Tinfoil barb care guide

The tinfoil barb (Barbonymus schwanenfeldii) is a very large freshwater fish from Cyprinidae family. It can be up to 14 inches (35 cm) long. Quite often the juveniles are sold on the market and nobody tells about how large the fish becomes as an adult one and as a result, the fish quickly overgrows any tank of a common aquarist and then requires a really spacious tank.

Habitat in the wild

The tinfoil barb is widespread over the whole territory of South-East Asia. It is also encountered in several large river systems including Mekong and Chao Phraya (source).

The tinfoil barb dwells in large river channels with high water level, in bottomland coastal area as well as in flooded forests during rain season, where the fish goes to lay eggs.

As the water gets back to large rivers the fish returns there as well. In the wild feeds on algae, plants, insects, small fishes, carrion.

Scientific NameBarbonymus schwanenfeldii
Common NamesTinfoil barb, tin foil fish, tinfoil fish, silver barb fish
Ease of keepingEasy
Lifespan10 years and more
Tank size800 liters (176 gallons) and more
Tank typeCommunity of large fishes
Temperature72–77 °F (22–25 °C)
Water hardness9–30 dGH
Sizeup to 35 cm (14 inches)


This is a large fish with tall flattened from sides body that resembles the one of river breams. Adult species of the tinfoil barb quite often grow to be 35 cm (14 inches) long and its lifespan is from 8 to 10 years.

The body color is silvery, sometimes with golden tint. The fins and tail are red with clearly seen lines of their edges. There’s a variation called albino tinfoil barb, but it has no differences in care compared to the ordinary fish.

Tinfoil barb
Albino tinfoil barb

Difficulties in keeping

The tinfoil barb is quite undemanding and easy to keep. It will eat everything you give, doesn’t require any special tank conditions, but the only drawback is that it grows very fast.

Since you have to keep tinfoil barb species in a very roomy tank, there are not so many aquarists who will be able to do this, especially the beginners.

Due to its silvery coloring and tendency to stay in a school the tinfoil barb draws the eye and that’s why these species are used mainly in commercial business.

The tinfoil barb is hardly ever seen in home aquaria. As the rule schools are kept in tanks located in some public places (large offices, shopping malls etc.).

Though as a rule barb demonstrates quite peaceful attitude towards large fishes, it eagerly feeds on smaller ones, which makes the fish completely unsuitable for community tanks.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tan size

Keeping such large fish is quite a troublesome and expensive thing to do, that’s why they are quite seldom seen in home aquaria, though in general tinfoil barb is very undemanding.

You can decorate the tank any way you like, the tinfoil barb will feel comfortable even in a completely empty tank. However, if you can afford getting a tank of 800 liters (176 gallons) capacity and more, it’s not reasonable to save money on decorations.

Tank decor

Simulation of real river bed appears as the most natural way of tank decoration. The bottom substrate is stony with several large smooth stones, the background view should resemble a real river shore with snags. Though live tank plants are good as tank decorations, in this case they will be quickly destroyed.

Water parameters

However, the tinfoil barb has far more strict requirements to tank water quality. Since tinfoil barb habitat is in clean oxygen-rich lotic waters, it can’t stand any organic waste accumulation in water.

Water in a tank has to be crystal clean. As for its parameters, the range of pH values is quite wide and there is low level of dissolved calcium and magnesium salts in it.

Tank water filtration system is of crucial significance in this case. It should consist at least of two filters that work in tandem or, if the capacity allows, duplicate each other in case if one turns off or breaks down. Another important equipment is tank lighting, aeration and heating systems. At that you should hide the heating elements to avoid their accidental damage by the fish.

Tank maintenance is limited to weekly water renew (15–20% from the total tank volume). The fresh water has to have the same pH, dGH and temperature as well as regular bottom substrate cleaning and removing organic waste should be performed.

Optimal tank water parameters are the following: 6.5–7.0 pH, water hardness of up to 10 dGH and a temperature 72–77 °F (22–25 °C).


The tinfoil barb eats all types of dry, frozen, live and plant food. It will eagerly feed on cucumber, spinach, lettuce and other vegetables and fruit. However, this barb can also eat its smaller tank mates.

Feed the tinfoil barb 2-3 times a day with amount of food that it can eat in 5 minutes. It is important not to overfeed your pets, since it is a gluttonous fish and it doesn’t have sense of fullness, which may cause digestion problems.

Tank mates

Are tinfoil barbs aggressive? In general this fish species isn’t aggressive, but at that it treats all smaller sized tank mates as food. You shouldn’t keep it with slow fishes (like goldfish or koi) since tinfoil barb activeness can make goldfish stressed.

The best tank mates are not aggressive fish species – angelfish, silver dollar, arowana, bala shark, fire eel, clown loach. Can tinfoil barbs live with oscars? Fish are able to live in spacious aquariums with quite aggressive cichlids: oscar fish, jaguar cichlid, parrot fish, even flowerhorn.

In the wild tinfoil barb swims in large schools. Therefore you should keep a school of at least 5 species in a tank. If the tinfoil barb doesn’t have a company of its kind it quite often starts to demonstrate aggression or vice versa timidity.

Gender differences: male vs female

There are almost no differences between the males and females appearance. Only during their spawning period you may recognize the female due to its rounded abdomen with eggs.


Mating season starts when environmental conditions change due to the beginning of rain season and further migration of the tinfoil barb to flooded areas of tropical forests.

This kind of behavior is source of problems when breeding in a home aquarium, since it requires huge storage capacities with water that has variable parameters.

The tinfoil barb you see on sale as a rule were either caught in the wild or bred in special hatcheries by means of hormone injections.