Red Tail Sharks are some of nature’s most striking wonders.
Even though they do not get along well with other members of their own species, their beauty and intelligence make them a favorite among home aquarists.
Quick Intro to Red Tail Sharks
|Scientific Name||Epalzeorhynchos bicolor or Epalzeorhynchus bicolor|
|Other Names||Redtail Sharkminnnow, Red Tailed Labeo, Red-tailed Black Shark|
|Region of Origin||Thailand, possibly originating in the Mekong Basin|
|Distant Relatives||Barbs and danios|
Slim and sleek jet black fish with a bright red tail. These beautiful fish appear shark-like even though they are no relation to saltwater species.
Males vs. Females
Females are a bit larger and more rounded in the stomach region. Both have the same striking black body and fire tail coloring.
How They Move in the Tank
Fins and body shape are made for cutting quickly and powerfully through the water and the stamina to chase other fish from their territory as long as it takes. Every aspect of this fish says power and mystery.
Bottom level of freshwater floodplains and rivers. As of 2011, Red Tail Sharks are listed as critically endangered in their natural habitat. Most, if not all fish available for home aquariums are captive bred.
Optimal Water Conditions For Red Tail Sharks
You can start off with a neutral pH for Red Tail Sharks and then adjust towards slightly acidic or slightly alkaline if you see rapid gill pumping, listlessness (at night), or other signs that the water chemistry is wrong.
|Water Temperature||71.6 – 78.8 degrees fahrenheit|
|Water Flow Rate||Rapid, as with other river fish|
|pH||6.5 – 7.5|
|Water Hardness||10 – 15 dh|
|Aquarium Salt (Y/N)||No|
|Tannins (Y/N)||You can give this a try if the fish seems stressed and there is no way to reduce the light in the tank further. Just be careful not to let the tank pH go below 6.5.|
|Minimum Tank Size||50 gallon tank|
|Optimal Tank Size||Over 50 gallon large tank|
|Optimal Tank Shape||Low and long|
|Best Filter Type||Power filter with secondary bubble up filters for zeolites, and nitrate/nitrite absorbing pads.|
|Extra Air and How to Provide It||Use airstones or air curtains at the substrate level|
|Testing Schedule First Year||Test for ammonia and nitrites if you see signs of fish stress. Check pH, hardness, and nitrates weekly|
|Testing Schedule After 1 Year||Check pH, hardness, and nitrates biweekly.|
Creating the Landscape
Even though Red Tail Sharks are very aggressive, they also tend to be insecure.
A well-designed landscape with a lot of variety to meet their changeable moods is very important to prevent immune system collapse and illness.
|Rocky substrate or gravel||Patches|
|Sandy substrate||In terraces|
|Overhangs and caves||Yes|
|Open water||Some areas, but not whole tank.|
|Densely planted||Patches around the tank.|
|Best Plants||Since red tail sharks don’t snack on plants, you can put both fast-growing and slow-growing low light tolerant plants in the tank.|
|Best Lighting||Medium to low light. Red Tail Sharks are nocturnal, so if you want to observe them during day hours, it is best to keep the tank on the darker side, or use plenty of plants that provide dense shade to the substrate region.|
|Best Decorations||Driftwood and rocks|
|Decorations to Avoid||Surfaces inside the tank that generate mirror effects, plastic toys they can scratch or injure themselves on.|
|Maximum Size||4.5 inches|
|Rate of Growth||Tails will turn red about 10 weeks after the eggs hatch|
|Life Span||5 – 8 years|
|Temperament||Aggressive and territorial. Only keep one Red Tail Shark to a tank.|
|Preferred Tank Region||Bottom|
|Scale Thickness||Normal thickness, so you can use most antibiotics safely.|
|Gill Considerations||As fast water fish, you may notice increased rates of gill flukes or other gill diseases if the water flow is too slow.|
|Swimbladder Considerations||Since these are swim bodied fish that usually dwell on the bottom of the tank, they should not show much in the way of swim bladder problems. If you notice difficulty reaching the top of the tank, lower the water level.|
|Fin Shape Considerations||Sleek, powerful fins that make them fast swimmers and capable of jumping. Never keep these fish in a tank without a lid or they will jump out.|
Red Tail Sharks are one of the few home aquarium fish where having any kind of society is virtually impossible. They are very aggressive and territorial fish that do not even get along long enough to mate under these conditions.
