COLUMBIAN SHARK GUIDE - Behavior, Tank Mates and Care Sheet

COLUMBIAN SHARK GUIDE – Behavior, Tank Mates and Care Sheet

Columbian Shark, as the name implies lives in the pacific coastline of Colombia. But, its species extend through the whole of South America to Mexico in the north.

It is a beautiful silver-tipped catfish popular among Aquarium fishes. This is because of its shiny appearance and peaceful nature toward other fishes. Especially, those it does not consider food.

It belongs to the Family of Ariidae. And, its specific name is Ariopsis Seemanni.

Pet Shops sells Columbian Shark catfish under different common names such as Tete Sea Catfish, Shark Catfish, White catfish, Jordan’s catfish, Blackfin shark, and Christian catfish.

Can Columbian Shark Fish Live in Freshwater?

Pet shops often confuse aquarists by selling these fantastic creatures as freshwater fish. Still, Columbian Sharks are not naturally freshwater fish.

Although, they can survive in freshwater to some extended periods. Yet, cannot permanently adapt to it.

They tend to live in freshwater when they are in the juvenile stage. However, must move to brackish waters when they mature. Thus, they can live the rest of their lives in marine water as an adult.

They are much of coastal saltwater and estuarine fishes. So, as an aquarist, if you are planning to get a Columbian shark fish, understand that it prefers saltwater or brackish (half fresh, half salt) water Aquarium.


Columbian Sharks are not territorial toward other large fish.

When in their natural habitat they are a schooling fish. So, it is recommended to keep at least three of them.

Keeping a single one might make it feel uncomfortable and nervous. As a result, leading it to swim from top to bottom often.

If kept with other shark catfish, they maintain their liveliness. And, would often become very active. This makes it one of the major attractions of aquarists to keep them.

They are one of the exceptions of other catfish that stay active during the day.

Most of “Ariidae” are predators. As such, may feed on smaller fishes like neon tetras and crustaceans as they grow bigger.

How to Identify a Columbian Shark

This incredible shark catfish behaves like a real Shark in nature with its swimming moves and appearance.

You can quickly identify Columbian shark catfish with its elongated silver body and large protruding eyes.

It has a broad head with a largemouth. Also, it has three sets of barbels (a maxillary barbell and a pair of chin Barbel).

At the Juvenile stage, this fish has a silvery grey color with a shade of white. The pectoral and pelvic fins are black in color. And, its adipose, tail, and dorsal fins are greyish in color.

The color of the adult is a bit dull compared to when in the juvenile stage. More so, they are farthest the most imposing fish.

Columbian shark dorsal spines are known to contain venom which makes it quite delicate. But, the risk to the aquarist is minimal as it does not use its dorsal spines as a weapon for intruders even when it is frightened.

However, it is still advisable to wear long rubber aquarium gloves when handling this fish, to be safe.

You may accidentally get pierced. Though it is not so fatal, it still causes extreme pain. Therefore, dip the affected area into hot water to easily relieve the pain.

Conservation and Feeding

According to IUCN Red List of endangered species, Columbian shark catfish are among the “Least Concern” species. Thus, there is no threat of concern because of their widespread distributions.

There are no data on the internet on their declining population. Ariopsis Seemanni live in a wide range of habitat. As such, you can find Columbian shark catfish in large rivers and the Pacific Ocean.

Columbia sharks are omnivores. As a result, Columbian Shark eats both plants and animal food.

When in the wild, they eat insects, larvae, plant matter, crustaceans, and algae. Also, they can eat every food that contains protein components.

Columbian Shark is an active scavenger just like other catfishes. And, they prefer to look for pieces of plant matters or leftovers on the bottom of the water body.

As a result of this behavior, feed them with sinking catfish pellets, shrimp pellets or fish food like flakes, freeze, dried foods or frozen foods like blood worms.

Also, if you want them to grow fast and healthy, you may add a few extra food supplements to ensure they are getting the number of nutrients they need.

Columbian fish have a huge appetite. As a result, they may go looking for food in smaller fishes if not adequately fed. Hence, they are better fed 1-2 times daily the amount of food they will feed on for 5 minutes’ time max.

