Arowana: Species Profile, Characteristics, and Care Guide

| Updated: May 24, 2023
Red Asian Arowana fish

Arowana is the common name for a group of freshwater fish that belong to the subfamily Osteoglossinae, also known as bony tongues. These fish are characterized by their bony head, elongated body, large scales, and upward-facing mouth. They are also known for their ability to breathe air and jump out of the water to catch prey.

Arowanas are among the most beautiful and fascinating fish in the aquarium trade. They come in various colors and patterns; some are rare and expensive. Arowanas are also considered a symbol of luck and prosperity in some cultures, especially in Asia.

However, keeping an Arowana as a pet is not an easy task. These fish are large, predatory, and aggressive. They require a lot of space, care, and attention. They are also very sensitive to water quality and prone to diseases and injuries. Arowanas are not suitable for beginners or small tanks. They are only recommended for experienced and dedicated hobbyists who can provide them with the best possible conditions.

Species Overview

Scientific Name
Osteoglossum sp.
Common Names
Arowana, Bony Tongues
Asia, South America, & Australia
Adult Size
Life Expectancy
10 – 15 Years
Minimum Tank Size
250 Gallons
Captive Breedable

Different Types of Arowanas

There are two genera of Arowanas: Osteoglossum and Scleropages. The former includes two species: the silver Arowana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) and the black Arowana (Osteoglossum ferreirai). These species are native to South America and can grow up to 4 feet in length.

The latter includes four species: the green arowana (Scleropages jardinii), the Australian pearl arowana (Scleropages leichardti), the Asian arowana (Scleropages formosus), and the saratoga (Scleropages legendrei). These species are native to Asia and Australia and can grow up to 3 feet in length.

The Asian Arowana is the most popular and sought-after among aquarium enthusiasts. It is also the most diverse and expensive one. There are several varieties of Asian arowanas, each with its own color and pattern. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Red Arowana: (featured image) This variety has a bright red coloration that covers most of its body. It is also known as the super red or chili red Arowana. It is native to Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Gold Arowana: This variety has a golden or yellow coloration that covers most of its body. It is also known as the golden dragon fish or x-back gold Arowana. It is native to Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Silver Arowana: This variety has a silver or white coloration that covers most of its body. It is also known as the platinum or snow white arowana. It is native to Indonesia.
  • Green Arowana: This variety has a green or blue coloration that covers most of its body. It is also known as the blue Malayan or blue base crossback arowana. It is native to Malaysia.
  • Black Arowana: This variety has a black or dark brown coloration that covers most of its body. It is also known as the black golden or black dragon fish Arowana. It is native to Indonesia.

The Asian Arowana is endangered due to habitat loss, overfishing, and illegal trade. It is protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) and requires special permits and certificates to be kept legally.

Gold Arowana Fish

Characteristics of Arowanas

Some people call arowanas dragon fish because of their resemblance to the mythical creature. However, unlike dragons, arowanas do not breathe fire, fly, or hoard treasure. Unless you count their own scales as treasure, in which case they are very greedy indeed.

Arowanas are large fish that can reach up to 4 feet in length and weigh up to 13 pounds. They have an elongated body covered by large, heavy scales with a mosaic pattern of canals. They have a bony head with large eyes and an upward-facing mouth that has two barbels on each side. They have long dorsal and anal fins that run along their body until they meet at the caudal fin, forming a continuous fin margin. They have small pectoral and pelvic fins that are located near their gills.

Arowanas have several adaptations that help them survive in their natural habitats. One of them is their ability to breathe air using their swim bladder, which is lined with capillaries like lung tissue. This allows them to survive in low-oxygen waters or during droughts when their habitats dry up. Another adaptation is their ability to jump out of the water to catch prey on low-hanging branches or insects flying above the surface. Using their powerful tail fin, they can leap as high as 6 feet out of the water.

Arowanas have different colorations depending on their species and variety. Some of them have metallic or iridescent hues that reflect light and create stunning effects in the water. Some of them also have markings or patterns on their scales that enhance their beauty.

Arowanas have different lifespans depending on their species and care. In general, they can live up to 15 years or more in captivity if they are well cared for.

Arowana fish side profile

Arowana Behavior

Arowanas are predatory fish that feed on other fish, crustaceans, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals in the wild. They hunt by sight using their large eyes and by smell using their barbels. They usually swim near the water’s surface, looking for prey they can snatch with their powerful jaws.

Arowanas are fiercely aggressive fish that do not tolerate other fish in their territory. They will chase away or attack any intruder that comes near them. They will often fight with other arowanas of the same or different species if they are kept together. It should come as no surprise then that they are solitary fish that prefer to live alone in their own space. They do not form bonds with other fish or with their owners.

But they are also highly intelligent fish that can learn from their experiences and adapt to new situations. They will often recognize their owners and respond to feeding cues.

