Columbian Shark (Ariopsis seemanni): Ultimate Care Guide

The Columbian Shark (Ariopsis seemanni) is a species of freshwater fish found in South America, mostly along the Columbian coastline. These sharks can grow up to 10-14 inches long and have a life span of 10-15 years in captivity. They are silver-tipped and shiny in appearance with a white belly.  Columbian Sharks are omnivores and have a varied diet. While they do not cause much harm, they do carry a venomous gland which can cause symptoms similar to a bee sting. They are often sold in pet stores as juveniles, but they grow to be quite large and require a lot of care once fully grown. Columbian Sharks prefer to be with other fish if possible. Three to a tank is a good number and will bring out their happy demeanor for you to experience. If you’re looking for a new addition to your aquarium, this guide will help you take care of your Columbian Shark properly from the start!

Columbian Shark Facts

  • Columbian Sharks are not sharks at all, but instead belong to the catfish family.  They get their name “shark” from their shark-like swimming pattern and appearance.  Interestingly, they also have the high fin and whiskers like that of the catfish.  Read on to find out their many names!
  • Common names for the Columbian Shark are the Black Fin Shark, Jordani Shark, and the West American Cat Shark, among others.
  • The male incubates the eggs in his mouth, on his way to release them in coastal rivers.
  • The Columbian Shark has a dorsal spine that is connected to a venom-producing gland.  Be careful when cleaning out their tank.  Though it is more like a bee sting, it can still produce swelling!
  • The Columbian Shark has been known to grow up to 20 inches!
  • They are not true freshwater fish even though they are commonly sold as such in pet stores.  This is very confusing to potential pet owners.  They can survive in freshwater as juveniles, but not as adults.  It is very important to keep in mind that they will require saltwater as they mature, which makes them a little more difficult to care for.
  • Columbian Sharks communicate through specific noises which they make by rubbing their pectoral fins against their sockets.  This movement produces grinding and clicking noises.  You may hear these sounds if something scares your shark. For example, from a loud sound close to the tank.
Columbian Shark (Ariopsis seemanni)
Columbian Shark (Ariopsis seemanni)

Columbian Shark Care

Since their specific water requirements (water temperature, pH, hardness, and specific gravity, you should be doing water tests weekly).  This is something you will want to stay on top of to ensure the best for your Columbian Shark.

Temperature for Columbian Shark

Due to the environment of this fish being in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is warmer, the best tank temperature is between 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lower temperatures can jeopardize the Columbian Shark’s immune system and make the fish more susceptible to disease.

Water pH for Columbian Shark

 The ideal water pH is 7.5, but keeping it between 7.0-8.0 is sufficient. Consistently testing the water pH is essential for maintaining a healthy aquarium.

Water Hardness for Columbian Shark

10-12 KH.  The Columbian Shark needs hard and saline water conditions.

Specific Gravity for Columbian Shark

Minimum 1.002 for juveniles and 1.010 for full grown adults.

Columbian Shark Size

The average size of the Columbian Shark in captivity is 10-14 inches in length.  With the right care, they can reach lengths of 20 inches!

Columbian Shark Tank Size

A large tank is a must for Columbian Sharks.  At the very minimum, 75 gallons for a single fish and 100 gallons for up to three sharks or other fish.  Keep in mind that they are river fish and are used to fast flowing waters and swimming quite fast.  They need lots of room to move around.  They also grow quite fast and you can expect them to be 14 inches within 2 years.

Columbian Shark Food and Diet

They are omnivores and have a wide diet, feeding on crustaceans, shrimp; flakes; pellets; live, freeze dried, and frozen food; even live fish and earthworms. These Columbian Sharks are not picky.  Even though they are omnivorous, they do need to have a higher percentage of protein in their diet.  It is very important to feed them twice a day and not let them feed for more than 5 minutes at each feeding.  Do not overfeed.

