Tinfoil Barb: Species Profile

Category: Barb

Common Names: Tinfoil Barb

Scientific Name: Barbus schwanefeldi

Family: Cyprinidae

Minimum Tank Size: 75 Gallons

Care Level: Easy

Temperament: Peaceful

Max Size: 12 Inches

Temperature: 74-80 F

pH: 6.0-7.5

Tank Level: Middle to Top

Colors: Red, Pink, Silver

Diet: Omnivore

Breeding: Moderate

Tinfoil Barb Overview

The tinfoil barb, scientifically known as Barbonymus schwanenfeldii, is a freshwater fish from Southeast Asia and part of the fish family Cyprinidae, commonly known as the minnow family. The Cyprinidae is one of the most diverse fish families, with over 3,000 species.

The tinfoil barb can grow quite large, up to 14 inches, and need a giant aquarium, making them best suited for intermediate or advanced aquarium owners. Their unique appearance and ability to get along well in mixed tropical aquariums make them popular for fish keepers.

Thick Tinfoil Barb with Red Tail on Dark Background

Tinfoil Barb Appearance

Aptly named, the tinfoil barb has shiny, silver scales that closely resemble that of tin foil. They also have a reflective, metallic sheen to them as tin foil does. However, they can also be known to be more of a yellowish-gold than silver in some instances.

The dorsal and caudal fins are generally slightly transparent, with deep orange to crimson red coloring. Due to this, they can also sometimes be called red tailed tinfoil barbs.

While they are sold as juveniles in most pet stores at only a couple of inches long, tinfoil barbs will quickly reach their full size and do better in large aquariums from the start, rather than being upsized as they grow.

These fish are occasionally mistaken for bala sharks, with the main difference being the bala’s lack of red coloring. The tinfoil barb likewise does not have the elongated shape of a bala shark, instead more resembling a silver dollar.

School of Tinfoil Barbs with Bubbles in Background

The Origins of the Tinfoil Barb

Covering a wide range of territory in Southeast Asia, the tinfoil barb mostly lives in large river systems such as the Mekong River and the Chao Phraya River. The earliest recognition of this fish was in 1853 by Pieter Bleeker, who originally described it as Barbus Schwanenfeldii.

The tinfoil barb has also been found in streams or canals, as well as flooded meadows, forests, and ditches when rain has been heavy. Despite ending up in some stagnant regions, they much prefer moving water. Depending on the time of year, the river’s temperature can fluctuate between 71°-92°F, and tinfoil barbs have proven they can survive in fluctuating temperatures.

These omnivores thrive in sandy areas where they can feed on submerged plants, algae, and macrophytes. They are also known to eat occasional insects and small freshwater crustaceans. The tinfoil barb’s most common natural predators include pike and giant catfish, which tend to prey on younger barbs.

Tinfoil Barb Size

Juvenile tinfoil barbs grow quickly within the first six months, with an average growth rate of one inch per month. After their initial growth spurt, reaching their full size can take 2-5 years. Despite the time it takes to get their full size, it’s always best to start tinfoil barbs out in large aquariums, usually 75-250 gallons.

There is no size difference between male and female barbs, and they can be challenging to tell apart. On average, a fully mature tinfoil barb will reach 8-10 inches in length. However, it is not uncommon for tinfoil barbs to get to 14-16 inches, especially in the wild or in properly sized aquariums.

There is a commonly spread myth amongst novice fish owners that a fish will only grow to the size of its tank. While this is technically true, the truth is that you are creating a harmful environment that will stunt the growth of your fish. This can lead to many health issues, including chronic stress, skeletal deformities, bloating, digestive problems, etc.

Tinfoil Barb Lifespan

An important factor when considering the purchase of a tinfoil barb is its longevity. In prime conditions, a healthy fish can survive up to 15 years. However, their average lifespan is between 8-10 years.

Long Narrow Tinfoil Barb

Can You Tell a Tinfoil Barb’s Gender?

There are no distinguishable external differences to determine the gender of the tinfoil barb. Both males and females exhibit the same silver scales, red or orange fins, and approximate size. During mating season, females may become slightly swollen around their abdomen just before laying their eggs.

Tinfoil Barb Temperament

Like most Barbs, the tinfoil barb has a semi-aggressive temperament. Semi-aggressive fish are neither downright aggressive nor completely docile. They can exhibit aggressive behavior toward slower, flowier fish species or under certain conditions.

Because the tinfoil barb is a schooling fish, they are always much happier in groups of six or more. A larger school can help lessen their aggressive behavior because they will be more comfortable and less likely to break away from the group.

