Special Note: These are saltwater fish for saltwater aquariums. Those seeking to keep these fish should pay close attention to this and the extra work they require.
Sharks are fascinating creatures. They display a sort of mysterious danger in their every move. Stealthily beautiful, vicious during feeding, but with quiet grace, sharks are a popular choice among many aquarists. But sharks are not like any other aquarium inhabitant.
They require special care, water parameters, and environments to ensure they will live a long and happy life. You have probably landed on this page because you are considering adding your first shark to your aquarium, and there is no better choice for a first-time saltwater shark owner than the banded catshark!
About the Banded Cat Shark
Before you begin taking steps to care for any aquarium fish, you should learn as much as you can about their habits and habitat, and sharks are no different. Chiloscyllium punctatum, also known as the banded cat shark, black-banded cat shark, and the brown-banded bamboo shark, is named due to their juvenile appearance and filament growths around their mouths.
As youngsters, the banded cat shark has contrasting black and white stripes, and their mouth growths resemble the whiskers of a cat, hence, the black-banded cat shark nickname. As adults, their youthful stripes fade away into a lovely chocolate color, with mottled areas of darker and lighter pigmentation.
The native home of the banded cat shark is the warm waters reaching from Japan to Northern Australia through the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Replicating this environment will make them happy as a clam! They prefer water of a depth around 250 feet and are regular visitors to coral reefs and tidal pools. Reefs have a plethora of food sources that these sharks love to feed on, such as small fish, crustaceans, mollusks, shrimp, and other invertebrates.
In short, if it’s protein-based and can fit in the banded cat shark’s mouth, it’s likely to become dinner!
Size, Cost, and Availability
Although they are considered small for a shark species, an adult banded cat shark can reach up to 4 feet in length; therefore, they will need a ton of space to live comfortably. If you purchase a juvenile, the little shark will most likely be between 6 and twelve inches long. Because of this, you can keep them in a smaller tank when they are young, but this should be avoided if possible.
Switching your banded catshark between tanks can cause undue stress. They live up to 25 years and are relatively expensive, coming in at an average of just under $200. This, in addition to the enormous tank and plethora of decorations you will need, makes keeping this shark a costly endeavor. You can save a significant amount of money by purchasing this fish as an egg, but this poses additional challenges.
Baby banded cat sharks are very picky eaters, so they can quickly starve to death if not taken care of properly. However, raising your shark from an egg can be very rewarding, and they are more likely to adapt to captivity, having never been in the wild.
While these fish are labeled aggressive because they will eat any living thing that will fit in their mouths, they are actually quite shy. They are nocturnal, so they will hide during the day and from bright aquarium lights. At night though, they become curious and inquisitive explorers that will perpetually patrol the tank floor.
Because of their carnivorous diet, it is best to keep this fish alone in the tank, but if you have a large enough aquarium, there are some other species that aquarists have kept with the banded cat shark. With a space of at least 400 gallons, you may be able to keep rays, groupers, hogfish, and snappers with these sharks.
Additionally, with large tanks, it may be possible to keep up to three banded cat sharks together, but this is rarely successful unless all three are introduced to the tank together as very young juveniles. But, if this is your first foray into shark-keeping, keeping a single banded cat shark alone is suggested.
As stated before, these fish need a ton of space. Even with a single individual, you should plan on at least 380 gallons. You can keep a juvenile in as small as a 180-gallon tank, but they will quickly outgrow such a small space.
To reduce stress on your fish (which can cause illness and susceptibility to disease), it is best to introduce them to the tank they will spend the rest of their lives in and not move them unless they are ill.
These nocturnal carnivores are bottom dwellers and require certain things in their habitat to keep them healthy and happy. First, you should choose fine sand for the substrate in your aquarium. The banded cat shark does not have protective scales to keep it from being injured on course gravel, so sand is your best option. If your shark’s delicate skin is scraped or punctured, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria and disease.
To prevent this from happening, make sure all decorations added to your tank have smooth edges. Before placing anything into your tank, run a tissue over any surfaces your fish may touch. If it is sharp enough to tear the tissue, it is sharp enough to injure your shark. Smooth down any rough edges you find with fine-grained sandpaper.
Another way to keep your banded cat shark happy is to offer them plenty of decorations and hiding places. Because they are shy, these fish can get spooked relatively easily. Giving them plenty of spaces to bolt to if they feel threatened is critical in keeping them from becoming too stressed. When they are feeling safe and secure, they love to go exploring at night and patrol their territory.
