Tiger Barb Fish – The Care, Feeding and Breeding of Tiger Barbs

Quick Stats

Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons
Care Level: Moderately Difficult
Water Conditions: 6.0-8.0 and Moderately Soft to Moderately Hard
Temperature: 22–27 °C (71.5–80.5 °F)
Maximum Size: 1.5 inches (4cm)

The Tiger Barb (Puntius tetrazona), also known as the Sumatra Barb, is a small minnow native to Sumatra, Borneo, Thailand and parts of Malaysia. It has also been reported in numerous other areas of Southeast Asia, but at this time it hasn’t been confirmed outside of its native range.

In the wild, they are mainly found in the shallows of slow flowing streams, but can also be found in small bodies of water and swamp lakes. Because of their wide array of habitats, they are highly adaptable to different types of water in the home aquarium, and can adapt quite readily to harder water.

The tiger barb stays relatively small in the home aquarium, with adults growing to a maximum of 3 inches (7.5 cm), with 2 inches (5cm) being more common. On average they will live for 5-6 years if well cared for, and are generally a very hardy fish.


The first thing that you should know about Tiger barbs is that they are mean fish. Not the usual “nip an occasional fin” mean, but more the “will take your fishes lunch money, and yours too if you’re not careful” type of mean.

While that is a bit of exaggeration, it is incredibly important for someone buying these fish to realize that they are not a good community fish. In the past, many stores would sell these stunning fish to people hoping to put them in a community fish tank, and it would result in a disaster. This is becoming less common, as most stores are labeling tiger barbs as non-community fish, but you still hear stories about tiger barbs nipping fish to pieces in community fish tanks.

The best option for tiger barbs, is to house them in a species only fish tank. The aquarium should be at least 20 gallons, with the usual tank size rule applying – the bigger the tank is to start with, the better the fish will do over the long run. Larger tanks have more stable water parameters, and are actually far easier to care for than smaller ones.

If you would still like to take a chance with tiger barbs in a community thank, the best choices for tank mates are bottom dwelling fish that will generally escape their notice. This includes several species of catfish (not corydoras though), plecos, and clown loaches. Keep in mind that even these species can suffer at the hands of tiger barbs, and may have to be moved if they suffer excessive nipping.

There have also been some aquarists who have reported success with smaller cichlids, like convicts and Bolivian rams. But just remember, being placed with cichlids can end up being fatal to the tiger barbs, especially if the convicts start mating or become overly aggressive.

When it comes to choosing a filter for tiger barbs, the best choice is usually a hang-on-back filter (Click here for HOB filter reviews). These will keep the water crystal clear, and maintain excellent water quality, but you should be careful not to over filter the aquarium. Tiger barbs prefer slow moving water, and any hang-on-back filter should either have reduced flow, or should not exceed the recommended tank size listed on the filter.


Tiger barbs are omnivores in the wild, and eat small crustaceans, insects, algae and plant matter. Because of this, they will eat nearly anything offered to them in the home aquarium, and their diet should be made up of a high quality flake food. They should also occasionally be offered live food, frozen foods and vegetables. One of the best prepared foods on the market, is New Life Spectrum Small Fish Formula and I have used it with great success for my tiger barbs in the past.

Live food is usually superior to frozen foods, and has the added benefit of triggering the “hunting” response in fish. But when you can’t obtain live foods, there are many frozen foods that you can feed to tiger barbs. Some of their favorites are frozen bloodworms, blackworms, daphina, and brine shrimp.

Tiger barbs should also occasionally be fed vegetables, with blanched zucchini medallions and shelled peas being their favorites. If you don’t have the patience to prepare vegetables for your fish every few days, these can be replaced with spirulina pellets. A word of warning – many of the so-called spirulina pellets sold in fish stores have little, if any spirulina in them. Always read the label to make sure that the first ingredient is spirulina, and not something like fish meal.


The tiger barb is relatively easy to breed, and the only requirements are ensuring there is enough space for their courting rituals, and that live plants are provided (having a male and female helps too). It is also important to use a sponge filter in the aquarium, as a hang-on-back filter will suck numberless fry up to rather unpleasant deaths.

If you are planning to breed tiger barbs, the first thing that you have to do is ensure that you at least 6-7 of the fish. They should be placed in at least a 20 gallon long tank, with a 29 gallon being preferable. The tank should be well planted with live plants, with some aquarists stating that bunches of Cabomba work best.

Once you are ready to start breeding, the males should be removed from the tank. The males can be identified by their larger size, and the females will have more plump bodies. After a few days, they can be reintroduced to the main tank, which will usually trigger spawning.

