with only jest (just) this species in mind.
You can keep them with some similar-sized, tropical, freshwater species of fish if you have sufficient space, and there is a territory in each section in the water column for them to carve out their own exclusive zones.
Harlequin Shark is a bottom-dweller fish that will spend most of its time hiding as an ambush predator while others are busy about elsewhere.
If their mates spent most of their time in the top of middle sections of the tank, all could be well. If they venture into the depths, they are likely as good as shark bait hanging about with the Harlequins.
To mimic their hideouts in nature, be sure to build your tank with plenty of hiding places, rocks, plants, and driftwood.
These are the conditions they would typically find in the Congolese rivers they usually call home. They are voracious algae-eaters and will keep both the tank and substrate clean. Most of the time, they will be looking for anything edible at the bottom of the tank, including algae, plant litter, and aquatic invertebrates.
One unique behavior you won’t be able to mimic is the symbiosis Harlequin Sharks have been able to work out with hippos. In nature, these fish often herd around hippos and feed (clean) their skin to find food.
So unless you were planning on a hippopotamus for Christmas, perhaps stick with only his pal, the Harlequin Shark, for your home aquarium.
Size: 6 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
Temperature: 72° – 81° F, (22.2° – 27.2° C)
6. Silver Apollo Shark (Luciosoma setigerum)
One species that won’t compete with the bottom dwellers is the Silver Apollo Shark. Although they will venture out anywhere to aggressively chase down smaller prey, they don’t often go far without their schoolmates.
Although true to their predator namesakes, the shark and wolf (Lycos in Greek, where they get their Latin binomial (Luciosoma setigerum)), Silver Apollo shark is considerably more modest in its approach. For them, there is power and safety in numbers, and for that reason, they choose to shoal for life.
They want space and the ability to buzz around their area as if it were a fast-moving stream at home in Malaysia or Indonesia. They are built for speed, and sometimes their olive-green, camouflaged, torpedo-shaped torsos manage to evade even the best-visioned and most voracious of predators.
The dorsal fin is relatively large proportionate to their bodies and gives them their namesake shark-like appearance. Just be sure to get the correct species since Silver Apollo shark usually maxes out under afoot.
Apollo shark (Luciosoma spilopleura), with which it may be confused, grows many times larger. Again always call them by their Latin name to avoid (local confusion) and be sure to buy from a reputable supplier to avoid surprises for you and your shark.
Size: 9 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 150 gallons (small school)
Temperature: 72° – 81° F (22.2° – 27.2° C)
7. Paroon Shark (Pangasius Sanitwongsei)
Paroon Shark is actually a kind of catfish natively found in freshwater lakes, streams, and rivers throughout Thailand.
Today they are critically endangered due to habitat loss and overfishing. Although they can occasionally be found as carefully bred specimens, they are often misidentified with similar catfish.
Although there are many captive individuals in the wild, their native brethren are on the cusp of extirpation, meaning extinct in their native habitat. They are banned from being fished through all seasons in Thailand and have protected status in most adjacent countries.
Even with this protective status, a cursory search on social media will produce dozens of videos catching the Paroon Shark as a highly sought-after sport fish.
Some of them are misidentified species, like the North American channel catfish (Genus: Ictaluridae), which are highly numerous, while others are actually worse than it seems, like anglers on the prowl (for the equally-endangered) Mekong catfish (Pangasianodon gigas).
However, they are definitely not for the underprepared, beginner, or casual aquarist.
Should you end up fostering one (due to size requirements), you’ll need a very large, warm, almost exclusive tank for this top-shelf predator. With optimum care in a huge tank, it is possible to care for them.
However, when record-breakers appear at the 10 foot and 700 pounds range, you always have to be wary of their space demands.
They can be difficult for most but not necessarily impossible with sufficient space and facilities. That said, they are still best suited to research (and preservation) in institutions and zoos if being kept in captivity.
They are a choice but one of many species that also can come with moral and space considerations.
Size: 120 inches (maximum in the wild)
Minimum Tank Size: 300+ gallons
Temperature: 77° – 80° F, (25° – 26.6° C)
8. Violet Blushing Shark (Labeo boga)
This near neighbor of the Paroon Shark is another similarly endangered carp in the wild. Unfortunately, it has a massive fanbase among aquarists due to its unique coloration and shark-like behaviors.
They only grow to 12 inches, but since they prefer to school, you are once again looking at needing a larger aquarium complex for their home in captivity. They don’t breed well, and sadly that means many if not all found for sale will be wild-caught, often illegally in most jurisdictions.
Again, should you find yourself fostering this species, they will require lots of care and need vast amounts of live food (proportionate to their size).
