Looking like a mini marine shark, the Columbian Shark, also known as Tete Sea catfish, can be quite tempting to have! Unfortunately, these cool-looking fish are often misidentified.

There is so much incorrect information given about them by amateur hobbyists and disreputable retailers. If you are thinking of getting this fish, please read this article so your Columbian Shark can reach its full potential.

Columbian Shark Stats

Listed tank sizes are the minimum
Size: 12-14 + inches (30-35cm)
Tank: 48 inches minimum for young
Strata: Lower to middle
PH: 6.8 to 8.0
Hardness: Medium hard to hard, 8-30 dH
Temperature: 75°F to 80°F (25-27°C)


Order: Siluriformes
Suborder: Siluroidei
Family: Ariidae
Genera: Arius
Species: seemani


Columbian Sharks can be found in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. As youngsters, these shark catfish reside in rivers and tributaries for a few weeks or months. Eventually, they congregate in estuaries as adults and move to the Pacific coastline.


No, they are not. The Tete Sea Catfish has always been mistaken as a mini shark, and it is not hard to see why this happens.

The Columbian Shark features nearly the same iconic profile as a shark. It comes with a tall, triangle-shaped dorsal fin and sizeable anal and pectoral fins to boot. If you look at this fish from a distance, you can be easily fooled!

But if you look at it closer, you will see more of the signature catfish characteristics. Its underslung mouth is rimmed with maxillary barbels and chin barbels, thereby revealing its true identity.

How Big Can Columbian Sharks Get?

Columbian Sharks are often sold as juveniles in pet stores, measuring around 2 to 4 inches. However, these shark catfish grow pretty fast. Your pet will grow over a foot long by the time it is a year-old. A full-grown Columbian Shark is around 10 to 14 inches, but these guys can reach lengths of 18 to 20 inches with exceptional care.

Do Columbian Sharks Change Colors?

No, they do not. As juveniles, Columbian Sharks are predominantly grey with a glimmering silver hue. Adults tend to lose their shimmer and become more matted as they grow older. Rest assured they look striking nonetheless. Due to the black linings on its dorsal fin and tail fin, this species earned the nicknames black finned shark and black fin shark.

Behavior and Temperament

Columbian Sharks are a far cry from the fearsome shark. If you think these little guys will play macho in your tank, then you got it all wrong.

Are Columbian Sharks Aggressive?

Nope. Columbian Sharks might mistake tetras and guppies for food, but these shark catfish are docile. As a matter of fact, these fish are easily bullied by other species, such as puffers, damselfish, and triggerfish. Thus, you will need to choose tankmates with care.

Are Columbian Sharks Schooling Fish?

These shark catfish are happy to be in large groups. The more friends they have, the merrier they are. Although the Columbian Shark is big and predatory, it has a bright and cheerful character. When alone, it feels sad and becomes lethargic.

Columbian Sharks Communicate By Making Noise

One of the most interesting behaviors observed in Columbian Sharks is the sounds they produce. The Columbian Shark makes clicking and grinding noises by rubbing its pectoral fins against its sockets.

Little is known why these fish do this, but it is believed that these audible sounds help keep the school together in murky waters and warn others of an incoming threat. Similar to a dolphin’s echolocation system, this type of audio navigation is much more efficient than sight or lateral lines.

If you get a bunch of these shark catfish, expect them to get pretty loud inside your home aquarium.

Are Columbian Sharks Poisonous?

Though not fatal, the Columbian Shark can inflict pain. Its pointed dorsal spine is connected to a venom-producing gland. If you put your hand inside the tank, the fish might perceive it as a predator invading its domain and feel frightened.

The sting, which is comparable to a bee sting, can lead to inflammation and redness.

Therefore, exercise caution when cleaning out your tank. Better yet, wear thick gloves that extend up to the arms. Also, make sure there is an antidote nearby just in case.

Columbian Shark Care Guide

A school of Columbian Sharks might make a wonderful showpiece in your tank. However, these guys are not the easiest pets to have, as they evolve continuously and become more demanding as they age.


Columbian Sharks are carnivores. So as far as nutritional requirements are concerned, these shark catfish will thrive in a high-protein diet. While they may accept commercial fish feed, these carnivores will do best with live or freeze-dried meats.

Here are highly nutritious and satisfying options for your carnivorous fish:

  • Brine or ghost shrimp
  • Bloodworms
  • Mussel
  • Mysis shrimp
  • Prawn
  • Tubifex worms
  • Strips of tilapia

A large meal once a day is ample. A few small meals each day is fine, too.
As with other catfish, Columbian Sharks may spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank and scavenge food. However, they can get fast and aggressive during feeding times, as well. These fish would not hesitate to come up to the middle and upper tiers to obtain their rations.

Water Conditions

One common misconception first-timers have about the Columbian Shark is that it is a freshwater species. As such, many have committed the grave mistake of keeping adults in freshwater tanks. This is not the case with this migratory catfish.

1. Salinity

Juveniles may start as a freshwater fish. That is why you will see them displayed in freshwater tanks in your local pet store. But as the fish grow about 9 inches, you will need to transition them to brackish water, preferably hard water with some salt added. Eight months later, you will need to transition them again to full saltwater.

Catfish are intolerant of salt and will not survive even a slight salinity. However, the Columbian Shark and Eel Catfish are a few exceptions. Young fish will require a salinity of 1.002 sg as a minimum, and the amount of salt needs to increase as they grow. A salinity of 1.1015 to 1.025 is recommended for full-grown adults.

You should not use table salt, as it contains additives that may poison your fish. Use marine aquaria salt mixes such as Reef Crystals and Instant Ocean.

2. Temperature, pH Level, Hardiness

Columbian Sharks do not do well with cold water temperatures, as it can compromise their immune system and make them more susceptible to disease.

This species will do best with the following water parameters:

  • Water Temperature: 75°F to 80°F (24°C – 27°C)
  • pH Levels: 7.0 to 8.0
  • Water Hardness: 10 to 12 KH

3. Maintenance

Perform weekly water tests to ensure the water parameters are consistent. Partial water changes every two weeks is also vital not only to keep the tank water pristine but also to reduce nitrate concentrations. Nitrate levels should never exceed above 20 ppm.

Use a gravel vacuum to siphon out waste from the substrate and be sure to remove large detritus. Watch out for algae buildup, as well.

4. Equipment

The Columbian Shark is a riverine species that appreciates strong currents and highly oxygenated water. To accomplish this, you will need a powerhead to encourage water flow.

Disease Prevention

The Columbian Shark is a fairly hardy species as adults, but they are still subject to the same disease as any other tropical fish, especially when they are kept in freshwater for far too long.

1. Common Diseases

The most common ailments that affect this species are:

  • Ich
  • Dactylogyrus Gill Fluke DIsease
  • Skin Fluke
  • Cestoda infestation
  • Metacercaria infection

Columbian Sharks are also prone to developing infected barbels, which makes it difficult for them to eat and navigate their surroundings.

2. Preventive Measures

You need to replicate their habitat in the wild as closely as possible. The closer your aquarium resembles the fish’s natural environment, the healthier and happier they will be.

Otherwise, your fish will get stressed. Stress weakens the immune system and makes your fish vulnerable to several diseases.

Another important task is to provide them a species-appropriate diet. Columbian Sharks may accept carnivore pellets, but live and freeze-dried meats are always preferable.

New fish, decor, and substrate are potential carriers of disease. Likewise, they may contain certain chemicals that may upset the balance of an established tank. So, you will need to quarantine new fish and sterilize anything before you add them.

3. Treatment

You may use malachite green and formalin at ½ to ¼ the recommended dosage. Be sure to use any medication with caution.

Since these fish have no scales, any medication containing copper and potassium permanganate should be avoided.

Tank Setup

If you think the tricky part is over, then you are completely wrong. Setting up the ideal tank for your Columbian Shark is not an easy feat.

