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Quick Stats

  • Family: Cyprinidae (subfamily Barbinae)
  • Scientific Name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivorous
  • Water conditions: Freshwater, 22 – 28 degrees Celsius (72 – 82F), 6.0-8.0 pH, 5-12 dGH
  • Max Size: 40 centimeters (16 inches)
  • Minimum tank size (as an adult): 570 Liters (150 gallons)

Brief Overview: Bala Shark Care

The Bala Shark, also known as the tricolor shark, silver shark, and shark minnow, isn’t actually a shark at all. This fish garners its name from the thin torpedo-shape of its body and is characterized by a silver coloration with black on the dorsal, caudal, anal, and pelvic fins. The fins are sickle-shaped and the large scales create a sparkle effect.

The Bala Shark is found in large rivers and lakes of the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo where their large eyes help them to feed on crustaceans, insects, and larvae. Bala Sharks prefer clean rivers and streams with fast-flowing water.

The Bala Shark is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). This species has disappeared from parts of its historical range and a reason has yet to be pinpointed. Some blame pollution and over-fishing while others site over-collection for the aquarium trade as the culprit, though most if not all specimens sold as pets are bred in captivity.

Bala Sharks are a member of the Carp family and are generally a peaceful and social tropical freshwater fish. Though they are very hardy and easy to care for, they are active and grow to a large size, so they require much larger tanks than the average fish and may not be suitable for the ordinary home aquarium.

Bala Shark Lifespan

How Long Do Bala Sharks Live For?

Bala Sharks have a life expectancy of 10 years or more in an aquarium with excellent care and conditions. Specimens kept in a tank that is too small will suffer from a shortened lifespan due to overcrowding of the organs.

How fast/slow should you expect your Bala Shark to grow?

The growth of a Bala Shark can be directly affected by the size of its tank. Juveniles may be no more than 5 centimeters (2 inches) long but require a minimum tank size of 200 liters as they will quickly reach a much larger size.

What’s a Bala Shark’s max size?

The maximum size of a Bala Shark kept in captivity is 40 centimeters (16 inches) if kept in a tank of satisfactory proportions. Many fish of this species reach between 25 and 30 centimeters (10 to 12 inches) and may suffer stunted growth due to lack of space.

Different types of Bala Shark

Bala Sharks are a “barb” fish, a group of various ray-finned fish species from the family Cyprinidae. They are not a true shark but share the resemblance of one. Here are some other popular fish that have a shark-like appearance:

Rainbow Shark: The Rainbow Shark is an aggressive cyprinid from Thailand known for its exotic coloration. It is best not to keep them in a tank with other Rainbow Sharks or Red Tail Sharks as they will aggress one another.

Red Tail Shark: Another aggressive freshwater “shark,” Red Tails should not be kept in groups or with Rainbow Sharks. They are identifiable by their dark bodies and bright red tails.

Silver Apollo Shark: The SIlver Apollo Shark is more passive than most species on this list and prefers to live in schools.

Chinese Hi Fin Shark: This species grows very large, upwards of three feet long, and will do better in a pond setting rather than an aquarium. Adult males are a deep red color while mature females sport a purplish coloration.

Bala Shark Diet & Feeding

What do Bala Sharks eat in the wild?

The Bala Shark is found in large, clean, fast-moving rivers in Southeast Asia where their large eyes help them to hunt crustaceans, insects, and insect larvae. An omnivorous fish, they will also feed on phytoplankton

What foods are recommended for Bala Sharks?

In an aquarium setting, Bala Sharks thrive on a varied diet. Choose a high-quality flake or small pellet food as their base, and supplement with algae wafers and live or frozen foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms. Remember to exercise caution with live foods as they may introduce diseases into your tank.

Bala Shark Feeding habits

Bala Sharks typically have a healthy appetite, so they rarely refuse food. In fact, a Bala Shark refusing food is a tell-tale sign that they may be ill. Feed your Bala Sharks 2 or 3 times per day, but do not feed your fish more than they can consume in 2 or 3 minutes to avoid food waste negatively affecting water quality.

Bala Shark Fish Tank Setup

Like all fish, Bala Sharks thrive best in a tank that resembles their natural habitat and suits their needs.

A brief overview of natural habitat

Bala Sharks are indigenous to the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo where they inhabit pristine, fast-flowing rivers and streams. The substrate of their natural habitat varies but is often some combination of mud and pebbles.

Bala Shark Tank Size

Tank size requirements for Bala Sharks are 570 liters (150 gallons) minimum for an adult. Bala Sharks also prefer to be kept in small groups and need a minimum of 170 liters (45 gallons) per fish, so choose your tank size accordingly. Balas kept in tanks that are too small will suffer stunted growth and shorter lifespans due to crowded organs. Not only do Bala Sharks reach a large size, but they are also active swimmers, further contributing to the need for a much larger-than-average tank.