What to Feed Arowanas

Arowanas are carnivorous fish that need a high-protein diet to stay healthy and grow properly.

In captivity, they can be fed with live or frozen foods such as shrimp, krill, bloodworms, earthworms, crickets, grasshoppers, mice, frogs, etc. If needed, they can also be fed with pellets or flakes specially formulated for large carnivorous fish. But it’s recommended to stick with live or frozen foods since it is closer to their natural diet. Depending on their size and appetite, they should be fed once or twice a day.

Tank Requirements for Arowanas

Arowanas are large fish that need spacious tanks to accommodate their size and activity level. The minimum tank size for an adult Arowana is 250 gallons. The tank should be long rather than tall, as they need more horizontal space than vertical space. The tank should have a tight-fitting lid as it can jump out of the water easily. The tank should have strong filtration systems as they produce a lot of waste.

LightingLow-moderate lighting, they prefer dimly lit environments.
Water MovementMedium current
pH6.5 to 7.5
dHBetween 5 and 12°
TemperatureBetween 75°F and 86°F

Perform regular water changes as they are sensitive to water quality and use minimal decorations as they need plenty of open space to swim around freely. They will appreciate a few plants, such as java ferns or anubias attached to driftwood or rocks, that provide some cover and a natural look. The tank should not have gravel or sand substrate as they can ingest it accidentally. Avoid sharp objects, such as rocks or driftwood with jagged edges, as they can easily injure themselves.

Black and yellow Arowana

Tank-Mate Compatibility

Arowanas are aggressive fish that do not generally get along well with other fish.

  • They will view smaller fish as food and larger fish as rivals.
  • They will chase away or attack any fish that comes near them regardless of their size or temperament.
  • They will also fight with other arowanas if they are kept together unless they are raised together from a young age or kept in very large tanks with plenty of hiding places.
  • They may tolerate some bottom-dwelling fish, such as plecos or catfish, if they are large enough and do not disturb them. However, they may still compete with them for food and space.
  • They should not be kept with any similar shape or color fish, such as gars, knifefish, or bichirs. They may mistake them for their own kind and try to fight or mate with them.
  • They should not be kept with any fish that have bright colors or long fins, such as guppies, bettas, or angelfish. They may see them as potential prey or threats and try to attack them.
  • They should not be kept with any fish that are territorial or aggressive, such as cichlids, oscars, or piranhas. They may clash with them over dominance and resources and cause injuries or death.

The best tank mates for arowanas are other large and peaceful fish that can coexist peacefully with them. Some examples are giant gouramis, pacus, tinfoil barbs, iridescent sharks, or silver dollars. However, even these fish should be cautiously introduced and monitored closely for signs of stress or aggression.

Arowanas are best kept alone or in a species-only tank where they can have their own space and peace. They are not social fish and do not need companionship from other fish.

Breeding Arowanas

Breeding arowanas in captivity is very difficult and challenging. Most arowanas are bred in large fish farms in Asia, where they have the right conditions and expertise.

Arowanas are mouthbrooders, which means that the males carry the eggs and the fry in their mouths until they are ready to be released.

The breeding process of arowanas involves several steps:

  • Courtship: The male and female arowanas will swim together and display their colors and fins to each other. They will also chase and nip each other gently. This can last for several days or weeks until they find a suitable spot for spawning.
  • Spawning: The female will lay about 30 to 60 eggs, and the male will fertilize them immediately. The male will then scoop up the eggs in his mouth and hold them for incubation. The spawning usually occurs at night or early morning.
  • Incubation: The male will keep the eggs in his mouth for about 50 to 60 days. During this time, he will not eat or drink anything. He will also avoid any disturbance or stress that might cause him to spit out the eggs or swallow them. He will occasionally open his mouth slightly to aerate the eggs and remove any debris or fungus.
  • Hatching: The eggs will hatch into fry inside the male’s mouth. The fry will have a yolk sac attached to their bellies, providing them with nutrition. The male will continue to hold the fry in his mouth until they absorb the yolk sac completely. This can take another 10 to 20 days.
  • Release: The male will finally release the fry from his mouth when they are ready to swim and feed on their own. The fry will be about 2 inches long and have a bright orange-red color. The male will protect the fry for a few days until they disperse.

Breeding arowanas at home is not recommended unless you have a lot of experience and resources. You will need a very large tank with optimal water parameters, a compatible pair of healthy and mature arowanas, a separate tank for the male and the fry, and a lot of patience and care.


Arowanas are amazing fish that can add beauty and excitement to your aquarium. However, they are not for everyone. They are large, aggressive, demanding fish requiring special care and attention. But, they are, without a doubt, a perfect for an attention-grabbing aquarium if you have the patience and determination to properly care for them.

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