Tiger Barbs Ultimate Care Guide – Keeping, Feeding, & Breeding

Tiger Barbs are one of those fish that are instantly recognizable, even by non-fishkeepers. Tiger Barbs have long had a reputation for being mean, aggressive fish that can’t be trusted not to nip the fins of every other fish in the aquarium.

In my experience of keeping Tiger Barbs for over 20 years, I haven’t found this to be the case. I have found when conditions are set up correctly, Tiger Barbs as bright, colorful fish that work well even in the community aquarium.

Overview of Tiger Barbs

Tiger Barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona), which in some parts of the world are known as Sumatra Barbs, are a staple of the fish-keeping hobby and have been for decades. Tiger Barbs were first described by Pieter Bleeker in 1855. Bleeker was a Dutch medical doctor, ichthyologist, and herpetologist.

Tiger Barbs are sold in the US in huge quantities. In 1994 research suggested 2,600,000 Tiger Barbs were sold in the USA each year.

(Chapman et al. 1994)

Tiger Barbs, along with Albino Tiger Barbs, Golden Tiger Barbs, and Green Tiger Barbs are usually found for sale in just about every local fish store around the country.

Tiger Barb Characteristics

Common Name:Tiger Barb, Sumatra Barb
Scientific Name:Puntigrus tetrazona
Family:Cyprinidae
Origin:Sumatra and Borneo
Tank Distribution:Mid-water
Adult Size:2.75″ – 4″ (7cm – 10cm)
Life Expectancy:5-7 Years
Care Level:Beginner
Minimum Tank Size:20-gallons (75 liters)
Breeding Method:Egg scatterer
Temperature:72°F-82°F (22°C-27.5°C)
pH:6.0 – 8.0
Hardness:18 – 357 ppm

Tiger Barb Origins

Tiger Barbs Origins Map

Tiger Barb Habitat

Considering the popularity of Tiger Barbs, there is surprisingly little research available on the habitats they are found in.

There are reports that Tiger Barbs prefer clear, slow to moderately fast running rivers and streams. These streams often contain many species of aquatic plants, as well as rocks, tree roots, and fallen branches.

Tiger Barbs do seem to prefer shallow waterways, but they have also been recorded in swamp lakes which have highly changeable water levels, suggesting these fish are very adaptable.



Are Tiger Barbs Wild Caught or Captive Bred?

These days the vast majority of Tiger Barbs sold in the US are captive bred on fish farms in the Far East. Tiger Barbs are bred and imported into the US in their millions every year, making them one of the top 10 commercially important fish in the tropical fish keeping hobby.



Tiger Barb General Description

Tiger Barbs are instantly recognizable to many due to their distinctive four verticle black stripes that often run the full height of their yellow to golden bodies. Good quality Tiger Barbs often exhibit bright red to orange tips to their noses as well as their pelvic fins with some orange on their dorsal fins too.

Tiger Barbs can grow up to 2.75″ to 4″ (7cm to 10cm) long and 1.25″ to 1.5″ (3cm to 4cm) high, although specimens kept in home aquariums rarely reach these sizes.

Tiger Barbs have streamlined bodies that help them zip through the water at speed over short distances when they need to.

Tiger Barb Aggression

Tiger Barbs have a reputation for being aggressive and difficult to keep. In my experience of keeping Tiger Barbs, which extends to almost 20 years at this point, tells me that the Tiger Barbs reputation is not well deserved.

Tiger Barbs can be aggressive and can nip the fins of other fish, but only when they are kept in insufficient numbers. The more Tiger Barbs you keep together, the less aggression is shown by the Tiger Barbs.

I have a 200-gallon (750 liters) display tank in my fish room which holds 300 Tiger Barbs, and they show almost no aggression to other tank mates in the aquarium. The same would be true if you kept 30 Tiger Barbs in a 55-gallon (200 liters) tank.

