The Tinfoil Barb is a very large freshwater fish from the Cyprinidae family.

Tinfoil Barbs or Barbonymus Schwanenfeldii got their name from their gleaming silver scales that look like tinfoil. The Tinfoil Barb’s metallic sheen and lively shoaling action add color to a large aquarium.

Tinfoil Barbs are a favorite with aquarium hobbyists as they are hardy and peaceful.

Tinfoil Barb Origins and Habitat

Tinfoil Barb is present in many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, the Malayan Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo. Its natural habitat is the major river systems, such as the Mekong and Chao Phraya.

Tinfoil Barbs mainly live in freshwater. They prefer large and medium rivers, streams, and canals, going into flooded fields to spawn and feed. These fish flourish in the middle and bottom levels of the water basin.

What Are the Characteristics of the Tinfoil Barb?

Tinfoil Barbs or Barbonymus schwanenfeldii is a large fish that can grow to 14 inches. They are primarily peaceful creatures that are happy in large schools.

This species can become edgy or aggressive in small numbers. Consider keeping a group of at least five or six Tinfoil Barbs in the tank. You will enjoy the fish’s behavior as they interact with conspecifics.

It will thrive in a tank of 176 gallons capacity or greater. Try to keep the temperature at 72-75 F, maintaining the pH level of the water at 6-7.

– Tinfoil Barb’s Physical Features

The Barbonymus genus has five described species that are collectively called Tinfoil Barbs. The Tinfoil Barb, with its beautiful silvery color, sometimes tinted with gold, is the species type for its genus.

The orange or blood-red dorsal fin has a black blotch at the tip. The Tinfoil Barb’s pectoral, pelvic and anal fins are also red with white margins. There are eight scale rows between the dorsal-fin origin and the lateral line.

The Tinfoil Barb is often mistaken for its smaller cousin, the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb, Barbonymus Altus, which grows to an adult size of about 8 inches, while the Tinfoil Barb grows to 14 inches. They are almost identical, except for their adult size. The easiest way to differentiate between them is the forked tail fin.

The Tinfoil Barb or Barbonymus Schwanenfeldii has a distinct black line close to the edge of each lobe of the tail fin, which the Red-tail Tinfoil Barb doesn’t have. Although both tinfoil barbs have a black mark on their dorsal fin, only the Tinfoil Barb has a redfin. The Barb Schwanenfeldii is mostly silver, while the Red-tail Barb is golden-bronze.

Aquarists also seek the Albino variant of the Tinfoil Barb for its distinctive bright gold color.

– How Suitable Is It for Aquarists?

  • Experience Level: Beginner to moderately experienced
  • Hardiness: Robust
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons or 285 liters
  • Maximum Size: 14 inches
  • Temperament: Peaceful, but will eat small fish
  • Temperature: 75-80 F or 24-27 C
  • pH Range: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 5-5 dGH
  • Diet: Mainly herbivores

The Tinfoil Barb is a sturdy fish that is easy to look after; however, it grows fast. The drawback to this beautiful, gleaming fish is that it’s not suitable for every aquarium.

Tinfoil Barbs and Red-Tail Barbs are usually sold when young, at 2 inches long. The Tinfoil Barb rapidly outgrows small aquariums since they can soon reach up to 14 inches. They are unsuitable for beginner aquarists and most fishkeepers as they need a large aquarium.

The Tinfoil Barb is best suited to the experienced hobbyist who can provide a tank large enough for long-term care.

You seldom see the Tinfoil Barb in home aquaria. As a rule, shopping malls and large offices keep schools of Tinfoil Barbs in large tanks as they make a beautiful display that enhances the environment.

You can house them with other docile fish species if your aquarium is suitably large. A well-cared-for Tinfoil Barb can live for eight to ten years.

Tinfoil Barb Temperament

The Tinfoil Barb is a schooling species, so you should always keep at least five specimens together. When a group of Tinfoil Barbs lives together in the aquarium, the fishes are less stressed. You will enjoy a much broader range of natural behaviors as shoaling Tinfoil Barbs are very entertaining.

These fish swim in large schools in their natural habitat. They may become skittish or even aggressive if kept in small numbers in the aquarium, so it is good to keep them in groups of five or six. A solitary Tinfoil Barb can become timid.

The Tinfoil Barb is an active, peaceful species that spends most of its time in the middle and bottom of the water. This fish is a voracious eater. It will attempt to eat as much food as possible during feedings. In captivity, it will eat almost anything provided to it.

– How Compatible Is the Tinfoil Barb With Other Species?

