Bala shark feature

Bala Sharks 101: Essential Care Tips and Advice

The Swordtail Fish, a vibrant and lively addition to any community aquarium, hails from North and Central America’s warm waters. The species’ most striking feature is the male’s elongated lower tail fin, resembling a sword, hence their name. Reaching up to 15 centimetres, these active swimmers exhibit a range of beautiful colours, with the most common being a vivid green hue.

Easy to care for and hardy, they’re excellent for beginners. Intriguingly, Swordtails are livebearers, which means they give birth to free-swimming offspring rather than laying eggs. This unique reproductive method makes witnessing the arrival of new life in your aquarium an even more fascinating spectacle.

Bala shark

Bala Shark Facts & Overview

Bala Shark FactDetails
Scientific Name:Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Care Level:Moderate to Hard
Native Region:Southeast Asia
Lifespan:10–15 years in optimal conditions
Size:Up to 35 centimetres (14 inches)
Minimum Tank Size:Size: 680 litres for a group of fish
Compatibility:Compatible with a variety of similarly-sized species

Origin and Distribution

Bala Sharks are native to Southeast Asia and have historically been found in the tropical rivers and freshwater basins of Thailand, Borneo, and Sumatra. These rivers often have moderate to fast-flowing waters, which influence the Bala Shark’s preference for similar conditions in captivity.

Interestingly, although they are bred worldwide for the aquarium trade today, Bala Sharks are now considered endangered in their wild habitats. Overfishing for the pet trade, combined with habitat destruction, has significantly reduced their populations in the wild.

Efforts are now being made to protect and preserve the remaining wild populations of this captivating species. Despite their endangered status in the wild, Bala Sharks are widely available in the aquarium trade, thanks to successful breeding programmes.

Varying Names

Bala Sharks, despite their name and shark-like appearance, are not sharks at all but are actually part of the Cyprinidae family, which includes carps and minnows.

Bala Sharks are known by a number of different names, adding to their allure and sometimes creating confusion. Apart from Bala Shark, they are also commonly referred to as Silver Sharks, Tricolor Sharks, or Shark Minnows due to their appearance.

The name Bala is derived from their original classification, “Balantiocheilus melanopterus,” although their scientific name has since been updated to “Balantiocheilos melanopterus.” Despite the variety of their nicknames, these fish remain the same fascinating species beloved by aquarists around the world.

Bala Shark Size & Lifespan

Bala Sharks are impressively-sized freshwater fish, particularly when compared to many other species commonly kept in home aquariums. Once fully grown, they typically reach lengths of up to 35 centimetres. This significant size makes them a striking presence in any large tank setup.

As for their lifespan, with proper care and an appropriate environment, Bala Sharks are known to live for around 10 years. However, in some instances where they are provided with optimal water conditions, a balanced diet, and a stress-free environment, these captivating fish have been known to live up to 15 years.

rainbow shark and bala shark

Bala Shark vs Other Aquarium “Sharks”

Aquarium owners compare Bala Sharks with other fish commonly referred to as “sharks” due to their physical similarities.

Rainbow Shark: Rainbow Sharks are significantly smaller, typically growing up to 15 centimetres compared to the Bala Shark’s 35 centimetres. While Bala Sharks are schooling fish, Rainbow Sharks are more solitary and can be territorial, especially in smaller tanks. Both species are active and need ample swimming space, but Rainbow Sharks require less tank space due to their smaller size.

Red Tail Shark: Like Rainbow Sharks, Red Tail Sharks are smaller, reaching around 15 centimetres. They have a similar body shape to Bala Sharks but are black with a striking red tail. Red Tail Sharks can be more aggressive and territorial than Bala Sharks, especially towards their own kind. They may not be the best choice for a community tank with other bottom-dwelling fish.

Black Shark: These fish can grow even larger than Bala Sharks, reaching up to 60 centimetres. They are black or dark grey, with a high dorsal fin like Bala Sharks. However, Black Sharks are not well-suited to most home aquariums due to their large size and aggressive, territorial nature.

