Red Tail Shark: Care, Diet, Tank Mates & More

Red-tail black shark hiding near plants

The Red Tail Shark is a very exciting freshwater fish that has gained so many fans in the aquarium space.

Who will disagree that there is something just fascinating about the thought of having a shark-like fish in their tank?

Despite its incredibly simple design its one of the standout fish you can have in your tank. You will have no trouble distinguishing it from other species nor matter how busy your tank is.

Most hobbyists are drawn to these sharks because of their beauty. 

However, that’s not the only good thing these fish got going. 

They are incredibly active and will liven up any tank. And to a large extent, relatively easy to care for.

Now with that said, they do have one small issue that could make them unsuitable for all aquarist- aggressive and territorial behavior. 

The good news is like most fish, their aggression can be managed if you know how. This is where this guide comes in.

It’s going to cover everything on how to successfully keep the Red Tail Shark. 

In it you will have answers to questions like how big do they get? how to manage their aggression? what is their lifespan? what sorts of foods do they eat? what tank size do they need? what are their ideal tank mates? and much more.

By the time you are done reading it, you will be able to decide whether they are right for you or not.

Let’s dive in!

Scientifically referred to as (Epalzeorhynchos bicolor), the Red Tail Shark is a very popular freshwater fish that originated from Thailand.

These fish is also aptly referred to by other names which include: Red Tail Black Shark, Red Tail Shark Minnow, Red-Tailed Labeo, and Fire Tail shark.

Similar to the popular Rainbow Shark, the Red Tail Shark isn’t an actual shark. It’s a type of carp and belongs to the well known Cyprinidae family. 

The Red Tail Shark used to be concentrated in Thailand’s largest freshwater lake and swamp called Beung Boraphet

This waterbody is located in the central part of the country and covers around 220 km2

Sadly, due to extreme poaching and environmental pollution, the population of the Red Tail Shark in the area has severely declined. 

In fact, it was so bad that in 2011 they were thought to have gone extinct. As of now, they are considered critically endangered.  

Luckily, their population is somehow thriving in the aquarium trade. 

That said, we as aquarists have to do everything we can to keep it that way. 

My recommendation is; only buy this fish if you are sure you are committed to giving it the best possible care.

Red Tail Shark Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 6.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 55 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermidiate– Expert
  • Temperament: Semi-Aggressive
  • Temperature: 72°F to 79°F
  • PH: 6.5 to 7.5
  • Hardness: 5-15dH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Relatively Easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Honey Gourami, Dwarf Gourami, Pearl Gourami, Neon Tetra, Angelfish, Bala SharkTiger BarbCherry Barb, Danios, et Cetra.

Appearance

The Red Tail Shark is without question one of the easiest fish to describe. Their appearance is quite simple and yet epic.

Interestingly, they have a torpedo-shaped body similar to sharks. 

They have a prominent dorsal fin which starts halfway on their body and looks very similar to that of a shark. In case you were wondering, yes that’s where their name came from. 

The next prominent feature of these fish is their forked caudal fin. Every part of their body is covered in black except for the caudal fin which is covered in red. 

What makes the Red Tail Shark standout in any tank is their deep color contrast. They don’t have any pattern and the color doesn’t change gradually. 

Instead, it changes from complete black at the end of the caudal peduncle to Red, covering the entirety of the caudal fin.

Although you can see some translucency near the edge of the caudal fin of some specimens. 

Red Tail Shark swimming alone

The remaining fins are way smaller than the caudal and dorsal fins. Their mouth is conveniently shaped for scraping off food similar to the Rainbow Sharks. 

Speaking of the Rainbow Shark, it’s important to point out the difference between them since they are often mistaken for one another. 

Visually, the simple difference between the two is that all the fins on the Rainbow sharks body are covered in either red or orange color (not just the caudal fin as in the case of the Red Tail Shark). 

It’s pretty hard to sex the Epalzeorhynchos bicolor before they mature. 

But as they mature, the female will develop a fuller and rounded abdomen.

Size

In ideal conditions and with proper care, the average maximum growth of the Red Tail Shark is between 4 to 6 inches. In most cases these fish max out at 5 inches. 

The maximum size they attain can be impacted by the overall tank condition, diet, and genetics. 

If you want yours to grow up to the average ranges, you have to provide them with the best care possible. 

But first, you have to make sure you obtain them from a reputable source as the kind of care they receive prior can end up affecting their overall health. 

Red Tail Shark Lifespan

The Red Tail Shark has a lifespan of between 5 to 8 years. Just like size, their lifespan can be affected by the quality of care they receive. 

That care can be broken down to water quality, suitably sized tank, qualitative diet and ideal tank mate inclusion. 

