Asian Arowana

Asian Arowana Introduction

The Asian Arowana, scientifically known as Scleropages formosus, is a remarkable and highly sought-after freshwater fish native to Southeast Asia. Renowned for its vibrant colors, graceful appearance, and mystical symbolism, this species has gained immense popularity among aquarists worldwide. With a history steeped in cultural significance and superstition, the Asian Arowana has become an iconic species in the aquarium trade. In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of the Asian Arowana, delving into its biology, habitat, conservation status, and the allure that makes it a coveted species among enthusiasts.

Asian Arowana Facts and Physical Characteristics

Scientific NameScleropages formosus
Common NamesAsian Arowana, Dragon Fish, Asian Bonytongue
Native RangeSoutheast Asia, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and surrounding regions
SizeTypically 2 to 3 feet in length (60 to 90 centimeters)
LifespanUp to 20 years or more in captivity
Color VariationsVarious, including Red, Green, Blue, and Gold
Body ShapeElongated and streamlined with large pectoral fins
ScalesLarge and distinct, with metallic appearance
Mouth OrientationTerminal (underslung) mouth
DietCarnivorous, primarily feeding on small fish and insects
BehaviorSolitary and territorial; can be aggressive
HabitatSlow-moving freshwater rivers and swamps
Conservation StatusCITES-listed (Appendix I) due to habitat loss and overexploitation; some populations are critically endangered
Cultural SignificanceConsidered a symbol of luck, wealth, and prosperity in Asian cultures, particularly in China

Asian Arowana Distribution and Habitat

  1. Geographic Range: The Asian Arowana, scientifically known as Scleropages formosus, is native to the freshwater habitats of Southeast Asia. Its range includes countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
  2. River Systems: These fish are typically found in slow-moving or stagnant waters within river systems, including the basins of the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and parts of the Malayan Peninsula.
  3. Specific Habitats: Asian Arowanas inhabit a variety of specific habitats within their range, including:
  • Swamps: They are often found in swamps, marshes, and flooded forests during the rainy season, utilizing these areas for feeding and breeding.
  • Oxbow Lakes: Oxbow lakes and backwaters of larger rivers provide suitable habitats for adult Asian Arowanas. These areas offer refuge and abundant food sources.
  • Blackwater Streams: They are also known to inhabit blackwater streams, characterized by their dark, tea-colored water due to decaying vegetation. These streams provide camouflage for the fish.
  1. Water Quality: Asian Arowanas are highly sensitive to water quality. They thrive in clean, well-oxygenated water with a pH level around neutral. In the wild, they are adapted to various water conditions, including soft and acidic blackwater environments.
  2. Temperature: The water temperature in their natural habitat can range from 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F), and they are adapted to tropical climates.
  3. Territorial Behavior: These fish exhibit territorial behavior, often staking out specific areas in their habitat. They are known to be secretive and can hide in submerged vegetation or woody debris.
  4. Habitat Threats: The Asian Arowana’s natural habitat faces threats from habitat destruction due to deforestation, urban development, and agricultural expansion. Additionally, overfishing for the aquarium trade has led to population declines, prompting conservation efforts and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) protection.

Asian Arowana Behavior and Social Structure

  1. Solitary Nature: Asian Arowanas are primarily solitary fish. They tend to live and hunt alone, with little social interaction among adults of the same species.
  2. Territorial Behavior: These fish are highly territorial, especially during the breeding season. They establish and defend specific territories within their habitat, which they guard against intruders.
  3. Aggressive Towards Conspecifics: When housed together in captivity or in the wild, Asian Arowanas can display aggressive behavior towards individuals of the same species. This aggression can result in physical confrontations and injuries, often leading to the need for separate tanks in captivity.
  4. Hunting Strategy: Asian Arowanas are carnivorous and have a patient hunting strategy. They often stalk their prey from a hidden position and then strike suddenly with great speed and precision, capturing small fish and insects. This behavior is facilitated by their ability to jump out of the water to catch prey near the water’s surface.
  5. Nocturnal Behavior: These fish are primarily active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, which is when they are most likely to hunt for food. During the day, they tend to rest near the bottom of their habitat, hidden among vegetation or submerged structures.
  6. Parental Care: Asian Arowanas are known for their unique parental care behavior. After spawning, males are responsible for guarding the eggs and fry, carrying them in their mouths to protect them from predators until they are large enough to swim on their own.
  7. Communication: While not known for vocalizations, Asian Arowanas communicate through body language and visual cues. For example, they may display territorial aggression through fin displays and posturing.
  8. Shy and Sensitive: In captivity, they can be shy and sensitive to changes in their environment, including water quality and lighting. Providing them with hiding spots and suitable conditions is essential for their well-being.

Asian Arowana Biome

The Asian Arowana, or Scleropages formosus, is primarily associated with the freshwater ecosystems of the tropical rainforest biome in Southeast Asia. Within this expansive and biodiverse biome, these majestic fish inhabit a range of aquatic environments. They are commonly found in slow-moving or stagnant waters, such as swamps, marshes, and flooded forests, particularly during the rainy season when these areas provide abundant food sources and breeding grounds. Oxbow lakes, which are old, meandering sections of rivers separated from the main channel, are also favored habitats, offering refuge and plenty of prey for adult Asian Arowanas. Moreover, blackwater streams characterized by their dark, tea-colored waters due to decaying vegetation are among the natural habitats these fish occupy. These unique streams not only provide the fish with camouflage but also influence the water’s pH and quality.

In these lush tropical rainforest biomes, the Asian Arowana enjoys a warm and stable climate, with water temperatures ranging from 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F). The dense vegetation along the banks of rivers and in swampy areas provides ample cover and hiding places for these secretive fish, allowing them to evade predators and hunt stealthily. Their sensitivity to water quality makes them a valuable indicator species for the health of these delicate ecosystems. Unfortunately, habitat destruction, deforestation, and overfishing for the aquarium trade have placed considerable pressure on both the Asian Arowana populations and the unique biomes they call home. Conservation efforts are crucial not only to protect this iconic species but also to preserve the rich biodiversity of the tropical rainforests in Southeast Asia.

Asian Arowana Climate zones

  1. Tropical Rainforests: Asian Arowana (Scleropages spp.) are native to the rainforests of Southeast Asia, primarily in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. These regions experience a hot and humid tropical climate throughout the year.
  2. Equatorial Climate: The arowana’s natural habitat falls within the equatorial climate zone, characterized by consistent temperatures and high levels of precipitation. Average temperatures typically range from 24°C to 30°C (75°F to 86°F).
  3. Monsoonal Rainfall: Asian Arowana often inhabit areas with distinct wet and dry seasons due to monsoonal patterns. Heavy rainfall during the wet season creates floodplains and inundated forests where arowanas thrive.
  4. Temperature Stability: Arowanas are highly sensitive to temperature changes, and their habitat within the equatorial climate zone provides the stable warm temperatures they require for optimal health and growth.
  5. High Humidity: These fish require high humidity levels, which are naturally provided by the humid tropical rainforests they inhabit. The humidity helps maintain their labyrinth organ, which allows them to breathe atmospheric air.
  6. Seasonal Variation: Although the equatorial zone typically lacks significant seasonal temperature changes, arowana habitats can experience slight variations in water temperature during the wet and dry seasons.
  7. Aquatic Ecosystems: Asian Arowana primarily occupy slow-moving or still waters, such as swamps, ponds, and oxbow lakes, within the rainforest environment.
  8. Vegetation-Rich Habitats: The arowana’s natural habitat includes dense aquatic vegetation, submerged roots, and fallen branches, providing cover and foraging opportunities.
  9. Protection from Predators: Their equatorial habitat offers protection from extreme temperature fluctuations and predators, fostering their survival and reproduction.
  10. Conservation Concerns: Due to habitat destruction, overharvesting, and illegal trade, the Asian Arowana faces conservation challenges. Efforts to protect their native climate zones are crucial for their survival.

Asian Arowana Reproduction and Life Cycles


Asian Arowanas exhibit a fascinating reproductive behavior that includes courtship rituals and parental care. When breeding conditions are favorable, males build bubble nests near the water’s surface. The courtship involves intricate dances and displays, with males showcasing their vibrant colors to attract females. Once a female selects a suitable mate, she lays her eggs in the male’s bubble nest. Fertilization occurs externally as the male releases sperm to fertilize the eggs. Males are responsible for guarding and caring for the eggs during incubation, which can last for several weeks. They are known to be highly protective, carrying the eggs in their mouths to shield them from potential threats.

Life Cycle: 

The life cycle of an Asian Arowana is marked by distinct stages:

  1. Egg Stage: After fertilization, the eggs are protected within the male’s bubble nest. During this time, the male maintains constant vigilance, ensuring the eggs receive adequate oxygen and protection.
  2. Fry Stage: Once the eggs hatch, the fry are tiny and helpless. They continue to receive care from the male, who provides shelter and protection. As they grow, the fry begin to venture out from the nest, but they still rely on the male for protection.
  3. Juvenile Stage: As the fry develop, they gradually become more independent. They feed on small aquatic organisms and insects in their natural habitat, honing their hunting skills. The young Asian Arowanas start to display their characteristic metallic scales and vibrant colors, which intensify as they mature.
  4. Adult Stage: It takes several years for Asian Arowanas to reach full maturity, typically around 2 to 3 feet in length (60 to 90 centimeters). At this stage, they become solitary hunters, staking out territories in their habitat and actively seeking larger prey, such as small fish.

Throughout their life cycle, Asian Arowanas are known for their longevity, with some individuals living up to 20 years or more in captivity. Their unique reproductive behavior, coupled with their vibrant colors and remarkable parental care, adds to the mystique and allure of this species in the world of aquarists and conservationists alike.

Asian Arowana Conservation Status

  1. Endangered Species: The Asian Arowana, comprising several Scleropages species, is listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List due to its declining populations in the wild.
  2. Habitat Destruction: One of the primary threats to the Asian Arowana is habitat destruction. Deforestation, urbanization, and agricultural expansion have led to the loss of its natural rainforest habitats.
  3. Illegal Trade: The demand for Asian Arowanas in the aquarium trade has driven illegal harvesting and trade of these fish. This black market trade poses a significant threat to their survival.
  4. Cultural Significance: In some Asian cultures, particularly in countries like Malaysia and Singapore, the Asian Arowana is considered a symbol of prosperity and luck. This cultural belief fuels the illegal trade and further endangers the species.
  5. Overharvesting: The overharvesting of Asian Arowanas for their striking color variants and perceived rarity has significantly reduced their wild populations.
  6. Conservation Efforts: Several countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, have implemented conservation programs and regulations to protect Asian Arowanas and their habitats. These efforts include habitat restoration and captive breeding programs.
  7. CITES Listing: The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has listed the Asian Arowana in its Appendix I, which prohibits international commercial trade in wild-caught specimens.
  8. Captive Breeding: Conservationists and aquarists have made strides in captive breeding programs to reduce the pressure on wild populations and provide a sustainable source for the aquarium trade.
  9. Public Awareness: Raising awareness about the conservation status of Asian Arowanas is crucial to curb illegal trade and garner support for their protection.
  10. Long-Term Sustainability: Ensuring the long-term sustainability of Asian Arowanas in their natural habitats requires a combination of legal protection, habitat preservation, community engagement, and responsible captive breeding practices.

Asian Arowana Diet and Prey

The Asian Arowana, often referred to as the “dragon fish” or “living fossil,” is a carnivorous predator with a diverse diet that plays a pivotal role in its survival and growth. In its native habitat of Southeast Asian rainforests and slow-moving waters, the Asian Arowana is an apex predator, preying on various organisms to meet its nutritional needs.

