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Tin Foil Barb Fact Sheet

The Tinfoil Barb, Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, is a much bigger fish than most of the common barbs kept in aquariums. It is sometimes called Schwanenfeld's Barb.


The Tin Foil Barb is native to South East Asia and is found naturally in Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia on the island of Borneo, and on at least two other Indonesian islands. It was native to Singapore, but appears as if it became extinct and has been reintroduced. It is native to several river systems including the Mekong in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

It has been introduced to Australia, the United States and Taiwan, and probably other places.

Water Conditions

The water this fish comes tends to be soft and moderately acidic with a temperature of between 20 degrees C and 34 degrees C. (Between 68 degrees F and 93 Degrees F.) In an aquarium I suggest a pH between 6.5 and 7.0 with a temperature of 24 degrees C. (75 degrees F), and a maximum hardness of 10, although there is no doubt that the fish can be adapted to water a little outside these parameters.

The minimum tank size for this fish is 6 feet long by 2 feet wide, but ideally the tank should be bigger than this. In the wild, this fish comes mostly from rivers and other moving water, although they will also live in reservoirs and flooded fields.  In an aquarium it is advisable to have a strong current and good filtration.

Given a large aquarium with the right conditions, this is a hardy fish.


In the wild the Tin Foil Barb is an omnivore eating a higher proportion of vegetable matter than many fish. They also eat insects, crustaceans and small fish.

In an aquarium they are very easy to feed and will eat nearly all common fish foods. The basic food should have a good proportion of vegetable food, but an occasional feeding of live or frozen food such as Daphnia, Blood Worms or Brine Shrimp is important for variety.

This fish is frequently one of the first ones to start eating and in some cases can make it difficult for less vigorous fish to get enough food.

This fish will feed at all levels, but has a tendency to swim in the bottom half of the aquarium.

Plant Eater

In the wild the Tin Foil Barb eats quite a lot of algae and other plants. In an aquarium they are also plant eaters. This is a natural part of their diet, but needs to be taken into account when planting the aquarium.

Length and Longevity

The Tin Foil Barb is a fast growing fish and reaches a length in the wild of about 35 cm (14 inches) and can weigh over a kilogram. Typically the ones you buy in a shop will be very young ones and you need to be aware of how big they are capable of growing to.  Shopkeepers who sell this fish to aquarists should make sure their customers understand that this is a big fish. In a shop you might see ones only about two inches (5 cm) long and not realize that these are babies.

They can certainly live for ten years, and probably more.


The Tin Foil Barb is a peaceful schooling fish; you should keep a minimum of five of these fish together. They can be kept with most fish of their own size, but a fish small enough to fit in their mouths is just food to them. Suitable companions include some of the larger South American cichlids, Giant Danios, loaches, catfish, larger Tetras like the African Long-finned Tetra and SilverSharks.

They are boisterous, fast swimming fish that can disrupt more placid fish.


There is no easy way to distinguish the sexes of this fish when they are young, but once they get to breeding size the females become plumper.


Because of its large size, this fish has only rarely been bred in aquariums, and no complete reports are available. It is an egg scatterer with each female producing several thousand eggs. The smallest suggested aquarium for spawning is eight feet long. This fish will almost certainly eat its own, and any other fish’s, eggs and babies. No parental care has been recorded in this species.

You would also need other large aquariums ready to grow on the babies.

Commercially the Tin Foil Barbs available are either caught wild, or are bred in ponds in tropical areas like Malaysia.


Several colour varieties of Tin Foil Barbs have been developed including Albino, Blushing and Golden. These varieties will normally have been bred in outside ponds rather than being caught wild.

Conservation Status

Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, is a species of least concern. It is widely distributed and is common in most of the areas it is native to although in a few places it may be locally threatened.

Food Fish

In some areas this fish is used for human food.

Pest Fish

This fish has been introduced to many places.

The Lake Eacham Rainbow Fish was wiped out in Lake Eacham by the introduction of a number of types of fish not naturally occurring in this lake. The worst one was probably the Mouth Almighty, Glossamia aprion. The Mouth Almighty is a predatory fish native to Australia, but not to Lake Eacham.

One of the other introduced fish found in the lake was the Tin Foil Barb. Although this barb may not have been the main cause of the apparent extinction of the Lake Eacham Rainbow Fish, the Tin Foil Barb is definitely capable of causing considerable disruption to the ecology of water ways it is introduced to.

Scientific Names

The Accepted Scientific name of the Tin Foil Barb is Barbonymus schwanenfeldii (Bleeker, 1854).

Other scientific names that have been used include Barbus schwanenfeldii, Barbodes schwanefeldii, Puntius schwanenfeldii, Barbus schwanenfeldii, Barbus Schwanefeldi and Barbus pentazona schwanefeldi.