Despite their names, none of these “sharks” are actual sharks; they are all freshwater fish belonging to the Cyprinidae family. The name “shark” comes from their streamlined, shark-like appearance. The best choice among these species will depend on your tank size, the community you wish to create, and the level of care you can provide.

Bala Shark Characteristics and Appearance

Colours, Patterns and fins

Bala Sharks are renowned for their striking, streamlined bodies that reflect their active, swift swimming nature. Their bodies are mainly silver, shining brightly when light hits them, giving them the alternative name, Silver Sharks.

Their colour pattern is relatively simple but elegant. The brilliance of their silver bodies is complemented by distinct black tips on their dorsal, caudal, and anal fins, providing a stunning contrast. This dark edging becomes more prominent and defined as the Bala Shark matures.

Their most notable feature, contributing to their shark-like appearance, is the tall, triangular dorsal fin, situated mid-way along their back. Alongside their large, forked caudal fin, it enables agile movements and high-speed swimming, reflecting their active behaviour and the dynamic energy they bring to an aquarium.

Sex Differences

Identifying the sex of a Bala Shark can be a bit tricky due to their minimal sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look relatively similar. However, there are a few subtle differences aquarists can look for to determine their Bala Sharks’ sex.

Females tend to be slightly larger and have a fuller, more rounded belly compared to males, particularly noticeable when viewed from above. This feature becomes more evident during the breeding season when females may carry eggs.

On the other hand, male Bala Sharks are usually somewhat smaller and have a more streamlined, slender body. It’s worth noting that these differences might not be obvious until the fish reach sexual maturity, which can take 2-3 years. Patience and careful observation are key when trying to identify the sex of your Bala Sharks.

Bala shark with other fish

Bala Shark Behaviour and Temperament

Despite their imposing name and size, Bala Sharks are peaceful, schooling fish that prefer to live in groups of five or more. Their social nature means they do not do well in isolation or with aggressive tankmates.

Bala Sharks are highly active swimmers, often seen zipping around mid to top levels of the aquarium. They enjoy open spaces where they can stretch their fins and explore, reflecting their active, dynamic nature.

Interestingly, Bala Sharks are known to be jumpy, especially when they’re young or stressed. They may leap out of the water, which is why it’s advisable to have a well-fitted lid on your aquarium.

Their peaceful temperament and active lifestyle make them a lively addition to any large community tank, providing constant movement and entertainment. However, it’s essential to provide them with plenty of space and compatible tankmates to ensure they thrive.

Redfin Bala shark

Redfin Bala Shark

Also known as the Red-Finned Cigar Shark or Red-Finned Shark Minnow, is a freshwater fish native to the rivers and streams of Thailand and Borneo. It’s scientific name is “Epalzeorhynchos munense.” This fish is not a true shark but earns the name due to its torpedo-shaped body.

While they resemble the Bala Shark (Balantiocheilos melanopterus) in size and shape, they’re actually more closely related to loaches. They can grow up to 15 cm (6 inches) and are known for their silver body and striking red fins, especially vivid in mature adults.

Bala Shark Tank Setup

Tank Size and Setup

  • Tank Size: Ensure you have a tank with a minimum capacity of 150 gallons (680 litres) to provide ample swimming space for your Bala Sharks.
  • Substrate: Use a fine-grained substrate to mimic their natural riverbed habitat. Sand or small, smooth gravel is ideal.
  • Plants and Decorations: Incorporate live plants, driftwood, and rocks to create hiding spots, but leave plenty of open swimming space. Plants can also help filter the water and provide enrichment.
  • Filtration: Install a powerful filter that can handle the tank’s capacity. Canister filters or hang-on-back filters are generally good options. Bala Sharks prefer moderate to strong currents, similar to their natural river habitats.
  • Heater: Use an aquarium heater to maintain a stable water temperature between 22°C and 28°C.
  • Tank Lid: A secure lid is a must, as Bala Sharks are known to be jumpers, particularly when they are young or stressed.
  • Maintenance: Schedule regular water changes and tank cleanings to maintain water quality and prevent the build-up of harmful substances.
Bala shark tank

Water Conditions and Lighting

Bala Sharks prefer specific water conditions that mirror their natural tropical river habitats.

