Tiger barbs are a very popular freshwater tropical fish that are readily available to buy in most fish stores. These fish are easy to care for, making them a favorite for beginners and experienced fishkeepers alike.
Unfortunately, Tiger barbs do come with a bad rep for being aggressive toward other tankmates. But is that really true, or are these pretty, active fish just misunderstood?
About Tiger barbs
The Tiger Barb is known by the scientific name Puntius tetrazona, and the species was first described by Bleeker in 1855. Tiger barbs are also known as the Partbelt barb and Sumatra barb.
The species is found throughout Sumatra, Borneo, the Malay Peninsula, and reportedly in Cambodia and Thailand. Feral populations of Puntius tetrazona have found their way to Australia, the U.S., Colombia, and Singapore. Barbs are easy to breed in captivity for the aquarium industry, so wild-caught specimens are not seen in fish stores.
Puntius tetrazona is not currently regarded as endangered and is therefore not listed on the IUCN Red List.
In their wild habitat, Tigers live in quiet tributaries and forest streams, where the water is very clear and well-oxygenated. Here, the substrate is sandy and rocky and populated with dense vegetation.
The species is omnivorous, feeding on diatoms, insects, general detritus, small invertebrates, and algae.
The Tiger barb has a rounded, deep body with a pointed head and high back. These are small fish that grow to a length of around 2.75 inches in the wild and slightly smaller in the aquarium.
The fish are brightly colored with a yellowish-red background and four highly-distinctive vertical black stripes. The tail, ventral, and dorsal fins are edged with red. During spawning, male Tigers develop a bright red snout.
There are several color morphs and varieties of Tiger barbs available. The Longfin Tiger barb has longer finnage, making an unusual addition to your community. You can also find Albino and Green Tiger barbs. Albinos do not always have gill covers, and they’re less popular than the other varieties. There are also some gorgeous variations in red, platinum, and gold, although these are not so easy to come by and consequently cost more if you can find one.
You can expect to enjoy your barbs for up to seven years if you look after them properly.
Care of the Tiger barb
The Tiger barb is easy to keep and makes a good choice for all hobbyists, regardless of experience.
Tank size and decoration
Barbs are fast swimmers that need plenty of open water space. A school of Tigers will need an aquarium of at least 15 gallons, preferably more. These fish swim in all areas of the tank, so a long or tall tank will be fine. Barbs are notorious jumpers, so you must choose a tank with a lid or at least a cover slide.
They also like a well-planted aquarium, but be sure to put the vegetation around the edges of the tank so that there’s plenty of room for the fish to swim. Include some bogwood and a sandy substrate to replicate the fish’s natural habitat.
Clean water is essential in a barb tank. Fish tanks are closed systems, and all need some regular, routine maintenance, regardless of size. Barbs are freshwater fish, and they do not tolerate brackish conditions.
If you don’t keep the aquarium clean, decomposing organic matter, fish waste, and uneaten food will pollute the water, causing a build-up of phosphates, ammonia, and nitrates, and the water hardness will increase due to evaporation.
You must run an efficient biological filtration system within the tank, and carry out 25% water changes every other week or more frequently if the tank is densely stocked.
Note that moderate to good water movement is necessary for the male barbs to display their best coloration.
Tank lighting should be moderate to normal. The water temperatures for the day to day environment should be between 68° and 79.0° Fahrenheit. Water pH should be within the range of 6.5 to 7.5., with a hardness range of 2 to 30 dGH
The Tiger barb has a reputation for being aggressive. That’s not necessarily the case, although these fish do tend to be fin nippers, and for that reason, they shouldn’t be kept with species that have trailing finnage. Also, barbs are fast swimmers that may intimidate slower-moving fish.
Tigers are schooling fish, and they should be kept in groups of at least seven specimens. The fish will quickly establish a pecking order within the shoal, and they will be so preoccupied with chasing each other, that they won’t bother with other members of the community.
Note that one single Tiger barb kept alone will become highly aggressive toward other tankmates, probably because schooling fish, such as barbs, find safety in numbers, and a single, lone fish will, therefore, feel vulnerable.
Although peaceful species such as Corydoras catfish and some of the gouramis make suitable tankmates for barbs, as do Platys, Danios, and Loaches, a single-species barb tank can look extremely effective too. If you want to add some algae-eaters to your setup, aquatic snails and shrimp will be safe.
Diet and nutrition
Since the Tiger barb is an omnivore, they will eat most kinds of fresh, frozen, and flake foods.
If you feed your fish a properly balanced diet each day, the fish will thrive and show their best coloration too. You should offer the fish a high-quality flake food each day, as well as frozen or live bloodworms or brine shrimp as a treat.
Feed the fish several times each day, offering enough food in each feeding that the fish will eat it up within a few minutes. If you opt to feed your fish just once a day, allow them five minutes or so to finish what you offer them.
