View Full Version : Barb Primer

02-09-2008, 12:25 AM
From Southeast Asia come the Barbs; schooling fish from tropical clear streams and swamps. Analogous to tetras with their propensity to school, MOST barbs are perfect for the planted aquarium.
First, names. Barbs are called barbs because most of them have a pair, and sometimes a quartet, of barbles (whiskers) at the corners of their mouths. As science has muddied up barb Genus names for years now, with species vacillating between Puntius, Capoeta and the generic Barbus; in this post, I'll go with what's in vogue now.
Suitability for a planted tank vary. Most species of smaller barbs, like Tigers, Cherries, Golds and Checkers, won't bother any plants. The larger barbs, like Tinfoils, Striped and Clown barbs may NIBBLE plants, indicating a need for vegetable-based foods. The level of nibbling depends on the fish; Tinfoils are by far the worst about doing it. Clowns will occasionally, Striped Barbs rarely.
All of them like neutral to slightly acid water that is moderately soft. Temps in the upper 70's is preferable; I keep mine at 77 degrees.
No barb has teeth in their jaws, but all have pharyngal teeth in their throat. Feed them about 70 percent meaty items, 30 percent vegetable-based foods. All of them like live food like Daphnia, but they should be fed them sparingly (once or twice a week), especially for Tinfoils, as they can't metabolize them as easy as smaller barbs can. Tinfoils need at least 50 percent vegetable-based foods for their continued health and color. Smaller barbs are very, very fond of Daphnia, and will gorge themselves on them. The Daphnia shell isn't digestible, and acts as a laxative. Those barbs that are fed Daphnia too often are rather skinny.
Properly kept, Barbs are lively, colorful schooling fish for your next planted aquarium.

Now some species

Common in nearly any fish store in several color variations are Tiger Barbs (Puntius tetrazona), perhaps the most misunderstood of the Barbs.
Many, many people have problems with Tiger Barb aggression. They will pick at ANY fish with flowing fins, chase smaller fish like Neon Tetras endlessly, and end up being a giant pain in the neck for the fish keeper.
The solution is simple; keep them in schools.
At least eight is what I recommend, and they make a vivacious, nice display in a group. A school like that or larger diffuses aggression, as they spend their time between themselves genially working out politics. I wouldn't keep a large school of Tigers, though, with a Betta or other long-finned fish without careful observation.
In their natural form, Tiger Barbs are a slightly brassy cream color moving to silvery toward the bottom of the fish. Four deep black bands run top to bottom, the first bisecting the eye, the last the base of the tail. Vivid red is outside of black on the dorsal fin, the edges of the tail fin and both ventral fins. Tiger Barbs top out at 2 inches, are native to the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra and Borneo. They don't pick at plants.
Albino and 'Green' Tiger Barbs are available.

For those who like their fish colorful and restful there is the Cherry Barb (Puntius titteya) of Sri Lanka.
The color of the fish varies according to its mood. Sometimes they have reddish undersides, sometimes the whole fish is clothed in a deep red. Males are slimmer and more highly colored than females, but she, too can put on various reds, often coupled with rusty gold.
Cherry Barbs are perfect for the smaller, well planted tank. A 20 gallon with two dozen Cherry Barbs is a pleasant site.
They don't school in the traditional sense, preferring to stay in a loose group, pausing at odd angles as if they are looking for something. Though they top out at nearly two inches, normally they stay somewhat smaller in aquariums.
Being small fish, small foods are necessary. A quality pellet should be staple. Small frozen or freeze dried foods should be given three or four times a week. Insect based foods, like frozen mosquito larvae, are a favorite. Live foods like Daphnia are at first shyly, than avidly, eaten, and it improves the Barb's colors. Cherry Barbs don't touch plants, other than pecking copepods off them.
A Cherry Barb aquarium should be covered, as during breeding, which they do frequently, the pairs often leap out of the water. Parents should be removed promptly if you wish to keep the eggs, as they are avid egg eaters. The fry are clear and tiny, and must be fed the smallest live food possible, like Infusoria and/or green water, for at least a week before they can take Rotifers and new-born BBS.
A lovely Barb, one of my favorites.

On to Part 2

02-09-2008, 12:25 AM
Not as common in shops as they once were, and it takes time for them to reach full color, Checker Barbs are our next species.
They may not look like much in shops, but be patient. When they grow up, Checkers (Puntius oligolepis) are perhaps the most colorful of the smaller barbs. Both sexes have colored dorsal fins bordered in black; the males are rich orange, the females a golden yellow. Males are creamy orange on their upper body, the females dusky yellow. Males have orange tail fins, females yellow ones.
On both sexes, two rows of strongly-black bordered scales give the species its common name. The black is much stronger in males than females. Eyes are silver. When the male dons his breeding garb, the orange is intensified, and he is velvety black with sparkles of blue and green. He is really something to see. The fry are clear and very, very small, and need infusoria and green water for at least 10 days before they can take baby brine shrimp.
The keeper must exercise patience with this species for it to mature and show the colors that make this species so special. Reaching two inches, a large group in a suitably-sized planted aquarium is quite a sight.

From Singapore and parts of SE Asia comes the Gold Barb, Puntius sachsii.
One of the most delightful smaller barbs, with their habit of rolling and tumbling with their schoolmates when a food item is in the offing. Their golden, rotund bodies and ramble-tammble antics make one think of the Keystone Cops.
Reaching a bit over 2 inches, Gold Barbs are, well, gold; a deep lemon yellow. Black, irregular markings are in a rough line at the middle of the fish, and the mark is plainer in the males. When mature, both sexes have red ventral fins and red on the edges of the tail. Males can have deep red on all fins save for the pectorals. They take some time to develop full color, and it intensifies as the fish ages. Gold Barbs routinely live for six or more years.
Nearly bulletproof hardy, a group of Gold Barbs is ideal for the newer hobbyist. They will not tolerate any Ammonia, Nitrite or excessive Nitrate, however. In groups of eight or more, Gold Barbs spend most of their time schooling together. They look good en masse in a planted tank, but may NIBBLE plants. Feeding them vegetable-based foods frequently often reforms them.
One of the most affable, attractive little barbs, and charming in their behaviors. I highly recommend them.

Perhaps the largest of the common Barbs is the Tinfoil Barb, Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, a native of Thailand, Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo.
Reaching an impressive 14 to 15 inches, Tinfoils are a schooling fish for the truly large planted aquarium. What justifies keeping such a gargantuan schooler are its colors. They start life as simply a silvery fish, but as they age, more and more colors develop, and continue to intensify as the fish ages. Russets and reds color all but the pectoral fins. The body can develop a golden color. The large scales reflect all sorts of blues and greens.
They are friendly, graceful fish, though like all fish, they will eat those small tankmates they can fit into their mouths. Tinfoils hail from larger streams and small rivers, so they do appreciate a little linear current in their tank.
For their continued health Tinfoils must have considerable vegetation fed to them. Blanched Romaine lettuce, leaf Spinach or other leafy vegetables must be available to them, or they will likely turn on your plants. Though they are omnivores, but they have a decided need for green.
Because of their size, Tinfoil Barbs are very rarely bred in the home aquarium.

Rare in shops, but well worth seeking out is the Striped Barb; Puntius lineatus, another fish from SE Asia.
A brilliant, metallic silver fish, what makes Striped Barbs unique are five blue-black lines running from the gills to the tail. The fifth line is on TOP of the fish. The lines are quite strong on the male and not quite as defined on the female, denoting sexes. Her middle stripe is thicker. Both sexes have bright silver eyes.
Fins are clear but always smartly spread.
Striped Barbs reach five inches, but are ideal community fishes when kept in groups of six or more. They stand out beautifully in a well planted tank, and their colors are vivid in such environs.
One must wait until the fish are mature to breed them. Males court females by racing 'round them and back and fourth in the tank. Pairs gather over fine-leaved plants and with much trembling, eggs and milt are scattered. They will eat the eggs as they fall, but are not very keen at it.
As are all in the family, the fry are quite small and clear. Infusoria and Green Water are good first foods. It takes a week to 10 days for them to take microworms and/or baby brine shrimp.
The adults are very nimble and fast, and thus difficult to net. A glass or plastic top is necessary, as these fish can really jump, easily 10 inches above water level.

