Tiger barb

The Tiger barb (Puntius tetrazona) or Sumatra barb is a species of tropical freshwater fish belonging to the Puntius genus of the minnow family. The natural geographic range reportedly extends throughout the Malay peninsula, Sumatra and Borneo, with unsubstantiated sightings reported in Cambodia. Tiger barbs are also found in many other parts of Asia, and with little reliable collection data over long periods of time, definite conclusions about their natural geographic range versus established introductions are difficult.

Physical Description

The tiger barb can grow to about 2.76 in (7 cm) long and 1.18 in (3 cm) wide, although they are often smaller when kept in captivity. Native fish are silver to brownish yellow with four vertical black stripes and red fins and snout.


It has been reported that the tiger barb was found in clear or turbid shallow waters of moderately flowing streams. It lives in a tropical climate and prefers water with a 6.0″“8.0 pH, a water hardness of 5″“19 dGH, and a temperature range of 68″“79 °F (20″“26 °C). Its discovery in swamp lakes that are subject to great changes in water level suggests a wide tolerance to water quality fluctuations. Its average lifespan is 6 years.

Importance to humans

The tiger barb is one of over 70 species of barb with commercial importance in the aquarium trade. Of the total ornamental fish species imported into the United States in 1992, only 20 species account for more than 60% of the total number of species reported, with tiger barbs falling at tenth on the list with 2.6 million individuals imported. (Chapman et al. 1994). Barbs that have been hybridized to emphasize bright color combinations have grown in popularity and production over the last 20 years. Some hybrids include highly melanistic Green Tiger barbs that reflect green over their black because of the Tyndall effect, Gold Tiger barbs, and Albino Tiger barbs.

Name origins

The current taxonomic status of the species is far from being settled. There has been debate over the years as to the appropriate genus and species for this fish. In 1855, the German ichthyologist Pieter Bleeker described this fish as Barbus tetrazona. In 1857, Bleeker described another species under the same name. Then, in 1860, Bleeker used C. sumatraus to describe the original species. In the late 1930’s, the mistake was discovered, and the tiger barb nomenclature was changed back to B. tetrazona (Alfred, 1963). More recently, Dr. L.P. Schultz has reclassified the barbs according to the number of barbers each species possesses (Axelrod and Sweeney, 1992).

However, as stated by some Zakaria-ismail (1993), “from my ongoing osteological studies that have been classified under Puntius, the genus Barbodes cannot be properly defined.” Today, we are left with three generic classifications, Barbodes, Capoeta, and Puntius, all of which appear in the literature when referring to tiger barbs and other barb species.

In the aquarium

The Tiger barb is an active schooling fish that is usually kept in groups of five or more. They are often aggressive in numbers less than 5 and are known fin nippers. Semi-aggressive fish, they form a pecking order in the pack which they may extend to other fish, giving them a reputation for nipping at the fins of other fish, especially if they are wounded or injured. They are thus not recommended for tanks with slower, more peaceful fishes such as betas, gouramis, angelfish and others with long flowing fins. When in large enough groups, however, they tend to spend most of their time chasing each other and leave other species of fish alone. They dwell primarily at the water’s mid-level. Tiger barbs do best in soft, slightly acidic water. The tank should be well-lit with ample vegetation, about two-thirds of the tank space. These barbs are omnivorous and will consume processed foods such as flakes and crisps as well as live foods.


The tiger barb usually attains sexual maturity at a body length of 0.8 to 1.2 in (20 to 30 mm) in total length, or at approximately six to seven weeks of age. The females are larger with a rounder belly and a mainly black dorsal fin while the males have a bright, red nose with a distinct red line above the black on their dorsal fin. The egg-layers tend to spawn several hundred eggs in the early morning in clumps of plants. On average, 300 eggs can be expected from each spawn in a mature broodstock population, although the number of eggs released will increase with the maturity and size of the fish. Spawned eggs are adhesive, and negatively buoyant in freshwater.

Tiger barbs have been documented to spawn as many as 500 eggs per female (Scheurmann 1990; Axelrod 1992). With proper conditioning, females can spawn at approximately two weeks intervals (Munro et. al. 1990)

Once spawning is finished, they will usually eat any of the eggs that they find. It is usually necessary to separate the fish from the eggs after spawning in order to prevent the eggs from being eaten.

Photo by Derek Ramsey