Barbs are often misunderstood and avoided by many aquarists who consider them to be nippy, aggressive and boisterous. Whilst this is true for some barbs, the majority are very peaceful fish ideally suited to a community.
The barbs are a well-known group of aquarium fish and contain many species that are always available in aquatic retailers. Providing you choose the right Barbs, you will often find that these fish are in fact much more peaceful than many of the Gouramies, Tetras, and Livebearers branded with the 'community' label. In this article we will take a look at the smaller barbs and the types of aquarium they are suited for.
Species and habitatBarbs are part of the Cyprinidae family, a large group of fish that includes Danios, Goldfish, 'Sharks', and Loaches. The Barbs usually come under scientific names of Barbus or Puntius and are very similar in physical appearance and behaviour with most differences being in size, colour, and levels of boisterousness. The smaller barbs found in aquarium shops originate from a variety of habitats in India and South-east Asia, with some extending to China and a few from Africa.
BehaviourMost small barbs are shoaling fish and need to be kept in groups in the aquarium, with at least five or six making a group. Like many small shoaling fish, the barbs have a hierarchy system where each fish has a level of dominance. In order to continually reinforce the group structure, squabbles and chasing are a regular occurrence.
This behaviour is perfectly normal and the fish rarely encounter any serious harm. In the case of some species, if there are not enough fish to create a group structure, the natural instinct to chase and intimidate will be turned towards other tank mates. This is where the barbs have gained their undeserved reputation for being troublesome fin-nippers, and the most notorious of the group is the Tiger Barb.
Tiger Barbs are particularly prone to fin-nip other fishes, and even when kept in large groups some individuals cannot resist the lure of fancy-finned fish such as Guppies or Siamese fighters. Most of the other small barbs are quite peaceful and species such as Cherry, Checkered, and Dwarf Barbs can be kept with virtually any small community fishes.