The question that needs to be asked when it comes to Silver Arowana is not ‘do you want one?’ but ‘how much do you want one?’ I’m guessing for most, the answer is very much indeed!
Arowana, silver being the most common, are high on most fish keepers wish list and for a very good reason. They manage to be majestic and graceful whilst being a true monster of the aquarium. They are an icon of the fish world!
Keeping Silver Arowana (Osteoglossum Bicirrhosum), however, is not for the faint-hearted or the fish keeping beginner. They require very large aquariums, large amounts of food and some specific care. Still interested in keeping one?
Well, here’s the ultimate care guide to keeping Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) to help you decide.
Characteristics And Care
The Arowana is thought to date back over a 100 million years making it a true Jurassic monster of our rivers. It is naturally found in Asia, Australia, Africa and South America.
As one of the most iconic fish species available, many people keep Arowana as a prized possession. In countries like China, they are thought to bring luck, health and wealth due to their resemblance to dragons. This, as well as the rarity of some color varieties, means that they can also cost you a lot of wealth, with price tags of around $300,000!
The hefty price tag of some species should not put you off however as more common varieties such as the silver, which we will be concentrating on, and the black can be purchased for far less. The average silver Arowana can be bought as a juvenile for around $40.
Here are some specific details for the Silver Arowana freshwater fish:
Scientific name: Osteoglossum bicirrhosum (silver)
Common names: Arowana, Monkey fish, Dragonfish
Origin: South America (silver), Africa, Australia, Asia
Lifespan: 10 – 20 years
Growth: Up to 4 foot (usually 3 foot)
Diet: Carnivore (occasional omnivore)
Minimum tank size: 250 gallons
Tank level: Top
Care level: Moderate/Difficult
Water parameters: Acidic, pH 5.8 – 7, below 14°DH, 24 – 30℃ or 75 – 86℉
Breeding: Egg laying mouthbrooders
Cost: Around $40 (silver juvenile)
Colour And Appearance
The Arowana has a long and sleek body which appears flat when viewed from the side. They are distinguishable at first sight by their large pearl-like scales, darkly colored barbells that extend from their bottom lip and coloration.
Silver is the most common color for an Arowana but they can also be obtained in others such as black, super red, red-tailed golden, pearl, spotted and the much sought after platinum or white. Take note that it is the platinum and white that come with the heftiest price tags.
On closer inspection, you will see that the Arowana has long based soft rays on both the dorsal and anal fins. The pectoral and ventral fins are also soft-rayed but shorter. You may also note that the dorsal fin almost fuses with the caudal.
At the other end of the Arowana is the mouth with its distinctive barbells and jawline. Nicknamed the drawbridge, you will see that the mouth is almost vertically set with a toothed jawbone and opens in three pieces. The toothed jawbone means that when they bite, their teeth meet up with the roof of their mouth.
Size wise the Arowana is a true giant with captive specimens being recorded at four foot in length and weighing around six kilos. The norm is usually smaller, however, at around three foot and weighing four and a half kilo. Even at this size, they are still a giant of the aquarium, I’m sure you’ll agree?
The Arowana is found in Australia, Africa, Asia and South America with the latter two being the most popular with fish keepers throughout the world. South American Arowana (silver and black) are found mainly in the river basins of French Guiana, Peru, and Brazil.
Preferring slow-moving waters due to their inability to navigate rapids and torrential flows Arowana will be found around shorelines, black water lagoons and littoral zones of rivers and lakes.
Due to limited food resources Arowana are spread over vast areas and niches where they will only be found in shallow waters. Deeper waters hold no benefit to Arowana who hunt either from the surface or above the water.
Arowana is renowned for their hunting abilities and being strong powerful swimmers. This does not mean, however, that they are the most outgoing of fish and in fact the opposite is true. Arowana are incredibly skittish for a larger fish and can be easily frightened by a sudden movement or light with possibly catastrophic consequences!
When hunting Arowana will often breach the surface of the water taking a giant leap to snatch prey on low-level branches. They will also do the same when startled, with jumps being recorded at heights of three meters and more! You sure don’t want this happening in your home where the chances are he will, at the least hurt himself on the lid of his aquarium, and at worst land on the floor and die.
When settled in an aquarium, and this can take some time to achieve, Arowana are a beautiful fish to watch swimming near the surface of their aquarium. With care, you will also be able to see them jump which they do by forming a stunning anguine ‘S’ shape just before take off. Do not, however, be completely fooled by their beauty as an Arowana is still a predatory fish!
Fairly aggressive at times an Arowana will not think twice about making the leap for anything it sees as food such as your fingers hovering above the surface. They will also eat anything that is smaller than them in their aquarium and are better kept as a solitary fish where possible. They are not renowned for sharing their space well although some tank mates are more likely to work than others.