While they require open spaces to stretch their muscles, arranging large rocks into formations with natural-looking caves and crevices to investigate on their nightly rounds is sure to please them. However, the banded cat shark is remarkably strong, so make sure that any decorations are firmly secured in the tank. Otherwise, their muscular tails may topple precarious decorations and cause injury.
Water parameters for the banded cat shark need to be strictly monitored. They are very sensitive to any kind of water fluctuations, including salinity, temperature, and pH levels. You should employ a quality heater to ensure the water temperature never fluctuates outside of 75-78 degrees Fahrenheit. You should always keep the pH level between 8.2 and 8.4 with a salinity of 1.020-1.025.
If these parameters are not kept consistent, your shark will have a drastically decreased metabolism, making them lethargic, unable to feed properly, and leaving them with a reduced immune system, which makes them susceptible to disease. To ensure these parameters are kept consistent, perform 10 – 15% water changes every week. Use a testing kit to ensure the water you are replacing matches the same parameters as the water in your tank.
The banded cat shark’s natural habitats are reefs and tidal pools, so replicating this environment will help your fish adapt to life in your tank. While some specimens you will purchase online or in an aquarium store are tank bred, some of them are wild-caught. Whichever place your banded cat was born, they will nevertheless feel most comfortable if their aquarium feels like their ancestral home.
In addition to the sandy substrate and rock formations mentioned above, you should also include a relatively healthy water flow in your shark’s home. Reefs and tidal pools go through significant water flow changes as the ocean tides move in and out, so having a strong water pump and filtration system is essential.
If possible, invest in a filtration system with an intake near the tank’s bottom to keep this bottom dweller’s home nice and clean. In fact, you may want to look into undergravel filters for this setup. You should also use a protein skimmer to help remove any waste and debris from the top of the tank.
Feeding the banded cat shark can be a bit of a challenge, especially when they are young or first introduced to your tank. If your shark is very young, purchase fresh squid, shrimp, and saltwater fish. Clean these foods thoroughly and chop them into tiny pieces before offering them to your fish. If these are not accepted, you can try adding flavor enhancers to the pieces and hold them with tongs in front of the shark’s mouth.
Small, live, marine feeder shrimp may also entice your fussy eaters, which can be purchased from most dedicated marine aquarium stores.
Once your juveniles have started to eat regularly, you can transition them to a diet that is a little easier for you to prepare. They will readily accept live and frozen foods like scallops, shrimp, and squid. They also love to sniff out live shelled foods and pry out the meaty morsels, so having live muscles, cockles, and clams in the tank will help provide them with a more authentic hunting experience as well as provide valuable nutrients.
If you are concerned that your shark isn’t getting all the vitamins and minerals they need, you can also soak these bivalves in commercially available micronutrient solutions as a supplement.
In addition to their picky eating habits and need for exact water parameters, banded cat sharks also have some additional things you will need to keep an eye on. First, because they prefer live foods, you should take special care to make sure the food is healthy and only buy from trusted, established aquarium suppliers.
You should keep any live foods in a quarantine area for several days to weeks and observe them for signs of disease or illness. Live foods can transfer harmful bacteria into your tank that can make your fish seriously ill.
Speaking of introducing foreign things to your tank, bacteria and diseases can come into your tank in ways other than live foods. Anything that you put in your tank is a potential source of harmful irritants. Coral, rocks, sand, and any other decor you put in a tank can harbor pests or microscopic organisms.
Cleaning these items properly is essential to your pets’ health, so make sure to research cleaning and quarantine methods for anything you add to your tank.
If your shark does become ill, be very careful with the medications you administer. Copper is highly toxic to banded catsharks, so be sure to closely read the directions and ingredient list. If even a trace of copper is introduced to your shark’s home, it will undoubtedly lead to further illness and may even cause death.
If you think you must use a medication that contains copper, consult with a veterinarian with a specialization in marine animals for alternatives or detailed instructions. If you need to use copper-based medications in your tank, move your shark to a quarantine tank and test the aquarium water for any copper traces after treatment has been completed before reintroducing your shark.
Are You Ready?
Owning your first shark is a fantastic feeling and is an exhilarating endeavor on which to embark. After reading this article, you should have a good idea of the time, effort, and cost it takes to care for these majestic creatures. It is by no means an easy feat, but with time, patience, and experience, it is well worth the effort.
Before you decide, keep in mind that these sharks are not for beginner aquarists and need a strictly maintained saltwater environment. They need a huge amount of space, which means you will need to have ample room in your home, not to mention the funds to build such an expansive setup. The sharks themselves are not inexpensive, and feeding them will be an additional cost.
When properly cared for, they can live up to 25 years, so make sure that you are ready for such a long term commitment before deciding to raise the banded cat shark!