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Red Tail Shark: Care Guide, Types, Size & Lifespan (With Pictures)

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By Lindsey Stanton

Red tailed black shark

Red Tail Sharks aren’t sharks at all, but they are freshwater fish that are kept in home aquariums. This fish is attractive and interesting, which often leads to Red Tail Sharks ending up in homes that are a poor fit for them.

They are territorial and can be aggressive, which makes them a poor tank mate for many fish. They also reach up to 6 inches in length and require lots of swimming space, so many people do not have tanks large enough to keep them happy and comfortable. If you’re considering taking home a Red Tail Shark, here’s what you need to know.

Quick Facts About Red Tail Shark

Species Name: Epalzeorhynchos bicolor
Family: Cyprinidae
Care Level: Moderate
Temperature: 72–79°F
Temperament: Active, aggressive, territorial
Color Form: Black body with red tail fin
Lifespan: 5–8 years
Size: 4–6 inches
Diet: Omnivorous
Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons (juveniles), 55 gallons (adults)
Tank Set-Up: Heavily planted freshwater tank with open swimming space
Compatibility: Fish that spend time in the middle and upper water column

Red Tail Shark Overview

If you’re interested in bringing home a Red Tail Shark, you’ll need to understand their behaviors and needs. These fish have lovely coloration, and their high activity level makes them interesting to watch, so they can be an excellent addition to the right tank environment.

Unlike true sharks, Red Tail Sharks are omnivores that are unlikely to attempt to eat other fish in the tank, even fry. They spend most of their time in the lower portion of the water column, so they’re more likely to snack on small tank mates that spend time on the tank floor, like shrimplets.

Even though the fish can be a handful, don’t let that intimidate you. If you’re willing to provide them with the right environment, they can live up to 8 years, making them a great aquatic companion in your home. If you’re interested in large tanks with unique fish, then the Red Tail Shark should be near the top of your list to consider bringing home. You’ll enjoy watching their antics, and in a large tank, you’ll have no shortage of watching your fish happily swim about the tank.

Interestingly, Red Tail Sharks are considered critically endangered in the wild. The pet trade has developed multiple successful, large-scale breeding programs, and the fish are thriving in the pet trade. This is one benefit of the pet trade because it is allowing us to maintain a species that we have almost decimated in the wild.

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Image Credit: WildStrawberry, Shutterstock

How Much Do Red Tail Shark Cost?

Red Tail Sharks are available at most big box pet stores and smaller stores as well. They generally cost $3–$7, and it’s unlikely you’ll be purchasing more than one, so your initial investment into the fish won’t break the bank. However, you should be prepared to have a large tank setup, which can cost upwards of $100.

You’ll need plants, substrate, and décor to create the perfect home for your Red Tail Shark and any tank mates you add.

Typical Behavior & Temperament

These fish spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank but will sometimes wander up to the lower and middle water column. They usually don’t go out of their way to be aggressive, but they are highly territorial and will chase, nip, and attack other fish that encroach in their space.

Red Tail Sharks are very active fish, and you’ll commonly see your fish out and about in the tank. They like to have large, open swimming spaces but also appreciate dark hiding places and lots of plants, so if you can’t find your Red Tail Shark, it may just be hanging out in a hidden relaxation spot.

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Image Credit: LeonP, Shutterstock

Appearance & Varieties

Red Tail Sharks are often confused with a similar fish called the Rainbow Shark. The difference between Red Tail Sharks and Rainbow Sharks lies in their fins. Both types of fish have streamlined, black-colored bodies and bright red tail fins. However, Rainbow Sharks have other bright red fins, while Red Tail Sharks do not. Red Tail Sharks do, however, have a small white patch at the tip of the dorsal fin.

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How to Take Care of Red Tail Shark

Habitat, Tank Conditions & Setup

Aquarium Size

For juvenile Red Tail Sharks, you will need a tank that is at least 30 gallons and offers a lot of open space for swimming. For adults, they should be kept in a tank that is at least 55 gallons, but 75 gallons or above is ideal.

Water Temperature & pH

Red Tail Sharks prefer warm tanks from 72–79°F and shouldn’t be kept in tanks that are routinely outside of that range. They prefer water with a pH of 6.8–7.5, but they can survive in tanks with a pH of 6.5–8.0.