- Male to Female Ratio – Only keep one of this species to a tank as they will be aggressive to each other regardless of gender and reproductive readiness.
- Schooling Behaviors – Red Tailed Sharks are extremely solitary and will not school with other fish.
- Suitable Tankmates – Other aggressive fish that are around the same size. Some recommend angel fish, however, their fins simply cannot take being nipped or damaged during a fight. Choose more sturdy fish with compact fins and the capacity to heal well such as Buenos Aires Tetras and Tinfoil Barbs and some Cichlids. You can expect fights to happen in any tank with a Red Tail Shark in it.
- Species to Avoid – Smaller or more peaceful fish such as glass tetras, poor fighters (outside of their species) such as bettas, aggressive but small fish such as tiger barbs, or fighting fish that bash instead of bite (like goldfish).
Common Behaviors You May See in Aggressive Red Tail Sharks
|Changes in Eye Color||No|
|Chasing||Yes, to the point where the other fish will succumb from exhaustion|
|Circling with Fins Splayed||No|
|Fins Splayed as Other Fish Approach or When Approaching Other Fish||Possible. Red Tail Sharks like to hide in caves, so they may simply come out quickly and try to rush any fish invading their territory.|
|Intensified Colors||No, however their tails may become less red in coloring when stressed because of aggression related issues as well as water chemistry issues.|
|Mouth to Mouth Biting||No|
|Nipping||No or rarely|
Anti-Bullying Solutions That Work Best With Red Tail Sharks
|Add More Fish of the Same Species||No|
|Add More Males or Females||No|
|Change Feeding Methods, Quantity, or Number of Feedings||May help when combined with other actions. Broadcast food widely so that other fish can eat in different parts of the tank.|
|Increase Number of Hiding Places||Yes|
|Isolate the Bully||Yes|
|Move Decorations to Shake Up Territorial Boundaries||Yes|
|Move to a Bigger Tank||Yes|
|Water Chemistry or Temperature Changes||No|
Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations
Even though there are plenty of Red Tail Black Sharks available for home aquarists, they are almost extinct in their native habitat.
To add insult to injury, they can only be bred on large farms because of the difficulty in getting males and females to put their territorial aggression aside long enough to breed.
Breeding at home is basically impossible.
Since they have never been successfully bred in a home aquarium, the following information is based on my suggestions for what works in other fish where breeding is complicated.
How to Recognize Breeding Pairs
Unless you have a large enough community tank, it will not be possible to keep males and females together long enough to see if there are recognizable breeding patterns.
I recommend putting a clear partition between two fish that you suspect are opposite genders to see if their behavior towards each other changes over time.
If you see a change (such as the male showing more interest in a cave near the partition, etc) around the time the female becomes heavier in the belly (which means she has eggs ready to release), then you might try opening the partition to see what they do.
How Many Babies?
Special Needs for the Fry
Managing the Babies
When Red Tail Sharks spawn, they usually do so in caves. You can try putting some aquarium grass in or around the caves to catch some fertilized eggs.
If you are fortunate enough to see them spawn, divide the tank into 3 sections. In one section, you will take care of the eggs by feeding the fry infusorans and fry food once they hatch. Use the other section to keep the female and some fertilized eggs. Then, use the third section for males and some eggs.
If you notice either of the adults consuming eggs, then you can conclude these fish do not have a role in taking care of offspring after spawning occurs.
The exception to this rule is if you see the parent fish only consuming opaque or white eggs, since this is an indicator the egg is not going to hatch.
