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Issue: March 2015

10 Big, Beautiful Barbs for Larger Aquariums (Full Article)

Author: Mark Denaro


Photographer: Mark Denaro

Barbs have long been popular among aquarists, yet most of the species we know best are among the smaller members of the group. That is as it should be, because most aquariums are less than 75 gallons (284 liters) in capacity, and smaller species are the best choices for those tanks. But small barbs can certainly be maintained by those with tanks of 75 gallons (284 liters) or more, and many look great in large schools.

Big tanks, though, offer additional possibilities, including a few species whose adult size may make you think they’d be good choices for smaller tanks but whose activity level means they do best in larger tanks. This month we’ll rate the top 10 barbs that are suitable only for tanks of at least 75 gallons (284 liters). Some of these species will be old favorites, but others will be chosen from the numerous barbs that have reached the hobby in the last decade.

10. Tinfoil Barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii and B. altus)

Barbonymus schwanenfeldii and B. altus are two species that are regularly sold as tinfoil barbs. Tinfoil barbs have to be on the list because they’re the first fish most people think of when talk turns to larger barbs.

As young fish, it can be difficult to tell the two species apart. B. altus is frequently sold as the red-tail tinfoil barb, but that won’t always hold up as an indicator. By the time the fish have reached 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm) in length, the differences become more apparent in wild- type fish. B. schwanenfeldii have black lines on each lobe of the caudal fin; B. altus does not. In addition, B. schwanenfeldii has a body color that is clearly silver while that of B. altus is more golden.

Why the proviso regarding natural color pattern, you ask? Because there are captive-bred forms that are more golden in color, and I suspect they represent a hybrid between the two species. At the end of the day, does it matter which species you have? Well, it might.

While most B. schwanenfeldii will not exceed 12 inches (30 cm) in length in an aquarium, that is still several inches longer than B. altus, which seldom exceeds 8 inches (20 cm). The potential for size in B. schwanenfeldii, is, however, much greater. While I haven’t seen them with my own eyes, I have heard of breeder tinfoil barbs at farms in Florida that exceed 20 inches (50.75 cm).

Regardless of species, tinfoils are active, boisterous fish that are suitable for only the largest of home aquariums. They make wonderful tankmates for any fish not bothered by their activity level. They will eat any and all commonly available prepared foods and will also eat most commonly fed vegetables such as romaine lettuce, bok choy, and other leafy greens along with zucchini, broccoli, etc. As you may have surmised, they will also view any aquatic plants as their own personal salad bar.

9. Yellow Tinfoil Barb or Lemon-Fin Barb (Hypsibarbus wetmorei)

I must admit I was very tempted to rank Hypsibarbus wetmorei much higher on the list but didn’t due to its 10-inch (25-cm) size. It is one of my favorite fishes, but it has some drawbacks that make it less than a perfect species for many hobbyists.

Apart from size, the biggest negative is that it likes plants as much as most planted tank enthusiasts; unfortunately, it likes them on the menu, and has no appreciation for the aesthetics of a planted aquarium. Lemon-fin barbs, in fact, like plants so much that they’ll even eat Anubias.

On the plus side, H. wetmorei is completely peaceful. While I would expect them to eat any fish small enough to fit into their mouths, they won’t bother anything too big to be eaten. When kept in an unplanted tank with plenty of swimming room, this species makes a very striking addition. The tight school is always on the move, and their silvery bodies are real eye-catchers, with the scales edged in black and the bright yellow fins.

Interestingly, juveniles start out with a rather elongated body shape, but as they grow the body depth increases until they are approximately the same shape as tinfoil barbs. Their speed and durability make them an excellent dither fish for many larger cichlids and a good tankmate for most medium-size cichlids.

8. Lined Barb (Desmopuntius johorensis)

While not common in American pet shops, Desmopuntius johorensis is available regularly from exporters in Asia. The color pattern is rather subtle, which probably makes it less popular than it should be. Despite the lack of colors, the pattern is attractive and this species is particularly hardy.

