Bala Shark - Proper Care, Feeding, Breeding and Diseases
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Bala sharks have proven to be extremely popular in the aquarium hobby and this popularity has stood the test of time over the years but sadly this fish is often kept in conditions that are not suitable for their long term health and hopefully the article below will help to clear any misunderstandings that many keepers do have as to how to keep these wonderful fish in their optimum condition.
The Bala shark is also commonly known as the silver shark but is no relation to the sharks that we all know, in fact the Bala is a member of the Cyprinid family and has the Latin name of Balantiocheilos melanopterus, always useful to know to ensure that the fish you purchase are the fish that you receive, common names can sometimes cover several species and cannot always be relied on.
This fish gets its common name from the silvery colouration that it displays and the shark like features of its head and face, especially the large eyes and shark-like mouth, but unlike sharks they are a very peaceful species but can be very timid if kept with incorrect tank mates. Their fins display a wonderful colouration finishing with black banding on the outer edge of the fins, it is this colouration that can also give them another common name of Tri-colour shark.
Setting up the aquarium for the Bala Shark
They originate from Asia, namely Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo which means that they can tolerate the lower temperature range in the aquarium, having said that they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures ranging from 22°C (71.6°F) right up to 28°C (82°F) but they do demand a high water quality, adding the Bala shark to a tank that has not been cycled is not a good idea so it is best to set up your display tank, get it cycled and run for a couple of months before adding the Bala shark so that the water is stable and no fluctuations are likely to occur.
These fish are often sold as juveniles in the aquatic stores so they can be added to a smaller aquarium initially but you must be prepared to upgrade to a larger tank as they mature as they will grow in size, adult specimens can reach a length of up to 14 inches (35 cm) so when juveniles a 50 gallon tank (227 litres, 60 US gallons) will suffice but as adults they need to be kept in an aquarium that can hold at least 125 gallons (570 litres, 150 US gallons). Size is not the only issue here, they are very fast swimmers and confining them in a small aquarium can lead to them crashing into the tank sides plus when they feel cramped they can show signs of aggression towards other tank mates even though they are classed as a timid species.
A lid for the aquarium is a must, they are excellent jumpers, I have witnessed this myself in an owners tank, they can leap in a second catching the owner unaware so do not take the risk of using an open topped set up. Positioning the aquarium can also be an important factor, as the Bala shark are classed as a skittish fish try to place the aquarium where there is not too much human traffic passing in front of it. In time they do get used to movement around the aquarium but initially they may hide away a lot until they are completely settled.
The pH of the water is not critical as they do inhabit waters that can vary a lot in their native habitat, they can tolerate a range starting as low as 6.0 right up to 7.6 but if you are adding them to a set up that has a different pH range to your own, acclimatise them very slowly to remove the risk of the fish suffering from pH shock.
The Bala shark is a natural schooling fish so a small group of at least 5 specimens is recommended, never keep these fish as single specimens as they will not settle and yet again can become aggressive as they will not be happy. If you haver the space to keep more, all the better but do not overstock your aquarium.
The outlet of your filters should be at a steady pace, Bala sharks do not like a strong water current, maintain a flow to keep the circulation moving but no higher than this.
When it comes to choice of décor be careful, the substrate can be sand or gravel but actual pieces of décor must be smooth edged or the sharks can injure themselves and add plenty of plants, these will provide cover and will also help to keep the nitrate levels down improving the water quality all of the time. Make sure that when planting out the aquarium that you leave open swimming spaces, confining the planting areas to the sides and back of the aquarium is the best route, add tall plants at the rear such as Vallisneria, these provide a great back drop as well as providing hiding places for the fish.
Regular water changes are a must, you need to replace at least 25% of the water on a weekly basis, the fresh water must be conditioned with a reliable water conditioner and test your water on a regular basis to ensure that there are no signs of ammonia or nitrites in the water, these can prove to be deadly to the Bala shark.
There are a wide range of tank mates that are suitable to be housed with the Bala shark but bear in mind that the juvenile sharks have relatively small mouths, as the fish grows and matures so does their mouth size and small tank mates may finish up as a snack. Bear this mind when setting up your community, avoid small species of Tetras such as Neons but species such as Platies, larger species of Tetras such as Black Widows (Black Skirt) are ideal as are most of the Gourami species. Some keepers even house the Bala shark with SA cichlids such as Angelfish and larger specimens have been kept with Bala's quite successfully. Avoid aggressive species such as the African cichlids, these are very territorial and will harass the Bala shark making it stressed which will inevitably lead to your fish becoming prone to disease.
