Iridescent shark

The iridescent shark, iridescent shark catfish[4] (Pangasianodon hypophthalmus) is a species of shark catfish (family Pangasiidae) native to the rivers of Southeast Asia. Despite its name, it is not a shark. It is found in the Mekong basin as well as the Chao Phraya River, and is heavily cultivated for food there.

Iridescent shark
CITES Appendix I (CITES)[2]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Siluriformes
Family: Pangasiidae
Genus: Pangasianodon
P. hypophthalmus
Binomial name
Pangasianodon hypophthalmus
(Sauvage, 1878)

Helicophagus hypophthalmus Sauvage, 1878
Pangasius sutchi Fowler, 1937[3]
Pangasius hypophthalmus (Sauvage, 1878)

The meat is often marketed under the common name swai (from Thai สวาย). It has also been introduced into other river basins as a food source, and its striking appearance and iridescence have made it popular with fishkeeping hobbyists, among whom it is also known as the Siamese shark catfish or sutchi catfish.[5] The swai's omnivorous diet consists of crustaceans, other fish, and plant matter.[6]


The fish is named for the glow or iridescence exhibited in juveniles, as well as the shark-like appearance of this and other shark catfish.


Adults reach up to 130 cm (4.3 ft) in length and can weigh up to a maximum of 44 kg (97 lb). They have a shiny, iridescent color that gives these fish their name. However, large adults are uniformly grey. The fins are dark grey or black. Juveniles have a black stripe along the lateral line and a second black stripe below the lateral line.[6]

Distribution and habitat

P. hypophthalmus migrations in the Mekong River
Orange: March to May
Dark green: May to September
Red: October to February
Shaded region: spawning region of the southern Mekong population between Khone Falls and Kratie

Iridescent sharks originate from the large rivers Chao Phraya and Mekong in Asia, though they have been introduced into other rivers for aquaculture. They are a freshwater fish that natively live in a tropical climate and prefer water with a 6.5–7.5 pH, a water hardness of 2.0–29 dGH, and a temperature range of 22–26 °C (72–79 °F).[6] They prefer large bodies of water similar to the deep waters of their native Mekong river basin.

The iridescent shark is a migratory fish that in most regions moves upstream to spawn during the flood season while the waters are high and returns downstream to seek rearing habitats when the river water levels recede. The dates of the migrations vary depending on the river system. In the Mekong river basin, they migrate upstream in May to July and return downstream during September through December. South of the Khone Falls, upstream migration occurs in October to February, with its peak in November to December; here, it appears to be triggered by receding waters at the end of the flood season.[6]

In August 2015, an environmental group in Santander, Colombia, confirmed that iridescent sharks had been found in one of the tributaries that feed into the Magdalena River, having been accidentally introduced from illegal farm fisheries in the area. The find has caused alarm amongst the scientific community and government officials, as the Magdalena river is home to over 200 native fish species, 35 of which are endangered.[7]

Iridescent sharks are also introduced to other Southeast asia countries for food especially Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar, In Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia they are called ikan patin (which 'ikan' means fish in malay and indonesian), Malaysian Chinese prefer them steamed or cooked in whole, while Malay prefer cooking these fishes with Tempoyak and Curry.[8]

Culinary profile

Swai fillet as sold in the United States

Pangasius does not have a gourmet reputation and is sold cheaply as swai (/sw/, from Thai สวาย s̄wāy)[9][10] in the United States, panga (or pangas) in Europe and cream dory and basa in several Asian countries and in the UK.

Despite its lowly reputation, the total export of pangasius from Vietnam reached US$1.8 billion in 2014.[11]

Pangasius fillets are an increasingly popular product because of their low cost, mild taste and firm texture. Recipes for other whitefish such as sole or halibut can be adapted to pangasius.[12]

Pangasius is an omnivorous fish, and thus does not require a high level of animal protein in its diet. Typical grading sizes are 3–5 oz (85–140 g), 5–7 oz (140–200 g), and 7–9 oz (200–260 g).[13]

In the aquarium

A juvenile Pangasianodon hypophthalmus

While juvenile iridescent sharks are sold as pets for home aquariums, they are not easy fish to keep. Iridescent sharks are schooling fish that prefer groups,[6] are accustomed to living in rivers, and are active fish that require space. They have very poor eyesight, so detected movement from outside of their habitat can be seen as a threat. If stressed, their first instinct is to flee; a blind dash can cause injury in an aquarium environment. These injuries may result in the fish sinking to the bottom, where it may lie on its side or back until it recovers.[14]

Iridescent sharks require a minimum tank size of 12 m (39 ft) to develop naturally. Schools require even larger tanks. If given enough room and fed adequately, they can reach 1 m (3.3 ft) in length. In most home aquaria, the lack of space stunts their growth. For this reason, most iridescent sharks kept in home aquaria grow to 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 in) in length only and may die prematurely. When provided adequately sized aquaria and proper husbandry, iridescent sharks may live into their teens and grow to full size.[15]

See also


  1. Vidthayanon, C.; Hogan, Z. (2011). "Pangasianodon hypophthalmus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2011: e.T180689A7649971. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2011-1.RLTS.T180689A7649971.en. Retrieved 19 November 2021.
  2. "Appendices | CITES". Retrieved 2022-01-14.
  3. "Pangasius hypophthalmus". Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved February 7, 2009.
  4. "River Catfish, Explained". Animals. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  5. Robert (2018-12-14). "Iridescent Shark Care Guide: Tank Mates, Tank Size, Growth Rate". Fishkeeping World. Retrieved 2021-04-06.
  6. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2012). "Pangasianodon hypophthalmus" in FishBase. February 2012 version.
  7. "Alerta por amenaza del pez basa en el río Magdalena". El Tiempo (in Spanish). 1 October 2015.
  8. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. "ซื้อปลาSwai Fillets มา เอาไปทำไรกินได้บ้างคะ?".
  10. "Status of the Mekong Pangasianodon Hypophthalmus Resources, with Special Reference to the Stock Shared Between Cambodia and Viet Nam". Mekong River Commission. July 12, 2002 via Google Books.
  11. Thang, Luu Viet. "Sector profile". Retrieved 2016-02-15.
  12. "The three key steps to restore the image of Pangasius" (PDF). Vietfish International. VASEP: 88. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-02-23.
  13. "Swai Fish Profile". Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  14. Axelrod, Herbert, R. (1996). Exotic Tropical Fishes. T.F.H. Publications. ISBN 0-87666-543-1.
  15. Aqualand Pets
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