Their needs are similar to the Paroon shark, and they are visually stunning. They are also highly endangered, so just be sure you aren’t adding to the problem but genuinely caring for a creature whose mates are fearing the end of days.
Size: 12 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 125 gallons
Temperature: 77° – 80°F, (25° – 26.6°C)
9. Siamese Algae Eaters (Crossocheilus siamensis)
If you’ve got your heart set on a shark from South-East Asia, Siamese Algae eaters are plentiful in number and diverse amongst the Crossocheilus genus.
When evolution creates a good working model, it diversifies with different genetic options and reproduces prolifically.
It’s not that different from finding a good car model. Once a good design is found, it can be refined with all the options and various modifications. This 6-inch, shark-like mega-minnow comes in colors from silver with pinstripes to rusty red with yellow to orange tans.
These folks are also river fish, just as territorial as their larger cousins. Like their brethren, they also don’t do well with mates. Anyone who occupies the bottom of the tank where Siamese Algae Eaters spend most of their days will get pestered or risk being eaten.
Since Siamese Algae Eaters live in sandy shallows of river deltas, they prefer to have the same environment in their tanks, namely a soft sandy substrate.
While they do eat algae as for their namesake, in reality, they are omnivores that do a great job cleaning the bottoms of tanks of any debris. This includes any microorganisms and carrion lurking in the shallow depths.
Some species are more rigorous than others but be forewarned; most pet stores will not positively identify the species of Siamese Algae Eater you are getting.
Without specialized training and knowledge of taxonomy, it can be difficult for even the most talented breeders to make the call since coloration isn’t typically developed until the age of three or four.
Whichever you get, just do so by purchasing your new roommate from the most reputable of scientifically-savvy suppliers. This will ensure you at least aren’t compounding the troubles faced with so many of these South-East Asian species by accidentally choosing a rarity.
One last note about misidentification, sometimes people end up buying a Flying Fox fish (Epalzeorhynchos kalopterus) which is often confused for Algae eaters.
While their size and appearance are similar to Flying Fox, their fins will always be orange-tinged and solid, while true Algae Eaters always have transparent ones. This also holds true throughout their respective lifecycles.
Size: 6 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons (per individual)
Temperature: 72° – 81° F, (22.2° – 27.2° C)
10. Bala Shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus)
Bala sharks hold a special place in the homes of freshwater shark-loving pet owners. They also have many of the same challenges around conservation (considered vulnerable) and need a massive tank if kept in any numbers.
They consistently exhibit schooling behavior and prefer to live with others Bala sharks in kind.
When it comes to appearance, the Bala shark resembles a tiger shark that got zapped by a shrink ray. Unsurprisingly they too are known by many names, the most popular of which is the shark minnow.
They are primarily grey with the stereotypical shark torpedo body and dorsal fin but differ only in their bright yellow stripes and diminutive size. They are easy to care for omnivores who aren’t fussy regarding food choices. If it swims and is smaller than me, it is fair game.
However, one quirk is they like steady temperature, just like at home in South-East Asia. Any variance can cause instinctual confusion playing havoc with their internal clocks (circadian rhythms).
Beyond that, they are looking for three square meals a day and plenty of opportunities to explore, hunt, and clean. They are only tricky such that they multiply quickly and eat like teenagers. Keep them happy, and they’ll provide entertainment for you and your guests for years to come.
Size: 14 inches
Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons
Temperature: 75 – 82°F (22 – 28°C)
When most people think about having a shark as a pet, they automatically think of a great white, either that or the crazy Tiger shark complex found at the local pet store. However, since most of us do not have pool-sized saltwater facilities for giant marine animals, smaller options will usually be more practical.
Many online resources and pet stores erroneously identify fish and occasionally provide misguidance. Saltwater sharks commonly kept by aquarists are listed as freshwater species like the Epaulette Shark (Hemiscyllium ocellatum).
Though they are more than manageable by the intermediate caregiver, they do require saltwater (like they would normally have lived amongst the coral reefs in Australia).
Other places sell fish that do not breed well (or at all) in captivity and have conservation pressures posing ethical dilemmas. Fortunately, there are some excellent options from various species of smaller freshwater fish that can fit the bill without any headaches.
Indeed, most of them are not actual sharks but cartilaginous cousins like the catfish, minnow, and carp instead.
Although many of them have shark-like appearances and behaviors, their possible huge sizes and longevity pose the most significant challenges to keeping them as pets.
Pick the lean, mean, killing machine of your choice. Many are beautiful, dynamic creatures that can challenge fluffy mammals for your affection. Just be sure to pick a suitable mate or dance partner. Some of them may be around for a lifetime.