Large Barbs

Author: Last updated:

larger barbs are ideal tank-mates for other large fish, including some Central American Cichlids, and look best when kept in shoals in a large display tank.

Spanner Barb

The larger barbs sport the same active nature as smaller barb species, except that at larger sizes, they tend to be a little more boisterous and occasionally troublesome


Like the smaller barbs, almost all of the larger barbs are shoaling fish and need to be kept in groups. Depending on the species in question, keeping these fish in singles or small numbers can result in extremes of behaviour. In the case of more reserved fish like the striped barb, a single individual may become timid, reclusive, and easily frightened, leading to stress and health problems. For other species, such as spanner barbs, individuals can become aggressive and bullish, chasing other fish continually and generally causing disruption in the aquarium.

In groups however, the fish can interact with other members of the shoal and retain more natural and sociable demeanours. Although generally peaceful, these are active fish with a robust nature so it would not be advisable to keep significantly smaller, slower, or delicate species as tank-mates. Good candidates for tank-mates include larger Characins (over 10cm), Rainbowfish, and most medium to large catfish. A similar tack needs to be applied to plants, and only robust hardy species will fare well against the attentions of the larger barbs.


Providing plenty of space is provided, many of the larger barbs will breed easily in the aquarium. Barbs are egg scatterers and the eggs either sink to the bottom, becoming lodged in the substrate, or stick to plant leaves and decor. The eggs will rarely last until hatching since barbs are great scavengers and will quickly eat up most egg deposits.

Successful breeding is normally only possible in specially set-up tanks from which the parents can be removed once spawning has occurred. Dark substrates, planted areas around the edges, and some natural sunlight (particularly in the mornings) will all help to encourage spawning activity.

Aquarium needs

Barbs are open water swimmers so plenty of open space is required for shoals, as well as a significantly sized aquarium. Most of the barbs mentioned in this article reach about 15cm, which is not overly large, but a group of five or six of such fish in a community will require a tank at least 120cm to allow for plenty of space.

Hiding places are also appreciated, and larger pieces of wood, caves, and big hardy plants make the best choices. Shaded areas or dark substrates will help to make the fish feel confident in their surroundings and bring out the best possible colours. Many of the barbs will nibble at plants, so robust species such as Java Ferns, Hygrophila sp., large Amazon Swords and Anubias sp. are the best options.

The majority of the larger barbs do best with a neutral pH and slightly soft water, but are quite adaptable to harder conditions. Fully-grown fish can be messy feeders so good filtration is essential if the aquarium is well stocked. The fish tend to do well in matured water, but regular standard maintenance including water changes should not be neglected.

Longfin barb

Also known as the Arulius Barb, this is a very underrated fish and one of the most colourful of the medium sized barbs. When young, which applies to most specimens for sale, the fish is relatively plain and exhibits a silvery body with dark patches. As the fish matures however, the body becomes iridescent with blue, green, and red patches and the dorsal fin becomes long and feathered, giving the fish its common name.

Longfin Barbs are good community fish and reach a manageable 12cm, so they can be mixed with most community fish including smaller, but not tiny, fish. Soft and acidic water is preferred but the fish will adapt easily to most water conditions.

Clown Barb

Another relatively small fish, the Clown Barb will reach up to 10cm and is characterised by its red fins and broken dark vertical patches along the body. Clown Barbs often inhabit the lower areas of the aquarium and will scavenge amongst the substrate, so rounded or fine gravel is required to avoid damage to the fishes mouth and barbels. A 90cm aquarium will be sufficient for a small group of these fish, and hiding places will give the fish increased confidence.

Striped Barb

Although active and shoaling, the Striped Barb is a timid and easily frightened fish so the aquarium must be tailored to minimise any undue stress. If your aquarium is positioned in areas where sudden visual changes may occur (e.g. people suddenly appearing from behind doors) then these fish may be best avoided.

If kept in groups and provided with plenty of hiding spots, planted areas, and open swimming spaces, the Striped Barb is a striking shoaling fish and a good addition to the community aquarium. At a fully-grown size of only 12cm, and with a peaceful nature, Striped Barbs are relatively easy to mix into a community.

Melon Barb

An unusual pinky-yellow body colour and brown blotches gives this fish its name and its popularity as a slightly different aquarium fish. Melon Barbs will grow up to 15cm and are active and peaceful, although young or newly introduced specimens can be timid.

Denison's Barb

Also known as the 'Red Line Torpedo Barb' or similar variations, the Denison's Barb is one of the most striking of all the Barbs, sporting a bright red marking along the front part of the body. Denison's Barbs are a relatively new fish in the hobby and are still relatively pricey, although the cost of the fish has dropped significantly in the past year or so.

At up to 15cm, a reasonably sized tank is required but the fish are generally sociable and will do well in a community of medium sized fish. Denison's Barbs are closely related to the Flying Foxes and 'sharks' so there may be occasional squabbles with tank mates of this type.

Tinfoil Barb

Tinfoil Barbs are a well shaped and some would even say 'cute' fish when young, but these juveniles will grow rapidly and soon reach up to 35cm. They therefore require an aquarium at least 150cm long, making them an unsuitable purchase for most fish keepers. If you do have an aquarium of this size the Tinfoil Barb is a good fish for a community of other large fish, including cichlids. Although like other large fish, the Tinfoil Barb will dig up and eat delicate plants and requires plenty of swimming space, meaning decor should be limited to large wood and very hardy or artificial plants.

Spanner Barb

Also called 'T-Barb', the Spanner Barb is so called due to its alignment of vertical and horizontal black bars. When young the fish is an attractive peaceful shoaling fish, but as the fish ages it becomes more boisterous and aggressive, often bullying weaker fishes and spending less time shoaling as a group. At up to 18cm, a significantly sized aquarium is required, preferably with some rock or wood decor. Spanner Barbs are best mixed with fishes of an equal or larger size, which are robust enough to deal with any bad behaviour.

Click to read the Latest Tropical Fish discussions from Thinkfish users.

Think Fish Tropical Fish Forum
Tropical Fish Market Place
Fish of the month

Helping Fishkeepers With Their Fishkeeping Needs Since 2006