BALA SHARK - Guide to Caring for Your Aquarium Special

BALA SHARK – Guide to Caring for Your Aquarium Special

Bala shark is a popular fish species when it comes to the aquarium trade. Of course, they make an aquarium look stunning and stand out.

This Shark species is not a true shark. However, due to its torpedo body shape and fin appearance, it is safe to call it a shark.

The Bala shark is from the Cyprinidae family. Its genus is Balantiocheilos. Commonly, you may refer to it as the tricolor shark, Silver shark, tricolor sharkminnow, or shark minnow.

Thing to Discuss in this Page

  • Bala Shark Taxonomy (Science of Naming)
  • Where Bala Shark Occur in Nature
  • What a Bala Shark Looks Like
  • Conservation
  • Aquarium Care Sheet for Bala Shark

Bala Shark Taxonomy (Science of Naming)

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Actinopterygii

Order: Cypriniformes

Family: Cyprinidae

Subfamily: Barbinae

Genus: Balantiocheilos

Species: B. malanopterus

Binomial Nomenclature: Balantiocheilos malanopterus

This species is one of the two species in its genus.

Aquarists may refer to this species as the “Gentle Giant”. Certainly, the Bala shark is relatively large, although with easygoing temperament. Hence, the name.

Where Bala Shark Occur in Nature

This shark species is native to Southeast Asia. Of course, this includes Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, Cambodia, Thailand, and Borneo.

In these places, the Bala shark habits the freshwaters (Lakes and Rivers) of relatively large sizes. They prefer to swim at the midwater level of their habitats.

While in their natural habitat these sharks will feed mostly on insects, small crustaceans, and rotifers. Other things that make food for these fishes are larvae and phytoplankton.

What a Bala Shark Looks Like

A full-grown Bala shark will be about 14 inches (35 cm) in length.

The body of the Bala shark is silver in color with large scales that can create sparkles. It is slender and looks flat from the side view.

This shark has a small head and very large eyes. More so, it possesses an inferior mouth that has no barbs.

The Bala shark has fins just like the shape of a sickle. And, there are black margins on their caudal, dorsal, pelvic, and anal fins.


The Bala shark (Balantiocheilos malanopterus) is listed in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red list as an Endangered species.

Of certain, these shark species have become rare. Even among the river basins where it is native.

Aquarium Care Sheet for Bala Shark

  • Max Size: 15 inches.
  • Size of Tank Required: 150 gallons and above.
  • Suitable Tankmates: Tiger Barbs, Clown loaches, Oscars, Gouramis, Angelfish, cichlids. Others are relatively big fishes that cannot fit in the Bala shark’s mouth and are peaceful.
  • Optimal Tank Temperature: 73 to 83 F.
  • Water Ph: 6.5 to 7.8

After checking out the various sharks suitable for your home aquarium and you decide to keep a Bala shark, be cautious of the following.

Introducing a Bala Shark into a Tank

Bala sharks get stressed easily. At times, the stress may even lead to the death of the fish.

As such, after obtaining your pet shark, expect it to behave in a rather nervous manner. Do not force it. This is normal for the Bala shark. At first, these sharks will tend to hide most of the time. Even more, they may refuse to eat.

This is usually as a result of these fishes trying to adapt to the new environment. Note that relocation affects these species of freshwater sharks much.

To help them adapt to the new habitat, you should provide a very large to give them enough room. At least, they do not have to feel confined.

Also, create enough places for your aquarium pets to hide. These fishes will make the most use of them when newly introduced to the tank. More so, the hiding places will help them to adapt quickly.

In the case where your sharks have failed to eat, you can help improve their appetite. All you need to do is increase the water temperature 2 to 3 degrees from normal temperature. Also, engage in active tank water renewal of about 30% to 40% daily.

When treated well, the Bala sharks will eventually become better. As a result, they will start to eat their food hungrily.

When this happens, return the tank condition to normal. Thus, decrease the tank temperature reduces the rate of water renewal to a normal schedule.

Most importantly, never forget to keep the Bala sharks in a school. Of course, they do better and live longer in a school of at least 4 to 6 members.

To do this safely, you have to make use of a very large tank.

The Bala Shark Activity Level

Once your pet sharks get adapted to the new aquarium environment, expect very active creatures. As such, you will find them swimming most of the time.

They prefer to travel together in schools. And of course, very interesting to watch.

Another important activity of the Bala shark is jumping. Therefore, expect your shark to jump quite often. A tight lid covering your tank will be a smart move.

While not swimming or tired, these aquarium pets will need to hide to rest. Therefore, provide enough hiding spots for your Bala sharks. You may use roots and plantings.

These shark species as they grow bigger may engage in the hogging of foods. This may be visible in them taking up much food that other smaller fishes will be struggling to eat.

The Bala shark is not aggressive. As a result, it can get along well with many other freshwater tank mates.

However, when this shark species grow bigger, it is possible to make a snack of smaller fishes that it finds looking like a tasty morsel.

Bala Shark Growth Size (What to expect)

The size of the Bala shark you are likely to purchase would be around 3 to 4 inches in length. Most of these fishes in the aquarium trade are those bred in captivity. This is because of the shark’s scarcity in the natural habitat.

Although the Bala shark can grow as big as 15 inches in length, most in the aquarium will grow to about 13 inches.

As these freshwater aquarium pets grow bigger, always keep an eye on them. That is to say, watch as they relate with smaller Tankmates. This is to know if to choose larger tank mates to ensure peace.

Suitable Aquarium Size

While choosing a tank for your Bala sharks, bear in mind the growth size and activity level of these aquarium pets.

As such, you will require a large tank of at least 150 gallons. Although, larger tank sizes will be better.

If you have a smaller tank of about 75 gallons, you may be able to keep them at juvenile age. However, you must transfer them to a larger tank as they grow bigger.

Failing to transfer your pet sharks might result in them feeling stressed. More so, they may die off before attaining their expected lifespan.

Aquarium Décor

Sparingly furnish the tank where you intend keeping your Bala sharks. Of course, these sharks are active. And, they grow big too.

As a result, they require enough room for swimming. Therefore, do not overcrowd the tank.

In furnishing your tank, use darker rock beds. This will make your sharks feel safe. More so, it will make the sharks’ silver color come out better.

Add plants mostly around the tank’s perimeter. This creates space at the center for your sharks to swim.

Also, add just enough woods to enable your pet sharks to find shelter during their resting periods.

Suitable Tank Water Conditions for Your Bala Sharks

For your Bala sharks to live healthily and long, there is a need to make the tank water conditions suitable for them.

To do this, take care of the following:


The water temperature of the tank is very important. As a result, try to maintain a water temperature between 73 and 83F.

Using a standard heater will help you easily achieve this. Your pet sharks will surely appreciate this.

pH Levels

Maintain a water pH level between 6.5 and 7.8. Certainly, the Bala shark will be safe in this.

Be cautious of this pH level and ensure consistency. Of course, your fish will suffer a serious health complication if you miss this range.

To be on a safe side, keep the water pH level on the average of the range. In case something goes wrong with water changes, you will still be safe.

Hardness of Water

Aim for a water hardness between 10 and 13dGH. dGH stands for “degree of General Hardness”. And, it is the unit by which water hardness is measured.

Water Movement

Introducing water currents in the tank is important since Bala sharks are naturally used to river currents. Of course, their natural habitat is mostly rivers. Thus, the sharks adapting to steady water movement.

Get a powerful filter that can maintain a steady water movement. And also, it should be able to provide oxygen enough for the fishes.

Getting these water conditions right always will keep you in charge as an aquarist you are. More so, it is the very basic care you can give your sharks.

A basic water testing kit and a thermometer are just what you need to keep these levels right.

Tank Lighting

Just provide your Bala sharks with a basic freshwater lamp. And, give them light for about 8 hours in a day. That is, one-third of the day.

Your aquarium pets will highly appreciate it.

Bala sharks are low cost when it comes to aquarium lighting. Thus, you do not have to spend much.

Suitable Tank Mates

Bala shark is a social fish species. And, they are popular for being friendly. That is to say, they will usually live in peace with various fish species.

Fish species known to make great tank mates for Bala Sharks include Tiger Barbs, Clown loaches, Oscars, Gouramis, Angelfish, cichlids.

Also, Bala sharks will do great with their fellow species. In fact, keeping a single Bala shark will make it more aggressive toward other tank mates. Therefore, a school of 4 to 6 members is recommended. Keeping only a pair will make one bully the other. And, will tend to be dominating.

Small fishes such as neon tetra, harlequin rasbora, guppies, and other similar species may not make good tank mates.

Of certain, Bala sharks are very active species and can swim for hours. This can make less active fishes in the same tank feel stressed.

Therefore, make inquiries before choosing a particular smaller fish as a tank mate. More so, Bala sharks when they grow larger may eat smaller fish species. But, a roomy tank might take care of this.


Some larger tank mates need close attention. This is because they may tend to be predators. An example is a cichlid.

They may act aggressively toward the Bala sharks and could possibly nip them. Hence, the need for close attention to ensure the safety of your pet shark.

Feeding Your Bala Sharks

Bala sharks naturally are omnivorous. Hence, they eat both plant and animal materials. In their natural habitat, they tend to feed on insects, crustaceans, larvae, plant matter, and algae.

Similarly, Bala sharks will eat whatever fish food you give to them in the aquarium. Thus, they will eat both flake food and live food options.

