The tiger barb

Tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona)

Tiger barb next to scalar, guppy or discus, is undoubtedly one of the most recognized fish in aquaristics. Therefore, it may come as a great surprise to many people that probably the fish we know as the Tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona) is not a Tiger barb after all. But in fact this is a common phenomenon in aquaristics. An example is the Kuhli loach (Pangio kuhli), which is in fact a different species. It’s probably Pangio semicincta or some other unidentified species. The same goes with popular algivore, which turned out to be a breeding form obtained probably as a result of uncontrolled crossbreeding of different species, and not as it was considered for years to be a bushymouth catfish (Ancistru dolichopterus).

Is it the tiger barb or not?

So how is it with the tiger barb? It turns out that the fish first described by Bleeker in 1855 under the name Capoeta tetrazona looks different from the fish swimming in our tanks. And there are more fish that look like Tiger barbs! The genus Puntigrus Kottelat, 2013 includes five scientifically described species. The Tiger barb living in aquariums resembles Puntigrus anchisporus. But this fish lives in the waters of Borneo, not Sumatra. That’s why some aquarists you can meet online promote calling the Tiger barb – the Borean barb. You probably feel confused, don’t you?

The scientifically described species of the genus Puntigrus Kottelat, 2013

Species nameSynonymsPolish nameHabitatNotes
Puntigrus anchisporus (Vaillant, 1902)Barbus anchisporus (Vaillant, 1902) Systomus anchisporus (Vaillant, 1902) Puntius anchisporus (Vaillant, 1902)Bornean barbEastern Kalimantan (Province of Indonesia on the island of Borneo)It only occasionally appears in aquariums.
Puntigrus navjotsodhii (Tan, 2012)Systomus navjotsodhii Tan, 2012Puntigrus navjotsodhiiCentral Kalimantan (Province of Indonesia on the island of Borneo)Not observed in aquariums.
Puntigrus partipentazona (Flower, 1934)Barbus partipentazona Fowler 1934; Systomus partipentazona (Fowler 1934); Puntius partipentazona (Fowler 1934)Partipentazona barbVietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysian PeninsulaQuite rare in aquariums. Easy to identify by the black spot on the dorsal fin, which spreads slightly over the fish body.
Puntigrus pulcher (Rendahl, 1922)Puntius pulcher Rendahl 1922; Systomus pulcher (Rendahl 1922)Puntigurus pulcherEastern Kalimantan (Province of Indonesia on the island of Borneo)It only occasionally appears in aquariums.
Puntigrus tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855)  Capoeta tetrazona Bleeker 1855; Barbus tetrazona (Bleeker 1855); Puntius tetrazona (Bleeker 1855); Systomus tetrazona (Bleeker 1855); Systomus sumatranus Bleeker 1860; Systomus sumatrensis Bleeker 1860Tiger barbIndonesia, Sumatra IslandFish known in aquaristics under this name do not resemble the species described by Bleeker. They look more like a Bornean barb.

What they all have in common are four black stripes that run through the eye, at the base of the ventral fin, at the height of the anal fin and at the base of the tail fin. In all of them, the dorsal fin is at least half covered in black. Probably years will pass before scientists will solve the mystery of this bunch of striped fish, so let’s forget about these difficulties in classification and stick to generally accepted nomenclature.

Characteristics of tiger barbs

Tiger barbs are shoaling fish and should be kept in as large groups as possible. In my opinion the minimum is 10 fish, but it is definitely worth to create larger groups, of course providing them with an appropriate size aquarium. Tiger barbs are very active, they are also sometimes fierce in relation to other species. Avoid mixing them with calm and long-finned fish such as guppies, because Tiger barbs are known for their love of biting the fins of other fish. These fish look great in single-species tanks. There are several breeding varieties, the most popular of which are gold (albino) and green (moss).

Tiger barbs grow up to about 5-6 cm long. They are considered to be robust and resistant to beginners’ mistakes, due to their fairly high flexibility for chemical parameters of water. However, as with any species of fish, it is worth trying to ensure optimal conditions. Water for Tiger barbs should be soft, with a slightly acidic reaction (about 6.0-6.5 pH). It is worth enriching it with humic acids and tannins. You can use ready-made extracts such as Torfin Complex or Ketapang Extract. The water temperature should be kept between 24 and 26oC.

Sexual dimorphism of tiger barb

The males are slimmer, slightly smaller than the females and more intense in colour. Mature individuals have a red coloured mouth, head, ventral fins and the upper edge of the dorsal fin. Red is also present on the tail fin.

Aquarium for tiger barb

Thick sand or fine gravel of a darker colour will be suitable for the bottom. The aquarium should be planted with plants but it is necessary to leave space for swimming. All kinds of roots and pebbles will do as decorations. Remember to ensure efficient filtration. These fish like digging in the bottom.

Food for tiger barb

Omnivorous species. They eagerly eat formulated foods such as Asia size M, Supervit, Krill, Super Spirulina Forte, 3-Algae Flake. Tiger barbs can also eat glassworms, black mosquito larvae and daphnia.

Reproduction of tiger barb

In order to breed this species prepare a small (about 50 l) spawning tank. Place waterweeds, moss or other soft-leaved plants in the aquarium. The water should be soft and slightly acidic (RO filter water is recommended), with a temperature of about 26-28oC. Let two males and one female into the tank. The spawning will be turbulent. The female will lay even up to 800 eggs. They will be scattered all over the aquarium. The spawners should be caught right after the spawning, otherwise they will eat the eggs. The larvae will hatch after about 2-3 days. After another 5 days, when the yolk sacs have run out, start feeding them. First foods should be protozoa, artemia naupliiuses and powder foods distributed in water such as Pro Defence micro size.

dr inż. (Ph.D.Eng) Aleksandra Kwaśniak-Płacheta

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