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Tiger Barb

A Hardy Little Fish with a Bad Reputation

The Tiger Barb, Systomus tetrazona, is a very popular little fish.  Other names are Sumatra Barb, Gold Banded Barb, Partbelt Barb and Tirger.


It comes from Sumatra, Borneo and the Malay Peninsular.  It might have been native to some other places in South East Asia including Cambodia but it has been introduced into many places and it is not always clear which are native populations and which are recent introductions.

The Tiger Barb has been introduced to Australia, Colombia, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Singapore and Suriname.

Length and Longevity

 The Tiger Barb grows to about 3 inches long (8 cm).  It will occasionally live as long as 7 years.

Water Conditions

Tiger Barbs come from tropical areas.  They are a tropical fish that has a slightly better tolerance to lower temperatures than a lot of tropical fish.  24̊ C (75̊ F) is a suitable temperature.

Tiger Barbs tolerate a wide range of conditions.  I try to keep the pH about neutral (7), but some people prefer to use slightly acidic water.  They seem to be happy with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0. They come from soft water, but will tolerate quite hard water.


There are many colour variations of the Tiger Barb.  These include the "Moss Green Tiger Barb", also called the "Green Tiger Barb", and the "Moss-banded Barb".  This pretty fish is highly melanistic, but does not appear completely black.  The scattering of light due to the Tindal Effect makes it appear dark green. Different people see the color of this fish slightly differently,m and to some people is appears black.  A variation of this color variety is the "Platinum Moss Green Tiger Barb".

Another popular variation in the "Albino Tiger Barb", often called the "Golden Tiger Barb".  Some people consider that the Albino Tiger Barb is less aggressive than the wild type.  I have not observed any difference.


The Tiger Barb is an omnivore and is very easy to feed, eating all normal fish foods. They like live food like Daphnia and mosquito larvae. In the absence of live food, they benefit from the occasional feeding of frozen foods like blood worms.

Fin Nipping

The Tiger Barb has the reputation for being the worst of all small fish for nipping the fins of other fish. This reputation is partly deserved.  In some circumstances they can certainly be a problem, but if you keep a school (at least 6) the problem is reduced.  I have known cases where people have bought just one Tiger Barb in the mistaken belief that one will be less dangerous than a group.  The opposite is the case, and one or two Tiger Barbs will usually be much worse than a school.

Once, in our shop, I saw that a single male Guppy had got into a tank of Tiger Barbs.  It must have been in for several hours, but it was swimming quite happily and the Tiger Barbs were ignoring it.


Tiger Barbs should be kept in a school. The various varieties all seem to school together.  Even with a school of these pretty fish, avoid slow moving fish with long fins like Siamese Fighting Fish, Gouramis, Angel Fish, Guppies and Endlers Guppies.

Some suitable companions are: Rosy Barbs, Paraguay Tetras, Pristella Tetras, Buenos Aires Tetras, Colombian 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.

Also avoid larger predatory fish that might eat the Tiger Barbs.


The females get plumper than the males. The male has a redder nose and have a red line above the black part of their dorsal fin.


The Tiger Barb is an easy fish to breed.

Keep a school of the fish and allow them to form their own pairs. The prospective parents need to be well fed with live or other rich foods.

Hobbyists normally breed Tiger Barbs in a separate breeding tank. The water in this tank should be soft and slightly acidic. Tiger Barbs are egg scatterers giving no parental care and will eat fish eggs including their own. They also eat baby fish so it is usual to remove the parents after spawning.

The breeding tank should have fine leaved plants, either real or artificial.  Some breeders use tanks with nothing on the bottom, but others prefer to use large (perhaps half an inch diameter) round gravel or marbles to stop the parents getting at their eggs.

The adults will often spawn early in the morning of the day after they are put in.  If they have not laid their eggs after a few days, try a partial water change with water a little warmer than the breeding tank.

Typically, the female will lay about 200 eggs.  These should hatch in about a day and a half, and the babies will be free swimming after five days.  The young can be raised on commercial fry food, supplemented when possible with suitable sized live food.  The babies need plenty of space to grow quickly, and you need to watch the water quality while feeding them frequently.

The fry grow quickly and if they are well fed, could be over an inch long in eight weeks.  These young fish are potentially big enough to breed.

Conservation Status

The Tiger Barb has not been assessed by the UICN Redlist for the danger of its extinction, but there is no reason to think that its extinction is imminent. Very few Tiger Barbs are caught wild for aquariums, with the great majority sold being bred in a variety of different counties.

Scientific Names

The currently accepted scientific name of the Tiger barb is Systomus tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855). Other names that have been used include Capoeta tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855), Barbus tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855), Barbus tetrazona tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855) and Puntius tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855)    


Pest Fish

The Tiger Barb has been introduced to many countries, including Australia, Colombia, Singapore and Suriname as well as Asian countries they are not native to.  They have the potential to cause considerable damage to aquatic ecosystems. Care should be exercised with Tiger Barbs as well as other types of fish to not allow them to escape into the wild.

The excellent photo below was taken by Marlene Thyssen
Tiger Barbs
Photo by Hutschi
Tiger Barb
Photo by Derek Ramsey CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons