The Bala shark, Balantiocheilos melanopterus, is also known as Silver shark, Tricolor Shark and Tricolor sharkminnow. It is a freshwater species, with a maximum size of 14-16", and it is commonly kept in larger aquariums. The male Bala sharks grow larger than the females. The Bala shark is not really a shark; it is a bony fish and belongs to the class Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes), the order Cypriniformes (carps) and the family Cyprinidae. The Bala shark is called shark due to its sleek and shark-like body shape. The Cyprinidae family includes several well known fish groups such as carps, danios, barbs and minnows.
The Bala shark has a silver coloured body and black margins on its dorsal, caudal, anal and pelvic fins. The body shape is slender and convex, and the dorsal fin is shaped like a triangle. The mouth is somewhat downfacing and without barbles.
Wild Bala shark is found in Asia; in the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins, around the Malay Peninsula and in the waters surrounding Borneo and Sumatra. It inhabits the midwater regions of large and moderately sized lakes and rivers. It is considered endangered and is almost extinct in many Asian river basins. The minimum population doubling time for the Bala shark is 1.4 - 4.4 years.
The Bala shark is a popular aquarium fish and is easy to keep in captivity. It is hardy and tough and will not require a lot of pampering from its keeper. The Bala shark is also appreciated for its beautiful silvery colouration. Unfortunately it can grow too big for many home aquariums. It is frequently sold as a small juvenile in pet shops and many buyers do not realise exactly how large this fish can grow and how large the aquarium must be. It is a docile species and will rarely show any aggressive behaviour. Even fish that is smaller than the Bala shark will usually be safe in the aquarium, and the Bala sharks are therefore often kept with small tetras and similar. Even though the Bala shark is docile and non-aggressive, it is seldom bullied by other fish in a community aquarium since the Bala shark is large and also very swift. It is recommended to keep a group of at least five individuals. Several Bala sharks will stay together and feel much safer in the aquarium. A single Bala shark can become stressed and nervous and hide a lot. It might also uproot plants and gravel.
A Bala shark will usually require at least a 48 inches aquarium to do well. Use live plants when you decorate the aquarium, but leave larger areas open for swimming. Try to resemble its natural habitat when you decorate the aquarium since this makes the fish feel more secure. Wild Bala sharks are found in streams and rivers in Southeast Asia, where aquatic plants provide shelters and hiding spots. The Bala shark is a very energetic fish and you will see it swimming around in all areas of the aquarium. It will also carefully search the bottom substrate, looking for lost pieces of food from earlier feeding. The aquarium must be safely covered since the Bala shark is a very strong jumper. When placed in a new aquarium it might take a few days until the Bala sharks feel comfortable in their new home. During this time there is an even greater risk of them trying to escape the aquarium by jumping out of it. Keep the water temperatures in the 72ºF to 84ºF (22-29°C) range. The pH should be neutral or slightly alkaline; a pH value between 5.8 and 7.8 is recommended. The Bala shark will do best in soft or medium hard water with a dH in the 5.0 to 15.0 range.
The Bala shark will happily eat almost anything you feed it and will readily accept flake foods. Its natural diet consists of phytoplankton, rotifers, insects, insect larvae and tiny crustaceans and it will appreciate live foods. The Bala shark is an omnivorous species and will eat meaty foods as well as algae and vegetables. It is a scavenger and will carefully look for any left over food from earlier feedings in the aquarium. The Bala shark will also help keeping algae growth under control.
There are reports of Bala sharks spawning in aquariums and they are frequently bred by professional breeders in Asia. Bala sharks are egg scatterers and uses external fertilization. They do not guard their eggs or fry. In the wild, Bala sharks migrate to special breeding ground to engage in mass spawning. A Bala shark will become sexually mature when it is between 10 and 15 cm long.
Bala sharks will often function as “parrots” in the aquarium since they can warm you about an outbreak of Ich. If the Bala shark tries to peel of its scales against rocks and other aquarium decoration, an outbreak of Ich will most likely soon take place in the aquarium. Start treating all your fish with Ich medication as soon as you notice this behaviour. This way you will be able to kill of the Ich parasites before things escalate further.
The Bala shark's popularity as an aquarium fish has unfortunately lead to severe over fishing in some areas of the world. Many collectors have an extremely high mortality rate among their catch, which makes them capture even more individuals. Since the Bala shark is a relatively short lived species, large amounts of Bala sharks have to be collected to satisfy the market. Some collectors began to collect breeding individuals from the breeding grounds before the mature Bala sharks had a chance to produce offspring, which naturally resulted in a severe decrease of wild Bala sharks after just a few years. Fortunately enough, the Bala shark has got a second chance. While the wild populations become nearly extinct in several parts of Asia, the populations in Thailand were still large and thriving. Several breeders managed to successfully breed Bala sharks in captivity and today a majority of the Bala sharks found in pet shops are cultured fish.
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