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Caring for the Fascinating Tiger Barb

The Tiger Barb (Puntigrus tetrazona) is one of the most immediately recognizable aquarium fish out there.

 Tiger Barb

Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, the Tiger Barb can also sometimes be found outside of its native due to escapees from the aquarium hobby.

Getting to Know the Tiger Barb

Outdoor aquaculture in Puerto Rico, for instance, has resulted in an established population of Tiger Barbs since the yearly hurricanes can sometimes move fish into new areas!

Tiger Barbs have been an aquarium staple for decades and are popular for many good reasons. They are very hardy, brilliantly colored, and eat just about anything. However, they do have a reputation as being a little aggressive, which is true mostly among themselves. Tiger Barbs will display with their fins and spat constantly, especially the males.

They are also fin nippers on occasion, taking small exploratory bites out of the long fins of Goldfish, Angelfish, and other tank mates. But this behavior is mostly due to hunger or curiosity, not aggression

Tiger Barbs are excellent community fish and can be kept with a wide range of tank mates, as we will explore in a little bit!

Tiger Barb Color Varieties

One of the most striking aspects to Tiger Barbs is the variety of colors they come in!

The standard wild colored morph is already a beautiful fish, with a creamy yellow base, black stripes with iridescent green in the right lighting, and cherry red on the nose and fin tips.

However there are several popular color varieties in the hobby, including a golden hued albino, a deep green tiger barb, a pink and white strawberry Tiger Barb, and even a GloFish version! Regardless of what color you like best, they all have the same care requirements and are easy for beginning aquarists to care for!

  • Scientific Name: Puntigrus tetrazona
  • Origin: Malaysia & Indonesia
  • Length: 2½ -3½ inches
  • Aquarium Size: 20+ Gallons
  • Ease of Care: Very Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful to Semi-Aggressive

Tiger Barb Care

Tiger Barbs are fast and active fish that have few major demands to consider. Just be sure to keep them in small to large groups as they do get lonely!

Tiger Barb Aquarium Size

Tiger Barbs are solidly in the medium sized category of aquarium fish. They typically grow between 2½ -3½ inches long and are extremely active. A 20 gallon tank is the absolute minimum for a small group of Tiger Barbs. And I recommend a 20 gallon “long” since it has longer dimensions (30 inches) compared to a 20 gallon “high” (24 inches). This gives your barbs extra length to swim.

A 20 gallon long is enough space for a group of 6 to live comfortably but not many other fish. If you want more then you should get a larger tank; at least 29 gallons or more, depending on how many tank mates you want for them.

Larger tanks are, of course, even better! A 55 gallon aquarium offers a school of 6-12 Tiger Barbs plenty of extra swimming space. They will spend a lot of time dashing together from one end to the next in such a swimmer’s paradise!

Stay away from tanks under 20 gallons in size even if your Tiger Barbs are young. These fish are just too active to be kept in tanks that are confined.

And if startled, Tiger Barbs tend to dash very quickly in random directions. This can lead to them smashing into the sides of the tank, which can cause permanent injury to them if done repeatedly.

Aquascaping for Tiger Barbs

When aquascaping for Tiger Barbs we need to be cognizant of how much swimming area is available and not crowding it with decorations. Some cover is helpful since fish that know they have hiding places nearby will be less shy in the open. 

Driftwood, rocks, and live plants all provide a peaceful, beautiful aquarium environment for them. Driftwood is especially helpful since it slowly releases plant-based humic acids into the water, lowering the pH as they prefer.

Choose your live plants carefully because like many cyprinids (Goldfish, Barbs, Danios, Minnows, Rasboras) Tiger Barbs are omnivorous. This means that they eat both animal and plant matter.

Softer plants like Cabomba and Elodea will get nibbled on occasionally. If you don’t mind this then bunches of soft plants will offer a healthy supplement to their usual prepared foods.

They aren’t dedicated herbivores though and can be kept in planted aquascapes with more robust live plants.

If yours tend to enjoy their salad a little too much then try keeping them with Anubias, Java Fern, and other tough, bitter leaved plants!

The substrate you choose does not matter much since Tiger Barbs spend most of their time in the midwater region of the tank. Both sand and gravel make attractive and effective options for the bottom of the tank. You might even choose a carpeting plant that’s not soft and edible, such as Dwarf Hairgrass, to create a lush lawn for your fish to explore!

Tiger Barb Water Parameters

As Southeast Asian natives Tiger Barbs have a strong preference for soft water that is low in dissolved minerals (low GH and KH). They also prefer acidity, meaning a low pH (5.5-7.0).

However, they have been tank-raised for so long that they will still thrive even in slightly alkaline conditions (pH 7.0+). But they are less likely to breed and more likely to develop diseases when kept in hard, alkaline water.

Water temperature is also important for them. Since they live close to the equator we want to provide warmer conditions than normal (77-84℉).

One of the most common reasons why Tiger Barbs develop ich and other opportunistic disease is because they are kept too cold. Cold conditions (73℉ or less) depress their appetites and immune system function, which promotes disease in these fish.

Tiger Barbs are very hardy, however, and aren’t overly sensitive to higher levels of ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate. That doesn’t mean we should be lax about water changes or filter maintenance, though! However, Tiger Barbs are durable and unlikely to die in the event of a sudden increase in ammonia due to overfeeding or the death of a tank mate!

Tiger Barb Tank Mates

Tiger Barb Tank Mates

The great thing about Tiger Barbs is that they are sized perfectly; not too large, not too small, and they have tiny mouths. Therefore, most community fish that are similar to slightly larger in size make excellent Tiger Barb tank mates

This is a very large list of fish, including Livebearers like Mollies, Platies and Swordtails, Danios, Killifish, Gouramis (with caution due to long fins), and other fish of the same size and temperament. Other barbs can also work so long as they are very different in color, otherwise the Tiger Barbs may try bullying them.

Bottom dwelling Tiger Barb tank mates to consider include Corydoras and Otocinclus catfish, Kuhli and Clown Loaches, and even Spiny Eels. Plecostomus will also live peacefully with them.

Tiger Barbs are also great dither fish to keep alongside cichlids and other semi-aggressive to aggressive fish. So long as your cichlids aren’t large enough to actually eat your barbs – and the barbs have enough space to avoid their territories – they add color and motion to contrast the rather still, solitary behavior of cichlids. 

Choose smaller species as tank mates, such as Salvini (Trichromis salvini), Blue Acaras (Andinoacara/Aequidens pulcher), and Severums (Heros severus). Larger kinds, like Oscars, are usually too predatory and will eventually be able to eat your Tiger Barbs.

Unfortunately, Tiger Barbs aren’t very invertebrate safe. They will likely pick at the antennae of snails, which can stress or kill them. They will also tear apart dwarf shrimp, though dwarf crayfish are robust and aggressive enough to fend them off.

Lastly, the absolute best tank mates for Tiger Barbs are other Tiger Barbs! These are social fish and you can mitigate a lot of the fin nipping behavior simply by keeping them with more of their own kind. They will chase each other around, school with one another, and maybe even breed if they find your tank to their liking!

Good Tank Mates for Tiger Barbs:

  • Livebearers, Killifish, Gouramis, Danios, Barbs, and other Community Fish
  • Small and Medium sized Cichlids
  • Corydoras, Loaches, Plecos, and other peaceful Bottom Dwellers

Poor Tank Mates for Tiger Barbs:

  • Large, Predatory Fish
  • Snails, Shrimp, and other Invertebrates
  • Bettas, Fancy Goldfish, Fancy Guppies, Angelfish, Swordtails, and other Long Finned Fish

Feeding Tiger Barbs

As I mentioned before, Tiger Barbs are omnivorous fish. This means that they enjoy eating both animal and plant matter. In the wild they will feed on small worms, insect larvae, fish eggs and fry, soft aquatic plant leaves, filamentous green algae, and anything else they can find that is edible. 