The primary component of the Asian Arowana’s diet consists of small aquatic and terrestrial insects, such as water beetles, crickets, grasshoppers, and flying insects that venture near the water’s surface. These opportunistic feeders use their powerful jaws and sharp teeth to grasp and consume these agile prey items. Additionally, they have an excellent sense of sight, allowing them to spot prey easily and strike with precision.

Their diet is not limited to insects alone. Asian Arowanas are known to consume other small aquatic creatures like crustaceans, small fish, and even small amphibians and reptiles that come within their reach. This diverse diet provides them with essential proteins, fats, and nutrients necessary for their growth and vitality.

In captivity, Asian Arowanas are commonly fed a diet of live or frozen foods that mimic their natural prey items. This includes live fish, shrimp, and a variety of insects. Some enthusiasts may also provide high-quality pellets and formulated diets to ensure their nutritional needs are met. Maintaining a balanced and protein-rich diet is crucial to maintaining the vibrant colors and overall health of these magnificent fish.

Understanding the dietary preferences and requirements of the Asian Arowana is essential for their proper care, both in their native habitats and in captivity. Providing a diet that mirrors their natural feeding behaviors is crucial to ensuring their well-being and longevity.

Asian Arowana Predators and Threats

  1. Habitat Loss: One of the most significant threats to Asian Arowana populations is habitat loss. Deforestation, urbanization, and agricultural expansion have led to the destruction and fragmentation of their natural rainforest habitats, reducing their available living space.
  2. Illegal Trade: The allure of Asian Arowanas in the aquarium trade has driven illegal harvesting and trade, which poses a grave threat to wild populations. These fish are often poached from their natural habitats to satisfy demand, particularly in countries where they are considered symbols of luck and prosperity.
  3. Overharvesting: The popularity of Asian Arowanas, especially the rarer color variants, has led to overharvesting from their wild populations. This unsustainable harvesting further depletes their numbers and genetic diversity.
  4. Predators in the Wild: While Asian Arowanas are apex predators in their natural habitats, they can still fall victim to larger predators such as crocodiles, larger fish species, and some birds that prey on juvenile arowanas.
  5. Disease and Parasites: Like all fish, Asian Arowanas are susceptible to various diseases and parasites. Stress from habitat degradation or improper care in captivity can weaken their immune systems and make them more vulnerable to health issues.
  6. Water Pollution: Pollution from agricultural runoff, industrial discharge, and human activities can degrade water quality in their habitats. This pollution can harm not only the arowanas directly but also their prey species, disrupting the food chain.
  7. Climate Change: Climate change can have indirect effects on Asian Arowanas by altering their habitat through shifts in rainfall patterns, temperature changes, and sea level rise. These changes can disrupt the delicate balance of their ecosystems.
  8. Invasive Species: Invasive fish species introduced to their habitats can compete with Asian Arowanas for resources and prey, further challenging their survival.
  9. Hybridization: In some cases, Asian Arowanas have been known to hybridize with other fish species, potentially diluting their genetic purity and threatening the integrity of their populations.
  10. Conservation Efforts: Conservation initiatives and regulations, such as those implemented through CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), are crucial in combating these threats and protecting Asian Arowana populations. These efforts focus on habitat preservation, regulation of trade, captive breeding programs, and public awareness campaigns to secure the future of this iconic species.

Asian Arowana Interesting Facts and Features

  1. Longevity: Asian Arowanas are known for their remarkable lifespan, with some individuals living up to 20-30 years in captivity. This longevity adds to their mystique and makes them prized possessions among aquarium enthusiasts.
  2. Lobe-Finned Beauty: One of their most distinctive features is their lobe-finned pectoral fins, which resemble primitive fish species like coelacanths. These fins contribute to their ancient and exotic appearance.
  3. Vibrant Colors: Asian Arowanas are renowned for their vibrant, iridescent scales, which can shimmer in hues of red, green, gold, or silver. Different color variants exist, and the coloration can intensify with age, making them truly breathtaking.
  4. Aerial Leaping: In the wild, Asian Arowanas are known for their incredible ability to leap out of the water to catch insects or evade predators. This behavior is not only impressive but also essential for their survival in their natural habitats.
  5. Labyrinth Organ: Asian Arowanas possess a unique labyrinth organ that allows them to extract oxygen from the air, enabling them to thrive in oxygen-depleted waters or stagnant ponds.
  6. Symbolic Significance: In various Asian cultures, especially in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, the Asian Arowana is considered a symbol of wealth, prosperity, and good luck. As a result, they are highly sought after, leading to conservation challenges due to illegal trade.
  7. Caring Parents: Unlike many fish species, Asian Arowanas are known for their parental care. They build bubble nests to protect their eggs and guard the fry, demonstrating a level of parental investment not commonly seen in fish.
  8. Impressive Size: These fish can grow to substantial sizes, with some individuals reaching over three feet in length. Their imposing size, combined with their vibrant colors, makes them an imposing presence in any aquarium.
  9. Protected Status: Due to their declining populations in the wild, Asian Arowanas are often protected under national and international laws. They are listed on Appendix I of CITES, making international trade in wild-caught specimens illegal.
  10. Captive Breeding Success: Conservationists and hobbyists have made significant strides in captive breeding programs, reducing pressure on wild populations. This has also led to the development of unique color variants, increasing their appeal to collectors and enthusiasts.

Asian Arowana Relationship with Humans

  1. Cultural Symbolism: In many Asian cultures, particularly in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, the Asian Arowana holds immense cultural significance. It is often seen as a symbol of prosperity, good fortune, and wealth. Its vibrant colors and unique appearance make it a highly sought-after aquarium fish, often gracing the homes and businesses of the affluent.
  2. Economic Value: The allure of the Asian Arowana extends beyond cultural symbolism. It holds substantial economic value in the aquarium trade, particularly the rarer color variants, which can fetch incredibly high prices. Unfortunately, this has led to illegal poaching and trade, endangering wild populations.
  3. Conservation Efforts: The commercial value of Asian Arowanas has prompted conservation initiatives to protect the species. Captive breeding programs, habitat restoration, and regulations on international trade have been put in place to safeguard their future.
  4. Aquarium Enthusiasts: For aquarium enthusiasts, Asian Arowanas are prized possessions. Their vibrant colors, unique appearance, and long lifespan make them fascinating additions to large, well-maintained tanks. They require meticulous care, including stable water conditions and proper feeding.
  5. Conservationists: Conservationists play a vital role in preserving the Asian Arowana. They work on initiatives to reduce the demand for wild-caught specimens by promoting captive breeding and responsible aquarium trade practices. Their goal is to ensure that wild populations remain intact.
  6. Legal Frameworks: International and national laws, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), regulate the trade of Asian Arowanas. These legal frameworks aim to prevent the depletion of wild populations while allowing for sustainable captive breeding and trade.
  7. Research Opportunities: The Asian Arowana also serves as a subject of scientific study. Researchers explore their unique traits, including their ability to breathe atmospheric air, and study their behaviors in both natural and captive environments.

Author Profile
Zahra Makda
Wildlife Enthusiast | Explorer at Animals Research

Growing up enjoying the beauty of my village, a good passion for nature developed in me from childhood. Following my passion for the natural world, I have chosen zoology for my graduation, during my undergraduate degree, I participated in many nature trails, bird watching, rescues, training for wildlife conservation, workshop, and seminars on biodiversity. I have a keen interest in invertebrate biology, herpetology, and ornithology. Primary interests include studies on taxonomy, ecology, habitat and behavior.

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Growing up enjoying the beauty of my village, a good passion for nature developed in me from childhood. Following my passion for the natural world, I have chosen zoology for my graduation, during my undergraduate degree, I participated in many nature trails, bird watching, rescues, training for wildlife conservation, workshop, and seminars on biodiversity. I have a keen interest in invertebrate biology, herpetology, and ornithology. Primary interests include studies on taxonomy, ecology, habitat and behavior.


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