Bala Shark

Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark, Shark Minnow, Bala Sharkminnow

Family: Cyprinidae Bala Shark, Balantiocheilus melanopterus, Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark, Shark MinnowBalantiocheilus melanopterusPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy David Brough
Latest Reader Comment - See More
Hi, I have 11 bala sharks and they are doing really well, even the youngsters are growing. My question is, how long are they pregnant for, as I cant seem to get any... (more)  wendycats2003

The very popular Bala Shark has a perfectly sweet disposition and peacefully goes about minding its own business!

The Bala Shark Balantiocheilus melanopterus is also called the Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark, or Shark Minnow. But don't be fooled by the word "shark" in its names. The term "shark" is derived from its appearance. It has a rigid upright triangular dorsal fin and a torpedo shaped body which superficially resemble that of the ferocious and predatory ocean fish.

But this fish is not really a shark at all. Although they look imposing, especially since they can get rather large, they do not tend to be aggressive. They can make a good community fish with other peaceful tankmates. They can even be kept with smaller fish as long as the little ones are too big to fit in the sharks mouth. They are quite hardy and easy to feed. They can be kept by an intermediate fish keeper that is willing to provide them with the right environment.

Though these fish have a gentle disposition, they are large fish. They can grow to a length of almost 14 inches (35 cm) in the wild. In the aquarium they are a bit smaller, usually reaching about 10 - 12 Inches. They enjoy the company of a few of their same kind and should be kept in groups of at least five. These are shoaling fish that naturally form a hierarchy and establish a pecking order. If fewer than five are kept or they are kept as a pair, the less dominant fish may be bullied incessantly. If kept singly they can become aggressive with other tank mates.

They are lively, but skittish, and need lots of swimming space. Due to their size and need for companionship, they will also need a very large aquarium. As juveniles a 70 gallon aquarium is minimum, but when they reach their full adult size a 150 gallons or more will need to be provided. The aquarium must be covered as they are high strung and excitable with a tendency to jump. The quality of the water needs to be kept in top condition with regular changes, and as they are river fish, good water movement is needed as well.

These fish aren't too concerned about the decor, rather they are more interested in swimming space. But a spectacular show aquarium can be achieved by placing plants around the inside edges of the perimeter and adding a few pieces of driftwood. One of the benefits of keeping these fish is they will constantly browse along the substrate looking for food items, which helps keep the aquarium clean. Though they pick up leftover foods from the bottom of the aquarium, they do so daintily with very little disturbance to the substrate or the plants. They have also been known to make audible sounds.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Geographic Distribution
Balantiocheilus melanopterus
Data provided by
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Genus: Balantiocheilus
  • Species: melanopterus
Bala Shark Aquarium

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Some very pretty Bala Sharks in a very nice aquarium.

Bala Shark - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish - inches: 13.8 inches (35.00 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 150 gal (568 L)
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Bala Shark Balantiocheilus melanopterus (previously Barbus melanopterus) was described by Bleeker in 1851. They are found in Southeast Asia in Sumatra and Borneo, and possibly the Malayan Peninsula. They have previously been described in most published literature as being found in the Chao Phraya basin in Thailand as well as the Mekong Basin. However in 2007, Ng and Kottelat published a work confirming that they do not occur in the Indochina regions. Other common names they are known by include Silver Shark, Tricolor Shark, Shark Minnow, Bala Sharkminnow, Tricolor Shark Minnow, and Tri-colored Shark.

This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Endangered (EN). The numbers of fish have been dwindling, and they are becoming rare or extinct in many areas for no known reason. There is no evidence to confirm reports of over fishing for the aquarium trade and it seems more likely to be due to pollution and deforestation. This species is ill-equipped to cope with large-scale environmental changes such as the damming of rivers. Fish available to the aquarium trade are exported from Indonesia and Thailand and all (100%) are captive bred. This is done through commercial breeding projects where they are farmed for the trade in large numbers, via the use of hormones.

The natural habitats for these fish are large and medium sized rivers as well as natural lakes, like the Danau Sentarum lake system of Borneo. These fish are a pelagic species, meaning they inhabit midwater levels rather than the top or bottom areas of waterways. They feed primarily on small crustaceans, rotifers (microscopic aquatic animals), insects and insect larvae as well as algae, phytoplankton (microalgae), and other plant matter.

  • Scientific Name: Balantiocheilus melanopterus
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: EN - Endangered


This is a freshwater fish and not a shark at all, though its form bears a resemblance to the voracious ocean predators.

Bala Shark or Silver Shark Bala Shark Photo © Animal-World:
Courtesy Pavaphon Supanantananont

The Bala Shark has an elongated, torpedo-shaped bodyand  big eyes, presumably adapted to help it find food. It has a dorsal fin that is triangular and erect, which has given rise the name 'shark'.

These are large fish reaching lengths of almost 14 inches (35 cm) in the wild, though generally only growing to about 10 - 12 inches in the aquarium.They can live for 10 or more years in captivity with proper care.

The B. melanopterus has an attractive silver color, slightly darker towards the top and lighter towards the underbelly, and with a slightly golden sheen to the sides. The dorsal, caudal, anal, and pelvic fins as well as the tail fin have a white or golden area to the front and centrally. Each of these fins are also edged with a black margin at the rear.

  • Size of fish - inches: 13.8 inches (35.00 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years - hey have an average lifespan of 10 years or more with proper care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This fish is very hardy and does fine under normal water conditions as long as regular maintenance is preformed. They are extremely easy to feed and will take a wide variety of foods. They will overeat so care does have to be taken not to over feed. The biggest issue with keeping this fish is its potential size. They get very large, and though they grow slowly, upgrading the size of the tank will be necessary as this fish matures.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy - This fish is very hardy but requires a huge tank due to its size and the need to keep a group of five or more.
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate

Foods and Feeding

These fish are omnivorous feeding mostly on a crustaceans, insects, insect larvae, algae and other plants in the wild. In the aquarium they will eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food everyday and feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat.

They like mosquito larvae, daphnia, and vegetable foods. Some good vegetable supplements included shelled peas, blanched spinach and chopped fruits. Large specimens will enjoy larger types of protein like chopped earthworms, prawns, and mussels. These fish will do best when offered food 2 or 3 times a day, providing only what they can eat in 3 minutes or less at each feeding. If you feed only once per day, provide what they can eat in about 5 minutes

  • Diet Type: Omnivore
  • Flake Food: Yes
  • Tablet / Pellet: Yes
  • Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
  • Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
  • Meaty Food: Some of Diet
  • Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day - Offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less with multiple feedings per day.

Aquarium Care

These fish are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. Aquariums are closed systems and regardless of size all need some maintenance. Over time decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. Replace 25 - 50% of the tank water at least once a month. If the tank is densely stocked 20 - 25% should be replaced weekly or every other week.

During water changes a vacuum siphon can be used to clean the substrate of any excess foods and other waste. This fish will pick at algae on the decor but an algae scraper for the viewing panes will still be needed.

  • Water Changes: Monthly - It the tank is densely stocked the water changes should be done every other week.

Aquarium Setup

Bala Sharks are big, active, shoaling fish that will spend time in all regions of the tank, particularly in open water. It is best to set up a suitable environment before purchasing this species. For juveniles start with a tank that is at least 30 inches long and no less than thirty gallons in capacity, but eventually a much larger tank will be needed. Because they are very active swimmers it is advisable to keep adults in a tank that's at least 72 inches long and ideally 150 or more gallons.

The tank needs to have a good filtration system and have plenty water movement to keep it well oxygenated. A large canister can help keep the water pristine and provide some current. Powerheads can also be used to provide water movement. Additionally the tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity.

These fish aren't really too concerned about the decor. An aquarium best suited to this fish would be large and roomy. However for an effective display place some plants around the inside edges of the perimeter and use wood for the decor. A dark background and dark substrate can help bring out their colors and make the fish more secure.

  • Minimum Tank Size: 150 gal (568 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 82.0° F (22.2 to 27.8° C)
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.8
  • Hardness Range: 2 - 10 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All - These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium.

Social Behaviors

The Bala Shark is not really a shark at all. Though it looks imposing, especially since it can get quite large, but it is not aggressive. This is usually a good community fish that will not prey upon smaller fish as long as the tankmates are too large to fit in its mouth. It will get along with its own kind and most other species.

Lively and fun to watch, but skittish. They are best kept in a shoal of 5 or more of their own kind. Groups of this fish can be hierarchal and a pecking order will emerge. However if fewer are kept, or if they are kept as a pair, the sub-dominant fish may get bullied incessantly. If they are kept singly they can become aggressive with other tank mates as they mature.