Barbs are extreme generalists in this way and one reason they do so well in aquariums is because they will eat just about anything you feed them!

Most prepared flake and pellet blends will be eaten ravenously, 

Live and frozen items offer a boost of healthy protein; brine shrimp, blood worms, daphnia, and the like are excellent items to feed them. If you have worms, such as tubifex worms or small earthworms on hand, only offer these occasionally. The high fat content of worms isn’t very healthy for them to be eating all of the time.

Make sure that your Tiger Barbs get their vegetables as well. Bunches of soft greens like Elodea are inexpensive and provide a nice dose of roughage and vitamins for them. You can also offer lightly boiled lettuce, spinach, zucchini, and other terrestrial vegetables. By clipping them in place along the tank glass your barbs will swim by and munch on them as they feel the urge to! 

Since Tiger Barbs eat anything you may need to be careful that they don’t scare shy bottom feeders away from their sinking wafers.

So if your Cories or Plecos are getting forced away from sinking food, try offering floating items at the same time so they can eat in peace while your barbs stick to the surface.

Breeding Tiger Barbs

Breeding Tiger Barbs is not very difficult assuming you have been following each of the care tips I’ve outlined above! In fact, they are likely to breed with very little effort on your part!

The most important influences on their breeding behavior is maturity, water temperature, and food quality. The more variety you offer them, the better their ability to produce eggs and sperm, which are metabolically taxing for animals to create.

Sexing Tiger Barbs

Tiger Barbs are a little challenging to tell males from females. They are sexually dimorphic; meaning you can tell a male from a female by looking.

But the differences are a lot more subtle compared to other fish.

The main differences to watch out for are the cherry red coloration. Males tend to have more vibrant reds on the dorsal fin, anal fins, and nose. Females usually have just a little or none whatsoever. Female Tiger Barbs tend to be more robust as well, especially when in breeding condition as they will start swelling with eggs. 

Male Tiger Barbs will begin to spar with each other for access to the best spawning places and females as well; these behavioral cues can help you determine more easily who is who!

Spawning and Raising Baby Tiger Barbs

Tiger Barbs are egg scatterers, like nearly all cyprinids. This means that they are very poor parents compared to fish that care for their young, like Cichlids.

Tiger Barbs will find tangles of aquatic plants and embrace there, depositing their sticky eggs in small bursts, before leaving them to find their own way.

The eggs typically hatch in 48 hours however the fry aren’t immediately free swimming. Instead they retain their yolk sack for 2 to 3 days, feeding on it until they are light enough to swim about. 

At this stage they then start hunting for plankton, green water algae, tiny invertebrates, and other prey. You can offer them infusoria, baby brine shrimp, and other appropriately sized items.

Once your baby Tiger Barbs grow large enough they can then be fed crushed flakes to wean them onto prepared food!

Tiger Barb Frequently Asked Questions

Are Tiger Barbs Aggressive?

Tiger Barbs are occasionally territorial with each other and may nip the fins of Bettas, Angelfish, and other long finned fish. But they are not especially aggressive and make good community tank residents so long as you choose carefully!

How Many Tiger Barbs Should Be Kept Together?

Tiger Barbs should be kept in groups of at least 5-6 individuals. More is always better as they are very social fish. And they should never be kept alone.

Are Tiger Barbs Good Community Fish?

Tiger Barbs are great community fish for tanks with medium sized pets!

Do Tiger Barbs Need a Current?

Tiger Barbs do appreciate a bit of water flow but don’t require it. Since they are very active swimmers, a good current provides them extra exercise but it isn’t essential.

Jason Roberts
About Jason Roberts
Jason is an aquarium fanatic that has been a fish hobbyist for almost three decades.

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