Columbian Growth Rate and Life Span

The growth rate of a Columbian shark is rapid. Therefore, they will increase to a length of 8 inches (20.3 cm) within the first year of purchase.

Subsequently, they will increase to 12 inches (30.4 cm) in the second year. And then, continue to grow until they reach about 13 inches (33 cm).

These Shark catfish grow to about 14 inches (35.6 cm) in their natural habitat. However, reaching up to this max is rare in aquarium conditions.

Columbian Sharks have a high lifespan. Hence, they will last up to 15 years or more if taken care of properly.

Columbian Shark Tank Mates

Columbian Sharks are good community fish and peaceful. Although, they are predatory to smaller fishes and shrimps.

They would do well with their species. Keeping a single one is not recommended as they are a schooling fish. Therefore, would not be comfortable alone.

Columbian fish will also do well with other fishes that are not territorial. For example, giant Sleeper Gobies that includes Dormitator maculatus, Monos, clown loaches, large barbs, Archerfish, Siamese Tigerfish, and gymnothorax tile (brackish water fish).

If kept in marine water, the recommended tank mates may include Angelfish, Surgeonfish, Snappers, lionfish, and big but not aggressive damselfish.

Plants are also safe around them. Though they may root around it in the substrate, they still would not uproot it. But plants are unlikely to survive due to the salty water conditions.

Careful selection needs to be done on the kind of tank mates to keep with Columbian Shark. Of course, a territorial fish may be predatory towards them and hurt them in the process.


When at a very early stage, it is tough to differentiate between a male Columbian shark and a female Columbian shark.

However, as they grow more prominent, the female becomes plumper. And, they develop lighter fins compared to the males.

Columbian Shark is paternal migratory mouth brooders. As such, their male takes up a clutch of about 65 large eggs in its mouth. Then, they incubate it for close to a month. Afterward, they hold the fry for another 14 – 30 days while the remains of the yolk form.

The male then swims to the upstream to deposit them into freshwater. Here, they become independent and begin their life cycle.

Later on, these Columbian Shark catfishes migrate back to brackish water to spend the rest of their lives.

The primary issue aquarists have with not being able to breed this kind of fish in Aquarium, is the fact that it is difficult to replicate their natural breeding behavior in aquariums.

Unless you specialize in Columbian sharks breeding. Breeding them successfully is very rare in captivity because it requires a huge tank.

Interesting Facts about the Columbian Catfish

Common to Columbian Sharks is the interesting sound they make by grinding their pectoral fins together against its socket. They use this as a signal to bind the school together. Or, other times to confuse their predators.

The sound resembles the sound dolphins make as an echolocation system. More so, aquarists may sometimes hear an increasing drumming sound, not to worry.

Columbian sharks sometimes make these sounds whenever they feel threatened. At times, it may become confusing. Especially, if other fishes that use sound are kept in the same Aquarium.

Another interesting fact is that it has an unusual earbone that makes it sensitive to low-frequency sounds. This ability helps them navigate better than other fishes that depend majorly on their lateral line and eyesight.

Therefore, shark keepers should avoid noises such as sudden slamming of the doors. This may trigger the alarming sound of a Columbian fish.

Another exciting fact these species share with its “Aridae” family is that its saliva contains anticoagulants.

Aquarium Care Sheet for Columbian Shark

Size of Tank required: After deciding on keeping Columbian sharks, aquarists must bear in mind their large sizes. As a result, a minimum of 75 gallons (284 liters) is preferable for one shark. But, Columbian fish is naturally nervous and a schooling fish at that.

Therefore, they would prefer to be kept in a school of about three or more members. A 100-gallon tank or larger version would be a better option to house many of them.

These “Tete Sea Catfishes” requires a large tank not only because they grow large but also they are very active swimmers.

Nano Tank suitability: No

Type of substrate: Any. Just be cautious of sharp edges on the gravel as it may wound the barbels of the fish. Especially, when they root around the substrate.

Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately difficult because of their neurotic nature. As such, they tend to fall sick often even in a well maintained clean tank.

Aquarist level: Aquarist need not be an expert and may not be a beginner either.

Certainly, taking care of these fishes, with their brackish water requirement, and large size requires a bit of expertise from an aquarist. At least an Intermediate level shark keeper would do.

