bala sharks care guide

When you hear the word “shark” the large, silvery fish with massive chompers come to mind. Bala sharks aren’t one of them, though. They’re called “sharks” because their bodies have the same kind of shape as a marine shark.

In reality, these large aquarium-friendly fish are more closely related to a minnow. That doesn’t make them any less interesting or fun to keep in a home aquarium though!

These fish are colorful, fun additions to many aquarist’s possibility list.

Author Note: You just need a large enough fish tank and the right tank mates, and you’re all set for some delightful fishkeeping.

Quick Intro to Bala Sharks

Scientific Name:Balantiocheilus melanopterus
Other Names:Tricolor Shark, Silver Bala, Silver Shark, Tri Color Minnows, Hangus, Malaysian shark, Tri-color shark minnow
Care Level: Easy to moderate

Natural Habitat, Identification, and Where to Buy

Bala Sharks, also known as Balantiocheilus melanopterus, is a Cyprinidae that is native to quick-moving rivers of Southeast Asia around Cambodia, Malaysia, Sumatra, Thailand, and Kalimantan.

Other common names that this fish is known by are Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark, Tri -color Minnows and Silver Bala.

Despite the name, the only thing this fish has in common with sharks are their names. The reason why this fish earned the name shark was because of a high dorsal fin and its body which is reminiscent of sharks.

Another physical characteristic this fish is known for is its long torpedo-like body and fins that are stripped yellow and have black edges.

This fish also has two small ventral fins and can be mono-colored. They are known for having grey bodies with a slight gradient near the top of their bodies while having brighter colored bottoms.

The scales are dense, and this density along with their size causes light to brilliantly reflect off their body.

Bala Sharks are known for playing nice with other fish, but only if the fish are large enough to avoid being made an easy meal.

This species of fish was first discovered by Pieter Bleeker in 1850. While this fish has increased in popularity, it was first declared an endangered species by the IUCN in 1996.

Bala sharks are, unfortunately, considered an endangered species in the wild. They are considered “rare” or nearly extinct in a majority of their native freshwater habitats.

In recent years, this population loss has sped up losing over 50% of its wild population it is less than a decade.

Scientists are not entirely sure why its population has begun to shrink at an increased pace but suspect that it may be due to contamination of their native environment.

Due to this wild fish being in danger of going extinct, any fish you would find for purchase in use for aquariums would be farm-grown and not captured in the wild.

Optimal Water Conditions for Bala Sharks

Water Temperature77
Water Flow Rate: Moderate to fast flow
pH: 6.5-8
Water Hardness:5.0–12.0 dGH

Tank Setup

Minimum Tank Size

120 gallons
Optimal Tank Size150+ gallons
Optimal Tank Shape: 5-feet long or longer
Recommended Filter Type:Sponge filter for hefty biological and manual filtration

The bala shark needs a large aquarium. Minimum, they require 120-gallon fish tanks to keep them healthy, but ideally, hobbyists will house them in 150+ gallon tanks.

These freshwater fish get rather large and are used to swiftly flowing, clean water. Ideally, we emulate their natural environments, which also means they need long tanks.

The preferred tank shape for them is a 5-foot tank lengthwise. This allows these active fish swimmers to have plenty of room.

These fish tend to hang out in the middle regions of their tanks and generally swim around all the time. This is part of what makes them so interesting to keep – they’re active and love to dodge around plants and decorations.

Because of their natural habitat, be sure to use a powerhead. Also, make sure you’ve got a cover for the aquarium because bala sharks are jumpers!

The bala shark does best in a shoal, so be aware that for every fish, you need an additional 45 gallons. So, for three fish, you’ll need close to 200 gallon tanks.

Author Note: That may seem like a lot – and in many cases, it is – but for these fish to be healthy and happy, you really do need that many gallons.

Creating the Landscape

bala shark
Image courtesy: Llez on Wikipedia

Bala sharks are happiest in environments that emulate their natural habitat. This means fast moving water, plants around the edges of the aquarium, and moderate lighting.

Top Tip: They also require fast flowing water, which means strong filtration and a good filter.

They do best with live plants like Java Moss, Cryps, and Amazon Swords and should only be housed with smooth stones and decorations – avoid natural river rocks and crushed corals for this reason.

Instead, use sand and small, smooth pebbles to create the closest thing to what they’d find in the wild: mud on the lake bottom.

Best Plants: Anubias, Jave fern, Java moss, Crypts, Vallis, Amazon swords – ideally planted around the edges of the tank, rather than in the center. Floating plants are also okay.
Best Lighting: Moderate lighting
Best Decorations: Live plants, smooth decorations, clay pots or “caves”, smooth rocks, driftwood
Decorations to Avoid: Anything with sharp edges that can snag your bala sharks’ fins or tails.

Physiological Considerations for Bala Sharks

Size: Up to 12 inches
LifespanUp to 10 years
Preferred Tank Region: Middle regions
Scale Thickness: Basic considerations for freshwater fish scales required.
Gill Considerations: Standard freshwater fish gill considerations required.
Swimbladder Considerations: Fish tanks too small for your bala shark may contribute to swim bladder conditions. Overfeeding, poor filtration, and improper diet may also cause swim bladder disorders in bala sharks.
Fin Shape Considerations: Bala sharks have moderately large fins and tails, meaning they can easily snag them on sharp objects. It’s important to make sure your aquarium landscape has only smooth elements involved.

Due to their shrinking numbers in the wild, almost all that you can purchase for your aquarium will be from fish farms. When purchased young, this fish is about 3-4 inches in length but can grow upwards of 12-13 inches.

It is important to keep track of how fast your fish is growing.

As they grow longer, they need to be moved to larger tanks. Not only will they need more space to swim in but if they are not moved in time, then they may start to make meals out of the smaller fish in your aquarium.

Generally speaking, experts agree that bala sharks are easy to care for, as well as you are diligent with their care.

They’re not generally recommended for beginners, though newbies can find success with them.

However, aquarists do need a certain level of knowledge and understanding to help keep them healthy and safe.

A factor in their health is keeping their aquariums clean. Water levels and temperature must also be kept stable for their health to remain in top tip condition.

They can actually be a bit vulnerable to serious health conditions when the cleanliness and water chemistry aren’t as they should be. A quality filtration system is key for this.

They also need high food quality for healthy lives, else they can easily become malnourished, which, of course, leads to poor health and eventual death.

Water temperatures for bala sharks should be kept right around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Their pH levels should be maintained between 6.5 and 8 pH. dGH should be between 10 and 13.

Anything outside these windows can quickly result in problems for your bala sharks – so keep a close eye on them.


freshwater fish
Image courtesy: Lerdsuwa on Wikipedia

Despite their name, this fish like to keep company and are a shoaling or schooling fish in the wild. To maximize your fish’s health it is suggested to keep a number around four to six in your aquarium.

Author Note: As long as there is plenty of room to swim around and food, larger groups of this species can happily cohabit your aquarium with no aggressive behavior.

Once your Bala Sharks have become adjusted to your aquarium they will become very active.

They are known to travel in schools in the wild and will follow this same behavior in your tank, showing off their beauty. However, it would be wise to keep a lid on your tank because this species can get very excited and leap out of their tank!

When designing your tank, make sure to arrange the design so that your fish have plenty of hiding spots. A variety of plants, roots, rocks, and driftwood can offer a variety of places your fish can rest after they swim around.

One thing to keep in mind is that due to this fish’s size, they tend to hog food. So if you plan on keeping different kinds of fish with this species, it is important to make sure all of the fish are being fed.

Outside of the food issue, they are known for being peaceful and normally do not cause problems as long as the other fish in your tank are peaceful.

When they are first introduced to your tank, this species can be easily frightened and behave timidly. This period lasts until they become used to the tank and can take several weeks.

During this time they may hide among any rocks or driftwood you have placed in the aquarium. The more comfortable they are, the more active they will become.

When you are choosing tank mates for your Bala Sharks, the most important thing to consider is the fish size and temperament.

