Bala Shark Care and Breeding Guide

Bala shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus), also known as the tricolor shark or shark minnow.
The colorful Balantiocheilus melanopterus, commonly known as bala shark, is a colorful and shark-like freshwater fish that is becoming more and more popular among hobby aquarium owners. It originates from certain areas in Southeast Asia and belong to the Cyprinidae family, and they are a fun addition to a tank that needs a little more life brought into it. While not too difficult to care for, the owner of a bala shark needs a decently sized tank that can hold such a large fish, but if you do have the right tank size – the bala shark is a fish you won’t regret adding to your large aquarium.

If you want an aquarium fish that stands out and that takes the look of your tank to the next level, and if you have the space for it, then you should definitely consider a school of bala sharks.

Basic Information

This is a quick introduction to the bala shark, with all the basic facts you need to know about this freshwater fish. Bala sharks are colorful, peaceful and an excellent addition to any 120 gallon tank or bigger, and they adapt well to most types of aquariums provided they are of a decent size for larger fish. The below information will help you figure out if a bala shark could be the right fish for your tank:

Information Chart
Care Level:
Intermediate
Temperament:
Calm and peaceful
Color:
Silver-colored with yellow and black fins
Lifespan:
10 years
Size:
13 inches
Family
Cyprinidae
Diet:
Omnivore
Minimum Tank Size:

120 gallons

Temperature:
72 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
Water Conditions:
10 dGH hardness + pH of 6.5 to 7.0
Tank Mate Compatibility
Fish of similar size

All this information will show you that a bala shark requires standard care, but they do need additional space and you also need to take into consideration that they can live for a total of 10 years. Do you have a tank the right size and are you willing to provide for your fish for what could potentially be very many years? If the answer is yes, then you have just taken the first step towards owning a stunning fish with a striking shark resemblance.

Background

Sumatra, Borneo, and Thailand are three examples of areas in Southeast Asia where the bala sharks were known to be natives, and they would inhabit streams, rivers, and lakes. While the name indicates that you are dealing with a shark, the balantiocheilus melanopterus is actually just a fish that strongly resembles a shark, but this has done nothing to stop its popularity from spreading. The reason we say that it was a native to these areas, in past tense, is because the wild population has been drastically reduced over recent years, and some even argue that these sharks seem to have become completely extinct in some of the areas where they would once thrive. The reason for this has not been determined, and it is possible that it could either be a result of contamination or overfishing.

The Bala shark can be found on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and it has been listed since 1996, and as a result, most bala sharks you see in aquariums today were born in captivity and farm bred. This is the reason why you can own one despite their endangered status, as they are only threatened as a species in the wild, but there is plenty of farm-bred fish destined for the aquarium business.

Its popularity as an aquarium species has increased steadily over recent years, and it is not hard to see why when you spot one in an aquarium for the first time. It is an impressive fish that has that shark look, without actually being a shark, and it is surprisingly easy to care for considering it being on the larger side.

Appearance

Bala Shark or Silver Shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) isolated on white
The long body and the triangular dorsal fin are two giveaway signs that you are dealing with a bala shark. It has several names such as silver shark, tricolor shark, and more, and they have a metallic color that stands out while it swims around in the water. The scales on their bodies are very prominent, with a yellow tail, large bulging eyes and fins with black tips. There are color variations as well, but this is a fish that is generally very easy to recognize if you have some basic knowledge about the species.

Their adult size is generally somewhere around 13 inches, and it is an active fish that needs a tank where it can swim around and exercise. It is mostly the shape of the body and that triangular dorsal fin that has given it its name (due to the features being considered shark-like), but the large and colorful fins give the bala shark a very unique identity that is about as far from an actual shark as you can come. The contrast of that missile-shaped silver body and the yellow fins makes it a sight for the eye in any tank.

When you purchase one of these from a pet store, they will often be quite young still and may only measure about 3-4 inches, and this leads many people to believe that any tank will do and that they are a fish that won’t grow much at all. Don’t fall into this trap as the silver bala needs a big tank and plenty of space.

Both male and female bala sharks look very similar, and it can be very difficult for a beginner or an amateur to distinguish the sex of one of these. Some species will have differentiating colors depending on whether they are male or female, but this is not the case with the bala shark.

Behavior

Bala sharks are very calm in nature and they rarely cause trouble in the tank. They may be a little shy after you first bring them home and you may notice them hiding for a few days, but this is not an indication of it being a shy fish. With time they will become more confident, and you will be able to observe them swimming fast through the water. They do not have the personality of sharks, and the name is only based on their look, and aggression is not a trait associated with the balantiocheilos melanopterus.

That said, if you have small fish swimming around in your tank water as well, there is always a risk of the bala shark deciding to eat it. They are omnivore, after all, and tend to eat whatever comes in their way. The silver bala shark thrives when living together with 3, 4 or more other bala sharks, and is not a fish that should be kept on its own as they are very social and outgoing.

Just like some other larger species, these do scare quite easily, which could cause them to jump straight up or ram into other inhabitants in the tank, and it is something to keep in mind so that you can try and place your aquarium in a calmer part of the house where the bala shark is less likely to scare. These episodes generally do not last long, and provided it does not hurt itself – your bala shark will soon be back to its normal self, swimming vigorously through the tank water.