Poor breeding practices and prior care will also impact their lifespan. Here is one more reason to get your fish from a reputable source. 

Temperament and General Behavior

Like many fish, the Red Tail Sharks temperament changes from when they are young to when they mature. 

As juveniles, they tend to be a bit laid back. However, as they start to mature aggression develops. 

They become so territorial when they mature and will not entertain the idea of sharing their space with most fish. 

They act by chasing away any fish that wander into their territory. 

Unlike Bala Shark, for example, they are very solitary and do not school with any fish.

Because of their territorial nature, you will need a very large tank if you want to keep multiple Red Tail Shark in your tank.

Otherwise, you will have no peace in the tank. To be on the safe side, you will need at least 1-meter length of the tank per fish for them to cohabit successfully in your tank.

What’s more, you need to introduce at least 5 Red Tail Shark at once in the tank. This way, the dominant fish will not be bullying a single fish possibly to death.

So you see, keeping more than one Red Tail shark in a tank is very challenging. That’s why its best to just keep them singly. 

In terms of their swimming pattern, they spend most of their time swimming very actively in the bottom section of the tank.

Red Tail Shark Tank Size

Taking in to account their activeness aggressiveness, and territorial behavior, the recommended minimum tank for keeping a matured Red Tail Shark is 55 gallons and 30 gallons for a juvenile.

Those sizes will provide them with the needed space to roam about and equip the tank with adequate decors and plants. 

This helps greatly if you have other passive species in the tank as the barriers will help them to not always be in the shark’s crosshairs. 

Another thing worth mentioning is, make sure you equip their tank with a tight-fitting lid to prevent them from jumping out. They are excellent jumpers and can one-day end up on your floor if this measure isn’t taken.

Tank Requirements

The next crucial part of the Red Tail care after setting up the ideal water parameters is equipping the tank so that it resembles their habitat as closely as possible. 

This step can not be taken lightly as the ideal set up can impact their health and overall lifespan. Also, their aggression tendencies can be taken down a notch if you do it correctly.

As we learned before, these fish originated from Thailand’s biggest lake and swamp. This area is characterized by the presence of abundant vegetation, rocks and woods from the surrounding vegetation. 

To mimic this, you need to incorporate the following elements in their tank. 

Plants for Red Tail Shark

Plants will not only mimic their habitat and increase the water quality, it will also help provide them with hiding areas and sense of security. 

There aren’t any specific plants you must use since the Fire Tail Shark don’t snack on plants. 

Having said that, I recommend you use very sturdy and easy-care aquarium plants Like Java Fern, Hornwort or Water Wisteria.

Red-tail black shark hiding near plants

Tank Decoration

Decors like pieces of rocks, driftwoods and caves are incredibly important in the Red Tail Sharks tank. They will provide additional hiding spaces for the fish.

Surprisingly, as aggressive and territorial as they are, they can be a bit skittish especially when young. These elements will make them feel more secure.  

Substrate for Red Tail Shark

Seeing as they spend most of their time in the lower section of the tank, choosing the right substrate is very important. 

Moderately sized pebbles or gravel should be used as their substrate since its closest to what they are used to in the wild. 

Lighting

These sharks prefer dimly lit environment, so, their tank should have low to moderate level of lighting. 

Because they are nocturnal feeders, you have to keep the lighting very low If you want to see more of them during daytime. 

Filtration

For the filters, you have many options since they don’t have any special filtration requirements. A normal HOB (hang-on-back) is more than sufficient, though if your tank is very large a canister filter will be more suitable, if you can afford it. 

As for the water flow, provide them with a fast-flowing current to mimic what they are used in their natural habitat. 

Red Tail Shark Water Parameters

Red Tail Shark aren’t among the hardiest fish out there but they are still a bit sturdy when it comes to water parameters. They can tolerate a decent range of parameters which are as follows:

  • Temperature: 72°F to 79°F
  • Water Hardness: 5-15dH
  • pH: 6.5 to 7.5

Be sure to invest in high-quality test kits so that you can confidently rely on the readings you get. I recommend you test the water as often as you can to make sure everything is in the zone. 

Food and Diet

Red Tail shark are omnivores and in the wild their diet mostly consists of small insects, crustaceans and plants. 

In captivity, you won’t have any challenge finding them what to eat as they aren’t choosy eaters.

As scavengers, they will gladly gobble up virtually any fish food you throw in the tank whether flakes, pellets, frozen or live food. 

However, you still have the task of diversifying the diet as much as possible. 

They won’t appreciate taking the same thing day in day out. Plus, by doing this their body will have all the necessary nutrients it needs to stay healthy and grow. 

