Bala Shark: The Definitive Care Guide 2020 (Diet, Setup, & Tankmates)

The Bala shark is known by many names. Balanitiocheilus melanopterus is also known as the silver shark, the shark minnow, or the tricolor shark. But don’t let the name “shark” fool you – these guys aren’t voracious or vicious and they won’t decimate your community tank.

Before adding these fish to your aquarium, there are some things you should know about the care of the Bala shark.

Bala Shark Care Guide

Species summary

The name comes from their body shape and larger-than-expected adult size. They have a rigid, triangular dorsal fin that stands upright and sport a torpedo-like body shape that is reminiscent of the sharks you might typically think of. They typically will reach a length of 10 to 13 inches in captivity, and have a life expectancy of approximately 10 years when properly cared for.

These fish come from Southeast Asia, originally able to be found in medium and larger rivers and lakes. They thrived, at one time, in Thailand, Sumatra, Borneo, and the Malayan peninsula, but have become rare in many of the areas they once inhabited. In fact, they’re believed to be extinct in some regions that they once thrived in.

It’s not clear why the Bala shark has become more scarce in the wild, whether it’s due to overfishing, pollution, or river damming. But, despite its status on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species since 1996, these fish are wildly abundant and quite common in the common aquarium.

Typical Behavior

The Bala shark is anything but shark-like.

They’re shoaling fish by nature, so it’s advisable to keep six of these fish together for comfort and perceived security. They’re relatively timid and are frightened easily, especially when they’re the newest additions to a tank.

They’re very active fish even when they’re feeling a bit shy, though, so you will get to enjoy watching them explore their new home and any tank mates that they might have. Although, they do have times of inactivity or when they feel stressed, where they will hide in plants and roots around your tank. This is normal behavior though, especially in a new environment.

The Bala shark is a peaceful fish that shouldn’t cause any disruptions in your aquarium. They can have an appetite though and may knock smaller fish away from food unintentionally. They may also eat smaller fish as they get bigger, so keep that in mind if and when you decide to bring these fish home.

They’re also known to occasionally jump, so you’ll want to keep a snug lid or hood on your tank.

Bala Shark Appearance & Size

As previously touched on, the Bala shark isn’t a true shark at all, but it does have a similar enough appearance to one to warrant the name. With its upright, rigid, triangular dorsal fin and its torpedo-shaped body, it cuts a silhouette that reminds most people of a great white shark.

Bala sharks have a shiny, metallic body with well-defined scales. They have large, noticeable eyes and a heavily-forked teal that is tinted slightly in a yellow color. They also have signature blat tips along their dorsal caudal, pelvic, and anal fins.

Another thing you should note about the Bala shark is that it grows to a decent size. They are typically sold in pet shops at lengths ranging from two to four inches, but when fully grown they average about a foot in length, usually falling somewhere between 10 and 13 inches.

Compatible Tank Mates

Bala sharks, when kept in groups of at least four and ideally six, are peaceful fish that can be kept with other, similarly-sized peaceful or mildly-aggressive fish. As long as the tank mates of choice don’t attack or unnecessarily harass your Bala sharks, they should be fine.

Additional tankmates may include fish such as:

  • Other Bala sharks
  • Other large cyprinids
  • Rainbowfish
  • Corydoras
  • Certain species of gourami
  • Rasbora
  • Char
  • Minor tetra
  • Tetra

Be sure not to add any carnivorous fish to your tank, such as cichlids, as they may harass your Bala shark with its flashy appearance.

You should also avoid breeding fish in a tank where Bala sharks are being kept, as they’re highly likely to eat the fry. They may also try to eat smaller fish such as neon tetras.

Avoid keeping shrimp in the same tank as your Bala sharks, as they’re highly likely to be aggressive toward smaller shrimp species and will try to eat them if given the chance.

Sex Differences

Under regular circumstances, there are no visible differences between the male and female Bala shark except that the male is often longer than the female. Additionally, during the spawning season, your female Bala sharks may appear to be a bit rounder or stockier than the males.

