WATERSHED AQUACULTURE   In Memory of a Beloved Pet


An Arowana head view

A fish with attitude

Draco was a Pearl Arowana, or Australian Jardine Bonytongue (Scleropages jardinii), was the pride of my collection of Australian fishes, with a tank of his own.  Always alert and on the move, he swam purposefully, flicking his tail at each turn in the tank, watching every movement about him in hope of something to eat.  Yes, this one had attitude and deserves a name.  His body colour was a burnished, golden bronze, with delicate pink crescents at the edges of the scales.  His fins were darker bronze and spotted in red.  This was one very attractive Dragon Fish, acquired during the Year of the Golden Dragon, so I named him Draco.

                                           He grew too big for my 1.22 metre aquarium so I gave him to a Pet Shop owner in Victor Harbor, Sth Australia.


Arowana as Living Fossils The Jardine Arowana The Saratoga



 It captured my imagination as a child when I first learned of Bonytongues as "living fossils".  I was fascinated that fishes, just like these, once swam in the same waters as dinosaurs and ancient crocodilians and other reptiles of past ages.  Like Stromatolites, the coelacanth,  the Lungfish, the Magpie-goose, cycads, Wollemi Pines and the palms of central Australia, these creatures are survivors- no wonder this one had "attitude"!  I later heard of Bonytongues as the legendary fish of the Gulf Region of Australia's Northern Territory in fishermen's tales of "barrumundi" or Gulf Saratogas.  They are not barramundi (Lates calcarifer), of course, but many people called them that in fishing tales as big as your arm, and 'Saratoga' is the common name for Australia's southern Queensland Bonytongue (Scleropages leichardti). Draco was an Australian Jardine Bonytongue (Scleropages jardinii). In modern modern Chinese Feng Shui and Asian folk lore, S. jardinii is known as the Pearl Arowana or the Pearl Dragon Fish.  While not commanding the high prices of its Asian relatives (S. formosus and varieties), this is a highly valued fish that may even bring good fortune.

Australian Arowanas

Scleropages jardinii (Saville-Kent,1892) syn. Osteoglossum jardinii - Australian Jardinii; Bonytongue; Pearl Arowana; Pearl Dragon Fish; Jardine Saratoga; Gulf Saratoga.

Description: Pearl Arowanas can be silver with black fins (most common), to a yellow or coppery gold colour with pearly scales edged in pink. The long body is laterally compressed, with a large upturned mouth, big scales and barbels on the lower lip. S. jardini has a few, large, yellow, orange or red spots on each of its fins and commonly shows a pattern of lines and or dots on and bordering its gill plate.  The head slopes downward from the back often making it's head look smaller in comparison to it's body, which distinguishes this species from S. leichardti which shows no sloping head.  To differentiate between the Australian species from the Asian Arowana (S. formosus), the number of scales in the lateral line is 32-35 in S. jardini and S. leichardti while S. formosus has only 21-25.

Distribution: New Guinea and Northern Australia in the rivers and swamps that drain into Gulf of Carpentaria.

Natural Habitat: Pelagic, freshwater shores. Occurs in still waters of streams and swamps where it is usually seen near the surface or close to shore among aquatic vegetation. Territorial.

Conservation Status: Limited geographical area, locally vulnerable.

Threats:  Pollution, destruction of habitat and predation from introduced species; over-fishing as a game fish.

Size: Adults 30 cms - 90.0 cm; av. 60 cms; max. weight: 27 kg.

Water Requirements: Freshwater; aged, slightly acidic water (pH 6.5-7) and a temperature of 28-32o C.  Tank conditions require 20% - 25% partial water changes twice a week to remove nitrates.

Tank Habitat: Well conditioned aquarium with heavy, weighted cover; large tank with some surface covering plants, a substrate covering of sand or pebbles and excellent filtration.  Take care to ensure that the plumbing for the filters ad the heaters cannot be dislodged by the Arowanas (they are strong!).  Notorious as a great jumper, care must be taken to place a heavy object on top of closed covers.  Place the tank so as to limit any movement above the fish, as Arowana are easily frightened of large objects moving above them as they watch for food and predators.

