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Family: Cyprinidae, Subfamily Cyprininae

Common Name: Tinfoil Barb

Origin and Habitat: Widespread over SE Asia including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Indonesia. Occurs in large rivers, streams, canals and ditches, moving into the flooded forest to spawn during the flood season.

Compatibility/Temperament: A peaceful species, but given its size and active swimming it needs a large aquarium of its own or combined with larger fish such as other barbs and the larger species of loaches. It will eat smaller fish.

Tinfoil Barb Diet

Omnivorous, but primarily herbivore; wild fish have been observed feeding on invertebrates, algae, smaller fish, plant matter and dead animals. In the aquarium it will accept almost any prepared foods, frozen foods such as bloodworms, squid and plankton, live earthworms, vegetables and fruits. Soft aquarium plants will be consumed.


Attains 14 inches, and will grow quickly.

Minimum Tank Suggestion

7x2x2 feet or 200 gallons.

Water parameters for Tinfoil Barb

Soft to moderately hard (up to 10 dGH), slightly acidic (pH 6.5 to 7) water, temperature 22-25C/72-77F.


Not a fish for the average home aquarium due to its large size, but a group of 6 or more in a 200+ gallon aquarium furnished with river gravel, stones, bogwood, and some hardy plants (Anubias, Java Fern) is quite a beautiful site. A riverine aquascape is ideal, and some of the larger loaches can also be included.

It prefers the middle of the water column. A moderate current from the filter is recommended to maintain higher oxygen levels, as this fish is an active swimmer. It must be kept in groups or it will become skittish and often aggressive. It is a vigorous eater, so care must be taken not to overfeed. Females are rounder than males; not known to have been spawned in home aquaria.

This species is very similar to Barbonymus altus. The subject species' body colouration is more silvery, and the red caudal fin has a distinct black submarginal stripe along both lobes; this is absent on B. altus, whose colouration is more golden than silver. As noted below, the common name of Tinfoil Barb is often applied to other species including B. altus.

This species was originally described in 1853 by P. Bleeker who placed it in the genus Barbus; the species epithet was later spelled schwanefeldii by Bleeker and others, but corrected to schwanenfeldii by T.R. Roberts in 1989 when he moved it into the genus Puntius. In 1993, Maurice Kottelat assigned the species to the Barbodes genus, but this too did not last long. In his 1999 paper on the nomenclature of the genera Barbodes, Cyclocheilichthys, Rasbora and Chonerhinos, Dr. Kottelat erected the new genus Barbonymus; B. schwanenfeldii was the type species for the new genus, and in it Kottelat also placed three other species, B. altus, B. collingwoodii and B. gonionotus; these species had also originally been assigned to Barbus. It is not uncommon to see any of these species offered as the "Tinfoil Barb," though the latter two are very rare in the hobby. Dr. Kottelat determined that these four species form a distinct evolutionary lineage different from the other barbs, actually close to the common carp; but it is not certain whether or not this lineage is monophyletic. Monophyletic means a taxon (here, species) that form a clade, meaning that it contains an ancestor and all of its descendants.

Barbonymus is a contraction [Barb] of the earlier Barbus, plus anonymous [Latin, from the Greek anonumos] meaning anonym ("without name"). The species epithet (assigned by Bleeker) honours the original collector, H.W. Schwanefeld. The mis-spelling of his name caused the subsequent species name "correction," but under the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature this correction is not allowed, so the species name must stand as schwanenfeldii and not schwanefeldii.

In 1902, L.L. Vaillant described a variant as Barbus schwanefeldii rubra, but Roberts (1989) determined this was the same species and this name now has the status of a synonym of Barbonymus schwanenfeldii (Bleeker 1853).

Contributing Members

The following members have contributed to this profile: Byron


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