Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Tiger barbs

A couple days ago the group of tiger barbs that I bred years ago was down to a lone pair of individuals. Last night I made a decision to stay with the common, feisty little fish and bought four more for the 40 gallon long tank they are in. I also dug up information I was going to do for my "web site" and posted it here:


  • Scientific Name: Barbus schuberti
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Origin: Borneo, Indonesia, Sumatra
  • Adult Size: 3 inches (7 cm)
  • Social: Active schooling fish, nips fins
  • Lifespan: 6 years
  • Tank Level: Mid dweller
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallon
  • Diet: Omnivore, eats most foods
  • Breeding: Egg layer
  • Care: Easy to Intermediate
  • pH: 6.5
  • Hardness: up to 10 dGH
  • Temperature: 68-79 F (20-26 C)

General Information

The tiger barb is a fairly common, often maligned, but colorful and entertaining fish. Identified by it's trademark vertical black stripes this fish can be obtained just about anywhere. They are schoolers and if given abundant space will always be on the move, chasing each other and generally acting impish. A hardy fish, the tiger barb is a good beginner fish able to survive most environments and water compositions.


To recreate the natural southeast Asia backwater stream environment you will need at least a twenty gallon (US) tank, with at least thirty gallons recommended. The folks at Aquarium Adventure have a good example of how to recreate the natural environment. If a southeast Asia recreation is not feasible, then the ideal aquarium for tiger barbs would be well planted in the back with plenty of space in the front. Adequate space is a necessity for these active fish.

Important note: the hygrophila polysperma plants indigenous to this environment and recommended by all resources also happen to be illegal in the state of Ohio and is on the federal list of noxious weeds. I substituted wisteria and red ludwigia for the hygrophila.


As with all freshwater fish: never exceed the standard 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of water.

Tiger barbs are schooling fish that establish a social order. Without numbers they can be overly aggressive and abusive. Almost every resource recommends at least eight tiger barbs per shoal as a minimum. Numbers less than six will usually introduce problems.

Tank mates

Tiger barbs have a reputation of being "fin nippers" so hardier fish should be considered as tank mates. Fish with long trailing fins (angel fish, gouramis, bettas and guppies), and from my experience; colorful but passive fish (neon, cardinal and glolite tetras), represent nothing but playful targets for tiger barbs. Other passive fish like corydoras, platys and even a plecostomus could be harassed by a rogue tiger barb (see below). The list below contains a list of suitable tank makes:

Southeast Asia Backwater Stream Environment (indigenous)
clown loach (needs a higher pH and purer water quality, schooling, needs space to hide, at least two or more)
iridescent shark (potentially large schooling fish, can be over a foot long, at least two or more)
red tail shark (aggressive, solitary, needs a cave or space)
Southeast Asia River Environment (indigenous)
giant danio, zebra danio, pearl danio, rosey barb, black ruby barb, bala shark, algae eater, kuhlii loach, rainbow shark
green barb, albino tiger barb
Others (noted from the Internet)
black widow tetra

Personal note: many resources consider this fish as a community fish. This barb can be a community fish but obtaining a happy, mostly passive shoal is more luck than theory. If you are looking to have tiger barbs, please consider dedicating a tank to them and suitable mates. If you must make this fish part of a community then make sure you can return fish to the place of purchase.


Owning tiger barbs for over two years I have noticed the following distinct traits:

  1. They establish a specific social order. A dominant male (usually the largest) will "lead" the group. If more than one male is available they will occasionally joust for supremacy, never really damaging each other but looking violent while doing so.
  2. Mature tiger barbs stick to their group, rarely bothering with other fish in the vicinity. Young barbs, however are prone to straying and sometimes taking aggression, playful or otherwise, out on tank mates. The younger the barb, the more prone to aggression usually in the form of fin-nipping. Large shoals of individuals will not diffuse aggression. As tiger barbs mature, most grow out of their aggression but there is a chance some remain aggressive. Two examples: "Stab" and the kids. "Stab" was a mean little bastard that would literally nip and tug with anything, including a plecostomus three times his size. "Stab" was isolated in the hospital tank for a couple months, was eventually outgrown by the other males, and after a violent return to the tank learned his place in the middle of the pack. The "kids" are two tiger barbs out of the surviving spawn that continue to pester other tank mates. They nipped my albino corys, were the first to attack a pearl gouramis when I tried to integrate the fish in the barb tank, occasionally pulled at the tail of a plecostomus if it was nearby, and were the only ones to attack orange platys. All the other (22) tiger barbs kept to themselves, never bothering anything non-barb. All aggression is limited to definitely one, and I'm certain a second uniquely identifiable tiger barb. This leads me to believe a group of tiger barbs could potentially have a "rogue" barb prone to occasionally disturb the community.
  3. After living most of their lives in a 29 gallon (US) tank, cramped in between a piece of driftwood and a large sword plant, I can easily say tiger barbs are happier with a lot of wide open space. The 40 gallon (US) tank (48" wide x 15" deep x 13" high) with planting in the back and plenty of space in the front appears to be the ideal environment for these impish little goof balls.
  4. Tiger barbs are known to "head stand" is the water is too high in nitrates, a behavior unique to the species.


male and female tiger barbsMale tiger barbs are spear-head shaped and when mature sport bright red noses and ventral fins with a bright red line on the dorsal fin. Female tiger barbs are rounder, shaped more like a spade than a spear. Females will usually not have the bright red colorings of their mature male counterparts.


The common reproductive behavior for most tiger barbs: 1

  • promiscuous mating
  • no parental care
  • selective depositing of eggs by the female
  • external fertilization during mating clasp (1 male:l female)
  • females receptive during mating sessions lasting hours
  • repeated mating clasps with or without a change in partner or location
  • male plays the active role in courtship
  • male more active in antagonistic behavior and competition

I have read numerous paragraphs on the Internet and spawning tiger barbs has been described from easy to difficult. My own experience was more of a quickly thrown together attempt at mating two individuals that were "getting friendly" in my 29 gallon tank. In my opinion, here are the steps needed to breed tiger barbs:

  1. You should already have at least two healthy, mature fish.
  2. You will need at least a separate breeding tank: a five to twenty gallon (US) tank with an adequate sponge filter and spawning material. (I used plastic plants laid on their side in a three gallon Eclipse all-in-one unit, which was too small and had substrate in it). Depending upon the size and inhabitants of your main tank you might need a separate grow out tank: at least a twenty gallon (US) tank with adequate filtration, substrate and plant life. Spawning material can be a spawning mop, brush, a layer of marbles (not the best 2), spawning grass (available a Walmart), or plastic plants laid on their side.
  3. Most sources recommend conditioning the male and female pair. I didn't, because at the time the parents were already spawning in the main tank, so they conditioned themselves. Conditioning the fish consists of keeping the pair separate via divider, feeding them healthy amounts of high protein live foods for about a week, then joining the pair for courtship and spawning.
  4. Before spawning, either order or locate a local fish store that carries Liquifry #1. If you are ordering, you might want to pick up supplies needed to create a baby brine shrimp hatchery as well.
  5. Leave the happy couple to spawn overnight. Remove the parents after spawning has occurred (small white specs will appear, these are the eggs). Order live foods like micro worms and vinegar eels if you are going to use them.
  6. Consider removing the spawning material at this point.
  7. Start adding Liquifry #1 while waiting a couple days until the eggs hatch. Fry will look like two black specks and will be hard to spot.
  8. Keep feeding Liquifry #1 until the fry look like they are able to take live food, usually about four days of free swimming. Newly hatched brine shrimp should be used first and exclusively for a couple days, feeding until full (orange bellies full of shrimp) three to four times a day.
  9. Slowly change the diet to include other foods like powdered flake, micro worms, vinegar worms and other commercial foods. Start doing daily water changes, carefully replacing ten percent of the water. (I used a line of air-tubing attached to a chop-stick to vacuum the bottom debris and water into a glass jar, glass just in case a fry was caught in the suction).
  10. After 28 days, carefully move the fry to a grow out tank or the main tank if feasible.


  1. A Manual for Commercial Production of the Tiger Barb, Capoeta tetrazona, A Temporary Paired Tank Spawner
  2. Mike Edwardes Tropicals: Tiger barbs(No longer available)