Suitable Tank water Conditions for Columbian Fish

Providing and maintaining the right tank water conditions is very important in keeping Columbian fish.

There are a lot of things to ensure. And, they include the following:

Optimal Tank Temperature

The temperature of the tank is critical when keeping these shark catfishes. Therefore, the temperature must be maintained at around 71.6 -78.8F (22-26 Celsius).

Use a standard heater to ensure these parameters are met. Your aquarium pets would be so happy about this, and this also keeps them safe.

Water PH

The pH requirement for the water should stay around 6.8 – 8.5 to ensure their overall health. Missing this range may cause harm to the fishes. I’m sure no fish keeper would want that.


dGH means a degree of General hardness. dGH is the unit used in measuring water hardness. Hence, aquarists must keep to 10 – 30 dGH to ensure your pet sharks are safe.

Region of Tank

Middle areas or Bottom. Columbian sharks are by nature bottom feeders. Thus, they would most of the time prefer to scavenge at the bottom of the water.

However, they still spend time swimming in the open.

Movement of Water

Being an active migratory species, introducing currents in the water is very critical. Of course, they would spend most of their time swimming in front of the outlet of a durable water filter.

Therefore, get a water filter. A 350B Filter is a right size for an aquarium of about 40 – 60 gallons.

Ensure that your filter will maintain water steadiness. And also, provide adequate oxygen for the Columbian Sharks.

One of the things aquarists must always make sure in keeping Columbian sharks is the right water conditions. To achieve this, get a thermometer and a testing kit to maintain the correct levels for your pet sharks.

Need for Lighting

Any – Columbian sharks do not require caves. Although, a little would be just the right decision in an environment with high lights.

Water Salinity and Chemistry

This fish must be kept in hard, saline water conditions.

Though, Columbian fish at the juvenile stage can live in freshwater for some time. But, would need to be transferred to brackish water conditions as they grow older.

Keeping them in freshwater for long may make them sickly and unhappy. You may notice this by the shark’s unusual discoloration.

Aquarium Decor

The Columbian sharks are large fish and an active swimmer that requires an ample of space to swim.

Overcrowding their Aquarium would not be a good idea. However, you can add some mangrove roots and driftwood sparingly. This will help to mimic their natural surroundings and make them feel a lot better.

But then, be careful with the use of driftwood as too much may lower pH and alkalinity level.

When in the juvenile stage, they tend to be a timid fish and would often require some cover.

Thus, making you consider rocks as aquarium decor for your Columbian sharks. Choose rocks that would evoke a harbor or rubble-strewn shoreline in your Aquarium.

Also, Columbian shark catfish do not necessarily need gravel in their Aquarium. Note, a layer of gravel that is more than ΒΌ will contaminate the water.

The addition of lava rock is also perfect for maintaining an ideal living environment in their Aquarium. More so, helping to keep nitrates in the water at an excellent range.


Due to their peaceful nature and unique appearance, Columbian sharks are prevalent in the aquarium trade. And, they have been popular for many years.


There are no variations of the Columbian shark known.

Important Note for Aquarium Set-up

Ariopsis Seemanni is a riverine species. Therefore, would appreciate proper oxygenation and a high flow of water.

To achieve this highly oxygenated water, use an under gravel filter and a durable powerhead.

Columbian fishes enjoy water currents and would like swimming at the currents produced by this filter.

How to Prepare Brackish Water for Your Columbian Sharks

Preparing Brackish water aquaria still looks like a bit of mystery to many aquarists.

As such, even the intermediate level aquarists are skeptical about keeping brackish water fishes like Columbian Sharks as a pet. Mostly because of the requirements of brackish aquaria.

Not to worry anymore about this, we got you covered! The following is a guide about preparing brackish water aquaria.

Brackish water environments usually range from 1.005 and 1.012. For Columbian shark catfish, a specific gravity of 1.010 and higher would be preferable for their overall health.