Keeping Multiple Bala Sharks

As previously stated, Bala sharks are shoaling fish and do best when kept in a group of at least four. Ideally, you will keep six of these fish together in the aquarium and will be able to adequately accommodate them as they grow.

Keeping these fish as individuals not only increases the likelihood of stress-related illness or death but also increases the chances of your Bala shark becoming aggressive toward other tank inhabitants. This can be dangerous especially as your Bala shark grows.

Tank Setup

When you choose to get a Bala shark, or more preferably multiple Bala sharks, you should first be sure that you have the proper equipment ready to take care of them. It’s also best to make sure that their new home is already up and running for a bit before bringing them home and introducing them to the new tank.

What Size Aquarium do They Need?

The aquarium tank that you use for your Bala sharks should be long and large since they’re such active swimmers they’ll be able to have and use the space at their leisure. To begin with, you’ll need at least a 45-gallon tank, and you will have to steadily increase the tank size as they grow.

By the time they are adults, they will ideally be living in a tank that is spacious enough that each fish essentially has 45 gallons of space to themselves at any given time. At a minimum, for four Bala sharks, you want to have them housed in a large 150-gallon tank that is at least five feet long.

Water conditions

Bala sharks, while relatively hardy, can be particularly sensitive to changes in their water parameters. This is another strong argument to keep their water clean and balanced for proper health and longevity.

Temperature

Bala sharks enjoy and thrive in water that is kept around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. You can let the temperature vary up to two degrees higher or lower without any problems, but try to keep to that range and don’t allow the temperature of the water to change suddenly or drastically.

PH Balance

They prefer a pH balance between the range of 6.5 and 8. This is a wider range than some other fish have, and may allow you to really diversify the kinds of fish that cohabitate with your Bala sharks.

Water Hardness

The one parameter that Bala sharks are not overly-sensitive to is the hardness of their water. They do have a preference, and that preferred range of hardness is between 10 and 13 dGH, but they can still thrive without the water meeting this requirement. This is more of a suggested parameter than a necessity.

Lighting

The Bala shark does not require any special or additional lighting. They do well with moderate-strength lights on a regular day and night cycle. Using a timer can help to keep your fish well-regulated and will also help the growth of any plants in your aquarium.

Decor and Substrate

Bala sharks do not really care one way or the other about decor in the tank. This is because they will, mostly, be swimming in the mid-range area of the water and prefer open spaces where they can move freely and without the worry of colliding with other objects.

If you would like to use plants and driftwood or other items in your tank, try to place them along the inner edges of the perimeter so that they do not inhibit the swimming paths of your fish. Smooth rocks are also attractive decor items that the fish may interact with in some capacity.

Floating plants may help to deter the Bala sharks in your aquarium from jumping out, but you should still use a fitted lid or hood for optimum security. They will accept any substrate type, but tend to prefer darker colors as it makes them feel more secure in their environment.

How to Care for Bala Sharks

Since Bala sharks have their natural habitat in the freshwater rivers and lakes of Southeast Asia, they have a high preference and need for clean, fast-flowing waters. Since they spend most of their time actively swimming around, they tend to hang out in the clear middle range of the water.

Because Bala sharks are sensitive to the conditions of their water, you will want to carry out regularly-scheduled partial water changes every week. Let them settle into their tank for up to a month after introducing them without disturbing them, and then each week you can begin partial water changes of up to 25 percent of the tank’s volume. Working slowly and methodically will help keep your sharks from feeling stress or anxious.

Use a powerful external filter that can keep up with the waste that your Bala sharks produce, and preferably one that also allows for adequate water flow and circulation is preferred. Also, remember that Bala sharks sometimes like to jump out of their tanks, so keep a secure lid or hood on the tank at all times.

Food and Feeding

The natural diet of the Bala shark includes insects, crustaceans, plant parts, algae, and larvae. This is an ideal and varied diet for them in the wild. However, in captivity, Bala sharks are typically not picky eaters, and they will eat any type of food offered to them, alive or dead.

You can and should make sure to diversify their diet and food types with things like bloodworms, different types of plankton, and food items like diced fruits or vegetables, particularly spinach. However, the core part of the Bala shark’s diet should be comprised of high-quality dry food such as a high-quality flake or pellet.

