The Columbian shark catfish is an intriguing freshwater fish lauded for its shark-like appearance and large size. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore everything you need to know about keeping and caring for this spectacular catfish.
Introducing the Columbian Shark Catfish
- Origin: The Columbian shark catfish is endemic to the freshwater drainages of the Magdalena River system in Colombia, South America.
- Size: Columbian shark catfish can reach 120 cm (47 inches) in length. However, the average adult size in home aquariums is around 60-90 cm (24-35 inches).
- Lifespan: Approximately 10-15 years in captivity with proper care and tank conditions.
- Temperament: A mostly peaceful giant, the Columbian shark catfish spends much of its time resting on the bottom. However, care should be taken when housing with much smaller or timid tankmates.
- Appearance: The shark catfish has an elongated, flattened head with tiny eyes and a wide, downturned mouth. The body is torpedo-shaped with a forked tail fin. Coloration consists of a grayish-brown to slate blue background with numerous small white speckles. The dorsal and pectoral fins are outlined in white.
- Popular Varieties: The Meta River strain has an extended nose and grey base color. The Bucaramanga strain has a shorter nose and often a more blueish or purple base color with larger white spots. The Orinoco strain has a top-facing mouth.
- Price: Columbian shark catfish average around $40 to $80 USD depending on size and variety.
Habitat and Tank Requirements
- Natural Habitat: The species inhabits large, turbid rivers, lakes, and flooded forests of the Magdalena River basin. It favors slow-moving backwaters and pools with submerged woody structure.
- Tank Size: A minimum 300 gallon aquarium is recommended for adult Columbian shark catfish. Provide plenty of open swimming space.
- Water Parameters: Ideal water temperatures are 75-82°F. The pH range should be neutral 6.5 to 7.5 and hardness around 5 to 15 dGH. Strong filtration and regular partial water changes are essential.
- Tank Setup: Include a fine sandy or smooth gravel substrate with driftwood branches and roots for hiding places. Keep lighting moderate and provide plenty of shaded areas. Live aquatic plants can help absorb nitrates but may get dug up.
- Diet: As omnivores, Colombian shark catfish will eat a variety of foods including meaty items, vegetables, algae wafers, and quality pellets/flakes. Offer a diverse diet for optimal health.
- Feeding Habits: They are primarily nocturnal predators and will appreciate feedings in the evenings or at night. Feed juveniles 2-3 times daily and adults 1-2 times daily. Only provide what they can consume within 2 minutes.
- Raw seafood – shrimp, squid, mussels
- Earthworms, crickets
- Sinking carnivore pellets/tablets
- Blanched vegetables – spinach, zucchini
- Algae wafers, spirulina pellets
- Occasional freeze-dried krill or brine shrimp
- Reproduction: Columbian shark catfish are oviparous with the female laying approximately 5,000 eggs. No parental care is provided. They likely reach sexual maturity around 6-7 years of age.
- Breeding Requirements: Trigger spawning by performing large, cool water changes. The aquarium should be in a quiet, secluded area with plenty of flat surfaces for egg deposition.
- Spawning Process: During courtship, the breeding pair will swim together in circles. Spawning usually occurs at night, with the eggs adhering to flat surfaces. Remove the parents after spawning to prevent egg predation. The eggs will hatch in about 3 days at optimal water temperatures.
Common Health Issues
Potential health issues include:
- Parasitic infections – Treat with anti-parasitic medications if parasites appear on skin or gills. Maintain excellent water quality.
- Bacterial infections – Look for lesions, fin rot, cloudy eyes as symptoms. Use a broad-spectrum antibiotic if infection develops.
- Malnutrition – Vary diet and do not overfeed to prevent vitamin/mineral deficiencies.
Prevent issues through pristine water quality, varied diet, and quarantining new arrivals. Observe closely for any signs of illness.
- Compatibility: Best housed alone or with very large, peaceful tankmates that cannot fit in its mouth. Avoid fin-nipping species.
- Care: Weekly maintenance of the aquarium is a must. Test water parameters frequently and perform partial water changes as needed to maintain cleanliness. Proper filtration is key.
- Legalities: None. Columbian shark catfish are not banned in any regions. However, due to its large maximum size, check local codes for home aquariums over a certain gallon capacity.
Suitable Tank Mates
- Large characins like vampires tetras
- Giant gouramis
- Some large pleco species
- Large Australian rainbowfish
- Silver dollars
- Other large shark catfish species
- Arowanas over 12 inches long
- Giant danios
Males tend to have a broader head shape compared to females. Males also develop longer dorsal and pectoral fins as they mature. Females are usually larger-bodied and fuller around the abdomen, especially when ready to spawn. Identifying the sexes visually can be difficult until specimens reach adulthood.
“How many species of Columbian shark catfish?”
There is only one recognized species, Pseudoplatystoma magdaleniatum. However, there are several geographic varieties or strains within this species across its range.
“How to feed Columbian shark catfish to make their color brighter?”
Offering a variety of vitamin-rich foods like shrimp, vegetables, and color-enhancing pellets can help bring out their best coloration. Providing a darker substrate and dim lighting also helps.
“How Big do Columbian shark catfish Grow?”
In home aquaria, Columbian shark catfish typically reach 24-35 inches long when fully grown. In ideal settings, they can potentially grow over 3 feet long. Proper tank size is crucial.
“How fast do Columbian shark catfish grow?”
When juveniles, Columbian shark catfish can grow up to 2 inches per month. Their growth rate slows as they near maturity around 2 feet long. Expect them to reach full size within 5-7 years.
“How long do Columbian shark catfish live?”
With exemplary tank conditions, these catfish can live 10-15 years in captivity. Their lifespan is shorter in unsuitable environments.
“How to take care of Columbian shark catfish?”
Perform large weekly water changes, feed a varied diet, maintain water parameters, and provide a very large tank with hiding places. Keep tankmates compatible in size and temperament.
“Which food products are the best for Columbian shark catfish?”
Tetra JumboKrill Crisps, Hikari Sinking Carnivore Pellets, and Omega One Shrimp Pellets are top choices.
“Is good to keep Columbian shark catfish as Pets?”
Yes, their unique appearance and peaceful temperament make them an appealing aquarium species. But their large size at maturity requires experienced keepers with sizable aquariums.
“Why my Columbian shark catfish die?”
Common causes include poor water quality, infections, improper diet, or being housed in too small of a tank. Seek vet care for unexplained sickness.
“Are Columbian shark catfish Aggressive?”
They are generally peaceful for their size. However, much smaller fish are at risk of being eaten. Larger tankmates are recommended for safety.
“Do Columbian shark catfish kill other fish?”
Healthy Columbian shark catfish are unlikely to kill tankmates aggressively. But they may consume very small fish that can fit in their mouths. Keep tankmates a similar size.
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