Arowana is an expensive type of fish, but Asian Arowana is even more so. Now, why do the Asian Elite and high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party pay a fortune to get them?

Arowanas are a long-term commitment and they are one of the most challenging fish to keep in the hobby. For this article, we will try our best to shed some light on the Arowana enigma.

Arowana Stats

Scientific Name
  • Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum)
  • Australian Arowana (Scleropages jardinii)
  • Southern Saratoga (Scleropages leichardti)
  • Asian Arowana (Scleropages formosus)
Family Osteoglossidae
Genus
  • Osteoglossum
  • Scleropages
Size of Fish 3 – 4 feet
Colors & Patterns Silver, gold, green, and red
Diet Carnivore
Min. Tank Size 300 – 500 gallons
Temperature 75 – 82 °F
pH 5.0 – 7.5
Hardness 1 to 8 dKH
Lifespan 20 years
Temperament Highly territorial and predatory

Arowana Background

Arowanas are Osteoglossiformes, thus belonging to a family of basal teleosts dating back to the age of dinosaurs. These apex predators inhabit the inland waters of South America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. The most common Arowana for a fish keeper is the Silver Arowana, which hails from the Amazon River Basin.

– Are Arowanas Endangered?

All strains of arowanas are probably endangered but Asian arowanas are in the direst straits, especially Red arowanas. Back in the day, these fishes were harvested in the wild for human consumption, but environmental destruction has become a major threat to these slow-reproducing animals. So, in 1975, over 180 countries signed a treaty to classify the Asian Arowana as a rare species.

– How and Where Can You Get Arowanas?

The treaty, on the other hand, backfired and birthed a perception of rarity. Asian arowanas transformed into a luxurious commodity, thus kickstarting a market for this fish in the aquarium trade.

Currently, there are over 150 farms across Asia that breed Asian arowanas for commercial purposes, including Kenny Yap’s Qian Hu Corporation in Singapore. These farms are monitored by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES.)

Beginning in the late 1980s, CITES has loosened restrictions to allow the trade of captive-bred Asian arowanas provided that the fish were born to parents that were also born and raised in captivity. Farm-raised specimens that are legal for trade under CITES are documented in two ways:

  • CITES-approved fish farms have to provide a certificate of authenticity and birth certificate to the buyer
  • Each specimen will receive an implanted microchip
  • Are Arowanas Illegal in the United States?
  • Ownership of South American, African, or Australian arowanas is not illegal in the United States. Asian arowanas, on the other hand, are banned.

Arowana Appearance

In Asia, freshwater Arowana is thought to be a harbinger of good luck, as it resembles the Chinese dragon.

– What Does an Arowana Look Like?

Arowanas are known for their humongous size and elongated bodies. These slender fish are also prized for their heavy, glimmering, metallic scales that help fend off attacks from aggressive species; each scale can reach two centimeters in length. Asian Arowanas, in particular, have raised, mosaic-like scales that add to their exquisiteness.

Also known as “bony tongues,” these fish have a toothed plate of bone on the floor of their tongues and the roof of their mouths. Their specialized mouth opens like a trapdoor, allowing them to catch surface prey with ease. In short, Arowana teeth are to be taken seriously. Osteoglossiformes also have a pair of mandibular barbels that they use to sense movement.

– Colors Morphs

As for the color, arowanas come in silver, gold, green, and red depending on the locality they were collected. Red-tailed golden arowanas are of particular beauty, with intense gingery colors.

You may also see a Platinum Arowana somewhere, but take note; it is not a separate species. The term “Platinum Silver Arowana” is loosely used in the aquarium trade for referring to specimens with a genetic condition (albinism) or to proper Platinum Arowanas. Both variants (Albino and Platinum) are pale in color, but Platinum Arowanas retain the original color of their eyes.

Since these variants are quite rare, Albino Asian Arowanas can fetch tens of thousands of dollars, while Platinum Asian Arowanas can be worth a staggering half a million dollars!

– Gender Differences

Arowanas are notoriously difficult to sex. It will take a considerable amount of experience to identify the differences between males and females.

What Are the Different Types of Arowana?

Asian arowanas are considered to be the most beautiful species of arowanas, but their South American and Australian counterparts possess exceptional beauty, as well.

1. Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum)

The Osteoglossum bicirrhosum hails from the Orinoco and Amazon basins. Better known as the Silver Arowana, it features a distinct metallic silver color.

It also has elongated dorsal and anal fins that appear to be unique to South American arowanas.

The Silver Arowana is the largest of all Arowana species; it can reach 16 to 20 inches within its first year and maxes out at three and a half feet in length. While the Silver Arowana is indeed enormous — to the point that it is known as giant Arowana — it is surprisingly the least aggressive. Likewise, it is the cheapest and most common Arowana you can find in the pet trade.

2. Black Arowana (Osteoglossum ferreirai)

The Osteoglossum ferreirai is another South American Arowana. An adult specimen closely resembles a Silver Arowana, except that it has black fins.


Also known as the Black Arowana, it features distinct black bands covering the length of its body and it is often sold young with its yolk sac attached. The stripes, however, fade as the fish matures, leaving its body with a purplish hue that is more prominent toward the anal fin.

3. Australian Arowana (Scleropages jardinii)

The Scleropages jardinii is native to Northern Australia and New Guinea.

This species has the potential to grow to almost three feet in length. The fish has a reddish crescent-shaped mark at the end of its copper scales, which sometimes appear as pink spots on the dorsal, anal, and caudal fins.

Most aquarists consider the Australian arowana to be the meanest of all Arowana species. The fish would never tolerate tank mates once it reaches 12 to 14 inches in size.

4. Southern Saratoga (Scleropages leichardti)

The Scleropages leichardti is another Arowana originating from Australia but this time, it came from the coastal northeastern part of the country.


While the two species resemble each other, the Saratoga’s pink coloration is more prominent toward the edge of its scales. The Saratoga also appears more slender.

5. African Arowana (Heterotis niloticus)

Arowanas from the Chad and Nile rivers can grow up to almost four feet in length. However, an African Arowana’s appearance is way too different compared to Southern American, Australian, and Asian arowanas.


These fish have distinctly round heads and pointy mouths that allow them to sift through sand to feed on tiny crustaceans and other mollusks. In reality, these fish are a much closer relative of the arapaima rather than the Arowana.

6. Asian Arowanas (Scleropages formosus)

Next up on our list are the arowanas of Asia, starting with the Golden Arowana from Bukit Merah, Indonesia.

Golden arowanas are sought-after due to their remarkable beauty.

7. The Golden Arowana

The Golden Arowana is special because it boasts a lustrous golden head. Some specimens may also glimmer all the way up to their back.

Golden arowanas with a full metallic head and a cross-back coloration are considered to be the most prestigious Golden Arowana. The more intense the gold coloration is, the better.

8. The Red-Tailed Golden Arowana

Another Arowana coming from Indonesia is the Red-Tailed Golden Arowana. This variant resembles the Golden Arowana except that it has red fins.

Also, the metallic scales of this species don’t shine past their fourth row of scales.

9. The Green Arowana

The Green Arowana is another rare gem, which can be fouArowanaat the Nami Dam in Malaysia. It is often mistaken for the Yellow-Tailed arowana of Banjarmasin, Borneo.


As you might have guessed, the only difference between the two is that the Green Arowana lacks the yellowish dorsal, caudal, and anal fins of the Yellow-Tailed.

10. The Red Arowana

Last but not least, is one of the world’s most expensive aquatic creatures, the Red Arowana. As the name implies, it flaunts a gorgeous red color from barbel to tail.

As juveniles, the coloration is limited around the lips and fins but as the fish matures, it becomes more vivid and extends all over the body.

This out-of-the-world beauty naturally lives in Lake Sentarum, in Borneo. Although their numbers are dwindling fast in the wild, they have been bred in large-scale hatcheries due to high demand among Asian aristocrats.

Decoding Arowana Behavior and Temperament

Arowanas are carnivorous surface feeders. These predators are notorious for using their slender and powerful bodies to leap out of the water to capture aerial prey, such as insects and small birds. A full grown Arowana can jump more than six feet from the water, hence earning the nickname “water monkeys.” Thanks to their distinctive hunting style, these highly predatory creatures can enjoy a wide variety of prey, including rabbits, frogs, and even snakes.

– Are Arowanas Aggressive?

Arowanas are renowned for their aggressive nature. In most cases, these reclusive creatures do not tolerate the presence of another Arowana regardless of whether it belongs to a different species or not. Therefore, it is ill-advised to keep more than one Arowana in the same tank.

Male arowanas tend to be worse than females. Extremely hostile, they are dead set on fighting other males. However, nothing beats the viciousness of the Australian arowana. Once the fish reaches 12 inches or more, it would start murdering its tankmates one by one.

– Do Arowanas Need Tank Mates?

The arowana is a perfect example of a solitary, territorial fish. But unless you are planning to keep an Australian arowana, you can stock your tank with other kinds of fish. Here are a few compatible species you can partner it with:

  • Adult plecos
  • Knifefish
  • Large cichlids
  • Oscars
  • Pacu
  • Siamese tigerfish
  • Silver Dollar
  • Tinfoil barb
  • Other aggressive fish that cannot fit inside an Arowana’s mouth

Most Arowana species are not bullies in a community aquarium; they would only ignore their tank mates. The general rule is to avoid small fish that will be eyed as potential meals. Likewise, exercise caution when adding other monster fish as they might outgrow and eat your Arowana.

