Animal-World > Aquarium Tropical Fish > Catfish > Silver-tipped Shark

Silver-tipped Shark

Shark Catfish, Tete Sea Catfish, Columbian Shark Catfish

Family: Ariidae Silver-tipped Shark, Shark CatfishAriopsis seemanniPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
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My silver tip catfish has white bumps on his let side. Any ideas what it could be ? I have pics. thanks  matt

   Though this is a very attractive fish and fun to observe, the Silver-tipped Shark or Shark Catfish gets rather large, up to 14 inches (36 cm) and needs several companions. This equates to a rather large aquarium!

This is a peaceful fish and is suitable for a community aquarium as long as it is kept in a school of at least three fish with other tank mates of similar size. They are very popular to beginner hobbists because of their "shark" like appearance and small size at pet stores. That said, these fish are not recommended for beginners mainly because of their size and schooling requirement as well as the increasingly brackish water requirements. Make sure you have an aquarium big enough and are willing to maintain the salinity before trying to house these unique fish.

One of the most interesting behaviors is the sounds they make. The sounds are like clicking or grinding and can be quite loud. Although the reason they make sounds is unkown, it may be used as signals between fish to keep the school together in murky waters or as an ecolocation system similar to dolphins. In murky habitats, this type of navigation works better than sight or lateral lines. The fish become more vocal if threatened which can be confusing if other fish that make clicking sounds, like triggerfish, are kept in the same aquarium.

The Silver-tipped Shark adult is a brackish water fish. They prefer hard water with salt added. As juveniles, a salinity of 1.002 sg is recommended as a minimum, but a full grown adult will require at least 1.010 sg.

This fish has a venom on one of it's dorsal spines that is painful so be careful when handling them! The sting is comparable to a bee sting which can be immersed into hot water to relieve the pain. Sometimes medical attention is required if the individual is particularly sensitive to the toxin.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Geographic Distribution
Ariopsis seemanni
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Siluriformes
  • Family: Ariidae
  • Genus: Ariopsis
  • Species: seemanni
Columbian Silver Tip Sharks

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"Flash" and his new posse. Columbian "Silver Tip" Sharks

A larger Columbian Catfish about 2 years old is shown with younger conspecifics and other much smaller fish.

Silver-tipped Shark - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 14.0 inches (35.56 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult
  • Temperature: 71.0 to 79.0° F (21.7 to 26.1° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Silver-tipped Shark was described by Günther, 1864. They are widespread in the Pacific-draining rivers and estuaries in Central and South America. Countries in which they are commonly found include Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. They are a migratory species that will travel many miles inland to fresh water. These fish live in marine conditions as adults as well as freshwater environments when they are young.

  • Scientific Name: Ariopsis seemanni
  • Social Grouping: Groups - These fish live in schools in the wild.
  • IUCN Red List: NE - Not Evaluated or not listed


This catfish resembles an actual shark in appearance and swimming movements. As juveniles they are a silvery-grey color with white undersides and black pectoral, pelvic and anal fins. The common names incorporate some of the characteristics such as the white tips on it's pectoral and anal fins as well as the black linings on it's dorsal and tail fins. The pointed dorsal fin is located close to the head and contains a venomous spine. It has a rather long anal fin with 26-46 rays. It will also have maxillary barbels and a pair chin barbels. These fish can grow to 14". The adult  coloration is a little duller but it is still a very striking fish to watch.

  • Size of fish - inches: 14.0 inches (35.56 cm) - Some sites list this fish as much larger, up to 24 inches.
  • Lifespan: 15 years

Fish Keeping Difficulty

The Silver-Tipped shark is not recommendef for beginners. Although they are marketed as freshwater fish as small juveniles, usually under 4 inches in length, as the fish matures it will need more brackish conditions (higher salinity), up to full saltwater. Although pure freshwater is "okay" for juveniles under 2-3 inches, it is recommended they have a slightly brackish environment of no less than 1.002 sg to thrive. For an adult a specific gravity of 1.010 is recommended as a minimum but higher salinity of 1.015 sg to 1.025 is better.

They are also not recommended for beginners because of the adult size and the need for companions. A 75 gallon aquarium is large enough for one specimen, but without companions, the Colombian Shark Catfish will act nervous and somewhat neurotic. A group of these fish will require at least a 100 gallon aquarium.

These are a peaceful fish that is predatory and as they grow smaller tankmates can become food.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately Difficult - This fish tends to fall ill frequently even in well maintained tanks.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - Due to their large size and water requirement changes as they age it is recommended for the Intermediate fish keeper.

Foods and Feeding

In the wild Shark Catfish feed on small fish, insects, crustaceans, and carrion. They are considered to be omnivorous but prefer meaty foods. They use their barbels to detect food sources and similar to sharks, they are sensitive to electic fields which enables them to find food hidden under the gravel.

