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Bala Shark

Scientific Name: Balantiocheilos melanopterus
Family: Cyprinidae

About the Bala Shark

Species Type: Freshwater Fish
Category: Cyprinids

Care Level: Moderate. May tolerate only a narrow range of water parameters, have specific dietary requirements including frozen or even live foods, may have behaviors that severely limit potential tankmates or may require a specialized aquarium setup.

Origin: Borneo, Sumatra and Malay Peninsula [see comments under Description]. Found at midwater depths in rivers (primarily) and lakes. The species is declining in several systems and is now gone from some. Since 1996 it has been listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Available hobby fish are most likely to be commercially raised in SE Asia.

Compatibility/Temperament: Peaceful for its size, but not a normal community fish. Other fish must be large enough not to be eaten, and able to tolerate this fish's very active swimming. This is a shoaling species with a pronounced social structure within the group, and must be maintained in groups of at least five fish. Fewer will result in aggression to the point of death of subordinate fish, and/or aggression toward other species in the tank.

Description

Bala sharks are very easy to keep, but as noted under Compatibility they are not suitable home aquarium fish unless the aquarist has a sufficiently-sized tank to house a group of these very active fish. Plants (except for a few like Java Fern) will be eaten. The aquarium must be well covered as this fish is an excellent jumper and can easily jump when frightened.

This species is frequently available in stores as juvenile fish with no warning as to the size it will attain. It is seen under the common name Silver Shark in the UK, and sometimes Tricolour Shark and Bala or Tricolour sharkminnow. It can live up to six years in suitable aquaria.

This fish was first described by P. Bleeker in 1851 and named Barbus melanopterus. It was reassigned to the genus Balantiocheilos erected by Bleeker in 1860. Its range was believed to extend throughout Indochina including Thailand. The genus Balantiocheilos was considered to be monotypic [having just the one type species]. In 2007, Ng & Kottelat described a second species, B. ambusticauda, from specimens thought to be conspecific with B. melanopterus that had been previously collected and comparing them with wild fish. The "new" species is believed to have occurred in the Chao Phraya and Mekong systems in Thailand, and it appeared in Rainboth's book (1996) from that locality although mistakenly assumed to be B. melanopterus. The last known fish collected from Thailand was in 1986, and Ng and Kottelat assume the species B. ambusticauda is now extinct.

Aside from internal differences, externally B. ambusticauda is/was shorter (8 inches compared to 15 inches), possesses narrower black margins on the anal and pelvic fins, and has a shorter snout.

References:

Ng, Heok Hee and Kottelat, Maurice (2007), "Balantiocheilos ambusticauda, a new and possibly extinct species of cyprinid fish from Indochina (Cypriniformes: Cyprinidae)," Zootaxa No. 1463, pp. 13-20.

Rainboth, W.J. (1996), "Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong."

Bala Shark Diet

Bala sharks are omnivorous; wild fish eat insects, crustaceans, algae, plant matter. It will eagerly consume most any prepared food offered, which should be supplemented with frozen and live foods; larger fish will appreciate earthworms, insects, shrimp, prawns. Some vegetable component to the diet is recommended, such as peas, spinach, chopped fruit.

Size

Capable of attaining 14 inches in the aquarium; some sources suggest closer to 16 inches.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

A 6-foot tank is suggested by some sources but given the size of this fish and its shoaling nature an 8-foot tank is preferable.

Ideal water parameters for Bala Shark

Soft to moderately hard (< 15 dGH) slightly acidic to slightly basic (pH 6 to 8, around 7 preferred) water, temperature 22-28C/72-82F.

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