Tiger Barb Care Essentials: Size, Tank, and Behavior

Tiger barb (lat. Puntius tetrazona) is one of the most popular tank species. This is a bright and active fish that will make any tank an eye-catching one. However, fish care has some peculiarities.

Habitat in the wild

The tiger barb (Puntigrus tetrazona) belongs to the family Cyprinidae, commonly known as the minnow or carp family. This family includes a wide variety of freshwater fish species, many of which are popular in the aquarium trade. Cyprinidae is a diverse family that includes well-known species like goldfish, koi, rosy barbs, danios, and of course, tiger barbs. These fish are characterized by their small to medium size, often with laterally compressed bodies, and they are found in various freshwater habitats around the world.

The tiger barb is native mostly to central and south part of the Sumatra islands and it inhabits on the Malay Peninsula and in Thailand as well. Some wildlife populations of barb can be encountered in the USA, Colombia, Suriname and Australia waters, where the fish got from private tanks. Almost all barbs that inhabit in private tanks were bred in captivity.

They inhabit slow-moving and heavily vegetated waters, such as streams, rivers, and flooded areas with dense aquatic plant growth. These habitats are often found in forested or jungle areas.

In their natural environment, tiger barbs prefer water with a slightly acidic to neutral pH and temperatures ranging from 75 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24 to 28 degrees Celsius). The water should be clear and well-oxygenated, as they are accustomed to flowing water conditions.



Tiger barb body is quite tall and relatively short, flattened from sides. The main color of the body coloring is golden and pink, the back is darker with some red tint; its abdomen is yellowish-white.

The head front is brown-red. There are 4 black vertical stripes on body sides: the 1st one goes along the eye, the 2nd one is behind the pectoral fin, the 3rd one is behind the dorsal and the last one is near the fluke.

The dorsal bottom is black and it is red from top; the pectoral fins are also red, the rest of the fins are transparent or with some pinkish tint.

Several selective species of tiger barb were bred. The most spread one is green tiger barb, whose stripes have become one solid stripe and the fish has completely dark-green body. You may also encounter albino tiger barb – its body is light pink and the stripes are white; the eyes are red.


Tiger barb size in the wild is 7-10 cm (2.75 – 4 in), however in tanks the body length doesn’t exceed 5 cm (2 in). However, in their natural habitat, they might grow slightly larger. It’s important to note that the size of individual tiger barbs can vary based on factors such as genetics, diet, and environmental conditions. When planning an aquarium for tiger barbs, it’s recommended to provide enough space for their active swimming behavior and to ensure they have room to grow comfortably.


In captivity, tiger barbs generally have a lifespan of around 5 to 7 years. However, with proper care and a well-maintained aquarium environment, some individuals might even live longer. Providing suitable water conditions, a balanced diet, and a compatible tank setup can contribute to the overall health and longevity of your tiger barbs. It’s important to keep in mind that individual lifespans can vary due to factors such as genetics, diet, water quality, and stress levels.

Scientific NamePuntigrus tetrazona
Common NameTiger Barb
FamilyCyprinidae (Minnow or Carp family)
OriginSoutheast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia)
HabitatSlow-moving streams, rivers, and flooded areas with vegetation
SizeUp to about 2 inches (5 cm) in length
LifespanAround 5-7 years in captivity
BehaviorActive, schooling fish with occasional territorial behavior
Tank SizeMinimum of 20 gallons for a small group
Water ParameterspH: 6.0 – 7.5, Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)
DietOmnivorous, accepts flakes, pellets, live, and frozen foods
ColorationStriking black vertical stripes on an orange or yellow body
CompatibilityCan be nippy, best kept with other active fish
BreedingEgg scatterers, require separate breeding setup
Special ConsiderationsProvide hiding spots, avoid keeping with long-finned fish
Usual tiger barb
Albino tiger barb
Green tiger barb

Difficulties in keeping

The tiger barb is good for a large number of tanks and it may be kept even by the beginners. It rather easily stands relocation without losing its appetite and activity. However, tank should have clean and well aerated water; not every fish can be tank mate. For example, goldfish will live there in continuous stress.

The same concerns any other long finned fish. The peculiarity of tiger barb temper is that it is a fin nipper. Such behavior is peculiar for not schooling fish, since when the fish is kept in a school it makes it obey the hierarchy and deal with its own kind.

So, our advice is – avoid two things: keeping one or two tiger barbs in a tank and selecting long finned fish as tank mate.

Keeping in a tank

Tank size

It is an active schooling fish and it is quite an aggressive one towards other fishes in a tank. Sometimes, you may see tiger barb frozen in one spot with his head down in some shadowed place for a long time – it’s ok for the fish and it doesn’t mean that it’s ill. Barb swims in the middle water layer actively mowing from one tank side to the other.

For a small group of tiger barbs, it’s recommended to have a minimum tank size of 20 gallons (approximately 75.7 liters), the tank should be as long as possible, since the tiger barb requires a lot of space to swim. However, if you plan to keep a larger group or include other fish species, you’ll need a larger tank to accommodate their swimming space and minimize stress.

Tiger barbs are active swimmers and are known to be nippy, especially when kept in smaller groups. To mitigate their aggressive behavior and ensure their well-being, it’s recommended to keep them in groups of at least 6 to 8 individuals. In case when you have a school of 6 and more species, the tiger barb behaves quite peaceful (provided with good nutrition) and they are busy with each other and don’t disturb their tank mates. A larger group can help distribute their aggression and create a more balanced social dynamic.

When considering tank size, it’s also important to provide plenty of hiding spots, plants, and decorations. These features not only enrich their environment but also offer areas for weaker or stressed individuals to retreat to if needed.

Tank decor

Creating a suitable tank setup for tiger barbs involves considering their natural habitat and behavioral traits. Here are some tips for decorating a tank for tiger barbs:

  1. Plants: Tiger barbs come from heavily vegetated habitats, so incorporating live or artificial plants will provide hiding spots, shelter, and mimic their natural environment. Floating plants like water lettuce or hornwort can also be beneficial. You are free to choose any tank plants you like. However, put them into the tank so, that there is some free space and shadowed corners for the fish to swim and hide, correspondingly.
  2. Substrate: Use a fine-grained substrate like sand or small gravel. This will resemble their native riverbeds and allow them to forage for food more naturally.
  3. Hiding Spots: Incorporate decorations like driftwood, rocks, and caves to create hiding spots and territories. This helps to alleviate potential aggression and provides places for shy individuals to retreat.
  4. Swimming Space: Tiger barbs are active swimmers, so ensure the tank has open areas for them to dart around. Avoid cluttering the tank excessively.
  5. Current and Filtration: Setting up a gentle water current and efficient filtration system helps mimic their natural habitat and maintain water quality.
  6. Low-light Options: If you’re using live plants, choose species that can thrive in the lighting conditions you provide. Tiger barbs prefer subdued lighting due to their forested habitat.

Water parameters

Here are the recommended water parameters:

  • Temperature: 75-82°F (24-28°C)
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.5
  • Hardness: 5 – 15 dGH (general hardness)
  • Ammonia and Nitrite: Should be at 0 ppm (parts per million)
  • Nitrate: Ideally kept below 20 ppm

Tiger barbs are adapted to living in warm, slightly acidic to neutral water conditions. It’s important to maintain stable water parameters to prevent stress and potential health issues. Regular water changes, proper filtration, and monitoring water quality are essential practices to ensure a suitable environment for your tiger barbs. Keep in mind that sudden and drastic changes in water parameters can stress the fish, so any adjustments should be done gradually.

The tank water should be occasionally renewed with some amount of fresh water (up to 25% of the tank capacity). In the used water (with high amount of nitrogen compounds) there is a high chance for the fish to get ill with some infectious disease. It’s necessary to ensure efficient tank water filtration.

Tank mates

Tiger barb is an active schooling fish which should be kept in a group of 6 species at least. Quite often the fish is aggressive if its school is less than 6 species and it starts nipping its tank mates’ fins. Therefore, keeping in a school decreases its aggressiveness; however it doesn’t guarantee complete peacefulness.

Tiger barbs can be quite active and sometimes exhibit nippy behavior, especially if kept in small groups. When selecting tank mates for tiger barbs, it’s important to choose species that can tolerate their active nature and potential nipping behavior. So, to keep slow and long finned fish as tiger barb tank mate isn’t a good idea. For, example, these fishes shouldn’t be in one tank with barb: freshwater angelfish, betta, goldfish, congo tetra, dwarf gourami.

