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Tiger Barb Care & Info | Bold Stripes, Bolder Personalities

Sometimes the classics get a little boring… sometimes they don’t. The latter is the case for tiger barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona), a schooling aquarium fish that has been around ever since folks first started keeping fish tanks in their homes.

Tiger barbs are appreciated for their bright colors and hardiness, but have gained a bit of a bad reputation over the years for being bothersome to their tankmates. So are these barbs a yay or a nay? And how do you care for them in your aquarium?

Let’s find out!

Name (common, scientific)Tiger barb, Sumatra barb, Puntigrus tetrazona
Minimum tank size20 gallons (long)
Minimum group size8
Temperature71-79 °F
Difficulty levelEasy

Tiger barb description & natural habitat


Tiger barbs are quite appropriately named. You can easily recognize the wild form of this species by its yellowish-orange coloration, four vertical black bars, and splashes of bright orange on the nose and fins. They grow to a maximum size of around 3”, sporting an oval-shaped body.

Aside from the “regular” striped barb, you may also find selectively bred tiger barb varieties at your local aquarium store. Don’t be surprised to see emerald-colored or albino fish!

Heck, even the GloFish® company carries tiger barbs. Their strains are genetically modified for bright, glowing shades of green, red, purple, and more.

Did you know? There’s some discussion about whether the species Puntigrus tetrazona and the fish we know as tiger barb are actually one and the same, although it’s unclear what it should be called instead—so we’ll stick with this name. It’s also sometimes referred to by its old scientific name, Puntius tetrazona.

The mystery of the aquarium tiger barb…

Natural habitat

These cyprinids are naturally found in Indonesia, specifically on the large island of Sumatra (hence their other common name, Sumatra barb!). Some sources also report it from Borneo as well as possibly Singapore and Malaysia, although this doesn’t appear to be entirely certain.

Their tropical natural habitats, preferably smaller tributaries with moderate flow levels or pools and ponds, feature warm water that is relatively soft, acidic, and clear in color. The bottom can be sandy to gravelly or muddy.

The IUCN Red List considers Puntigrus tetrazona to be a species of Least Concern, meaning it’s not threatened in the wild. It does note that habitat degradation from human activities like logging may affect the wild population.

Close-up of Puntigrus tetrazona fish in the aquarium.

Tiger barb aquarium

Setting up an aquarium for a group of tiger barbs is not too much of a challenge. Because these fish do grow to a reasonable size and should ideally be kept in groups of at least eight, we recommend a tank of 20 gallons or more. A long one, that is: barbs are active and need room to swim.

Match the conditions in the barbs’ natural habitats by keeping the water on the soft and acidic side. Plenty of cover is appreciated, although you should take care to still leave sufficient swimming room. Try planting the sides of the aquarium and using plenty of floating plants.

As for water quality, most of the reason tiger barbs are so popular today is due to their hardiness. Even when the aquarium hobby was still in its starting phase and aquarists didn’t have much knowledge about water quality yet, these barbs thrived. They’re a great choice for beginners or anyone else looking for a species that’s not too fragile.

As with all fish, the aquarium should always be filtered and fully cycled. Perform weekly water changes with dechlorinated and temperature-matched water to prevent nitrate build-up.


As we briefly mentioned in the intro, tiger barbs have a reputation for being a bit bothersome at times. Indeed, they can nip at their tankmates and are pretty boisterous, so they shouldn’t be kept with shy or long-finned species like Betta fish.

Although these barbs are not strictly schooling fish, we still recommend keeping them in sizeable groups. The minimum is 8, but the more the merrier, as the distraction members of their own species offer appears to prevent much of the aggression and fin-nipping they’re known for. Keeping them in a sizeable tank also helps.

You can consider keeping your tiger barbs with quick or assertive species like swordtails, one of the many aquarium catfish varieties, or a group of loaches.

Tiger barb fish with uneven vertical stripes in the aquarium.

Tiger barb diet

Tiger barbs will eat pretty much anything they can find; in the wild, they’re thought to be omnivores that feed on bugs, plants, algae, and more.

In the aquarium, you can feed your tiger barbs regular commercial tropical fish pellets or flakes for small fish. You can vary their diet by also including plant-based foods like algae tabs or nori.

Additionally, be sure to switch things up regularly with some live or (thawed) frozen foods like bloodworms or mosquito larvae. These should help stimulate good coloration in your fish and are particularly useful for conditioning if you’re interested in breeding.

Breeding tiger barbs

The tiger barbs you’ll find in your local aquarium store aren’t wild-caught. This species is tank-bred on a large scale. And the good news? If you’ve already got some, you’ll never have to buy more, as they breed pretty readily in our home aquariums too.

Tiger barbs can reproduce once they’re around two months old. This is an egg-scattering species, meaning the female releases sticky eggs at random in patches of vegetation, where they cling to the leaves. The fry fend for themselves without any parental care. In fact, the parents are more likely to eat their eggs and babies than anything else!

If you’ve got a happy school of healthy barbs, spawning will happen regularly. In densely planted tanks, some of the babies may make it to adulthood, eventually emerging from the greenery to join the rest of the group.

If you’d like for more of the fry to survive, it’s best to set up a dedicated breeding tank. Here’s how that works:

  • A small tank or tub should be filled with aquarium water and an airstone.
  • Add spawning mops or Java moss for the eggs to be deposited on.
  • Wait until one of the females is nice and round. Introduce her into the breeding tank with a male (which will be more brightly colored and thinner).
  • Leave the pair in the tank overnight. By the time morning rolls around, eggs should be stuck to the mops or moss.
  • Place the pair back into the main tank so they can’t eat their young.
  • The eggs will hatch in up to 48 hours. The fry feed off their yolk sacs at first, but will start swimming and requiring food after a day or so.
  • You can start by offering infusoria. Once the fry are a few days old, you can switch to baby brine shrimp.
  • The fry can be moved into the main tank at 3-4 weeks old.
School of tiger barb fish in a planted aquarium.


So, to answer whether tiger barbs are a yay or a nay for your aquarium: we’re going with yay! Even though their reputation is partly correct, they are still very enjoyable fish to keep and perfect if you’re looking for some extra activity in your tank. Most of their aggressive behavior can be avoided with proper housing and group size.

Not a fan of the fact that you can’t keep tiger barbs with more peaceful and calm fish species? Don’t forget that they are not the only barb species available in the aquarium hobby. Cherry barbs (Puntius titteya), for example, are equally as colorful and make a great community species.

Need help?

Want to be able to enjoy the sight of a group of these active and feisty barbs in your home or office? Not everyone has the time to set up and maintain an aquarium, but luckily FantaSEA Aquariums does.

We can take care of everything from set-up to stocking to maintenance so you can focus on the most important thing: enjoying a slice of nature. You can contact us with your ideas and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

Photo of author

Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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