Helping you keep your aquarium beautiful and healthy

Barbs: A Beginner's Guide

Barbs are actually several different types of fish that fall in the genus Barbus and the family Cyprinidae. While each type of barb has its own unique characteristics, in general this type of fish is a hardy type that does best in a school. They tend to be small and colorful and are idea for beginners.

Since barbs are schooling fish, you should keep them in groups of five or more. When in a school, these are excellent fish for a community tank, but they can get aggressive when kept alone. Some, such as the tiger barb, are fin nippers, so you should not keep them in a tank with tank mates with flowing fins.


Barbs are fairly hardy, but they thrive best in a tank with plenty of plants. Mild lighting or floating plants to block some of the light is ideal for these fish, as too much light can make the fish skittish and change their coloring. Give the fish plenty of places to hid. These fish do best in a tank with a neutral or acidic pH level. While they can live in other conditions, they will not thrive.


Barbs are easy to feed, as they accept just about any type of food. An omnivorous flake food provides a good base for the diet, but do include live food from time to time, such as bloodworms and brine shrimp. Artemia is an ideal food for most barb species.


This species can be confused with tetras, but the barbs are recognizable for the tiny barbs on either side of the mouth. These fish are very adaptable and can live in nearly any type of water. They prefer plenty of vegetation around the edges of the tank, but space to swim in the middle. Some types of barbs enjoy burrowing, so it’s a good idea to include some sand or light gravel in the substrate.

Barbs are shoaling fish and do well when mixed with danios. You can also mix the various types of barbs to create a beautiful group that enhances any tank. They get along well enough with most fish, but some types of barbs may nip the fins of other species, so watch the aggressiveness. They will tend to swim in the center of the tank, dropping to the bottom to feed.


Feeding these fish is relatively easy. They will do quite well on just flakes, but enjoy pellets and live food as well. For a special treat, try a piece of lettuce or zucchini floated on the surface of the tank. Vegetables should not be left more than a few hours, but can provide a pleasant change in diet.


Breeding barbs is not an easy task, as conditions must be just right. They prefer slightly acidic, shallow water for breeding, but this is not a guarantee it will happen. The breeding tank should be separate from the communal tank, and, if successful, the adults must be removed once the eggs have been laid. They will eat the scattered eggs otherwise.

Barbs make great beginner fish, as long as you aren't looking to breed them. This is best left to the experts. However, they can be an attractive addition to any tank, particularly if you choose a variety of types.