Arowana in aquarium

Arowana Care: Guide On Types, Tanks, Diet, And More

Arowanas are large, beautiful fish often referred to as “dragon fish,” given their striking resemblance to the Chinese dragon. They aren’t the easiest fish species to keep, given their dietary needs, size, and tank requirements. However, with proper care, the Arowana can make a fantastic addition to your home, be a source of joy and entertainment, and may even bring you some luck, according to legend.

Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know to keep Arowanas properly, maintain their health, and help them thrive.

Recommended Arowana Care Kit:


Arowana Appearance

Arowanas are unmistakable for any other fish species. They have long bodies with large scales that appear in a mosaic pattern on their sides.

They have long pectoral, dorsal, and anal fins that give them their dragon-like appearance.

The caudal fin is distinct from the dorsal and anal fins, but fans out nearly enough to meet them.

They have a large lower jaw sporting many teeth for ripping apart their prey. They have teeth elsewhere in their mouths as well, including on their tongue. They are sometimes referred to as “bony tongues” because of this unique tooth location.

Arowanas vary in color quite a bit, ranging from stark white and gold to bright red and green. The coloration is correlated to the classification of Arowana, which we’ll get into in more detail later. Most appear a bit metallic regardless of their coloring.


Arowana Size

Arowanas are one of the larger fish species that is commonly kept by aquarists. They usually get between two and three feet long. Most are between 6 and 10 pounds, but they are known to grow up to about 20 pounds.


Arowana Lifespan

Depending on various factors, including the classification of Arowana, these large fish typically live anywhere from 10-20 years.


Types of Arowanas

There are many different kinds of Arowanas, varying in origin, color, size, lifespan, and diet. We’ll break down the most popular types by region below.

1. South American Arowanas

Silver and Black Arowanas inhabit the Amazon, Oyapock, and Essequibo River basins.

Silver Arowana

The Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum Bicirrhosum) lives in freshwater forest rivers. It feeds predominantly on crustaceans and smaller fish. However, it has been known to hover near the surface, waiting for prey to come near before leaping out to catch it. It can feed on birds, bats, rodents, snakes, and any other small animal.

These are the most common and most affordable Arowanas.

Black Arowana

Black Arowanas (Osteoglossum Ferreirai) frequent the same forest rivers as their Silver counterparts, but they spend most of their time in blackwater – swamps, slow-moving rivers, and acidic wetlands.

These fish have yellow stripes down their sides when they are young, but these disappear as they age.

Black Arowanas have a similar diet and feeding habits to the Silver Arowana.

2. Australian Arowana

Australian Arowanas frequent slow-moving forest streams and pools, just like their relatives in South America.

Australian Arowana

One species of Arowana, simply referred to as the Australian Arowana (Scleropages Jardinii), is often dark grey or black with pink or reddish scales scattered along its body.

Australian Arowanas are very common, but they are often sold to unwitting and inexperienced fish owners as Golden Arowanas, which are far rarer.

They are known to be among the most aggressive and territorial of the Arowanas.

Saratoga

The Saratoga (Scleropages Leichardti) lives predominantly in the Fitzroy River in Australia, but they are found in several other river systems and dams.

They are just as aggressive – if not a bit more so – than Australian Arowanas.

They’re dark brown or olive green, and they have red or orange spots along their scales rather than pink. Their backs are oddly flat, and they look as though they’ve been compressed.

3. Asian Arowanas

Asian Arowanas live across the entire continent but are most common in the southeastern portion. They have a special place in Asian folklore, given their resemblance to a traditional Chinese dragon, and they’re thought to bring good luck to those who keep or see them.

Asian arowana swimming in front of black background

Green Arowana

The Green Arowana (Scleropages Formosus) is the most common Asian variety. They live in several areas throughout Asia but are found most often in Indonesia and Malaysia.

They are silverish or grey with some distinct green coloration on their scales.

Banjar/Yellow Tail Arowana

The Banjar Arowana (Scleropages Formosus) has grey and green coloring on most of its body but a distinct yellow coloration on its caudal and anal fins. The appearance is very striking and gives this fish its alternative name: the Yellow Tail Arowana.

They are often confused with Green Arowanas, especially if their yellow coloring is light.

Red Tail Golden Arowana

The Red Tail Golden Arowana (Scleropages Formosus) hails from the northern parts of Sumatra in Indonesia. It has red coloring on the scales near its dorsal fins, which turns into gold about three scales down its sides. Their caudal fins are red or brown.

The Red Tail Golden is one of the most desirable Arowanas and is thought to have the ideal aesthetic for the species.

Golden Arowana

Unlike Red Tail Goldens, the Golden Arowana (Scleropages Formosus) has a gold coloration that spans its entire body, from the belly up to the dorsal fin. They are stunning fish and often fetch some of the highest prices.

The Golden Arowana is native to the southern peninsula of Malaysia.

Red Arowana

The Red Arowana (Scleropages Formosus) is native to the northern parts of the Kapuas River. Unsurprisingly, it has red coloration along its body, which develops from small red patches as young fish.

Rumored to cost as much as Golden Arowanas, some fish with an intense red coloring are referred to as “super red” or “chili red.”

Batik Arowana

The Batik Arowana (Scleropages Inscriptus), also known as the Myanmar Arowana, comes from the Tananthayi River in Myanmar. They are the most recently discovered species, and they are instantly recognizable for the interesting line pattern that resembles traditional Indonesian art or tattoos.

This species is becoming more popular with aquarists and rare fish collectors because of its unique and beautiful scale patterns.

4. African Arowana

African Arowanas (Heterotis Niloticus), also known as the Nile Arowana, are more similar to another African fish, the Arapaima, than the other Arowana species.

They have long, slender bodies, a less prominent lower jaw, and rounded caudal fins. They are brown and grey, and younger fish have distinct stripes down their sides that fade with age.

African Arowanas are known to be the least aggressive and territorial of the species, but they’re still challenging to keep successfully, primarily because of their size. They feed mostly on algae, which is uncommon among the other types of Arowana.


Arowana Variants

There are two variants to coloration and appearance that are rare among Arowanas. They can appear in fish from any of the above regions, regardless of their species or natural coloring.

1. Albino

Albinism is an uncommon trait that can present itself in any animal, from humans and primates to fish, including Arowanas. This genetic mutation involves an inability to produce different pigments and often presents itself with red eyes and pale, whitish skin.

Albino Arowanas have white or very pale grey scales along their entire body, and they often have red or pale pink eyes. This color pattern is exceedingly rare, so these fish are sought after by aquarists and rare fish collectors and fetch a high price.

2. Platinum

Platinum Arowanas are similar to albinos in that they cannot create sufficient pigment. However, they still produce some. The result is a mostly white body with light wisps of their natural color, often on the ends of their scales.

Aside from the small amount of color on their bodies, they differ from Albino Arowanas in that they have pigment in their eyes, which means they won’t appear red and will instead be the standard black or brown.

Platinum Arowanas are the most coveted variation and often sell for incredibly high dollar amounts – reportedly up to around $400,000!


Arowana Care

Arowanas are considered advanced fish, and keeping them can be a challenge even for experienced aquarists. Below, we’re going to go over everything you need to know to care for Arowanas and enjoy their beauty in your home.


Habitat

Regardless of the origin or type of Arowana, these fish naturally live in slow-moving streams and rivers or static pools in forests.

As leaves from the surrounding trees fall into and dissolve in the rivers they frequent, they begin to give off tannins. Tannins naturally make the water more acidic, but they also provide some coverage on the water surface. As such, Arowanas fare best in slightly acidic water with some floating plants.

They’re accustomed to sunlight that makes its way through the trees, so natural lighting will be a factor you’ll need to consider when setting up your Arowana’s tank.

Like we mentioned earlier, these fish inhabit several different continents, including South America, Asia, and Africa. The temperatures and conditions vary a bit from location to location.

Arowana swimming in tank

Tank

Arowanas are large fish, often reaching lengths of around three feet and sometimes more. As such, they need a bigger tank than most species. The minimum tank volume recommended is 120 gallons for South American Arowanas and 220 gallons for any other species. The tank size makes it challenging for many aquarists to accommodate them in their homes.

Aside from enough volume to give your fish room to swim and hunt, you’ll also want to ensure that you purchase a tank wide enough for a fish that can reach three feet long. A minimum of two feet wide is required, and a wider tank is better if you have space for one.

Tanks that are over 200 gallons often have very thick glass, but you should make sure the tank you’re considering has glass that is over a half-inch thick. Arowanas are very strong and have hard, bony teeth. They’re known to crack glass thinner than a half-inch, and that’s not a risk you should take.

Lastly, you need a very sturdy top that can lock closed. Arowanas hunt partially by jumping out of the water to grab whatever they can see from beneath the surface. Unfortunately, aquarists who have neglected to get a lockable top have found their Arowanas outside the tank after a leap.

Our recommendation for a tank for Asian or Australian Arowanas is the  SC Aquariums 150 Gallon Starfire Glass Aquarium.

SC Aquariums 150 Gallon Glass Aquarium
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What We Like About This Tank

  • It’s 150 gallons, allowing for plenty of space to swim
  • It’s two feet wide, which is large enough for your fish’s comfort
  • It includes an overflow box and plumbing to keep your water clean and healthy
  • The glass is a half-inch thick, so your Arowana won’t crack it

What We Don’t Like About This Tank

  • It doesn’t include a lid, so you’ll need to buy one separately
  • You’ll need quite a bit of additional equipment

Our recommendation for a South American Arowana tank is the Reef 220.6 Waterbox Aquarium.

Reef Waterbox Aquariums - 220 gallons
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What We Like About This Tank

  • It’s 220 gallons, large enough for the biggest Arowanas
  • It’s 25-inches wide, which gives your fish room to turn around
  • It includes a sturdy stand, overflow box, plumbing, and a mat
  • The glass is thick enough to withstand abuse from your Arowana

What We Don’t Like About This Tank

  • It’s costly
  • The base only comes in black or white

What to Put in Their Tank

While many fish need places to hide or decorations and plants to feel secure and unstressed, Arowanas don’t have much to worry about in their natural habitat. As such, they don’t require decorations in their tank.

You can opt for some small pieces of decor, but the goal with an Arowana tank is to maintain as much swimming space for them as possible. Additionally, adding decorations can detract from the Arowana’s natural beauty and color, for which you’ll likely pay hundreds or thousands of dollars. As such, we recommend very minimal decor.

Substrate is up to you, but note that adding a substrate can make cleaning the already difficult-to-manage Arowana tank even more challenging, so you may want to avoid it altogether.

We do recommend some floating plants to simulate the coverage your Arowana would get in the wild. Top plants can also dissuade your fish from trying to jump out of the tank, as they tend to do in search of food in the wild.

Water Conditions

Arowanas need relatively specific water conditions to thrive, especially if you want their natural color and beauty to be at their peak.

As we mentioned before, these fish are native to forest streams and pools where leaves disintegrate and release tannins into the water. As such, Arowanas need a higher pH than many other fish.

You should aim to keep the pH between 6.7 and 7.5. This can often be accomplished with natural additives like Indian almond leaves. Many owners find that the coloration of their Arowanas is more vivid when the water is near the higher end of their comfortable range, but there is only anecdotal evidence for this claim.

The water hardness doesn’t need to be as precise for Arowanas as other water conditions, but they do hail from areas with relatively soft water. Softer water is generally better for them, and you should always avoid overly hard water.

Arowanas are accustomed to warmer temperatures, so you’ll need to keep their tanks between 75 and 82 degrees (F). Some Australian Arowanas can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures, but you should aim to stay within this range regardless of the species you’re keeping.

Lastly, large fish produce a lot of waste and leave behind small bits of food regularly, and these can quickly release harmful chemicals into your water. Arowanas are extremely sensitive to three in particular: ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Ammonia and nitrites should be kept at 0ppm at all times, and nitrates need to be kept below 40ppm to maintain the healthiest environment possible.

We recommend getting a good water testing kit for your Arowana tank to ensure you stay within these limits. Our favorite water testing kit for Arowana tanks is the API Aquarium Test Kit.

API Aquarium Test Kit
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What We Like About This Kit

  • It measures pH ranges higher than many others and within the Arowana’s preferred range
  • It tests for ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates
  • It includes 800 tests and will last quite a long time

What We Don’t Like About This Kit

  • It relies on colors, which aren’t as accurate as more expensive testing kits
  • The testing tubes leak a bit, which is mildly inconvenient


Arowanas and the Nitrogen Cycle

“Nitrogen cycle” refers to the method by which waste in your tank water is broken down over time by bacteria and removed during tank cleaning. It is in no way specific to Arowanas and will be important in any aquarium. However, Arowanas produce a lot of waste and leave behind many small pieces of food, so understanding the cycle is crucial for keeping your Arowana healthy and happy.

Fish excrement and leftover bits of food sit in your tank and break down over time into ammonia. Ammonia is one of the most dangerous chemicals for all fish and can quickly lead to death.

Thankfully, bacteria that naturally occur in your aquarium, called Nitrosomonas, consume ammonia. These bacteria live on all submerged surfaces, but biological filtration media – like bio-balls or ceramic rings – hold the most concentrated bacteria colonies in your tank. The bacteria deplete the ammonia in your water and leave nitrites as a byproduct.

Unfortunately, nitrites are also very dangerous for fish. Another bacteria called Nitrobacter naturally reside in tanks and mostly in your biological filter media as well. This Nitrobacter consumes nitrites and leaves nitrates behind as a byproduct.

Nitrates are far less dangerous to Arowanas, but they still are unhealthy and can be fatal in high concentrations. This is why ammonia and nitrates should be kept at 0ppm while nitrates can safely fluctuate up to 40ppm. Nitrate levels are reduced when you perform water changes.

Arowana swimming in tank with bubbles

Arowana Filtration

Now that you understand the nitrogen cycle and know that large fish like the Arowana produce a lot of waste, we’re sure you see the importance of a heavy-duty filtration system for your Arowana.

You’ll want to ensure you buy a filter that can handle the immense load a single Arowana can place on it and house plenty of biological media to reduce dangerous chemicals in your water. You should also consider one that doesn’t take up much of your fish’s swimming area or detract from the beauty of your Arowana tank. You have three options available to you.

1. Sump Filter

Sump filters are like separate tanks that sit outside of your main tank, but they contain filtration media instead of housing fish and decor.

Water is pumped out of your aquarium and through the different chambers of your sump system. These chambers can contain any combination of physical filters, biological media, chemical filtration, and UV filtration.

These are the most effective filters available, but they’re also the most expensive.

2. Canister Filter

Canister filters are like mini sumps, and all filter chambers are housed within a single piece of equipment. They remove water via a hose and a pump, pass it through your customized canisters, and then pump it back up into your tank.

3. Trickle Filter

Trickle filters are similar to canister filters, but they sit above your tank. They pump water out of your aquarium and through a spray bar. Water then trickles down through multiple trays of filter media before finally dripping back into your tank.

Our recommendation for filtration for an Arowana tank is the Fluval FX4 High-Performance Aquarium Filter. You can read more about this filter’s power and efficiency and why it’s our favorite one in this article.

Fluval High Performance Aquarium Filter
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What We Like About This Filter

  • It’s very quiet and won’t interrupt sleep or conversation
  • It’s powerful and efficient enough for heavy fish load and planted tanks
  • It’s durable and will stand up to the heavy abuse an Arowana can offer

What We Don’t Like About This Filter

  • It can’t accept an in-line heater, so you’ll have to run a separate heating device
  • It can be a bit messy when you’re cleaning it

Arowana Lighting

Arowanas need light during the day, as they’re accustomed to sunlight in their natural habitat. There are two lighting systems you need to consider, each used for a different purpose.

1. Viewing Light

Like most fish, Arowanas require light throughout the day to be happy and healthy. Arowanas are visual predators, so they rely solely on sight to hunt and eat. As such, a viewing light is a requirement for any Arowana tank.

LED lights are often the best option because they consume minimal electricity and provide enough light to simulate the natural sun an Arowana would experience in the wild.

Our top pick for an Arowana viewing light is the Kessil A360WE Controllable LED Aquarium Light.

Kessil A360WE Controllable LED Aquarium Light
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What We Like About This Light

  • It’s extremely powerful and can provide ample light for a 220-gallon Arowana tank
  • It produces a natural shimmer that can highlight the Arowana’s natural beauty

What We Don’t Like About This Light

  • It’s costly
  • It can be a bit challenging to mount in a tightly capped Arowana tank

2. Tanning Light

Many Arowana owners also use a tanning light to accentuate their fish’s colors. Tanning lights are slightly tinted and highlight natural scale coloration, making your Arowana look even more beautiful and striking.

However, some people believe that tanning lights are inhumane and cause undue damage or stress to your Arowana. Others maintain that it’s relatively safe and healthy and enhances your animal’s color and visual appeal.

You will need to decide for yourself whether you add a tanning light to your tank.


Potential Diseases

Arowanas are generally hardy fish that don’t experience many diseases. Like most fish, they have the potential to get fin rot and ich.

Fin rot is an infection most often caused by poor water quality. Since Arowana tanks are prone to water quality issues, fin rot is somewhat common. Your fish will display lightly frayed fins that gradually get more and more damaged if the problem persists.

Ich, which is short for Ichthyophthirius multifilis, is a common infection among many fish and is caused by a common aquarium protozoan. Infected fish will have white sore-like protrusions on their scales or fins.


Feeding

Arowanas are naturally carnivores. They feed mostly on smaller fish and crustaceans, except for the African Arowana, which feeds primarily on algae.

Arowanas are opportunistic hunters, so in addition to their underwater meals, they will happily leap out of the water to catch just about anything above the surface. They have been known to eat birds, mice, rats, bats, snakes, insects, and other creatures they can spot from beneath the surface.

Many owners choose to feed them live meals consisting of a variety of smaller fish, while others opt for prepackaged food. You can offer a mixture of the two, but you’ll need to ensure they get the protein they require daily to maintain their size.

They should be fed a high-protein meal two to three times a day, and you should give them as much food as they can eat in about three minutes each time.

Our recommendation for Arowana food is the Hikari Tropical Food Sticks.

Hikari Tropical Food Sticks
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What We Like About This Food

  • It contains plenty of protein to sustain your Arowana’s size
  • It doesn’t contain bacteria or potential parasites you’d get in live food sources
  • It contains carotenoids, which are known to enhance the coloration of your fish

What We Don’t Like About This Food

  • It’s relatively expensive
  • It contains fillers like wheat and corn that are unnecessary

Breeding

As challenging as it is to keep a single Arowana, it’s even more difficult to breed them. However, it’s possible if you have ample space.

It’s best to start with a breeding pair, which are two Arowanas that “match” and will be more likely to breed than two random fish. Breeding pairs often swim together when they’re young, so it’s best if you’ve had several Arowanas from infancy.

Even a breeding pair will likely only breed if they have plenty of room in their tank, which often means a staggering 500 gallons or more for the two fish.

If your female does lay eggs, the male will fertilize them and then mouth brood for about eight weeks. At that point, the fry will be released. Arowanas are known to eat their fry, so you should separate the adults from the fry tank.

Feeding fry live brine shrimp or insects is the best option until they can eat small, live fish. Ensure they get the protein they need to grow at a healthy rate.

Arowana fry

Arowana Temperament

Arowanas are known to be exceptionally aggressive and territorial. This isn’t as true for the African Arowana, which is more closely related to the Arapaima. All other species, and especially those hailing from Australia, are highly aggressive.

Without tank mates or food to hunt, Arowanas can be relatively calm and are happy just casually exploring their tank.


