Get to know how Tiger barb can still look beautiful even after seven decades of existing. 

By Angel Ampil

hen I developed the concept for my Fish in Your Tank column in 2004, I told myself I would write about interesting fishes not commonly seen in the local fish shops. I wanted to write about fishes that not everybody has kept so that the readers will learn about a new fish that most likely they have never kept before. Fishes to be featured have to be something rare so that people will be interested in reading about them. After all what fun is it to read about a common fish like the Tiger Barb (Puntius tetrazona) which we all took care of as a kid?

So I told myself I will never write about the Tiger Barb. That was over a decade ago…and I was wrong.

Well, not entirely. I did say I wanted to write about fishes that not everybody has kept. I am betting all my marbles no one reading this article has ever kept a Long Fin Tiger Barb.

I was 4 years old when I got my very first aquarium. I had my first Tiger Barb at 5. I was able to breed them at 10, but it was only a little while ago that I ever saw a Long Fin Tiger Barb. That’s a very long span of time between being 10 years old and now. A day before then, I never even thought a Tiger Barb with long fins was even possible. But again, this is the fishkeeping hobby, and developing new strains and varieties is a big part of the industry.

Tiger Barbs occur naturally throughout the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo in Indonesia, with unsubstantiated sightings reported in Cambodia. The Tiger Barbs that are native to these waters have a gold base body color with four vertical black bars. Sometimes the scales have thin black margins highlighting the scales. The dorsal fin is generally black with a red or orange outline at the margin. The caudal fin or tail is generally clear, with red stripes outlining the top and bottom lobes. The pectoral fins are generally clear, with a flush of red. The ventral fins are generally red and the anal fin is black with a red outline. In males, the snout has a red flush and the red colorations in the fins are more intense than that of the females.

Through the years, many variants of the Tiger Barb have emerged. In the many years I have kept fish, I have encountered several variants of this popular Barb, namely the Albino, Glass, Sumatra, and Platinum Sumatra.

The Albino Tiger Barb has a base body color of yellow to light orange. Instead of black bars, it has cream colored bars. A slight redness is present in the fins and, being albinos, the eyes of the fish are, of course, red. The Glass Tiger Barb is in xanthic form. Thus its base body color is a pale yellow that is almost translucent. A red flush may be observed at the gill plate or operculum because the gills are quite observable. Redness may also be seen at the belly area because the internal organs may be faintly seen. The eyes are black.

The Sumatra Barb is a green version of the Tiger Barb. Instead of black bars, they have emerald to dark green bars on a golden body. In some cases, the base body color is emerald to dark green as well, making the fish appear to be a solid green fish. Sometimes the bars are slightly visible. The Platinum Sumatra Barb takes the Sumatra Barb to the next level as the green color is replaced by iridescent white; only some sheen of green may be seen. Redness on the snout and fins may be present as well.

Of course these variants are now farm bred. In fact, if they weren’t, then these different varieties of Tiger Barbs wouldn’t have existed. This latest variant, the long fin, is a product of selective breeding. I am sure it took some years to produce. But whatever the variant, the care for Tiger Barbs is the same.

Keeping Tiger Barbs is something we in the hobby all know about because surely we have kept them at one time or another. Personally, my very first fish was a Black Molly. Then I had angelfish, guppies, and goldfish. But my next level fish—which for that time were considered exotic—were Tiger Barbs! Thus I too was very much fascinated with Tiger Barbs and did my research so that I could properly care for them.

Keeping Tiger Barbs is really very easy since they are very hardy fishes, tolerant of a wide range of water parameters. They will thrive in water with a pH range of 6.0 to 8.0, but neutral water at pH 7.0 is best. They are comfortable in soft water up to slightly hard or a range of 5° to 15° dH. Since they are fish from Southeast Asia, a temperature range of 22-29 °C is quite acceptable. These ranges are quite achievable in the tanks of the ordinary Filipino fishkeeper. There is no need to do anything out of the ordinary to achieve these numbers so the demands for their care are fairly easy.

