If you're an experienced aquarist, chances are good that you've considered the idea of owning a pet shark. While most sharks are far too big for a home aquarium, the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark is an exception to the rule. At about 41 inches long, it can be kept in a large 180-gallon tank along with other compatible fish, and it often does well in captivity. The only real challenges in keeping these sharks relate to feeding and health issues: You may need to "target feed" your shark to be sure it eats properly and to provide it with medications needed to maintain its health.
Common Names: Brownbanded Bamboo Shark, Brown-Banded, Banded, Brown-Spotted, Black Banded, Blackbanded Bamboo Shark, Cat Shark
Scientific Name: Chiloscyllium punctatum
Adult Size: 41 inches
Life Expectancy: About 20-25 years
|Tank Level||All tank levels|
|Minimum Tank Size||180 gallons|
|Care||Difficult (expert only)|
|Temperature||72 to 78°F|
Origin and Distribution
The Brownbanded Bamboo Shark originates in the Indo-West Pacific Ocean. It may be found from Japan to northern Australia and prefers depths of about 275 feet. These sharks frequent coral reefs where they find plentiful prey.
Colors and Markings
These impressive sharks sport barbels around their noses, and these "whiskers" are the source of one of their common names: cat shark. The barbels are sensory organs that help the fish to find food. The young have the beautiful banded markings, but these fade with maturity, and adults may be grey with black stripes or cream colored with brown stripes; they may develop brown spots between their less-prominent stripes. They grow to more than 40 inches long when fully grown.
This species is not reef-safe: it will nip at and eat crustaceans, coral and smaller, less aggressive tankmates. As a result, it's a good idea to keep your Brownbanded Bamboo Shark in a fish-only aquarium with relatively large, aggressive species that can hold their own with a shark. Good tankmates include eels, groupers, snappers, hawkfish, hogfish, rabbitfish, lionfish/scorpions, grunts/sweetlips, sharks and rays, large angelfish, parrotfish, and tangs/surgeonfishes. Triggerfish and pufferfish are not good options to pair with this shark: they will nip at the sharks' fins and cause them undue stress.
Brownbanded Bamboo Shark Habitat and Care
Being a nocturnal, bottom-dwelling species that inhabits deeper waters where little light is present, the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark is light sensitive. Typically it stays hidden in an aquarium with bright lights on, and therefore it should be provided with an adequately sized cave or light-sheltered space where it can hide. Course textures can scratch this shark's belly, which can lead to infection, so it requires a soft sand substrate. Poor aquarium water quality can be problematic for this species.
Being docile fish that do not swim around much, Brownbanded Bamboo Sharks are nevertheless strong fish that can easy dislodge unstable rock formations and corals that are not attached securely. To avoid possible damage to the structure of the aquarium and injury to the shark and its tankmates, all items should be stable.
Brownbanded Bamboo Shark Diet
Like all sharks, Brownbanded Bamboo Sharks are carnivores and should be fed a meaty diet that includes pieces of fresh shrimp, scallop, squid, and marine fish flesh.
Soaking foods in a liquid vitamin provides a boost in vitamins and minerals important to the sharks' health. They also require a supplemental source of iodine to prevent goiter disease.
Because they are fairly docile, they do not compete well for food with aggressive feeders. If they are sharing a tank, you may need to offer them food directly, using a stick or tongs. They should be fed until satisfied two to three times a week. Brownbanded Bamboo Sharks have a small mouth and cannot open it very wide. They do not bite off pieces of food. They should be given tiny bits of food that they can easily consume whole, otherwise, they may ignore and even spit out chunks that are too large.
It can be difficult to get juveniles to eat. Adding a natural scent and flavor enhancer such as Seachem Entice and introducing live farm-raised saltwater feeder shrimp (white shrimp) to the aquarium can help to pique a stubborn feeder's interest.
It is not unusual for a baby or a juvenile specimen to not start eating right away, and the shark may starve to death if not given the proper diet. Before buying one of these sharks, be sure it is healthy, and make sure that it is eating the offered food.
Males' pelvic fins have tube-shaped organs called claspers. These organs deliver sperm into the female's reproductive tract.
Breeding the Brownbanded Bamboo Shark
Bamboo or cat sharks are egg-layers, with the eggs enclosed in elongated flattened egg-cases. It's not unusual to find the eggs for sale; in captivity, hatching one can take up to four months. If you are seriously interested in breeding these sharks, you will need to dedicate quite a bit of time to properly managing the process of hatching and caring for juveniles.
This species of shark is prone to developing a goiter, which is a swelling of the thyroid gland that appears on the outside of the throat area. Starting out as a small lump, over time it can develop into a very large growth that blocks the shark's throat, which prevents it from eating. A goiter is the result of the lack of iodine in the shark's diet. It takes many months for one to develop and takes just as long to reverse it.
It's important to take steps to supplement the shark's diet with needed iodine when a goiter is first noticed. If left alone, the goiter may grow too large, and at this point it's too late to save the shark and the animal slowly dies from starvation. Copper-based medications should never be used on this shark, so be sure to read the labels on products carefully.
More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research
There aren't many other sharks that are appropriate for aquarium life, but if you're interested in more challenging saltwater breeds you might want to learn about some of these fish:
Otherwise, check out all other pet saltwater fish breed profiles.