What to Know About Tiger Barbs

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on November 29, 2022
5 min read

Tiger barbs are a small but striking species of fish that are often used for aquariums. These fish come in a range of colors, but all with dark, tiger-like stripes that lend the fish its name. Tiger barbs are native to freshwater areas in Indonesia, but every so often one is discovered in America, likely as a result of someone dumping out their aquarium.

Tiger barbs are best known for being bred for aquariums, and not much is known about their habits in the wild. They’re found around the world in breeding facilities as breeders try to make their colors more alluring and vibrant.

Tiger barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona, formerly Capoeta tetrazona), also called Sumatra barbs, are a species of small, decorative freshwater fish from southeast Asia.

Tiger barbs come in a wide range of colors, such as shades like black, green, gold, and red. The name “tiger barb” comes from the vertical stripes along their bodies that are similar to tiger stripes. Tiger barbs are sometimes bred to achieve certain color combinations and stripe patterns for the aquarium trade.

Male and female tiger barbs are not sexually dimorphic, meaning there aren’t significant differences between the males and females of the species. The males often have bright red coloring on the fins and snout, while the females may be a little less colorful. As tiger barbs are bred to be more vibrantly colored, it can become more difficult to tell the males and females apart.

On average, tiger sharks are about 2.8 inches (7 centimeters) long but can grow up to 3.9 inches (10 centimeters).

Tiger barbs are natively found in the freshwater wetlands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. They’re most comfortable in water with a neutral pH range, between 6.0 and 8.0, and tropical temperatures, between 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 79 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius to 26 degrees Celsius).

Every so often, tiger barbs pop up in the U.S., usually as a result of people releasing their aquariums. So far, they’ve been found in California, Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and Wyoming. The most recent sighting was in Florida in 2021. 

Because tiger barbs can be aggressive, the fear is that they could adversely affect native fish populations. The concern in the California discovery was specifically for the endangered Owens pufferfish. At the time, scientists discovered two tiger barbs in California, a male and a female, both in breeding condition. This led them to suspect that the pond was meant to be used as a breeding ground by an aquarist or fish dealer.

Tiger barbs are bred in facilities throughout the world for the aquarium industry.

Tiger barbs are omnivores, meaning they feed on plants and animal matter, although research shows they tend to prefer a diet higher in plants, especially phytoplankton. When they eat animal matter, it’s typically critters like:

  • Aquatic insects
  • Crustaceans
  • Other aquatic invertebrates, like worms

Tiger barbs reach sexual maturity once they’re about an inch long, usually at six or seven weeks old. Males and females only reproduce with one mate at a time. When the female tiger barb is ready to lay her eggs, she’ll often choose to deposit the eggs on aquatic plants or roots. On average, a female tiger barb lays 300 eggs but could lay up to 500 eggs, and mating can last hours.

Females can spawn eggs more than once per spawning season, usually at two-week intervals. Eggs will hatch within a few days so long as the water temperature is between 78 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius and 27 degrees Celsius). Once the eggs hatch, the babies do not receive any parental care. They won’t be able to swim for the first couple of days, and they don’t need to eat until they reach 4 millimeters in length or can swim on their own.

Because of their small size and vibrant colors, tiger barbs make popular aquarium fish, and you can find them in most pet stores easily. Tiger barbs are school fish, and they should be kept in groups of at least five. They should not be kept with longfin fish.

Tanks and water. A school of tiger barb fish needs an aquarium that’s at least 2 feet (60 centimeters) long. While tiger barbs can withstand extreme variations in water chemistry, the temperature and quality of the water can have a big impact on their habits. They’re less likely to eat if the water temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). Ideal water conditions for your tiger barb fish are:

  • Temperature: Between 72 degrees Fahrenheit and 82 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees Celsius and 28 degrees Celsius)
  • Hardness: 100 to 250 milligrams per liter of calcium carbonate (CaCo3)
  • pH: Neutral, between 6.5 and 7.5
  • Ammonia: Less than 1 milligram per liter
  • Dissolved oxygen: 2 milligrams per liter
  • Phytoplankton: Secchi reading of 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 centimeters)

A Secchi reading is a test of water clarity. It’s done by lowering a black and white disc, called a Secchi disk, into the water and looking to see how far you can lower it before you can no longer see it. In this case, you would want to be able to drop the Secchi disk at least a foot into the water before it disappears.

Feeding. There isn’t a lot of information about the nutritional needs of tiger barbs, but in general, younger fish need more protein in their diets than older fish. Larval fish should have a diet that’s about 30% to 45% protein, while adult tiger barb fish should have a diet that’s about 28% to 32% protein. The protein they eat also needs to be high in amino acids and unsaturated fatty acids. 

In the wild, tiger barbs eat mainly phytoplankton, but they won’t necessarily get enough of that in an aquarium. To compensate, you can feed your tiger barbs with fish feed. Tiger barbs and other cultured fish may have a hard time digesting fish feed. To help them, divide their daily feed into portions that are given to them throughout the day. Tiger barbs tend to be most active between 2 and 6 p.m. and least active at night between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. If you’re using an automated feeder, it should be turned off between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.