Tinfoil Barb

Goldfoil Barb, Schwanefeld's Barb, River Barb

Family: Cyprinidae Tinfoil Barb (albino) Barbonymus schwanefeldi, Goldfoil Barb, Schwanefeld's BarbBarbonymus schwanenfeldiiPhoto © Animal-World: Courtesy Pavaphon Supanantananont
Latest Reader Comment - See More
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... (more)  Bill

The adult Tinfoil Barb makes an impressive and beautiful display, but needs a very large aquarium!

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 Barb Barbonymus 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.

For Information on keeping freshwater fish, see:
Freshwater Aquarium Guide: Aquarium Setup and Care

Geographic Distribution
Barbonymus schwanenfeldii
Data provided by FishBase.org
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Genus: Barbonymus
  • Species: schwanenfeldii
Pet Supply Comparison Shopping
Tinfoil Barb - Quick Aquarium Care
  • Size of fish - inches: 13.8 inches (35.00 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 225 gal (852 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 77.0° F (22.2 to 25.0° C)
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
Enter a Freshwater Aquarium
  • My Aquarium - Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
Popular Searches

Habitat: Distribution / Background

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, Barbonymus schwanenfeldii 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.

Red-tail Tinfoil Barb, Barbonymus altus Red-tail Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus altus Photo © Animal-World:

This species is very similar to its smaller cousin, the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus 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

Aquarium Care

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.

Aquarium Setup

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
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Strong
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

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.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Compatible with:
    • 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.

Fish Diseases

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.


Author: David Brough CFS, Clarice Brough CFS
Lastest Animal Stories on Tinfoil Barb

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.

Augustine - 2004-04-12

These beautiful, unusual, fish are very hardy and tough survivors in stressful situations.
That DOES NOT mean though that you may place them in a tank and forget about it.
Beautiful and great to hand-feed, Tinfoil barbs are so entertaining to watch, actually intensify their brilliant red colors as they mature while other fish usually lose their color, and are easy to care for. I currently keep three Tinfoil barbs along with four Severums cichlids and one Striped River catfish in a 55 gallon.
I got my barbs from a relative and they were only about 2-3 inches. After about a year they are at least 6 inches and are so pretty in the tank with their contrasting silver coloration.
Feed these fish variety, high quality flakes, shrimp pellets, freeze dried food and others. Tinfoil barbs are very easy to care for as long as the owner provides a decent tank size and keeps up with many water changes.
If you have a large tank of at least 55 gallons, get around three of these silver beauties. They are very worth having around in your tank.

chris - 2004-11-10
I have had my 4 Tin Foil Barbs for 6 months or so, and they have grown almost 6 inches! They are very hardy fish, good eaters, and fun tank mates. I currently have the barbs, 15 diamond tetras, a ropefish, 2 clown loaches, fiddler crab, and a pictus catfish in a 75 gallon tank. One additional note: these guys eat so much you have to be creative with their food to keep form going broke. I have a planted tank, and instead of throwing away plants that get too big, or any clippings i take from them, I feed them to the barbs. Also they love liver, which is really cheap at the supermarket. Cut up a beef liver into small squares, and throw them in the freezer. The barbs will love these.

Emily Dickow - 2004-04-13
Greetings! I love my tin foil barbs. I have 2 of them in a 55-gallon tank with some cory cats, a pleco, clown loaches and two kribensis. They are now 14 years old, and I am on my third fish tank (55-gallon). I now believe this tank is also too small for them, as they are nearly a foot long each. I bought them when I was much younger, before I did anything like fish research, and I got no warning from the pet store that they would grow so very large! Had I known then what I know now, I do not know that I would have gotten the same fish! They eat everything in sight (live plants are a fantasy to me, as they ate an aquarium full). I cannot get any new fish, as they eat them. Algae is a problem, as any otocinclus I attempt to put in the tank are usually eaten within one week. They constantly harassed the snails, as well, so now they will just have to make do with the lazy pleco. They are incredibly hardy fish - one even took a late night sail out of the aquarium and flopped on the floor for a while before being scooped up and dumped back in. As that was nearly 11 years ago, I am not anticipating he will have any long term difficulties from it! The people at the aquarium said they can live up to 30 years in captivity, so if you keep them right, you will have them a VERY long time! Just be sure you GET A BIG TANK!

Jack - 2005-04-11
I have had my tinfoil barbs for about a year now and they have quickly grown out of my three foot tank to my bigger four foot tank with a big pleco, angelic catfish, a big leprinus, black ghost knife fish, a large polypterus, a lemon-fin barb and a silver shark. both of my tinfoil barbs get on well with my other fish Except for feeding time, when they all get alittle bit tense over getting all of the food for them self. I feed my tinfoil barbs flake, bloodworm and cokkles with some live food every now and then. I dont tend to put plants in any more because every time I do they rip them out and eat them. so I just stick with bogwood and rocks. You have to be carful when you have the lid off of your tank because the tinfoil barbs jump, which I have experienced a few times before. I will be getting another tinfoil barb soon because you really need to keep them in a school rather then singly.

Leon - 2004-09-27
I have 5 in a 30 gallon tank. They are all within 6 to 7.5 inches (their max size is greatly reduced if they are in a smaller tank.) I have had them for about 7 years now. They have grown hand friendly and will try to nibble on it every time I do something in the tank. They will eat any food whatsoever. Frequent water changes are not critical in my opinion. Sometimes I would not change the water for months and they did fine. I used a small canister filter (fluval 104) and the water stayed clear except for some waste on the bottom. They are extremely hardy: survived two moves, power outages, not being fed for a week, etc, etc. They seem to be somewhat intelligent, but not as intelligent as predatory fish. For example: I have been feeding them floating cichlid pellets for years, and they still have difficulty picking out the ones at the corners of the tank (even though they see them and circle around them).

I bought them because I wanted to have large fish with big eyes that were hardy and did not need too much looking after. They totally lived up to those expectations. However, after 5.5 inches, they started looking more like food than pets (this is a comment that I often get from those who see them for the first time and I agree). They are vicious plant killers, it did not matter whether I fed them cucumbers or not, they would still go after plants for the sport of it. This is the biggest problem with these fish. Do not hope to have any live plants if you are getting them (unless you are putting them in a pond :)). Also, they will eat a smaller fish if they can catch and swallow it. If it doesn


Copyright © [Animal-World] 1998-2012. All rights reserved.