Red Tailed Sharks will eat food remains left by other fish, as well as seek out worms and other small creatures. They will also consume algae along the bottom of the tank.
|Wild FoodsWorms, other animals that would live at the bottom of a river, some plant matter, and they are algae eaters.|
|How Obtained||Scavenger and hunter|
|How to Replicate||Use live or frozen foods if they are available|
|Best Sustenance Food||If the fish go to the surface to eat, you can use tropical fish pellets or flake food. Otherwise, use sinking fish food forms. When feeding tubifex worm cubes, place the cube near the substrate region.|
|Additional Foods for Optimal Health||Tubifex worms, live brine shrimp, zucchini|
|Special Foods for Color and Growth||Bloodworms, peas, cucumbers|
|When and How Often To Feed based on Place in Life Cycle||2 – 4 times a day. Feed younger fish more often.|
Finicky Fish Management Troubleshooting Checklist
|Check (and get rid of) Ammonia and Nitrites||Yes|
|Lower Nitrates to Levels||No|
|Test (and Adjust if Needed) Other Water Chemistry Parameters||Yes|
|Check for Illness||Yes|
|Look for Signs of Bullying Such as Missing Scales, Nipped Fins or other Damage||Yes, also watch for decreased body color intensity.|
|Try These Frozen/Thawed or Live Foods||Brine shrimp, blood worms, tubifex worms, peas, cucumber, blanched zucchini.|
Observe for Possible Environmental Stresses
Too Much/Too Little Light: Reduce lighting or leave the tank dark for longer intervals.
Sounds: If you notice the fish startles at loud sounds or goes to hide, then this may be causing problems during feeding time.
Odors From Air Sprays, Cooking, Construction, etc: Yes – this can easily be a factor with any fish, including Red Tail Sharks.
Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them
Since Red Tail Sharks get stressed out easily, they are more susceptible to ich and velvet than some other tropical fish.
There are no specific diseases, however an immune system collapse with these fish can happen very quickly and cause multiple disease to emerge at once or in rapid succession.
How to avoid species specific diseases: Keep the water chemistry in optimal levels and avoid sudden changes. Use chemicals to adjust water parameters instead of water changes.
Do not overstock the tank. These fish are very territorial. Even though they have more than enough stamina to chase other fish to death, constant aggression still takes a toll on them.
Best antibiotics: You can use any antibiotic suitable for freshwater fish.
Treatments to avoid: I do not recommend antibiotics with salt additives as they can build up in the tank and are hard to remove. If you wind up having to treat for 2, 3, or more infections in rapid succession, you may wind up with too much salt in the tank, or a fish that dies of stress because of all the water changes.
Anti-parasite flakes or pellets to cover any internal infections that may occur.
Isolation or Hospital Tank?
Isolation in a separate partition (preferably where the fish has it’s territory).
3 Interesting Facts About Red Tail Sharks
- As you become acquainted with Red Tail Black Sharks, their body color will act as a reliable barometer for the overall health of the tank. If you see fading colors, check for water chemistry and tank mate compatibility issues.
- Even though red tail sharks are nocturnal, they can become active in the day, or any other time when food is available
- These fish are usually happiest when they are hiding in their cave and have no other fish visiting their territory.
Red Tail Sharks are fairly hearty fish that will add a beautiful accent to larger aquariums. They can quickly become the favorite in the tank as long as you can manage aggression related issues.
Where to Buy Red Tail Sharks
While you may be able to find them at a local pet shop, we recommend, trying these from Amazon:
3 thoughts on “How to Care for Red Tail Sharks: A Complete Fact Sheet, Breeding, Behavior, and Care Guide”
Thanks for the comprehensive paper. Unaware that two could not share a tank, I bought two glowfish Red Tail Sharks not much bigger than a neon tetra. The bigger one showed all the behavior you outlined but the tank is very heavily planted so chases were only a second long. 6 months later they are 3 inches long and a tank move triggered a dramatic change in behavior. No more chasing and some kind of dancing or mating-like contact. Then a 2-day relocation road trip changed the behavior again. More dancing and mating-like behavior but now long periods of being very still next to each other. Lightning and water chemistry have changed which I’ll rectify once the movers truck arrives.
That was a very informative article. I just purchased my first redtail shark the other day and he/she is only an inch long and not very aggressive at the moment. Im actually getting a 55 gallon tank for all my little fish friends. Hopefully i can breed them in captivity. Keep you posted.
I remember when I was around 10 my uncle had a large fine aquarium in his kitchen/dining room . I could spend hours watching . The star of the aquarium was a beautiful Red tailed shark. I would love to have my own aquarium one day.