The first step is to place all of your Bala Sharks together and begin adding other fish after your first group of fish have had time to adjust. When in doubt, a good fish species to add as a friend can be other large cyprinids.

Avoid adding carnivorous species like cichlids or smaller species like neon tetras.

Author Note: You should also avoid placing non-fish inhabitants like shrimp or snails with your Bala Sharks. These are a natural food source and even if they are too big to be easily eaten, it may bring out aggression characteristics in your fish.

Bala Sharks are not a good choice if you intend on breeding other species of fish. Bala Sharks are always looking for food and will most likely go after the fry.

This fish species is known to be easy to take care of and doesn’t have any special needs.

However, like other fish, they benefit and thrive from having a tank that is kept clean, and by having the water levels and water temperatures kept stable.

Fish that make for good tank mates include:

Be sure to avoid stocking neon tetras, guppies, harlequin rasboras, and smaller fish species with the balas, as they’ll snack on them!

Gender, Breeding, and Reproductive Considerations

freshwater fish school
Image courtesy: George Oates on Flickr

If you are looking at breeding this species of fish, there are some important things to keep in mind.

A word of warning to those who are new to fishkeeping Bala Sharks. This species is notorious for being difficult to breed in captivity.

To get around this difficulty some fishkeepers resort to using specialized hormone injections to help spur the fish’s breeding nature.

Before you can breed your fish, you need to determine the gender of the fishes you have in your tank.

While it is common to have difficulty in telling the genders of the Bala Shark apart, there are some telltale signs. The male of the species is larger and more angular.

Whereas the female is a bit smaller and has a body type that is more round. While kept in captivity the fish will only be able to reproduce at age 3 and when they are at least 5in (13cm) long.

Another thing that adds to the difficulty of breeding this fish is that before the Bala Shark (like Iridescent Sharks) reaches puberty they need to be kept in another tank separated from your other types of fish.

This separation should happen with the fish is around four months old.

 It’s recommended to keep a group of Bala Sharks together during the breeding process.

Breeders suggest having a minimum of five. At the same time, it is important to make sure your tank is not overcrowded and that your fish have plenty of space to swim in.

While keeping all of this in mind, you also need to make sure your tank is ready for your fish to breed in. The aquarium itself needs to hold at least 65 gallons and have a temperature of 77.

One trick that some breeders have used to encourage breeding is to slowly increase the water temperature from 77 up to 82 degrees.

 It’s also important to remember that this fish likes to have plenty of places to hide in and around, so put all of your plants, wood, and rocks on the sides of the aquarium so the fish have a wide space to swim around in.

Bala Sharks tend to spawn in the morning. This process will last for a few hours and then the male will fertilize the eggs. This process benefits from having good water flow so that the fish will have greater success at breeding.

When this process begins it’s best to switch the tank’s filtration system to a single sponge type so that the small fry will not be sucked into the system.

Once the parents have finished the spawning and fertilizing process, you need to remove them from the tank.

Some breeders like to add an antibiotic solution at this point, in order to help ensure the survival of the soon to be fish. Within 24 hours small larvae can be seen and within 3-4 days, these will mature into small fry.

At first, you can feed the fry with ciliates, as they grow you can feed them with cyclops or nauplii of artemia.

Keep track of the fish as they grow, some may need to be moved to a tank to make sure all the fish have room to swim around and to grow in.

Nutritional Needs

Bala Sharks get their name from their visual similarity to the predatory sharks that roam the ocean.

However, the Bala is a freshwater fish that has no relation to the shark, despite similar physical characteristics. It is easy to mistake the Bala for a shark because it has a sleek body and a similar fin placement.

There is one thing that both species have in common, neither of them are picky eaters.

Bala Sharks care winds up being pretty easy, since they love to eat (like Roseline Sharks) and will eagerly go after food. Due to this love of food, they will jump and be excited anytime they are being fed.

It is easy to misread the fish and overfeed them. It is recommended to feed them two small meals throughout the day, rather than just one large meal at once.