Clown Barbs (Puntius everetti) wind up our list, and are a prime example of good things coming to those who wait.
Native to the Malay Peninsula and Borneo, Clown Barbs look less than impressive in shops. However, once they pass two inches in length, colors start to appear. The body turns a deep peachy orange, in which black markings stand out. The fins get more and more red as the fish ages. By the time they reach their adult size of five inches, they are truly spectacular fish. Occasional live food intensifies those colors.
Though they are among the larger barbs available, Clown Barbs won't bother any fish too large to eat. Clowns are another barb that is best kept in groups of six or eight, as single fishes can be a tad aggressive. If pairs are kept, one will get the worst of it. But kept in good-sized school, Clown Barbs are perfectly behaved and are a real showpiece. They prefer temps between 75 and 78 degrees.
They nibble plants, but not much at all. Foods designed to improve colors is beneficial.

There are several other barbs, and some, like the Tigers, are available in various man-made color morphs. Planning your new aquarium? Why not consider barbs?


02-09-2008, 12:26 AM
again another awesome primer Dave......

02-09-2008, 12:36 AM
again another awesome primer Dave......

Thanks J. I appreciate it. Had a few primer-type things I wrote some time ago on my drive, so I figured I'd go ahead and post them, so I can start on other stuff, like corys, oddballs, loaches and what not.


02-09-2008, 12:37 AM
I still gotta read part 2 lol.....

02-11-2008, 02:25 AM
Another great primer thumbs2:.

11-12-2008, 06:10 PM
Very good info. You definetly solidifyed my choice of Cherry barbs :)

Thanks for the write-up

11-13-2008, 06:36 PM
Thanks again dave.This would make a good sticky!:19:

05-20-2009, 12:28 PM
Thanks for the primer! I actually have 6 cherrys and 5 green tigers in my 25 Gallon tank. I love the Cherry barbs. They are so much fun to watch dancing around the tank. I recently just added three to make six and they are much happier now I think! I am concidering getting a couple more now though...

06-16-2009, 12:08 AM
Thank you for the information! So far I have three little gold barbs and they are fun to watch at feeding time


09-07-2009, 06:40 AM
Thanks for all this information man!
i have a barbs tank and i just love ther behaviors!

Lady Hobbs
11-14-2009, 02:41 PM
Thanks Dave for this great primer. I was about to look up how to sex cherry barbs and remembered it was right here in your primer.

11-14-2009, 10:57 PM
Great primer Dave, that will help a lot of members! thumbs2:

11-19-2009, 05:22 PM
hi. what about odessa / scarlett barbs?

03-14-2010, 04:41 PM
hi. what about odessa / scarlett barbs?

I have three males and three females. They get along well with the others in my community, but there is definitely one dominant male and I suspect him of causing a torn tail fin in one of the other males. The third male hides a lot and I have my suspicions there too. The dominant male does herd the tetras around a bit but doens't seem to hurt them.

I've seen conflicting information (and species names) for Odessas online. AC calls them Puntius ticto and says they prefer 64.5 - 71.5 deg F. Live Aquaria calls them Puntius sp. and says they prefer 74 - 79 deg F. Fish Lore says Puntius sp. and 70 - 78 deg F. I originally kept my tank at 78, then lowered it to 75. Just last night I bumped it up a degree or two (all gradual, by the nature of heating 45 gallons of water). They seem happy.

Anybody have other Odessa experience to share?