Bala shark: Care, lifespan, food and tank mates

The Bala Shark is a relatively large Southeast Asian native freshwater fishery. 

This beautiful looking fish would add up to lots of freshwater aquariums and its temperament is guaranteed to make it a great tank mate for your other fish. 

Because of its size, we recommend that this fish be kept by aquarists who already have some fish keeping experience. 

This article will cover all that you need to know to keep the beautiful Bala fish successfully; from how to create their ideal tank habitat to their diet.

Bala Shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) is a member of the Cyprinidae family and is found throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Sumatra and Kalimantan in fast flowing rivers. 

They ‘re also commonly referred to as Silver Bala, Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark and Tri Color Minnows. 

The only thing that a shark has in common is its name, which it gets because of the high dorsal fin and body type that looks like a shark’s dorsal fin. This is where the similarities end, however. 

They are tolerant of other small fish as long as it is not small enough for him to swallow it.

Pieter Bleeker first found the Bala Shark in 1850; however, it is now listed as an endangered species as its population has declined by about 50 percent in the last 10 years alone. 

Since IUCN declared endangered in 1996, the number of wildlife species has continued to decline but the reason is still unknown.

It has been suggested that this is because their natural environment is contaminated. Thus fish that end up in aquariums are usually grown on farms and not caught wildly.


Here is the scientific classification of Bala shark given below

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Subfamily: Barbinae
Genus: Balantiocheilos
B. melanopterus
Binomial name
Balantiocheilos melanopterus

Typical Behaviour

While you might expect their name to take after a shark’s typical behavior, they don’t. 

They shoal fish in the wild. Thus it is recommended that you keep together at least 4 (ideally 6) to give them some comfort. 

Due to their size, they can be a bit greedy with food, so if you plan to keep them together with small fish, this is something to look out for. They sometimes prefer to hide in plants and roots although they are quite active. These are a peacemaker and rarely will cause trouble. 

Bala shark’s are timid and easily frightened, particularly in a tank during the first few weeks. But don’t let that fool you; for most of the hours, they ‘re still active.

They will become active swimmers as they become more comfortable, and they have also been known to jump.

Appearance of Bala shark

bala shark appearance
Image by Lerdsuwa from commons Wikimedia

The Bala Shark has a unique, large standing dorsal fin – that’s what it earned the name. 

It has a torpedo-like body that is long elongated. They have yellow stripes on their fins and black edging. 

They have two small, sometimes mono-colored, ventral fins; their anal fins are usually smaller than the ventrals. 

Its body is gray with a slight gradient towards the top, and at the bottom a bit brighter. Scales are very close to each other – that density combined with their size makes the light bounce off their bodies beautifully. 

They have large eyes that are ideal for hunting and allow them to concentrate on large areas.

Habitat and tank condition

The Bala Shark is a freshwater fish naturally found in Southeast Asian rivers and lakes. They prefer living in fast-flowing, clean waters. 

You will find them in the middle regions instead of the top or the bottom because they spend most of their time swimming around. 

Depending on whether they live in a river or a lake, the bottom of the water varies from one place to another. But the most common substratum in wildlife is a mixture of mud and pebbles.

Tank setup

Wondering How should you set up your aquarium tank? We have got this covered! Having a good filtration system in place is a must since this fish enjoys fast-flowing rivers.

Depending on the tank size, the filter should be selected. However, it is highly recommended to have a powerful external one. 

Water acidity should be in the range of 6.5-8, and temperature should be maintained at around 77 ° F. They aren’t as sensitive to hardness but keeping it at 10-13 dGH is still preferable. 

A simple freshwater aquarium lamp can be used to provide lighting; it should be left on for about 8-9 hours a day, and no less.

The ideal substrate thickness would be about 1 cm, the closest thing to their natural environment would be dark-colored pebbles of varying sizes. 

Although Bala is considered peaceful, the fish are still very active. Place a lid up your tank to prevent them from jumping out.

It is particularly recommended to have a lid on during the first few weeks of their settling in period. 

Because they are so active, it ‘s crucial that they have a lot of space to swim around. That means you don’t need to put lots of rocks and roots.

Anubias is an ideal choice if you want to include plants, and you can plant them around the edges so they don’t disrupt the middle section where they’re going to swim.

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Bala shark Tank mates

Bala shark
Image by Gogo78 from commons Wikimedia

Choosing the right tank mates is very much necessary for your Bala shark. They are relatively peaceful fish and can be kept along with other large peaceful fish. 

Here are few tank mates for Bala shark:

  • Bala Sharks
  • Corydoras
  • Rainbow fish
  • Gourami
  • Rasbora
  • Char (Salvelinus)
  • Tetra
  • Minor Tetra

These would make good mates to the tank. 

The most important things to keep in mind when choosing tank mates for this fish are their size and temperament.

Other big Cyprinids are also good tank mate choices, but start by only placing Bala Sharks together and begin to diversify your tank after they have settled in. 

Don’t add any carnivorous species like big cichlids or small species like neon tetras.

Also, if you keep Balas in there you shouldn’t breed any fish in your community tank; they will most likely eat the fry. 

It is also not recommended to have other non-fish inhabitants such as shrimps, as they are likely to be eaten. They will most likely be aggressive towards smaller shrimp so keeping them separate is better.

Should you keep Bala Sharks together? 

