Bala Sharks: Characteristics, information, breeding and more

The bala sharks, silver sharks or tricolor silver sharks (Balantiocheilus melanopterus) belong to the Cyprinidae family. Join us to learn everything about them.

This species is not a real shark, but it´s commonly called that because of its torpedo shaped body  and large fins.


Class: Actinopterygii Order: Cypriniformes Family: Cyprinidae  Subfamily: Barbinae Genus: Balantiocheilos  Species: B. melanopterus

Bala Sharks’ Main Characteristics

The bala sharks’  body is elongated with a dorsal fin similar to that of sharks, this being the main reason of their name. In addition, their body is silver-colored with black stripes at the end of their fins. Their head is pointed and the caudal fin bifurcated. The bala shark males are a little bigger than the females. We invite you to read our article the anatomy of fish, to learn more about such topic.


In their natural habitat the bala shark measure up to 40cm in length, but the specimens that are in aquariums seldom exceed 20cm due to the limitations of the space.

Bala Sharks Feeding Habits

These fish are omnivores and in their natural habitat they feed on phytoplankton, small crustaceans, insects and their larvae. Specimens in captivity can be given dry and frozen food. However, it´s not recommended to feed them with blood worms, since their stomach may fail to digest its chitinous shell, causing damage to bala sharks’ digestive system.

Neither it is advisable to give them the same type of food all the time, since they are very greedy, so sometimes you should organize some days of starvation.

Let´s watch them

What do you need to Breed Bala Sharks?

The process of raising bala sharks in captivity is quite complicated and requires providing them a hormone treatment. For this reason, it should be left to expert hands. However, if you dare to try it here we leave you some very good advice.

Raising Bala Sharks

Bala sharks don´t reach sexual maturity until they measure between 10 and 15 cm in size. It’s also good to know that it is very difficult to distinguish between a male and a female, so it´s a good idea to buy five or six specimens at the pet store and observe them for signs of mating.

Male silver sharks tend to grow a little more than females, which have a slightly more rounded belly. However, identifying a female of a male will require time and practice, so resorting to the criteria of professionals or experienced breeders at the time of acquiring them is a good option.

bala sharks: male bala shark

When making preparations for breeding, we must procure 55 gallons of water separately, or get a much larger aquarium. The water temperature should range between 22ºC and 27ºC. It´s also very important not to fill our aquarium with excessive vegetation, but to place a little on the outside of the tank and in the middle, to provide hiding places for the fish, in addition to providing free space for swimming.

If your intention is to use a tank to raise the fry, it will be convenient to keep the bottom free, since in this way it will be much easier to clean and locate the young. To keep the water clean in our aquarium, we must install a sponge filter in one corner of the tank. This type of filter provides basic mechanical filtration and even biological filtration, without creating excessive suction that could endanger the fry.

Bala Shark Reproductive Process

The male and female of this species usually perform a kind of «dance», although it hasn´t been scientifically proven that it is related with the mating process. Rather, this «dance» seems to be related to the imminent production of eggs. After this phenomenon, the female spreads her eggs around the tank so that the male can fertilize them.

To facilitate this type of external fertilization, it´s   important to have an adequate filtration in our aquarium, so that we provide a  water current capable of spreading the male´s sperm towards the eggs deposited by the female. Once the eggs have been established and fertilized, the male and female stop paying attention to them. It´s  also  good to know that bala sharks are prone to devour newborn eggs and fry, so it will be necessary to place them in another tank.

After the hatching, we must feed the fry with a varied diet of foods, such as nauplii (brine shrimp)and special food for juvenile fish. In this way, our fry will grow very fast, so we will have to separate them in several tanks where they can have enough space to develop. In addition, it´s also a good practice to feed them with small amounts, of food several times a day, instead of a large amount only once or twice.

If we feed the fish with an exaggerated amount, the remains of food could reach the bottom of the aquarium, accumulate, and over time lead to a decrease in system’s life quality.

Let´s watch and learn

Bala Sharks’ Habitat and Distribution.

The silver sharks, as they are also known, inhabit the depths of rivers and lakes.  They feed on phytoplankton, small crustaceans, rotifers and insects and their larvae.


They are native to the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo. The earlier records further north on the Mekong River and Chao Phraya are due to confusion with the recently described and possibly extinct B. Ambusticauda.

Bala Sharks’ Characteristic Behavior

These fish are characterized by being peaceful and quite active. They tend to wander the aquarium’s middle level. Moreover, due to their big size , they don’t usually have them in groups and that’s what they really need. They need a lot of space to move around and in a small aquarium they can become restless and aggressive.

Let´s watch them

Aquarium and Water Treatment

Bala sharks are active fish that like to swim in any part of the aquarium. Thus, it´s very important to have an elongated fish tank of a minimum of 1000 liters capacity in order to keep them in groups. It´s   also very important that the aquarium has good lighting, plants and a good substrate. Since they are active and good swimmers, it´s   necessary to have enough space for them to wander loosely.

Water parameters

O Temperature: 22-28 º C

O Acidity: PH 6-8

O Hardness: 5 º dGH


Bala Sharks and Other Fish

Bala sharks are quite tolerant of their tank mates, as long as they have the proper space. Take always into account the size of an adult specimen because even though they are not predators they could eat their smaller tank mates. So, it´s not a good idea to keep the Tricolor sharks along with the tetra Neon, the Harlequin Rasbora, the Guppy and other small fish.

As for their adaptation to life in aquariums, it seldom takes more than a month. As we have already mentioned, large and small fish can be tank mates of the bala sharks; only avoid very small fish, juveniles, large cichlids species such as blue dempsey, land-dependent fish and slow fish.

Are Bala Sharks Endangered?

This species is in danger of extinction since its population has decreased by 50% in the last 10 years. In recent decades some species of bala sharks have declined by 90 percent and in others, populations have been reduced by 70 percent. The hunting of these fish mainly for use in aquariums, the disinformation about them and their slow reproduction rate, are the factors that have affected the most in this situation.

If the rate of extinction increases considerably, perhaps in a few years the lakes and rivers will be deserted of these beautiful fish that are already classified as threatened in the IUCN Red List.

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