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.
The name Black Banded Cat Shark comes from the fleshy filaments that grow from their mouths resemble cat whiskers. While its scientific name is chiloscyllium punctatum, it is also commonly known as the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark, Banded Cat Shark, and the Grey Carpetshark.
They are popular additions to marine aquariums due to their fascinating coloring and mostly peaceful personality. Additionally, they are relatively small when compared to other shark species. Also, who wouldn’t want to say they own a shark – so cool!
Black Banded Cat Shark’s native habitat lies in depths of around 250 feet in the waters from Northern Australia, all the way up through the Indo-Pacific Ocean to Japan. In the wild, they mostly sustain a diet of mollusks, small crustaceans, other invertebrates, and fish that are small enough to fit in their mouths. In general, if it is meaty, small, and in their territory, they will eat it!
They often frequent coral reefs, as they provide plentiful food, but this is not the ideal tank set up in the home aquarium. See the Habitat section below for more information. These sharks should only be kept by expert aquarists, as they require strict water parameters, specialized care in feeding, and are prone to injury and some illnesses.
Availability and Cost
These sharks are very popular but can be somewhat challenging to obtain. They can be purchased online and, depending on where you live, it is possible, although unlikely due to their size, to find them in dedicated aquarium stores. They are generally relatively expensive, running about $150 – $170, although you might get lucky and find one that is slightly cheaper.
If you are very serious about owning one of these sharks, they can be bought as an egg. This is a significantly less expensive way to go, usually running from $50 – $60, but comes with unique challenges as juveniles are notoriously difficult to feed. However, when done successfully, raising them from an egg is extremely rewarding and comes with a higher likelihood that they will adapt to captivity.
The eggs themselves are about 3 – 4 inches in length, and the shark pup will be approximately 4 – 6 inches when hatched. Hatching time varies depending on its stage of development and water conditions but usually happens 1 to 6 weeks upon arrival.
When purchased live, you will generally find them from 6 to 12 inches, but they will grow up to 50 inches in length, so they require a massive tank size. They can also live up to 25 years, so it takes dedication to raise and keep a Black Banded Cat Shark successfully.
The ‘Black Banded’ part of their name comes from their coloring when young. They have creamy white bodies with large dark brown to black stripes from nose to tail. These stripes fade as they grow, eventually disappearing altogether. Adults are a uniform silverish brown. They have long thin bodies with eyes set far behind their mouths and long, graceful tails.
Behavior and Temperament
These sharks are labeled aggressive because they will eat anything that will fit in their mouths, including many tankmates. However, when kept alone or with proper tankmates, they are actually quite docile and shy. They are nocturnal carnivores, so they will need caves and other shady spots to hide during the day and from aquarium lighting.
They are very curious at night and like to explore their surroundings, but care should be taken not to startle them, as they scare very easily. While they are not incredibly active fish, they are incredibly strong but easily injured. Because of this, care should be taken to make sure all tank decorations are stable and secure.
There are some tankmates that will do well with the Black Banded Cat Shark, but they will thrive best as a single specimen in a large tank. If there are any invertebrates in the tank, it should only be as food, as they will quickly disappear. They are known to be aggressive with most other fish in an aquarium setting.
They may even attack larger species that would not typically be seen as prey. If your tank is large enough, you might be able to successfully keep some smaller species of fish with them as juveniles as long as they do not occupy the same swim level. Many aquarists have had luck keeping them with some species and other bottom dwellers if the tank is large enough, such as other small cat shark species, groupers, rays, some eels, hogs, and snappers.
Tankmates that should never be considered are triggers, puffers, and even many angles, as they will fin nip and cause undue stress to your Black Banded Cat Shark. You may also be able to keep up to three Banded Cats together. Again, if your tank is big enough (think 380+ gallons) and introduce them to the tank at the same time as juveniles, you might be able to keep them together successfully.
Breeding Blacked Banded Cat Sharks at home is extremely difficult. Still, they are frequently bred in public aquaria (like your local aquarium – a zoo for water dwellers). The dividing factor in successful captive breeding, in addition to maintaining strict water parameters, is space. Keeping Banded Cats at home already takes a ton of space and time, so the difficulty in breeding grows exponentially.
You can easily discern males from females, as males have tube-shaped clasping mechanisms near their pelvic fins. These are used for insemination through the female’s cloaca. Both males and females have cloacas, but only males have claspers. The females then lay flattened oval eggs enclosed in tough cases. The cases are covered in fibrous material that helps it attach to the substrate.
One to two weeks after the female deposits the egg, it develops slits to help water to flow around it. The fetus furthers this water circulation by regularly fanning its tail. Then the wait begins. Banded Sharks may take up to four months to hatch. Sex differences can be identified immediately after hatching, and occasionally before. Once the fry emerges, they will immediately start searching for food, so be sure to have a stash ready for the newborns.
But as stated above, breeding Black Banded Cat Sharks is very difficult, time-consuming, and expensive due to the needed care and real estate. They are rarely bred in captivity other than in commercial farms and public aquaria.
Black Banded Cat Shark Care
Although they are not particularly active, Black Banded Cat Sharks have delicate skin that can easily be injured, and easily infected. Make sure that all tank structures and decorations are secure so they can not be accidentally knocked over by the Banded Cat’s muscular body, causing injury.
If you do encounter an injury, it should heal on its own in proper tank conditions. If it does not recover quickly, make sure to have a quarantine tank ready and research a quality antibacterial medication. Make sure to read the ingredients of any medication you plan on administering to your pet, as those that include copper will make them very ill or even cause death.
Black Banded Cats are also susceptible to goiters. A goiter will first present as a small bump near the throat and will grow over time. It can become very large and, if left untreated, will cause death by slow starvation. It is essential to treat a goiter as soon as it is spotted and can easily be done by the administration of iodine.
Follow the directions given on the iodine supplement, and you should have no trouble at all in saving your pet’s life. You can also add iodine supplements to prevent goiters from forming in the first place.
As a quick note, remember that even as an aquarium pet, sharks still have a powerful bite and can easily cause injury to humans. So, please take extra precautions when feeding and tank cleaning.
We have said it before, and we will say it again: This species requires LOTS of space. While you can keep juveniles in a 180 gallon tank, a full-grown adult will need 360 gallons or more for a single fish. While considered small among its fellow sharks, the Black Banded Cat generally reaches 3 ½ – 4 feet in length.
Although they are not particularly active, you will still need to provide them plenty of space to swim with ample hiding places for them to feel comfortable. The ideal tank shape is square, circular, or hexagonal with plenty of floor space and fine substrate for this bottom-dwelling beauty.
The Black Banded Cat prefers coral reefs and tide pools in the wild, and do well in similar aquarium habitats. They prefer warmer water with lots of hiding places, shady spots, and plenty of room to feed. Arranging rock formations to form seemingly natural crevices are a big hit with these fish. Being nocturnal, they are very sensitive to light. They will usually hide if bright aquarium lights are on, so having easy access to several hiding spots is a must.
The preferred substrate for the Black Banded Shark is sand, as any rocky objects may cause injury and infection. It needs a medium to high water flow, with the intake, preferably, at or near the bottom of the tank to ensure the substrate is adequately filtered. You will also need a protein skimmer to remove excess waste.
For fry and juveniles first introduced to the tank, feeding can be very difficult. You should offer these carnivores small pieces of cleaned squid, live marine feeder shrimp, or chopped pieces of fresh saltwater fish to encourage them to eat. Once they have become comfortable with feeding time, you can give them fresh or frozen shrimp, scallops, and squid.
Don’t forget that the Black Banded Shark has barbels, which they use to find shelled food, so live cockles and muscles are also good to feed them. You can soak any of these foods in liquid vitamins and minerals to supplement their immune system.
If they share a tank with aggressive feeders or are reluctant to feed in general, you may need to feed them directly by offering food in front of them with tongs. If push really comes to shove, you can add flavor enhancers to entice finicky eaters further. Make sure only to offer foods that can fit into the Banded Cat Shark’s mouth, as they cannot bite or chew and will refuse anything too large.
Depending on the quantity they will eat in one meal, they should be fed anywhere from 2-3 times per week for large portions to 2-3 times a day for smaller ones.
Aside from feeding, water parameters are one of the hardest parts of keeping Banded Cats. The temperature should always be between 75 – 78° F and a strictly observed pH of 8.2-8.4. Remember, as a marine species, they need a water salinity of 1.020 – 1.025. They are very sensitive to changes in any of these parameters, which will negatively impact their metabolism, cause them to stop eating, and risk higher chances of infection.
They require 10 – 15% water changes weekly. Tip: don’t forget to match the salinity and temperature of the replaced water for a seamless transition.
Is the Black Banded Cat Shark Right for You?
The Black Banded Cat Shark is a fascinating creature, and owning one is extremely rewarding. We recommend that they only be kept by expert aquarists because of their finicky eating habits and strictly maintained water parameters.
You will also need to have experience maintaining animals in a saltwater environment. But if you have the time, space, and funds to devote to this amazing fish, it will be well worth your time. Raising them from an egg poses additional challenges.
Still, it is extremely rewarding to watch this beautiful striped baby grow into a gorgeous silvery brown hunter.