Feeding the Bala Shark
Bala sharks are an omnivorous species, to keep them at their optimum health they will require a varied diet. Providing the correct foods will also keep their colours vibrant and that classic silver sheen will glow when they are at their best. Use a quality flake or small pellet food fore the stable diet, always use a trusted brand of food, cheaper is definitely not the best option here as many of the cheap foods do not contain the minerals and vitamins that the fish require.
In the wild these fish feed on small aquatic insects, rotifers and the larvae of insects. They also graze on algae so replicating their natural diet is very easy to undertake in the aquarium by using quality live or frozen foods for the meaty content and algae wafers will supply the vegetable content. They will also graze in the aquarium for algae so can make a good job of keeping the aquarium clean, you should observe them as they graze amongst the substrate.
Live or frozen foods can include brine shrimp, bloodworms, mysis etc. but I tend to avoid Tubifex as this can carry some diseases in lower quality feeds. Also take care if feeding with bloodworms, overfeeding with these can lead to digestive problems especially gut blockages so only use these sparingly, twice a week is ample.
Keeping the diet varied will keep your fish interested in different feeds but with the Bala shark having a huge appetite most of the time it very rarely refuses to eat, if this does occur it could be a sign that something is amiss and the fish may have some disease or parasitic problem.
Breeding the Bala Shark
One of the most enjoyable aspects of fish keeping has to be when the fish breed and produce healthy young, a few years ago the cases reported for breeding the Bala Shark were far and few but nowadays they seem to be occurring on a more regular basis, having said that setting up a breeding project for these sharks is not that easy and sometimes luck comes into play more than judgement, professional breeders have great success with hormone implants but these are well out of the reach of the hobbyist breeder.
The problems start with actually trying to sex the Bala Shark, they do look identical in most cases but females tend to have a rounder belly shape, this is not always obvious to us so the best way to try to obtain a breeding pair is to purchase a small group of juveniles and grow them on. Using this method will nearly always guarantee that you get at least some males and females and in time they should pair off. The Bala shark becomes sexually active once they reach a length of approximately 6-8 inches (15-20 cm), some specimens may take slightly longer but the 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) cm rule gives you a good idea when to expect the fish to pair off.
Raising the temperature of the water by a couple of degrees should help matters along and once the fish are paired they will display their own courtship rituals by swimming around each other and following each other around the aquarium. When you are sure that you have a pair it is wise to keep these two fish alone in the breeding set up or aggression can occur between the pair and the other tank mates.
The females are egg scatterers and the eggs will be deposited all over the tank, the male will release his sperm over the eggs to fertilise them, a slight water current in the aquarium will aid with this so that the sperm covers a larger area. The eggs will settle into the substrate of the aquarium and once fertilised the parent fish will not show any further parental care so can be removed to prevent them from being tempted to eat the eggs. The fry will consume their yolk sac initially but after this they will become free swimming and should accept crushed flake or small live foods such as brine shrimp, the baby sharks do grow fast and once they reach a length of approximately 1.5-2 inches (4-5 cm) can be moved on or if you wish to keep some of them, allow these to grow slightly larger then add them into the main aquarium.
You will have to show a lot of patience with this breeding project as there are many cases of the eggs being laid but not hatching into fry so expect a few disappointments before success. Juvenile Bala shark tend to run a high risk of infections so always keep a close eye on them, make sure that they do not start to show signs of white spot or start to flash on the décor, even at this stage they can be treated for this condition but make sure that you reduce the amount of recommended medication with each treatment. The best way to treat infections is to use preventative measures so that they cannot take hold, keep the growing on tank as clean as possible and perform large water changes on a regular basis.
White spot and the Bala Shark
Bala Sharks have a reputation for contracting white spot more than any other species that I have ever housed in an aquarium, my personal view is that because they have a skittish nature this can have a detrimental effect on their immune system allowing the Ich parasite to take hold more easily. White spot is not an untreatable parasite and can easily be treated if caught in the early stages. When you feed your fish always take the time to observe their swimming patterns and make sure that they are feeding properly, any signs of the Bala shark rubbing against the décor can be a sign of white spot starting to take hold. Often this infection can be easily treated by raising the water temperature by a couple of degrees and performing larger water changes more often, if you do need to progress to adding medication to the aquarium always follow the recommended dosage and make sure that you add the full course of treatment even if the fish appear to have been cured halfway along the course.
If cared for properly and given the correct diet, your Bala Shark will give you many years of pleasure and they always make a great addition to the larger aquariums!