In properly sized tanks (200 gallons or larger), tinfoil barbs can get along well with various other fish species. In smaller tanks, however, the barbs are more likely to become stressed and territorial, nipping and attacking other fish. Also, it is generally a bad idea to keep any fish that will fit in the mouth of a tinfoil barb in the same tank.

Tank Parameters for Tinfoil Barbs

The ideal environment for tinfoil barbs is a stream or river that can easily be replicated in a large aquarium. This can be an expensive endeavor that should be thoroughly researched and planned before rushing into it.

Tank Size

A single tinfoil barb requires a 70-gallon tank at the minimum. However, because they are schooling fish, having just one barb in a tank is not recommended. Doing so can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety which can cause serious illness.

Tinfoil barbs need a school of at least six, though that number is vastly larger in the wild—the bigger the group, the happier the fish. Though they certainly wouldn’t be opposed to even bigger tanks, a 200-gallon aquarium is a good starting point for a small school of tinfoil barbs.

Water Specifications

Tinfoil barbs prefer a slightly acidic-neutral PH level, 6.5-7.0, but can survive safely in a range of 6.0-7.5. Hard water levels up to 10 are ideal.

While they love water temperatures between 72 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit, they can deal with lower temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t need to equip their tank with a heater but they become more active at the top range of 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Being freshwater fish, tinfoil barbs can not withstand any amount of salinity or organic waste in their waters. A proper filtration system and regular cleaning and water changes will help maintain fresh, clean water for these fish.

Ginkgo100 [CC-BY-SA-3.0]

Aquarium Setup for Tinfoil Barbs

While not as vital to their survival as the initial water requirements, your substrate selection, plants, and decor are still essential parts of your tinfoil barb aquarium setup.


In their natural habitat, tinfoil barbs are accustomed to sand or fine gravel found along a riverbed, where they can dig and search for insects and plants.

While fine sand is the tinfoil barb’s ideal substrate, it can also be challenging to clean. If choosing this option, you may want to layer no more than 2-3inches of sand along the bottom of the tank.

Fine gravel may be more convenient, as it is easier to clean and can be layered 2-6inches. This is ideal for placing plants in the aquarium, as they will need to be well buried to avoid the tinfoil barbs digging them up or eating them.


Tinfoil barbs are active swimmers and usually have no interest in hiding places that slower, more reserved fishes might. However, if you plan to have other tropical fish in the aquarium, there is no issue in placing a variety of ornaments into the tank. Just ensure that the tinfoil barbs have plenty of wide open space to school together and swim around.

Remember that tinfoil barbs, being large fish, produce a large amount of waste. Anything you place into the aquarium must be removed and cleaned when you do your routine tank cleaning. If you want to make your life easier, avoid textured and patterned decorations that will attract algae and other buildups.

Plants for Tinfoil Barbs

Most tropical aquatic plants are suitable for tinfoil barbs, but those that are fully submersible are ideal. Because barbs tend to jump, you will want a tight lid on your aquarium but these may prevent you from having tall, semi-aquatic plants. Remember that any plants you choose are likely to be nibbled on or eaten, so you will want to pick something hardy unless you are willing to replace them often.

Amazon Swords

Amazon Swords are one of the most popular plants for aquarium owners due to their many benefits on top of being easy to care for. They are a hardy plant that can be partially or fully submersed and does best in PH levels between 6.5-7.5.

Because they use organic waste and debris to grow, Amazon Swords can help keep your tank clean and minimize ammonia and nitrate levels. Typically, these plants have leaves of 10-12 inches but can reach a total height of 20 inches. They grow pretty slowly, but if they start to outgrow your tank, you may need to trim them down.

Java Fern

Native to Southeast Asia, the java fern is an excellent option to keep tinfoil barbs feeling truly at home in their tank. There are a few variants of this luscious plant, such as;

  • Needle Leaf Java Fern
  • Narrow Leaf Java Fern
  • Trident Java Fern
  • Windelov Java Fern

All versions of the java fern are relatively easy to care for, capable of surviving in fluctuating water temperatures of 68°-92°F, with an ideal PH of 6.0-7.0. One of the best benefits of keeping Java Fern in your tank is their absorption of carbon dioxide. It is a hardy, robust plant that holds its own well with aggressive fish.

Because they can be prone to rotting, avoid planting your java fern in sand or soil. Instead, use rocks or other decorations to firmly secure it to the bottom of the tank to prevent rowdy fish from tipping it over.


Yet another commonly used tropical aquatic plant is the hornwort. This plant grows quickly but is highly adaptable and beneficial to aquariums making it worth the upkeep. Hornwort is very flexible regarding water conditions but does best in the PH range of 6.0-7.6.

The sharp leaves on Hornwort are repugnant to tinfoil barbs, so they are unlikely to get eaten. The dense growth helps oxygenate the tank and prevent algae fouling.


A strong filtration and aeration system is needed to replicate the strong currents found in tinfoil barb’s natural habitats. They are strong, high-energy swimmers that enjoy the pushback of swimming upstream.

Having so many large fish in one tank will create a lot of waste, so don’t be afraid to upsize when it comes to your filter. Alternatively, multiple filters along your tank can make a decent current, and bubblers will help aerate the tank.

Thick Tinfoil Barb on Dark Background


Ideally, tinfoil barbs do best in warm, tropical waters, usually 72°-77°F. However, they can adapt to a broad range of temperatures, as low as 68°F and as high as 92°F. Summer months in the wild serve as the mating season for these fish, so it can be assumed that the warmer temperatures are ideal for laying their eggs.

Generally, room temperature water will not be warm enough for these tropical fish, so a heater is usually required. In a giant aquarium, multiple heaters may be necessary to distribute the appropriate amount of heat throughout the tank.

Tinfoil Barb Diet

Despite being primarily herbivores, tinfoil barbs will devour almost anything put in front of them. Additionally, they have no sense of fullness, which can literally cause them to eat themselves to death. Regular, scheduled feedings of a well-balanced diet are key to keeping your tinfoil barbs happy and healthy.

For meaty options, live or frozen brine shrimp, chopped worms, blood worms, and mosquito larvae are good options for these greedy eaters. They also need lots of vegetables such as cucumbers, spinach, and shelled peas. In between feedings, they will likely feed on anything they can find in the tank, such as other plants or algae.

Breeding Tinfoil Barbs

To the disappointment of many aquarists, getting tinfoil barbs to breed in a fish tank is basically impossible. There has only ever been one successful case of tinfoil barbs being bred in captivity, and even then, the source has not been verified.

Tinfoil barbs are egg scatterers, and the females can scatter thousands of eggs every spawning. They are not nurturers, so once the eggs are laid, they are typically forgotten. Often, the parents will eat some of the eggs and even the fry if they stick around long enough.

While no public aquarium has published the secret to breeding tinfoil barbs, many predict that in either a pond or outdoor tropical environment, it may be possible. Ideally, the eggs and fry would need to be kept separate from all other fish in the area until mature enough to ensure they do not get eaten.

Common Diseases

The most common diseases that affect tinfoil barb are the same as those that affect most tropical fish. The most prominent are bacterial, fungal, parasites, and physical wounds.

Bacterial Infection

Many symptoms can present themselves should a tinfoil barb have a bacterial infection, including;

  • Red spots
  • Streaks down the body
  • Eye swelling
  • Abdomen swelling
  • Ragged fins

If treated in time, most of these ailments are quickly cured by taking an antibiotic such as penicillin or amoxicillin.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections in fish are very common, especially in tanks with poor water quality or excessive organic waste. Prominent symptoms include;

  • Grey/white patches on the scales or gills
  • Brown/green discharge
  • Cotton-like growth on the eyes or body

Oftentimes, thoroughly cleaning the aquarium and treating the water is enough to clear up fungal infections. Numerous treatments are available to prevent and cure fungal infections sold at most pet stores.

Ginkgo100 [CC-BY-SA-3.0]


Various parasites can affect tropical fish, most of which come from introducing new fish to the tank. Some symptoms to watch for if you think your fish has a parasite are;

  • Long, stringy poops
  • White spots along the body
  • Lack of appetite
  • Sunken abdomen

Most parasites will require vet treatment, numerous water changes, and removing and thoroughly cleaning your filtration system.


If a fish has been gravely injured, the best option may be to quarantine it from its tankmates until it is healed. Otherwise, they may fall prey to bullying or have trouble getting food before their quicker companions manage to eat it all.

For flesh wounds, capturing the fish in a net and applying a small amount of peroxide can help ensure it does not get infected. For broken bones, a vet may be able to assist in the healing process, but often smaller fish end up needing up be euthanized.

Potential Tank Mates for Tinfoil Barbs

With similarly sized fish, tinfoil barbs tend to be reasonably peaceful. However, fish with flowy fins may not be suitable tankmates due to the tinfoil barb’s tendency to nibble. Avoid placing angelfish, bettas, or guppies in with your tinfoil barbs.

Hardy, semi-aggressive fishes, are the best option to be your tinfoil barb’s tank companions. These include bala sharks, cichlids, eels, loaches, and gouramis. Bottom feeders such as the pictus catfish, plecostomus, or twig catfish are also likely candidates. Avoid putting small crustaceans in the tank, as your tinfoil barbs will likely eat them.