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The Ultimate Guide To Caring For And Keeping The Red Tail Shark

Don’t worry – no “Jaws” music playing here. The red tail shark is a vivacious aquarium fish and provides hours of fun, but it’s not going to eat all your other fish, either! Simple to feed and care for, the red tail shark settles nicely into most aquariums and is not difficult to keep satisfied.

If you’ve ever wondered whether raising a red tail shark was the right choice for you, simply consider our ultimate care guide to raising a red tail shark, and get to the aquarium shop today.

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Red Tail Shark Background

The red tail shark, or Epalzeorhynchos Bicolor, is also known as the red tail black shark, the red tail shark minnow, the red-tailed labeo, and the fire tail. Don’t be confused by all of this alternative nomenclature – it’s all the same fish! These creatures are native to Thailand and, though small, are stars of the freshwaters there.

These fish inhabit the bottom lands, forest areas, and streams of the freshwater algae ponds of Thailand. Their populations in the wild have been greatly reduced over the last few decades, owing mostly to uncontrolled poaching and industrial grade farming. Today, the fish is listed as critically endangered in the wild and is entirely extinct in Thailand, but luckily a vibrant aquarium trade keeps the Red Tail Shark populations higher.

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Originally, red tail sharks were found in the floodplains and clear waters of the MeNam Chao Playa basin. However, as a result of poaching, the fish are now extinct in these areas. They are now found only in the aquarium trade, where they are prized for their impressive appearance and entertaining behaviors.

Red tail sharks are often confused with Rainbow Sharks. Although these two species belong to the same family, they are separate breeds. The Rainbow Shark has a red fin in addition to a red tail. In fact, it is not advised that you raised these two species together in the same tank, as they are inclined to fight.

Red Tail Shark Appearance And Behavior

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Photo by David Flood

Red tail sharks are not actual sharks, but instead are members of the carp family, belonging to the Cyprinidae category. They grow to about five or six inches in captivity, with many living for many years in the aquarium. They are completely black with bright forked tails in a deep red color. When red tail sharks are under any kind of pressure or feel threatened at all, they will lose some of the vibrancy in their coloration, become more muted tones of red and black.

This fish gets its name from its pronounced dorsal fin, which is not unlike that of a shark. It has a long, narrow body with flat, dull sides, as well as a delicately curved back. The fish has red eyes and a small mouth that has two pairs of barbs. This unique mouth shape helps the fish scrape algae from the bottom of the aquarium.

There are no major differences between male and female red tail sharks at birth. The females will begin to develop fatter, better-rounded abdomens as they age, which helps them in breeding.

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Photo by Elizabeth

Red tail sharks need to be kept in large aquariums because they have the tendency to be aggressive and territorial.  Although they are fairly shy as juveniles, they will become more territorial as they mature into adults. They will chase away other fish that come into their territories, and while they won’t usually physically injure or harass other fish, they will chase them until the fish are exhausted and ill.

You should only house one red tail shark per tank unless you have an exceptionally large tank. They are just as aggressive and territorial toward other red tail sharks as they are to fish of other species. That being said, the temperament of the fish depends largely on each individual fish’s personality, so watch your fish and their behavior closely to determine the setup that will be right for you.

Red tail sharks tend to hang out toward the bottom section of the tank. They may bully other fish during feeding time, so consider feeding at several times throughout the day. You may also find the fish swimming back and forth in the bottom of the tank – this is normal behavior and nothing to be worried about.

The red tail shark is incredibly active, and will spend most of its day cruising the tank for food. It will always be on the move as it searches for food, gliding through the water just as you might imagine a shark would. Sometimes, your fish will try to hide by cramming their entire bodies into small spaces, humorously not noticing that their bright red tails are sticking out.

If you startle your red tail shark -or if it is alarmed by other inhabitants of the tank – it may jump in surprise. Make sure you keep your tank covered to reduce the likelihood of your fish accidentally jumping out, and consider keeping only one shark in the tank to eliminate the likelihood of it being startled.

Red Tail Shark Tank And Water Requirements

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Photo by Jamee Stover

If you have a very large tank with plenty of hiding spaces, you can keep multiple red tail sharks, but keep in mind that each individual fish requires a considerable portion of the tank length. They can be somewhat territorial, so you should keep juveniles in tanks of no smaller than thirty gallons and adults in tanks of at least fifty-five gallons.