It is plant safe and does well with fishes of a similar size and temperament. I’ve seen one or two individuals that were approaching 5 inches (12.5 cm) in length, but most don’t exceed 4 inches (10 cm), so a school of five to 10 will fit nicely in any aquarium of at least 75 gallons. Most older aquarium literature refers to the lined barb as Puntius (or Barbus) lineatus, but that is a different and smaller species.

7. T-barb or spanner barb (Barbodes lateristriga)

An old-time favorite, Barbodes lateristriga is still readily available from breeders in Asia, but it is not as commonly seen in American pet shops as it once was. This is unfortunate because its 7-inch (18-cm) size makes it a much better choice for many aquariums than the more popular tinfoil barbs.

Like the tinfoils, B. lateristriga is active and outgoing. Its very nature may intimidate shy fishes, so its tankmates should be chosen with care. It will nibble soft-leaved plants, but Java ferns, Anubias and similar species will typically go untouched.

The color pattern consists of a silver body with several vertical black stripes in the anterior portion of the body, with a horizontal black stripe that runs from the base of the caudal fin to the mid-body, forming a T shape with the mid-body vertical bar. When you add in the other vertical bar, the pattern is reminiscent of a spanner, or wrench, as well.

6. Filament Barb or Filament-Fin Barb (Dawkinsia filamentosa)

Another old favorite, Dawkinsia filamentosa was formerly in the genus Puntius, where it was the type species for the filamentosus-group. The filament barb’s common name derives from the extended dorsal fin filaments possessed by adult males. This feature distinguishes it from most other members of the genus.

I’ve only seen the extended filaments on males but have read that they can also be present on females. Their presence may indicate that the spawning season has arrived.

Adult males from some locations can develop a fair amount of red on the body, while others sport the more traditional brassy gold. The brassy gold color is more vibrant on the dorsal region and can fade to white on the ventral region. Males are somewhat more colorful than females. Other aspects of the color pattern include an elongated black spot on the caudal peduncle and red and black spots on each lobe of the caudal fin.

Growing to 5 inches (12.5 cm) in length, this species is ideally suited to 75 gallon (284 liters) and larger aquaria where it will be best displayed in larger schools. It is a great tankmate for similarly sized fishes that are not overly territorial or aggressive. Filament barbs are plant safe and do well in planted aquariums. D. filamentosa is sometimes sold as D. mahecola.

5. Arulius Barb (D. tambraparniei)

The common name for Dawkinsia tambraparniei represents an old misidentification that has been perpetuated in the hobby for many years. The true D. arulius is exceedingly rare in the hobby, and almost all the fish sold as arulius barbs are in fact D. tambraparniei.

Like D. filamentosa, adult male D. tambraparniei also possess extended rays in the dorsal fin. Although it is similar in size and temperament to D. filamentosa, I’ve ranked D. tambraparniei higher because I find it more attractive. There is more of a pattern on the body, with variously shaped black blotches, a green area behind the gills, and a bit of green iridescence over the body.

4. Clown Barb (Barbodes dunckeri and Puntius everetti)

You’re likely wondering about the scientific name, so let’s start there. I’ve always known this fish as Puntius everetti. After all, that is the scientific name listed in every book I own or have seen that includes the clown barb.

With all the revisions that have been made to Puntius recently, I checked the current name to see whether the genus had been changed. I looked at fishbase.org, where I found it listed as P. everetti. While looking up another species on seriouslyfish.com I saw a reference to clown barbs as Barbodes dunckeri.

Faced with a choice, my inclination is to follow the name listed on seriouslyfish.com, which updates its nomenclature more rapidly than fishbase.org. These are the two go-to sites on the web for fish information and they usually agree, but sometimes situations like this arise. As it turns out, the true P. everetti hails from the Sarawak region of Borneo, where it is only rarely collected for the aquarium hobby.

As for B. dunckeri, the clown barb has been a personal favorite ever since the first time I kept them back in the 1970s. Its coloration is subtle yet attractive, with a pinkish body marked with black spots and bars that are overlain with a blue sheen and orange to red fins.

My personal experience is that they work well in planted aquariums, although not all hobbyists have found that to be true. They may nibble a bit on soft-leaved plants, but I don’t feel that they do enough damage to justify leaving them out, unless the bulk of the aquascaping will feature such plants. While they are frequently listed as growing to 6 inches (16 cm) in length, I’ve never seen one that exceeded 5 inches (12.5 cm).