Although the Tiger barb will spawn readily in a community environment if given the right tank conditions, setting up a separate breeding tank is a better idea. A separate breeding tank allows you to remove the adult fish once spawning has taken place to exclude the risk of the parents eating the eggs and fry.
A tank of 20 gallons will be fine for use as a spawning tank.
The water conditions in the breeding tank should be between 74° and 79° Fahrenheit in temperature, with a pH that’s slightly acidic to 6.5, and a medium hardness to 10° dGH.
Set the tank up with a sponge filter, plenty of fine-leaved plants, and a heater. It’s a good idea to use marbles or a spawning grid as a substrate, as these are easy to clean with a gravel vacuum, and they will also help to protect the eggs.
If the fish are slow to begin spawning, try making 25% water changes each day and trickling fresh water into the tank in the morning to replicate the spring rains that coincide with spawning in wild communities of barbs.
Although both sexes appear similar, the female fish is generally heavier, especially during the spawning season. Males are smaller and more brightly colored. When spawning, the male fish develop a very red snout.
Barbs become sexually mature at between six and seven weeks of age once they get to around 3/4 inch to an inch in length. Choose breeding pairs from your school that exhibit the best markings and strong coloration.
You can bring the fish into breeding condition by feeding them high-quality foods, including brine shrimp. Introduce the female to the spawning tank first, and then add the male a few days later when the female is full of eggs.
Courting usually begins in the late afternoon with the fish swimming around each other. The male performs headstands and spreads his fins to excite the female. The following morning, the male will begin chasing and nipping the female. She will then begin releasing her eggs, one to three at a time.
Barbs are egg scatterers that distribute their eggs randomly, rather than choosing a specific breeding site. The eggs are sticky and fall to the substrate at the bottom of the aquarium, where they adhere to the gravel or sand. In one spawn, up to 300 eggs will be released, although larger, more mature females can carry 700 eggs or more.
Once the fish have spawned, remove the parents right away before they have a chance to eat the eggs.
The eggs usually hatch after about 48 hours, and the fry will be free-swimming in around five days once they have exhausted the nutrition contained in their egg sacs.
You will then need to feed the fry. Infusoria or liquid fry food is best, together with newly hatched baby brine shrimp, and you should feed the young barbs at least three times every day.
Keep a close eye on the babies while they’re feeding and be quick to remove any uneaten food that will otherwise foul the water. Note that the fry needs clean water to survive. If you allow the tank environment to become dirty and polluted, the fry will quickly die.
Once the fry is a few weeks old and large enough not to be eaten, they can be transferred to your main display tank.
The Tiger barb is a very hardy fish that doesn’t generally succumb to common fish diseases, provided that the tank size is appropriate, and the water conditions are kept clean.
That said, it’s safest to place any new specimens into a quarantine tank for at least two weeks prior to introducing them to your existing community. Also, you must wash any new decorations, plants, and substrate before adding it to your tank.
However, the best way to keep your collection healthy and disease-free is by maintaining good water quality and feeding your barb fish a high-quality, varied diet. That will keep the animals free from stress, and stress is the main cause of diseases taking hold in the tank.
Pretty much all forms of Tiger barb are immensely popular, and they are easily bred in captivity.
For that reason, the species is readily available in all good aquarist shops for a cost of just a few dollars each. Many times, if you buy a small group of barb fish, you can get a discount on the price.
You may find some of the more unusual varieties of Tiger barb, including the Longfin, for sale online through specialist dealers, although these are usually more expensive than the regular barbs.
Here are some of the questions about this species that are most frequently asked by beginner fishkeepers.
Q: Are Tiger barbs aggressive?
A: When kept in a small group of seven or eight individuals, barbs are relatively peaceful once the pecking order has been established within the shoal. A single barb fish kept alone will be aggressive toward its tankmates, largely because it fears being attacked by larger species in the environment.
That said, Tigers are an active fish that can get nippy with slow-moving, long-finned species such as bettas.
Q: How many Tiger barbs should be kept together?
A: As long as your tank is large enough to house them, you can keep up to 15 or more barbs. You would need a 55-gallon tank for that.
Q: What do Tiger barbs eat?
A: Tigers are omnivorous. So, you should feed them a diet of tropical fish flakes, pellets, frozen, live, and freeze-dried foods. You can also add some chopped beef heart and green veggies, such as zucchini, to the diet to give the fish some variety.
Q: What fish can I put with Tiger barbs?
A: Quick-moving, active swimmers mix well with barbs, including danios, tetras, loaches, and the like. Avoid mixing Tigers with slow-moving, long-finned fishes as they can be fin nippers.
Tiger barbs are attractive, lively fish that make a great addition to any tropical aquarium. These freshwater fish can be kept in a community with suitable tankmates, although a single-species barb tank can look extremely effective too.
Barbs fish are easy to care for, as long as the water quality is maintained and the tank has plenty of space for plenty of swimming. These fishes move at high speed, so you’ll need to provide a large tank to show them at their best.