Tank Size

A 75-gallon tank might work for one Columbian Shark. But because you need to keep at least three, you will need a 100-gallon tank to start. These fish tend to become lethargic when kept alone.

Remember, these fish grow fast and can reach 14 inches in length in just two years. Some can even grow up to 20 inches when kept in ideal water conditions. That said, you will need a much bigger tank in the future.

Apart from their size, Columbian Sharks are active and need ample swimming space. Keeping them in a small tank prompts the fish to swim back and forth in one corner, as though they are trying to get out.

Plants and Decoration

As a riverine species, these active fish will need a lot of unobstructed swimming areas. Columbian Sharks love to swim to and fro, and they would often do so along the currents, as though they are swimming downstream.

These fish do not require caves and shelters that other fish would use to hide. But as juveniles, these shark catfish are coy and skittish. Thus, you may need to add some aquatic plants for cover.

Besides, their natural habitat includes dense vegetation and rocky outcrops. You will want to replicate this environment in your home aquarium to ensure your fish transitions to its new home as smoothly as possible. Adding some driftwood will also help mimic their surroundings in the wild.

Since Columbian Sharks prefer swimming in the mid-bottom tier of the tank, it would be wise to use floating aquatic plants than rooted ones to maximize their swimming area.

But before you get too excited with the decorations, you need to take into account the adult size of your fish and provide adequate space between the plants and rocks. In doing so, your fish can swim around the decor with ease as they grow bigger. Lastly, be sure not to add decorative items with sharp edges.


The best substrate would be anything soft and smooth to prevent injuries to their sensitive barbels.


Columbian Sharks could not care less about the lighting. Regardless, you should consider adding floating aquatic plants to provide them a little shade. Thus, you can adjust the lighting to suit other species within a community aquarium.

Tank Mates

How many Columbian Sharks do you have? Before you decide what other species to add to your tank, you need to make sure you have at least three Columbian Sharks at hand. As mentioned earlier, these catfish are timid and are easily bullied when kept singly.

Columbian Sharks are best kept with similar-sized fish that are indifferent towards other species. Tank mates that are small can be easily mistaken as food.

Here are some excellent tank mates to consider:

  • Arches
  • Garpikes
  • Gobies
  • Green Chromides
  • Monos
  • Scats
  • Targetfish

But because Columbian Sharks have ever-changing water requirements, it won’t take long for them to leave their tank mates behind. Forcing your catfish to live in freshwater conditions is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, increasing the salinity of the water to keep your catfish happy will cause the others to die.

In the end, your Columbian Sharks will have to live with themselves or with other marine species.


All Columbian Sharks sold in pet stores and specialist dealers are wild-caught because it is impossible to breed them in captivity. In the wild, these fish would travel great lengths to spawn and males would provide the mouthbrooding. Replicating both the distance traveled and the water chemistry changes what makes breeding this species an uphill climb.


The Columbian Shark might be one of the coolest-looking fish you can add to your home aquarium, but they are not suggested for beginners. Actually, they are not a good choice for the majority of home hobbyists.

Here’s a wrap-up:

  • The Columbian Shark is not a freshwater species. Their water chemistry needs changes throughout their life. Youngsters are sold as freshwater fish, but as they mature, they need to transition to brackish water. Eventually, you will need to move them to a large, marine tank.
  • These shark catfish will appreciate strong water currents and unobstructed swimming space.
  • The feeding habits of the Columbian Shark can be pretty expensive. As a carnivorous species, protein is the highest requirement in their diet. Not to mention, you have at least three hungry mouths to feed and they get bigger each day.
  • You could get stung by the poisonous spines of the Columbian Shark during maintenance cleaning.
  • Columbian Sharks can get depressed when kept singly, but they are quite the lively bunch when kept in large numbers.

Hopefully, you have understood the needs of these humongous catfish! If you already have some solid foundation in fish care and you are willing to go through all these challenges, then perhaps, it is high time you get a Columbian Shark.

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