Top 10 Energetic Barbs to Amp Up Your Next Freshwater Aquarium
Barbs have a reputation for being fast and playful, but also feisty, and are prone to fin biting. This schooling fish is part of the Cyprinidae family of carps and minnows, and they get their common name from the barbels or “whiskers” on their faces. As long as there are enough people in the group, and they choose the right tankmates for their boisterous personalities, many of these fish can live in community aquariums. Discover which barbs make our top 10 list.
1. Cherry Barb
Puntius male and female titteya
The cherry barb is probably the most peaceful of all the barbs on our list. They have the gentle personality of a typical nano tetra and rasbora, making them one of the most tranquil. This 2-inch (5 cm) species hails from Sri Lanka off the southern tip of India and is known as a beginner-friendly fish because of its tolerance for a wide range of tropical temperatures and pH. The males are deep cherry red, while the females are more tannish-red. They also have a horizontal black dotted line running down their sides, as per their namesake. A six-person school would look amazing against a background of green plants in any aquarium larger than a 10 gallon. You can bring out their bright redness by feeding them high-quality food such as krill flake and baby brine shrimp. Cherry barbs are quite easy to breed as well. Simply provide some dense plants or a spawning mop for the adults to lay the eggs, and then move the eggs to a hatching container so the adults won’t predate on them.
2. Tiger Barb
Tiger barbs are also popular among beginners because of their hardiness and super energetic behavior. Drop a few frozen bloodworms into the aquarium, and they will go wild just like little piranhas. They originate from Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries and come in many varieties – such as regular (orange with black stripes), albino, green, GloFish, and long fin. We recommend a 29-gallon aquarium for at least 7-12 tigers barbs due to their semi-aggressive nature. Adding more fish to their school helps to spread out the aggression amongst themselves so they are less likely to bother any tank mates. You can keep them with other fast swimmers such as loaches, silvertip tetras, and zebra daanios. Read their full care guide for more details.
3. Odessa Barb
Odessa barb is located just north the tiger barb, in Myanmar, southeast Asia. The Odessa barb is a male species known for its intense red horizontal band with shiny black scales. This looks great in a planted aquarium with dark backgrounds. They can be found in rivers and ponds at high altitudes. Their resilience has allowed them to survive in cool and hot temperatures as well as pH levels of 6.5-8.5. Like the tiger barb, they grow to around 2.5 inches (6 cm) long and do best in a school of at least six odessa barbs in a 29-gallon fish tank or more. They are peaceful towards other fish but may outcompete slower animals during mealtime.
4. Rosy Barb
Pethia conchonius (long fin variety)
At 3-4 inches (7-10 cm) in length, the rosy barb is a slightly bigger cousin of the Odessa barb that resides in southern Asian countries such as Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The rosy barb has a reddish color, while the females have a golden sheen. They are also available with neon and long fin options. In fact, longfin rosy barbs are our favorite because the trailing finnage helps slow down these very active fish. A school of six to ten rosy barbs can survive without the need for a heater in coldwater aquariums of more than 29 gallons. We find them to be pretty peaceful for a barb because they do well with other similar-sized community fish. As an added bonus, they sometimes even nibble on hair, staghorn, thread, and other types of filamentous algae.
5. Gold Barb
A bright yellow barb is an alternative to red if that’s what you are looking for. Barbodes semifasciolatus can be found in Vietnam and southern China in their natural habitats. The gold variety is the most common in aquariums. Their golden-yellow, 3-inch (7.6cm) body is covered in horizontal bands of black-rimmed scales. The fins and eyes are a bright red-orange hue. They are a little more boisterous than the rosy barb and would do best in a larger school living in at least 29 gallons with other fast swimmers. Gold barbs are quite entertaining to feed because of their voracious appetites and would love a meal of bloodworms, daphnia, pellets, and even algae wafers.
6. Checkerboard or checkerboard Barb
The common name for this 1.5- to 2-inch (4-5 cm) fish refers to its shiny scales that are half black and half silver, similar to a checkboard. Males often have red-orange fins rimmed in black, while females have paler colors with yellow fins. They were first located in Sumatra, Indonesia and appreciate tropical temperatures with mildly acidic to neutral pH. Checkered barbs are regarded as friendly, community fish, but you may notice some squabbling amongst themselves. To ease the tension, get a school of at least 6-8 fish with preferably more males than females.
7. Denison Barb
The biggest barb on our list is the Denison barb or roseline shark, aptly named for its shark-like body, short red stripe on top of a black horizontal line, and yellow and black markings on the tail. They can grow up to five inches (11.3 cm) in length from rivers and pools in India, which have slightly alkaline pH. Therefore, this schooling fish needs a lot of swimming space, and a group of 3-5 fish or more would do best in a 4-foot tank (1.2 m) or longer. We find that they do quite well with rainbowfish, larger livebearers like mollies, and other speedy swimmers. Color-enhancing foods rich with natural pigments can help bring out the beautiful reds and yellows of these fish.
8. Black Ruby Barb
If you are looking for a deep-bodied fish that isn’t as sleek and slender, check out the 2.5-inch (6 cm) black ruby barb. During spawning season, males display a stunning, ruby red head and a dark, silvery body overlaid with black, vertical bands. The females are bit plumper and have a yellow body with the same black striping. They are similar to the cherry barb and come from Sri Lanka. They can tolerate tropical temperatures and pH levels of 6-7. Get a bigger school if possible so that the barbs won’t be as shy and the males will present brighter colors while showing off to the females.
9. Snakeskin and Rhombo Barb
If you’re looking for a lively and striking fish to feature in a heavily planted tank, consider the snakeskin barb. The snakeskin barb, which measures between 2 and 2.5 inches (5-6 cm), is a stunning fish. Its tannish-orange-colored body is covered with black vertical markings. These look similar to irregular-shaped ink splotches on a ball Python. Although they are found in black water streams and pools that are rich in tannins in Borneo, Indonesia, they can survive in alkaline waters. They can be peacefully kept in a tank with their speedy tank mates.
10. Melon Barb or Red Panda barb
Haludaria fasciata (with two skunk cory catfish)
The 2.5-inch (6 cm) melon barb is one of the rarer barbs on our list, but they are worth getting if you find them because of their hardiness and fun personality. Their orange-to-pinkish-red bodies remind us of honeydew or watermelon. The black vertical markings reminds us of panda bears. They come from tropical rivers in southern India and enjoy mildly acidic to neutral pH. We like to keep them in planted community tanks in a bigger group of 6-10 with both males and females, so that the boys will color up for the girls. Like all barbs they don’t eat very often and enjoy high-quality frozen bloodworms, pellets and flakes. Melon barbs are usually at the front of the line during mealtimes, so keep them in a 30-gallon tank or larger with other medium-sized, nimble fish like loaches and rainbowfish.
Give barbs a chance and be adventurous
You will get so much enjoyment out of a fast-paced aquarium full of hustle and bustle. While we do not ship live fish, you can check out our list of preferred online retailers to see which barbs they have available. To maximize the level of activity, pair them with some of our favorite loaches in the bottom half of the aquarium.