Bala Shark Fish: 10 Important Facts for Beginners

We’re going to cover everything you need to know about the bala shark. This includes but is not limited to bala shark size, growth rate, lifespan, tank size, feeding, tankmates, overall behavior, aggression, breeding and egg laying.


Bala Sharks

What Are Bala Sharks?

The Bala shark is a passive freshwater shark. They are also known as tricolor sharks, tricolor minnows, the silver shark, hangus, Malaysian shark and the silver Bala. Their scientific name is Balantiocheilus melanopterus.

They are not actually sharks. Instead, their high dorsal fin and body shape make them look like sharks. They’re freshwater fish native to fast moving rivers in southeast Asia.

Most of them have shiny metallic silver torsos with well defined scales. Females have a more rounded belly than the males. They have large eyes to help them hunt. They may be gray, black or yellow. They have yellowish teals. The fins are all edged in black. This gives them the three colors that led to the nickname tricolor sharks.

Development and Growth Rates

Most of the fish sold at pet shops are juveniles. They are between three and four inches long. However, they are going to grow. These fish grow up to 12 inches or 30 centimeters long. In the wild, they’ve been found to grow as long as 14 inches. They take several years to reach this size. Males will be slightly larger than females.

Life Span

The Bala Shark can live up to ten years. If you put the juveniles in too small a tank, though, they will die. Put them in a large aquarium tank at the very beginning to maximize their health. They need at least 45 gallons per fish.


The Bala Shark is a good choice for semi-aggressive communities. They should be kept with similarly sized fish to minimize aggression. Keep them in schools of four to six to minimize aggression between the Bala sharks.

Feeding Behavior

The Bala Shark is an omnivore. Note that they are aggressive in going after food, so make sure they don’t eat everything, leaving nothing for the smaller fish. They’ll accept any fish food. They naturally eat invertebrates.

This means you can feed them diced shrimp. They’ll eat live food and dried food; bala sharks will eat both pellets and fish food flakes. They’ll eat parts of plants in the tank and algae. Feel free to put a spinach leaf in the tank for them to eat. Diced fruits and vegetables are fine. They love insect larvae and insects. They need lots of protein, so give them bloodworms and similar fish foods periodically.

Feed them two to three times a day. Give them small portions to minimize food waste. They will finish the food in two to two and a half minutes.

General Care and Keeping In a Tank

Bala sharks are somewhat easy to care for, but the fact they are best kept in large tanks means they’re probably not a good choice for beginners.

The Bala Shark is a freshwater species. They should be in a tank with plants and roots. These active fish will startle. If there are no plants to hide behind, they’ll jump out of a tank without a cover. The odds of this happening are greatest in the first few weeks you own them. They do fine with anubias nana plants in the tank, since it doesn’t get in the way of their swimming.

They will be fine with a substrate of mud and pebbles. If you want to mimic their natural conditions, then have dark colored rocks of various sizes on the bottom of the tank. The fish tank substrate should be at least an inch thick. Thicker won’t hurt them, though.

The water pH should be between 6.5 and 7.0, though they can tolerate water acidity as high as 8.0 for brief periods. They can tolerate water hardness up to 10 dGh. Their water temperature should be between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 22 to 28 Celsius. The ideal water temperature is 77 degrees.

These fish naturally live in fast flowing rivers. This makes a good filtration system a necessity to keep the fish healthy. Partial water changes are needed regularly. Try not to disturb them during their first month in the tank.

They are happy with conventional aquarium lamp lighting. It should be on for at least eight hours a day.

Tank Size

The Bala Shark is a large fish. The minimum tank size for a Bala Shark is 150 gallons, since you want to maintain a small school of them. Assume 45 gallons per fish as a minimum, though more is better.

Longer tanks are recommended because of how much they swim. If you live in a warm climate, then they could be kept in an outdoor pond. However, the pond should never get cold or the fish will die. Don’t put fake reefs or knickknacks in the tank. Anything that interferes with their ability to freely swim will increase their aggression level.

Tank Mates

These fish are relatively peaceful. They’ll tolerate almost all other small fish as long as it isn’t small enough for them to eat. Note that they will be attracted to small sleek fish like the neon tetra and try to eat them. Don’t put them in a tank with invertebrates like shrimp and snails; the bala shark will try to eat them.

They will get along with rainbow fish, gourami, char and corydoras. They can share a fish tank with large cyprinids. However, you should introduce the bala sharks, let them settle in, and then add the other cyprinids to minimize aggression.

These fish are shoaling fish; they want to swim in groups for their safety. It is advisable to have at least four in the same tank. The ideal grouping is six. If they don’t have others of their species around, they become more skittish.

If there are only two or three in the tank, a dominant fish will emerge and bully the others. These are active fish. They may stress slow moving and shy fish. They should not share a tank with carnivorous species like large cichlids.

Breeding and Egg Laying

The Bala shark is an egg layer. However, they won’t breed in a home aquarium. Ironically, they’ve been so popular with the pet trade that almost none of the ones you buy are from the wild. Instead, they’re bred in fish farms.

Bala sharks shouldn’t be kept in a tank with other breeding fish. They’ll try to eat the fry.