Cherry Barb: Species Profile

Category: Barb

Common Names: Cherry Barb, Red Cherry Barb

Scientific Name: Puntius titteya

Family: Cyprinidae

Minimum Tank Size: 20 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Peaceful

Max Size: 2 inches

Temperature: 72-80 F

pH: 6.0-8.0

Tank Level: All

Colors: Pink, Red, White, Black

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Moderate – Egg Layer

One Cherry Barb in Front of Plants

Cherry Barb Overview

Cherry barbs (Puntius titteya) are extremely hardy freshwater fish that makes an excellent option for community tanks. They are popular both among beginner hobbyists and experienced fish keepers.

To understand the nature of these fish, let’s look a little more closely at their scientific classification.

  • Class: The Actinopterygii class contains ray-finned fish. These fish are in a subcategory of fish with boney structures to support their webbed fins. Nearly half of vertebrates are in this class.
  • Order: The Cypriniformes order includes over 4250 species of carps, minnows, loaches, and their relatives. These fish only have a singular dorsal fin on their back, have a small median bone in their snout, and have pharyngeal teeth in their throat instead of their mouth.
  • Family: The Cyprinidae family contains minnows, carps, and related fish like barbs and barbels. A Weberian organ gives them a well-developed sense of hearing. They’re also egg layers that don’t guard their eggs.
  • Genus: The Puntius genus is native to freshwater in South Asia, mainland Southeast Asia, and Taiwan. It includes several types of barbs. Most are between 2.8-5.9 in (7-15 cm). They’re omnivorous, scatter eggs near the bottom, and may eat their young.
  • Species: Puntius titteya are red-colored barbs that live in tropical bodies of water in Sri Lanka. It’s a peaceful, schooling fish that enjoys the cover of plants.

Distinguishing Features

There are several types of barbs. However, their bright red color distinguishes cherry barbs from other barbs. Wild-caught cherry barbs are usually more colorful than the captive-bred variety.

The male is a reddish color that becomes deeper when it breeds.

One Cherry Barb Looking Down

The female is usually more of a rosy color than red, but it becomes darker when it breeds. It is fawn-colored at the top and has a sheen that’s slightly green. You will also notice silver highlights on its sides and bottom.

Besides being red or rosy, both the male and female have black lateral lines that reach from their nose to the beginning of their forked tail on both sides. Another black lateral line runs from their nose and across the top of their body on each side of their singular dorsal (top) fin.

Cherry Barb with Single Leaf Behind

Their fins are small and can look translucent. When cherry barbs swim, their fins lie flat, making them look like torpedoes moving through the water.


Cherry barbs are native to Sri Lanka, where they live in shaded, shallow, and clear inland wetlands. Their natural habitat is shallow, warm, and densely vegetated. Their habitats include tropical plants, logs, rocks, silt, sand, and mossy stream beds.

They live in seven slow-moving, lowland wet zone streams in the southwest:

  • Kalutara
  • Gampaha
  • Colombo
  • Matara
  • Gale
  • Ratnapura
  • Kegalle

While there are plenty of cherry barbs in the pet trade, their numbers are in decline in the wild.

Their numbers are diminishing as a result of excessive harvesting, loss of habitat, and climate change. Rather than breeding the fish and then exporting them, 98% of the cherry barbs that Sri Lankans export are wild-caught.

They’re currently on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List as a vulnerable species with a population that is decreasing.

Current threats to cherry barbs in Sri Lanka include:

  • Annual and perennial non-timber agriculture
  • Gem mining
  • Harvesting for the fish trade
  • Human recreational and work activities
  • Current and future hydropower projects diverging water, changing downstream flows, and changing water turbidity and temperature
  • Wet zone projects that dry out streams and destroy habitats
  • 12 Invasive non-native species competing, predating, and altering streams
  • Polluted domestic and urban wastewater
  • Agricultural and forestry effluents, causing soil erosion, sedimentation, herbicides, and pesticides in the water
  • Climate-change-related and deforestation-related threats like storms and flooding
  • Deforestation and the creation of rubber and tea plantations that reduce shade and vegetation and cause temperature fluctuations

Cherry barbs have also been found in Colombia, Mexico, and Panama. They’re not native to these regions, so it’s obvious that they were introduced by humans. However, they have quickly adapted to tropical waters in these locations.


