Bala Shark: Ultimate Guide (Care, Diet, Breeding & More)

Bala shark swimming in aquarium.

Bala Sharks are giant freshwater fish occupying specific regions in Southeast Asia. Their captivating look and peaceful temperament make them an intriguing addition to home aquariums.

However, their larger body sizes mean you should have plenty of experience in fishkeeping to properly look after a healthy Bala Shark at home.

Still, if you choose to give it a try, you will be in for a fun-filled adventure that will perfectly complement your major pastime.

Bala Sharks are not true sharks. They are neither aggressive nor violent. And they can be kept in captivity. So, why the “shark” given name, then?

This guide will cover everything you may need to know about keeping Bala Sharks at home. We will reveal their true identity, the most suitable diet, water parameters, compatible tank mates, breeding facts, and much more!

Species Overview

Bala Sharks have a handful of nicknames such as the Silver Shark, Tricolor Minnows, Silver Bala, and Tricolor Shark, these all are due to the special markings and coloration all over their bodies.

These fish belong to the Cyprinidae family with the scientific name, Balantiocheilos melanopterus

CategoryRating
FamilyCyprinidae
ColorGray, yellow, and black
LifespanUp to 10 Years
Care LevelIntermediate
Behavior & TemperamentPeaceful
CompatibilitySpecies dependent
Food and DietOmnivores
SizeUp to 12 Inches
Tank SetupFreshwater; plants and roots
Tank Size (Minimum)150 Gallons

Initially, Bala Sharks were predominantly found in the fast-moving rivers and streams in Southeast Asia. Precisely, they inhabited the regions of Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Kalimantan, and Sumatra.

But in recent years, their numbers have drastically reduced and have been on IUCN’s red list of endangered species for a long time.

Today, most of the species found in the aquatic scene are from captivity and fish farms, with many aquarists using hormones to facilitate the breeding process. Their sharp population decline has been attributed to many factors, some without conclusive evidence.

For some aquarists, overfishing in the Southeast Asian region, their natural habitat, might have contributed to the population decline over time. For others, the damming rivers in this region could have hurt these fish’s population in the long run.

A few have even blamed pollution as the primary cause of population decline in the Bala Shark community. Still, you won’t fail to find the right type if you’re serious about introducing the beautiful Bala Shark to your home aquarium. 

Lifespan

So, how long do Bala Sharks live? With quality care, the Silver Sharks can live for up to 10 years in captivity, and their manageable care requirements facilitate their high life expectancy in home aquariums.

Your chances of increasing their lifespan will depend on what you feed your Tricolored Sharks, the fellow tank mates in captivity, and the level of care they receive every day.

If you can maintain everything at the required levels, starting with the right tank size, you’ve made an important first step towards keeping healthy Bala Sharks at home for many years to come.

Appearance

Bala Sharks are beautiful freshwater fish with black, gray, and yellow coloration all over their bodies. It’s this tricolor pattern that has earned these fish the nickname; Tricolor Sharks.

If you’re purchasing them from a pet store, the triangular-shaped dorsal fins with long, torpedo-like body patterns will be the clearest indication that you are getting the correct species. And it is the same body pattern that earns it the “shark” title. 

That being said, Bala Sharks have a characteristic shiny metallic coloration all over their bodies with prominent scales and large eyes to complete their look. The pelvic, anal, caudal, and dorsal fins all have shades of deep black coloration.

Size

Adult Bala Sharks can grow up to 13 inches or 1ft in captivity. However, many aquarists never recognize this when they first purchase a baby Bala Shark from pet retailers and fish farms.

The juvenile fish only measure around 3-4 inches. So, at first sight, the aquarist may be convinced that they are getting just another small fish for their home aquarium, quite unaware of what awaits them in just a few months.

To their utter disbelief, their favorite shark will have outgrown the small tank by the time they approach adulthood.

To avoid making the same mistake, you should identify the correct species in pet stores and understand their tank requirements before introducing them to your home aquarium.

If you don’t have enough space and resources to cater to their needs, you’d better consider smaller fish species with manageable care requirements.

Bala Shark Care

Bala Shark care should be relatively easier if the owner has experience in dealing with larger fish. They are hardy fish that tend to tolerate many different conditions in the aquarium.

But you can simplify things even further by maintaining the right water conditions to sustain their lives in the tank.

Let’s talk about cleanliness now that we are talking about proper care. For Bala Sharks, a clean tank with stable temperatures is compulsory, and these fish won’t tolerate dirty conditions, even when the other parameters are maintained at optimal levels.

Also, when you are bringing Bala Sharks home for the first time, acclimatization will be key to their survival. These fish require patience and enough time, usually a month, to adjust to a new habitat.

On top of that, Bala Sharks require proper filtration to grow to optimum lengths. So, you will need to set up the right filtration system that facilitates water flow and eliminates toxic materials. 

Like many fish species, Bala Sharks require high-quality food to survive in captivity. You will be the first to notice signs of malnutrition if you constantly feed them on low-quality foods or poor diet.

And malnourishment won’t be the only bothersome issue in a poorly fed Tricolor Shark. Such fish also develop digestive problems that easily expose them to a range of ailments affecting the freshwater fish community.

Tank Size

Remarkably, the Bala Shark’s large size has elicited mixed reactions among aquarium enthusiasts regarding the tank setup at home.

While everybody agrees that Bala Sharks are among the largest freshwater fish species in the aquatic scene, a vast majority can’t come to the same conclusion on the exact tank size to set up for their optimal growth.

Usually, we recommend an average tank size of 120-150 gallons for a start. You may be aware that the exact number of fish you keep will influence the average tank size.

In our opinion, it’s important to start with the largest tank size right away because of the Bala Shark’s steady growth rate over time.

Of course, you may also want to pair these fish with compatible species of the same size, further supporting the need to set up a large tank with enough space from the get-go.  

Water Parameters

Despite their large size, Balla Sharks are vulnerable to changes in water conditions. And you will notice the symptoms of white spot disease if the water temperature goes below the standard levels. Usually, these fish thrive under a stable temperature of 77°F.

What’s more, Bala Sharks are sensitive to pH imbalance, and ignoring the expected range is one of the easiest ways to shorten their lifespan. If you have to make any adjustments to the water pH, ensure it stays within the recommended range of 6.5 to 8.

Finally, maintaining the ideal water hardness is paramount to keeping healthy Bala Sharks at home. Here, you should target anything between 10 to 13 dGH.

To avoid potential emergencies, you should regularly monitor the water status using a suitable testing kit.

What to Put in Their Tank?

Let’s begin with lighting. Balla Sharks need enough lighting to thrive inside a home aquarium. Fortunately for you, simple freshwater lamps only cost a few dollars and are good enough to provide the much-needed lighting in home aquariums.

What’s more, you should decorate their habitats with robust natural plants to replicate the actual conditions in the wild. But even then, you should provide enough space and hiding spots for swimming or resting in captivity.

Floating plants could be a good option in this regard for additional security. And finally, you will want to include driftwoods and smooth rocks to complete the tank décor.

The only strange thing about Bala Sharks is that they will try to jump out of the tank from time to time under no one’s watch. And this is where sealing the top of the tank becomes essential. 

When we talk about the ideal tank parameters, we can’t fail to mention the significance of proper filtration. A robust filtration system is necessary to keep the habitat naturally aerated and provide enough oxygen for Bala Sharks’ survival and optimum growth.

Common Diseases

For Bala Sharks, proper care also means watching out for potentially harmful diseases that could significantly lower their lifespan.

Dropsy is the most common condition affecting these fish, and its major signs are visible white spots on the Shark’s scales. You should suspect a bacterial or parasitic origin when you notice such signs.

That aside, Ich is another common ailment you will want to keep away from the Bala Shark community. This is a parasitic infection that presents with persistent rubbing of the body against objects due to itchiness.

Ich disease is not a death sentence to your fish, but certainly, one to manage as soon as possible. It carries an increased risk of shortening the fish’s lifespan due to increasing stress levels, especially if you don’t detect it in time.

Before even thinking about over-the-counter medications, the emphasis should be on adopting the right precautionary measures against these conditions.

You can prevent the diseases mentioned above by renewing the tank water at least once per week and giving the fish a balanced diet.

What Do Bala Sharks Eat?

Bala Sharks are omnivores in the wild and will eat algae, larvae, plant portions, insects, and any small crustaceans they can find. The same trend continues in the aquarium, where they will eat any food type that can satisfy their nutritional requirements.

Like in their natural habitat, Silver Sharks won’t be selective in captivity and will eat live food, dried flakes, and plant matter.

We constantly recommend a diet consisting of the best quality dry food such as flakes or pellets to provide the much-needed nutrients for these fish’s survival.

Choosing a diverse diet will ensure these fish get additional nutrients in captivity. And you can maintain them in perfect health by supplementing their diets with bloodworms, blanched vegetables, and plankton.