Columbian Shark Lifespan

Their life span is lowered quite a bit in captivity.  They can live for 10-15 years if well taken care of as opposed to 20 years in the wild.

Columbian Shark Tank Mates

Generally, they are not aggressive, but can be aggressive towards smaller species that they may see as a food source.  They are a very friendly fish to their tank mates, if they are about the same size.  Columbian Sharks do best with a few tank mates.  If they are left alone, they may become nervous, unhappy and have a hard time relaxing.  They do best with at least 3 tank mates and you will notice their happy, good natured demeanor.  A happy fish makes a healthy fish.

Compatible Tank Mates for Columbian Shark

Other Columbian Sharks, Lionfish, Garpikes, Arches, Morays, and Targetfish just to name a few.

Incompatible Tank Mates for Columbian Shark

They may prey on any small species of fish, so make sure you have fish of a similar size in your tank with Columbian Sharks.  Columbian Sharks do not do well with Neon Tetras or Guppies specifically.

Columbian Shark Tank Setup

Tips to keep in mind as you set up your tank for the Columbian Shark.  The adults in the wild live in brackish waters, so they do excellent in salt water. Brackish water has more salinity than freshwater, but less than seawater. They are not considered reef safe as they eat coral, crustaceans, and sessile invertebrates like barnacles, anemones, tubeworms, sponges, etc…

Aquarium Filtration

They need capable aquarium filters with good water flow.  Consider the Columbian Sharks natural habitat of a fast flowing river to help you decide on your filtration set up.

Aquarium Lights

Columbian Sharks are tolerant of a wide variety of lighting conditions, so there are no specific requirements regarding the type of aquarium light to install. However, is advisable to avoid overly strong lights. They are nocturnal fish and are a lot more active at night.

Aquarium Substrate

Sand is the best substrate for the Columbian Shark.  Take care not to have sharp substrate such as gravel as it may cause injury to their barbels.

Aquarium Plants and Hardscape

It is best to keep their tank as barren as possible.  If you include some plants, make sure they are able to survive brackish water conditions.  Some good options are Anubias, Java fern, and Sago Pondweed.  Most aquatic plants will not survive the high salinity, so you may want to opt for artificial plants.  Use plants sparingly.  If you have juveniles, a few places to hide, such as driftwood or mangrove roots, are excellent options.

Breeding Columbian Shark

They are paternal mouthbrooders, meaning the males incubate the eggs in their mouths.  They then swim to coastal rivers and release the fry.  Columbian Sharks go back and forth between rivers and the sea.  Breeding these Sharks is very difficult in captivity and not recommended.  It puts a lot of stress on these fish and may shorten their lifespan.  You would have to remove them from their home tank environment, put them in their natural environment to breed, and then bring them back home to their tank.  You can see how stressful this would be to the fish.

Columbian Shark Disease

They are very resistant to disease, but some of the most common diseases they may experience are: Ich, skin flukes, fungal infections, bacterial infections, or gill fluke disease.  The easiest way to avoid any disease is through maintaining the correct tank environment.  One important thing to point out is that they do not have scales so you will have to take this into consideration when treating diseases.

Where Can I Find Columbian Shark For Sale?

Columbian Sharks are a very popular fish and you can find them at any local pet store for very reasonable prices.  We found them at the national chains like PetCo and PetSmart and smaller pet stores.  The price will vary depending on if you get a juvenile or an adult.  The prices range from about $5-$12.


The Columbian Shark is a good choice for an intermediate aquarist, but it’s important to make sure you have the time and resources needed to take care of this species.  The ideal tank setup for a complete aquarium with these fish should be at least 200 gallons with plenty of room for swimming.  It takes some work to maintain the water conditions and feed this fish properly, but it can be done with patience and diligence.  Once you have one of these amazing creatures in your home, they are sure to make an unforgettable impression on anyone who visits!  I hope that our guide has answered any questions about caring for or buying a Columbian Shark.