cherry barb

Cherry Barbs: Caring For The Most Underrated Barb

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Barbs get a bad rap. From fickle all the way to fin-nippers. And I agree. Most of them are subpar tankmates. But they’re usually housed wrong, and cherry barbs are no exception.

What about when they’re housed properly?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a cheaper, hardier, prettier, and more peaceful barb. Go ahead, try. I’ll be here waiting for you to admit defeat.

Cherry barbs can handle a variety of water parameters. They do great without a heater. These guys aren’t picky, fussy, or aggressive, and – best of all – they’re super active.

So, go ahead, do a happy dance. I won’t tell.

With all that said, you should learn how to take care of them before you go tossing them in a bucket of water. Because, like any living thing, they have some caveats.

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Table of contents

Cherry barb care

FAQ

Puntius titteya Classification

IUCN Status: Vulnerable – last assessed August 2019

Class: Actinopterygii are ray-finned fishes, which is a subcategory of boney fishes. These fish are characterized by the bony structures that support their webbed fins. This group makes up nearly half of all living vertebrates.

Order: Cypriniformes includes over 400 genera (the plural for genus) and more than 4,200 species of carp, minnow, loaches, and relatives.

Family: Cyprinidae, or collectively called cyprinids or the “carp family,” is composed of egg scattering species that exhibit no parental care.

Genus: Puntis is a genre of small cyprinid species from south and mainland Asia, as well as Twain.

Species: Puntius titteya

What Does Puntius titteya Mean?

Puntius and titteya both come from local terms for the fish. And sometimes, a word doesn’t have a deeply rooted meaning beyond what it is.

Which seems to be what we have here.

so um... yeah gif

Find Other Fish

Looking for something specific? You can discover other fish by similar characteristics!

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Cherry Barb Natural Habitat

Cherry barbs are endemic to Sri Lanka. Their habitat is restricted to the Kelani and Nilwala river basins in the southwestern ‘wet zone’ of the island. Endemic simply means they don’t live anywhere but there.

Now where it get particularly interesting is what their habitat looks like.

cherry barb habitat

The majority of the tropical fauna on Shri Lanka inhabits the same wetland areas as the streams and lakes cherry barbs live in. So there’s a ton of opportunities for fun biotopes here.

From leaf litter to tropical marginal plants, flowers, logs, stone, dirt, sand, moss-carpeted stream beds, they live in a ton of different environments because life is so diverse here. Though, due to deforestation and human activity, the diversity is dropping off almost daily.

Sympatric fish species include Rasboroides vateriflorisPuntius bimaculatusP. kelumiPethia nigrofasciataDawkinsia singhalaSchistura notostigmaMystus vittatusAplocheilus werneriChanna orientalisMalpulutta kretseri, and Mastacembelus armatus.

Aquarium Care

Difficulty: Beginner
Size: 2″ (5 cm) max
Lifespan: 5 years
Tank Size: 10 gallons (40 liters)
Diet: Omnivore – forager
Temperature: 68 – 81 F (20 – 26 C)

pH6.0 – 8.0
Hardness: 2 – 20  dKH
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Breeding: Average
Swimming: Mid to top
Availability: Common online

Despite their vulnerable status in the wild, these guys are widely available. They’re no longer legal to import or export from Shri Lanka, so the ones you’ll see are almost guaranteed to be captive-bred. Which is another great thing!

Tank Specs

You’ll want to keep a shoal of these guys in a 10-gallon as a minimum. If you want to go bigger than that, long is better than standard, and vastly better than tall.

Although they can cope with with ammonia and nitrites, you’ll still want to keep everything as low as you can. I suggest 25% water changes bi-weekly to be safe. But, depending on your setup, you could probably stretch it it monthly.

cherry barb tank

If you’re experienced and they’re going to be your only fish in the tank, you can definitely go down to a 5-gallon. It’s not something I would wholeheartedly recommend, but it’s an option if you have experience on your side.

As long as your house is reasonably warm, you won’t need a heater for these guys, either. But, if you want to see my favorite aquarium heaters, I have a whole article on that.

Stocking

In an ideal world, you’d want at least two females for every male and at least six cherry barbs total. If you happen to overstock on males, you’ll likely just end up with some additional color and displaying.

cherry barbs

Even in high male to female ratios, these guys don’t get nippy or aggressive. But I don’t suggest going below six of them in your shoal as a bare minimum. Ten or more would be better.