As the Arowana is a surface dweller, when deciding on the size of the fish tank, depth is not so much a factor compared to surface area and width.  Young fish of 6 inch (15cm) can be kept in tanks of 4 feet by 1.5 feet by 1.5 feet (depth). Adult fish of around1 feet (30cm) would be better off with a 6 feet x 2.0 feet x 1.5 feet (depth) tank. Depending on tank sizes and number of fishes, change 25% of the tank's water once or twice a week. Arowana are very sensitive to water changes and to medications.  Never conduct a 100% change in water as it is very sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals.  Take care with medications.

Diet:  Arowana are opportunistic carnivores that feed from the top of the water.  In captivity, this should be encouraged and not feeding from the bottom of the tank.  Young feed primarily on micro-crustaceans, frozen, or freeze dried blood worms, and brine shrimp.  Adults are carnivorous on small fishes, lizards, snakes, frogs, shrimps and insects and can jump out of water to catch prey.  Feed live or dead prawns, small fishes (Gambusia are excellent for this), insects, meal worms, crickets, once a day with pelleted foods (the floating types) or freeze-dried krill, gradually reducing the live foods until the fish are weaned onto prepared, low-fat foods.  For convenience, half a kilo of fresh prawns from the market can be frozen into many smaller packets and defrosted as required.  NOTE: Do not over-feed, avoid giving fatty foods and feed live and frozen foods occasionally, as feeding too much fatty foods to Arowanas can cause fatty deposits to build above the eyes to cause a "pop-eyed" downward deformation of the eye (known as Arowana drop-eye).  Avoiding use of sinking foodstuffs also guards against drop-eye, as it lessens the tendency to look downwards to search for food.  Also ensure that the tank has a dark substrate and not a bare glass bottom, as the bare bottom produces a reflection and causes the Arowana to look downward and inducing drop-eye.  Beef-heart mix is also acceptable food for Arowana.  Beef-heart mix recipe.

Sexing: Observation of female with eggs is the only sure way.

Reproduction: Dioecism, buccal incubator, in that it carries its eggs (about 50) in its mouth.  Spawning commences at the start of the 'Wet' season, which is around October.  Fertilization is external and probably follows the pattern of Asian Arowanas.  Fertilized eggs are carried in the mouth of the female.  Eggs hatch in 1-2 weeks. Larvae, with their enlarged yolk sac, are kept in or close to the mouth for another 4 or 5 weeks. When the young hatch they stick with the male (about 5 weeks) and in times of danger he will open his mouth allowing the young to seek shelter.  Young fish commence feeding, primarily on micro-crustaceans, at a size of 2-3 cm, well before the yolk sac is entirely absorbed.  They become independent at a length of 3.5-4.0 cm. (Source: William. http://dragonfish.com/)

Breeding:  It may be successful to follow the Asian breeding plan for the S. formosus forms. See below as for Saratogas.

Tank Community: The Arowanas are territorial and aggressive carnivores. Therefore, never keep 2-3 fishes in a single tank.  Instead, keep one alone or 6-10 together.  When in a group, their aggressiveness tends to be subdued. The Australian Arowanas are reputably the most aggressive.  Keep juveniles in brood shoals; adults are territorial and aggressive unless breeding so are best kept alone or in small groups of 6.  Not recommended as a fish for a community tank, except where very large fishes are kept, such  as large native catfish or large perches or cichlids. Arowanas regard all fishes as food.

Incompatible species: Other Arowanas in confined quarters!  Fingers, fish, reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans that can fit into the Arowana's mouth, will end up in the Arowana's mouth!

Comments: The Dragon Fish family includes S. formosus (the Asian Dragonfish- with red, gold, platinum and green forms) , Osteoglossum bicirrhosum (the Sth American, Silver Bonytongue), Osteoglossum ferreirai (the Sth American  Black Bonytongue), and the African species, Heteriotis niloticus.  They are "living fossils" evolving relatively unchanged from species that were extant during the Jurassic Period.  This entire group of fishes is in urgent need of conservation and protection.  The Asian Arowana is listed on the CITES Red List, as an endangered species.

Scleropages leichardti (Günther, 1864). Syn. Osteoglossum leichardti; Australian Spotted Arowana, Saratoga; Spotted Bonytongue; Leichardt’s Arowana; Spotted Dragon Fish.

Description: The Spotted Arowana has a long, laterally compressed body and barbels about the mouth; the top of the head is level with the back and does not slope forward as in S. jardini.  It can be from or silvery-green to a blue-ish, dark gray, with one or two dark pinkish/red to brown spots on each scale, with 32-35 scales in the lateral line.  S. leichardti has numerous small spots on the fins and less marking of the gill plates than S. jardini.

Distribution: Saratoga occur throughout the Fitzroy River system of North Eastern Queensland, although stocks have been transferred to other areas.

Size: Commonly 500-600 mm, to 900 mm & 4 kg.

Natural Habitat: Prefers long deep muddy holes with overhanging vegetation. Saratoga are solitary fish and are very territorial and aggressive to other members of their species.  Captured specimens often exhibit the scars of past battles.

Conservation Status: Threatened.

Threats: Habitat destruction, pollution from land clearing and deforestation, over-fishing.

Water Requirements: Freshwater; aged, slightly acidic water (pH 6.5-7) and a temperature of 28-32 o C.

Tank Habitat: As for S. jardini (see above).  Smaller examples make very impressive aquarium specimens, although S. leichardti can be harder to keep than the less flighty S. jardini.  The fish is a natural jumper, and any aquarium must have a suitably heavy lid, else the fish is likely to jump out of the tank.  This can be particular problem when performing maintenance, so extra care should be taken at this time.

Diet: An opportunistic carnivore, Saratoga mainly take food from the water surface.  The bulk of their diet comprises terrestrial insects, although wild Saratoga will take small fish, frogs, lizards, snakes, shrimps and yabbies.  Feeding as for S. jardini. NOTE the warning regarding fatty foods and over-feeding.
Beef-heart mix recipe.

Sexing: Females with eggs is about the only discriminating sign.

Reproduction: Dioecism, buccal incubator.  Saratoga exhibit interesting breeding behavior. The southern species starts breeding around August/September.  *The female produces around 70 to 200 large eggs, about 10 mm in diameter.  She takes the fertilised eggs into her mouth and keeps them there until they hatch.  During this time, she loses all interest in feeding and spends more time at the surface.  Other Saratoga appear to ignore the breeding females, putting aside their normal enmity towards other fish.

When the eggs hatch, about one to two weeks after fertilisation, the female periodically releases the larval fish near the edges of the pool.  She remains nearby and often swims slowly parallel to the bank with the young fish swimming about her head.  She recalls the baby fish with a sudden kinking movement of her body which is followed by the rapid return of the fry to her mouth.  This release and recall behaviour continues for the first two or three days after the eggs hatch.  Once the juvenile fish become independent of the mother at around 40 mm in length, they take up territorial positions around the edge of the pool.

NB. Young fish unable to find or hold a territory form loose shoals.

Tank Community: The Arowanas are territorial and aggressive fishes. Therefore, never keep 2 or 3 fishes in a single tank. Instead, keep one alone or 6-10 together.  They regard all other fishes as food.

Gulf Saratoga
        Red Saratoga

Taiping Gold Arowana
 Red Asian Arowana

Scleropages species are listed with their most prominent common names.

Scleropages aureus (Pouyaud, Sudarto and Teugels, 2003) — gold arowana, red-tailed golden arowana
Scleropages formosus (Müller and Schlegel, 1844) — green arowana, Asian bonytongue, Malayan arowana
Scleropages jardinii (Saville-Kent, 1892) — Gulf saratoga, Australian arowana, Australian bonytongue, northern barramundi
Scleropages legendrei (Pouyaud, Sudarto and Teugels, 2003): red arowana, super red arowana, blood red arowana, chili arowana
Scleropages leichardti (Günther, 1864) — saratoga, Australian arowana, Dawson River salmon, spotted saratoga, spotted barramundi, spotted arowana
Scleropages macrocephalus (Pouyaud, Sudarto and Teugels, 2003): silver Asian arowana, yellow-tailed silver arowana, gray-tailed silver arowana

Xena & Millie say, "Ooroo.
Thanks for calling in."

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