– Can You Keep Arowanas Together?

No. As mentioned earlier, adult arowanas don’t get along well together. But if you are insistent, you might have a better chance of success by keeping at least six juvenile arowanas together in a large natural pond or an aquarium of similar size.

Arowana Care Guide: Are Arowanas Hard to Keep?

Arowanas have identical care requirements, including a love for live fare, as well as soft and slightly acidic water. These monster fish also tend to jump out of the tank, so take note!

– Arowana Diet

Arowanas have been known to jump out of the water to snatch unsuspecting birds, rabbits, and even small snakes. But if these delicacies aren’t readily available, they would settle on insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish.

In captivity, you can provide your gluttonous fish a nutritious diet comprising:

  • frozen and live food, such as krill, bloodworms, and shrimp
  • crickets, cockroaches, and other live farm-bred insects
  • protein-packed feeder fish like guppies and the common goldfish

You can also train a young Arowana to live on a diet consisting of fresh meat. Chopped chicken, beef heart, and slices of raw fish are excellent examples. Some hobbyists have succeeded in feeding their arowanas with dried commercial food, but it isn’t worth trying to accustom your fish to such a diet. An obligate predator will need protein to thrive.

– Water Parameters

Arowanas can be found in warm, tannin-rich waters with minimal currents. Their natural habitat is also teeming with plant life, which works to their advantage since they lurk on the surface, awaiting a potential snack. While it is unnecessary to go as far as to replicate blackwater environments, you will want to pay close attention to the pH balance, temperature, and hardness.

  • Water temperature: 75° to 82°F
  • pH levels: 5.0 to 7.5 (aim for the middle)
  • Water hardness: 1 to 8 dKH

Arowanas can handle some fluctuation, but it is always better to stick within the recommended range to ensure your pet’s health. Perform a water test every three days.

The biggest challenge, however, lies in maintaining the cleanliness of the tank. Arowanas eat a lot and defecate just as much, thereby adding an enormous load on the tank’s filtration and biological processing capacity.

Ammonia and nitrates can get out of hand fast, so perform partial water changes each week. You can keep biological wastes and harmful toxins at bay with this simple step.

– Health Risks

Failure to provide your Arowana with insufficient space can lead to a myriad of problems. For starters, the fish will start feeling claustrophobic. Anything that can stress out a fish will impair its immunity, thus allowing pathogens to take a toll on its health. The survival rate of your fish will also depend upon the quality of the water maintained inside the tank.

The most frequent complaint I heard in the case of arowanas is that they don’t live long in captivity. The Arowana lifespan can reach 20 years in the wild but unfortunately for many first-time owners, their expensive fish could not even live for more than a year. Why? The culprit could be the filtration system. Hobbyists who succeeded in keeping these fish for at least a decade have been keeping them in ponds that have powerful filtration systems.

Arowana Tank Setup

In this section, let us discuss how to set up an Arowana tank. There are more factors to consider beyond water quality and parameters.

– What Size Tank Do I Need for Arowana?

Getting the right tank size is the first and most important step to ensure successful fishkeeping and even more so for a species that can reach three feet in length. Arowanas are best kept in an outdoor pond, which can provide them with sufficient space and the freedom to exercise their natural hunting instincts.

For an indoor aquarium, you will need:

  • a minimum of 500 gallons for a South American Arowana
  • a minimum of 300 gallons for an Australian or Asian Arowana

The Arowana is a monster fish, so it is only natural that it requires a humongous tank.

Juveniles may do fine in a 150-gallon tank but although they start small, they can grow rather fast. These voracious eaters can grow two inches more each month. You can expect your Arowana to reach its maximum size within two years or less.

Moreover, put more consideration toward the width and length of the tank than the height. A wide, shallow tank prevents your fish from gaining momentum for jumping.

To stay on the safe side, you will want to install a tight-fitting aquarium hood; otherwise, you might find yourself chasing after a rogue Arowana. Some fishkeepers use a plexiglass lid with a side door, which allows you to access the water surface.

Then again, there is no evidence of arowanas reaching at least a decade in a community tank. Robust full-sized arowanas living in a community are often housed in large ponds.

– What Substrate Is Best for an Arowana Tank?

Arowanas inhabit the middle and uppermost layers of the water column, which means they pay little concern with what sort of substrate you use. At the end of the day, the type of substrate all boils down to the preference of the fishkeeper.

Many aquarists prefer keeping their monster fish in a bare bottom tank for quick cleanup and increased water flow. I recommend you do the same since extra-large tanks are a pain to maintain.

But if you are looking to keep live plants, then you will want to choose a substrate that will cater best to the needs of your chosen plants, as well as increase the contrast of colors within your tank.

– Can Arowanas Live in a Planted Tank?

Yes, they can! Many owners have succeeded in keeping arowanas in planted tanks. After all, arowanas are endemic to lush environments. Arowanas do not uproot or destroy plants. On the downside, you cannot expect live plants to flourish without supplementation, especially when only one fish is living in an enormous aquarium.

Regardless, here are some fantastic choices for an Arowana tank:

  • African Water Fern
  • Anubias sp.
  • Amazon Swords
  • Chain Sword Plants
  • Dwarf Cryptocoryne
  • Java Fern
  • Java Moss
  • Vallisneria sp.

While plants make your aquarium attractive, you need to make sure your fish still has ample swimming space. Arrange plants sparingly on the sides and leave the middle portion open. You may also choose to add some floating plants to help deter your Arowana from jumping out, although that alone will not stop your fish.

– Do Arowanas Need Light?

Yes, they do! Apart from the diet and water quality, proper lighting is vital to maximizing the beauty of your fish, particularly for Red and Golden arowanas. Direct sunlight may also help saturate fish coloration.

For starters, you will need a viewing light, which is a key piece of almost every aquarium. I recommend LED lights as they are efficient and they last longer than most kinds. On a side note, it is best to have an ambient room light before turning viewing lights at night. Some arowanas can get spooked out by the slightest provocation.

Moreover, you will need tanning lights to intensify the color of your fish. Whether or not the use of tanning lights is humane remains a moot point among aquarists, but it is a widely accepted truth that these lights can enhance the natural coloration of Red and Golden arowanas.

– Should I Add Decorations to an Arowana Tank?

Similar to using live plants, adding decorations is a fishkeeper’s personal choice. In my opinion, it is best to keep an Arowana tank clutter-free. Decorations will only provide opportunities for bacteria to proliferate as well as latching sites for food debris and wastes.

– Does Arowana Need Filter?

There are several filtration systems available in the market, but what is the best filter for Arowana? Remember, you will need at least 300 to 500 gallons of water to keep an Arowana flipping and kicking its beautiful tail for years. To filter this volume of water, you will need a large external filter.

We recommend that you build a sump filter as it delivers mechanical, biological, chemical, and organic filtration. You may purchase a commercial canister filter of appropriate ratings and reviews, but building a sump filter would still be the best route. You can use different filter media you deem appropriate, plus you can alter the sizes of the compartments.

Arowana’s Breeding

The Asian Arowana is the epitome of a mass-produced endangered species. Despite their dwindling numbers in the wild, farm-raised specimens are being bred by the hundreds of thousands each year.

– Can You Breed Arowana in an Aquarium?

The short answer is no. If you are planning to breed arowanas in an aquarium setting, then you might as well give up because it is an impossible endeavor due to their size, penchant for aggression, and long courtship period. What’s more, it will take four to five years before arowanas reach maturity.

To make the process even more challenging, these behemoths tend to be quite picky when choosing mates. Things won’t end well if you force a female and male to live in the same tank. The two might not like each other and therefore, kill each other. You will need a group of at least six arowanas for them to pair off naturally.

– How Do Arowana Fishes Reproduce?

Arowanas are mouthbrooders. Once they pair off, the couple will build a nest for the female to lay her eggs. Female arowanas spawn once a year, producing between 30 to 80 eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the male will scoop them up in its mouth. The male will incubate the eggs inside its mouth for up to 50 days until they hatch. The fry will stay for an additional five weeks.

Why Are Arowana Fishes So Expensive?

The vivid red color and metallic coin-like scales of these large fish undulate the Chinese dragon, which is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. That is why Asian arowanas have become a highly sought ornamental fish and the wealthy would place them on a pedestal: because of their resemblance with this mythological animal.

Conclusion

If you are indeed fascinated by Arowanas, then we would like to re-emphasize these important things:

  • Arowanas require large aquaria as they can grow anywhere between three to four feet. Having limited space not only produces stress-induced illness but also drives them to become more aggressive.
  • As you already know, arowanas are gluttons. These enormous fish need a high-protein diet not only to cope up with their rapid growth rate but also to satisfy their ravenous appetites. Due to this, they also produce a hefty amount of waste that could degrade the water quality.
  • Building a sump filter for an Arowana tank is a worthwhile investment.
  • Aside from keeping the water pristine, it should be soft and slightly acidic at a temperature between 75° to 82° F. Perform regular water changes but do not change the water for more than 25 percent at one time.
  • Albeit territorial and aggressive, arowanas can tolerate large aggressive fish. The Australian arowana, however, prefers to be alone its entire life unless it wants to mate.
  • Red and Golden arowanas, without a high-quality diet, proper lighting, and ideal water conditions, would only appear orange at best.
  • You will need to properly cover the Arowana’s tank to prevent escape.

Thank you for going through this article. We wish you the best of luck in your fishkeeping adventures!.

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