Barbs often get a bad reputation because of their boisterous, fin-nipping behavior, but cherry barbs are an exception to the rule. This 2-inch (5 cm) schooling fish acts like your average, mild-mannered tetra and mixes well with other community fish. They are commonly sold at pet stores because of their vivid redness, energetic personality, and ease of breeding. Learn all about how to care for this popular and peaceful barb.
What are Cherry Barbs?
Puntius titteya are found in the rainforests of Sri Lanka, an island country off the southern tip of India. As per their common name, the males are bright, cherry red while the females are more tannish-red. Both sexes have a black, horizontal line running down their sides with some scales also rimmed in black. Fish farms have also developed albino and long fin (or veiltail) varieties for the aquarium hobby.
Are cherry barbs aggressive? No, this easygoing fish is a great addition to community tanks. Similar to tetras, you may see them chase each other around a little as they establish their pecking order or when the males try to initiate breeding, but they do not tend to bother other fish.
Female (above) and male (below) cherry barbs
How to Set Up an Aquarium for Cherry Barbs
In the wild, they inhabit tropical streams with lots of plant life on the banks that drop their leaves and sticks into the water. Because of the seasonal monsoons, cherry barbs are used to living in a wide range of water conditions — such as temperatures between 72–80°F (22–27°C), pH of 6.0–8.0, and soft to hard water. To bring out their crimson coloration, set up a planted aquarium full of greenery with a darker substrate and background. Adding natural decor like driftwood will also enhance the environment and give them more places to explore and take shelter.
How many cherry barbs should be kept together? A group of six can be kept in a 10-gallon or larger aquarium. However, the more you get, the more outgoing they will be. While you may be tempted to buy only males because of their deeper reds, try to keep at least 1–2 females for every male because the boys show off their best coloration when they have girls to impress.
What fish can live with cherry barbs? As mentioned before, they are community fish that can live with similar-sized, peaceful creatures, such as tetras, danios, cory catfish, and plecos. While cherry barbs will swim anywhere to feed, they tend to hang out in the middle to bottom levels of the tank, so you may consider pairing them with fish that swim in the upper half — like guppies, blue-eye rainbowfish, and pencilfish. As for dwarf shrimp, they seem to do okay with bigger amano shrimp but may try to go after adult cherry shrimp, so make sure to add plenty of hiding spots for the shrimp and be prepared to remove them if necessary. We have personally kept cherry barbs with betta fish before, but depending on the betta’s personality, they may not get along so watch closely for compatibility issues.
Cherry barb in a planted community tank with neon tetras and a blue gourami
What Do Cherry Barbs Eat?
In nature, these omnivores like to eat small bugs, micro worms, crustaceans, zooplankton, and even algae. They are not picky eaters, so provide them with a variety of dry, frozen, and live fish foods to make sure they do not lack any essential nutrients. Because of their smaller mouths, we like to feed ours nano pellets, daphnia, and spirulina flakes to make sure they get some vegetable and algae content in their diet. To bring out their scarlet hues, look for fish foods that have naturally red ingredients, like krill flakes, baby brine shrimp, and Easy Fry and Small Fish Food.
How to Breed Cherry Barbs
For an egg layer, the cherry barb is quite easy to breed, even by accident. Just feed them well, and they will constantly lay eggs on the plants and substrate. The adults will hunt down their own offspring though, so plant a thick forest of water sprite, Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’, and other dense plants for the babies to hide amongst.
If you want to increase your yield, use a separate, mature aquarium as your breeding setup so that the fry can feed on thriving colonies of microfauna and mulm. Buy a piece of plastic craft mesh to completely cover the tank bottom so that the eggs can fall through but the parents cannot reach them. Then place a bedding of moss, catappa leaves, and/or a DIY spawning mop underneath the mesh for the young to seek shelter. Raise the temperature to 80°F (27°C), use mildly acidic to neutral pH if possible, and install a sponge filter with gentle flow to prevent the babies from being sucked up. Condition the adults for breeding by feeding lots of high-quality foods, and then move them to the breeding tank. Once you spot any eggs or fry, remove the adults to prevent predation.
Depending on the temperature, the eggs will hatch within a couple of days and then the fry are free-swimming about 1–2 days after hatching. Feed them a constant supply of nearly microscopic foods — like infusoria, live vinegar eels, and powdered fry food — until they are big enough to eat live baby brine shrimp.
Live aquarium plants offer excellent spawning sites and hiding spots for baby fish to escape predation.
While we do not ship live fish, you can check out our preferred online retailers to see their latest stocking lists. If you love the energetic behavior of barbs and aren’t afraid of their feisty personalities, read about our top 10 favorite barbs to try in your next aquarium.