You can have high-quality flakes and pellet to make the core of their diet like most owners do. Then from time to time, you should feed them protein-enriched foods like:

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Tubifex
  • Krill
  • Daphnia

Feed them plant-based diets like;

  • Fruit
  • Cucumber
  • Peas 
  • Zucchini

Something worth mentioning is plants based diet should be given to them more often than meaty foods. 

While the Red Tail Shark aren’t as devoted as fish like the Rubber Lip Pleco when it comes to algae-eating, you can still expect them to scrape off some of the algae in your tank. 

When giving them fruits and veggies, be sure to thoroughly wash and cut them to smaller pieces for easier consumption. 

Lastly, be sure to avoid overfeeding by giving them as much as they can take in a couple of minutes. 

Remove any leftover immediately to prevent it from rotting and messing up the water quality. 

Red Tail Shark Tank Mates

We have already covered why its best to keep just one Red Tail Shark in your tank. 

Now, if you want to introduce other species in their tank you have to be really careful. They aren’t great candidates for most community tanks. 

To come up with the suitable mates you have to consider three things: aggression, activeness, and the part of the tank the fish occupy. 

Starting with aggression, you should avoid any aggressive fish of whatever size so that it won’t go pick a fight with the Shark.

That means species like Bettas, Cichlids, Rainbow Shark to mention a few are not going to work. 

Activeness is very important when choosing a tank mate for these fish. You want species that are so quick and active for the Red Tail Shark to keep up with them in case it tries to chase them. Example schooling fish like the Neon Tetra, Cardinal Tetra or Zebra Danios. 

And last but not least, you want species that occupy a different section of the tank from the Fire Tail shark. 

The point is so they don’t cross into each others territory. For instance, species that occupy the top or middle section of the tank since these sharks occupy the lower section.

So, all in all, we are looking for peaceful active species that aren’t bottom dwellers. The species below have met the criteria and have worked well as Red Tail Shark tank mates.

Red Tail Shark and Rosy Barbs

Breeding

Unfortunately, as of writing this guide, there isn’t a success story or clear report from anyone successfully breeding the Red Tail Shark in a home aquarium. 

Thus far, hobbyists have not been able to understand their breeding habit in aquariums. 

This is mainly because both sexes can stand each other and are mostly kept singly. 

Virtually all the Red Tail shark you see in the hobby were bred using spawning inducing hormones in large breeding facilities.

Practically, they are the only ones preventing these shark from going into extinction. 

Therefore, it’s better to leave it to the experts, have fun with your fish and not worry about the headache of breeding them. 

Common Diseases

Whilst Red Tail Shark don’t have any species-specific diseases they still can get attacked by common freshwater diseases like ich and fin rot. 

Needless to say, “prevention is better than cure”. Thankfully, the chances of them getting sick lowers significantly when you are providing them with;

  • Ideal parameters with no abrupt fluctuations
  • Clean tank 
  • High quality varied diet

I had to emphasize that you try and always maintain a clean tank by performing the recommended partial water changes. 

One last thing that will help is developing a habit of observing them not just during feeding time. By doing this, you will become so familiar with the pattern of their activity. 

When that happens you will be able to quickly spot a problem when there is one. Both fin rot and ich are way easier to treat at an early stage. 

Closing

Hopefully, by now you have fully understood what it takes to successfully keep the Red Tail Shark. 

I felt it doesn’t hurt to do a quick recap of the major things we discussed in this guide. 

Keeping these shark will require you to have access to at least a 30-gallons tank if you are buying a juvenile. 

But be sure to have at least a 55-gallons tank on the side, way before the fish becomes in need of it. 

Once you have the tank, set it up with the recommended parameters and input the plants and decors as recommended. 

Remember! if your Red Tail Shark isn’t happy with its habitat its aggression will increase. Keep the water parameters always in the zone and maintain a clean tank.

Should you choose to house them with other species in the tank make sure they are peaceful, active and non-bottom dwellers.

When it comes to feeding you need to diversify their diet by giving them flakes, pellets, plants and meaty based foods.

This basically sums of the Red Tail Sharks care. All things considered, they aren’t that precarious to keep. 

The only challenging part of keeping them is the aggression tendencies. Even that won’t be much of a challenge if you provide them with the right tank set up and keep them singly. 

Nevertheless, I do not recommend the Red Tail Shark for beginners. They are more suited for experienced aquarists that have handled aggressive species before and can confidently fashion out the right set up for any fish.

I hope this guide has answered any question you might have had regarding keeping the Fire Tail Shark. If you are contemplating whether to keep them or not, I hope it helps you make the right call.

Please feel free to rich out if you have any question we haven’t covered or if you have any info you think will help improve this guide. We’ll be more than happy if you do.

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