  • Temperature: Bala Sharks thrive in water temperatures ranging from 22°C to 28°C. Consistency is key to avoid stress.
  • pH Level: A slightly acidic to slightly alkaline pH, between 6.0 and 8.0, is ideal for these fish.
  • Hardness: The water hardness should be kept between 10 and 13 dGH.
  • Water Cleanliness: Bala Sharks require clean water to stay healthy. Regular water changes and a good filtration system are essential.
  • Lighting: Bala Sharks are not picky about lighting. Moderate lighting is generally fine, but they can also adapt to a range of lighting conditions, as long as there are darker areas in the tank to provide shelter. Using floating plants can help achieve this effect.

Decoration and Compatible Plants

Decorating your Bala Shark tank appropriately can significantly boost their welfare, providing cover, spawning areas, and simulating their natural riverine habitat. Here are some recommendations:


  • Caves and Rocks: Bala Sharks appreciate places to retreat and investigate, making caves or rock arrangements beneficial elements in the tank design.
  • Driftwood: Driftwood serves as an excellent hiding spot and contributes to a natural aesthetic within the tank.
  • Ceramic Pieces: Non-toxic ceramic pieces can also offer refuge and create intriguing exploration areas for your fish.

Compatible Plants:

Bala Sharks originate from rivers rich in vegetation. Therefore, including live plants adds not only aesthetic appeal but also practical advantages such as shelter, assistance with water oxygenation, and nitrate absorption.

  • Stem Plants: Robust stem plants such as Vallisneria or Hygrophila can tolerate the active swimming nature of Bala Sharks and provide valuable cover.
  • Carpeting Plants: Carpeting plants like Dwarf Hairgrass or Java Moss create a visually appealing, sturdy ground cover that withstands the dynamic movement of the Bala Sharks.
  • Floating Plants: Floating plants such as Water Lettuce or Frogbit offer shade and security, and they help regulate light levels in the tank.

Remember to opt for durable plant varieties, as the swift swimming nature of Bala Sharks might disrupt more delicate species.

Bala shark rocks

Bala Shark Care

Bala Shark Diet and Feeding

Bala Sharks are omnivores, with a diet in the wild consisting of small crustaceans, insects, algae, and plant matter. In captivity, they retain this versatile eating habit, which makes feeding them quite straightforward.

  • Commercial Foods: Bala Sharks will readily eat high-quality flake food, pellets, or granules designed for omnivorous fish. These should form the staple of their diet.
  • Live or Frozen Foods: For variety and to ensure a balanced diet, supplement with live or frozen foods like brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms, and tubifex worms. These are particularly beneficial during breeding.
  • Vegetables: They also enjoy blanched vegetables such as peas, spinach, and zucchini. These can help provide necessary fibre and prevent constipation.
  • Feeding Schedule: Feed your Bala Sharks 2-3 times a day, only giving what they can consume in a few minutes. This approach reduces waste and maintains water quality.

Remember, a varied diet helps ensure that your Bala Sharks receive all the necessary nutrients they need to stay healthy and display vibrant colours. Regularly rotating their food can also make feeding times more exciting for these active fish.

Bala shark feeding

Keeping an Eye Out for Illness

Bala Sharks, like any other fish, can be susceptible to various illnesses if not given appropriate care. Recognising the signs of disease early on can make a significant difference in their recovery.

Behavioural Changes: Be alert to changes in your Bala Sharks’ behavior, such as loss of appetite, lethargy, or unusual swimming patterns. These could be early signs of illness.

Physical Changes: Regularly examine your Bala Sharks for physical changes. Look out for spots, patches, discolouration, lesions, abnormal growths, or changes in body shape.

Parasitic Infections: Bala Sharks can be prone to parasitic infections, such as ich (white spot disease), where small white spots appear all over the fish’s body.

Bacterial and Fungal Infections: Monitor for signs of bacterial or fungal infections. These might present as cottony growths, redness, sores, or ulcers.

Stress-Related Diseases: Bala Sharks are susceptible to stress-related diseases. Stress can be caused by poor water conditions, inadequate diet, or incompatible tankmates.