Tiger Barb Tank Set Up

Tiger Barbs are a fairly hardy species of fish, and due to the wide variety of water parameters they are bred in around the world, they tend to be very adaptable to aquarium setups providing their basic need are met.

Tiger Barb Tank Size

For me, the smallest tank size I would want to see a group of 6 to 10 Tiger Barbs in would be a 20-gallon (78 liters) tank. 20-gallons will provide sufficient swimming space for a small group, but needless to say, bigger is always better when it comes to tank size.

Tiger Barb Tank Substrate

I don’t think Tiger Barbs themselves really have a preference for the substrate in their aquariums. In the wild, their natural habitat seems to have sandy to gravel river beds.

In my own display tanks, I like to use this sand that I just order from Amazon.com. I feel having sand looks natural and the color of the sand really makes the color of the Tiger Barbs pop!

Whatever substrate you choose to use, regularly vacuuming it when you carry out water changes will help to keep the nitrate levels in your aquarium at low levels.

Decorations in a Tiger Barb Tank

I don’t think there is any doubt, Tiger Barbs look amazing when they are kept in tanks with plants. Whether you use live plants or fake ones like these ones I bought from Amazon, doesn’t really matter. What matters is how the colors of the Tiger Barbs look against a green background.

Other decorations can include rocks, roots, and aquarium-safe wood as well as ceramic castles or plastic shipwrecks. Whatever works for you will work for the Tiger Barbs.

Best Live Plants for Tiger Barbs

Whilst just about any aquatic plants work well with Tiger Barbs, I think there are a few that work especially well. These include;

All of these plants are readily available, easy to grow, and will thrive in similar water conditions to the Tiger Barbs.

Filtering a Tiger Barb Tank

I have found the best way to filter my Tiger Barb tanks is using hang-on-back filters. Hang-on-back filters are easy to install, easy to service, and turn the water over frequently enough to keep it crystal clear.

Heating a Tiger Barb Tank

Tiger Barbs need their tank water to be between 72°F and 82°F (22°C and 27.5°C) and as such, they will require a heater.

In my experience, the best way to heat a Tiger Barb aquarium is with a submersible aquarium heater such as the FreeSea Aquarium Heater, which cost me less than $20 on Amazon (check current price).

Lights for a Tiger Barb Tank

Tiger Barbs themselves don’t really care what light you have on their aquarium. In fact, they wouldn’t be bothered if you had no light at all. However, there is no doubt, for Tiger Barbs to look their best, then having a good quality light is a must.

Also, if you are growing live aquarium plants, you will need a light that is capable of producing a full spectrum of light. I have had great success using the Aquasky light which is made by Fluval.



Tiger Barb Water Parameters

In their natural habitat, Tiger Barbs come from waterways that tend to be slightly acidic due to the rotting leaves and other vegetation breaking down in them.

Fortunately, Tiger Barbs are extremely adaptable and, providing extremes of temperature, pH, and water hardness are avoided, Tiger Barbs will usually be fine.

  • Temperature: 72°F – 82°F (22°C – 27.5°C)
  • pH: 6.0 – 8.0
  • Hardness: 18 – 350 ppm

If you are unsure of your aquarium water parameters, invest in a good quality water test kit. I currently use the API Master Test Kit as it measures pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate. I have found it to be the most accurate test kit for the money. You can check the current price of the API Master Test Kit on Amazon.com here.


What Do Tiger Barbs Eat?

Tiger Barbs are omnivores, which means they need a diet that is based around both meat and vegetable matter. In the wild, Tiger Barbs would eat aquatic invertebrates as well as small pieces of plant matter.

In the aquarium, there is a wide range of foods we can feed our Tiger Barbs. Tiger Barbs really want to eat their food mid-water. They prefer to eat as the food descends through the water column. As such, slow sinking foods are ideal.

There are a number of commercially produced foods that I have had success feeding to my Tiger Barbs in the past. These include;

  • Bug Bites by Fluval
  • Vibra Bites by Hikari
  • TetraMin Tropical Flakes
  • Xtreme Krill Flakes

As well as feeding my Tiger Barbs dry foods such as pellets and flakes, I also like to feed my Tiger Barbs live or frozen foods. Some of the live and frozen foods I feed my Tiger Barbs include;

  • Bloodworms
  • Daphnia
  • Mosquito Larvae
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Cyclops


How Often Should You Feed Tiger Barbs?

When it comes to feeding Tiger Barbs, in fact, when it comes to feeding almost all tropical freshwater fish, feeding little and often is better than feeding one large meal a day.

I aim to feed my Tiger Barbs 3 or 4 times a day. I usually give them pellet food in the morning (Vibra Bites is my current go-to) followed by flake food in the afternoon and then live or frozen food in the evening. Sometimes, I will give them more pellets in the evening too.

The added advantage of feeding our fish several times a day is each time we feed them it is an opportunity to observe the fish and see if any problems such as sick fish or equipment issues.


How to Breed Tiger Barbs?

Many people don’t realize that Tiger Barbs can be bred in the home aquarium. In fact, Tiger Barbs are a fairly easy species of fish to breed. They make an ideal candidate for those who are looking to move on from breeding livebearers like guppies.

Tiger Barbs are egg scatterers, meaning during the spawning process the female Tiger Barb releases a cloud of eggs, and the male fertilizes them as they fall through the water column.

Tiger Barbs take no parental responsibility for either their eggs or the developing baby fish.

Sexing Tiger Barbs

At first glance, Tiger Barbs don’t appear to be sexually dimorphic (meaning you can tell males from females just by looking at them). However, with a little knowledge and some experience, it is possible to tell which Tiger Barbs are females and which ones are males.

Differneces between male and female Tiger Barbs

  • Male Tiger Barbs tend to be smaller and slimmer than females
  • The coloration on male Tiger Barbs is more intense
  • Female Tiger Barbs are visibly plumper than males, especially when they are ready to spawn
  • Females tend to be less colorful than the males

As Tiger Barbs take no care of their offspring it is advisable to set up a dedicated spawning tank for them.



Conditioning Tiger Barbs to breed

The best way to breed Tiger Barbs is to start off with at least 6 or 7 fish. To get these Tiger Barbs into optimal condition for breeding, spend a week or two feeding them as much high-quality food as possible.

Ideally, in the week or two before Tiger Barbs spawn they should be fed live or frozen foods several times a day.

As the Tiger Barbs prepare to spawn, the females will visibly begin to swell with eggs, and you will notice some fish begin to pair off. The best way to get a successful spawn is to take one of these pairs and place them in a dedicated spawning tank.

Tiger Barb spawning tank set up

In my experience, the best way to set up a Tiger Barb spawning tank is to take a 10-gallon (38 liters) tank and place a small sponge filter, heater, and clump of Java Moss (or an artificial spawning mop) in it.

Ideally, the water in the Tiger Barb spawning tank should be soft and acidic.

The bottom of the tank should be free from a substrate. Some breeders use a layer of marbles across the bottom of the tank or they place a grid so the eggs can fall safely out of reach of the parents.

Tiger Barb Spawning

Tiger Barbs usually spawn in the morning. If you wish to observe the actual spawning take place, cover the spawning tank with a towel or sheet to block out all light. In the morning, when you are ready, remove the cover and allow light into the tank. The Tiger Barbs will usually start spawning quite quickly.

If the Tiger Barb pair do not spawn within a day or two, carry out a partial water change, replacing the old water with new water that is a degree or two warmer.

When spawning does take place, the male will entice the female over the clump of Java Moss or spawning mop. The receptive female will release batches of small, transparent eggs. She will release between 200 and 250 eggs in total.

As the eggs fall through the water column, the male will pass in and out of them, fertilizing them as he goes.

