The Ultimate Bala Shark Care Guide: Size, Diet and More…

Are you looking to make a big addition to your aquarium?

The Bala Shark is known for being gentle giants. They are a fun and active schooling species which catch the eyes of many.

If you have a large tank then they make the perfect addition.

Watching a group of them swim together is very entertaining.

In this article we talk about what it takes to look after this species. We discuss diet, breeding, tank conditions, and much more…

Bala Shark

Bala Shark
Other Common Names: Tricolor Shark, Tricolor Minnows, Silver Shark, Silver Bala
Scientific Name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Family Name: Cyprinidae
Distribution: Southeast Asia
Size: 13 inches
Color: Silver, Black, and Yellow
Care Level: Intermediate
Temperament: Peaceful
Lifespan: 10 years
Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons

Bala Shark 101

Silver Shark

The Bala Shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus) is commonly known as a Tricolor Shark and comes from the family Cyprinidae.

They are called sharks because their unique, pointed dorsal fin gives them the appearance of a traditional shark.

In the wild they are commonly found in Southeast Asia, in fast-flowing rivers and lakes from places such as Borneo, Thailand and Sumatra. However since the early 2000s they have gained popularity with fish keepers because of their fun and active behavior. This large species will school and put on a show for you in the tank.

Because of their size you should only keep them in at least a 100 gallon tank.

You should expect to pay between $4-$10 per specimen and they are usually purchased as a group.

Overall they would make an interesting addition to most freshwater community tanks.

Key Facts:

  • Experience Required: Intermediate.
  • Nicknames: Tricolor Shark, Tricolor Minnows, Silver Shark or Silver Bala.
  • Color Forms: Silver, black, and pale yellow.
  • Size: 13 inches.
  • Tank Size: Minimum 100+ gallon.
  • Tank Temperature: 72°F to 82°F.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Large shoaling fish that look amazing in large tanks.
  • Active swimmers and fun to watch.
  • Peaceful and can live with a wide range of tank mates.
  • They are not picky eaters.
Cons

  • Must be kept in a species group of 4+.
  • Quite sensitive to water parameters.
  • Cannot be kept with tiny fish, snails, or shrimp.
  • Need a large aquarium.

Bala Shark Size and Appearance

Bala Sharks

The Bala Shark has a long and shiny silver colored body.

If you watch them close they will shimmer as they swim.

Their shark-like dorsal fin, slender body, and forked caudal tail all help to give them the appearance of a tiny shark. You will also notice that their pectoral, pelvic, anal, caudal, and dorsal fins are pale-yellow with a distinct black edge.

They also have large eyes (which helps them with hunting) and can grow up to 13 inches long in an aquarium.

As juveniles you will struggle to distinguish males from females.

However as they mature there is an observable as females are smaller than males. During spawning seasons, females will also have rounded bellies.

Similar Species

The Bala Shark can be distinguished very easily from other species. They only have one color variety and cannot be mistaken for any other species. There is however, another species within the same genus that shares some characteristics.

Up until recently the Burnt-Tailed Barb (Balantiocheilos ambusticauda) was mistakenly identified as the Bala Shark. This species has only recently been described due to re-examining specimens collected in 2007 from south-eastern drainages.

The Burnt-Tailed Barb has a shorter and rounded snout, thinner black on the anal and pelvic fins, and a curved cleft as opposed to straight. It is believed that this species is generally smaller and grows to around 10 inches.

History and First Sighting

Group of Bala Shark

Bala Sharks were first discovered in 1850 by Pieter Bleeker.

During this time their distribution covered Borneo, Sumatra and possibly Peninsular Malaysia.

Nowadays, the extent of their distribution is unknown and wild specimens are actually believed to be extinct.

This species of fish has been part of the fishkeeping hobby for a very long time. In fact fisheries biologists in Thailand believed that their collection from the wild caused wild specimens to disappear way before the 1980s.

Until 2007 they were believed to be the only representative of the Genus, Balantiocheilos.

However, during a re-examining of specimens collected in 2007 a new species (Balantiocheilos ambusticauda) of the Genus, Balantiocheilos was discovered.