Bala Shark can be kept together as long as they have sufficient space to swim around. You should keep at least 4 of them together. That will diminish aggressive behavior considerably.

Feeding and Diet

Food for Bala shark? Here is what you should feed. Its natural diet is made up of insects, small crustaceans, larvae, algae and parts of plants. They feed happily on any type of food in the aquarium, both alive and dried. 

Use a high-quality dry food for the core of your diet, such as flakes or pellets, to help them grow to their full potential. 

Bloodworms, vegetables, and various plankton may diversify their food. Diced fruits and spinach help strengthen their health, so it’s worthwhile to include them in the diet too. 

They also need lots of protein, because of their size. This can be done by adding a food rich in shrimp or other protein.

Using small portions, their ideal feeding pattern should be 2 or 3 times a day (it should take about 2-2.5 minutes to finish). 

They will be strong and healthy if properly fed and no additional supplements are needed. Maintaining a balanced and diverse diet is more efficient than any additives.

Diet is the key to ensuring you keep your fish healthy.

Bala shark Care guide

They are not particularly vulnerable to any disease, but are sensitive to water parameters; another reason for maintaining nice and clean water in the aquarium; 

Bala shark is sensitive to water so regular partial changes in the water are necessary. Good filtration is a must too.

They may be particularly sensitive during their period of settling so it is better not to disturb them during the first month. 

Poor feeding (malnutrition, poor quality food) can also cause digestive system problems, and can significantly reduce their lifespan. So again, the best way to ensure your fish stays healthy is to give them the right diet.

  • Dropsy is a fluid buildup inside the fish and may cause the fish to swell. Usually, this is a symptom of something else going on like a bacterial infection or a parasitic infection. 
  • Ich is a common skin infection on fish scales that produces small white spots. You will notice that they scratch against the rocks and the gravel.

Usually, there is a simple treatment for a common fish disease, just make sure that you watch them every day as you feed them to look out for something that looks unusual. 

To create the fish’s most comfortable environment and ensure it remains healthy, 25 to 30 percent of the water should be renewed weekly. 

This is a strong fish and can live in a tank for up to 10 years with proper care.

Bala shark Breeding

Interested in breeding your Bala shark? The breeding process is not tricky but keeping their size in mind is important. 

You ‘d have to prepare the fish for it before they start breeding before puberty is over. Take a few young Balas (about 4 months old) and hold them in a separate tank. 

It’s a bit challenging to tell a fish’s sex, which is why it’s recommended to keep at least 5 of them together.

Male Bala Sharks are growing slightly larger than females and female fish tend to have a rounder abdomen. 

An aquarium of at least 65 gallons with a temperature around 77°F should be prepared for spawning.

Remember they need plenty of free space in the tank so it’s better to place any plants or decorations on the aquarium sides.

If you plan to keep in there fry later, the bottom may be clear. Searching for spawn and cleaning the tank is much easier this way.

It is not necessary to place a special net at the bottom but will make the whole process easier. The spawning can be stimulated by increasing the temperature gradually to around 82 ° F.

Any abrupt temperature or pH changes will have a negative effect on the breeding process. Spawning usually occurs early in the morning, and usually lasts a few hours. The male then fertilizes the eggs with milt. 

It is beneficial to have good water flow at this stage because the milt will be distributed more effectively. But install an internal filter with a single sponge after this, so that your fry won’t get hurt. 

The parents are then to be taken out of the tank. The unfertilized white spawn may be removed some hours later. 

Later on, it is possible to renew 30-50 percent of the water, the filter should be on and antibacterial solutions can be added. Lastly, larvae appear in 24 hours, and they become fry after 3-4 days. 

They can be fed ciliates, and nauplii of artemia or cyclops may be given after 4 days. Keep in mind that they tend to grow at different speeds so some of them may later need to be placed in another tank.

In the aquarium

Bala sharks are aquarium fish that are misunderstood. These fish are generally peaceful and good companies of many other tropical fish species.

Bala sharks are widely available in most pet stores, but the home aquarium will grow to a size too large. 

They are a hardy fish that will tolerate changes in temperature, changes in pH and other factors that may be sensitive to other fish.

The pH of the water should be 6.0–8.0. For this species, the preferred water hardness is soft to medium (5.0–12.0 dGH). The temperature of the water should be maintained between 22–28 ° C (72–82 ° F).

The Bala shark prefers to be kept in groups of two or more specimens. Because it is a skilled jumper, it requires a covered aquarium but may injure itself on the tank lid. 

Sometimes very young Bala-sharks are kept in small aquariums. However, given their adult size, schooling behavior and swimming speed, the fish are rapidly growing to require a lot more space.

Hobbyists continue to debate acceptable minimum tank sizes, but generally recommend a minimum tank of 2 meters.

Fish Base lists at least 150 cm (5 ft) away. Many believe that the fish is simply too large and too active to be kept in residential aquariums at all; only huge, custom-built tanks are acceptable if there is any tank.


Does the Bala Shark fit for your aquarium? To most aquariums, these fish are a great addition. Its simple yet stunning look will make every tank special. The Bala Shark, though, is a big fish and will require a large aquarium. 

Besides, they are relatively easy to look after. Breeding is not hard either but it takes time and patience. If you have other fish in your aquarium, Bala will likely be able to get along with them just fine.

You may contact us here. We at Planet fish value your feedback and suggestions.


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