Once the two fish have finished spawning they should be removed immediately before they have a chance to eat their own eggs.

The eggs will usually hatch within about 36 hours, depending on water temperature. After hatching, the eggs become wigglers. Wrigglers are small, wriggling dots that are halfway stage between an egg and a baby fish. Wrigglers feed of the egg sack that is still attached to their bodies.

After 4 or 5 days the wrigglers become free-swimming baby fish. At this point, they will need to be fed newly hatched brine shrimp, moving on to crushed flake food after a couple of weeks.


Tiger Barb Color Morphs

Thanks to the skill and hard work of some very talented breeders around the world, we now have access to a number of different color strains of Tiger Barbs. Some color strains are widely available, whereas you might have to search for some other ones.

Green Tiger Barbs

Green Tiger Barbs, which are sometimes called Moss Green Tiger Barbs, have a body that is almost entirely green, lacking the traditional vertical stripes. Green Tiger Barbs do however boast the orange nose, dorsal, and pelvic fins of traditional Tiger Barbs.

Albino Tiger Barbs

Albino Tiger Barbs lack any of the dark colorations of traditional Tiger Barbs. Albino Tiger Barbs typically have orange to yellow bodies with white verticle stripes. Albino Tiger Barbs also have an orange nose, dorsal fin, and pelvic fins.

GloFish Tiger Barbs

GloFish are genetically engineered fluorescent fish that have been developed in a lab. These fish come in the most amazing fluorescent colors. The downside with GloFish is they tend to be genetically very weak, meaning they are often susceptible to diseases.


Tiger Barb Tank Mates

Tiger Barbs have a reputation of being aggressive, fin-nipping fish that don’t play well with others. In my experience, this isn’t the case, providing you set the environment up correctly.

If you keep 3 Tigers Barbs in a tank, they will be aggressive and nippy, however, if you keep 20 Tiger Barbs, that aggression disappears altogether.

Tiger Barbs make a fantastic addition to a community tank. I have had success keeping a school of Tiger Barbs with many of the following fish;

  • Cherry Barbs
  • Rosy Barbs
  • Bristlenose Pleco
  • Clown Loaches
  • Blood Parrots
  • Neon Tetras
  • Cardinal Tetras
  • Harlequin Rasboras

Cherry Barbs

I think Cherry Barbs are seriously underrated in the fishkeeping hobby, and I don’t know why they are not kept by more people. The bright red coloration of Cherry Barbs really sets off the reds and oranges of the Tiger Barbs fins.

Rosy Barbs

Rosy Barbs are one of the easiest members of the Barb family to spawn at home. The females tend to be a fairly uninteresting bronze color, but the males on the other hand turn bright orange to red color, which really compliments a school of Tiger Barbs.

Bristlenose Pleco

In my opinion, just about every community fish tank should have a Bristlenose Pleco in it. Bristlenose Plecos stay small, don’t both any other tank mates, and will keep your tank clear of algae. Bristlenose Plecos will also eat uneaten food that makes it to the bottom of the tank.

Clown Loaches

Clown Loaches, which are available in almost every local fish store across the country, have almost exactly the same color pattern as Tiger Barbs, making them an ideal tank mate. Clown Loaches, like Tiger Barbs, do better the more you keep of them, so consider keeping a group of 6 or more and you won’t be disappointed.

Blood Parrots

At first glance, Blood Parrots look like they are going to be too big and aggressive for a community tank, but they are actually fairly placid. Blood Parrots are a man-made strain of fish created by crossbreeding Midas Cichlids and the Gold Severum. Blood Parrots with Tiger Barbs and Clown Loaches is a combination that looks stunning!

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras are almost as ubiquitous as Tiger Barbs. The bright blue color of the Neon Tetras really contrasts against the Tiger Barbs’ body colors, whilst their red stripe compliments the Tiger Barbs.

Caridnal Tetras

When it comes to coloration, Cardinal Tetras work just as well as Neon Tetras. A large school of Cardinal Tetras is a thing of beauty. One of my favorite tanks in my fish room has a large school of Cardinal Tetras with a group of Congo Tetras.

Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin Rasboras make my list because of the way their colors complement the Tiger Barbs. Harlequin Rasboras are very peaceful and will happily live in a community tank with Tiger Barbs.



Tiger Barb Tank Mates to Avoid

There are clearly many other potential tank mate combinations that work well with Tiger Barbs, but there are also some that should be avoided.

Whilst Tiger Barbs don’t necessarily deserve their reputation for being aggressive, there are some species of fish they just won’t get on well with.

I would avoid keeping Tiger Barbs with Angelfish as the Tiger Barbs might not be able to resist nipping at the Angelfish’s long, trailing pelvic fins. The same is true of many members of the Gourami family. Also, Guppies with long flowing tails are also probably best avoided


Common Tiger Barb Pests and Diseases

I have always found Tiger Barbs to be a fairly hardy species of fish. In my experience, I haven’t noticed they are any more or less susceptible to pests or diseases than any other breed of fish.

The main pests and diseases that affect Tiger Barbs are;

  • Ich (Whitespot)
  • Fin Rot
  • Tapeworms
  • Dropsy

Ich (Whitespot)

Ich, which is commonly referred to as Whitespot in Europe, is a disease that is especially prevalent in the fishkeeping hobby.

Ich presents itself as small white spots which usually start on the tail or fins, but if left untreated quickly spreads to the rest of the fish’s body. Ich can eventually take over and kill a Tiger Barb.

The white spots are in fact not spots at all, rather they are cysts caused when the Ich parasite burrows under the fish’s skin. The parasite stays under the fish’s skin for a few days, feeding on the fish’s blood. After a few days, the parasite drops off the fish and sinks to the aquarium substrate where it divides into more parasites before the cycle starts all over again.

Fortunately, there are a number of very good treatments for Ich. I have had great success using Ich-X which is made by Hikari (check the current price of Ich-X on Amazon.com). If you are based in Europe, eSHa EXIT is an excellent treatment for Ich.



Fin Rot

Fin rot is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria will often take advantage when a Tiger Barbs fins have been damaged, especially as a result of fin nipping by other fish.

Fin rot starts off with the end of the fins or tail looking like they have little bits missing. If left untreated the fins quickly start to look raggedy followed by the development of red, sore patches. Eventually, the fins and tail will rot away completely leading to the death of the fish.

Fin rot is another disease that is completely treatable if treatment starts early. I have had good success treating fin rot, and in fact, a number of other bacterial infections, using Maracyn (see more about Maracyn on the Aquarium Coop website). If you are in Europe, eSHa 2000 is a really effective treatment for bacterial infections.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms live inside the Tiger Barbs’ digestive system. They consume the goodness from the food the Tiger Barb eats before the Tiger Barb can. Fish with tapeworms living inside them can literally starve to death even though they eat every day.

Early treatment for tapeworms is essential. I like to place all new fish into a quarantine tank for at least 2 weeks prior to adding them to my display aquariums. During that two weeks, I treat for tapeworms, reducing the chance the worms will get into my display tanks.

Tapeworms can quickly spread through an aquarium filled with fish and they are prevalent in fish wholesalers and sometimes in local fish stores too.

Dropsy

Dropsy is the name given when fish swell up, usually as a result of fluids building up inside the fish’s body. Dropsy is usually the result of kidney failure. There is little that can be done for Tiger Barbs suffering from Dropsy. Euthanasia is the kindest thing for the infected fish.



About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
Editor

Article Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiger_barb

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pieter_Bleeker

https://www.seriouslyfish.com/species/puntigrus-tetrazona/

https://www.seriouslyfish.com/its-often-said-that-a-tiger-never-loses-its-stripes-but-what-about-its-name/

https://www.seriouslyfish.com/new-tiger-barb-discovery/

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