As they grow and, in fact, due to their larger sizes as adults, they need a healthy amount of protein fortifying their diet. You can give them additional protein by offering shrimp and other protein-rich foods, whether live or frozen, such as Daphnia,bloodworms, shrimp,  and mosquito larvae.

In the most ideal circumstances, the Bala shark will eat two to three times a day. Use small portions that they can eat completely within a two to two-and-a-half-minute period to minimize food waste and waste build-up in your tank.

When fed correctly and appropriately, they are strong and healthy and will require no additional supplementation to their diet.

Poor or low-quality food and a lack of varied diet for your Bala shark may result in problems with their digestive system. It can also result, ultimately, in a shortened lifespan or increase in the likelihood of them developing an illness or disease.

Breeding

Breeding Bala sharks is not typically a tricky process, but you will want to keep the size of your fish in mind when doing so.

To breed your Bala sharks, you’ll want to separate them from the main tank at about four months old and keep them in their own space. Prepare a tank of at least 65 gallons ahead of time for this purpose and make sure that the temperature of the water always reads at about 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you choose to place plants or decorations in the tank, make sure that they’re out of the main swimming area of your fish. You can leave the bottom of the tank entirely clear as well if you choose, as this will help when it’s time to look for fry and will also make it easier to clean the tank. Alternatively, you can place a spawning or breeding net at the bottom to make the breeding process easier.

You can stimulate the spawning process of your Bala sharks by slowly and gradually increasing the water temperature up to about 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Remember that any quick or sudden changes to the pH or temperature of the water can harm not only the breeding process but the fish themselves.

Spawning will take place in the morning under normal circumstances and will last for a few hours, after which the male Bala sharks will fertilize the spawned eggs with milt. It’s important, at this stage, to make sure that you have strong circulation in the tank to help effectively distribute the milt.

After the eggs are fertilized, you’ll want to remove your external filter from the spawning tank and replace it with an internal filter and sponge to prevent injury to your fry. You’ll also want to remove the parents for similar reasons.

Larvae will begin to appear within 24 hours, and after about three to four days they will become fry. Feed the fry ciliates for those first few days and after four or five days, begin giving them nauplii of Artemis or cyclops.

Your Bala shark fry may grow at different speeds. This is perfectly normal, however, it will require you to closely monitor them and remove larger ones from the spawning tank as necessary to a different tank separate from the parents and smaller siblings.

Bala Shark Diseases

Bala sharks are not particularly more vulnerable to any singular disease than other fish in your tank might be. They can become infected with common fish diseases and ailments such as ich and dropsy, as well as aquatic parasites.

Ich is a fairly common skin infection in fish. It causes small white spots to appear on the fish’s scales and will make your fish scratch themselves on rocks, gravel, decor, and anything else they can find with a rough enough surface.

Dropsy will cause your fish to swell with a build-up of fluid. Usually, this is a symptom of a much more serious problem, such as a parasitic or bacterial infection.

You can use regularly-suggested treatments to medicate and cure your fish of these types of ailments. Be sure to closely monitor your fish while you’re administering treatment, and keep an eye out for any additional or unusual signs in behavior, activity, appetite, and appearance.

Even once all signs of infection are gone, you should continue medicating your fish for a few days to be absolutely certain that the problem is completely resolved. Make sure to read any instructions or warnings on the bottle or container to avoid underdosing or overdosing your fish.

Summary

The Bala shark makes a stunning, lively addition to most aquariums. It has a simple elegance and charm to it with its shiny, metallic scales and distinctive black tips.

But, because they grow to such a significant size and are highly active, they do require a lot of space. Make sure that you can provide them with the space, food variety, and water quality that they need to thrive and live their best life.

If you can do those things, these fish are relatively easy to take care of and will make a great addition to your community tank.

Richard Rowlands
Richard Rowlands

Hello fellow aquatics enthusiasts! My name is Richard Rowlands. I’m an aquarium keeper and enthusiast and have been for about 25 years or so. While I won’t claim to be the end-all expert on aquatic life, I will say that I know my way around a tank.

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