If you’re experiencing issues with aggression or getting nippy, your shoal numbers or male to female ratio is likely the culprit. If your numbers look good, it’s likely a lack of cover in the tank.

Decor

I would lean into a biotope for these guys because there’s so much you can do – from flooded jungle streams to river basins. There’s a ton of fun opportunities.

If biotopes aren’t your thing, fear not.

Cherry barbs don’t seem to care as long as you have a decent amount of cover for them. Without cover, even in large numbers, they’re not going to behave naturally or color up as intensely.

large shoal of cherry barbs

From neon-colored gravel and spawning mops made of yarn to a fully planted biotope, you have carte blanche with cherry barbs.

Best Plants For Cherry Barbs

Since cherry barbs can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, parameters, flow rates, and lighting situations, your plant options are almost unlimited.

Since they’re mid to top water shoalers, you also have the opportunity to do a carpet without it affecting their natural behavior. Or a paludarium, which would look amazing.

But for most setups, I would suggest mosses and bushy plants. Not just for spawning purposes, but also to give them some cover as well as break up sightlines. Here are a few ideas to get you started – but it’s far from a definitive list:

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Crypts aren’t usually known for being easily adaptable. They have a tendency to die when conditions suddenly change, but they’re easy once they established. They can take a wide variety of parameters and anything from high to low lighting. Again, just keeping things stable as it settles is your best chance of success.

Difficulty: Tough when new, easy when settled
Growth: Slow
Temperature:  64 – 86F (18 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness:  2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Planted, foreground

Vallisneria

Vallisneria

Vals come in a ton of varieties, but most of them are about the same to grow. They can grow rapidly, and quickly cover your tank with lush, kelp-like forests for your fish. Some species, however, do grow much shorter than others.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 63 – 82 F (17 – 28 C)

pH: 6.5 – 8.5
Hardness: 3 – 30 dKH
Placement: Planted

Lemon Bacopa (Bacopa Carolinia)

Bacopa carolinia

It’s as bulletproof as Java fern, but grows as fast as hornwortBacopa carolinia is truly the best of both worlds if you’re looking for a hardy species you can plant in the substrate. It grows up to 40″ (not a typo) and propagates quickly, which is great for larger tanks that need a ton of cover on the cheap.

Difficulty: Bulletproof
Growth: Fast
Temperature:  64 – 86F (18 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness:  2 – 25 dKH
Placement: Background

Java Moss

Java moss

Java moss is an almost bulletproof plant that requires almost no care. It doesn’t grow nearly as slowly as it’s java fern cousin, and can create lush moss beds that blow and billow in the current. They’re a great option for grazers, fry, or those of you with the blackest of thumbs.

Difficulty: Easy
Growth: Moderate
Temperature: 59 – 86F (15 – 30C)

pH: 5.0 – 8.0
Hardness: 3 – 12 dKH
Placement: Floating or attached

Dwarf Aquarium Lily (Nymphaea stellata)

dwarf aquarium lily

There are a few lilies that are called “dwarf aquarium lilies,” but Nymphaea stellata is probably the easiest to take care of. It usually comes from a bulb that quickly sprouts huge leaves. In a short time, it’ll grow to the top of your tank and block out most of your light. This is great for fish that need cover, but if you need to get light to your other pants, it can be trimmed as well.

Difficulty: Bulletproof
Growth: Slow
Temperature:  72 – 82F (22 – 28 C)

pH: 5.5 – 7.5
Hardness:  2 – 15 dKH
Placement: Anywhere, basically

Lighting & Filtration

Cherry barbs aren’t bothered by bright or dim light, so long as they have some cover. But filtration is where they get pickier. You going to need *drum roll*…

A sponge filter!

Seriously, could these guys get any easier?

nope gif

If you have an HOB or a HMF, they’d do fine with either of those too. I don’t suggest a canister or a hillstream setup for these guys, but they could work in one of those as well.

If you don’t know where to start on filtration, I’ve included my favorite sponge filters and air pumps below. But, honestly, if you have a filter that came with a tank kit or a spare, it’ll probably work here.

Water Care

Like any fish, you’re going to want to keep up on their water quality the best you can. Again, I suggest at least 25% every other week.

If you don’t have dechlorinator, you’ll want to get some. Salt, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be a huge factor one way or another for these guys.

But it does come in handy for bloat. So if you have $3, I suggest grabbing some because these guys are prone to bloat-related issues.

Aside from the basics, your basic meds should be able to get you through anything you encounter with your cherry barbs. I’ve included the minimalist’s guide to cherry barb medications below.

It’s a practical little med cabinet and it’s reasonably affordable.

Feeding Cherry Barbs

Feeding cherry barbs is a breeze. I don’t suggest flakes for about 1,000 different reasons, but they will take them if that’s all you have for now.

If you want to get them to show that deep punchy red we all love so much, you’ll want to consider more quality foods. Particularly those with carotenoids, if you can.

deep red cherry barbs

White worms, blood worms, grindal worms, glass worms (mosquito larvae), scuds, daphnia, baby brine shrimp, wingless fruit flies, and other high-quality live foods would be perfect for these guys.

But it’s important to remember that they are foragers, so they’ll gladly accept plant matter too.

Even high-quality sinking foods will work here. Think Repashy, sinking flakes, frozen mysus, and frozen versions of the above list. If you can’t swing those, freeze-dried versions are okay.

Not into creepy crawlies? Golden pearls, decap baby brine shrimp eggs, and a variety of smaller pellets would work too.

But the most important thing is variety. Of course, I put together a handy little shopping list for you if you’re lost on where to start.

Diseases Cherry Barbs Typically Get

Cherry barbs, of course, can get almost any freshwater disease. However, there are a few diseases that people seem to encounter much more often than others. The biggest one is bloat.

Most of the time, it’s the female cherry barbs that seem to get it. It’s likely due to being egg bound, so keep an eye out.

With that, here’s everything you should be hyper-vigilant about in your shoal:

Bloat

fish bloat

Bloat certainly doesn’t have to be as severe as the picture, but you get the idea. Bloating is an accumulation of gas, fluids, or unpassed food present in the fish. Although I have no proof, I suspect this is why most people search “how to tell if [insert fish species] is pregnant” even if they can’t get pregnant. There is a difference between a bloated fish and a fish that’s eaten too much – the fish that ate too much will act normal whereas the other usually won’t.

Symptoms:

  • Your fish’s stomach is distended without raised scales
  • Fish may appear to be in some sort of discomfort and avoid swimming or other usual activities
  • May not be pooping

Causes:

  • Intestinal blockage
  • Constipation
  • Internal bacterial infection
  • Internal growths/tumors

Columnaris (Cotton Mouth Disease)

columnaris disease

Occasionally called false neon tetra disease or cottonmouth, this is caused by a gram-negative bacterium. it can also, quite understandable, be confused with fungal infections. 

Symptoms:

  • Discolored scales
  • Scales appear to be popping off (not “pineconing”)
  • Grey spots
  • Lesions on the back
  • Legions around the mouth
  • May result in fuzzy patches due to secondary infections

Causes:

  •  Flavbacterium columnare (bacteria)

Ich (White Spot Disease)

ich fish disease

Ich is caused by a parasite that, to many, looks like tiny white pimples across the fish. It can attach to the mouth, fins, body, and gills. You can usually see fish scraping themselves against objects (likely because parasites are itchy!) before white spots even appear.

Symptoms:

  • White spots
  • Scratching
  • Redness or bloody streaks

Causes:

  • Ichthyophthirius multifilis (parasite)

Bacterial Infection

bacterial infection

Bacterial infection is a broad term, the bacteria family can cause a wide range of symptoms and come from varying causes. Generally, you can treat them with a broad spectrum antibacterial regardless of the particular bacteria at hand. It’s diagnosing that’s usually the hard part.

Making matters even more difficult, fish can have an internal or external bacterial infection.

Symptoms:

  •  Red streaks
  • Red ulcers
  • Fuzzy growths
  • Pop eye
  • Bloating

Causes:

  •  Poor water quality
  • Food that’s gone bad
  • Keeping fish in inappropriate water parameters
  • Stress

13 Great Tank Mates For Cherry Barbs

Now the fun part. What can you put with my cherry barbs? Anything peaceful, that doesn’t mind some activity, and doesn’t need an insane water movement. And something that won’t eat them, obviously.