Another tip to avoid overfeeding is to use a timer and limit the feeding period between 3-5 minutes.

This species of fish is an omnivore, which means they will consume nearly any type of food source that is provided for them.

Experts recommend using high quality dried flakes and granules that are gluten-free for their staple food. Look for dried flakes that contain spirulina algae and fish meal as ingredients so that your fish have a balanced diet.

A Bala Shark’s natural diet is omnivorous and consists primarily of insects, larvae, small crustaceans, and plant matter.

When given options their preferred food is mosquitos and daphnia (water fleas). This species is also known to eat algae and phytoplankton.

When they live in aquariums, they are known to scavenge around the tank for leftover foods from previous feedings and any algae that are growing, as well as noshing on small fish.

Due to their willingness to scavenge and eat anything like food, it is important to ensure that feed your fish a diverse diet so that they remain healthy.

Fishkeeping experts recommend Bala Sharks be given a diverse diet so that they stay in good health. An important part of a healthy diet is to include quality dry food.  

Due to how large this fish can grow it is important to have a lot of protein in their diet.

You can help them get the optimum amount of protein by feeding them brine shrimp, plankton, and bloodworms.

You can further diversify their diet by also feeding them vegetables, such as diced fruits and spinach to help cover any possible nutritional deficiencies.

This fish’s ideal feeding pattern is 2-3 times a day and by giving them a small portion of food. They should be given around two minutes to finish their food.

If they are feed correctly, with a diverse and balanced diet, this species should be strong and healthy enough to not require any additional supplements. The key to making sure this fish remains healthy is a good diet.

Best Sustenance Food Type: Low or no-grain pellets or flakes, bloodworms, and spirulina
Additional Food For Optimal Health: Algae wafers, freeze-dried protein sources, vegetables
Special Foods and Considerations for Best Color and Growth: A wide variety of the best foods for them is the best way to bring out their color and encourage growth.
When and How Often to Feed Fish Based on Life Cycle: Feeding your bala sharks three times daily is fairly common practice. Do so during your ideal schedule and keep it consistent.
bala sharks
Image courtesy: 5snake5 on Wikipedia

Common Diseases and How to Avoid and Treat Them

To ensure your Bala Shark stays healthy, it is important to monitor them for diseases. By keeping a close eye on your fish you can identify some diseases such as ich, dropsy, or parasite infections.

Ich is an infection that causes white spots on the scales and will cause the fish to try and scratch its skin against rocks, gravel, or the side of the tank to relieve their discomfort.

Dropsy is a condition caused by either parasites or bacterial infection that causes the fish to swell. Both conditions are caused by bacterial and parasitic infections and need to be treated immediately.

Experts suggest changing around 25-35% of your eater every week.

Also, make sure to remove any uneaten food, if fragments of food are left in the tank it can dirty the water and make it more likely your fish will get sick from an infection.

This constant water renewal will help your fish stay comfortable, happy, and healthy in their tank.

Bala Sharks can live healthy and happy lives in nearly any freshwater tank. If you keep up good care and regular maintenance your fish can live up to ten years. This species is known to be hardy and prone to having good health.

Best Antibiotics: Fungus and Fin Rot Remedy, anti-parastics, Ich treatments
Treatments to Avoid: Nothing specific.
Food Recommendations When Sick:Bump up the protein in particular, along with algae wafers.
Hospital Tank or Isolation Withing the Community TankIsolating sick bala sharks is highly recommended, as many of the medications they receive are absorbed by porous rocks and filtration used in aquariums.

4 Facts About Bala Sharks

Burnt-tailed barb or Siamese bala-shark
  1. Bala sharks are actually an endangered species. Their population in the wild has shrunk by 50 percent in the last decade.
  2. When bala sharks have reached full size, they are about the same size as a banana!
  3. Bala sharks are minnows, not sharks, but they have a unique forked tail like sharks, as well as the shape of their dorsal fins. They also have cartilaginous skeletons like sharks instead of bony skeletons like most fish.
  4. Their mouths face downward.

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *