Tinfoil Barb Species Overview, Care & Breeding Guide

The tinfoil barb is a gentle giant that just never gets the appreciation it deserves. This freshwater fish is pretty sturdy and is often recommended to novice aquarists. But the growth of tinfoil bard and it’s temperament can be quite unexpected.

So, if you have some experience with aquariums, you will have a gala time raising this one. The barb is also fun to feed, as it eats almost anything.

What are the Characteristics of Tinfoil Barb?

OriginSumatra, Malayan Peninsula, Brunei Darussalam, Borneo, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins of Thailand
Scientific NameBarbonymus schwanenfeldii
Common NamesTinfoil barb, tinfoil, river barb, gold foil barb, yellow tinfoil barb, Schwanefeld’s barb
IUCN Red List StatusLeast Concern
AppearanceTorpedo-shaped, red forked caudal fins, forked tail, flat head
SizeUsually up to 20 cm (8 in), Maximum up to 35 cm (14 in)
LifespanUsually around 10-15 years; with exceptional care, up to 20 years
TemperamentUsually peaceful, aggressive toward smaller fish and under stress
Tank LevelMid to bottom-level dweller
Water Temperature72-77 °F (22-25 °C)
pH Level6.5-7.5
Water Hardness2-10 dGH
Care LevelIntermediate
Minimum Tank Size90 gallons for one, 225 gallons for 5 fish, 150 gallons for breeding
Tank EnvironmentSpacious, mimicking riverbed, moderate lighting, strong water flow
DietOmnivorous with carnivorous preferences
Tank MatesOwn mate, other robust similar-sized species

What is the natural habitat Tinfoil Barb?

The tinfoil barb can be found in many places in Southeast Asia. It is usually spotted in the rivers, streams, ditches, and canals of Sumatra, Malayan Peninsula, Brunei Darussalam, Borneo, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Mekong and Chao Phraya basins of Thailand.

The fish is also an invasive species in Taiwan.

In The IUCN Red List Status of Threatened Species assessment of 2019, this fish was marked Least Concern.

Which family does Tinfoil Barb Fish belong?

This fish belongs to the Cyprinidae family under the Cypriniformes order and is scientifically known as Barbonymusschwanenfeldii.

It is popular worldwide by some common names like tinfoil barb, tinfoil, river barb, gold foil barb, yellow tinfoil barb, and Schwanefeld’s barb.

Fun Fact: This fish looks similar to and is often confused with bala shark, But balas don’t have this barb’s red coloring.

How does Tinfoil Barb Fish look?

Two tinfoil barbs

Now, if you want to know how to identify this beautiful fish, let us tell you everything about it here!

What is the Size of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Commonly, the adult tinfoil barb grows up to 20 cm (8 in) in size. However, the largest size that this fish has been reported to have grown to is a whopping 35 cm (14 in).

But your pet fish’s growth can vary a lot based on the water quality, aquarium size, diet, and genetics.

What is the Color of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

The fish is aptly named according to its appearance, as the silvery or golden yellow scales of this species resemble tin foil.

It has crimson red or deep orange fins, which might be translucent to look at. The dorsal fin has a black blotch at the tip, and the caudal fin has a white margin with a black submarginal stripe along each.

When it grows to its largest size, the dorsal and caudal fins are blood-red in color.

The juvenile fish is pretty plain-looking and lacks red and orange shaded fins.

There are some selectively bred varieties of this fish, like the albino tinfoil barb, golden tinfoil barb, and a glass variety.

It is also subjected to artificial dying and can be found in colors like blue, pink, purple and orange. However, this process of artificially coloring a fish can cause it pain and make it vulnerable to diseases.

What are the Features of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

The adult fish has a torpedo-shaped body, flat head, and small eyes, which are set far back on its head.

The fins of this fish are quite unique and start at the middle of its body and extend quite a bit. Both the dorsal and anal fins are large and triangular.

The caudal fin is forked to allow fast swimming and is also quite big. The pectoral fins begin just behind the gill.

How to differentiate between a male and a female Tinfoil Barb Fish?

It is difficult to differentiate between males and females as they have no obvious physical differences. The adult male might be slightly bigger than the average female.

During mating season, the mature female fish will have a more rounded abdomen. The adult male tinfoil also shows some physical signs on its head and pectoral fins, like small hard, raised growths, aka tubercles.

What is the behavior of Tinfoil Barb Fish in a tank?

The barb is mostly peaceful but can become semi-aggressive towards or even eat smaller or slower fish. The fish is quite robust in nature and shows vigorous feeding behavior. It is also a fast swimmer and prefers lots of activity.

In smaller tanks, it gets stressed due to the lack of space. This leads to plant uprooting and fin-nipping behavior.

What is the Lifespan of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

In captivity, the tinfoil has a lifespan of 10-15 years. But, in my experience, with exceptional care, it can live up to 20 years.

Author’s Note: The naturally occurring form of this fish has a distinct black stripe along each lobe of the caudal fin. This feature is the easiest way to tell it apart from an artificially colored type.

How to Take Care of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Group of tinfoil barbs

If you want to keep this gentle giant as your pet, let us tell you about the perfect aquarium it will need to thrive.

What is the Tank Size of Tinfoil Barb Fish?

A single tinfoil barb can be kept in a 90-gallon tank. But it is happiest in a school of 5, which requires a tank size of 225 gallons.

As this fish can grow pretty big, it always appreciates more space to swim around. So increase tank size if you add tankmates.

What is the Water Chemistry for Tinfoil Barb Fish Tank?

It is quite a hardy species, but to avoid stressing it out, maintain the following water requirements.

  • pH Levels: 6.5-7.5
  • Water Temperature: 72-77 °F (22-25 °C)
  • Water Hardness: 2-10 dGH
  • Ammonia: 0 ppm
  • Nitrite: 0 ppm
  • Nitrate: Below 20 ppm

What is the Tank Environment for Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Your fish will feel safe and happy if you give it the correct environment. So, read on to find out how to set up the perfect home for your pet.

Which Substrate ie needed for Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Give the fish a fine, smoothened gravel or sand substrate to allow it to dig into the bottom of the tank, as it does in its wild habitat.

If you’ll opt for sand, make it 2-3 inches thick. For fine gravel, 2-6 inches thickness is optimum for the fish to dig well. This is also perfect for firmly embedding plants.

Which Plants are needed for Tinfoil Barb Fish?

This tinfoil fish likes to dig up or nibble on plants, so pick plants that have sturdy stems and leaves and can’t be uprooted easily.

Since this barb is a jumper fish, you also need a tightly fitted lid. So, go for tropical plants that can be fully submerged. Avoid semi-aquatic and tall plants.

Plants like Vallisneria, hornwort, and Amazon swords are suitable. You can also check out java ferns like needle leaf java fern, trident java fern, windelov java fern,and narrow leaf java fern.

What type of Lighting is required for Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Low to moderate lighting works best for this fish as it needs a clear indication of day and night. This helps the fish regulate its sleep schedule.

It looks especially nice when there is overhead lighting with a dark substrate as the light reflects on it.

What is the Décor for Tinfoil Barb Fish tank?

You can decorate its tank with ornaments that will replicate a natural riverbed. So pebbles, small rocks, driftwood, and caves are the best picks. Make sure that the tank is not over-decorated and that it has ample space to swim around.

Which Filtration is required for Tinfoil Barb Fish?

The fish can’t tolerate low levels of oxygen in the water. So, a strong oxygenating filtration system is necessary to upkeep the good health of this fish. You can use any type of filter, but an external canister filter is a must-have for proper cleaning.

In my opinion, it is ideal to use multiple filters and a bubbler that helps aerate the tank and oxygenate the water optimally.

What is the Water Flow Rate for Tinfoil Barb Fish Tank?

It likes to swim against a strong water flow like the current of rivers. So, you can invest in a river manifold, powerheads, or wavemaker for your fish.

Fish Care Tip: Replace around 20-30% of the water in your aquarium every two weeks to help maintain water quality and remove any waste or toxins that may have settled in the tank.

What does Tinfoil Barb Fish Eat?

This tinfoil fish will make no fuss while eating and accepts anything offered. It is primarily an omnivorous species but loves carnivorous treats.

You can include foods like:

  • Live food
  • Frozen food
  • Good quality dried food
  • Shelled peas
  • Blanched courgette
  • Spinach
  • Chopped fruit
  • Chopped earthworm
  • Prawn
  • Mussel
  • Spirulina
  • Brine
  • Bloodworm
  • Daphnia
  • Mosquito larvae

Its vigorous eating habit often makes fish owners believe that they’re still hungry and overfeed them. So be cautious about overfeeding it.

Feed them either once a day for 5 minutes or 2-3 times a day for 3 minutes. Rotate between items to meet a balanced nutritional requirement.

Which Tank Mates to have with Tinfoil Barb Fish?

It is a schooling fish, so before you add other tank mates, make sure you add a group of its own kind.

Other than that, some great tank mates are non-aggressive similar-sized species. If there is enough space in the aquarium, it can also be kept with some selected aggressive ones. The most common tank mates for tinfoil barbs are namely:

Which Tank Mates to Avoid with Tinfoil Barb Fish?