They will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food or pellet every day. As they grow they will eat earthworms, pellets, mussels, prawn, strips of octopus or fish, and sinking tablets.

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes - It make take some time to train them to eat flake.
  • Tablet Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet - Live shrimp are a delicacy!
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet - Crustaceans like shrimp, and strips of squid or other fish are recommended.
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - This fish grows quickly and as requires a large quantity of high quality food as well as variety.

Aquarium Care

The tank should have weekly water changes of 30%. Make sure to remove any dead and diseased fish, the Silver-Tip will feed on carcasses potentially getting sick itself. The substrate should be vacuumed weekly to assure no amonia pockets. When doing aquarium maintenance it may behoove you to wear glove because these fish have posionious spines that may sting.

  • Water Changes: Weekly

Aquarium Setup

The Silver-Tipped Shark needs a large tank because they grow fast and up to 14 inches in about 2 years. This potentially large fish requires a lot of unobstructed swimming area. The substrate like with most catfish should be soft and smooth to assure they do not injure their barbels. A good decor would be some driftwood or mangrove roots helps mimic their surroundings in the wild. Most aquatic plants do not do well in brackish conditions but those that do will not be uprooted. As it's a riverine species, decent oxygenation and water flow is appreciated.

These fish need highly oxygenated water which can be accomplished using an undergravel filter and a strong power head. Strong currents are appreciated, sometimes they will continually swim into the current produced by the filter. Signs that they are not comfortable include cowering in a corner or behind a filter. They can jump, so a fitted cover with subdoed lighting works best. As the fish ages it will need to be transfered into a brackish environmet of at least 1.010 sg

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gal (284 L) - Silver-tipped Sharks are large and active and should be given ample swimming space. 75 gallons is adequate for a single fish but 100 or more gallons is recommended for a small group.
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any - Be careful with sharp edges on the gravel as it can injure the barbels as they root around the substrate.
  • Lighting Needs: Any - They do not require caves and shelters although some cover is appreciated especially in high light environments.
  • Temperature: 71.0 to 79.0° F (21.7 to 26.1° C)
  • Range ph: 6.8-8.0
  • Hardness Range: 8 - 30 dGH
  • Brackish: Yes - Although it can survive in a freshwater tank as a juvenile it is recommended to have at least 1.002 sg. Salt must be added as the fish ages with 1.010 sg recommended for an adult.
  • Water Movement: Strong - A migratory species, they prefer large open areas in which to swim. Sometimes they will spend hours swimming in-place in front of the outlet of a strong water filter.
  • Water Region: All - These are a demersal fish but will spend time swimming in open areas.

Social Behaviors

The Silver-tipped Shark are generally a good community fish with fish their own size that are not territorial. In the wild they are a schooling fish so a group of at least three or more is recommended. If kept alone, they will be noticeably uncomfortable and exhibit skittish behavior such as darting about the aquarium and quickly swimming from top to bottom frequently. When settled in with other shark catfish, they will still be rather lively and often on the move, which is one of the attractions of keeping them. They are one of a few catfish that is active during daylight hours.

Don't keep with fish that are much smaller since the shark catfish are predaceous and may eat smaller fish.

  • Venomous: Yes - The spines on this fish contain a toxin that will produce a sting similar to a bee sting in most people. Submersing the affected area in hot water will relieve the pain although medical attention is required in rare cases. Aquarium gloves can prevent injury during tank maintenance.
  • Temperament: Peaceful - Silver-tipped Sharks are highly predatory to smaller fish.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - These fish require a school of at least three fish.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe - Best kept with other large schooling fish like scats, monos, garpikes, and non-aggressive cichlids.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor - Do not do well with aggressive fish like territorial cichlids.
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Threat - These are fast and aggressive at feeding time!
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Threat - is aggressive
    • Plants: Safe - Although they will root around in the substrate, they usually do not uproot plants or disturb rockwork.

Sex: Sexual differences

Difficult to sex when young, but mature females are thicker-bodied than males.

Breeding / Reproduction

The Shark Catfish have not been successfully bred in aquariums. In the wild they are mouth-brooders with the male brooding the eggs. The issue with breeding these fish in aquariums is the difficulty replicating their natural breeding behavour. These fish will spawn in marine environments, the male carries the eggs in his mouth until incubation is complete. Once this happens, the male swims upstream to deposit the fry into freshwater where they begin their lifecycle and migrate back to the brackish water to live and the the oceans to spawn.

  • Ease of Breeding: Difficult - Aquatic breedings are incredibly rare as the aquarist must simulate the fish traveling from marine to freshwater breeding grounds and back. This fish is a mouthbrooder that will produce very few large eggs which the male will watch over.

