If Asian Arowanas are still off-limits due to regulations and restrictions in your area, consider an alternative that has color, attitude, and size. The Australian Arowanas may not be quite as brilliant in hue as their Asian cousins, but both species possess interesting color patterns, large and distinct scales, and the same habits and care requirements as Scleropages Formosus.
Although they take longer to mature than any other Arowana species, neither of the Saratogas (as Australian Arowanas are called) is endangered. Both are generally available for purchase at much more modest prices than Asian Arowanas.
There are two separate species of Saratogas: Scleropages Jardini and Scleropages leichardti. There are some notable differences between the two including geographical location.
Northern Saratogas: Pearl Arowanas
Scleropages jardini are commonly known as Northern Saratogas, or Pearl Arowanas. As their name denotes, they are found in freshwater, coastal areas of Northeastern Australia. They are also native to New Guinea.
Northern Saratogas appear longer and narrower than Asian Arowanas. Their bodies are grey to golden in color with characteristically shiny scales sporting crescent shapes. The crescent shapes are made up of between one and three yellow-orange or red spots – the ‘pearls’ behind their common name. Northern Saratoga’s fins and tails are also spotted red. Unlike the Southern Saratoga, a pattern of undulating lines or dots may also decorate the gill plates of the Pearl Arowana.
Pearl Arowanas are generally larger than the Southern Saratogas. They may grow up to 35 inches in the wild. Although it is claimed they can reach up to 60lbs, 38 lbs. is the maximum recorded weight. In the aquarium, they tend to reach 25 – 30 inches.
Northern Saratogas are considered much more aggressive in the wild or in captivity than any other Arowana species. They are popular among Sport anglers due to their feisty and tenacious attitude.
Southern Saratogas: Spotted Arowanas
Scleropages leichardti are referred to as Southern Saratogas, or Spotted Arowanas. They are found in the Dawson/Fitzroy River system in Queensland, Australia, where they populate many tributary lakes and rivers. Southern Saratogas have also been established in non-native lakes and dams throughout other areas in the South.
Spotted Arowanas appear more green or silvery-green than Pearl Arowanas. Their spots do not decorate each scale on their flanks: instead, red-orange spots appear in rows that horizontally span their lengths. Lines of red spots are also present on their fins and tails. Fins and tails may match body-coloration, or appear somewhat darker. In general, Spotted Arowanas have smaller spots than Northern Saratogas.
Southern Saratogas may command a slightly higher price than Northern Saratogas. Hobbyists claim Spotted Arowanas are more tenacious leapers than the Pearl variety.
Saratogas in the Aquarium
Saratogas require nearly identical habitats and care to Asian Arowanas. Very large tanks with sturdy, leap-proof lids are a must. Water must be kept immaculately clean to promote optimum health of Saratogas. They should be fed high quality, live foods and a variety of commercial foods, as well.
Australian Arowanas are susceptible to many of the same illnesses and diseases as South-eastern varieties. Make use of a quarantine tank when introducing tank mates or live foods to prevent parasite infestation of your Australian Arowana tank.
In addition, take care to carefully acclimatize wild-caught Saratogas. When considering a fish for purchase from your local fish shop, observe it on site for several days to weeks to be sure it is healthy. Ask to see the fish fed to ensure it has a healthy appetite. Check carefully for parasites, wounds, or fungal infections. Mimic the water conditions of the successfully kept source tank carefully at home, and avoid stressing the newly arrived Saratoga for several days.
Unless you have an extremely large tank or pond, keep only one Australian Arowana and keep tank mates to a minimum. Saratogas (especially the Northern variety) are notoriously aggressive. Choose tank mates carefully and be prepared for altercations and the possibility of fighting and injury. Only large, bottom-dwelling fish or fast-moving, mid-tank swimmers are likely to be successful tank mates for an Australian Arowana.