Bala Shark Species Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

If you want to add a beautiful, large fish to your freshwater aquatic world, the bala shark can be just the choice for you.

This lively shiny fish usually gels well with a lot of other fish of similar size and temperament.

It’s also a delight to feed and nurture this voracious, rapidly maturing fish. After all, it fondly consumes everything you feed them.

So, if you’re all set to have a few bala buddies, read on!

What is a Bala Shark?

Bala shark is a large freshwater fish that belongs to the Cyprinidae (carp or the minnow) family and is mostly found in the south eastern part of Asia. Below are some more characteristics of a Bala shark:

OriginVietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand
Scientific NameBalantiocheilos melanopterus
Common NamesTricolor shark minnow, Silver shark, Bala shark, Hangus, Malaysian shark
IUCN Red List StatusVulnerable
AppearanceShiny metallic silver-colored elongated, torpedo-shaped body. Elongated snout, large, prominent eyes, deeply forked tail. Fins have yellowish stripes and are edged in deep black.
SizeUp to 35 cm (11.8 in) in captivity and up to 40 cm (15.7 in) in the wild
LifespanUsually 8-10 years; with the best care, 15 years
TemperamentSlightly aggressive
Tank LevelMiddle and top-level dwellers
Water Temperature71-82 °F (22-28 °C)
pH Level6.8-7.2
Water HardnessUp to 10 dGh
Care LevelDifficult
Minimum Tank Size150 gallons for one fish, add 45 gallons per fish.
Tank EnvironmentLots of swimming space, plants and roots for resting areas, dark substrate
DietOmnivorous with carnivorous preferences
Tank MatesMedium-to-large, peaceful fish

What is the Natural Habitat of a Bala Shark?

This species originates in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.

It prefers fast-flowing waters of large and medium-sized rivers, as well as natural lakes in the Malay Peninsula, Chao Phraya and Mekong basins, and the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

It thrives in freshwater environments and enjoys swimming in the middle levels of water bodies, displaying pelagic behavior. The fish travel in schools, showcasing a social nature. It likes to rest around plants and roots when it gets tired from swimming.

It is listed as Vulnerable according to the 2019 Assessment on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This is because their population has been declining significantly in recent years.

Which family of fish do Bala sharks belong to?

The species belong to the Cyprinidae family within the Cypriniformes order. It is scientifically known as Balantiocheilos melanopterus.

Throughout the world, the fish is popular under different common names such as Tricolor shark, Silver shark, Bala shark, Bala sharkminnows, Hangus, and Malaysian shark.

Fun Fact: Though these fish are voracious eaters that eat almost anything that fits their mouth, they don’t have teeth. They siphon food by sucking it in.

How does a Bala Shark look?

Bala shark looking at camera

Now, if you’re intrigued by the captivating charm of this fish, let’s delve straight into the particulars!

What is the size of a Bala Shark?

In the wild, it reaches a potential size of up to 40 cm (15.7 in). In aquariums, it usually grows up to 35 cm (11.8 in) due to space constraints.

What is the color of a Bala Shark?

A Bala shark has a shiny metallic silver body. The upper part of its body is darker in color. Its fins display yellowish stripes with distinct black edges. The combination of three colors also leads to its name, “tricolored shark.”

What are the features of a Bala shark?

Bala shark has a torpedo-shaped body with an elongated trunk and a tall triangular dorsal fin. These features give it a shark-like appearance.

Its body is packed with shiny, small scales that reflect light. Its eyes are large and prominent.

The fish is also characterized by a deeply forked tail, two small ventral fins, and a comparatively smaller anal fin.

What is the difference between a male and a female Bala shark?

Female fish stop growing sooner and are smaller. In comparison, males are slightly larger and more streamlined.

The difference in size is not drastic, and it becomes more evident during spawning when females’ bellies round out for egg-laying. Males, however, remain unchanged during mating.

How do Bala sharks behave in a fish tank?

Characterized by slight aggression as it matures, the fish maintains an overall social temperament. It is not territorial and coexists harmoniously with various freshwater fish. However, illness and stress can trigger aggressive behavior.

If kept alone, it experiences loneliness, potentially leading to unfavorable behavior like decreased activity levels and even appetite loss.

Keep the fish in pairs or small groups to reduce anxiety and potential hostility toward tank mates.

The swift swimmer exhibits a unique flicking motion and competes for food. It has a tendency to consume smaller fish which can be managed by offering live food.

What is the Lifespan of a Bala Shark?

Bala shark’s lifespan is 8-10 years in a tank environment. But in my experience, a balanced diet, proper water quality, spacious habitat, and compatible tank mates contribute to greater longevity of up to 15 years.

Author’s Note: When the fish feels uncomfortable in cramped spaces, it bangs against the aquarium walls or jumps a lot. Keep an eye out for such behavior to keep your fish safe and healthy.

How to take care of a Bala Shark in an Aquarium?

