Bala Shark 101: The Ultimate Care Guide (April 2023)

By: Martin McAdam
Updated: January 19, 2022

Bala shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) is a freshwater species that belongs to the family Cyprinidae under the order of Cypriniformes. It was first discovered in 1930 at a small tributary of Sungai Bala, Pahang .

The name "Balantiocheilos" is derived from the Greek language, with "balances" meaning 'a saw' and "cheilosis" referring to lips. Bala Shark has a small square-shaped body with large protruding eyes, silvery body with black stripes and pink fins.

The Balantiocheilos melanopterus, or Bala Shark as it is more commonly known, is a shy but hardy fish that is found in the wild in the slow-moving waters of South East Asia.

It gets its common name from the resemblance of its quick movements and silver scales to those of a shark. With the proper care, the Bala Shark is a good choice for a beginner aquarist and will make a colorful addition to any aquarium.

As with most fish in their natural habitat, they tend to travel in schools hence the name 'shark.' This is where they get their defensive name from, as they can confuse predators with their quick movements and silver scales.

A Few Caracteristics Of Bala Shark

  • Bala sharks are schooling fish and do best when kept in groups of 5 or more.
  • They are the longest living species of shark, living up to 20 years in captivity.
  • Bala sharks get their name from the Balinese people in Indonesia who have been catching and eating them for centuries.
  • They are one of the only species of sharks that can breathe atmospheric air and will often come to the surface to gulp down gulps of air.
  • Bala sharks are one of the most popular aquarium fish and are available in many different colors including red, orange, yellow, black, white, and green.
  • They are carnivorous fish and will eat a wide variety of foods including brine shrimp, bloodworms, krill, small squid, and octopus.
  • Most Bala sharks grow to be about 3 inches in length but some varieties of the species (such as the Albino Bala shark) can grow to be up to 4 inches in length.
  • Bala sharks are one of the only fish that give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. This is known as viviparity and is different from oviparity where egg-laying occurs. Female Bala sharks carry their young for 8 to 9 months before giving birth to 2 to 4 offspring.

Appearance Of Bala Shark

Bala Sharks have a small body and typically grow to 7 inches (18 cm) in length, though they can reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) in captivity.

They have a dark brown or black stripe that runs along their lateral line and a silver-white coloration with black markings on their dorsal and caudal fins. The pelvic, pectoral, and anal fins are pink.

Bala Sharks have small mouths with big eyes to help them hunt during the dark hours. Their dorsal fin starts at the tip of their head and runs along their back, ending near the base of their caudal fin. Their adipose is very large and almost covers their anal fin.

The female differs from the male by having a more slender body at the abdomen. Females will also have a dark stripe that runs from their dorsal fin to the tip of their caudal fin.

The male has a bigger and more pronounced black spot at the base of its pectoral fin, which is not present in females. The male also has a slimmer body at the abdomen when compared to females.

Temperament Of Bala Shark

In the wild, Bala Sharks are usually found in schools of 5-10 fish. They are a timid and skittish species that will dart away at the first sign of danger. When threatened, they will often try to confuse their attacker by swimming quickly in zigzag patterns.

They are bottom-dwelling fish that typically feeds on small insects, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates.

In the aquarium, Bala Sharks are one of the more peaceful species and can be kept with other small fish. They do best when housed in a tank with plenty of plants and hiding places. They should be fed a diet of small insects, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates.

Average Size

Bala Sharks grow to a maximum of 18 cm. they weigh up to 2.3lbs. Bala Sharks grow to a maximum of 18 cm but usually only reach 10-12cm in captivity. They can live up to 7 years with the proper care.

Habitat Of Bala fish

The Bala Shark originates from South East Asia, especially in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. They are usually found in slow-moving rivers, lakes, swamps, and flooded areas near banks.

They can live in almost any type of aquarium and can be kept in a community tank. They like an aquarium with plenty of plants and hiding places to feel secure in. They prefer slow-moving or still water in freshwater lakes, swamps, rivers, ponds, and rice fields.

Bala sharks live at the bottom of warm freshwater locations such as Southeast Asia, where they feed on small insects, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates.

Care Guide

Bala Sharks are native to the freshwater rivers, lakes, and swamps in South East Asia. They are a small member of the carp family that grows only to about 7 inches when fully grown in an aquarium.

All the required care related to their food, diet, tank size, etc., are given below in detail.

Food And Diet

In the wild, Bala Sharks are omnivores that eat small insects, crustaceans, and other aquatic invertebrates. In captivity, they can usually be fed high-quality flake food, freeze-dried bloodworms, and tubifex worms. They eat up to 3-5% of their body weight per day.

They should be fed once daily. Other than this, they can eat insects, crustaceans, and other small aquatic creatures.