Although these fish are not aggressive they do tend to make other community fish stressed because of their large size and swimming style. Select tank mates that are similar in temperament. You want tankmates that can keep up with the fast paced lifestyle of this fish. Mellower tankmates that need a calmer environment can become stressed.

  • Venomous: No
  • Temperament: Peaceful - This fish is peaceful and gregarious and combines well with fish of a similar temperament.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species - conspecifics: Yes - They should be kept in groups of at least 5 individuals.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Aggressive (): Threat
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Safe
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
    • Plants: Safe

Sex: Sexual differences

During spawning the females are noticeably thicker-bodied than males but it is impossible to accurately sex young fish.

Breeding / Reproduction

Little is known about the breeding habits of the Bala Shark, though they are an egg scatterer. They have been reported to have bred in the aquarium, but are not yet bred commercially. These fish are farmed in great numbers in Thailand and other countries with the use of hormones. See the description of breeding of cyprinids in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cyprinids.

  • Ease of Breeding: Unknown - This fish has been known to breed in the home aquarium that but is generally accidentally.

Fish Diseases

Bala Sharks are extremely hardy and disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. They are primarily susceptible to Ich if good water quality is not provided. With any additions to a tank such as new fish, plants, substrates, and decorations there is a risk of introducing disease. It's advisable to properly clean or quarantine anything that you want add to an established tank prior to introduction, so as not to upset the balance.

These fish are very resilient but knowing the signs of illness, and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. An outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your fish the proper environment and a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


The Bala Shark is very popular and readily available in pet stores and online, and are moderately inexpensive.


Author: David Brough CFS, Clarice Brough CFS
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Lastest Animal Stories on Bala Shark

wendycats2003 - 2009-09-29
Hi, I have 11 bala sharks and they are doing really well, even the youngsters are growing. My question is, how long are they pregnant for, as I cant seem to get any answers. In my local pet shops, you can buy them on a regular basis. I go to a person who knows his tropical/cold/marine fish very well. Some pet shops will just sell you anything, but after contacting the right people I now know who to go to.

  • Carol - 2011-01-02
    I hope you have a fish tank as big as sea worlds if you have 11 of them. They are wonderful fish but not for most home fish tanks due to their size. A tank of 12" fish had better be a super-sized one.

    They do not breed in captivity.
  • Melanie - 2015-06-04
    They are egg layers.It's rare for them to spawn in your tank.I've had one lay eggs in the gravel of my tank once.She lost a lot of her scales and nothing came of it.
Knife Fish Lover - 2014-11-01
I think there might be something wrong with my female rainbow shark,i got her at walmart (she was '.50') in early 2014,she hid a lot when i added her,but for 6 months she was active and swimming (after being added to my 35 gallon),but now she hides in my sunken submarine all the time ,please help!

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-11-02
    Sounds like it is stressed. These are skittish fish, and they get big... quickly. It may be that the 35 gallon aquarium is now too small for it, also check for tankmates that may be overly active or aggressive.
  • Knife Fish Lover - 2014-11-02
    Should i move her to my 55?
  • Clarice Brough - 2014-11-03
    Couldn't hurt.
deena francy - 2014-07-21
i hav a pair of bala sharks.1 of them is showing a red colouration on base of all fins.but its active and takin food as usual.all other fishes r well.wat might hav happened to my bala? cant stand by seein him like this

  • Clarice Brough - 2014-07-22
    It sounds like a bacterial disease, probably what is known as 'Red Pest'. The fish can be treated with an antibiotic in its food. You can learn more about it on the Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments page here:
justin - 2011-01-15
I have a 60-gallon tank, and at Petsmart the people say these things get 14 inches! Is this true? Will I need to get more than one?

  • nm123 - 2011-11-06
    No they aren't schooling fish they get about that size maybe smaller in aquarium though.
  • Justin - 2013-08-06
    Okay, what you really need is a large tank setup. They can't live well on their own.They need to be in schools of three to five for maximum mental health.
  • Zack Bradford - 2013-12-16
    Yea, they definitely need to be in odd groups. They won't make it to 14 in your tank, I had a 55 and there just wasn't enough space for them, sorry to say but you'll be lucky if they make it to about 8 inches. I only say that because your tank mates will have a big play on them, say you have a fish like barbs for example. The bala will get skittish and will jolt into the glass and continue to knock itself out. But cool fish give the tank character and you'll definitely need a bigger tank if you want them to thrive not just survive. Feel free to ask about other fish as well if idk I wont bs ya.