Bala shark in an aquarium

Now, if you’re excited to introduce this fish into your home aquarium, let’s explore further how to care for it properly!

What is the Recommended Tank Size for Bala Shark?

To keep your bala fish healthy and stress-free, you need at least a 150-gallon tank. The species can grow quite a lot, so even if you keep juveniles in a smaller tank, you will have to shift them as they grow.

When adding more than one fish, avoid overcrowding by adding 45 gallons for each extra fish.

What should be the Water Chemistry for Bala Shark?

The water quality significantly affects the health of your bala sharks. Therefore, to ensure their well-being over the long term, it’s essential to uphold these levels.

  • pH Levels: 6.8-7.2
  • Water Temperature: 71-82 °F (22- 28 °C)
  • Water Hardness: Up to 10 dGh
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 40 ppm

What should be the Tank Environment for Bala Shark?

Your next task is to create the right environment to ensure the fish’s safety and happiness. Here’s your guide to achieving that!

Do we need to have Substrate for Bala Shark?

The species don’t usually swim at the tank bottom, so a specific substrate isn’t essential.

For ideal conditions, add a smooth and soft dark substrate that resembles its natural habitat. About half an inch of dark-colored pebbles, gravel, or sand will do.

In a community tank, you can go for any substrate its tank mates prefer.

Do we need to have Plants for Bala Shark?

Bala sharks easily coexist with various plants. But ensure they don’t take up a lot of space, as it’ll hinder your pet fish’s active swimming.

Instead, place plants along the tank’s edges. It is best to opt for floating plants that cover the water’s surface, acting as a natural barrier against their accidental jumping. You can choose plants like:

  • Anubias
  • Amazon frogbit
  • Hornwort
  • Duckweed
  • Java moss
  • Water spangles

However, do not keep small plants in the tank, as the fish may consume them.

What type of Lighting is recommended for Bala Shark?

Balas are diurnal, i.e., they stay active only during daylight hours. So, create a day-night cycle with your lights. They will be content with approximately eight hours of light.

If you don’t have access to adequate natural light during the day, basic freshwater lamps will work!

What should be the Décor for Bala Shark?

Bala sharks don’t care much about the decor, as open swimming space is their priority.

They only need decorations as their spots to rest when they get tired. Also, they may occasionally dart behind a decoration when they feel disturbed.

Therefore, balance hiding spots and decor like rocks and driftwood, with ample space for their active swimming. Focus on creating an open middle space in the tank while setting it up.

Is Filtration needed in the aquarium for Bala Sharks?

To maintain a thriving tank for this species, a robust water filtration system is essential. Opt for a powerful external filter to cycle water at least three to five times an hour.

This filtration helps manage ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, which are crucial for their sensitivity. Filtration is also aided by live plants.

As this fish needs large tanks, consider multiple filters to ensure well-oxygenated, flowing water to promote your fish’s happiness and well-being.

What should be the Water Flow Rate for Bala sharks?

Balas prefer strong water flows that mimic the river currents of their original home.

Ensure robust water circulation and ample oxygen levels, which often happen together. Improved water flow helps distribute oxygen in the aquarium.

Alongside a reliable filter, consider adding air pumps, air stones, or powerheads to achieve the desired water movement.

Fish Care Tip: Use a tank lid to prevent this fish from jumping out when startled, as the fish often leaps out of the tank.

What do Bala Sharks eat?

Bala shark exhibits an omnivorous feeding behavior, consuming a combination of plant and animal matter. In its natural habitat, its diet comprises insects, larvae, algae, plant portions, and small crustaceans.

In aquariums, the species becomes an adaptable eater. This adaptability will allow you to offer them various food choices.

Opt for products specifically designed for omnivorous tropical fish. These formulated foods provide essential nutrients and are easily accessible at pet stores.

Be cautious of cheap branded foods containing excessive fillers, as long-term consumption can lead to health issues.

As the fish can grow quite large, protein-rich foods are crucial for its healthy development. It consumes a wide range of fish foods, including live, frozen, and freeze-dried feed. Here is a list of food you can feed them with

  • Bloodworms
  • Brine shrimp
  • Daphnia
  • Mosquito larvae
  • Tubifex worms
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Plankton
  • Shrimp
  • Flakes
  • Granules
  • Pellets
  • Gel foods
  • Apples
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber

Feed the fish around three times a day, for about 2 to 3 minutes. This frequent feeding schedule ensures they receive proper nutrition and helps maintain their robust health.

Which Tank Mates can be kept with Bala Sharks?

Bala sharks, with their size and non-territorial nature, can be harmonious tank mates when paired with suitable companions. These fish generally coexist well with other medium-to-large, peaceful species that will not compete with them for territory or food.

Compatible tank mates for them include:

Which Tank Mates to Avoid with Bala Shark?

