Top 10 Energetic Barbs to Amp Up Your Next Freshwater Aquarium
Barbs have the infamous reputation for being fun, fast, but a bit feisty and prone to fin nipping. 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. Many of them can live in a community aquarium, as long as you get enough members in their group and pick the right tank mates to match their boisterous personalities. Find out which barbs on our top 10 list are naughty versus nice.
1. Cherry Barb
Male and female Puntius titteya
Probably the most peaceful barb on our list is the cherry barb because they have the docile personality of your typical nano tetra or rasbora. 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. Per their namesake, males are deep cherry red while females are more tannish-red, and both have a dotted black horizontal line running down their sides. A school of six would look fantastic against a background of green plants in a 10-gallon or larger aquarium. To bring out their vivid redness, feed them high-quality foods like krill flakes 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. Just drop a cube of frozen bloodworms in the aquarium and watch them go wild like a pack of 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. Because of their semi-aggressive nature and body size of 2.5–3 inches (6–8 cm), we recommend getting a 29-gallon aquarium or bigger for housing at least 7–12 tiger barbs. Adding more fish to their school helps to spread out the aggression amongst themselves so they are less likely to bother any tank mates. Keep them with other fast swimmers that don’t have long fins, like zebra danios, silver tip tetras, and loaches. Read their full care guide for more details.
3. Odessa Barb
A little north of the tiger barb in the southeast Asian country of Myanmar lies the Odessa barb. Males are known for the intense red, horizontal band over shiny scales rimmed in black, which looks amazing in a planted aquarium with a dark background. They are found in high altitude ponds and rivers and have developed the resilience to live in both cool and tropical temperatures, as well as pH 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. Males have a rosy red coloration while females have a golden sheen, and they are also available in neon and long fin varieties. In fact, longfin rosy barbs are our favorite because the trailing finnage helps slow down these very active fish. A school of 6–10 rosy barbs can live without a heater in a coldwater aquarium of 29 gallons or more. 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
If red is not what you’re looking for, how about a bright yellow barb instead? When found in its native habitats in Vietnam and parts of southern China, Barbodes semifasciolatus is naturally green-colored, but the gold variant is most popular in the aquarium hobby. Their 3-inch (7.6 cm), golden-yellow body has a horizontal band of black-rimmed scales, and their eyes and fins feature a pop of red-orange color. 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. Checker 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 come from fast-moving rivers and pools in India with slightly alkaline pH and grow up to 5 inches (13 cm) long. 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. To bring out their beautiful reds and yellows, try feeding color-enhancing foods that contain ingredients rich in natural pigments.
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. Like the cherry barb, they originate from Sri Lanka and are used to tropical temperatures, pH of 6–7, and dim lighting shaded by jungle forests. 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 or Rhombo Barb
If you’re looking for a lively and striking fish to feature in a heavily planted tank, consider the snakeskin barb. This 2- to 2.5-inch (5–6 cm) barb is quite the stunner because its tannish-orange body is covered in black, vertical markings that look like irregular-shaped ink splotches — similar to the black patterns on a ball python. They are found in acidic, tannin-filled black water streams and pools in Borneo, Indonesia but are hardy enough to live in slightly alkaline waters. Like most barbs on this list, they are peaceful enough to live in a community tank with other speedy tank mates, as long as you get a bigger group of 6–10 barbs.
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 are reminiscent of honeydew and watermelon, while the black, vertical markings remind 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 most barbs, they are not picky eaters and appreciate high-quality flakes, pellets, and frozen bloodworms. 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.
Be adventurous and give barbs a chance. 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.