  1. Using proper aquarium mix is far healthier than aquarium tonic. As a result, Applying aquarium mix like aquarium Kent Marine Reef Salt Mix or Coralife Marine Salt mix to provide the proper salinity is advisable.
  2. The pH and alkalinity of salty water are always higher than freshwater. The pH of brackish water should be kept between 7.8 and 8.4. While the alkalinity should be between 10 and 20 dKH (180ppm to 360 ppm).
  3. Excellent filtration is a must. More so, ensure a 30% water change every 1 to 2 weeks. For brackish water catfish like Columbian shark using Siphon Vacuum Gravel Cleaner or Aqueon Aquarium Water Changer is a good idea. And, when changing water, make sure to remove any diseased or dead fish as they may feed on it and get sick.
  4. Remember to treat tap water with Aqueon Water Conditioner and mix a proper concentration of sea salt before refilling your Aquarium again.

How to acclimate Columbian fish to Aquarium

After investing so much time and money on researching about Columbian fish, the last thing you want to forget is to acclimate them to Aquarium before keeping them in it properly.

Therefore, there is a need to acclimate your pet shark to the Aquarium. Not doing so, may result in them getting sick or die eventually.

To properly acclimate them to Aquarium, Follow the guide down below.

The primary purpose of acclimation is easy; the water in which the sellers package the fish has different salinity and pH parameters from that of your Aquarium.

And, Columbian fish are susceptible. Thus, little changes get them stressed. Therefore, ensuring proper acclimation is very important.

There are two methods of acclimation, Floating method and Dripping method.

However, we would only be focusing on the dripping process as this is a more advanced method compared to floating. And, it is a method used for sensitive fish.

The Dripping Process of Acclimation

  1. Put off aquarium lights
  2. Dim the lights of the room where you want to open the shipping box. Do not make the mistake of opening the container in bright light as this may result in a sudden trauma for the fish.
  3. Let the sealed bag float in the Aquarium for about 15 minutes. Do not open it at this point yet. This step ensures the water in the shipping bag slowly adjusts to the temperature of the Aquarium.
  4. Now, you can empty the contents of the bag with the water into a container. It depends on the amount of water in the bag. It may require tilting the container at a 45-degree angle to ensure the fish are fully submerged.
  5. From the main Aquarium to the bucket that contains the fish, run a siphon drip line using airline tubing. If you are using more than one bucket, separate the airline tubing for each bucket used.
  6. Start a siphon by sucking the end of the airline tubing you want to place into each bucket. Adjust the drip when the water starts flowing through the pipe. Thus, adjust the drip by adjusting the control valve to a range of about 2 to 4 drips per second.
  7. When the volume of the water increases to about double the size, start the drip again until it doubles back.
  8. Finally, you can now transfer your pet sharks into the Aquarium. Scoop them out gently. Ensure the water covers them fully and then carefully remove the specimen bag. Remove the container under water and discard it with the enclosed water.


Aquarium light must be off for at least four hours after the fishes have been introduced into the Aquarium.

The acclimation procedure needs patience and does not require rushing. At least, it should take an hour or more.

Fish Diseases

Columbian Shark is a moderately hardy fish as an adult. Nonetheless, it is still liable to the same diseases as other fishes.

The only way to ensure they are safe is by maintaining a properly clean environment. And then, feed them well with a balanced diet too.

The more effort you put into replicating their natural habitats, the healthier they become and happy.

They tend to acquire disease when they feel stressed. One of their common conditions in freshwater as a juvenile is ichy.

Other diseases they may acquire are Skin fluke, Metacercia infection, Cestoda, gill fluke diseases, and Cestoda infection.

Also, increased nitrates levels too may cause Ariopsis Seemanni species to develop infected barbels. As a result, they will find it difficult to navigate and eat well like usual.

Being a fish with no scale, this fish can undergo treatment with melafix or pimafix. But, do not treat them with copper-based medications or potassium permanganate.

Take care and make sure you use all vaccinations with caution.

In Conclusion

Following the guide in this article, you will realize it is not so challenging to keep a Columbian shark.

However, it requires proper care and passion for your pet sharks. Keeping a Columbian shark isn’t recommended for a beginner though but, do not let that discourage you from keeping them.

Remember all it takes is proper research that this article is offering you and upgrading your skills.

Do not forget that other people have done it in time past and are still doing it to this present moment. Of course, you can also do it as well!

Check out other Freshwater Sharks Suitable for Your Home Aquarium.