Red Tail Shark Lifespan – How Long do They Live?

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There are few tank fish species that are more recognizable and beloved than the Red Tail shark. Appearance-wise, this fish is completely black, with only its caudal fins displaying a bright red. It is a pretty iconic look that will make the Red Tail stand out from other tank inhabitants.

Its temperament doesn’t disappoint either. The Red Tail shark ranks as semi-aggressive, as it manifests territorial tendencies and doesn’t get along with all tank mates. It also doesn’t hurt that the Red Tail looks like a genuine shark without being one.

Despite displaying a similar name, the only thing that the Red Tail has in common with a real shark is its appearance. Other than that, Red Tails belong to the Cyprinidae family, which means they’re related to carps, barbs, and minnows. On the other hand, Sharks fall into the Elasmobranchii subclass, which brings together sharks, rays, and sawfish, among others.

Even so, the fish’s shark-like appearance is enough of a selling point to make this species one of the most beloved in the business. That doesn’t mean that the Red Tail is easy to keep. If you want to increase its lifespan and keep it healthy and active in captivity, you have to work for it.

So, how much does a Red Tail shark lives, and how can you increase its lifespan? Let’s see, shall we?

How Long do Red Tail Sharks Live?

The Red Tail shark lives around 5 to 8 years in captivity. This is the ideal lifespan coming with a nutritious and balanced diet, impeccable water conditions, and a carefree lifestyle. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

The Red Tail is rather pretentious when it comes to its living conditions. Sudden or abrupt variations in water quality, temperature, or other vital factors will quickly affect the fish’s health.

In the wild, the Red Tail shark has been ranked as endangered for the past 11 years due to natural predation and habitat destruction. This is another incentive for you to provide your Red Tail with optimal care and adequate maintenance, knowing that it may be among the last you will ever see.

How to Make Red Tail Shark Live Longer?

I would say there are 6 overarching principles to follow that are guaranteed to increase your Red Tail’s lifespan:

The Genetic Factor

I would say this ranks among the most important points on this list. The reason for that is that this simple point can invalidate all the others. It doesn’t matter how much care and attention you have for your Red Tail if its gene pool is faulty. Some Red Tail sharks are the result of inbreeding, which increases the risk of malformations, both visible and invisible.

Others have been kept in horrendous conditions which have affected their health and immune system. Others may come already sick or display genetic faults that may be invisible to the naked eye. As a result, your fish may die soon after acquiring it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Or is it?

The best fish advice I could give you is to avoid getting your Red Tail from shady sources. These include Mr. Nobodies on the internet with no qualification, reputation, or experience in the industry and even regular fish shops. The latter are notorious for keeping the fish in foul conditions with minimal care and maintenance.

Instead, you should get your Red Tail from reputed breeders with a strong presence in the industry. It may cost you some extra penny, but it will be worth it in the end. After all, you can get a respectable Red Tail at approximately $4 – $5, which is enough to guarantee its viability.

Feed Quality Food

I know this may sound like a given, but it isn’t. Many aquarists fail to pay adequate attention to their Red Tails diet and take it for granted, more or less. The truth is that these fish require a balanced and nutritious diet along with a stable feeding plan to remain healthy.

As an omnivorous bottom-dwelling creature, the Red Tail shark will get much of its food from its environment. This shows that the Red Tail’s tank layout is paramount in supporting its feeding behavior. The Red Tail loves to scrape algae, insects, worms, small crustaceans, larvae, and other organic matter from the water bed and rocks decorating its habitat.

The tank layout should mimic the Red Tail’s natural environment. Consider relying on a rocky substrate, but avoid small pebbles and gravel. Your Red Tail might ingest them by accident when searching for food. A dark substrate consisting of some strategically-placed rocks is ideal for brewing algae and some organic matter for your Red Tail to enjoy.

Food-wise, your Red Tails are easy to satisfy. They will thrive on a mixed diet of pellets, live food, veggies, spirulina, and some algae if there isn’t enough in the tank. And here’s the awesome part – Red Tails only need food once every 2 days for the most part. As scavengers, they will get much of their food from their habitat.

Right Tank Size

One adult Red Tail shark requires at least 55 gallons of water for itself. This is rather unusual for a fish this size (up to 6 inches), but it makes sense knowing this is a bottom dweller. This means that the fish is very active, roaming its environment constantly in search of food.

I recommend investing in a rectangular tank that will provide the Red Tail with plenty of room for exploration. This will keep the fish active and mentally healthy, providing it with sufficient room for food raids. If the tank is too small, your Red Tail might become stressed, and fish stress is a deadly condition when ignored for too long.

A stressed Red Tail will display lethargy, low appetite, and even aggression towards other tank mates. If the situation doesn’t resolve soon, the fish’s immune system will decrease in efficiency, opening the door to a variety of health issues.

Right Water Conditions

The Red Tail is pretentious when it comes to its water conditions. The ideal water parameters should include:

  • Water temperature around 72 to 79 F
  • A water pH of 6.0 to 8.0
  • Water hardness up to 15 dGH and no lower than 5
  • No ammonia, no nitrites, up to 20 ppm nitrates

As you can see, there is some generous wiggle room here, but not much. The problem is that Red Tails are sensitive to changes in water parameters, especially when the changes occur abruptly or repeat often. The weekly water changes are the ideal opportunity to mess things up, which is why I recommend extra care when performing them.

Always monitor water parameters and keep the temperature stable. Otherwise, your Red Tail will be affected. Drastic changes in water temperature may trigger a thermic shock, while changes in water pH or salinity may induce osmotic shock. Both of these conditions are deadly.

Then there’s the problem of performing improper water changes, leading some fish keepers to poison their Red Tails. This happens more often among novice aquarists who use tap water in the process or cleanse the tank equipment with various cleaning chemicals. Tap water is especially dangerous since it contains chlorine which is deadly for fish.

You should never use chlorinated water during water changes or even to clean the tank’s filter. In the latter situation, the chlorine will kill of the beneficial bacteria inhabiting the filter, sabotaging your aquatic system’s biological filtration. As a result, your tank’s ammonia levels will spike soon, leading to ammonia poisoning and death.

Right Tank Mates

The Red Tail shark is semi-aggressive and territorial and also displays bullying behavior. Since this fish is highly energetic and boisterous, it tends to bully slow-swimming, lazy, and long-finned fish.

The ideal tank mates include fish that share the Red Tail’s temperament. Look for energetic, daring, and imposing mid-to-top dwellers like various cichlids, tetras, barbs, or giant Danios. Avoid goldfish, guppies, bettas, or angelfish since these will most likely become bullying targets.

At the same time, avoid introducing other bottom-dwellers in the same tank. The Red Tail shark will most likely take the entire tank floor at its territory. Any other fish attempting to share the same space will be considered an intruder and quickly dealt with.

Also, don’t pair your Red Tail with very large or very aggressive fish that could attack, bully, or stress them out. We’ve already discussed the dangers of fish stress, and you don’t want that for your Red Tails.

Treat Diseases Quickly

Fortunately, Red Tails don’t show any predisposition to specific diseases. With that said, keep a keen eye out for Ich or fin rot. These are typically the result of poor water conditions, frequent fluctuations in water parameters, improper diet, and fish stress. All these factors are easily preventable via a modicum of care and consideration.

If your Red Tail does display signs of disease, I recommend quarantining the fish immediately. Prepare a hospital tank with optimal water parameters and ensure a personalized treatment depending on the disorder’s profile.

During the treatment, your Red Tail will require an optimal diet, pristine water conditions, and medication, as recommended by your vet. It’s important to note that most fish diseases are deadly in later phases. The only way to ensure full recovery is to provide timely treatment.

Your Red Tail will let you know if it’s experiencing health problems. Some of the symptoms it will display include:

  • Lethargy or low levels of energy
  • Spending too much time in one place
  • Not eating enough or at all in some cases
  • Showcasing white spots or bloody patches on the skin
  • Turning upside down or struggling to swim

These symptoms may be indicative of several disorders. Quarantining the fish is essential to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment and prevent the disease from spreading to other tank inhabitants.


Red Tails are energetic, beautiful, and resilient creatures that will thrive with proper care. Ensure optimal living space, keep their water conditions stable, and provide some nutritious food every couple of days.

Other than that, Red Tails don’t ask for much and will live stable and happy lives in their dream habitat.

Author Image Fabian
I’m Fabian, aquarium fish breeder and founder of this website. I’ve been keeping fish, since I was a kid. On this blog, I share a lot of information about the aquarium hobby and various fish species that I like. Please leave a comment if you have any question.
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