Substrate

Since they spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, it’s important to give them their preferred substrate. They aren’t fans of sand and will do best if kept in a tank with medium to large gravel or rocks.

Plants

Plants in the tank don’t just make a healthy environment for Red Tail Sharks, but they can also help to protect less aggressive or more timid tank mates. Dense vegetation near the lowest portions of the tank still allows for active swimming. Mosses are a great pick that will help your Red Tail Shark feel at home.

You can also add plants like Java fern, Anubias, Vallisneria, Elodea, and other plants that will take up a lot of tank space.

Lighting

As nocturnal fish in nature, Red Tail Sharks prefer dim tank lighting. You can use a light that has day/night settings that emits blue lighting at night if you want the best chance to see your Red Tail Shark at its most active.

Filtration

Red Tail Sharks should be provided with a filtration system that keeps the water well-oxygenated. It should also be able to remove waste from the water, and HOB and canister filters are great options for these fish.

red tailed shark
Image Credit: LeonP, Shutterstock

Are Red Tail Shark Good Tank Mates?

Red Tail Sharks make poor tank mates for highly social fish like guppies, but they can be kept in community tanks with fish that spend most of their time in the uppermost water column, like some varieties of tetras. Any tankmates should be fast and able to hold their own if they aren’t small enough to hide among the plants in the tank.

Gourami, danios, and barbs all can coexist relatively peacefully with Red Tail Sharks. When you first bring your Red Tail Shark home, you’ll want to quarantine it for 1–2 weeks, at minimum, to monitor for signs of illness.

Once the quarantine is complete, you can introduce your new fish to the main tank. When you move your Red Tail Shark to the main tank, it should already be well-planted and fully set up to meet its needs. Otherwise, your fish will have difficulty adjusting and may be stressed or overly aggressive.

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What to Feed Your Red Tail Shark

As omnivores, your Red Tail Shark will need a diet that consists of plant matter and animal proteins. The base of their diet should be a high-quality flake or pellet made for community tanks or omnivores. You can offer vegetables and fruits, like zucchini and cucumbers, and you’ll often spot your Red Tail Shark snacking on algae in your tank.

As a treat, Red Tail Sharks love fresh or thawed frozen proteins like bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp. These high-protein foods should be fed sparingly, and as a treat since they can lead to constipation and don’t contain all the nutrients your fish needs to stay healthy.

Keeping Your Red Tail Shark Healthy

To keep your Red Tail Shark healthy, it’s important to provide a low-stress tank with high water quality. Low water quality can lead to health problems, and keeping your fish in a stressful environment can deplete its immune system, making it susceptible to illness.

Luckily, Red Tail Sharks are hardy fish with no predispositions to specific illnesses like other aquarium fish tend to be, like ich and fungal infections. They can still become ill in an unhealthy environment, so when it comes to caring for your Red Tail Shark, prevention is the best medicine.

Breeding

It’s inadvisable for you to attempt to breed Red Tail Sharks in your home aquarium due to their high aggression toward each other. If you attempt to introduce a male and female together for breeding, you may end up with injured or dead fish. There are large-scale breeding operations of Red Tail Sharks for the pet trade, but these operations are successful because the facilities are able to inject the water with reproductive hormones.

These hormones make the fish more willing to breed and lower their aggression levels. Overall, very little is known when it comes to the reproductive habits of Red Tail Sharks. Between their nocturnal nature, tendency to find hiding spots, and low populations in the wild, learning and understanding how they breed is extremely difficult.

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Are Red Tail Shark Suitable For Your Aquarium?

If you’re interested in a specific aquarium setup that offers appropriate tank mates, hiding places, and lots of plants, a Red Tail Shark may be a perfect addition. These fish are enjoyable to watch, and their habit of busily swimming around the tank makes them eye-catching and interesting. Be ready for a commitment of at least 5 years and a large aquarium before you bring home a Red Tail Shark. Keeping a Red Tail Shark in your home aquarium can be an excellent educational experience, allowing you to teach people about the fascinating fish.


Featured Image Credit: Diego grandi, Shutterstock

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