The tinfoil fish may be peaceful, but it can’t be friends with all kinds. This is mainly because of its size and changing temperament. So, take a look at the tankmates that you should avoid:

  • Any small fish that can fit in its mouth: It is mostly peaceful but sees every small fish as its feed.
  • Slow-moving fishes: Tinfoil is a fast-paced swimmer and a voracious eater, so slow-moving fishes might get starved in its tank.
  • Species with delicate fins: Species with shiny, delicate fins may trigger tinfoil’s fin-nipping behavior.

Here are some fun-buddies that you must not keep with a tinfoil barb:

  • Goldfish
  • Koi
  • Guppy
  • Neon tetra
  • Shrimp
  • Snails

What are the Common Diseases in Tinfoil Barb Fish?

No matter how sturdy tinfoil might it be, you must look out for some diseases and be prepared to deal with each ailment.

Disease NameCausesSymptomsTreatment
Freshwater IchParasitic infectionWhite spot, flashing, withdrawal, loss of appetite, not schooling, rapid breathingAdd aquarium salt and copper sulfate, raise the water temperature
Fin rotBacterial infection, poor water quality, and contact with sick fishLoss of color, ripping fins, loss of appetite, and lethargyAquarium salt and antibiotics, get rid of sharp objects, finetune water quality
Hexamita [hole in the head disease]Protozoan parasitic infectionPits/holes in the skin of the head, hemorrhage, red feces, mucus trailFix water quality, Remove activated carbon, treat with antifungal medicines
ColumnarisBacterial infectionWhite or grey patches, lethargy, loss of appetiteWater quality enhancement, antibiotics, stress reduction
Epizootic Ulcerative SyndromeFungal infectionOpen dermal ulcerRelocate fish to high-quality water

Quick Tip: Quarantine the sick fish and treat them separately. Quarantine any fish before introducing it to its tank. Never expose the fish to a temperature as high as 82 °F (28 °C).

How to Breed Tinfoil Barb Fish in an Aquarium?

Tinfoil barb breeding in a home aquarium has never been successfully done. They have always been bred commercially.

Nevertheless, if you want to try, you will need a commercial level of equipment and care. So, let’s know the steps here!

1. Fish Conditioning

Feed the pair a nutritional diet with plenty of high-quality live or frozen food like bloodworms and brine shrimp. But, despite this conditioning, the chances of them breeding are quite low.

2. Tank Preparation

To start with, you will need a tank of at least 150 gallons. This will give the pair enough space to swim around comfortably.

In the wild, the fish usually mates in the rainy season. That’s when it moves to the flooded regions of tropical forests.

To mimic that, your breeding tank must have more plants than usual. Keep fine-leaved plants and add some floating plants and java moss, as the species is an egg scatterer. The plants will act like a cushion to hold the eggs.

Maintain the following water chemistry to trigger mating behavior:

  • Water Temperature: 75-80 °F (24-26 °C)
  • pH Levels: 6.5-7

3. Mating Process

The female becomes rounder when it’s ready to lay eggs. Once she scatters her eggs, the male fertilizes them.

Females can lay more than 1000 eggs. So, if most of the eggs are viable, be prepared with a backup plan to ship them to stores or have your own aquarium to accommodate them.

Tinfoils are not nurturers, so once the eggs are scattered, the pair will forget about them.

4. Fry Separation

The adults eat the fry, so immediate separation from eggs is necessary.

5. Incubation & Fry Development

The eggs hatch in 24 hours, and the fry becomes free swimming in 3 days’ time.

6. Fry Tank Maintenance

The fry will initially require micro foods so you can feed them infusoria. Gradually increase the food size and shift them to an adult tinfoil barb diet.

Breeding Tip: You can perform frequent water changes or add some peat moss to the water to trigger spawning.

How to Buy Tinfoil Barb Fish?

Tinfoil barbs are generally sold as juveniles when they are 1.5 inches in length, but they can grow to huge sizes, so make sure you have the tank space to accommodate this fish. Most stores won’t take the fish back as the resale value is pretty low.

Avoid buying the dyed color variants as they have shortened lifespan. Their dyes also fade away with time.

A word from FishInAquarium

Tinfoil barbs are low-maintenance species that add a glimmer of mischief to your tank. You can observe the robust fish’s lively activities for hours and never get bored.

Now, if you’re convinced to give some love to this species, share it with your friends and other fish enthusiasts. Let them know about this wonderful, gleaming fish.

And if you have any more queries while trying to bring this fish home, drop us an email, and we will get back to you ASAP!

Minnie B Miller - Professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium

About Minnie B Miller

Minnie B. Miller, a professional aquarist and owner of FishInAquarium, has over 8 years of expertise in fish breeding and care, gained through her roles at AquaticTX and Sea Lion Landing. Having honed her skills with various aquatic species, she is dedicated to empowering fellow enthusiasts by sharing her knowledge and experience.