The Tiger Barb Puntius tetrazona (previously Barbus tetrazona) is very striking and will enliven and beautify any tank. This species is the largest of the ‘banded barbs’ and has a gaily colored yellow-to-red body with 4 very distinctive black stripes. When mature, their colors tend to fade a bit, but a school of these playful and attractive fish kept in a nice-sized aquarium makes an awesome display.
This Cyprinid species has been a popular fish for a long time and is one of the standard favorites in the aquarium world. It was once called the “Sumatranus” because it came from Sumatra. Other common names they are known by are Sumatra Barb, Partbelt Barb, and Tirger.
Generally, these fish are not wild-caught. They are normally farm-bred in the Far East and Eastern Europe. Several varieties and ‘color morphs’ of this barb are also available, and some of these are now very popular. These include the Longfin Tiger Barb, which was developed for longer finnage, as well as the color variations of the Albino (Golden / Red) Tiger Barb and the Green Tiger Barb. The Albino varieties do not always have gill covers, so they tend to be less popular than the others. However, with some of the great developments in gold, red, and platinum strains, these variations are becoming more sought after.
These fish are easy to keep and well suited to aquarists of all experience levels. They are quite hardy as long as their water is kept clean with regular water changes. These very active, fast swimming, and playful fish like an aquarium with plants, but it’s best to situate the vegetation around the perimeter of the tank to leave a lot of open area for swimming. They will eat all all kinds of foods and are fairly easy to breed. A great fish for both beginning and advanced aquarists, Tiger Barbs can be nippy with tankmates.
This species does need company and will do best in a school of at least 6 or 7 fishes. They are rather nippy, and in a school, they will quickly establish a “pecking order.” They have been known to nip the fins of slower-moving and long-finned fish as well, such as gouramis and angelfish, particularly when they are kept individually or in a smaller group. In a larger school, they are generally too busy chasing each other to bother with their other tankmates.
- For more Information on keeping freshwater fish see: Guide to a Happy, Healthy Freshwater Aquarium
Tiger Barb – Quick Aquarium Care
|Aquarist Experience Level:
|Minimum Tank Size:
|15 gal (57 L)
|Size of fish – inches
|2.8 inches (6.99 cm)
|68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
Habitat: Distribution / Background
The Tiger Barb Puntius tetrazona (previously Barbus tetrazona) was described by Bleeker in 1855. They are found throughout the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and possibly Thailand and Cambodia. They are native to the island of Borneo and found in both the Malaysian state of Sarawak and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of the island. Feral populations have been introduced to Singapore, Australia, the United States, and Colombia. Many are captive-bred for the aquarium industry. They are not endangered, and this species is not listed on the IUCN Red List.
This fish prefers quiet forest streams and tributaries with clear, highly-oxygenated waters. The substrate is normally composed of sand and rocks and grows very dense vegetation. In nature, the omnivorous Tiger Barb feeds on insects, diatoms, algae, small invertebrates, and detritus.
- Scientific Name: Puntius tetrazona
- Social Grouping: Groups
- IUCN Red List: NE – Not Evaluated or not listed
The Tiger Barb has a round, deep body with a high back and a pointed head. These small fish reach lengths of only up to about 2 3/4 inches (7 cm) in the wild and are generally a bit smaller in the aquarium. They have a lifespan of 6 to 7 years with proper care.
The body is gaily colored with a yellow-to-red background and 4 very distinctive black stripes. The dorsal fins, tail fins, and ventral fins are edged with red. When spawning, they will develop a bright red snout.
- Size of fish – inches: 2.8 inches (6.99 cm)
- Lifespan: 7 years
Fish Keeping Difficulty
The Tiger Barb is a great addition to most tanks and a great choice for beginning aquarists. They handle water condition changes very well and are usually great eaters. However, the tank does need to be kept clean as they are susceptible to ich. Use caution when selecting tankmates as the Tiger Barb likes to nip the fins of slow-swimming and long-finned fish.
- Aquarium Hardiness: Very Hardy
- Aquarist Experience Level: Beginner
Foods and Feeding
Since they are omnivorous, the Tiger Barb 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. Feed brine shrimp (either live or frozen) or blood worms as a treat. This fish will eat as much as you feed them, so the aquarist should determine a reasonable amount. 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. When offering food just once a day, provide what they can eat in about 5 minutes.
- Diet Type: Omnivore
- 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 – With multiple feedings per day, offer only what they can consume in 3 minutes or less at each feeding.
Tiger Barbs are not exceptionally difficult to care for provided their water is kept clean. 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. Replace 25 to 50% of the tank water at least once a month. If the tank is densely stocked, 20 to 25% should be replaced weekly or every other week.
- Water Changes: Monthly – If the tank is densely stocked, water changes should be done every other week.
The Tiger Barb will swim in all parts of the tank but prefers to swim in open areas in the middle. Since their maximum size is less than 3 inches, a school will need at least a 15-gallon aquarium. However, these very active swimmers will do much better in a tank that is 30 inches long and 30 gallons or more. Provide good filtration and do regular water changes. Additionally, keep the tank covered as these fish may jump.
These fish will do best and are most effectively displayed in tanks that simulate their natural habitat. As with most of the barb species, they are most at home in well-planted aquariums. They also need stretches of open swimming areas. Along with the plants, a sandy substrate and bog wood will echo their native habitat. An efficient filter and good water movement are needed for the male fishes to develop their coloration.
- Minimum Tank Size: 15 gal (57 L)
- Suitable for Nano Tank: Yes
- Substrate Type: Any
- Lighting Needs: Moderate – normal lighting
- Temperature: 68.0 to 79.0° F (20.0 to 26.1° C)
- Breeding Temperature: – Breeding temperatures are between 74 and 79° F (24 – 26° C).
- Range ph: 6.5-7.5 – Hobbyists intending to breed their stock should keep the water slightly acid (to 6.5).
- Hardness Range: 2 – 30 dGH
- Brackish: No
- Water Movement: Moderate
- Water Region: All – These fish will swim in all areas of the aquarium, but they prefer the middle.
The lively Tiger Barb makes a good community fish, especially with other fast-moving fish. However, they have been known to get a bit nippy, especially when kept singly or in very small groups. They have a tendency to nip the fins of slow-moving and long-finned fishes, such as gouramis and angelfish. A singly kept fish will be highly aggressive.
Groups of this fish will be hierarchal. It is a good idea to keep them in a school of at least 6 or 7 to diffuse some of their aggressive tendencies. This can help to prevent bullying of other fish. In schools, they bother each other instead of the other tank inhabitants.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive – They are good community fish when kept in groups and with other fast-moving tankmates. A singly kept fish will be highly aggressive.
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – Keep them in a school of at least 6 or 7.
- Peaceful fish (): Monitor – Tiger Barbs will nip the fins of slower-moving fish such as angelfish or gouramis.
- Semi-Aggressive (): Monitor
- Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Semi-Aggressive (): Threat
- Large Aggressive, Predatory (): Threat
- Monitor – This is a rather quick fish at feeding time. Make sure any slower fish get enough to eat if you are keeping them with barbs.
- Shrimps, Crabs, Snails: Safe – not aggressive
- Plants: Safe
The female is heavier, especially during the spawning season. The males are more brightly colored and smaller. During spawning, they will develop a very red nose.
Breeding / Reproduction
The Tiger Barb is moderately easy to breed, and raising the fry is relatively simple. They become sexually mature at about 6 to 7 weeks of age when they have attained a size between about 3/4 of an inch to just over an inch in length (2 – 3 cm). Select breeding pairs from the school that have excellent markings and strong color.
They are egg layers that scatter their eggs rather than using a specific breeding site. The eggs are adhesive and will fall to the substrate. These fish can spawn in a 20-gallon breeding tank. It can be set up with a sponge filter, a heater, and some plants. Marbles used as substrate will help protect the eggs. The water should be a medium hardness to 10° dGH, slightly acidic, with a pH of about 6.5, and a temperature between 74 and 79° F (24 – 26° C).
Condition the pair with a variety of live foods, such as brine shrimp. Introduce the female to the breeding tank first, and add the male after a couple of days when the female is full of eggs. The courting ritual will start in the late afternoon with them swimming around each other. The male will perform headstands and spread his fins to excite the female. The spawn will take place in the morning, with the male chasing and nipping the female. The female will begin releasing 1 to 3 eggs at a time. Up to 300 eggs will be released, though more mature females can hold 700 or more.
After the spawn, remove the parents as they will eat the eggs. The eggs will hatch in about 48 hours, and the fry will be free-swimming in about 5 days. The free-swimming fry should be fed infusoria, a liquid fry food, or newly hatched baby brine at least 3 times a day. Pay close attention when feeding, as uneaten foods can quickly foul the water, and the fry require clean water to survive. See the description of breeding techniques in Breeding Freshwater Fish: Barbs. Also, see Fish Food for Fry for information about types of foods for raising the young.
- Ease of Breeding: Moderate
Tiger Barbs are extremely hardy, so disease is not usually a problem in a well-maintained aquarium. They are primarily susceptible to Ich if good water quality is not provided. 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 still 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.
The immensely popular Tiger Barb is moderately inexpensive and available basically anywhere, both in stores and online. The Longfin Tiger Barb variety is less common.
Featured Image Credit: Grigorev Mikhail, Shutterstock