Cherry barbs can grow up to two inches long. The males are usually smaller than the females, growing only to about 1.75 inches long.

School of Cherry Barbs in Front of Plants


The average lifespan of a cherry barb is 2-5 years. However, they can live up to seven or eight years in ideal aquarium conditions with the correct habitat, excellent water parameters, and suitable tankmates.


It’s fairly easy to distinguish between male and female cherry barbs.

Females are noticeably larger, rounder, and paler in color. Their lateral stripe is also usually darker.

Males are smaller, with a more streamlined body. They’re usually about a quarter of an inch shorter than the females. However, their body is a more vibrant red and intensifies in color during the mating season.


Cherry barbs are peaceful schooling fish. They’re very active, so you’ll see them happily swimming around the tank all day with other cherry barbs. Staying together gives them a sense of safety and security.

You’ll most often find a school of them in the middle and bottom levels of the tank. They can become skittish if they can’t find a secure hideout, so it’s good to provide them with several places to hide.

Despite being peaceful, they can become more territorial and aggressive during periods of spawning. Because of this territoriality, you want to ensure you have more males than females in the tank and plenty of places to hide.

The good news is that they rarely nip fins like some other barb species. So, you can place them in a tank with fish that have large and showy fins and tails without having to worry about nipping.

Tank Parameters

Cherry barbs thrive in a tank that is closest to their natural habitat. Their wild habitat is slightly acidic, sheltered from light, and has slow-flowing water.

Minimum Tank Size

Since you need a minimum of six cherry barbs and need two inches per fish to accommodate their eventual length, you need at least a 15-gallon tank. However, a 25-gallon tank is a better option.

School of Cherry Barbs with Plants

Water Parameters

While they are able to cope with higher ammonia and nitrate levels, you still want to keep the water as clean as possible.

It’s a good idea to test the water conditions regularly. Investing in a high-quality water test kit will give you more accurate results than test strips. You will also need to use a water conditioner if you have chlorinated water.

Water changes every two weeks are ideal. Keeping a close watch on water parameters can help keep your fish healthy and ensure that it lives a long and happy life.


Since cherry barbs are tropical fish, they need their water to be 74-79 F (23-26 C). Thus, they will need a tank with a heating system.

While they can handle temperatures down to 68 F, permanently placing them in a tank without a heating system can result in unnecessary stress and a shortened lifespan.


Cherry barbs prefer water pH that is lightly acidic to neutral in nature. So, they can tolerate a pH of 6.0-7.0.

If you live in an area with hard water, you will need to use a method to soften your water so that your fish thrive.


Water hardness is also important for tiger barbs. They fare better in water with a hardness level of 2-18 dGH with fewer minerals like calcium and magnesium dissolved in it.

Since they originate in softer, more acidic water, they spawn and develop better in softer water. So, if you have hard water, you will need to use a water-softening method.

Some natural water-softening methods include adding peat moss, driftwood, or rainwater to the tank. Reverse osmosis and water softening pillows are also helpful.

It’s essential to measure your water hardness once a month. However, if you’re trying to breed them or raise fry, you should test the water more often to make sure that it doesn’t go over 18 dGH.


Cherry barbs are freshwater fish, so they don’t require any salts in their tank. Even if you house them with mollies, they don’t need salt.

Salt is also not good for a tank with live plants since it can kill them. So, if you have an ideal setup for your fish, including live plants, it’s especially important to avoid adding salt.

Tank Setup

Having the correct tank setup is essential to make cherry barbs feel the most comfortable. They need an environment that gives them plenty of places to explore and hide. Live plants are essential.


Cherry barbs like a dark, sandy substrate with silt and leaf litter. A black substrate will help bring out their red and rosy color and make them feel less exposed.

Beware of black-dyed sand. Natural black sand made from black clay gravel is safe and won’t change the tank’s pH.


Cherry barbs are curious fish that enjoy exploring their tank. The more plants and other hiding places, the better. In fact, creating a biotope situation is ideal.

For a more natural look, try adding rocks to make hiding places and caves for retreat. However, keep in mind that some types of rocks will raise the pH. For example, limestone and coral raise water pH.

If you’re unsure about the pH of a rock you want to add to your tank, place a few drops of white vinegar on it. If it foams, it’s calcareous and will raise the tank’s pH.

Driftwood can also provide a good place to hide as well as help keep the tank more acidic. Driftwood releases tannins, which keep the tank looking more tea-colored than clear. However, barbs come from silty, tannin-stained water, so it’s a more natural environment for them.

If you want to add pre-made decorations, consider ones that have hiding places like pots, houses, castles, and caves.

Cherry Barb with Large Plant Background


Live plants are essential for a tank with cherry barbs. Not only does it provide a place to hide, but leaf litter is a part of their diet. So, there’s no need to remove damaged leaves.

Plant densely, but don’t overcrowd the aquarium. You can plant live plants directly into the substrate or plant them in pots.

Choose aquatic plants that can tolerate the water and light parameters that cherry barbs need. Plants for a cherry barb tank need to be able to do well in slightly acidic, warm, dimly-lit waters. Some options include:

  • Anubias barteri
  • Anubias nana
  • African water fern (Bolbitis heduelotii)
  • Java fern (Microsorum pteropus)
  • Java moss (Vesicularia dubyana)
  • Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
  • Rotala rotundifolia
  • Rotala Indica
  • Brazilian pennywort (Hydrocotyle leucocephala)
  • Guppy grass (Nahas guadalupensis)
  • Red ludwigia (Ludwigia repens)
  • Marimbo moss ball (Aegagropila linnaei)

Floating plants are a good option to help shelter the fish from light. The floating plants themselves will need at least medium sunlight, but they can serve as a sunlight shield for your fish below. Some excellent floating plants that can tolerate slightly acidic water include:

  • Duckweed (Lemna minor)
  • Amazon frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
  • Dwarf water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
  • Water spangles (Salvinia minima)
  • Mosquito fern (Azolla filiculoides)


Cherry barbs prefer darker tanks. Your fish will appreciate you choosing lights or light settings that are always dim.


You need a gentle but high-quality filter that can help maintain water quality while keeping the water soft-flowing. A simple sponge filter and air pump are best.

The filter and a 25%-30% water change every other week should help maintain the water quality and keep the ammonia and nitrate levels low.


Because cherry barbs come from a tropical environment, they don’t tolerate cold well. Thus, it’s essential to have a heater that stays on day and night.

While they can tolerate temperatures down to 68 F (20 C), placing them in a tank without a heater over the long term will stress them and lead to a shorter lifespan. However, they should do fine in a short power outage.

Three Cherry Barbs with Plants and Black


Cherry barbs are omnivores as adults and will eat nearly anything that you provide. In their natural habitat, they eat decomposing detritus, green algae, diatoms, flies, and animal matter.

As aquarium pets, you can simulate their natural diets with an omnivorous selection that can include:

  • Pellets
  • Flakes
  • Live or frozen food
  • Vegetables like zucchini and shelled peas
  • Daphnia
  • Blood worms
  • Brine shrimp

It’s best to feed them two or three times a day. However, be sure you only feed them as much as they can eat in three minutes. If there are too many leftovers, they can affect the water quality.


Cherry barbs are extremely easy to breed since they are multiple spawners, meaning they scatter eggs more than once throughout their spawning season. However, they need a recovery period of two months between spawnings.

To breed cherry barbs, follow these steps:

1. Prepare for Breeding

While they’re still in the main tank, start feeding them live and frozen food. You will also need to gradually increase the main tank temperature by 2 or 3 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Move Them to a Breeding Tank

Cherry barbs need a separate breeding tank that simulates their natural breeding environment:

  • Temperature: 75-79 F (26 C)
  • Water hardness: 12 dGH
  • pH: Between 6 and 6.5

They will need plenty of plants for scattering their eggs. The tank should also be in a dimly-lit area and have a gentle sponge filter.

The best way to keep the eggs safe from consumption is to also place a latch-hook mesh or something similar at the bottom of the tank. That way, the eggs fall through the mesh so that the parents can’t eat them.

Using a spawning box is also a possibility to keep the eggs safe, but the mesh gives the pair more freedom of movement throughout the tank.

3. Supervise Breeding

When the male is ready for spawning, he will become bright red and swim near the female.

