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Something’s Fishy: Barbs

This industry-staple species offers a wide variety for any hobbyist’s tank.
By David Lass

Barbs are one group of fishes that has been a staple in the industry for many years and will continue to be so for many more. They are beautiful, always moving, hardy and easy to take care of; every store should have a wide selection of them.
     
General Care of Barbs

Tiger barbs are best sold in schools of five or more. Credit: Alfred Castro/BowTie Inc.
Barbs belong to the Cyprinidae family, which is one of the largest families of fishes. Barbs are found in the wild primarily in the Far East and Africa, although today virtually all of the barbs offered for sale are farmed commercially in Florida or the Far East. They are fast-swimming fish and should be provided with the largest tank possible. Barbs are also strongly schooling fish, and retailers should encourage customers to keep them in groups of at least five or more. In a school, a pecking order develops, and barbs’ nipping tendencies will redirect to their schoolmates, rather than to other fish in the tank.

Barbs eat any type of prepared foods—flakes, pellets, frozen or freeze-dried. They are usually very enthusiastic feeders, and it is important to make sure that all the other fish in the tank are getting enough to eat. All barbs do better if they have a fair amount of vegetable matter in their diet, such as from prepared foods or by feeding blanched zucchini or potato diets.

The only potential problem when keeping barbs in the retail store is that they are susceptible to ick and velvet. For this reason, it is a good idea to treat all barbs that come into stores with a prophylactic dose of QuickCure (formalin and malachite green), and to keep an eye on them for the first week to make sure they are not breaking down.

 For this article I have divided the barbs into the good (which are hardy and can be kept in any community tanks), the bad (varieties that have some problems and that fishkeepers need to be careful with) and the really bad (one species that can be a real problem).

The Good

Cherry barbs (Puntius titteya) start off this list as probably the best selling variety, and the easiest to keep in an aquarium. They are beautiful fish, and male cherry barbs in full color rival any marine fish for color and beauty. They are also usually available in an albino form.

Rosy barbs (Puntius conchonius) have been in the hobby for many years, and they’re excellent community tank fish. They are available in a long-finned variety, which makes them great algae eaters, and they transfer easily from tank to tank because their long fins slow them down.

There are also a few varieties of brighter colors, all of which are farmed varieties, not dyed fish.

Denison’s barb/roseline shark (Puntius denisonii) is a relatively new species, which has made a big splash in the hobby. Found in the wild in India, reports stated the fish were being collected to extinction. This turned out to be false, but it doesn’t matter now, since there is a steady supply of these fish being farmed in the Far East. A fast-moving fish that needs relatively cool, highly oxygenated water, the Denison’s barb is a beautiful fish that reaches 5 inches in length and makes for a great show fish.

Jae barb (Barbus jae) comes from Africa, and are not seen that often in the hobby. They are incredibly beautiful, small (11⁄2 inches at maturity) and very peaceful. A small, planted species tank featuring only jae barbs is lovely; sitting on your sales counter, it can sell both the tank setup and the fish.

The Bad

Tiger barbs (Puntius tetrazona) are a common, beautiful and hardy fish. The only reason I call them “bad” is that they are often fin-nippers.

Many an unknowing hobbyist has put a tiger barb into a tank, only to find their angelfish missing their “feelers” or their Siamese fighting fish with their fins in shreds. Tiger barbs are available in many different color morphs, including green and albino, and they are best kept in schools of five or more. Kept alone, a tiger barb can become a holy terror in a tank.

Black ruby barbs (Puntius nigrofasciatus), while one of the most beautiful species, can get fairly large and can be very disruptive in community tanks. Adult males, while absolutely gorgeous in full mating colors, will continuously pursue females to the point of exhaustion; if the females are not available, the males will pursue any fish that closely resembles the female black ruby barb.

Odessa barbs (Punctius ticto) are gorgeous fish—if and when you receive the real thing. The problem is that, more often than not, a different variety of barb is sold as an Odessa barb, and none of these fish get the beautiful reds that a true male Odessa barb gets. These are fine fish, but true ones are few and far between, and many wholesalers and retail stores have been disappointed in what they receive.

The Really Bad

Tinfoil barbs (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii) are the only “really bad” barbs because they get very large (14 inches or so), and they do so pretty quickly. Single tinfoils can be very disruptive to tanks, and a school of them demands the largest tank possible.

An educated storekeeper can help customers purchase just the right barbs to fit their needs, ensuring years of happy fishkeeping and repeat business.

General Considerations:

  • Barbs in general are beautiful, hardy fish that will do very well in most community tank situations.
  • They eat any type of prepared foods and are flexible when it comes to pH and hardness.
  • Barbs do best in schools of at least five—seven is even better.

The Best Barbs and the Potential Problems

There are a number of barbs that are terrific for any tank. These include:

  • Cherry barb
  • Rosy barb
  • Denison’s barb/roseline shark
  • Jae barb

The barbs that can be problematic include:

  • Tiger barb: can be nippy
  • Black ruby barb: very boisterous
  • Odessa barb: often the wrong fish is sold
  • Tinfoil barb: gets too large for most tanks

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David Lass has been keeping tropical fish since he was 12 years old, has been involved in most aspects of the hobby and currently wholesales fish to retail stores in New England.


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