The Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus schwanenfeldii (previously Puntius schwanenfeldii) is a very large Cyprinid. This barb can reach a size of up to 14 inches (35 cm) in length. Its natural coloration is usually silvery or sometimes golden, but with reflective scales that give it a tinfoil effect. Other common names it is known by include Goldfoil Barb, Schwanefeld's Barb, and River Barb.
There are also several selectively bred color varieties of this fish being imported with the most familiar being the Albino Tinfoil Barb (above), the Golden Tinfoil Barb, and a glass variety. There are also some that are further distinguished by naturally varying colors in their fins or eyes.
This barb is the type species for its genus. There are currently 5 described species in the Barbonymus genus, but only two are regularly imported. Yet these fish are sometimes collectively called Tinfoil Barbs, which can create a bit of confusion. This species is often mixed in with its smaller cousin, the Red-tail Tinfoil BarbBarbonymus altus, which has an adult size of about 8 inches (20 cm). These two are usually available as juveniles and other than size, they are almost identical. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the forked tail fin. On the natural form of this Tinfoil Barb there will be a distinct black line near the edge of each lobe of the tail fin, which are missing on the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb. Both these tinfoil barbs have a black marking on their dorsal fin but only the Tinfoil Barb has red on this fin as well. The B. schwanenfeldii will also tend to be more silvery overall, with the Red-tail being a more golden bronze color.
These fish are easy to keep but will grow rapidly. It is often sold at a very small size with little information as to its ultimate size. They are considered too large for most aquariums and are really best kept by more experienced aquarists prepared to provide a very large tank for their long term care.
Though they are generally peaceful they will eat smaller fish, so are not always suitable for a community aquarium. They can be kept with cichlids. An aquarium best suited to this fish would be large and roomy, with a fine gravel bottom, and dense plantings along the edges. They like to burrow so be sure to use hardy plants.
Some Tinfoil Barbs are artificially dyed specimens and sold under various names like the Blushing Tinfoil Barb as well as colored names like blue, pink, purple, and orange. Be sure to inquire about the type of specimen you are obtaining. Learn more about Artificial Colored Fish below.
The Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus schwanenfeldii (previously Puntius schwanenfeldii) was originally described by Pieter Bleeker in 1853, originally as Barbus schwanenfeldii. This species is the type species for a newer genus Barbonymus. This is a newer genus established by Kottelat in 1999 to represent a distinct evolutionary lineage of large "barbs". Before this, a number of large Asian "barbs" were grouped indiscriminately into three other genera; Barbus, Barbodes, and Puntius. The 5 described species in the Barbonymus genus are sometimes collectively called Tinfoil Barbs.
This barb is found in Thailand, Malayan Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo. It has been introduced in Singapore and other places as well, so today there are numerous feral population throughout the world. This species is listed on the IUCN Red List as Least Concern (LC) as they are widespread throughout their range with no major identified threats. Other common names this species is known by include Goldfoil Barb, Schwanefeld's Barb, and River Barb.
These Cyprinids inhabit large waterways including rivers, streams, canals, and ditches and will enter flooded fields to spawn and feed. In nature these fish are omnivores, but with a largely herbivorous diet. They feed on filamentous algae along with aquatic and submerged land plant matter as well as worms, crustaceans, smaller fish, and even the carcasses of dead animals.
Scientific Name: Barbonymus schwanenfeldii
Social Grouping: Groups
IUCN Red List: LC - Least Concern
The Tinfoil Barb has a torpedo shaped body with a high back and a forked tail. They are large fish reaching lengths up to almost 14 inches (35 cm). They have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years, but could live longer with exceptional care.
Tinfoil Barb - Juvenile
In its natural coloration a large adult has a silvery or golden yellow body. The dorsal fin is red and has a black marking or blotch along the tip. The pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are also red. The caudal fin is orange or a deep red and has black lines submarginally on the upper and lower portions of each lob.
You can see the color difference in the juvenile in the picture to the left. The juvenile is a rather drab young barb with a basic silver or tin plated look to the scales, thus the common name "Tinfoil Barb". As they get older they develop red pelvic and anal fins, along with a shaded tail and dorsal fin; shading from red to black often with a white tip on the dorsal fin.
The Tinfoil Barb is imported in several varieties. These include the familiar Albino Tinfoil Barb and Golden Tinfoil Barb along with a glass variety. Sometimes a specimen may be further distinguished as having a red or yellow tail, having black eyes, or a combination of these traits.
This species is very similar to its smaller cousin, the Red-tail Tinfoil BarbBarbonymus altus. However as an adult it is much larger. The adult size of the Red-tail Tinfoil Bar is about 8 inches (20 cm).
These two are usually sold as juveniles and other than size, they are almost identical. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the forked tail fin. On the natural form of B. schwanenfeldii there will be a distinct black lines along each lobe, which is missing on B. altus. The B. schwanenfeldii will also tend to be more silvery overall, with the B. altus being a more golden bronze color.