Avoid cohabitating the tank with the following fish species:

  • Aggressive cichlids: they might bully these fish.
  • Small fish like neon tetras: they can become prey for them as they grow larger.
  • Semi-aggressive and competitive fish: they could potentially bully the fish or compete for food.
  • Invertebrates like snails or shrimp: they are part of their natural diet.
  • Larger predators like African Cichlids or Oscars: may harm the fish due to their size and aggressiveness.
  • Fishes prone to stress: the active swimming behavior of bala sharks might be a cause of their stress.
  • Fish with similar size and aggressiveness: often engage in aggressive interactions.
  • Shy and slow-moving fish: vigorous swimming of these fish might startle them.

What are the Common Diseases associated with Bala Sharks?

Maintaining optimal tank conditions is essential for the well-being of these fish. Nevertheless, human error can occur, so it’s important to be ready to address these illnesses.

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
Fungal InfectionsFungal sporesFluffy growths on the head, body, or finsAntibiotics
External ParasitesParasites like anchor worms, fish lice, and flukes attach to the body or gillsVisible parasites, behavioral changes, irritationIsolate fish, administer proper treatment, disinfect tank
IchProtozoan infectionIrritation, erratic swimming, rubbing against surfaces, appetite lossIsolate fish, use aquarium salts or ich treatment, elevate tank temperature
DropsyFluid accumulation in body cavities often due to poor water quality, liver issues, or bacterial infectionsSwollen belly, protruding eyes, outward scales, clamped fins, reduced appetite and activityIsolate fish, use Epsom salt baths, and antibiotics if bacteria
Bacterial InfectionsContaminated food, water, injuries, or weakened immunityRed patches, ulcers, bloody fins, deformed scales, blistersAntibiotics in water, but success varies
Stress and MalnutritionUnfavorable conditions, solitary existence, abrupt changesReduced activity, lost appetite, stunted growth, compromised immunityMaintain proper tank conditions, reduce stressors
Fin RotBacterial infectionsLethargy, fin issues, fraying and deterioration of finsEnhance water quality, remove harmful objects, antibiotics
Viral Infections (Lymphocystis) Lymphocystis virusIrregular wart-like growths on the body Isolate fish, no specific treatment, recovery over time
Columnaris Bacterial infectionPale or whitish patches with frayed fins, Sluggishness, and decreased appetite.Enhancing water quality, minimizing stress, and employing antibiotics

Quick Tip: Maintain steady water conditions, as the fish is sensitive to parameter changes. Regular 20-30% water changes are vital to prevent stress and potential diseases.

How to breed Bala Sharks?

It’s extremely challenging to breed bala sharks due to their specific requirements and behaviors. In fact, home aquariums have yet to succeed in breeding this. The species is mostly bred in Asian fish farms with special hormone injections.

But if you’re ready to try your hand at it and don’t mind a little disappointment, let’s know it all here!

What is the Aquarium Setup for breeding Bala Sharks?

Create a suitable environment for their breeding with careful planning. Establish a spacious tank, ideally 150 gallons, with a stable temperature between 77-79 °F. Adequate swimming space is essential for successful mating.

Maintain pristine water conditions with regular water changes and diligent monitoring of water parameters.

Specimen Obtaining & Sex Ratio

Create a balanced sex ratio, preferably one male to multiple females. It will enhance the prospects of successful breeding. Choose specimens that are 3 years old and 13 cm (or 5 in) long.

Spawning Environment

To encourage egg laying, incorporate fine-leaved plants or spawning mops in the breeding tank. These structures provide safe spots for females to deposit their eggs and shield them from potential predators.

Mating Behavior

Before breeding, males chase and nudge a particular female of choice. It is a tactful signal to initiate courtship. Such behavior continues for long hours, and spawning happens around the morning.

The female lays up to 5000-10000 eggs, and the male fish pours its milt over the eggs

Incubation & Egg Management

Once eggs are laid, remove the female and male fish from the breeding tank. Otherwise, they might eat the eggs. The eggs typically hatch within 24 to 48 hours, and the fry becomes free-swimming in approximately five days.

With the best care, the fry grows steadily and grows up to 15 cm long when it’s 3 years old.

Feeding Fry

Feed your newborn bala shark fry freshly hatched brine shrimp or commercial fry foods. Regular, small feedings ensure their proper growth and development.

Breeding Tip: Well-fed and healthy fish are more likely to engage in successful breeding. Offer a varied and nutritious diet that includes high-quality flakes, pellets, and live or frozen foods.

How to Buy a Bala Shark?

  • When choosing bala sharks, opt for fish with vibrant colors, undamaged fins, and clear eyes.
  • Avoid individuals who are not active or stay hidden.

A word from FishInAquarium

Bala shark adds a silvery charm to your aquatic haven. Due to the fish’s expressive nature, you can feel a profound connection to this fish.

We hope this guide has sparked your interest in the captivating world of this fish. Did you enjoy learning about their care and breeding? If yes, share it with fellow enthusiasts and inspire them as well.

For any questions, feel free to reach out to us via email – we’re here to support you.

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.