Trying to diversify the diet of your Bala sharks in an attempt to mimic their natural feeding pattern is a welcome idea.

As such, while choosing dry fish food as their basic source of food, add vegetable portions, some bloodworms, and planktons also. This will help improve the general health of your pet sharks.


You can also give them a bit of fruit and spinach finely diced. Of course, your sharks will continue to be happy.

Some aquarist may choose to add shrimps to the Bala shark’s diet. This and other protein-based foods will keep the sharks growing strong.

This is a good point to consider knowing that your Bala sharks can grow to a quite large size.

With these, you may require extra food supplements for the sharks. Just give them a balanced diet and you are good to go.

Feed your pet sharks 3 times daily. And, each of the time, give them a small portion they might take about 3 minutes to finish. By doing so, you are sure they are getting the right food quantity.

Checking Your Bala Sharks for Good Health

If you truly care for your Bala Sharks you have to always observe them for signs of known illnesses. For example, if your Bala shark starts to swell, it is likely affected by dropsy.

On the other hand, if the shark rubs up against surfaces due to itching, then it might be ich infection. White spots on the scales may accompany this.

These signs may be as a result of bacterial infection. Or, parasite attack. Therefore, when noticed, apply the necessary treatment measures.

In all, Bala sharks are not easily susceptible to common ailments. As a result, they will mostly live in good health in any freshwater tank. Just do the regular tank maintenance and care process.

About 25 to 35% of weekly tank water renewal is recommended. Although, at least once in a month perform a 50% water change. Expert aquarists believe that this will help keep your Bala sharks healthy and happy. Hence, they will enjoy their habitat.

Breeding Bala Sharks

The breeding process of the Bala sharks involves the female laying eggs in water (spawning), and the male fertilizing the eggs with milt.

However simple this process looks, you have to prepare your Bala sharks for it. Of course, fish in captivity may not in the actual sense breed.

Therefore, to stimulate your pet fishes to breed, you will need a special hormone injection.

More so, it is important to first determine the sex of the sharks if you can. Though, it is quite difficult to tell.

To help, the male Bala sharks will typically be a bit larger than the female in size. While the female’s body and belly area are a bit round looking at it.

Your sharks will mature sexually at about the length of 5 inches (13 cm). They usually get to this length after about 3 years of proper caring.

Preparing Your Bala Sharks for the Breeding Process

Before your sharks attain the breeding age, it is important to get them ready for the process. Thus, you should keep the fish in a separate tank before they attain puberty. That is, at about their 4 months of age.

A school of at least 6 Bala shark members is recommended for this process. This is to ensure the presence of both male and female sharks within the breeding tank.

For successful breeding, ensure that there is enough swimming space within the tank. Of course, an overcrowded tank will reduce the chances of the sharks breeding successfully.

Choose a tank of 65 gallons in the least for the spawning process. And, maintain an ideal temperature of 77F to help the process.

Keep the aquarium floor clear enough to enable you to detect signs of spawning. Although, you can purchase some special net that can make it easier for you. It all depends on your budget since the net is not an absolute necessity.

Expect your Bala sharks to spawn in the morning period. This is the time they are likely to do so. And, the process may last for several hours.

Helping Your Bala Shark Spawn

While your Bala sharks will spawn in optimum tank conditions, some breeders recommend the following to facilitate the process. Thus:

  • Ensure a good flow of water during this process. Surely, this will help the milt (the male fertilizing agent) spread further in the tank.
  • Slightly increase the tank temperature from 77F to 82F. Some breeders recommend this for facilitating the process.
  • Remove the parent shark from the tank as spawning and fertilization complete.
  • Safely remove the unfertilized spawn material. Usually, they are whitish in nature. This should come a few hours after removing the parent shark.
  • Renew about 30 to 50% of the water afterward. Also, make sure the filter is working.
  • Add a solution of antibiotics. This may not be necessary but recommended by some breeders.
  • Switch your filtration system (air and water) to a single sponge type. And, keep it internal. This will keep the fry (newly hatched Bala fish) from being sucked in.

If the whole process goes successfully, you will see small larvae within 24 hours. Thereafter, in 3 or 4 more days to come, you should see the small fry.

At first, feed the fry with ciliates. Later on, introduce cyclops and nauplii in their meal.

Chances are the sharks will grow at varying rates. Hence, you may need to separate and transfer some to other tanks. This will provide more room for growth and swimming.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, to care for Bala sharks is not a groundbreaking task. Of course, so many people have done it successfully. As a result, you too can!

The information on this page covers just enough to keep you on the right track. Just make up your mind that’s all it takes.

Bala Sharks are stunning to keep in the aquarium. However, before diving in fully to keeping this freshwater shark species, compare other freshwater sharks suitable for your aquarium.