You can also feed them live food if they are not too big for your fish's mouth. However, it should be noted that wild-caught insects and crustaceans can carry parasites that can harm other aquarium fish.

Tank Required For Bala Shark Fish

Bala shark fish needs a tank no less than 55 gallons and preferably a tank that is larger. This fish is timid and should be kept in schools, so the bigger, the better. Plenty of live plants are needed to provide hiding places for these fishes like Java moss, Anacharis, Hornwort, and Water Wisteria all work well.

The substrate can be dark gravel. The aquarium should be dimly lit, and the tank well-planted to provide hiding places for its shy nature. The size of your tank will also dictate the size of the Bala shark you can keep.

A 20-gallon tank would be suitable for a small Bala shark, while a 55-gallon tank or larger is needed for larger specimens.

Required Water Condition and Lighting

Bala sharks are tropical species and need 20-25°C water. They can survive in freshwater but prefer slightly acidic conditions from pH 6.5-7.5 or slightly alkaline from pH 7.0-8.0 with a moderate hardness of around 100 ppm as this is the natural water chemistry in their native habitat.

These ideal water conditions should be replicated in the home aquarium. They will not thrive if kept in a cold, acidic, or soft water condition; however, they will survive.

Lighting should be moderate and provide plenty of hiding places for them, or they may become shy and reclusive or even aggressive to other fish when feeling threatened. Also, high light will encourage algae to grow in the tank, encouraging Bala Sharks.


Sponge filters are ideal for Bala Sharks as they provide both mechanical and biological filtration, removing solid particles and toxic compounds from the water column while simultaneously providing food shelter and establishing beneficial bacteria that aid in the breakdown.

Bala Fish Compatibility With Other Fishes

Bala sharks are peaceful fish and can be kept in a community aquarium with other peaceful species. They should not be kept with overly aggressive fish because the Bala will become stressed out. Moreover, they may nip fins or eat other fish smaller than themselves.

In groups, they do best in a tank with plenty of plants and hiding places. They also need an aquarium that is at least 20 gallons.

Bala Sharks are very peaceful and skittish; they should be housed with other small community fish or ornamental shrimp; they also need an aquarium that is at least 20 gallons.

Common Diseases Found In Bala Sharks

There are no specific diseases that Bala sharks are prone to, but they can contract Ich if the water quality is poor. If your Bala shark shows signs of Ich, you should treat the aquarium with a medication such as Kordon Rid-Ich+.

Ich is a parasitic disease that presents itself as small white spots on the skin and fins of a fish. The parasite needs a host to survive, so when the spots turn into cysts, they fall from your Bala shark's body which will begin to scrape off its flesh to stop the infestation. If left untreated, it can be fatal.

Bala Sharks are also susceptible to velvet and other fungal infections if the water quality is not excellent.

Velvet is a parasitic infection that can be fatal if left untreated. It is characterized by a dusty or film-like appearance on the fish's skin. The fish may also exhibit clamped fins, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

If your Bala shark begins to show any of these symptoms, you should treat the aquarium with a medication such as a general parasite treatment or antibiotic.

Breeding Of Bala Sharks

Bala Sharks are difficult to fish to breed in captivity. They typically spawn in flooded areas near the banks of a river or dense vegetation.

The male will build a spawning nest by fanning his tail against the substrate to create a depression. He will then deposit his sperm over the nest, and eggs are deposited by the female. The eggs are sticky and will adhere to the substrate. The parents will then guard and fan the eggs until they hatch.

In the aquarium, a breeding pair can be separated into their tank with a small amount of water. Spawning usually occurs within two days after being placed in the breeding tank. The eggs will be deposited on the substrate and should be left undisturbed.

The female will often eat the eggs, so it is important to remove her from the tank once they have been deposited. The eggs will hatch in 5-7 days, and the fry can be fed a diet of brine shrimp or micro worms.

Is Bala Fish A Threatened Species Of Fish?

Yes, because Bala sharks are used as feeder fish in some countries, they are overfished. This has led to them being an endangered species. You can help by not purchasing Bala sharks from pet stores and instead choosing a more sustainable fish to keep in your aquarium.

If kept in captivity, it is illegal to release them into the wild. Thus, anyone who purchases a Bala shark must keep it in their aquarium.


Overall, Bala sharks are easy to care for and do not require special Acrylic tanks or expensive equipment. They are hardy, peaceful, beautiful, and inexpensive.

If you want an aquarium fish that is sure to bring beauty into your home without high maintenance requirements, Bala sharks are the ideal choice!

Disclaimer does not intend to provide veterinary advice. We go to great lengths to help users better understand their aquatic friends. However, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. For more information, please read our disclaimer.

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