During spawning, the males will chase the female until they begin to release the eggs. As the females release the eggs, the males will release their sperm into the egg stream. After the spawning is done, both the males and the females should be removed from the tank, as they will quite happily munch on the eggs that the females just laid.

If you want to increase the number of eggs that survive, you can use a similar trick to what is used during zebra danio breeding. The bottom of the breeding tank can be lined with river rocks, or marbles, which allows most of the eggs to falling through the spaces, becoming unreachable by the hungry parents.

After the eggs have hatched, the fry will cling to plants or the side of the aquarium for up to five days. They will then become free swimming, and can be feed with baby brine shrimp or commercially available fry food. As they grow, they can also be feed with finely ground fish food flakes. I personally recommend New Life Spectrum Small Fry Starter Formula or Hikari First Bites – both of which are excellent commercial fry foods.


  1. says

    hey Matt, would you mind if i used a few of your articles on my forum?? or better yet join aquariumforum.us and post them yourself. I will allow you a signature link if you post regularly. :)

  2. Olive says

    I have 13 tiger barbs in a 2 gallon tank. They are voracious and very healthy. The tank measures approx, 40cm x 6cm. I know from experience the difference a happy/healthy fish as opposed to a not! Too many people lay down parameters, when they are really know what they are talking about. I proved the opposite to everything that suggests aquarium size.

    • says

      Assuming you’re not trolling, just because they’re still alive for now doesn’t mean that they will live a long and healthy life. I promise that they will soon be dead or sick in that setup.

      You could keep a horse in a closet, but it doesn’t mean it would survive long term – especially if it lived in its own waste like fish do.

  3. stephanie says

    Our 3 new tiger barbs have been attacking all our other fish. The pet store claimed they would be fine but they have killed an angle fish and we’re beginning to attack our algae eater and dinosaur bichir. I had to pull them from the tank but the only thing i have until i can get to a store is a half gallon novelty kids tank. What’s the best thing i can do to keep them alive for about 3 days as that’s when i figure i may be able to leave my home. Our roads are iced over here in Tennessee . Please help any advise is welcome as i do not want these guys to die bit can’t let them keep killing my other fish.

    • says

      The only way they’ll likely stay alive in there is if you do daily water changes for them and don’t feed them. Fish can survive over a week without food, and if you feed them, their waste will quickly foul the tank.

      If you have a sponge filter, you should also through it in the tank since it may help. Though it will likely only aerate the tank as the bacteria won’t have time to grow on it.

      • stephanie says

        Thank you for your quick response. I will do the water changes daily and not feed them as you suggested. I’m not sure what a sponge filter is as we are new to the fish world. The filters we have are Agua tech ez-change cartridges. They are a blue sponge like material with carbon in them. That may be what your talking about im not sure. Should I drop one of those in there?

        • says

          No, that wouldn’t work. A sponge filter is simple and inexpensive air powered filter that is good for emergencies like this. I like to use them for some extra filtration in some of my tanks too.

          If you want to seed some of the beneficial bacteria then you can put some gravel from your main tank in a stocking or something similar and drop it in. The bacteria will help to break down any waste, though it may be in such small numbers and the tank so small it may not make a difference. Still worth a try in my opinion though.

          • stephanie says

            I just wanted to say thank you for your help. The Tiger barbs survived the 3 days in the small tank with water changes daily. We got them back to the fish store and the lady there said She will talk with the other employees because they should have never recommended tiger barbs to go with the fish we bought. She was also shocked I bothered to keep them alive and bring them back because a lot of people just kill the fish they don’t want. I think that’s a sad fact that people simply don’t care. Now I’m in search of a new lid since our new rainbow shark jumped out and died today. I’m learning fish are harder to deal with than our puppy but we enjoy having them so all the work will pay off once we get them all settled in. Again thank you for your help.

          • says

            I’m glad that the tiger barbs survived, and I’ve end up with numerous people said they would kill if I didn’t take them (how’s that for blackmail, for a fish lover?)

            And tiger barbs are great fish. I’ve kept them for years, but they give many cichlids a run for their money with their aggression. They do not play well with others, and my first community tank with tigers many years ago was a disaster.

            And keep at it with the fish. Good luck.

  4. stephanie says

    I will try the rocks and as soon and as I can get to a store I will get some of the sponge filters to have on hand in case we have issues again. Thank you for your help I just hope I can keep these little guys alive. I hate separating them like this but our poor dragon bichir has sores all over his sides from them. I hope I can save them all! Thanks again for all your help.

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