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Are Bala Sharks Aggressive?

The Bala or tricolor shark is a type of minnow native to the Borneo rivers systems in southeast Asia. Overfishing and natural disasters (wildfires destroying flowing waters) have rendered this species endangered. Yet, despite their conservation status, bala sharks remain popular among hobbyists in the aquarium trade. If you’re interested in keeping bala sharks, you may be wondering if they’re aggressive?

Affectionately referred to as ‘the gentle giant’, the bala shark, despite its larger size, has an easygoing and peaceful temperament, however the fish can be aggressive. It may, eat smaller fish in a community tank environment. Since it gets along well with most types of aquarium fish, the bala shark makes a great addition to almost any freshwater tank.

Now that you know bala sharks aren’t hostile in nature, let’s dive deeper into this topic. Together we’ll learn what bala sharks eat, if they’re fin nippers, and what species make the best tank mates. We’ll also discover how big they get, what size aquarium they need, what water conditions they prefer, how many can be kept together, and what circumstances increase aggression.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about bala sharks, especially their behavior in captivity and how to prevent them from becoming aggressive, then let’s get to it!

Do Bala Sharks Eat Other Fish?

Bala sharks may eat other smaller fish in an aqaurium – especially those that’re smooth, sleek, and can fit easily into their mouths. Since this species is omnivorous in nature, it’ll feast on both plant- and meat-based foods in a captive aquatic environment. Not picky, bala sharks will accept almost anything edible that’s offered to them, including live and frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp, flake foods, and pellets.

What Fish are Compatible with Bala Sharks?

Due to their friendly and peaceful demeanor, bala sharks get along well with a variety of freshwater fish species – knifefish, barbs, swordtails, loaches, and plecos just to name a few. Be aware, however, that bala sharks may eat tiny tankmates like guppies and tetras if they’re underfed. For this reason, you must ensure the aquarium has plenty of hiding places for smaller fish.

What Fish Aren’t Compatible with Bala Sharks?

Hostile species of fish like African cichlids (Oscars and red devils, for example) shouldn’t be kept with bala sharks. Despite their large size, bala sharks are often shy and timid when kept in a community tank with other big fish. Angelfish and other types of ‘peaceful’ South American chiclids like rainbowfish, keyholes, and discus fish make much better choices.

What Increases Bala Shark Aggression in Captivity?

As with most types of peaceful aquarium fish, some circumstances will trigger unusual aggressive behavior. In the case of bala sharks, illness and stress are the two main culprits. ‘Dropsy’ and ‘ich’ are common ailments and should be monitored. Treating these bacterial infections quickly and effectively is of the utmost importance.

Stress is another common cause of bala shark aggression in captivity. If the tank is too small or overcrowded, bala sharks may become anxious. Hostility towards other is likely if they feel threatened or unsafe in their aquatic surroundings. To circumvent this, ensure the tank is large enough for balas to claim their own territory. As well, have plenty hiding places for them to retreat to, if necessary.

school of bala sharks

Are Bala Sharks Good Community Fish?

In General, bala sharks make great community tank fish. Their easygoing nature and tendency to keep to their groups make them the perfect addition to just about any freshwater aquarium. That said, if alone, stressed, or ill, they may become aggressive. As well, they tend to be frisky and active in nature, which may frighten smaller or timid fish.

Are Bala Sharks Fin Nippers?

Bala sharks aren’t fin nippers and more likely to be on the receiving (rather than initiating) end of this aggressive act. They’re often pushovers in a community tank environment with larger, more hostile fish which can make them the targets of bullying behaviors. As well, bala sharks don’t have sharp teeth with which to bite, Instead, they have a sucker-type mouth that extends out and siphons food in.

How Long do Bala Sharks Get?

Full-grown bala sharks can reach lengths of up to 14 inches in the wild! However, in captivity they often grow to fit their environment and usually don’t surpass 10 to 12 inches. Juveniles grow quickly – 2 to 4 inches in as little as a month – so they need a large tank right from the get-go! Since most bala sharks are farm-raised rather than wild-caught, they’re usually smaller (3 to 4 inches when first purchased).

What Size Tank do Bala Sharks Need?

Bala sharks are big by aquarium fish standards and therefore, need an extra-large tank – 100 gallons per fish and 50 gallons for each addition fish! As this species thrives in small groups of at least 3 (1 male and 2 females, if possible), you’ll need a 200-gallon tank. Bala sharks are active and exploratory so they need as much aquatic space as you can provide. A lid is also recommended as this species likes to ‘jump’.

Bala sharks are active and like to swim about freely. Therefore, a tank with plenty of open space in the middle is preferable. They also like to explore their surroundings so ensure the aquarium has enough plants, rocks, and other decorations for them to swim over and through. These additions also provide cover and act as places of refuge.

What Water Conditions are Best for Bala Sharks?

If the water parameters are ‘off’, bala sharks may become anxious, which can then lead to hostility. As a type of tropical freshwater fish, they need a warmer aquatic environment with a temperature of 72- to 82-degrees Fahrenheit. The pH level should range between 6 and 8 with a soft to medium hardness factor of 5 to 12.

Certain equipment is also required to maintain the ideal water conditions for this species. A light, heater and filter are all necessary. Since bala sharks are river fish, they prefer a stronger current so be sure to purchase a powerful filter that can keep the water both well oxygenated and moving at a steady pace. A basic freshwater lamp turned on for 8 hours a day is all you need to keep balas happy and content!

large bala shark

How Many Bala Sharks can be Kept Together?

Bala sharks should be kept together in small groups of 3 to 5. When alone in a community tank environment, they may become anxious and even hostile – especially when kept with other bigger, more aggressive fish. For balas to thrive in captivity, they need the company of others of their kind. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommended keeping just one at any time since they’re a type of schooling fish.


To conclude, bala sharks are often referred to as ‘gentle giants’ by many freshwater aquarium hobbyists because of their peaceful demeanor and easy-going nature. Despite their larger size, bala sharks make great tankmates for many different species of freshwater aquarium fish. When kept together in small groups (rather than alone), they’re much more likely to remain calm and content in captivity.

I trust this article has been of help to you and answered your questions regarding bala shark behavior and temperament in captivity. Thanks for reading and good luck with your freshwater aquarium hobby!

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