The Red-tail Tinfoil Barb makes an excellent addition to a good-sized tank with other large, semi-peaceful inhabitants!

The Red-tailed Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus altus (previously Barbus altus) is a good-sized Cyprinid fish that reaches up to about 8 inches (20 cm) in length. It has a silvery or golden-yellow body with reflective scales that give it a tinfoil effect. The dorsal fin has a black marking or blotch along the tip. The pelvic, anal, and caudal fins are red, but not the dorsal fin. Other common names it is known by include Red Tail Tinfoil Barb and Tall Barb.

There are currently 5 described species in the Barbonymus genus, and these fish are sometimes collectively called Tinfoil Barbs, which can create a bit of confusion. This barb can be confused with other members of its genus, especially the almost identical Tinfoil BarbBarbonymus schwanenfeldii, which reaches nearly double the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb’s adult size.

These two tinfoil barbs are regular imports, usually available as juveniles, and they are often mixed together. Other than size, they are almost identical. The easiest way to tell them apart is to look at the forked tail fin. The Tinfoil Barb has a distinct black line near the edge of each lobe of the tail fin while the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb does not. Though both these tinfoil barbs have a black marking on their dorsal fin, only the Tinfoil Barb has red on this fin as well. The B. schwanenfeldii will also tend to be more silvery overall, and the Red-tail has a more golden-bronze color.

One of the main reasons that it is important to know which of these two species you are getting is their difference in size. Though both of these fish get quite large, the Tinfoil Barb will rapidly acquire a length of 14 inches (35 cm) and is considered too large for most aquariums. The Red-tailed Tinfoil Barb is a much smaller fish and easier to house, so more suited to the home aquarium.

This species is hardy and undemanding. They do best when kept in a school of 5 or more of their own kind. Being peaceful, they make a good addition to a community tank, though they will eat smaller fish. House them with similar-sized tankmates, so nobody gets eaten. They can also be be kept with some of the more tolerant cichlids. An aquarium best suited to this fish is large and roomy with dense plantings along the edges. They like to burrow, so be sure to use hardy plants. When they are fully grown, they will need an aquarium of 100 gallons or more to keep them happy.

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

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Actinopterygii
  • Order: Cypriniformes
  • Family: Cyprinidae
  • Genus: Barbonymus
  • Species: altus
Red-tail Tinfoil Barb – Quick Aquarium Care
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
  • Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C)
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Habitat: Distribution / Background

The Red-tailed Tinfoil Barb Barbonymus altus was originally described by Gunther in 1868 as Barbus altus but is now described as Barbonymus altus. 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. Other common names this species is known by include Red Tail Tinfoil Barb, Tall Barb, and Tinfoil Barb.

This barb is found in Southeast Asia in the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins of the Mun River as well as the Maeklong, Peninsular, and Southeast Thailand river systems. They are also found in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Lao PDR. 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.

These Cyprinids inhabit mid-water depths of large and medium-sized waterways including rivers, streams, canals, and ditches, and will enter flood plains and flooded fields. The larger river channels will flood during the wet season. During that time, this barb migrates into the flooded forest to feed and spawn. Adults then return to the rivers with the young following when the flooded areas begin to dry.

In nature, these fish are omnivores that feed on various plants and animal matter including invertebrates, algae, and smaller fish. They are also known to be opportunist feeders that will congregate near villages and consume organic detritus disposed of by humans. They are utilized as a food fish by the natives and are actually cultivated in floating cages in Vietnam.

  • Scientific Name: Barbonymus altus
  • Social Grouping: Groups
  • IUCN Red List: LC – Least Concern


The Red-tailed Tinfoil Barb has a torpedo-shaped body with a rather high back and a forked tail. Although this barb is very similar in appearance to its close relative the Tinfoil Barb B. schwanenfeldii, it does not get quite as large. Still these good-sized fish reach lengths of about 8 inches (20 cm). They have a lifespan of 8 to 10 years, but could live 12 years or longer when provided with exceptional care.

In its natural coloration, large adults have a silvery or golden-yellow body. The dorsal fin has a black marking or blotch along the tip. The pelvic, anal, and caudal fins are red, but the dorsal fin is not.

  • Size of fish – inches: 7.9 inches (19.99 cm)
  • Lifespan: 10 years – They have an average lifespan of 8 to 10 years, but 12 years or more is possible with good care.

Fish Keeping Difficulty

This barb is a much better choice than its much larger family member, the Tinfoil Barb, for a beginning aquarist. These fish are very hardy and do not have many special needs. They do, however, require a bigger than normal tank of around 100 gallons to accommodate a proper school. Because of their space need, they are suggested for an aquarist with some experience. They are very easy to feed and maintain and make a fun and interesting addition to a tank.

  • Aquarium Hardiness: Moderately hardy
  • Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate – This fish doesn’t require too much expertise apart from what is required to maintain a very large tank.

Foods and Feeding

These fish are opportunistic omnivorous in the wild. They feed on invertebrates, algae, smaller fish, plant matter, and other organic detritus. In the aquarium, they will generally eat all kinds of live, fresh, and flake foods.To keep a good balance, give them a high quality flake food every day. They will also like some live food treats like worms or shrimps. Even though they like proteins, they need lots of vegetable foods. Vegetable supplements include vegetable-based fish pellets, and also blanched lettuce or spinach. 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.
  • 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

These barbs are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. At least 25 to 50% of the tank water should be replaced every month. If the tank is densely stocked, 20 to 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 of size, all need some maintenance. Over time, decomposing organic matter, nitrates, and phosphate build up, and water hardness increases due to evaporation. To combat these ever changing conditions, water should be replaced on a regular basis.

  • Water Changes: Weekly – If the tank is densely stocked, water changes should be done every other week.

Aquarium Setup

Red-tailed Tinfoil Barbs grow large and will swim in all areas of the aquarium. Additionally, they need a school of 5 or more of their own kind, so a 100-gallon tank is the minimum size suggested to keep a school. These messy fish will need an external canister filter to keep the tank clean and to aid in maintaining high levels of oxygenation and water flow. The tank should be securely covered as these fish are skilled jumpers and will probably do so if given the opportunity.

These fish will appreciate a setup that replicates their natural habitat of flowing rivers and streams. Add a river manifold or powerheads to create currents, and 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 make a great decor. Make sure plants are not soft-leaved, or they may 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: 100 gal (379 L)
  • Suitable for Nano Tank: No
  • Substrate Type: Any
  • Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
  • Temperature: 72.0 to 81.0° F (22.2 to 27.2&deg C)
  • Range ph: 6.5-7.5
  • Hardness Range: 2 – 10 dGH
  • Brackish: No
  • Water Movement: Moderate
  • Water Region: All

Social Behaviors

The Red-tailed Tinfoil Barb is not an aggressive specie, but they will eat small fish if they have the opportunity. Slow-moving and shy fish are not recommended as tankmates because the constant movements of this barb 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, they 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 5 or more will help to keep them happy.

  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive – Although rarely aggressive themselves, these fish can keep up with a slightly rougher crowd. However, fish small enough to be eaten will not last long in the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb’s company.
  • Compatible with:
    • Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They do best kept in groups of 5 or more.
    • Peaceful fish (): Safe – Due to their large size, smaller fish are at risk of being eaten.
    • Semi-Aggressive (): Safe – They are sturdy enough to be kept with some cichlids and semi-aggressive fish.
    • Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
    • Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
    • Monitor – They may make these fish nervous because of their activity level.
    • Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
    • Plants: Monitor – Will eat soft-leaved plants.

Sex: Sexual differences

The sexes have no external differences, though females are significantly rounder during spawning season.

Breeding / Reproduction

This fish is not known to have been bred in the home aquarium or commercially, though they are cultivated as food fish in their native countries. Like other Cyprinid fish, Red-tailed Tinfoil Barbs are egg layers that scatter their eggs rather than using a specific breeding site. The female will release thousands of eggs. The parents may eat the eggs and do not care for the young.

The logistics of breeding a fish of this size make it generally prohibitive to the average aquarist. Successful breeding would require a very large 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: Unknown

Fish Diseases

Red-tailed 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 as 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 dealt with at an early stage. The best way to proactively prevent disease is to give your Barb the proper environment and a well-balanced diet. The more closely their environment resembles their natural habitat, the less stress the fish will have, making them healthier and happier. A stressed fish is more likely to acquire disease.

These fish are very resilient, but aquarists should read up on 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.


Through the mid-1990s, the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb only showed up in the pet trade as a bi-catch mixed in with other fish shipments. Today, they are being harvested (as well as cultivated) in their native countries and sold to the ornamental fish market. However, finding this fish is not easy as it is not readily available. Most often the Tinfoil Barb B. schwanenfeldii is being sold as the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb. Be sure you know what you are getting. There is a huge difference in the adult size of these fish.