Denison barb care guide

Denison barb (lat. Sahyadria denisonii) is one of the fishes that are getting popular with surprisingly high rate. The fish has become a subject of aquarists focus quite recently. This India-born fish has become rather renowned species due to its appealing look and interesting behavior.

Habitat in the wild

The Denison barb was called by the name of Sir William Thomas Denison (1804—1871), a governor of Madras city, India (since 1861 till 1866). The fish is encountered in oxygen-rich rivers and streams of South India (endemic species of Achenkovil, Pamba and Chaliyar rivers) with fast water flow. On India home market this kind of fish is called «Miss Kerala» and «Chorai Kanni» (which literally means ‘bleeding eyes’).

Though this fish kind was described a while ago, it has become popular quite recently (approximately since 1997). This is due to the fact that breeding this fish in captivity is quite a challenging task which in its turn stipulates its high price.

Sadly, this fish can be used as an example of the situation when the fish suddenly becomes highly demanded on the market. Since it was acknowledged as the best one on the international exhibition of aquarium husbandry, the demand on the market has increased fast.

As a result of fishing this species to sale them as well as because of rivers contamination with agricultural and household wastes (detergents, fertilizers and ect.) the natural population of the species has decreased by 50 % for the last 15 years.

Government of India has taken actions in this respect: prohibition of fishing and exporting of Denison barb as well as this fish kind is now taken under protection of National Wildlife Protection Act.

Scientific NameSahyadria denisonii
Common NamesDenison barb; torpedo barb; Miss Kerala fish
Range and habitatIndia
Size6 in (15 cm)
Lifespan4-5 years
Ease of keepingMedium
Minimum tank size200 liters (44 gallons) and more
Temperature21–27 °C (70–81 °F)
Water hardness5-20 dGH


Denison barb has elongated streamlined body that resembles a torpedo. The fish has black and yellow stripes on its claw-ended tail fin.

The body is silvery and gold with a wide black lateral stripe along it. From the tip of the nose till the middle of its body there is a bright ruby-red stripe. First rays of the dorsal are also bright red and the rest of its fins are transparent.

The Denison barb grows up to 15 centimeters (5.9 in), as a rule it is a bit smaller about 9–11 centimeters (3.5–4.3 in). Its lifespan is about 4-5 years.

Difficulties in keeping

Keeping in a tank my be quite challenging. In the wild the Denison barb dwells in fast and clean rivers, so in a tank it requires oxygen-rich water, very low nitrates and ammonia level and fast water flow.

Besides, breeding is complicated and not studied enough yet.

This is a peaceful and schooling fish. If you keep it alone, it becomes very timid, so it’s better to keep a school of at least 6 species.

The Denison barb is quite large (if compared to other barb species), active and brightly colored one. It inhabits in India, but the uncontrolled fishing-out of this fish for several years has led to the situation that now barb is danger of extinction. India government introduced limitations on fishing this species in the wild and currently barb is bred in the fish farms or caught in the wild by small groups of poachers.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

Recommended tank volume is 200 liters (44 gallons) and more. Since this is a schooling fish, it’s better to keep barb in a group of 5-7 species. Maintaining proper number of Denison barb species in a group will ensure maximum brightness of the fish natural coloring as well as the fish will be less prone to timidity.

Any demonstration of aggression within the school as a rule shows that they are trying to build hierarchy in the group. Once they define the leader, they start living friendly and peacefully.

Tank decor

In the wild Denison barb dwells in fast flowing rives and streams with oxygen-rich water. If you want to create tank conditions similar to ones the fish has in its habitat, it is better to keep them in a tank with constant water flow.

You can use sand or gravels as the tank bottom substrate as well as put some smooth stones of various size around the tank perimeter. An external filter will provide required high level of oxygenation and water flow.

Also it is desirable to cover the tank tightly. The fish is active and fast, so it can easily jump out of the tank. You may put some additional decorations into the tank – snags, water plants with strong roots. You may use fern, Java moss, plants of Bolbitis and Anubias kind.

Denison barbs may lose a bit of their bright coloring when they are put into a new tank or if the tank doesn’t have enough of decorations. This happens due to stress, change of tank water composition and getting new tank mates

Water parameters

Special attention should be paid to the tank water quality, because in the wild this kind of barb inhabits in fast flowing waters and usually the level of organic contamination is very low there. That’s why you have to keep strict watch on the tank cleanness.

. Optimal water parameters: 21–27 °C (70–81 °F), pH 6.5-7.5, 5-20 dGH.


The Denison barb is an omnivorous one. In the wild they feed mainly on insects and other spineless as well as they eat plant food (algae, for example). In a tank barbs will eat almost everything you give; all types of natural and artificial food.

To ensure that the fish is healthy and shows its best coloring you should feed it with live and frozen food, such as bloodworm, daphnia, brine shrimp as well as with dry food – flakes and pellets.

Right after getting the fish, it is better to feed denison barb with flakes rich in astaxanthin and carotinoids to restore the coloring that may get paler due to stress cause by transportation.

Tank mates

Is a peaceful tank fish, it gets along well with all kinds of peaceful fishes, but it’s better to keep it together with fast fishes. Such a company won’t cause any discomfort to calm and slow fishes. The Denison barb is compatible with tiger barb, zebrafish, rainbow shark, SAE. It’s not a good idea to keep it together with angelfish, discus fish, oscar.

Gender differences: male vs female

There is no stark difference between the Denison barb male and female. It is quite difficult to define gender differences of the fish – reproductive females as a rule are larger and have more rounded body than slim and well-shaped males.


There are no precise recommendations on how to breed in home aquaria. There were just some isolated incidents of obtaining barb offspring. As for the fish you see on sale, they are most likely to be bred by means of hormonal injections.

Several years ago when Denison barb came to Europe and created a furor all over the world, there was very little information about peculiarities of their breeding. At that time denison barb costed quite expensive 50-150 euros for one fish.

As the years went by some more information was obtained in this respect. In Germany several successful attempts of this barb breeding were performed. In their case the group of 15 adult species spawned successfully in soft, acidic water (GH 2-3/ pH 6,0), they scattered their eggs on a bunch of java moss.

The spawning was triggered by gradual decrease of tank water pH by means of adding pieces of peat into the tank. Chester Zoo Tank in England reported about successful breeding. This happened accidentally, though the Zoo has obtained the second spawning in more controlled conditions.

Their theory is that Denison barb requires a bigger group for spawning – as a the result the fish will spawn massively.