Bala Shark: Full Care Guide

Bala Shark; The full keeping guide

Bala shark is one on the most fascinating and commonly kept freshwater aquarium shark. 

There are many reasons why that is, but for one; their accommodating temperament which freshwater aquarium sharks like the Red tail shark or Rainbow Shark lack. 

That is why you can see Bala Shark tanks shared by species that are way smaller than they are.

Hobbyists love when they are not so restricted about the species they can mix up in their tank.

Secondly, despite their size, they are schooling fish.

There is something natural about seeing a school of these large creatures move around actively and peacefully in an aquarium (many large fish species can’t stand each other).

Regrettably, many Bala sharks are victims of improper housing. 

Hobbyists get it wrong sometimes by keeping them in an inadequately sized aquariums. They sometimes keep only 1 or 2 together which is not recommended, or even fail to consider their size when it comes to feeding.

Bear with me as you go through this guide that provides all you will need to properly care for the Bala shark from tank size, water parameters, tank mates, food and diet, and much more.

The Bala Shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) is also known by the following names; Silver Bala, Tricolor Shark, Silver Shark and Tri-color Minnows for their peculiar colors and markings. 

Bala shark belongs to the family of Cyprinidae and despite its name, it does not have any relation with the marine shark. It only earned the name ‘shark’ due to their similarities in body shape and the high triangular-shaped dorsal fin. 

 Bala shark Care Snippet

  • Maximum fish size: 14.0 inch
  • Minimum tank size: 125 gallons
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – Expert
  • Temperament: Peaceful but can eat small fish
  • Temperature: 72°F to 82°F
  • PH: 6.0 to 8.0
  • Hardness: 5-12dGH
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Care Level: Relatively easy
  • Ideal tank mates: Corydoras, Gouramis, Rasboras, Angelfish, Loaches, Rainbowfish, et Cetra


Bala Shark originated in the fast-flowing rivers and streams of Southeast Asia, precisely in Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia Kalimantan and Sumatra.

This species was first discovered by Pieter Bleeker in 1850. Unfortunately they were listed as endangered species by IUCN in 1996.

Since then, their population has continued to plummet. It has been estimated that almost 50% of their population has disappeared in just last 10 years.

Distressfully, no solid proof has been established regarding the population decrease but some are speculating that it all has to do with the contamination of their natural environment. 

Others however, are saying that were over caught for the aquarium industry. 

That’s why virtually all the Bala Shark you see in the aquariums trade now are not wild-caught. They were grown in farms usually using spawning promoting hormones. 

Bala Shark Appearance

The most prominent feature of the Bala Shark is the broad standing dorsal fin which looks similar to that of the marine shark.

Their body is torpedo-shaped and is covered in grayish hue with a slight gradient at the top. They have a considerably compact scales which sometimes make the body reflect light. 

Their fins are decorated with yellow stripes and black outline. They possess two small mono-colored ventral fins (They are not always mono-colored).

Their anal fins are normally smaller than the ventral ones. They possess large eyes which help them scan for food over a wide area.

A Bala Shark


Most times, Bala Sharks are sold to hobbyists at farms when they are around 3 to 4 inches in size. This make people underestimate how big they can grow. 

The fact is Bala Shark grows up to a size of 12 inches in captivity. They reach around 14 inches in the wild.

Bala Shark Lifespan

Under ideal conditions and proper care, the average lifespan of a Bala shark is about 8 to 10 years.

Temperament and general behavior

Undeterred by the large and shark-like look, the Bala Shark are very peaceful in nature, which is why they are referred to as “The Gentle Giant”. You might be surprised to learn that Bala Shark is schooling fish that needs to be kept in a group of at least 4.

To tell you the truth, they will even better if you up that number by two. So they are practically the opposite of their rival “the Rainbow Shark

You will see them swimming very actively mostly in the middle section of the tank and rarely go up or down. They startle easily and when excited, they have a habit of jumping, like when they are enjoying a food.

They are also known to jump when first introduced in a tank, so, you should provide your tank with a tight-fitting lid to be on the safe side.  

Bala sharks like hiding from time to time and so will appreciate lots of hiding spots provided by plants cover, caves, driftwoods and so on. 

This is even more important when they are new to a tank because it takes them some time to become familiar with the environment and start withdrawing from the habit of too much hiding. 

Don’t let this behavior make you think they are too shy; they aren’t that at all.

Though Bala sharks are considered generally peaceful, they tend to have the habit of eating small sleeky fish such as the Neon Tetra and sleek aquarium critters such as the Cherry Shrimp.

But in their defense, they are not being evil about it. They simply see them as food and just happy they get to eat something that shines (that’s my thought anyway).

Overall these fish lives peacefully with lots of freshwater aquarium fish. But, take not that a single Bala Shark can show some level of aggression. Another reason why they should always be kept in groups.

In case you have them with small fish in the tank, know that they may hug all the food most of the time if the small fish can not eat and swim fast. It’s only logical giving their size, so you have to find a way to tackle this issue.

Bala Shark Tank size and Requirements

The most recommended minimum tank size for Bala shark is 150 gallons. It may seem too big but you have to consider their activeness and the fact that they grow up to 12 inches in size.

However, they are mostly bought when they are about 3 to 4 inches in size and at that stage, its perfectly okay if you decide to start with a smaller tank ranging from 30 to 50 gallons. 

Be sure to have the bigger tank aside before they desperately need it.

Lastly, I recommend you provide a tank with more horizontal space so that they can have more room for swimming since they mostly stick to one level. A 1.5m long tank is a good choice.

As for the requirements, the Tricolor sharks don’t need a tank heavily stuffed with decorations and plants. You want them to have lots of free space in the middle section they can swim openly and not have to navigate through many obstacles. 

You can manage that by placing plants towards the edge of the tank and skipping rocks and driftwood decorations altogether. If you want those you can position them away from the middle section as well.

This will make sure they have places they can hide in if need be. For the plant, you can make use of Anubias Anacharis or Java Moss.

Substrate and lighting are a crucial part of any tank. Fortunately, Bala sharks don’t have any special lighting requirement. A simple freshwater aquarium lamp will suffice. 

Its recommended you leave the light on for 8 to 9 hours a day. It helps if the light you choose is programmable so that you can maintain this duration and cycle efficiently.

When selecting a substrate, it would be good if you go for one that resembles their habitats substrate. A varying size dark colored pebbles will be the ideal match.

A school of Bala Shark

Water Parameters

Providing the ideal water conditions for your Bala shark is the only way you can make sure they have a shot at avoiding diseases and attaining that 10 years lifespan mark. 

The good news is Bala shark are very hardy and can tolerate considerable temperature and pH changes. So, keeping their water in the zone will not be that challenging. 

It has been established that Tricolor sharks do best if their water temperature is kept at precisely 77°F, when the pH is between 6.5 to 8 and the water hardness between 10 to 13 dGH.

You will need a heater to keep the water around that temperature. Strive to maintain the pH within the recommended range. Otherwise, your Bala shark will run into the risk getting a serious health issues.

A good way to play safe is keeping the pH a bit above 7 so you can have some leeway in case of a problem during water changes.

These parameters should be closely monitored using qualitative test kits. 

Do this and you will reap the benefit of having a very healthy and active school of Bala sharks which will most likely reach their full expected lifespan.

Bala Shark Food and Diet

Bala shark are omnivorous. In their habitat, their diet consists mostly of insect larvae, small crustaceans, insects, algae and plant detritus. 

In captivity, they readily accept nearly all sorts of fish food from flakes to live and dried food sources.

Bala shark benefits a lot from having a diversified diet with a decent concentration of protein to help them grow as well as they should. That’s only fair when you take their large size into account. 

In case you are wondering how you will diversify the Bala sharks diet, it goes like this;

Make high-quality dry food such as flakes or pellets to make the most of their diet. 

Offer them bloodworms and other plant-based food sources such as finely diced spinach, peas, diced fruits, lettuce and the like to make the remaining part of the diet. 

