African and Asian barbs have been exploited by the aquarium trade for many years. Wild stocks of some species such as Barbus titteya (Cherry Barb) from Sri Lanka are very low, but the species is still widely available in the hobby, due to captive breeding. The majority of the small barbs are bred by the thousand in fish farms in the Far East, South Africa, eastern Europe, and Florida. Captive-bred fishes are easier to transport and not as sensitive to changes in water conditions as wild fishes, and so are easier to acclimatize.
Barbs are found in all bodies of water, from streams and rivers to lakes, and are shoaling fishes.
Applying this to the aquarium, when purchasing fishes you should get a group of six to ten, more if you have room. A sparsely planted aquarium is ideal as this allows plenty of swimming space in the mid to lower levels. With the exception of Barbus tetrazona (Tiger Barb), most small barbs are compatible with equal-sized fishes in the community aquarium. Tiger barbs are noted for their quarrelsome nature, but even this can be overcome provided they are kept as a shoal of eight or more in a large aquarium, when, as they are so busy chasing each other, they leave the other fishes alone. Only if kept in smaller numbers do they really cause any trouble.
With some of the medium-sized species, keep the aquarium well covered as they may jump, especially if chasing around at feeding time.
For small aquaria (up to 60 cm/24 in) we recommend Barbus titteya (Cherry Barb), Barbus gelius (Golden Dwarf Barb), Barbus cumingi (Cuming’s Barb), Barbus oligolepis (Checker Barb), Barbus conchonius (Rosy Barb), Barbus fasciatus (Striped Barb), Barbus “Odessa” (Odessa Barb), Barbus schuberti (Golden Barb), and Barbus ticto stoliczkae (Stoliczka’s Barb) which are all less than 7.5 cm (3 in) when fully grown and will live happily with small tetras, danios, and the smaller livebearers.
If you wish to try something a little more delicate, then perhaps Barbus barilioides (blue-barred barb) is for you. Reaching 5 cm (2 in) at most, it is more demanding than most barbs as regards water conditions, requiring mature, soft, slightly acid water but if you can provide this in your community aquarium, and the other inmates are small and very peaceful, it is well worth trying six or seven of these fishes. If kept in lower numbers they are not happy, they cease feeding and hide away.
For larger tanks (up to 1m/36in) some favourites are Barbus arulius (Arulius Barb), Barbus everetti (Clown Barb), Barbus filamentosus (Black-spot Barb or Filament Barb), and Barbus orphoides. Young specimens of these fishes are more colourful than adults, for example, young Barbus filamentosus are coppery with dark vertical bars, brilliant red on the dorsal and bright red tips to the caudal fin.
Adults are silvery with a pink sheen over the body and a black spot just in front of the caudal peduncle. As some compensation for this, male Barbus arulius and Barbus filamentosus develop extensions to the dorsal fin rays as they mature. For aquaria longer than a metre (36 in) the choice has to be Barbus schwanenfeldi (tinfoil barb). This elegant fish grows to over 30 cm (12 in) long, but, unless you are prepared to give it plenty of space, is really only suited to public aquaria.
Feeding barbs is simplicity itself. They are true omnivores, but, given the choice, they do prefer green foods and may nibble at your plants. They have a pair of barbels at the corner of their mouths which they use to help detect food in the substrate. They do not have teeth in their mouths,but use pharyngeal teeth (situated in their throats) to crush food.
In some species, for example Barbus oligolepis, telling the sexes apart is easy: In general, the males are more highly coloured and slimmer than females, but in others, for example Barbus schwanenfeldi, it takes one to know one because there are no external sexual characteristics.
Barbs are egg scatterers and are among the easiest fishes to breed. For the novice aquarist Barbus conchonius, Barbus oligolepis, and Barbus schuberti are excellent fishes to try and spawn. Some deposit their eggs over gravel, others shed them through plants. A pair will break from the shoal and shimmy together in mid-water, shedding clouds of eggs and milt, or go through the same procedure among thickets of fine-leaved plants. There is no parental care, the eggs being left
to fend for themselves. In the community aquarium such a bounty of food sends the other occupants scurrying about in search of eggs and the parents will even eat their own spawn. Successful breeding can be achieved in a specially prepared breeding aquarium so the eggs can be scattered over marbles through mesh, or in plants, and the parents removed before they can consume the fry.
You will need plenty of live food and a lot of space to raise the fry, as a single pair of Barbus conchonius, for example, will produce several hundred eggs.