One of the more peaceful barbs
The Cherry Barb, Puntius titteya, is a much more peaceful fish than some of the barbs. This hardy little fish is suitable for tropical fish keeping beginners.
It is only native to Sri Lanka (which used to be called Ceylon), but it has been introduced into Mexico and Colombia. In its native area it is not common and is very seriously threatened by habitat destruction. This fish comes from the hilly areas of the wet zone of Sri Lanka where the air does not vary much in temperature and is generally around 25 -27 degrees C (77 – 81degrees F). The Cherry Barb came from the Kelani and Nilwala river basins and the smaller streams between them.
In the aquarium hobby, it is alive and thriving, being a peaceful and well-loved community fish.
Length and Longevity
The Cherry Barb grows to about two inches (5cm) long. The average life span of the Cherry Barb is about four years, but some have been recorded up to seven years old.
The Cherry Barb will be happy at a temperature of 20 – 27 degrees C (68 - 81 degrees F) with a pH of 7.5 or below and soft to moderate hardness. Nowadays, practically all the Cherry Barbs offered for sale are captive bred ones, and like many captive bred fish tend to be able to adapt to a wider range of conditions than the wild ones could. However, particularly for this fish, do not change the water temperature or chemistry too quickly.
The tank set up should have plants, preferable growing right up to the surface, and some clear sections for swimming. This fish comes from heavily shaded forest streams so very bright light is unnatural for this species. The minimum sized aquarium I suggest for this fish in around 60 litres (about 15 US gallons)
Like most fish, Cherry Barbs are omnivores. In the wild they will eat insect larvae, especially the young of mosquitoes, algae, and a wide range of other things of the right size. In the aquarium they will eat all normal fish foods, and are an easy fish to feed.
Like nearly all aquarium fish, they appreciate the occasional feed of live food like daphnia or wrigglers. Good frozen foods like frozen blood worms are a good treat.
The Cherry Barb is named for the bright cherry red colouration of the dominant male of the group. Sometimes in our shop, a customer would ask for the red Cherry Barb. I’d quite happily catch it for them, knowing that by the next day another male will have become bright red. However, increasingly we are being supplied with fish that have apparently been bred so that all the mature males have the bright red previously confined to the dominant fish.
Albino and ‘super red’ varieties have been developed. As with many fish the albinos are not a very popular fish because their colouration is much less attractive to most people than the original wild type fish.
The Cherry Barb is not a fish that forms a very tight school. Nevertheless, if only one is kept it tends to be stressed. I recommend a group of at least six Cherry Barbs. In the wild, one of the fish that lives in the same area is the Black Ruby Barb.
The Cherry Barb is one of the most peaceful barbs, and I have kept them even with slow moving, long finned fish like Siamese Fighting Fish, Guppies and Endlers Guppies. However, this combination does not always work, so be very careful.
Cherry Barbs are also happy with other small reasonably peaceful fish like Pristella Tetras, Rummy Nose Tetras, Harlequin Rasboras, Scissortail Rasboras, Lemon Tetras, Black Widow Tetras, Emperor Tetras, Head and Tail Light Tetras, Glass Bloodfin Tetras, Swordtails, Platies, Mollies, Zebra Danios, Glowlight Tetras, and White Cloud Mountain Minnows, as well as the Corydoras catfish like the Peppered Catfish.
I have also kept them with slightly more aggressive fish like Paraguay Tetras, Buenos Aires Tetras, Colombian Tetras, Rosy Barbs, and Tiger Barbs, but I would hesitate to recommend these fish as companions for Cherry Barbs. I suggest caution with these fish.
The Male Cherry Barbs are a much more definite cherry color than the females which are more faded in color. The females tend to be plumper.
Cherry Barbs can be bred either in pairs or in schools. They should be conditioned on good meaty foods like mosquito larvae and bloodworms before the spawning attempt.
The Cherry Barb is an egg laying species, producing 200 – 300 eggs from one female and spawns very readily, frequently first thing in the morning after they are put into the breeding tank. A fine leaved plant in the breeding aquarium will increase the chances of them laying eggs. The parents will eat their own eggs if they can get to them. A layer of marbles, or marble sized pebbles on the bottom will save more of the eggs. The same effect can be obtained by using a mesh on the bottom of the tank, or simply by having a lot of fine leaved plants or artificial substitutes.
The breeding aquarium should be very dimly lit
The eggs hatch in about one to two days, and become free swimming in another 24 hours. The parents eat their own eggs as well as the young babies, so to have much chance of raising the young; the parents need to be removed as soon as possible after spawning.
Raising the Babies
Cherry Barb fry are small and infusoria or infusoria sized commercial fry foods need to be used at first. The babies are small enough to be easily sucked into most types of filter, so an air operated sponge filter is recommended.
Although commercial fry foods can be used to raise the fry, they greatly benefit from suitable sized live foods at all stages of growth.
Semi Natural Breeding
An alternative way of breeding the Cherry Barb is simply to keep a small group of them in a large aquarium with a lot of plants, and no other fish. Under these conditions, many of the eggs and fry will get eaten, but some may survive. This is a little closer to what would happen in the wild, and although you will get fewer babies, the survivors are likely to be stronger.
The Cherry Barb is threatened in the wild; the UICN Red list says it is Lower Risk/conservation dependent, but some people consider that this is a seriously threatened species in the wild. Its rarity has been attributed to over fishing for the aquarium trade. Although this may have been a factor in the reduction in numbers of this fish, my own research suggests that the continuing problems the wild population of the Cherry barb are much more to do with destruction of habitat rather than over fishing. Estimates suggest that the area of its native habitat remaining in anything like its original condition is less than 5% of the original area.
The forests were cleared in large areas during British rule for tea plantations, and further destruction happened in the recent civil war. As the population of the island increases there is a danger that further forest destruction will occur. Most of the surviving wild Cherry Barbs are in small and fragmented reserves.
Collection for the aquarium trade may have reduced the proportion of brightly coloured Cherry Barbs. The export of wild Cherry Barbs from Sri Lanka is illegal, but probably still happens.
In our own shop, all the Cherry Barbs sold (and nearly all the fish) are bred in captivity. This applies to most aquarium shops.
The currently accepted scientific name of the Cherry barb is Puntius titteya (Deraniyagala, 1929). Because the genus Puntius is being revised, it is quite possible that the accepted scientific name could change soon.
Other correct names that have been used in the past are Barbus titteya (Deraniyagala, 1929) and Capoeta titteya (Deraniyagala, 1929).
Although I have no evidence that the Cherry Barb is a pest fish anywhere, any fish introduced into a foreign ecosystem can damage it. The fact that the Cherry Barb is not common in its native area is not a good reason to put it into inappropriate places in the wild.
Sources and Picture Credits
The picture of the male cherry barb at the top is from Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, USA.