Here are some compatible tank mate options:

  1. Other Tiger Barbs: Keeping tiger barbs in a group of at least 6-8 individuals can help mitigate their nipping tendencies. They tend to focus their attention on each other within the group rather than bothering other fish. Males may appear to be aggressive, since they fight with each other, but these fights never end up with the death.
  2. Fast-Moving Fish: Fish that are similarly active and quick-moving can often do well with tiger barbs. Some suitable options include:
  1. Bottom Dwellers: Fish that primarily stay near the bottom of the tank can also be good companions for tiger barbs. Consider:
  1. Peaceful Mid-Level Fish: Some peaceful fish that inhabit the middle levels of the tank can coexist with tiger barbs, including:
  1. Schooling Fish: Mixing tiger barbs with other schooling fish can help spread out their attention. For instance:

When introducing tank mates, monitor their interactions closely. Having plenty of hiding spots and visual barriers in the tank can help reduce stress and minimize potential conflicts. Keep in mind that individual fish personalities can vary, so even within the same species, you might encounter differences in behavior.


Tiger barb is omnivorous; it can be fed with any live, plant or dry food. High calorie diet leads to the obesity, as a result the male loses the ability to fertilize eggs, and the female can’t lay the eggs and dies because of this.

Presence of plant food in diet reduces the risk of getting obesity and also prevents nipping of tank plants by the adult. Besides, you should feed the fish with some live food at least once a week; otherwise they’ll attack and nip their less active tank mates’ fins.

Gender differences: male vs female

Distinguishing between male and female tiger barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona) can be a bit challenging, especially when the fish are young or not in breeding condition. The tiger barb becomes reproductive at the age of 6-8 month. It’s very difficult to see between tiger barb female and male before this time. However, there are some subtle differences that become more apparent as the fish mature and during breeding periods. Then you can distinguish the male from the female one by the male’s head coloring – it’s bright red from top.

Here are a few characteristics that can help you differentiate between male and female tiger barbs:

  1. Size and Body Shape: In some cases, female tiger barbs might appear slightly larger and rounder, especially when they are carrying eggs. However, this difference can be subtle and might not be reliable for distinguishing between the sexes.
  2. Color Intensity: During breeding times, female tiger barbs might exhibit more subdued colors compared to the males, which tend to display brighter and more vibrant colors. The color intensity difference might not be very noticeable outside of breeding conditions.
  3. Behavior: During breeding, males might exhibit more intense chasing and courting behavior, while females might appear less interested in these activities.
  4. Egg Carrying: The most reliable way to differentiate between male and female tiger barbs is by observing egg-carrying behavior. Female tiger barbs, when carrying eggs, will appear plumper and have a more noticeable round belly due to the eggs developing internally.

If you’re specifically interested in breeding tiger barbs, you might need to closely observe their behaviors during breeding periods to identify the differences more accurately. In many cases, though, sexing tiger barbs can be challenging, and often the differences are not very pronounced in non-breeding conditions.


Breeding age is when the fish is 6-8 month old. The tiger barb female lays about 400 eggs, very seldom up to 800. The eggs grow for 1-3 days depending on the tank water temperature.

Juveniles start to swim and eat on their own 3-4 days after that. When being about 1 month old the juveniles become colored as the adult are. In 2.5-3 month you can already know between the male and female.

For one tiger barb couple you can take a spawning tank of 15 l capacity (3,96 gallons). No bottom substrate is required, put some separator net on the tank bottom (the eggs should easily get through it) and a bunch of small leaved plants.

Fill 50% of the spawning tank with the water from the old tank and add 25% of fresh settled water, and 25% of rainwater or distilled water (to decrease the water hardness). The tank water temperature should be: 25-28 °C (77 – 82 °F).

For spawning choose the female with intumescence on the forepart of its abdomen (not on the hinder part) and the brightest and the most active male.

It’s advisable that the tiger barb male is a bit older than the female one. Before spawning put the fish apart for 1-2 weeks, feed them with nutritious food (once a day is enough to avoid obesity). Put the fish into the spawning tank in the evening, the spawning itself starts in the morning and lasts for 2-3 hours.

It’s very good if some morning sun rays shine on the tank. After the spawning is over, take the fish away and shadow the spawning tank, don’t forget to ensure good water aeration. Juveniles hatch 1-3 days later and 2-3 days after that they start to swim. Start feeding them with infusorians, rotifers etc. A week later after the juveniles start to swim you can give them some other small sized food.

When breeding, 75% of their juveniles will also be of this kind and 25% — will be ordinary colored tiger barbs. If one of the fish in the couple is ordinary colored, than 25-40% of their juveniles with be green colored ones.

It’s almost impossible to obtain albino tiger barb juveniles, since if one of the fish in the couple is the albino one, then about quarter of their juveniles will inherit this coloring. However, albino juveniles are very sensitive and demanding to tank water and food parameters, because of this quite a lot of them die.