The adult Tinfoil Barb is an impressive and beautiful fish that 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, 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.
Several selectively-bred color varieties of this fish are being imported. The most familiar of these is the Albino Tinfoil Barb (above), the Golden Tinfoil Barb, and a glass variety. Some other varieties 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 2 are regularly imported. 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 2 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. The natural form of this Tinfoil Barb has a distinct black line near the edge of each lobe of the tail fin, which is absent on the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb. Both 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.
The Tinfoil Barb is easy to keep but will grow rapidly. It is often sold as a juvenile 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 who are prepared to provide a very large tank for their long-term care.
To keep them happy, it is best to keep them in a school of 5 or more of their own kind. An aquarium best suited to this fish is 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. Though they are generally peaceful, they will eat smaller fish and thus are not always suitable for a community aquarium. They can be kept with some cichlids and semi-aggressive fish.
Some Tinfoil Barbs are artificially dyed 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
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Actinopterygii
- Order: Cypriniformes
- Family: Cyprinidae
- Genus: Barbonymus
- Species: schwanenfeldii
- Aquarist Experience Level: Intermediate
- 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)
- My Aquarium – Enter your aquarium to see if this fish is compatible!
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 3 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, the 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. The larger river channels will flood during the wet season. During that time this barb migrates into the flooded forest to feed and spawn, and then returns to the river when the flooded areas begin to dry. 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. These large fish reach 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 with 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. The tail and dorsal fins are shaded 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 Photo © Animal-World:
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), versus the 14 inches of this barb.
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 distinct black lines along each lobe, which are 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.
Artificially dyed specimens are also sold under various names like the Blushing Tinfoil Barb as well as colored names like blue, pink, purple, and orange.
Many albino and transparent type fishes make an ideal ‘canvas’ for applying color to an otherwise rather plain specimen. For quite some time, 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, aquarists have raised 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. Of course, the color is not permanent.
- Another method involves injecting dyes into the fish, as seen in the painted glassfish. This method puts the color onto specific areas of the fish’s body..
- Another method involves inducing the fish to release its natural slime coat, then placing the fish into a dye colored water. The dye is absorbed onto the surface of the body, and then the fish is placed into water with medication that encourages the redevelopment of the slime coat. This method provides a more over-all coloration as is seen in the colored Red-tail Botia.
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. Some reports of the colored botias indicate that the fish have shortened lives and possibly even develop other abnormalities. Consumers should be aware of these concerns. The combined buying power of aquarists makes a difference in 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 they need, 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 every day. 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 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: Monthly – If the tank is densely stocked, water changes should be done every other week.
Tinfoil Barbs grow very large and will swim in all areas of the aquarium. They need a school of 5 or more of their own kind and a very large tank to feel comfortable. A group of fully grown adults should be kept in a tank of least 225 gallons. An external canister filter is needed to keep this messy fish’s tank clean and will aid in maintaining 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 its 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 large fish is happiest in a group of 5 or more, so 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
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 5 or more are needed to keep them happy.
- Temperament: Semi-aggressive
- Compatible with:
- Same species – conspecifics: Yes – They do best kept in groups of 5 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
- 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, Tinfoil Barbs are egg layers that scatter their eggs rather than using 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 and have 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 introduce 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.
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, but as adults, they are much larger. Be sure you know which species you are purchasing.
- Animal-World References: Freshwater Fish and Plants
- Dr. Rudiger Riehl and Hans A. Baensch, Aquarium Atlas Vol. 1, Publisher Hans A. Baensch, 1991
- Joseph S. Nelson, Fishes of the World, Wiley, 2006.
- Glen S. Axelrod, Brian M. Scott, Neal Pronek, Encyclopedia Of Exotic Tropical Fishes For Freshwater Aquariums, TFH Publications, 2005
- David Alderton, Encyclopedia of Aquarium and Pond Fish, DK Publishing, Inc., 2005.
- Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod, Aquarium Fishes of the World, TFH Publications, 1998
- Barbonymus schwanenfeldii (Bleeker, 1854) Tinfoil barb, Fishbase.org
- Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Featured Image Credit: Vladimir Wrangel, Shutterstock