Preventive Measures: Maintain good water quality, feed a balanced diet, and ensure appropriate tank conditions to prevent many common illnesses.

Remember, if you notice any signs of illness, it’s crucial to seek advice from a vet or an aquarium professional. Early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve your Bala Shark’s chances of recovery.

Common Diseases and External Parasites

  • Ich (White Spot Disease): This is a common parasitic infection where small white spots appear all over the fish’s body. Affected Bala Sharks may also show signs of irritation, such as rubbing against objects.
  • Fin Rot: This bacterial disease causes the fins to become ragged and torn. It’s usually a result of poor water conditions or injury.
  • Dropsy: A condition that causes the fish’s body to swell due to fluid accumulation, often a result of bacterial infection or kidney dysfunction. Bala Sharks with Dropsy will exhibit a bloated body and raised scales.
  • Velvet Disease: This parasitic infection causes a yellow or gold dust-like coating on the fish’s body, often accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, and rapid breathing.
  • Flukes: These parasites attach to the fish’s body or gills, causing redness, inflammation, and difficulty breathing. Affected fish may scratch against objects in the tank.
  • Anchor Worms: These are visible parasites that attach to the fish’s body. They cause red sores and inflammation at the attachment site.
  • Fish Lice: These are small, disc-shaped parasites that attach to the fish’s body, causing irritation, redness, and inflammation. Affected fish may rub their bodies against objects in the tank.
Bala shark tank mates

Good Tank Mates for Bala Sharks

Bala Sharks are peaceful, social fish that prefer to live in schools. They do best in groups of at least five of their own kind. Here are some suitable tank mates:

  • Other Bala Sharks: Keeping multiple Bala Sharks together is ideal, as they are schooling fish. They enjoy the company of their own kind and tend to be less stressed in groups.
  • Large Tetras: Species like Congo Tetras or Bleeding Heart Tetras can be good companions due to their similar size and peaceful nature.
  • Barbs: Large, non-aggressive barbs such as Tiger Barbs or Rosy Barbs can cohabitate well with Bala Sharks.
  • Rainbowfish: Their active nature and size make them suitable tank mates.
  • Gouramis: Larger species of Gouramis can also do well with Bala Sharks.
  • Loaches: Certain types of loaches, like Clown Loaches or YoYo Loaches, can coexist with Bala Sharks.

Incompatible Tank Mates for Bala Sharks

While Bala Sharks are peaceful and can coexist with a variety of fish, some species are best avoided due to differences in size, temperament, or habitat needs. Here are some examples:

  • Small Fish: Species like Neon Tetras or Guppies can be seen as prey by Bala Sharks due to their small size.
  • Slow or Calm Fish: Bala Sharks’ active nature can stress out slower or more tranquil fish such as Discus or Angel Fish.
  • Aggressive Fish: Bala Sharks should not be kept with aggressive species like Cichlids, which can bully or injure them.
  • Territorial Fish: Species such as Betta Fish, which guard specific areas of the tank, may not tolerate the active, schooling nature of Bala Sharks.
  • Large Predatory Fish: Bala Sharks should not be housed with large predatory fish like Oscars or Arowanas, as they could see Bala Sharks as food.
  • Rainbow Sharks: Caution is advised. While Rainbow Sharks are generally peaceful, they can be territorial, especially in smaller tanks. If you decide to keep them together, ensure the tank is large enough to prevent territorial disputes. As always, observe their interactions closely to ensure harmony in the tank.

Remember, the key to a harmonious tank is choosing tank mates with similar size, temperament, and habitat requirements. Always observe the interactions between your Bala Sharks and their tank mates to ensure a peaceful cohabitation.

Bala shark breeding

Breeding the Bala Shark

Breeding Bala Sharks can be quite challenging, especially in a home aquarium, due to their size and specific requirements. Remember, breeding Bala Sharks can take patience and time. It may not be successful on the first attempt, but don’t be discouraged. With the right conditions and care, you can breed these fascinating fish in your own aquarium. If you’re up for the challenge, here are the steps you’ll need to take:

3 to 5 weeks

Determine the Sexes:

Before you start, make sure you have both male and female Bala Sharks. Females are typically slightly larger with a rounder belly, while males are a bit smaller with a more streamlined body.