With their large size, Bala Sharks need huge amounts of protein in their diet. That’s why we recommend protein-rich foods such as shrimps to be included in their normal diet. If you are unsure how often to feed your Bala Sharks at home, stick to a three-meal-a-day routine.

For Tricolored Sharks, it’s not just the amount of food that matters. Quality and frequency are just as important. So, you should stick to small food quantities and give the fish enough time to complete their meals.

Behavior & Temperament

Don’t judge them by their name when Silver Sharks are not even actual saltwater sharks. These fish have no similarities to the aggressive saltwater shark apart from the pointed dorsal fin we’ve already discussed.

Usually, the young sharks exhibit a calm demeanor and will be excellent companions for most other fish species in the same aquarium. However, the story changes as they grow.

As these fish approach maturation, you will instantly realize that keeping them with smaller fish is a terrible idea.

They will either want to eat the small, sleek fish, like neon tetras, or disrupt their peace with endless swimming inside the tank. This trait makes adult Bala Sharks terrible tank mates for other invertebrates such as snails and shrimps.

But it doesn’t end there. The Bala Shark’s agility will always leave your smaller and shy fish even more scared and stressed if they occupy the same tank at home.

Despite their bossy behavior inside many tanks, the Bala Fish can be lonely and timid when left alone in the home aquarium. For that reason, you should keep them in groups of 4 or more at any given time.

Don’t get us wrong here. Silver Sharks are peaceful fish species when kept together in the same tank. But the same can’t be said when you introduce smaller fish in the same space.

Bala Shark Tank Mates

Bala Fish are highly active and peaceful at the same time. They cohabitate peacefully with the less aggressive fish of different species. On that note, some of their best tank mates include the following:

  • Gourami
  • Rasbora
  • Rainbowfish
  • Fellow Bala Sharks

As we mentioned earlier, the Bala Fish tend to feed on small fish as they approach maturity.

So, you will want to avoid specific species altogether when keeping the Bala Sharks at home. A few such examples include the Neon tetras, harlequin rasboras, guppies, and other smaller fish.

Breeding

Bala Fish are not easy to breed at home. And if you were to do it, you would have to factor in the tank size, gender, and available resources.

The most challenging aspect of breeding Bala Sharks is determining the sex. You won’t see any significant differences between the two genders apart from the general appearance.

While the males will have large bodies, female Bala Sharks have well-rounded bellies and body shapes.

The unfamiliar conditions in captivity may force you to stimulate the breeding process with hormones, just as commercial breeding is done in Asia.

It’s worth recalling that Bala Sharks will always need early preparation before they are ready to breed. This implies that you should consider putting them in a separate tank for breeding as soon as they approach the puberty stage at four months.

Also, experienced aquarists report that Bala Sharks should be kept in groups of at least five fish to sustain the breeding process.

As a pet owner, you can adopt a few important strategies to facilitate the breeding process in Bala Sharks. For example, it is recommended that just before breeding, you should maintain the right water flow inside the tank to enhance fertilization.

After fertilization, you may want to turn off the filtration system right away to save the small fry from its adverse effects. During this period, some aquarists may increase the water temperatures steadily to about 82 degrees to maintain a healthy fry.

Like many fish, you should remove adult Bala Sharks from the tank as soon as breeding has occurred. However, you should wait for a few hours before removing the spawning material from the same tank. Later, you will want to filter and renew approximately 30% of the tank water.

If everything is successful, you will begin to see the young sharks, or the larvae, within a period of 24 hours to 4 days. At this point, you can feed them on ciliates as you monitor their growth.

Then, as their growth rate stabilizes, you will want to switch them to crustacean larvae or frozen Cyclops.

Several factors will influence the young sharks’ growth rate. But assuming everything goes well up to this point, you may need to transfer all or some of them to a new tank to avoid overcrowding.

Even with what we’ve covered above, we can’t guarantee that breeding Bala Sharks at home will be successful.

Keep in mind that even the most experienced aquarists depend on hormones to get the best results when breeding these fish in captivity. So, the natural spawning conditions are still affected in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Now you can see why we can’t stop recommending Silver Balas to aquarium enthusiasts with enough resources to keep these fish healthy and happy at home.

They are special freshwater fish with a friendly personality to back them up. If you are interested in owning this freshwater fish, this guide should have provided enough information to help you understand everything about their care, tank mates, breeding, and more.

Here’s hoping you will have an amazing experience caring for Bala Sharks at home, just as much as you’ve enjoyed reading this guide!

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