By: Dr. Thomas R. Reich PhD
The Tiger Barb or Barbus Tetrazona fish belongs to the family Cyprinidae and it comes from Thailand, Sumatra and Borneo, form where it was imported in 1935. The body is deep, plump, and yellow-white, with a brownish to olive black, the flanks have a red-brown sheen and are accented with four black bands. The dorsal and anal fins are blood-red, and the ventral fin of the male is sometimes black.
Tiger Barbs are also sometimes called Sumatra Barbs, although, their native environment extends well beyond Sumatra and throughout South-east Asia as well. Before 1950 the common name “Tiger Barb” was used for the Bardus Oligolepis species, now obscure and almost forgotten due to its similarities to the Barbus Sumatranus, then referred to commonly as “Red Fin Barbs”. The fact that the original Tiger Barbs as we knew then were hard to keep and harder to breed, unlike the easy to keep and very easily bred Barbus Sumatranus” now known as the “Tiger Barb” you know today. Not a vital fact, but nice trivia to use at an aquarium society meeting!
The Tiger Barb is probably the most widely kept barb in the beginners aquarium. They are also so easily bred, that they should a consideration as a first egg-layer to breed! The Tiger Barb can be instantly recognized by the four black stripes crossing their bodies vertically. Males are more colorful than females, with reddish tips to their fins and a redder tone than the female, with reddish tips to their fins and a redder tone to their faces, or as some observe, the males look like they have a red nose.
This can be confusing to the unitiated, for when these fish are out of condition, or not in breeding season, the males and females look virtually the same, as the males distinctive red fins and nose fade almost completely away. However, sexes can still be told apart by paying attention to the size and shape of the belly, the female is always fuller and rounder, even when not carrying row.
Probably the most striking and colorful of all the Barbs, but it has one serious drawback: some of the males become aggressive. In bad cases these bullies will not only make life intolerable for other barbs but, having killed them off, the bully will go after long finned Angles, Bettas and other long finned varieties much larger than the rough male. By constantly pecking the fins and body of the larger fish and quickly darting away to the cover of rocks of plants, the rouge male Tiger Barb will turn the larger slower fish into a ragged, unhappy, listless specimen which, unless protected, will simply give up and die.
Luckily, not all Tiger Barbs are this way. In fact, only about 1 in 10 males become rouges, and usually when not kept in groups of at least 3 or more of their kind. The bully should and must be eliminated, getting more Tiger Barbs at this point will not stop his bullying, once this trait is observed, the fish will not be changed, get rid of it at once! Above all do not breed a bully, the trait can be passed on to its male offspring.
Careful breeding by US fish farms has greatly reduced this trait in the Tiger Barb males in recent years, but chances are that you will run across one of these bullies in your years of the hobby. Breeding should be confined to the more docile males, so that the vicious trait is less likely to be perpetuated. The fish has a lively disposition and always keeps its fins erect and well spread. When resting the body is often inclined nose downward. They are fun to watch, and other than the occasional bully, make a great community tank fish.
Well-oxygenated water is essential for Tiger Barbs; if the oxygen level is poor, the fish will cluster at the surface adopting an almost vertical posture. This makes them a good barometer for general condition of the water in the community tank. Other fish will show little or no change in behavior when the water fowls, the Tiger barbs will be your first indication that your filter is not functioning correctly, or it is time for a major cleaning or water change.
This also points out a very important step in breeding these fish. The breeding tank must be Airated thoroughly before the breeders are introduced, and fresh live plants that help oxygenate the water are helpful. The temperature should be raised to 78F-80F and maintained with a good quality heater, and water should be fresh and slightly acid. If substrate is to be used it should be new and well washed, either sand or fine gravel, bare bottom is just as accepted and sometimes better for rearing the fry. The breeding tank must be thoroughly sterilized since contamination and bacteria rob the water of the precious oxygen.
Females of this species must be conditioned before breeding, placed apart from other fish and fed plenty of live food and left alone for at least a week. The fuller out line of the female will grow heavy and girth will increase greatly and they will show a much fuller outline as breeding time nears. A strong, healthy, well adjusted non-bully male should be used; the harder it is to catch him the better!
After fully preparing the breeding tank with small leaved plants or nylon yarn device, and fully aerating the water, by pumping heavy amounts of fine bubbles into the water for at least 24 hours before introducing the breeders, introduce the female first and about an hour later introduce the male. A long courtship that continues until the female is exhausted and hovers over a thicket of plants. Quivering the female Tiger Barb expels the eggs, several at a time, among the plants. This continues for about 2 hours, until hundreds of eggs have been laid.
Large female Tiger Barbs may produce as many as 700 yellowish eggs at a single spawning. When this process is complete, the male and female will lose interest in each other. Remove both the male and female immediately, for their attentions will turn to eating the eggs as soon as they recover from the exhaustion and remember they are hungry! The young will hatch after about 36 hours in 78F-80F water. The fry appear as small glass slivers, they are very hard to see at first, but look closely as they cling to the sides of the glass tank.
Rearing presents few problems, provided that the water quality is maintained. The fry are free-swimming about 5 days after hatching and can be fed satisfactorily on proprietary fry foods commercially available, though infosoria, in small amounts for the first week, is recommended. Use a sponge filter form the first day of feeding, the day the fry become free swimming, because the fry will not tolerate fowled water of any kind.
The fry should be fed small amounts of food at least 5 times a day for best results. When two weeks old, they will eat anything they can fit in their little mouths. They are veracious eaters, and if you keep the stomachs visibly full they will be well along at about 3 months, selling size in about 5 months. A fun fish to breed, fast results and a nice tank full of happy active Tiger Barbs as the reward for your hard work!