Tank Conditions

It is advisable to get a long tank for bala sharks for the simple reason that they like to swim, and if you plan to keep a school of four fish – you need a tank that can hold at least 120 gallons of water. The adult size of one of these bala sharks is 13 inches, after all. Another good idea is to keep an aquarium cover on the tank, as this gorgeous silver shark has a tendency to jump straight out of the tank when (and if) they get scared. You don’t want to come home and find your tricolor shark lying there on the floor.

Bala shark

The next step is to decorate with appropriate plants, and you will want to make sure that you don’t add plants that take up too much space. Why? Because the bala shark needs to be able to swim. One thing you can do is to use plants that cover the surface of the water without covering too much at the bottom, as these will work as a natural cover to prevent your bala sharks from accidentally jumping out of the water. Driftwood and large rocks are other good additions you can use to make your tank feel more like home to the bala shark.

Speaking of water, bala sharks are very sensitive to drastic temperature changes in the water, and they don’t do well with very low temperatures. In fact, this could result in them developing something known as white spot disease. Keep the water temperature somewhere between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The best way to keep these swimmers from getting diseases is to keep the water as clean as possible, and to provide an environment where it does not have to experience stress, anxiety, or any type of distress.

Maintenance and Care

Bala sharks are omnivores which basically means that they eat both other animals and plants, and the truth is that these fish are likely to consume anything you put in the tank provided it is edible. They are not picky, so it will be up to you to make sure you give them a nutritious diet. A good idea is to feed high-quality flakes as the main meal and to let them have live food such as shrimp additionally a couple of times a week.

As for the bala shark’s diet and feeding instructions, this is a fun fish to feed just because it can get so excited! Many experts recommend feeding bala sharks two times per day instead of just doing one daily feed, and the reason for this is that the fish tends to overeat if given the chance, and it is better for their metabolism to have their daily food intake split in two. If you have the possibility to give your bala shark the opportunity to eat more than once a day – do so, as it will likely help maintain your swimming pet healthy for a lot longer. A happy and healthy shark will live a longer life, and an adequate diet plays a big role in their overall wellbeing.

Suitable Tank Mates

Bala shark silver fish do best with other bala sharks, and being schooling fish – four or more is a good number. Keeping less than four could result in some unhealthy bullying becoming a problem in the tank, and too many is only too many if you don’t have a tank the right size. These are big fish and they need their space. A bala shark that is kept alone in a tank may eventually start displaying signs of being depressed, jumpy and overall unhappy, and it is just not a healthy environment for them to live in.

Other peaceful fish of a similar size could also make good tank mates, and the bala shark makes a good community tank fish as long as there is enough space. You should avoid having small fish like tetras in the same tank as the bala shark might eat them, and any type of shrimp or vertebra is also a bad idea due to this being a part of a bala shark’s natural diet. Choose thank mates wisely, and you might want to avoid adding fish that scare easily as the bala shark tends to swim around fast and vigorously, which could startle some species.

Breeding

While some claim to have bred these fish in an aquarium, it has not been documented or proved and is considered to be highly unlikely. An aquarium simply does not give the fish what it needs to breed, and instead, most bala sharks are bred in fish farm facilities mainly in Asia. The reason why they are so difficult to breed yourself in your own aquarium is likely to have to do with fish tank size and possibly the water quality, so if you had hopes of breeding bala sharks – you are unfortunately up for a bit of disappointment.

Bala Shark, balantiocheilus melanopterus

Males and females can also be difficult to distinguish when it comes to bala sharks, as they tend to look very similar. When the female is ready for breeding, her body might become slightly plumper, but due to the lacking conditions in an aquarium – this is likely not something you will ever get to see.

Some do claim to have done it successfully though, so if you are eager to give it a try, make sure you set up a separate breeding tank for the fry. If you were to be successful, the best strategy is to remove the adult bala sharks from the water to prevent them from eating their own offspring. That said, you do have to be prepared for failure due to the complicated breeding nature of the bala shark.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

The more you know about this fish before you make the decision to bring one home, the better care you’ll be able to provide it with. The bala shark is a visually stunning aquarium fish and it is no wonder its popularity has peaked, and below you will find some of the most commonly asked questions about the breed.

Are bala sharks aggressive?

No, this fish is not usually aggressive, and will almost always live in perfect peace and harmony provided it has sufficient space to swim around and appropriate tank mates.

How big do bala sharks get?

An adult bala shark can grow to be approximately 13 inches, and it is important to take this into consideration when purchasing one at the pet store, as they are often significantly smaller (and younger) when sold.

Which fish can live with bala sharks?

Preferably fish of the same species and of a similar size, and you should make sure to choose only other peaceful fish when the plan is to add them to the same water.

What do bala sharks eat?

The simple answer is that this fish eats everything, and they tend to be very enthusiastic about being fed! They eat live food like brine shrimp, bloodworm and other small animals, and also flakes and plant-based food.

Conclusion

This is not a fish for everyone, and you can’t expect to keep one in a regular-sized tank, as this would both be cruel and unhealthy for such a large fish. The care it requires is quite basic, on the other hand, so as long as you have a big tank then you should be fine even if you are a beginner. The more you know about the bala shark before you bring one home, the easier it will be both for you and your new fish to adjust, and it will also help you have realistic expectations in regards to your latest aquarium addition.

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