Cherry barbs have hit or miss success with shrimp and bettas (betta splendens, not all betta species.)

So proceed with some caution if that’s your plan. And obviously most cichlids are out of the question here, but that still leaves a ton of options.

Your standard neon tetras, serpae tetras, black skirts, and the like will work here. But you didn’t come here for run-of-the-mill suggestions, did you?

Here are some options to get your creative juices flowing:

Celestial Pearl Danio (Danio margaritatus)

Celestial Pearl Danio

CPDs or Galaxy Rasbora (although they’re not a rasbora or a danio,) are small shoaling species. When stocking, buy as many as possible,  8 being the minimum I’d personally suggest. There have been reports that they’re hard to transition onto prepared foods, but this may be wild-caught specimens. There are numerous reports that they’ll take finely crushed flakes and micropellets.

pH: 6.5 – 7.5
dKH: 5 – 15
Temp: 69 – 79 F (20 – 26 C)

Size: under 1″ (2.5 cm) 
Temperament: Peaceful, can be shy
Swimming: Mid-water shoaling

Silvertip Tetra (Hasemania nana)

If you like fish that will follow your finger like ravenous sharks, these are your fish. They’re a nearly unspookable little shoaling fish that like to be kept in groups of six or more. 

pH: 6.0 – 8.0
dKH: 5 – 20
Temp:  74 – 82F (23 – 28C)

Size: 2″ (5 cm)
Temperament: Active shoaling fish
Swimming: Mid to top

celebes rainbowfish

Celebes Rainbowfish (Marosatherina ladigesi)

Celebes rainbowfish can be difficult to find and tricky to keep if not kept properly. They need to be housed in groups of at least 6 and do best in a planted tank.

pH: 7.0 – 8.0
dKH: 10 – 20
Temp: 72 – 82 F (22 to 28 C )

Size: 3″ (7.5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Top to midwater shoaling

Kribs (Kribensis sp.)

There are a few species of kribs – Kribensis pulcher being the most common. They have fascinating behaviors and they’re relatively peaceful for a cichlid. They’re almost entirely herbivores and need dither fish to feel safe, but they can get aggressive when spawning.

pH: 5.0 – 7.5
dKH: 0 – 12
Temp: 75 – 81F (24 – 27C)

Size: 4″ (10cm) max
Temperament: Skittish
Swimming: Mid to bottom

Betta miniopinna (Coccina complex)

Betta miniopinna

Betta miniopinna is critically endangered, which means it’s one small step away from being extinct in the wild. They’re tough fish to keep for water chemistry reasons, but feeding them and keeping them once they’re settled is pretty easy if you have experience with touchy water chemistry.

pH: 4.0 – 6.0
dKH: 1 – 5
Temp: 72 – 83 F (22 – 28 C)

Size: 1.3″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and shy
Swimming: Everywhere

Pygmy Corydoras (Corydoras Pygmaeus)

The pygmy cory (corydoras pygmaeus) is the smallest of all the corydoras species and – possibly – the smallest catfish in the world. It’s a peaceful shoaler that appreciates sandbeds and at least six of their own kind.

pH: 6.2 – 7.4
dKH: 2 – 15
Temp: 60– 78F (15 – 25C)

Size: 1.3″ (3.5 cm) max
Temperament: Peaceful shoaling fish
Swimming: Everywhere

Rosy Loach (Petruichthys sp. ‘rosy’)

Rosy loaches are best kept in groups of at least 6 and they do best in planted setups. They’re often wild-caught, so most of them are in poor condition when you buy them. They also need to be added to a mature aquarium since they don’t do well with environmental swings.

pH: 6.5 – 8.5
dKH: 5 – 15
Temp: 68 – 79 F (20 – 26 C)

Size: 1.2″ (3 cm) max
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Mid to bottom

Golden Dwarf Cichlid (Nannacara anomala)

nanocara anomala

Golden dwarf cichlids make a great addition to most well-planned community tanks. So long as they’re not spawning or protecting fry, they’re peaceful fish that aren’t bothered by other fish or easily intimidated.

pH: 5.5 – 7
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 72 – 77 F (22 – 25 C)

Size: 3″ (7.5 cm) max
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Mid to bottom

Bolivian Ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus)

Bolivian Ram

The underrated cousin to the German Blue Ram are often nearly colorless and shy in the store tanks. But provided with the right tank and dither fish, they’ll color up and exhibit fascinating behavior in your home aquarium!

Keep in mind these rams will also become territorial while spawning. However, there are some sparse reports of other tankmates going unnoticed during spawning.

pH: 6.0 – 7.5
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 68 – 83 F (20 – 28 C)

Size: 3″ (8 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful
Swimming: Bottom to mid-water

Ember Tetra (Hyphessobrycon amandae)

Ember Tetra

Ember tetras are bright, fun, tiny, shoaling fish that occur in South American black waters. They’re hardy, peaceful fish that are often described as active, bold, and playful. They also enjoy a planted tank, but be mindful that they do like to swim in open space, so be sure to include that in your layout. They enjoy their numbers a little higher than most shoaling species, 8 is recommended.

pH: 5.5 – 7
dKH: 1 – 10
Temp: 68 – 82 F (20 – 27 C)

Size: 3/4″ (2 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful and active
Swimming: Top to midwater shoaling

Sparkling gourami (Trichopsis pumila)

Sparkling gourami

Little known fact about sparkling gouramis; they’re quite social and gregarious creatures! Although they don’t school or shoal, they do enjoy social interactions with their own kind – in fact, most gourami do! – and we suggest a four minimum to make sure they’re comfortable.

pH: 6 – 8
dKH: 5 – 18
Temp: 72 – 81 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 1.5″ (4 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful, can be aggressive when spawning
Swimming: All water

Paradise Fish (Macropodus opercularis)

paradise fish

Paradise fish, unlike most other gouramis, do best alone or in pairs. If you want to keep them in a group, and an all-female group of six or more would be your best bet. They tend to only be aggressive with each other, other anabantoid species, or towards much smaller tank mates.

pH: 6.0 – 8.0
dKH: 5 – 20
Temp: 72 – 80 F (22 – 27 C)

Size: 3.9″ (10 cm)
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Swimming: Everywhere

White Clouds (Tanichthys albonubes)

These fish are best kept in groups of eight or more, though 10 is better. There’s little information of just how far spread these fish are, but they’ve been observed slow-moving white and blackwater streams in and around China. 

pH: 6.0 – 7.0
dKH: 5 – 20
Temp: 60 – 72F (15 – 22C)

Size: 1.5 – 2″ (3 – 5 cm)
Temperament: Peaceful shoaling fish
Swimming: Mid to top

Breeding Cherry Barbs

Breeding cherry barbs is a snap. The only reason they got an “average” score from me is because you’ll need a second tank. Which can become a bit of a chore.

You’ll obviously need several males and several females. If you have at least ten, you should be able to tell the difference between them just by looking in your tank.

If you’re struggling, here’s the difference:

female cherry barb
Female cherry barb
male cherry barb
Male cherry barb

Hard to mistake the two, right?

Spawning

If you have enough plant cover, you’ll likely see some spawning activity. But probably no babies.

The male will chase the female around and eventaully they’ll end up in a clump of plants, behind some dritfwood, or another area that seems secure. The female will scatter her eggs and the male will follow behind fertilizing them. To the untrained observer, it looks like a lot of flailing and twitching.

Not the most flattering comment for their romantic moment, I’m sure.

If you’re a visual learner, here’s what their spawning activity looks like:

If you want to get fry, your best chances of success are pulling out a group of adults and placing them in a smaller tank. A 5-gallon works well for this.

You can fill the bottom with lots of moss, mesh, marbles, plastic grass, or anything else that would prevent the adults from eating the eggs after they’ve been laid.

You can leave the adults in there for 24 – 48 hours, but I would remove them after that since the eggs will begin hatching and you’d risk your fry.

Egg & Fry Care

The fry will hatch roughly 48 hours after the eggs are laid. And roughly 72 hours after that, they’ll start swimming and will need to be fed tiny foods. Because, of course, they’re tiny – even by fry standard.

cherry barb fry

Infusoria is the most popular option, but probably the most difficult to culture. After the first week, they should be large enough to accept vinegar eels and microworms. Within two weeks, they should be able to eat baby brine shrimp.

Since they start so small, it does take considerably longer for them to reach a size where they’re safe around the adults. But, typically, two months should be large enough to live with their parents.

Further Reading & Resources

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