Fish Diseases

Silver-tipped sharks are fairly resilient and an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. When keeping more sensitive types of fish, it is common for all fishes to be infected even before the first warning signs are noticed. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Silver-tip the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease.

Some common disease these fish can contract are Dactylogyrus Gill Fluke Disease, Skin Fluke, Cestoda infestation, and Metacercaria infection.

High nitrate levels can cause Silver-tipped sharks to develop infected barbels; this makes it difficult for them to navigate and eat normally. Maintain nitrate levels below 20 ppm.

Remember anything you add to your tank can bring disease to your tank. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quaranteen anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.

Silver-Tipped Sharks are fairly hardy fish when mature but are subject to the same diseases as other tropical fish. One of the most common freshwater fish ailments is ich. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see: Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.

Because they are a scaleless fish, catfish can be treated with pimafix or melafix but should not be treated with potassium permanganate or copper based medications. Malachite green or formalin can be used at one half to one fourth the recommended dosage. All medications should be used with caution.


The Silver-tipped Shark or Shark Catfish is readily available and moderately priced at around $5.00 (2013)


Author: David Brough. CFS., Jeremy Roche
Available From These Merchants
Silver Tipped Shark Silver Tipped Shark
Offered By: PetsMart
Price: $4.89
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Lastest Animal Stories on Silver-tipped Shark

matt - 2014-11-30
My silver tip catfish has white bumps on his let side. Any ideas what it could be ? I have pics. thanks

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-12-02
    Hard to say Matt, but lumps, bumps, and growths can also be a variety of things.  The first thing to determine is if he eating and swimming around normally. Is so, it could just be that he has injured himself, but if not then you need to look for other symptoms.  Often they are simply a bacterial infection, but also check for ich, fungus, or Columnaris, see the Fish Disease and Treatment page to help. Then if all those are all ruled out you have to look at things like encysted worms (i.e. nematodes), Lymphocystis - a viral infection, or even possibly tumors.

Kristina - 2014-09-10
I got a silver tip shark about a month ago and I have it in a 5 gal tank. The fish mostly just sits in one corner of the tank and doesn't do much. why? is it because he's stressed or lonely? and how often do I need to clean/replace water in the tank. new at this fish thing.

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-09-10
    It sounds like you fish is very unhappy, probably because the tank is way too small. If you check out the aquarium setup section for this fish, you'll get an idea of what to do to keep him not only healthy, but happy:)
  • Adrienne - 2014-11-15
    Make sure you have the right amount of salt in your tank. They are brackish fish
  • Knife Fish Lover - 2014-11-20
    Your tank is way too small,as the Silver Tip Shark-Catfish needs a 55-75 gallon minimum.
Knife Fish Lover - 2014-11-20
Can you write a page on Tandanus Tandanus,the Eel Tail Catfish?

Jaymi Loobey - 2014-08-20
Okay. I am thoughrohly confused now. I saw this fish at petco and the card said nothing about it being brackish or slightly poisonous. The petsmart site you guys show as selling this fish says it's related to minnows, not catfish like you do. And you say it is a scaleless fish even though the picture you have of it clearly is of a fish with scales. I just want to know if one will go well with bala sharks and a koi. Sheesh!

  • David Brough - 2014-08-20
    The point you make about confusion in the pet industry is a good one. The problem is compounded by the fact that different fish may have the same common names. That is why we always mention the genus-species. The fish at Petsmart has the same common name but is a different species. Animal-World is describing Ariopsis seemani while Petsmart is selling is something else... Im not sure what it is since I can't find it on their page. However, if you google Silver-tipped Shark you will find that a majority of write-ups describe it as a catfish. There are also actual sharks, a large species of requiem sharks with the same or similar name. The catfish on Animal-World may better be called a Columbian Shark Catfish, we will consider changing it. Sorry about the confusion.
  • Clarice Brough - 2014-08-20
    I think the retailer has the fish mis-labeled - and thus their care info pertains to a totally different fish. You can tell the difference between a minnow species and a catfish species by looking at the fins on their back. This fish, the Silver-tip or Columbian Shark, has two fins on top, a large dorsal fin in front followed by an adipose fin just in front of the tail. Minnows are not sharks or catfish, but Cyprinids, and although some types of minnows may have barbels (just like this fish does) no Cyprinid will ever have the second fin on its back... the adipose fin will be absent.

    As far as compatibility, the Bala Shark (which is a Cyprinid) is a good sized fish, and peaceful but skittish. It gets along with most fish, even smaller fish, just as long as they are too large to fit in its mouth. This Silver-tip is a catfish, and it too is peaceful with other fish as long as they are the same size or larger. Minnows would be fine with either of these two fish, as they too are peaceful... but watch the size when keeping them, especially with a catfish. If you add a fish that is tiny, it could become lunch.