Can betta fish and bala sharks be good tank mates?

Bala sharks are beautiful fish, and although not a shark, they have gained this name for looking like sharks. Betta fish are beloved among aquarists. They’re known for their beauty but their aggressive behavior. One recurrent question among aquarists is whether these two fishes can be good tank mates.

Can betta fish and bala sharks be good tank mates?

Yes, they can! However, to have success in this community tank, some precautions must be taken. The temperament of each fish, water parameters, and size of their tank must be considered. Being attentive to these issues can guarantee that they’ll be able to live peacefully together. 

In this post, we will talk about bala sharks and betta fish. We will discuss their characteristics, habitat, diet, behavior, tank setup, and the steps to take so they can be tank mates.

Bala shark overview

Bala sharks (Balantiocheilos melanopterus), are native to Southeast Asia. They can be found in Thailand, Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malayan peninsula. Its natural habitat is medium to large-sized rivers, but they could also be found in lakes. Bala sharks are also known as hangus, Malaysian sharks, silver Bala, silver shark, tricolor shark, tri-color shark minnow.

Currently, Bala sharks have become extinct in some areas, and completely rare in others. There is no consensus as to why bala sharks have disappeared in parts of Southeast Asia. However, it is believed that the causes for this event can be related to water pollution, the damming of rivers, and excessive fishing for ornamental aquarium purposes. Most of the bala sharks available as ornamental fish are now captive-bred. 

Bala shark appearance

Although not a shark, the bala shark got this name for its resemblance to a shark as they share triangular-shaped dorsal thin and a fusiform body (spindle-like shape).

Bala sharks belong to the Cyprinid family. They have a metallic silver body, large eyes, and a forked yellowish tail. Their scales are well-defined and all fins (dorsal, caudal, pelvic, and anal) display a deep black trim. Hence, their other famous name is the tri-color shark.

These fish are rather small when young juveniles, only measuring 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm). So, bala sharks can give a false impression that they will be suitable for most size tanks when they reach adulthood. That couldn’t be further from the truth. As adults, bala sharks can grow up to 14 inches (35 cm). If you think of having a bala shark in your community tank, make sure you have a very large aquarium! If bala sharks receive proper care, they can live up to 10 years.

Bala shark behavior

Young bala sharks are usually peaceful fish and they can make good tank mates. However, they can also eat small fish like neon tetra, and invertebrates such as snails or shrimp, as they’re part of their natural diet. So, it is better to avoid such tank mates.

Bala sharks are schooling fish. They‘re the happiest in a school of four or more. Have less fish than that and you might have a bully. When a bala shark is kept by itself, it tends to have a fickle behavior that can range from being shy to being restless. 

If you have a large tank with a minimum of 125-gallons (500 L), that will certainly meet the needs of bala sharks. Hence, they’ll be able to share their territory with another medium to large-sized hardy fish. It’s important to allocate 45 gallons (approx.170 L) per bala shark in your tank.

These fish haven’t successfully been bred in home aquaria, only commercially. But to achieve that, commercial breeders make use of hormones that promote spawning. The optimal conditions for bala shark spawning in captivity are yet to be elucidated.

Bala fish tank set up

Bala sharks prefer to swim in the middle regions of the tank. Given that their natural habitat could be fast-flowing rivers or lakes, they’re used to a substrate composed of mud and pebbles. 

So, in an aquarium layout, the substrate should be about 0.4’ (1 cm) tall with dark-colored pebbles of various sizes. There’s no need to have a lot of decoration since balas are very active and need an open space for swimming. You can make use of plants like anubias or floating plants, as long as they’re planted in the corners of the tank. It’s better to leave the mid-section of the tank free so they can school without any constraints.

If you think of getting bala sharks, take into consideration that they will grow. And that they are shoaling fish. Thus, they need a big aquarium. Since they are mid-swimmers, a larger and longer tank is better than a taller one. When we think of the tank’s volume, we can aim for 45 gallons (170 L) per fish. 

A good size tank would be at least 125 gallons (500 L) and 5 feet (1.5 m) in length. Another option is to keep them in outdoor ponds if you live in a place where the climate is warm all year-round. Having said that, an extra amount of attention must be given to water temperature, as they can become ill with low or sudden drops in temperatures.

A good filtration system is essential to bala sharks. This filtration system should be compatible with the tank size. However, if you prefer to have a powerful external filter for your tank that would be even better. Regarding the light cycle, these fish need 8 to 9 hours per day so, an aquarium lamp suffices.