7 Fun Facts

  1. They are omnivores and will eat anything they can fit into their mouth.
  2. As juveniles they are around 2 inches long however they can reach 13 inches when fully grown.
  3. Although they are large they get scared easily and have been seen leaping out of tanks.
  4. Unfortunately it is very difficult to breed them in aquariums. Most are bred in fish farms in Asia.
  5. Their triangular-shaped dorsal fin and slender bodies are the only common trait between them and real sharks.
  6. They are known to be very peaceful and are perfect for large community tanks.
  7. As juveniles it is almost impossible to tell the difference between males and females.

Habitat and Tank Conditions

Bala Shark In Plant

In the wild the Bala Shark naturally occupies medium to large fast-flowing rivers and lakes in Southeast Asia. The full extent of their distribution is unknown, but they have been found in Borneo, Thailand, and Sumatra.

These rivers have a muddy substrate and are full of biodiversity.

As pelagic species they will occupy the middle depth of the water column.

In this habitat they would eat insect larvae, small crustaceans, algae and other plant matter.

Now we will explain what tank conditions best replicate their natural environment so you can make the perfect home.

Aquarium Set Up

A single Bala Shark should be kept in a 100 gallon tank.

However it is not recommended that you keep this fish on their own, they will need to be kept with at least 3 other Bala Sharks.

You will need a 150 gallon aquarium that is around 5 feet long.

They thrive when the water quality is kept consistent – they do not do well with fluctuating conditions.

You should keep the water between 72-82°F with a pH of 6.5-8.0.

They are used to fast-flowing rivers and streams so it is best to have a very good and powerful filtration system to recreate the medium to heavy water flow. It is best to over-filter the tank to mimic the clean water they are used to in their habitat.

Compared to other water parameters they are not as sensitive to water hardness, but the water hardness should be kept between 10-13 dGH. They do not require any specialized lighting so a general freshwater aquarium lamp will be enough.

All of these parameters are easily monitored with a thermometer and basic water testing kit. Make sure to test the water regularly to keep these sharks to stay healthy.

As for substrate you should use a mixture of pebbles to create a base of around 1cm.

Although Bala Sharks do not spend time at the bottom of the tank, it is best to have a smooth substrate to minimize the risk of snagging on their large fins.

For décor they do best with live plants that do not take up too much room. The best live plants are:

  • Java Moss
  • Crypts
  • Amazon Swords
  • Anubias
  • Java Fern
  • Vallis

These fish love to swim and they love having a lot of room to swim in. It is best to leave the center of the tank quite plain, so only keep plants and décor around the edges of the tank – Java Moss works best.

Tank Parameter Requirement
Minimum Tank Size 100 Gallons
Tank Type Freshwater planted
Temperature 72-82°F
pH 6.5-8.0
Hardness 10 to 13 dGH
Flow Medium/Heavy
Substrate Pebbles

Tank Mates

Bala Shark Close Up

Bala Sharks are well known for being very social and peaceful tank mates. They can be kept in a community tank with many beautiful species including:

  • Large Cyprinids (Tinfoil Barbs)
  • Tetras
  • Minor Tetras
  • Rasboras
  • Gourami
  • Emerald Rainbowfish
  • Corydoras
  • Clown Loaches
  • Angelfish
  • Black Ghost Knifefish
  • Swordtails
  • Plecos
  • Char (Salvelinus)

Any peaceful, medium sized freshwater fish would make an ideal tank mate. Read our article, Top 25 Most Popular Freshwater Fish For Beginners, for more suggestions.

You should avoid keeping them with Neon Tetras, Harlequin Rasboras, Guppies, and other small fish. Small species are often mistaken for food. It is also best to avoid any non-fish tank mates like shrimp and snails as they will also be mistaken for food.

They are very active fish and can swim around for hours. Because of this you should avoid timid and slow-moving fish as they will get stressed by all the activity.

Finally, it is also important to remember that these large fish can still be bullied. You should avoid any known bullies like Jack Dempseys, Oscars, Red Devils and other large, aggressive Cichlids.

Keeping Bala Shark Together

Bala Sharks are natural schooling fish so they must be kept in groups of at least 4.

Around 6 kept together will work best.