There are also artificially dyed specimens sold under various names like the Blushing Tinfoil Barb as well as colored names like blue, pink, purple, and orange.
About Artificially Colored Fish:
Many albino and transparent type fishes make an ideal 'canvas' for applying color to an otherwise rather plain specimen. For quite sometime, artificially dyed specimens were thought of as an intriguing and eye-catching addition to the home aquarium. Today however, as more has been learned of the processes involved, there are some serious concerns about the practice. Concerns are over the initial stress and possible pain to the fish, followed by a possibly higher susceptibility to infection during the process.
Color is added to fish by various methods:
One method is by feeding them dyed food to make them colorful. This method is of very little concern, and of course the color is not permanent.
Another method is by injecting dyes into the fish, as seen in the painted glassfish. This method puts the color onto specific areas of the fish's body.
And still another method is by inducing the fish to release its natural slime coat, then placing the fish into a dye colored water that is absorbed onto the surface of its body, and then finally putting the fish into water with medication that encourages the redevelopment of the slime coat. This method provides a more over all coloration, an example is the colored Red-tail Botia.
Those fish that survive the injection processes reportedly go on to live fairly normal lives, though the dyes usually fade with time. This may be true for fish subjected to the overall dying process as well. There have been reports with the colored botias, of the fish possibly having shortened lives and possibly developing other abnormalities. As a consumer you will want to be aware of these concerns. The combined buying power of aquarists makes a difference on what is made available.
Size of fish - inches: 13.8 inches (35.00 cm) -
Lifespan: 10 years - They have an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, but could live longer with good care
Fish Keeping Difficulty
The Tinfoil Barb is moderately hardy and very easy to care for, but they do get very large. Because of their large size, the space, and the financial requirements needed to keep them, they are not really considered the best choice for the beginning aquarist.
Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate - This is not a fish for the average aquarium due to its large size when fully grown.
Foods and Feeding
Since they are omnivorous, the Tinfoil Barb will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods. To keep a good balance give them a high quality flake food everyday. They will also like some live food treats like worms or shrimps. But even though they like proteins, they need lots of vegetable foods. Vegetable substitutes suggested for these fish in the aquarium are algae wafers, cooked lettuce, spinach, and oatmeal. When offering food just once a day, provide what they can eat in about 5 minutes. The rule of thumb when offering food several times a day is to offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less at each feeding.
Diet Type: Omnivore - This fish appreciates a diet supplemented with vegetables as well as live foods as opposed to a purely processed diet.
Flake Food: Yes
Tablet Pellet: Yes
Live foods (fishes, shrimps, worms): Some of Diet
Vegetable Food: Some of Diet
Meaty Food: Some of Diet
Feeding Frequency: Several feedings per day
Tinfoil Barbs are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. At least 25 - 50% of the tank water should be replaced every month. If the tank is densely stocked 20 - 25% should be replaced weekly or every other week. An algae magnet can be used to keep the viewing panes clear of algae.
Aquariums are closed systems and regardless on size all need some maintenance. Over time decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up and the water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever changing conditions water should be replaced on a regular basis.
Water Changes: Monthly - It the tank is densely stocked the water changes should be done every other week.
The Tinfoil Barbs grow very large and will swim in all areas of the aquarium. They need a school of five or more of their own kind and a very large tank to keep happy. It is advisable to keep a group of full grown adults in at least a 225 gallon tank. An external canister filter is needed to keep this messy fishes tank clean, and will aid in keeping high levels of oxygenation and water flow. Additionally, the tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity.
This fish prefers a setup that replicates their natural habitat of flowing rivers and streams. A river manifold or powerheads can be used to create currents. Provide a substrate of sand or gravel with scattered smooth rocks and pebbles. These fish are large and can knock over most decorations. Large pieces of drift wood and firmly anchored plants can be used for decor. Make sure the plants are hardy varieties and not soft leaved, or this barb will feed on them. Immaculately planted tanks won't work well with this fish as it will gladly devour all but the sturdiest of aquarium plants.
Minimum Tank Size: 225 gal (852 L) - This fish is happiest in a group of five or more, and as such the minimum tank is in fact quite massive.
Suitable for Nano Tank: No
Substrate Type: Any
Lighting Needs: Moderate - normal lighting
Temperature: 72.0 to 77.0° F (22.2 to 25.0° C)
Range ph: 6.5-7.5
Hardness Range: 2 - 10 dGH
Water Movement: Strong
Water Region: All
The Tinfoil Barb is not an aggressive species, however they will eat small fish if they have the opportunity. Slow moving and shyer fish are not recommended as tankmates because the constant movements of this fish can stress them. The best tankmates are those of similar size and energy such as other cyprinids and characins, some cichlids, and catfish.
In nature the Tinfoil Barb can be found swimming in large schools. In the home aquarium they will do best if kept with some of their own kind. If kept singly or in smaller groups they may become aggressive or overly shy, and fail to thrive. Groups of five or more are needed to keep them happy.
Same species - conspecifics: Yes - They do best kept in groups of 6 or more.
Peaceful fish (): Monitor - Due to its large size, smaller fish are at risk of being eaten.
Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor - It is sturdy enough to be kept with some cichlids and semi-aggressive fish.
Aggressive (): Monitor
Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
Slow Swimmers & Eaters (): Monitor
Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe - not aggressive
Plants: Monitor - It will eat soft-leaved plants.
Sex: Sexual differences
There are no visible external differences between the sexes.
Breeding / Reproduction
Like other Cyprinid fish, the Tinfoil Barbs are egg layers that scatter their eggs rather than having a specific breeding site.. The female will release thousands of eggs, but the parents may eat the eggs and do not care for the young.
This fish is not known to have been bred in the home aquarium, but they have been bred commercially and a variety of strains have been developed. They are aquacultured as food fish in their native countries, as well as having been spawned with the use of hormones in aquaculture projects in Hawaii.
The logistics of breeding a fish of this size is generally prohibitive to the average aquarist. It would take an enormous tank and the ability to raise the young separately from the parents. To learn about breeding Cyprinids, see the description of breeding techniques in: Breeding Freshwater Fish: Barbs.
Ease of Breeding: Difficult - Although not difficult breed, breeding a fish of this size is generally prohibitive to the average aquarist.
Tinfoil Barbs are very hardy so disease is not usually a problem in a well maintained aquarium. That being said there is no guarantee that you won't have to deal with health problems or disease. Anything you add to your tank can also bring disease. Not only other fish but plants, substrate, and decorations can harbor bacteria. Take great care and make sure to properly clean or quarantine anything that you add to an established tank so not to upset the balance.
A good thing about these barbs is that due to their resilience, an outbreak of disease can often be limited to just one or a few fishes if you deal with it at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Barb the proper environment and give them a well balanced diet. The closer to their natural habitat the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happy. A stressed fish will is more likely to acquire disease.
These fish are very resilient, but it is recommended to read up on the common tank diseases. Knowing the signs and catching and treating them early makes a huge difference. For information about freshwater fish diseases and illnesses, see Aquarium Fish Diseases and Treatments.
The Tinfoil Barb is readily available both in stores and online. They are moderately inexpensive though prices vary depending on size. This species is often mixed in with its smaller cousin, the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb and as adults they are much larger, so be sure you know which species your are purchasing.
Anonymous - 2014-10-27 I have 8 tiger berbs,3 green barbs, 9 cherry barbs & 3 plecos i would like to add tinfoil barb to the group, can they cope??
Clarice Brough - 2014-10-27 The Tinfoil Barb is a shy fish. You didn't say what size tank you have, but these guys need to be kept in a group and in a very large tank... 225 is suggested for a school of 5. Given that, I would say stick with your smaller barbs unless you can accommodate these fish.
Bill - 2012-09-30 I have two yellow fin tin foils. I also have a 12' bala shark,12' pleco,2 blue garomies,3 danios,cory cat,pitca cat,flying fox cat,red tail shark, albino red tailed shark, south american cichlid. This is all in a 55 gallon tank, the black red tailed shark calmed my tin foils down the first week. This is a busy tank , but some of my fish are 9 years old.
Anonymous - 2012-09-19 Good comment John, 'Having a good enough filter to rid the Tinfoil Red Tail Barb waste. To add to this: I also do a water change every 2 weeks. I feed my fish 2 times a day, this keeps the Tinfoil Red Tail Barb full, which leads to less of a desire to pick on smaller fish . My two Tinfoil Red Tail Barb's are in a 40+ gallon tank with 1 black shark, 2 tiger barbs, 2 blue guami's, 1 gold guami, and an algea eater. All extremely satisfied living with each other.
Fish_Lova12 - 2008-10-19 I have had my Tin Foil Barb, Cosmo for a little over a month and it has grown really fast and bites my Spotted Silver dollar, but hes still alive. My Red Platy is dying, I think because of my tin foil barb. The red platy's tail is all messed up. I recommend this fish for a big tank like 30 or 40 gallons. Cosmo is fun to watch, especially when he eats. Sometimes he'll splash me. But, I'm gonna get rid of him this week. Any suggestions...
Prabha - 2012-02-02 Buddy I gave him at the the same pet store in which I bought him a year ago....He was 3 inches when I bought him...now he is 8 inches. :) He killed every fish I kept with him...to your surprise he even killed my oscar too....stupid fish....Get rid of him first otherwise your precious silver dollar will be dead....his way of attacking is way more better...first he will bite off other fishes eyes and then he will target fins...then the end
Paulm - 2012-08-04 Tinfoils need to be in a group, otherwise they get insecure and aggressive. The same goes for tiger barbs. If you have three or more of them, they will stay busy with each other and not pick on the other fish.