Tinfoil Barbs are mild-mannered and generally get along well with most other fish. You often see the Tinfoil Barb in large aquaria with large cichlids like the Oscar Cichlid.

The Tinfoil Barb is not aggressive but will eat small fish. They are primarily herbivores but should not be kept with other small fishes and crustaceans, as they can be considered food.

Barbs upset slow-moving or timid tank-mates with their continual movements. They are, therefore, fit for spacious tanks with tankmates of a similar size. You can choose from cichlids, catfish, other cyprinids, and characins.

Tinfoil Barbs are often kept together with jittery and shy fish species. A calm school will make timid fish species relax in the aquarium and encourage them to spend more time in the open instead of hiding.

This species is peaceful enough for a big community tank. Tinfoil Barb may, however, nip at and cause damage to fish with long trailing fins, such as angelfish. You can keep your Tinfoil Barb with tank inhabitants like crabs, snails, and shrimps which are not very aggressive.

Caring For the Tinfoil Barb

Tinfoil Barbs are not difficult to care for, provided you keep their water clean. You should replace at least 25 percent of the tank water every fortnight. If you stock the tank densely, it would be best to replace 20 to 25 percent water weekly. Use an algae magnet to keep the viewing panes clear of algae buildup.

The temperature in a Tinfoil Barb aquarium should be 22-25 C or 72-77 F. The ideal pH range for Tinfoil Barbs is slightly acidic to neutral: 6.5 to 7.0. The recommended dH level is 10.

– What Is a Suitable Tank Size for Tinfoil Barbs?

  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons or 285 liters
  • pH Range: 6.0-7.5
  • Water Hardness: 5-15 dH
  • Temperature: 75 F-80 F or 24 C-27 C
  • Lighting: Low to Moderate.
  • Substrate: Any
  • Water Flow: Moderate to high
  • Tank Region: Will occupy all areas of your tank

Tinfoil Barbs grow very large. They need ample room as they will swim in all areas of the aquarium. They feel comfortable in a school of five or more of their kind and a huge tank to swim around. A group of fully grown adult fish should be kept in a tank of at least 600-800 liters.

The Tinfoil Barb grows quite large, up to 35 centimeters or 14 inches. They are therefore unsuitable for small aquariums. An inexperienced aquarist may buy young Tinfoil Barbs without first researching how big this fish can grow or that you should keep at least five barbs together.

Tinfoil Barbs grow very fast. Even though you may buy them when they’re about two inches long, they can soon reach 14 to 16 inches. You can’t keep these fish in small tanks under 75 gallons.

The aquarium size recommended for Tinfoil Barbs depends on how large the specimens are, but 55 gallons or 208 liters would be considered the minimum.

– How to Set Up the Tank

An aquarium that best suits this fish is large and spacious, with a fine gravel bottom and dense plantings around the edges. It is best to use hardy plants as they enjoy burrowing.
Wild Tinfoil Barbs live in swift-flowing rivers, streams, and canals in their natural habitat.

They prefer water with a strong current similar to those found in their native streams. Try to replicate the natural Tinfoil Barb habitat when you set up the aquarium for your fish. You can use powerheads to create a current.

The Tinfoil Barb is large and can knock over most decorations. Lay a substrate of sand or gravel and scatter smooth rocks and pebbles. Use large pieces of driftwood and firmly anchored aquarium plants as decor. Make sure the plants are a hardy variety as this barb will munch on the soft-leaved ones.

The tank will need a heavy, tightly-fitting cover as Tinfoil Barbs have a powerful leap and can be pretty skittish sometimes.

– What Is the Proper Water Quality for Tinfoil Barbs?

The Tinfoil Barb has strict requirements about the quality of water in the tank. Since their natural habitat is in clean oxygen-rich lotic waters, they don’t tolerate the buildup of organic waste in the water.

The Tinfoil Barb is happiest in an environment where the water is rich in oxygen. The water in the tank should be crystal clear and have a low level of magnesium or calcium salts.

You should renew a minimum of 15-20 percent of the water in the tank every week. The freshly added water has to maintain the same pH factor, dGH, and temperature as the bottom substrate.

– Water Filtration Requirements

The Tinfoil Barb is quite a hardy fish that tolerates a wide range of pH levels and water temperatures. You can modify tank conditions to suit other sensitive types of fish without affecting the barbs.

However, a Tinfoil Barb cannot tolerate a lack of aeration or low oxygen levels. A sound filtration system that keeps water moving and oxygenated is necessary to keep these fish healthy.

You will need an enormous external-style filter or two will to provide the desired levels of oxygen, flow, and surface area for bacterial colonization.

The water filtration system in the tank is vital. It should have at least two filters that work in tandem or, if the capacity allows, duplicate each in case of a situation that one turns off or breaks down.

Another essential piece of equipment is the tank lighting, aeration, and heating system. You should conceal the heating elements to avoid accidental damage by the fish.

Aquariums are closed systems and, irrespective of size, require regular maintenance. Decomposing organic waste matter, nitrates, and phosphate add up over time. The water hardness increases due to evaporation. It would be best to replace the water regularly to tackle these conditions.

– What Is a Suitable Diet for Tinfoil Barbs?

  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Frequency: 2-3 times daily
  • Pellet Foods: Yes
  • Flake Foods: Yes
  • Live Foods: They will occasionally eat small insects and crustaceans
  • Meat Foods: Occasionally
  • Vegetable Foods: Yes, the primary diet

Tinfoil Barbs are natural omnivores with a primarily herbivorous diet.

Since they are omnivorous, the Tinfoil Barb will eat all live, fresh, and flake foods. Larger specimens will also accept chopped earthworms, prawns, and mussels.

Even though Tinfoil Barbs like proteins, they require plenty of vegetable matter. Vegetable substitutes recommended for these fish in the aquarium are algae wafers and spinach.

Ideally, offer your Tinfoil Barb regular meals of small live and frozen foods such as chironomid larvae (bloodworm), Daphnia and Artemia, and good quality dried flakes.

Shelled peas, blanched courgette, spinach, and chopped fruit are good additions to their diet.

– Feeding Guide for the Tinfoil Barb

Tinfoil Barbs have a healthy appetite. When you offer food just once a day, provide what they can eat in about five minutes. If you feed them several times a day, give as much as they can finish off in three minutes or less.

It is crucial to avoid over-feeding as obesity is unhealthy for all fish. Since the Tinfoil Barb doesn’t have a sense of fullness, it may cause digestion problems and pollute the water.

A school of Tinfoil Barb will gobble up all the food before other fish have a chance to eat and will continue to eat as much as you give them. They will also eat live plants in the aquarium.

Tinfoil Barb Tankmates

A group of Tinfoil Barb can live with peaceful fish species of the same size or larger. If you have a very spacious aquarium, you can keep a group of Tinfoil Barbs with large cichlids, such as the Oscar fish.

The best tankmates are fish species that are not aggressive:

You shouldn’t keep Tinfoil Barb with slow fishes like goldfish or koi. Since these fish are very active, they can stress the goldfish.

Breeding Tinfoil Barbs

The Tinfoil Barb is an egg-scattering fish. The female produces several thousand eggs in each spawning. It is tricky to sex Tinfoil Barbs since there is almost no difference in the appearance of the males and females. Only during their spawning period may you recognize the female due to its rounded abdomen.

Since Tinfoil Barbs grow so big, they are challenging to breed in captivity. The Tinfoil Barbs are egg scatterers and will not care for their eggs properly. They will likely eat the egg and fry. If you plan to breed your Tinfoil Barb, raise the fry in a separate tank.

If you want to keep the offspring with the adult fish, include plants in the aquarium. The bushy Java moss will provide hiding spots for the young barbs. The fry will stay away from the adults.


Family: Cyprinidae
Scientific Name: Barbonymus schwanenfeldii
Common Names: Tinfoil Barb, tin foil fish, tinfoil fish, silver barb fish
Size: Up to 14 inches (35 cm)
  • Ten years
  • Min. Tank size 125 gallons for young, 176 gallons, and more or public aquarium for mature specimens
Behavior: Peaceful
Care: Easy; needs lots of open swimming space
Diet: Omnivorous; prefers plant-based, but will accept all types of food: flake, frozen, and pellets.
  • Temperature of 70-77 F (21-25 C)
  • pH range: 6.5-7.0
  • dH range: 2-10


Now let’s summarize the information on caring for the Tinfoil Barb, so you have it at your fingertips:

  • Tinfoil Barb is an active fish with a beautiful metallic sheen
  • It grows to 14 inches, so they are too big for most home aquariums
  • It is a hardy fish and easy to look after
  • They are omnivorous but need sufficient vegetable matter
  • The water you keep them in must be clean and oxygen-rich

The Tinfoil Barb is a lively, attractive fish ideal for large aquariums in shopping malls or offices. If you have experience as an aquarist and have a spacious tank, you may also enjoy getting this gentle fish that is easy to look after.

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