Once the female is gravid (full of eggs), she will become noticeably more plump than usual.

If you don’t place a mesh at the bottom of the tank you will need to keep a closer watch on the breeding pair to know when they’ve laid all their eggs.

4. Remove the Parents

After the female has deposited all 200-300 eggs, you should remove the pair.

If you don’t use a mesh at the bottom of the tank, you will want to remove the mating pair right away to prevent the parents from eating the eggs.

If you have mesh in the bottom of the tank, it’s not nearly as vital to remove them right away, but you will still want to keep an eye out for the eggs at the bottom of the tank because the fry will be free-swimming soon.

5. Care for the Fry

The eggs will hatch within 48 hours, and you will start to see free-swimming fry by the next day.

They’re easy to raise and accept most powdered or dried fry foods. Newly-hatched brine shrimp or infusoria are also good feeding options.

You should feed them three times a day until they’re large enough to eat adult food.

Cherry Barb Eating from Gravel

Common Diseases

Cherry barbs can succumb to some common freshwater diseases:

  • Fin rot: Fin rot is a bacterial infection that causes discolored, ragged fins. You can easily treat it with antibiotics.
  • Ich: Ich comes from the Ichthyophthiriius multifiliis parasite. Infected fish develop white spots on their bodies and begin rubbing themselves against rocks and other hard surfaces. It’s fatal if untreated. Quarantine and treat infected fish with ich medicine.

Stressed fish are more likely to have a compromised immune system, making them more susceptible to disease. You can keep your fish healthy by taking these precautions:

  • Avoid overcrowding
  • Avoid placing fish in a tank with aggressive fin-nippers
  • Avoid poor water conditions
  • Quarantine new fish before adding them to the tank
  • Sanitize new equipment or decor that has been with other fish

Potential Tank Mates

Cherry barbs are peaceful fish that are happy schooling with other cherry barbs or living in a peaceful, community tank. You want to choose other small, peaceful fish as tankmates. However, they’re also happy with larger, peaceful bottom dwellers.

Other Cherry Barbs

Because cherry barbs are schooling fish, they thrive in groups of six or more cherry barbs.

Ideally, you want two males for every four females. However, if you end up with a higher ratio of males to females, they usually won’t resort to chasing or nipping like some species do but it’s still possible. Adding more cover plants or changing the gender ratio should help.

Also, since cherry barbs eat their young, there’s no need to worry about overpopulation if you don’t intend to breed your fish.

Other Barbs

While cherry barbs are peaceful, other barbs like tiger barbs can be more aggressive and nippy, which can make for a stressful living environment.

There are a few more peaceful barbs that can work well with cherry barbs, like Odessa barbs and checker barbs as long as you keep them in a large-enough school with enough plant cover.

Peaceful, Community Fish

Other than cherry barbs, the best tank mates are peaceful community fish that appreciate the same tank parameters. There are many peaceful, colorful community fish species that pair well with cherry barbs, including:

  • Neon tetras (Paracheirodon innesi)
  • Kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii)
  • Mollies (Poecilia sphenops)
  • Platies (Xiphophorus maculatus)
  • Harlequin rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
  • Sparkling gourami (Trichopsis pumila)
  • Pearl gourami (Trichopodus leerii)
  • Otocinclus catfish (Otocinclus)
  • Asian stone cats (Hara jerdoni)
  • Celestial pearl danio (Danio margaritas)
  • Kribs (Kribensis)
  • Ember tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)
  • Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
  • Paradise fish (Macropodus opercularis)
  • White clouds (Tanichthys albonubes)
  • Emperor tetra (Nematobrycon palmeri)
  • Clown killifish (Epiplatys annulatus)
  • Endler guppies (Poecilia wingei)
  • Bluefin notho killifish (Nothobranchius rachovii)

Never place cherry barbs in a tank with larger or more aggressive fish that may use them for a snack.

Also, if you decide to place them with Endler guppies, having a larger number of Endlers will keep the nipping to a minimum.

Non-Fish Tankmates

Some non-fish tankmates that are well-suited to living with cherry barbs include:

  • Ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis)
  • Cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)
  • Blue velvet shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)
  • Mystery snails (Pomacea bridgesii)