If possible, divide the tank to limit territorial or aggressive behavior.  This will help protect the other tank companions and will prevent injuries caused by fighting. You can use caves, driftwood, and other decorations to keep your fish separate from each other. Make sure you add a weighted lid to your tank, too, as these fish have a propensity to jump.

The temperature in your tank should be warm, hovering between 72 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal pH is 6.8 to 7.5, with a water hardness rating of 5-15 dH. Red tail sharks are also unique in that they need ample water flow, providing a nice, quick-moving stream to mimic their organic environment. The best substrate to use is gravel or pebbles.

These fish don’t have any special filtration requirements, except you should consider installing a filter of some sort. A hang-on-back filter will be sufficient, but a canister filter will work better if you have a larger fish tank and can afford one. Make sure you select a filter that provides good filtration with a durable design because even though red tail sharks eat small quantities of algae, they won’t be able to fully clean the water of all potential contaminants on their own.

Decorating A Red Tail Shark Tank

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Photo by Rex Samuel

When you are setting up your red tail shark tank, make sure it is completely decorated with caves and other hiding spots. It can be amply planted, with lots of live plants and other fixtures that give your red tail sharks plenty of places to dart into when other sharks or fish are being aggressive.

You can easily recreate the red tail shark’s natural habitat in an aquarium by implementing a quick-flowing stream of water with a bottom substrate of differing size. Consider using a mixture of gravel, pebbles, and stones, and add some tree roots or branches to help mimic the red tail shark’s natural environment. You might also add water plants like Microsorum or Anubias.

Make sure your tank is well-lit. This will ensure an active algal growth, which is necessary for red tail sharks. It will also help to imitate the red tail shark’s natural living environment. Because red tail sharks don’t eat live plants, you won’t have to worry about them eating the plants you have growing in your aquarium.

What Do Red Tail Sharks Eat?

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Photo by Sw633442

In the wild, red tail sharks are omnivores, eating just about anything they come across. They prefer to eat foods like plants, small insects, and crustaceans. They are also scavengers, meaning they will eat foods that you put into the aquarium even after they’ve been there a while, including foods like pellets, frozen foods, live foods, and flakes.

Feeding your red tail shark a nutritious diet is incredibly important. While you can certainly get by with feeding your fish artificial foods, you need to make sure these are of the utmost quality. They can easily become ill as a result of poor water quality but especially as the result of a poor diet. Therefore, don’t purchase inexpensive food just to save money – but some thought into what you will feed your fish to make sure they live healthy, fulfilling lives.

You should use a high-quality pellet or flake as the main ingredient in your red tail shark’s diet. Add variety by incorporating occasional treats like brine shrimp, bloodworms, krill, and daphnia, or fresh and frozen vegetables like cucumbers, zucchini, fruit, and peas/ Make sure you wash all produce before feeding the food, and remove it within a few hours of feeding if it still remains in the tank.

Interestingly, red tail sharks will also eat small amounts of algae. They will occasionally scrape the sides of your tanks as well as the rocks for bits of algae to eat, although they aren’t quite as prolific eaters as other algae eaters, like catfish and shrimp. They prefer to eat more vegetables and plant matter than meat, so you should make sure you are switching up their diet on a regular basis to add plenty of variety. If time and resources permit you to do it, making your own fish food is a great way to ensure your fish are getting all the nutrients they need.

Red Tail Shark Tank Mates

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Photo by Justin Young

Red tail sharks tend to be somewhat aggressive than other fish, but that does not by any means imply that you cannot house your red tail shark with other fish. While this fish will occasionally become hostile, it usually only does so when it feels that its territory is being threatened. It usually will not harass and inure other fish, but will instead chase them relentlessly and without rest. This can cause the pursued fish to die of exhaustion and/or malnutrition.

Because of this behavior, it can be challenging to keep the red tail shark in a community tank – though definitely not impossible. You simply need to be mindful of the species you choose to include in your tank. The ideal tank mates will be ones that are fast and strong, as well as those that tend to spend their days in the center and upper levels of the water column, rather than at the bottom of the tank where red tail sharks prefer to linger.

For example, angelfish, tetras, gouramis, danios, barbs, and Bala sharks all make great companions for your red tail shark. You should avoid species like other sharks as well as fish who have large spots or splashes of red colors, as this creates a territorial issue. You should also try to avoid other bottom dwellers, like cichlids and plecos, as they feel pressed for space and become territorial. You should also avoid keeping your red tail shark with fish species who tend to be more docile or peaceful, as they will quickly feel threatened by the more imposing red tail shark.

You can, of course, keep red tail sharks with other red tail sharks. However, you need to do so with caution. Ideally, you will only have one red tail shark in your aquarium, but if you want to keep them together, you need to add at least one meter of space to the tank for every additional red tail beyond the first. You also need to keep at least five sharks. This will prevent one single alpha from bullying a single fish.

Common Red Tail Shark Diseases

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Photo by Fuad Momentography

Red tail sharks, though not susceptible to any type of disease specific to their species, may fall victim to the same issues that befall other freshwater inhabitants. Luckily, most of these are easily treated. You can prevent most diseases by limiting stress during transportation and cleaning your water regularly to mitigate water quality issues.

When you first purchase your red tail shark, consider investing in a small quarantine tank. This will allow you to monitor your new fish for a few weeks before adding it to your main tank. You can practice good acclimation techniques and allow it to get fully acclimated to its new home before introducing it to your other aquarium community members.

Ammonia poisoning is a common issue in freshwater fish. This causes fish to gasp for air at the surface of the water, as well as more visible symptoms like red or inflamed gills. The easiest way to treat and prevent ammonia poisoning is to limit overcrowding and to make sure your aquarium has cycled. You may need to perform more frequent water changes to keep the ammonia levels down.

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Photo by SarahLee1001

Dropsy, also referred to as Malawi bloat, is a symptom of a bacterial infection and/or malnutrition. It can be caused by poor water quality, so changing your water quality at the rate of about 25 percent every other day can improve this condition, as can improving the quality of the fish food you are feeding. Medication is also available to treat this disease, which causes a bloated stomach and trouble swimming.

Ich is another common disease, appearing as small white spots on the fins and body of your fish. It may look like your fish is covered in salt. This is a common fish disease, and usually, your local pet store will have medication you can use. Often, you can reverse, treat, or prevent ich by maintaining good water quality. Increase the temperature of your water to 82 degrees Fahrenheit to help remove any traces of parasites, and use a quarantine tank to isolate affected fish.

Finally, fish fungus is another common issue in the red tail shark. This appears as cotton-like growths on the body. These may be white or gray in color. You can reduce the impact of this disease by performing regular water changes. It’s important to get rid of any kind of fungus as quickly as possible, as untreated fungal infections can cause secondary infections and disease.

Breeding And Lifespans Of Red Tail Shark

Red tail sharks are not commonly bred in home aquariums – but that’s not to say it can’t be done. Although they have never been bred by home aquarium hobbyists before, this is usually because the fish are so intolerant of each other and can’t survive long enough with other red tail sharks to give them enough time to procreate. In fact, breeding is typically just left up to commercial breeding facilities.

It can be tough to sex red tail sharks, particularly when they are young and virtually identical in appearance. Female sharks are usually larger than the males and will develop more pronounced stomachs as they grow older.

In the wild, red tail sharks are egg layers that will spawn in caves or other rocky areas when they are ready to do so. When the male fertilizes the eggs, it takes roughly fifty hours for the fry to hatch. They start out as a vibrant silver color before becoming a silver brown. Eventually, they will turn black, and their red tails will appear around ten weeks of age.

You are likely best off leaving the breeding work to the professionals, and simply appreciate the long-lived nature of the red tail shark. Red tail sharks tend to live around six years. You can prolong this estimated life span by providing your shark with the best possible water quality and nutrition, and by monitoring it for any signs of disease. While most fish will only reach six inches in length, others can grow up to seven or eight inches over the course of their lives. There are reports of some red tail sharks living for longer than ten years, although most will be on the shorter end of the spectrum.

Is A Red Tail Shark Right For You?

Although red tail sharks are entertaining and beautiful fish, you need to consider your current tank set up to determine whether a red tail shark is a right choice for you and your aquarium. If you already have multiple other fish species living in your aquarium – particularly those that are friendly and more   – a red tail shark may be too aggressive to fit into your current set up.

However, if you are looking to start a new aquarium and want a fish that will be self-sufficient, providing enough color and activity within your tank to make up for a diversity of species, then the red tail shark is a smart choice. These fish provide rich, vibrant coloration -and the ability to keep your tank clean! – all for minimal care and upkeep.

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