Water parameters are extremely important to bala sharks. The water pH should range from 6.5 to 8, and the temperature must be between 72 and 82 F (22 to 28  °C). Water hardness should be between 10-13 dGH.

Although peaceful, bala sharks are super active fish. They can jump out of the tank, especially during their settling-in period or whenever they get startled. Thus, it’s important to safe-proof your aquarium with a sturdy lid to prevent that from happening.

Bala Shark Diet 

Bala sharks are omnivorous fish, feeding on food with both plants and animal origins. In their natural habitat, they usually eat plants, small fishes, snails, shrimps, rotifers, insects, larvae, and phytoplankton.  They’re very easy-going regarding food and they’ll eat pretty much anything from flake foods, pellets, freeze-dried, and frozen foods. You can also feed them with any of the aforementioned food items, as well as fresh vegetables like spinach and peas, and fresh fruits.

Can a Bala shark live with a Betta fish? 

Betta fish (Betta splendens), is native to Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. They usually live in rice paddies, canals and floodways, and marshes. 

These fish are territorial and depending on their temperament, they can attack each other, as well as other fishes when in the same aquarium. So, before finding a new tank mate for your betta, make sure they can accommodate another fish like a bala shark.

The best aquarium setup for bettas and bala sharks 

Bettas and balas have slightly different water parameters. Betta fish thrive in temperatures between 75 to 80 F (23.8 to 26.7 °C) and pH between 6 to 8. Bala sharks need pH from 6.5-8, and temperature from 72 and 82 F (22 to 28 °C). However, they can meet in the middle, sharing a common pH and temperature within their tolerance range.

The biggest issue though is the tank. When both bala shark and betta fish are small, the betta can chase down your bala shark. If they don’t seem to get along, do not waste time. Remove one of them to a spare tank immediately. Also, when your betta is in a community tank, make sure that your aquarium has hiding spots and plants. Such a tank layout allows your betta to claim its territory and hide whenever they feel stressed or just want to rest. Consequently, they might leave your bala alone. 

On the other hand, there are some important things to consider when you’re housing a betta and bala shark together. The first thing is that bala sharks are shoaling fish. Having just one bala might make your fish depressed. They need to be in a shoal of a minimum of four fish. Other things are that they grow and can eat small fish. It’s better to keep an eye on and prevent any accidents that might happen. That’s when a large tank comes in handy. 

Having a larger tank with hiding spots allows your betta fish to hide and to chill out if they get stressed by their fast swimming neighbors. Your betta won’t have the urge to fight or fin-nipping your balas and as a result, your balas won’t see your betta fish as a snack. Another idea is to divert the attention of your balas to your betta by adding other shoaling tank mates, such as neon tetra. However, keep in mind that the tetras too might become a snack.

Conclusion

In this post, we talked about housing betta fish and bala sharks. Although they can share an aquarium, some steps are needed so both betta and bala can live their best life. 

Bettas are territorial and have aggressive behavior. On the other hand, bala sharks are peaceful fish. Not only are they shoal fish, but they also grow very long (14’ or 35 cm). So, you must have in mind that a bala fish cannot be kept alone. They thrive in shoals of at least 4 fish.

The tank must accommodate the needs of both fish. It needs to be big enough (125 gallons or 473 L) and without many plants in the middle section of the aquarium so your bala sharks can swim freely, but also have plants and decorations like caves, so your beta can have hiding spots to rest or calm down when stressed.

This way, the betta will neither feel threatened nor will they try to attack your bala shark. If that happens, your balas might go after your bettas and as they also eat smaller fish, they could see your betta as a snack.

Also, water parameters are really important. They can compromise on the temperature and pH levels, but beware of the intensity of the flow. Although both fishes need a great filtration system, bettas are used to calmer areas, bala sharks can be happy in fast-flowing environments.

It’s possible to have betta and bala sharks in a community aquarium as long as their needs are met. Always do complete research on the fish you would like to have before buying the new addition to your tank

Do you have bala sharks and betta together? Make sure to leave a comment below.

Reference

Lumbantobing, D. 2020. Balantiocheilos melanopterusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T149451010A90331546. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-2.RLTS.T149451010A90331546.en. Accessed on 17 January 2022.

Srinivasan, M.  (2013) A complete manual on Ornamental Fish Culture. LAP Lambert Academic Publishing. Saarbrücken, Germany. 222 p.

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