Generally these fish are peaceful but a lonely Bala Shark can become aggressive towards other fish and extremely stressed. Keeping this fish in a species group greatly reduces aggression towards other fish.

Bala Shark Care

Bala Shark Swimming

This species is not recommended for first time fish keepers because of the requirements needed to keep a large tank.

While caring for this species is simple, keeping a large aquarium is challenging for beginners.

Bala Shark are not prone to specific illnesses or diseases but can be sensitive to changes in water parameters. Like many species, fluctuations in water parameters can cause stress and make them more susceptible to disease.

This can make them more susceptible to common freshwater illnesses such as dropsy and Ich. However the risk of catching these illnesses can be reduced by regular partial water changes of 25% each week and regular cleaning.

A varied diet is also very important.

This will give them key minerals and vitamins they need to stay healthy.

As long as water parameters are met and their diet is varied they will remain healthy and active.

Diet

Bala Sharks are omnivorous which means they will eat plants and meat.

In their natural habitat they have a varied diet of crustaceans, insects, larvae and algae. This needs to be reproduced in their aquarium by feeding them a variety of different foods.

High-quality flakes or pellets should be a staple food in their diet and regularly supplemented with vegetables such as spinach, lettuce, shelled peas and zucchini. You should also add live foods such as bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

Some of their favorite live foods are mosquito larvae, earthworms, bloodworms, and blackworms. This will make sure that they are getting all the essential proteins needed for their size.

As long as this species has a wide variety of foods available, extra supplements will not be needed.

A Bala Shark will eat anything and everything they find and this makes it easy to overfeed them.

To avoid this you should stick to a regular feeding time.

It is recommended that these fish are fed small meals 2-3 times a day for between 2 to 3 minutes. These small but regular meals will make sure that these fish are not being overfed.

Behavior

The Bala Shark is a naturally schooling fish that feels more comfortable in groups.

Naturally they are very active swimmers and require a long aquarium to fulfill their swimming needs.

They are also a pelagic fish species which means they spend the majority of time in the middle levels of the water column.

Their peaceful nature makes them excellent community tank fish for large aquariums.

You just need to make sure the aquarium is big enough because they become aggressive if overcrowded or when kept alone.

Also if you only keep 2 together it will bring out the territorial side of them (especially if they are both males). This is because naturally in the wild they will create a pecking order within the schooling group where one male will establish dominance over the other fish.

One male will assert dominance by chasing and nipping the others. Only keeping 2 together can encourage this aggression which will become bullying and will get progressively more aggressive.

Can You Breed Bala Sharks?

It is very difficult to breed them in home aquariums.

Most of the specimens that you find for sale will be bred in Asian fish farms using hormones.

If you are going to try and breed this species then you have to be prepared.

You need to start by separating a group of Bala Sharks into a breeding tank of at least 70 gallons with a temperature between 72-82°F. You need to do this when they are at 4 months old. At this age it is very difficult to tell the difference between males and females and so a group is needed to increase the likelihood of a group with mixed sexes.

This breeding tank will be needed to keep partly barren and any plants/décor should be placed at the edges of the tank.

There has been no studies into the breeding behavior of Bala Sharks however there is usually some type of dance between the male and female which is followed by the laying of eggs.

The eggs are then fertilized externally by the male.

In the wild the parents will leave the eggs in spawning grounds with no protection once they hatch.

If you are successful you should remove the parents from the tank, as it is likely that they will eat their own fry.

Your young fry will need to be fed several times a day with a varied diet including brine shrimp and commercial fry food.

Should You Keep The Bala Shark (Summary)

Overall the Bala Shark is a gentle and peaceful shoaling species.

They must be kept within a group of individuals of their own kind in order to be happy, healthy, and active.

Just remember that they have a big appetite and require a very varied diet in combination with perfect water parameters to prevent illness and disease.

Will the Bala Shark be your next addition?

Let us know in the comments section below…

About David Thomas

David Thomas David has been keeping fish since he was a child. In his first tank he kept goldfish and since then he has kept over 30 different species. Now he has 4 separate tanks and his favorite is a 100 gallon freshwater tank with a school of Rasboras, Tetras and Loaches.

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