Interestingly, Arowana can survive for short periods out of the water using their swim bladder. They do this by taking oxygen from the air and sucking it into their swim bladder where capillaries similar to lung tissue distribute the oxygen around their bodies.
As with any species of fish you are thinking of keeping the more research and knowledge you obtain on the Arowana the better. They are a huge commitment with a lifespan of up to twenty years, a huge appetite, and specific needs including aquarium size.
An Arowana needs an aquarium of at least 250 gallons to thrive. Anything smaller and you run the risk of not only your Arowana trying to jump and escape their aquarium but also them having body deformation and a shortened life expectancy. Smaller aquariums, a minimum of 60 gallons, are however plenty for a juvenile though don’t expect them to be suitable for long. Arowanas grow at a fast rate of around two inches per month.
Once you have a suitable aquarium, you will need to ensure that it is placed in an area with a low footfall. This is to ensure that there is a low risk of this naturally skittish fish being startled. Just in case, however, it is imperative that your aquarium also has a well-fitting lid that cannot be broken or lifted by your Arowana jumping.
The decor of an Arowana tank should be kept to a minimum. Being top-level swimmers they do not particularly need plants, rocks or driftwood and far prefer the open space to swim. They are, however, particularly susceptible to poor water quality so you must ensure that the water parameters are correct and your tank is fully cycled before purchasing your Arowana. Acidic water with a pH of between 5.8 and 7 is required with a DH below 14°. The tank’s temperature should be between 24 – 30℃ or 75 – 86℉.
When purchasing an Arowana it is best to choose a specimen that has reached around eight inches in length. This is because at this size they are starting to mature and become hardier. You should also be well researched in the signs of a healthy fish and do a background check on the breeder you are considering purchasing from. Whilst a standard silver Arowana may not break the bank, you do not want your dream fish to turn out to be sickly or even die!
When choosing an Arowana a silver juvenile will have a silvery sheen and a black will have clearly dark flanks. You should also always check for the following:
Scales – Should be radiant and bright with even and clear coloring. Do not buy an Arowana with any scale decay.
Head – Should be free of holes and injuries and at a ratio of 1:3 with the body.
Mouth – Should close properly with the top and bottom jaw meeting. Do not buy an Arowana with any protrusions, bleeding or pus around the mouth.
Barbells – Should be of equal length and straight with no granule-like particles on them.
Fins – Should be translucent with no signs of clotting at the base. Do not buy an Arowana with any damage to them.
Gill Flaps – Should have an operculum that is close to the body of the Arowana with no curling.
Gills – Should be clear and a fresh red with a regular breathing pattern.
Eyes – Should be the same size with a bright and clear cornea. Do not buy an Arowana with dented or bulging eyes.
Vent (anus) – Should be tight and not protruding, swollen or blood red.
Once you have your Arowana, you will need to perform bi-weekly or weekly water changes of 25%. You will also need to have very good filtration as they are a fish that produces a lot of waste. This is unsurprising since they are large eaters.
Food wise, Arowana are carnivores with slight omnivore tendencies. When grabbing their food from the surface or the branches of trees they often also scoop up some plant debris which they also eat. Perhaps, rather than omnivore tendencies, it would be better to say omnivores accidentally! Whichever way you put it, however, Arowana do not need to be fed plant matter to thrive.
If your fish becomes ill or starts to show unusual behaviors then read our complete guide to diagnosing and treating many of the common diseases in our complete guide.
What Arowana do need when feeding is to be fed food that they can either take from the surface or above the water line. Anything that sinks will cause your Arowana to develop drop eye which is not a reversible condition. Drop eye is where one or both of Arowanas eyes look down permanently. This can also be caused by having your Arowana housed with other species of fish that swim beneath them.
To feed above the water line you will need to use tongs or a feeding stick as a bite from an Arowana can be unpleasant. They will not distinguish between your fingers and a tasty piece of food!
Do not worry if an Arowana that is new to its aquarium does not want to feed. Juveniles can be slow to adjust to a new environment and also fussy eaters. Check what the breeder has been feeding them and if possible feed the same.
With their rapid growth rate and large eventual size, the Arowana needs feeding well. In their natural habitats, they prey upon foods such as small fish, snails, large insects, rabbits, frogs, and snakes. Their food of choice, however, is small fish and crustaceans.
When feeding Arowana use two methods to catch their prey; they either jump out of the water and snatch them or scoop them up from underneath. It is thought that they have such large mouths to do this, not for greed, but because their eyesight is poor and a large mouth improves their chances of succeeding in the hunt.
In the aquarium, Arowana will feed in the same manner as naturally and for this reason as well as nutrition their diet should be kept as close to their natural one as possible. Meat-based foods such as earthworms, crab, cricket, shrimp, beef heart, krill, and crustaceans will all keep your Arowana thriving. To allow them to hunt also, feeder fish can be used. Always ensure that feeders are either bred by yourself or have been quarantined before giving them to your Arowana.
You may find that a fresh/live diet can be expensive due to the large amounts of food your Arowana needs. If this is the case, you can also use the cheaper option of frozen foods. Some owners have even managed to get their Arowanas to feed on pellet though this is rare and not the best source of nutrition for them.
Breeding And Sexual Differences
The easiest way to tell a male and female Arowana apart is that the females are generally thicker in appearance than the more slender male. Males also usually have a larger anal fin than females.
When it comes to breeding Arowanas are egg-laying mouth brooders who spawn once a year in the flooded season between December and January. Before spawning, they will pair off and build a nest together where the female will lay her eggs which are large and orange to red in color. The male will then scoop them up and carry them in his mouth for the duration it takes them to hatch and leave. This usually takes around fifty days when they will emerge to find food.
If you are thinking of trying to breed Arowana, you should really think again. Not only do Arowana generally not tolerate others of the same species in their aquarium well, but there is also only a handful of successful breeding stories out there. The success stories also only come from those who are keeping their Arowana in five hundred gallon plus ponds/tanks that are way too big for most home fish keepers to have!
Arowana are generally solitary fish that do not even like to be kept with their own species. When young it is possible to keep six or more together, but as they grow, it will become unfeasible. Not only would they need an aquarium of 500-gallon plus but they would also not be guaranteed to still get on. If you must keep multiple Arowana together, do so with caution!
When choosing other species of fish as tank mates for Arowana it needs to be noted that as juveniles bigger fish will target the smaller tank mate and as adults bigger fish will target them for their size. Smaller fish placed in with an Arowana will end up as lunch. Tank mates for Arowana are not easy to find!
To make it easier to find suitable additions to an Arowana tank there are three generals rules to follow:
1. Choose peaceful but slightly aggressive fish
2. Choose fish that are too large to be eaten
3. Always add the Arowana to an aquarium first
Following these guidelines, some suggestions for tank mates are; green terrors, Oscars, knife fish, large plecostomus, parrot cichlids, angelfish, and catfish. Bear in mind that plecostomus and catfish will spend the majority of their time swimming well below your Arowana and may cause them to develop drop eye. As always you should have a backup plan if any tank mates you add do not work out.
Cost, Value, And Availability
Since certain colorations, appearances and countries of origin can hugely change the cost of a Silver Arowana it is worth looking at a little more closely at what you can expect to be getting for your money when you purchase one.
The criteria for being worth hundreds of thousands of dollars lies in an Arowana being unusually colored, more striking, having a personality and being the perfect size with the perfect proportions. White or platinum Arowana are the ultimate sought-after prize.
As already stated you can buy a standard silver Arowana with its origins in South America for as little as around $40. This does not mean, however, that it will stay a $40 fish! As a juvenile up to twenty-four months of age it is impossible to tell what your Arowana will mature into. Should it develop any type of uniqueness including deformity that is thought to be appealing, its value could shoot through the roof!
Asian Arowana, on the other hand, are the most prized and sought-after species of this beautiful fish and come with a price tag that matches that desirability. In 2016 the New York Post reported on one such Arowana that was having surgery on its eyes. Its value was estimated at a whopping $300,000 with the paper asking if it was the most valuable fish in the world?
Whether this particular Arowana was worth its rather large price tag is a matter of opinion, but based in fact is that the rarer an Arowana is the more it will cost. The Asian Arowana is rare and listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List. All varieties are closely monitored in their natural environment and breeding facilities and are micro-chipped before being sold. Due to its endangered status, the Asian Arowana is illegal to be owned in the USA.
For many, the Silver Arowana is a dream fish that is seen as the ultimate fish keepers goal to own. They are strikingly beautiful, magnificent predators and ooze grace and style. In an ideal world, every aquarist would have one!
In reality, however, we need to be aware of the special needs of the Arowana such as large aquariums, large amounts of food and the means to keep them safe, a well fitted, heavy aquarium lid. The Arowana is not as originally stated a fish for the faint-hearted.
They are, however, hugely rewarding and worth every penny (within reason) spent on them to keep them. There is nothing quite like watching the Arowana hunting their food and making that leap to catch it or just swimming gracefully around their aquarium. They are definitely an ‘if you can do, do it’ species of fish!