Condition the Breeding Pair:

Feed your Bala Sharks a high-quality diet, including live and frozen foods, to prepare them for breeding. This process can improve their overall health and increase the chances of successful breeding.

Prepare a Suitable Environment:

Set up a large breeding tank with plenty of open space for swimming. Maintain the water conditions at optimal levels, with a slightly higher temperature (around 28°C) to encourage spawning.

Introduce the Breeding Pair:

ransfer the healthiest and most active male and female to the breeding tank.

Monitor for Spawning Behavior:

The male will chase the female around the tank, a sign that they’re ready to spawn.


If the female is receptive, she will release her eggs into the water, and the male will fertilize them.

Post-Spawning Care:

Once spawning is over, remove the parents from the breeding tank to prevent them from eating the eggs.

Egg Care:

Bala Shark eggs will hatch in approximately 24-48 hours. Maintain optimal water conditions during this period.

Feeding the Fry:

Once the fry are free-swimming, feed them infusoria or finely crushed flake food until they’re large enough to eat regular food.

Bala shark large aquarium

Should You Get a Bala Shark for Your Aquarium?

Deciding whether to get a Bala Shark for your aquarium depends on several factors. Here are some benefits and drawbacks to consider:


  • Aesthetic Appeal: Bala Sharks are beautiful fish with their silver bodies and contrasting black-tipped fins. Their active swimming can add a dynamic presence to your tank.
  • Peaceful Nature: Despite their ‘shark’ moniker, Bala Sharks are peaceful and can coexist with a variety of other non-aggressive, similarly-sized fish.
  • Long Lifespan: With proper care, Bala Sharks can live for 10-15 years, making them a long-term companion.
  • Ease of Feeding: Bala Sharks are not picky eaters and will readily accept a variety of foods, making feeding relatively straightforward.


  • Tank Size Requirement: Bala Sharks can grow up to 35 centimetres and are active swimmers, requiring a large tank (150 gallons minimum) which may not be feasible for everyone.
  • Group Living: They are schooling fish and should ideally be kept in groups of five or more, which further increases the tank size requirements.
  • Jumping Tendency: Bala Sharks are known to jump, especially when stressed or young. A secure tank lid is a must to prevent them from leaping out.
  • Potential Health Issues: Like all fish, Bala Sharks can suffer from various diseases. Regular monitoring and proper care are necessary to maintain their health.

In conclusion, Bala Sharks can make a wonderful addition to your aquarium if you have the space and time to meet their specific needs. Their peaceful nature, aesthetic appeal, and lively behaviour can make the effort well worth it.

Bala shark bottom dwelling


Are Bala Sharks aggressive?

No, Bala Sharks are not aggressive. Despite their name, they are known for their peaceful temperament. They are social, schooling fish and coexist well with similarly-sized, non-aggressive tank mates.

Will a Bala Sharks eat other fish?

While Bala Sharks are primarily omnivores, they might eat smaller fish if given the opportunity, especially if the fish are small enough to fit in their mouths. It’s best to house them with similarly-sized or larger species.

Are Bala Sharks good for beginners?

Bala Sharks may not be the best choice for beginners due to their specific care needs. They require a large tank, prefer to be in schools, and need precise water conditions, which could be challenging for novice aquarists.

Will Bala Sharks jump out of the tank?

Yes, Bala Sharks are known to be jumpers, especially when they are young or feel stressed. It’s essential to have a well-fitted lid on your aquarium to prevent them from jumping out.

Why is my Bala Shark upside down?

If your Bala Shark is swimming upside down, it could indicate a health issue such as swim bladder disease, often caused by poor diet or water quality. Consult a vet or aquarium professional for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

How many Bala Sharks should I keep?

Bala Sharks are schooling fish and prefer to be in groups. It’s recommended to keep at least five Bala Sharks together, although they’ll be happier and healthier in larger groups if your tank size allows.

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