This is a gregarious species that does best when kept in a sizable school although it can be kept in groups as small as two specimens. A tank that features some driftwood, along with tough-leaved plants and a large open area for swimming is ideal.

Tankmates can include medium to large gouramis, larger rasboras, and most of the larger rainbows. Robust tetras, such as bleeding hearts, also work quite well. Medium-size cichlids are another possibility, as long as they are not too aggressive.

3. Teardrop Barb or Rohan Barb (D. rohani)

Dawkinsia rohani was not named after J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional kingdom of Rohan but rather after Rohan Pethiyagoda, in recognition of his work on the freshwater fishes of India and Sri Lanka.

The main thing to know about D. rohani is that it is absolutely gorgeous! Most of the time males feature a gold upper part of the body with each scale outlined in a golden-green pattern, all overlain with a green sheen, and a whitish lower body. Where these colors meet on the caudal peduncle is a horizontal black spot in the shape of a teardrop. The caudal and anal fins are red, and the dorsal has black spines.

When teardrop barbs are in spawning condition, all the colors intensify and the lower cheeks and gill covers also turn red. This is truly a sight to behold, and because the Rohan barb grows to only about 4½ inches (11 cm) in length, it is a sight that anyone with a tank at least 75 gallons (285 liters) or larger can experience.

This species is still a bit expensive, but you should try to buy as large a school as possible. Your investment will pay dividends every time you look at your aquarium. To truly show its best colors, keep D. rohani in a planted aquarium with other robust, active species.

2. Mascara Barb or Red Necklace Barb (D. assimilis)

Dawkinsia assimilis is frequently imported and sold as Puntius mahecola, but that is a smaller and not closely related species. One of the most beautiful species in the ranking, D. assimilis makes a wonderful addition to planted aquariums of at least 75 gallons (284 liters).

The blue line under the eyes leads to the common name. The snout is red in males from the lips up along the forehead to behind the eyes, where the red becomes a scale coloration in a pattern leading back to the almond-shaped black spot on the caudal peduncle.

Many of the upper body scales have red centers, with the rest of the scale a luminous gold. The lower body is white. The caudal fin has a black crescent that ends in a red dot, with a black dot closer to the tip of each lobe. The dorsal and pectoral fins are red, and the anal and ventral fins are white.

The mascara barb grows to just over 4 inches (10 cm) and is extremely active. It will be happiest in a large group, and its colors will make it a constantly moving, visual focal point of any display.

1. Roseline Sshark, Red-Line Torpedo Barb, or Denison’s Barb (Sahyadria denisonii)

There is a lot of confusion regarding the description and status of Sahyadria denisonii. It has variously been included in the genera Puntius, Barbus, Labeo, and Crossocheilus. It is my belief that there is actually a species complex, because size and color pattern are highly variable. While most individuals won’t exceed 5 inches (12 cm) or so in length, others will exceed 12 inches (32 cm). The amount of red on the body is highly variable, as is the yellow in the fins.

Fortunately for the hobbyist, the most colorful individuals seem to be those that grow to 5 inches (12 cm) in length. It may be that the larger form is S. chalakkudiensis and that the smaller fish that are more common in the hobby now are S. denisonii, and these may be the only two species involved.

A great aspect of this fish is that it does not eat plants. A school of roseline sharks sporting their best colors in a large planted aquarium is a sight no aquarist will soon forget.

Due to their high activity level and preference to be kept in large schools, roseline sharks are best suited to aquariums of at least 75 gallons (284 liters), with larger tanks being preferred. Tankmates can include any species that is large enough not to be eaten and outgoing enough to compete with the roseline sharks at feeding time.

A Worthy Addition

Between this article and my previous survey of the smaller barbs (TFH, June 2014), I hope I’ve shown you that there is a barb for every tank. No matter the size of your tank, there is a barb that is well suited to occupying it. With the exception of highly predatory and highly aggressive species, there is a barb that can be a tankmate to almost every fish you might wish to keep.

Consider a barb for your next aquarium and you’ll be rewarded with a colorful, energetic fish of which you will likely grow increasingly fond of as time goes by.

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