Arowana Tank Mates

Due to their aggression and territorial nature, Arowanas don’t make good tank mates for most fish. They will readily attack most smaller fish, including other Arowanas of the same species. As such, it’s challenging to pair your Arowana with tank mates that will get along. Thankfully, they’re beautiful enough on their own where you don’t need other fish for your tank to be mesmerizing.

It is possible to include other fish, but you’ll want to make sure they’re too large for your Arowana to eat and calm enough with other fish where they won’t attack your Arowana. Some good potential tank mates include medium-sized Catfish, freshwater Stingrays, and the Peacock Bass.

Generally speaking, you should avoid any fish that are smaller than the Arowana or will be smaller than it once it’s fully grown, as well as fish that may bully or eat your Arowana. An Arowana may tolerate smaller fish being around but could decide at any moment to eat them. We recommend avoiding small fish like Plecos, Parrotfish, and Cichlids, as well as potentially dangerous fish like Pacu, Alligator Gar, and large Catfish.


Arowana FAQs

Why Are Arowanas So Expensive?

Some species of Arowana are on the endangered list and are rare to find in the wild. Many are prized for their size and beauty, so a higher demand naturally leads to higher prices.

The most expensive Arowanas that fetch prices into the hundreds of thousands are so pricey because of their unique or striking coloration. Aquarists and rare fish collectors will pay large sums for a bright red, sleek platinum, or shimmering gold Arowana.

Will Arowanas Bite Humans?

While Arowanas probably won’t intentionally bite you, they certainly can and do from time to time. During feeding or cleaning, your Arowana may bite your fingers if it mistakes them for food, and they may jump out of the tank to grab at your hands or fingers, as they would do for insects or rodents in the wild.

Are Arowanas Hard to Keep?

Arowanas can be very challenging to keep. The biggest hurdle to overcome is the space they require. Most species need 220-gallon tanks at a minimum, and even the smallest species require 120 gallons.

Aside from their sheer size, they consume a lot of food, which can get pricey. They also produce a lot of waste, which requires a durable and high-volume filter capable of handling a heavy fish load.

What Fish Can Be Kept with an Arowana?

Fish that are docile and large enough not to be eaten by an Arowana are sometimes acceptable. Smaller fish should be avoided, as your Arowana may turn them into a meal.

Pairing your Arowana with tank mates can be challenging, but some promising candidates are medium-sized Catfish, freshwater Stingrays, and large bass species, like the Peacock Bass.

Why Do Arowanas Jump Out of the Tank?

Arowanas jump out of their tank in search of food. In the wild, they leap from the water to catch insects, rodents, birds, and other prey.

Are Arowanas Hardy Fish?

Arowanas are somewhat hardy fish. Provided they have a good diet and adequate filtration, they can live for up to 20 years. However, they are sensitive to poor water quality.

Will Arowanas Eat Snails?

Yes. Arowanas naturally eat snails and other mollusks in the wild.

Why is My Arowana Fish Not Eating?

Arowanas are usually hearty eaters, but they occasionally will refuse food. If it’s just for a day or so, it likely isn’t an issue. If it persists, check your water quality using a water test kit, ensure you have proper lighting, and try changing up the food offered to see if they simply don’t like what you’re feeding them.

Can Arowanas Live with Goldfish?

It’s possible to pair Goldfish with an Arowana, but chances are your Arowana will resort to eating the smaller fish. Additionally, Goldfish need a lower temperature to maintain good health, so this isn’t an ideal combination.

Can Arowanas Live with Oscars?

Oscars and Arowanas can make good tank mates. They need similar pH and temperature levels, and an Oscar is both docile and too large for your Arowana to eat.

How Often Should I Feed My Arowana?

You should feed your Arowana three to four times a day, offering as much food as it can eat in about three minutes during each feeding.


Is the Arowana Right for Your Aquarium?

Arowanas are large fish that are stunningly beautiful and captivating. However, they require a lot of space and food, and they need ample filtration that can manage the heavy fish load. They also do best in tanks by themselves without much decor that takes away swimming space.

If you can accommodate those needs, then an Arowana may be perfect for you. Provided you can give them the care they need, this large fish will bring beauty, tranquility, and maybe even a little luck to your home.

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