Occasionally throw in some protein-enriched foods such as shrimp.

Its recommended you feed a Bala shark 2 to 3 times a day as much as they can eat each time for 2 to 3 minutes. 

Make sure you develop a feeding schedule for them and stick to it, and don’t compensate a missed meal for more food. This will help prevent overfeeding them and make sure they are always getting the correct quantity. 

It’s worth mentioning that Bala sharks do not need any special supplements or food to achieve good health and proper growth. The only key to that is proper feeding.


Luckily breeding Tricolor Shark isn’t as precarious as breeding a Rainbow shark. It is doable provided you have; 

  • Access to a big enough tank that can house a minimum of 5 Bala sharks.
  • The knowledge of conditions that induce their spawning.
  • Access to spawning inducing hormone.

The first step of breeding Bala sharks is identifying the sex of the fish to make sure you have the mating pairs. 

Sexing them is quite a tricky exercise, but in general, male Bala sharks are usually bigger than females which tend to have rounder belly.

Supposing you fail to differentiate the genders you should keep at least 5 Bala sharks together as recommended by the experts. 

This way, there will be a great chance of having at least one female among them. You can also seek help from experts at the fish store to sex them.

Ideal tank conditions for Bala sharks spawning

For breeding Bala sharks, its recommended you provide at least a 65-gallon aquarium and keep the temperature around 77°F.

Lack of adequate space can impede the breeding process, so refrain from overcrowding the tank with plants and decorations. Besides, a clear bottomed tank will present the benefit of easy fry monitoring when the time comes.  

In light of this, you should place the plants and any other decorations only on the side of the tank. This will ensure they still have some hiding spaces left.

Fitting special nets at the bottom of the tank helps by making it easier to realize the signs of spawning. 

However, it is not a necessity and many hobbyists prefer their absence. They claim that it’s better to visualize everything without a net.

The spawning process

To induce the spawning process, you should gradually increase the temperature from 77°F to 82°F. It’s imperative you avoid any abrupt temperature or pH changes to prevent the process from being disrupted.

The spawning usually takes place in the early morning hours and can last for a few hours. It’s very common to see Bala shark displaying some sort of dance during this time.

This dance has been explained as the process of their mating and the impending production of eggs by expert breeders.

After the eggs are produced, they get scattered at the bottom of the tank by the females after which the male comes and spray his milt and fertilizes them. 

Fry care

The unfertilized whitish spawn should be removed after a few hours. Bala sharks are known to eat their fry, so it’s better to remove the parents as soon as the fries are born.

Fitting a good sponge filter is a good idea as it prevents the fries from getting harmed. 

It is recommended you gradually replace 30 to 50% of the water and add some antibiotic solution to the tank after this procedure. 

Small larvae shall start to pop out within 24 hours and small fries in 3 to 4 days, granted that the procedure was successful.

After they are hatched you can start to feed the fries ciliates. After a few days you can give them newly hatched brine shrimp.

You can maximize the new Bala shark potential by moving it to another tank with enough room so that it can move freely and grow at its phase.

Bala Shark Tankmates

Just like it is with choosing tank mates for pretty much any aquarium fish, the most important details to consider before selecting a tank mate for the Bala shark are temperament, size and water parameters.

In terms of temperament, we have already established that Bala shark is relatively peaceful and can live together with other peaceful species of ideal size without a problem.

Stick to this guideline and avoid combining your Tricolor shark with aggressive species such as cichlids like the Jack Dempsey, Oscar and so on. Stay away from other aggressive aquarium sharks such as the Rainbow Shark or Red Tail Shark as well.

Size-wise these are not small aquarium fish. The combined effect of their size and how they swim around actively for hours can sure stress out smaller fish that do not move much around in the tank.

This is part of the reason why they should not be kept with species that are way too small. Another reason is that they have a habit of eating small fish, especially the sleeky ones as I said before.

I recommend you do not keep Bala shark with any species that fall in the range of 0.5 to 2 inch. That includes fish such as Celestial Pearl Danio, Endlers livebearers, Ember TetraNeon Tetra, Harlequin Rasbora, Guppies and so on.

