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
our silver sharks never bred but our catfish sucking loaches did. we found the all over the floor of the tank and it looked like they had been alive quite a while  Anonymous

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." This fish's name is derived solely from its rigid, upright triangular dorsal fin and torpedo-shaped body, which make it superficially resemble that ferocious and predatory ocean fish.

The Bala Shark is not really a shark at all. Although they look imposing, especially as they grow rather large, they do not tend to be aggressive. They make a good community fish with other peaceful tankmates and can even be kept with smaller fish as long as the little ones are too big to fit in the Bala Shark's mouth. They are quite hardy and easy to feed. The Bala Shark is a good choice for an intermediate fish keeper who can provide them with the right environment.

Though these fish have a gentle disposition, they are quite large. In the wild, they can grow to a length of almost 14 inches (35 cm) though they are a bit smaller in the aquarium where they usually reach about 10 to 12 Inches. They enjoy the company of a few of their own kind and should be kept in groups of at least 5. These shoaling fish will naturally form a hierarchy and establish a pecking order. If fewer than 5 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 tankmates.

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. Juveniles will need a tank of at least 70 gallons, and fully grown adults will require 150 gallons or more. The aquarium must be covered as they are high-strung and excitable, with a tendency to jump. Water should be changed regularly to maintain top quality, and as they are river fish, they need good water movement as well.

These fish aren't too concerned about the decor, but are very interested in swimming space. 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

  • 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). Their numbers have been dwindling, and they are becoming rare or extinct in many areas for no known reason. No evidence has confirmed reports of over-fishing for the aquarium trade, so the depletion seems more likely 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 body and big eyes, presumably adapted to help it find food. Its dorsal fin is triangular and erect, making it resemble a shark.

These large fish reach lengths of almost 14 inches (35 cm) in the wild, though generally only grow to about 10 to 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, 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 in the front and central part of the fin. Each of these fins is also edged with a black margin at the rear.

  • Size of fish - inches: 13.8 inches (35.00 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years - They 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 take care not to overfeed. 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 need for the companionship of its own kind. Bala Sharks should be kept in groups of 5 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 every day, 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 additional types of protein like chopped earthworms, prawns, and mussels. These fish will do best when offered food 2 or 3 times a day. Provide only what they can eat in 3 minutes or less at each feeding. If feeding 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 water hardness increases due to evaporation. Replace 25 to 50% of the tank water at least once a month. If the tank is densely stocked, 20 to 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, 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 bear in mind that a much larger tank will be needed. Because they are very active swimmers, it is advisable to keep adults in a tank that is at least 72 inches long and ideally 150 or more gallons.

The tank needs to have a good filtration system and plenty of 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. 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, it is not aggressive. This good community fish 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.

Bala Sharks are 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. 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 tankmates 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 size and temperament, and 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 egg scatterers. 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. For a general description of breeding cyprinids, see Breeding Freshwater Fish: Cyprinids.

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

Fish Diseases

Bala Sharks are extremely hardy, and disease is not usually a problem in a well-maintained aquarium. They are susceptible to Ich if good water quality is not provided. Remember that any additions to a tank, such as new fish, plants, substrates, and decorations can introduce disease. Properly clean or quarantine anything that you want add to an established tank 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 dealt with 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 more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.


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


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

Anonymous - 2018-05-03
our silver sharks never bred but our catfish sucking loaches did. we found the all over the floor of the tank and it looked like they had been alive quite a while

  • Anonymous - 2018-05-03
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: