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Choosing a Barb

If liveliness is what you’re looking for in your fish tank, then have a look at a few barb species – tiger barbs, cherry barbs, rosy barbs, clown barbs, among others – most of which are colorful, quick, and vivacious schooling fish. Most do well in a community aquarium and they seem unfazed and undeterred in their behavior by the size of the tank.

Barbs belong to the genus Barbus, part of the carp family Cyprinidae that includes the two-inch specimens in your aquarium as well the six-foot-long Indian mahseer, which is most often seen on dinner tables. These are egg-laying fish and the aquarium species come from Africa and South Asia. What distinguishes all of these species are the one or more pairs of thin, fleshy protrusions near the mouth called barbels.

Because these fish share similar temperature requirements with several other species from different families, they are particularly good for the community tank. A tank kept around 75 degrees is fine for them and a mid-range pH of 6.5 to 7.5 is perfect. They readily eat flake or live foods.

Barbs Have Distinct Personalities

Each barb has its own personality. Cherry barbs, for instance, will grow only to 5 cm in length. These Sri Lankan natives are perhaps the most reserved of the barbs and will shy away from the action, preferring the solitude of a corner among the plants. Their iridescent pink (female) to cherry-red (male) bodies with lateral gold and black bands make them a colorful addition to the tank.

Clown barbs grow to almost twice the size of cherry barbs and need more room to swim. Golden barbs, which are truly golden, make good community fish. They grow to only
4 cm but are not so shy as the cherry barbs. Rosy barbs, native to India, may be the most attractive. Growing to 6 cm, these silvery-rose fish with dark rose fins have usually even temperaments, especially if kept in groups of two or three.

A school of boldly colored tiger barbs – golden bodies with broad black vertical stripes and orange fringed fins – can be a pleasure or a curse depending upon the group’s personality and the other species that share the tank. Tiger barbs are fast flashy swimmers that can quickly become tank bullies, nipping at the fins of slower moving fish. They seem to love picking on the gossamer fins of angelfish and nipping at neon tetras. If you’re interested in a larger barb, the tinfoil barb is as silvery a fish as you’ll find. It’s peaceful but, since it has a very good appetite and can grow to be about 12 inches long, it can’t be kept in a tank with small fish.