Aquarium critters such as shrimps, snails and frogs are also not a good choice.

To sump up, the ideal tank mate for the Bala shark would be a relatively peaceful fish that is isn’t too small to get swallowed and can survive and thrive in their water conditions.

Rainbowfish, Corydoras, Char (salvelinus) Large tetras have all fit the requirements and are some of the ideal Bala shark tank mates.

Before going this far in finding their mates, be sure your Bala sharks are in a school of at least 4 and there is still adequate room in your tank to introduce other species.

If you want to see the best in them, they have to be in a group. This will help put any potential aggression from them at bay. 

If you planning on adding another species that is not among the ones I recommended, be sure to perform a through research so you know if they are compatible. 

Common Diseases

Bala shark do not have any diseases that specifically attacks them. That said, they are susceptible to common fish diseases such as dropsy, ich and parasites. 

Ich: This disease is also common to other freshwater fish. Fish afflicted with this disease normally develops white pecks on their skin like a sprinkled salt. This is why it’s sometimes called a white spot diseases. 

The Ich as you would guess, causes the feeling of itch in which case you will see a Bala shark rubbing and scratching itself on surfaces such as rocks or driftwoods.

 Ich is mostly caused as a result of 3 things. 

  • Failure to perform the scheduled partial water changes
  • Overfeeding 
  • Addition of infected fish to the tank.

Dropsy: Fish afflicted with dropsy develop fluid in them making their body swell. Dropsy is usually an indicator of a parasitic or bacterial infection. 

Bala sharks are sensitive to change in water parameters.

To drastically lower their chance of getting ill, you must take good care of their water. You can achieve that by monitoring water parameters routinely to make sure they are in the zone.

You also need to replace 25 to 30% of their water weekly and make sure to use a high-quality water filter for their tank.

Next is feed them nutritious food as recommended earlier.

And lastly, be sure that any fish you are to add to the aquarium is disease-free. You can ensure that by quarantining any fish you bring for some days to make sure it’s alright.

Remember! diseases are more treatable at an early stage so it pays to develop the habit of observing your fish activity from time to time. This can help you become familiar with the rhythm of their activity so you can easily spot a problem.

So long as follow the recommended guidelines your Bala shark will have a very good chance of realizing a healthy life with full lifespan and growth potential.

Overall they are very hardy and considerably sturdy. 

Commonly asked questions

Can Bala shark live with Guppies

It is not a good idea to combine Bala shark with guppies because they can potentially eat the small guppies. Looks for the species I recommend for Bala shark to find their ideal mates.

Will Bala shark eat Neon Tetras?

Yes, Bala shark is known to eat small fish especially ones with sleeky appearance like the Neon Tetra.

Can Bala shark live with Bettas?

It’s best you do not keep Bala shark with betta because it can potentially eat your betta. Bala sharks tend to show some aggression if they are not in a group.

Bala shark and betta could work if you have a school of 4 Bala sharks and incredibly spacious tank where each can take its territory.


Taking many factors into account, Bala sharks are one of the best large fish one can have in their aquarium.

In terms of freshwater aquarium sharks, they would be my second or first choice.

I prefer them over the Red Tail Shark and Rainbow shark particularly because of their easy-going temperament. Even though those 2 might be considered more attractive by some.

Bala sharks are also a better option than the well known Iridescent Shark which can lots of hobbyist keep only for investment sake.

For these reasons, many hobbyists who are into keeping large species and even those who aren’t, at some point can decide to give Bala shark a short.

They are peaceful, beautiful looking and can be kept with many popular species in peoples’ aquariums.

They are relatively easy to care for and can even be bred without any discouraging challenge.

That is not even mentioning how they give hobbyists a feeling of owning a small shark in their tank.

I hope that this guide has provided with all the answers you were looking for and if you are deciding whether to keep them or not, I hope it helps you make the right choice.

Own Bala Sharks? I will appreciate if you share any experience you think can benefit this guide.

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