Basic fishkeeping sense like having the right tank size (which is very easy because the Tiger Barb is a mere 2.5-inch fish), proper feeding, correct filtration, and sustainable and periodic maintenance system will ensure a successful Tiger Barb tank. Every fishkeeper with a year of fishkeeping experience will surely find it easy to care for Tiger Barbs. Thus newbies shouldn’t be concerned with their Tiger Barbs, but rather, with its tankmates.

While Tiger Barb keeping is a breeze, keeping other fish with Tiger Barbs may be not as easy as you think. It is not that Tiger Barbs are aggressive, territorial, and savage predators that will easily make prey out of tankmates; rather, Tiger Barbs are not the best of neighbors to share the tank with. Tiger Barbs are notorious fin nippers; they have the tendency to harass tankmates. They are relentless in annoying their tankmates.

To have a successful community tank with Tiger Barbs, avoid fish that are too peaceful and meek like the goldfish. They will definitely be tortured by the harassment Tiger Barbs can inflict. Fish with long tails and fins like swordtails, angelfish, and guppies must be avoided because the Tiger Barb will trim these quite easily, and their victims will be susceptible to fin rot.

You will need fish that can withstand the harm that Tiger Barbs can inflict. Fish with a little bit of character and swagger like gouramis, some catfishes, maybe some cichlids, and other barbs may prove to be better choices. Thus, you cannot opt for docile fish; you will need tankmates that are fast swimmers, assertive, and quite hardy themselves.

Tiger Barbs are also best kept in a school. So at least six of these should be kept, but the more fish you have, the more comfortable and relaxed the Tiger Barbs should be. And of course a school of Tiger Barbs are a sight to watch. They are always on the go and are all over the tank. They all swim in unison, much like a team of synchronized swimmers.

The Long Fin Tiger Barb is just the same old time favorite fish dressed in very long fins that makes it more elegant-looking. While the long flowing fins may be its best asset, these are also its pitfall. The downside of having such long fins and tails in a school of notorious fin nippers will only result in one thing: they themselves will be nipping at each other’s tails and fins. Thus it is quite common to see Long Fin Tiger Barbs with torn fins, which may lead to fin rot if not taken care of.

The Tiger Barb could easily be one of the all-time favorite fish for the Filipino fishkeeper. It certainly was such a popular fish during my formative years of being a fishkeeper. But even way before today, Filipino fishkeepers have been smitten by Tiger Barbs.

One of my local fish-heroes, the late Earl Kennedy, narrated to me that during the early 1950s, the fish store in Manila had new arrivals of fish from Siam. He was told about the shipment and invited to the store. Upon entering the store, he was mesmerized. I can still hear the old man with his low, soft, and gentle voice tell me, “There they were. I fell in love in an instant. They were so beautiful… Tiger Barbs!”

This is a story I have always shared with fellow fish-keepers since it was a part of Philippine fish-keeping history. I can imagine how pretty the Tiger Barbs must have looked like at that time when “Mang Earl” was still a young man. Many decades later, generations of newbie Filipino fishkeepers are still amazed by Tiger Barbs.

And now with the addition of the High Fin Tiger Barbs to the growing number of varieties of Tiger Barbs, I am sure future generations of fish-keepers will still be enthralled by this fish. After all I can attest to this since I myself have been charmed by the same fish.

Recently, I went to this local fish supplier because I received a text message form the owner about a new shipment from Thailand. As I was walking along the aisles, a tank with Tiger Barbs caught my attention. I approached the tank and realized what was before me. I smiled, remembering Mang Earl and how he must have felt seven decades ago during his first encounter with Tiger Barbs, so I told myself, “And there they are. I fell in love in an instant. They are so beautiful… Long Fin Tiger Barbs!”

This story appeared in Animal Scene’s April 2016 issue.