Bala Shark Water Conditions

Bala Sharks can be housed in a wide variety of conditions but a powerful filtration system is necessary to emulate the pristine waters the Bala calls home.

Other than clean water, Bala Sharks can be kept in a wide variety of water conditions. Tolerant of a broad range of hardness, this fish should ideally be kept in water between 5 and 12 dGH. These fish prefer a pH between 6.0 and 8.0 and a temperature range of 22 to 28 degrees Celsius (72 – 82 degrees Fahrenheit).

Tank Decorations

Provide lighting from a typical aquarium lamp for at least 8 or 9 hours each day and 1 cm of substrate, preferably in dark-colored river pebbles of varying sizes. Bala Sharks spend much of their time in the middle of the water column, so care should be taken to have adequate open swimming spaces for the Bala to swim around.

Plants such as Anubias can be a great choice but keep plants located around the edges of the tank to avoid disrupting the open middle areas. Bala Sharks are quick and active swimmers, so keep a lid on your tank to avoid your fish accidentally jumping out.

Bala Shark Tank Mates

Bala Sharks are generally peaceful and social by nature. This fish makes a fantastic addition to a community tank as long as other fish are close to the same size and equally peaceful. This fish should be kept in small groups of at least 4 individuals, otherwise, they may exhibit some aggressive behavior. Avoid small fish such as neon tetras and agressive fish like cichlids. Do not attempt to breed any fish sharing a tank with Balas as they will eat the fry. Balas will also eat small crustaceans like shrimp so these do not make suitable companions.

Almost any peaceful community fish will get along well with Balas. Some possible additions are:

Bala Shark General Behavior

Bala Sharks are genial fish, making them great choices for a community tank of other amicable fish. This species spends most of its time in the middle of the tank where they actively swim a large majority of the time.

How to Keep Bala Sharks Healthy

There are no specific diseases that Bala Sharks are prone to, but this species is susceptible to typical ailments that affect freshwater fish.

Common diseases to look out for

Like most aquarium fish, Bala Sharks are susceptible to ich, a disease caused by protozoa. Symptoms of ich include rubbing their bodies on various surfaces in the tank, twitching, and the appearance of white spots on the gills and body. They usually respond well to medication and heal quickly.

Balas can be affected by skin flukes and other parasites, fungal infections, and bacterial infections.

When treating an individual fish, best practice calls for removing the fish to a separate “hospital tank” devoid of plants or gravel for treatment. If a disease has affected an entire tank, it is probably best to treat the tank. Read and follow the instructions for any medication or treatment for best results. Take care, as some treatments can destroy beneficial bacteria or otherwise adversely affect water quality. The carbon in your filtration system may absorb some medications, rendering treatment ineffective, and may need to be removed.

Know the signs and treatments of common freshwater fish diseases to catch problems early and keep your Bala Shark happy and healthy.

Tips on keeping Bala Shark in good health

Bala Sharks are typically easy to keep healthy as long as you monitor and maintain your water composition and quality. Perform water changes every 2 weeks and test water quality regularly to keep ammonium and nitrite levels in check, and do not overfeed as food waste will cause these levels to spike. Maintain a powerful and efficient filtration system to maintain water quality.

High-quality foods are less likely to cause organ issues and constipation than cheaper foods.

Keep in mind that parasites and bacteria can be introduced by new tank mates as well as live food, plants, and tank decorations.

Breeding Bala Sharks

Bala Sharks are typically only bred on farms in Asia with the aid of hormones, so successful breeding is unlikely to occur in your aquarium.

Interesting Facts About Bala Sharks

  • Bala Sharks are listed by the IUCN as an endangered species.
  • Balas can only breed via hormone injections to stimulate spawning in captivity.
  • It takes 3 years for Balas to become sexually mature.
  • The Bala Shark is a member of the carp family.
  • Bala Sharks are not a true shark.

Is a Bala Shark right for you?

Whether you are new to fish-keeping or an experienced aquarist, keeping a Bala Shark happy and healthy is relatively easy. This hardy species can withstand a variety of water conditions, but do require a much larger tank than the average aquarist is able to maintain. As long as the Bala’s large tank size requirements can be met, keeping Bala Sharks is not very difficult and the species will make a nice addition to a community tank.


Hi, my name is Jordan. I've been in the fishkeeping hobby since my childhood. Welcome to my blog where I help fishkeepers enjoy the hobby by offering free guides, advice, & product reviews. Read more...