Skip to Content

Are Red Tail Sharks Actually Sharks? (8 Things That Set Them Apart)

Are Red Tail Sharks Actually Sharks? (8 Things That Set Them Apart)

Share this post:

This post is written to the author's best knowledge and is not intended to be used in place of veterinary advice. In addition, this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

If you’re a fish enthusiast or have spent time as an aquarium hobbyist, you may have heard of the Red-tail shark. These freshwater fish are known for their shark-like black bodies contrasted by bright red tails.

But are Red-tail sharks actually sharks? Many people wonder whether this is just a marketing ploy or if there’s some truth to it.

In this article, we aim to explore that question. Join us as we dive deep into the differences between Red-tail sharks and the common sharks that we know.

Are Red Tail Sharks Actually Sharks?

To put it simply, no, Red-tail sharks aren’t actual sharks. Red-tail sharks, or Redtail sharkminnows, are freshwater fish endemic to Thailand that are part of the Cyprinidae family.

That classification makes them more closely related to carps, minnows, and barbs than actual sharks in the Selachimorpha superorder.

Despite resembling sharks in appearance, they lack many of the characteristics and morphology that make actual marine sharks unique.

What Sets Them Apart?

Okay, saying they’re not sharks because they don’t fit the scientific classification doesn’t really explain much, does it?

As such, we enumerated the critical morphological and behavioral distinction between actual sharks and Red-tail sharks for you. These are the following:

1 – Bone Composition

One of the most significant differences between sharks and Red-tail sharks is their bone composition.

Every shark in order Selachimorpha has cartilaginous skeletons. That means their bones comprise the same flexible tissue in your nose and ears.

It doesn’t matter where they live, whether in freshwater (like the Borneo River shark), salt water (like the great white shark), or in between (like the bull shark).

Compared to Red-tail sharks with bony skeletons, their bodies are more flexible. As a result, they swim faster with less energy.

2 – Gill Slits Count

The gill slits of Red-tail sharks also differ from marine sharks.

Like the average fish, Red-tail sharks only have two gill slits, one on each side. Sharks, on the other hand, have five to seven gill slits on each side.

3 – Fin Structure

The fin structure of sharks is also distinct from that of Red-tail sharks. The first thing you’d notice with shark fins is that they’re more fleshy and broader than other fish.

Additionally, Red-tail sharks have pectoral fins fused to their head like most bony fish, which is a feature sharks don’t possess.

Lastly, most shark species have two dorsal fins; Red-tail sharks generally have one.

Ironically though, Red-tail sharks got their name because of how their dorsal fin looks.

4 – Size

Although sharks are generally considered large animals, the sizes of different shark species vary greatly.

The average size of Red-tail sharks is six inches, but they can grow up to eight. The only actual sharks that come close to them are the smallest ones, like the dwarf lantern shark or pygmy shark.

5 – Teeth Structure

Real sharks commonly have triangular serrated teeth that grab on their prey. They’re also notorious for having a large number of teeth, with multiple rows that continuously replace old ones.

Compared to real sharks, the Red-tail shark’s tooth is lackluster. They have small flat teeth designed to grind and crush plant matter and small crustaceans.

6 – Diet

There’s also variability between the diets of sharks and Red-tail sharks. Red-tail sharks have an omnivorous diet that leans towards plants, while most sharks are carnivorous.

Although some sharks are omnivores, like the whale sharks, they’re the exception, not the rule.

7 – Habitat

Sharks in order Selachimorpha are primarily found in saltwater, but some species are flexible and can survive in rivers and seas, like the bull shark.

On the other hand, you can only find the Red-tail shark in rivers and streams in Thailand, and they’re strictly freshwater fish.

8 – Temperament

While we mostly view sharks as lone hunters, many of their species live in social environments with their kind.

In contrast, Red-tail sharks are considerably more solitary. When put in an aquarium, they’re observed to chase away and bully other fish.

As such, fish keepers tend to give them spacious tanks.

Final Thoughts

So, are Red-tail sharks actually sharks? From the difference between their bones to the contrast in their behavior, we can safely say that they’re rather far from each other.

Nevertheless, Red-tail sharks are still great as pets. Don’t let the misnomer deter you from keeping them.

With their black bodies and bright red tails, Red-tail sharks will stand out from other fish and would make a great addition to your aquarium, shark or not.

Share this post: