Cherry Barbs 101: Care, Tank Mates, Size, And Breeding

Puntius titteya, the cherry barb, is an omnivorous member of the Cyprinidae family of fish. This family also includes carps and minnows, and includes over 2,000 species of fish. But even with such a large family, the cherry barb is doing anything but thriving in the wild.

The aquarium trade and keep keeping hobby is helping to keep the cherry barb population stable, but natural habitat loss and poaching are difficult to contest with. The cherry barb is a freshwater fish that is native to Sri Lanka, particularly the southwestern areas of the Nilwala and Kelani river valleys.

They prefer dwelling in shadowy areas of rivers and streams that have muddy bottoms. This is because not only are these areas typically more secure, but they’re also easy places to find plant matter to feast upon.

While the wild native populations of this attractive little fish may be in danger, they’re absolutely thriving in captivity in aquariums across the world. Many things make the cherry barb a great fish to add to your aquarium. They live, on average and when taken care of properly, for anywhere from four to six years, but their small size and active nature make them a favorite to the hobby.

Cherry Barb Care Guide

Typical Behavior

Cherry barbs are schooling fish that will bring a pop of color and activity to any tank they’re introduced to. The more cherry barbs in a school, the more confidence they have as a unit to explore and swim around their tank.

Keeping them in groups also prevents any nervous or anxious behavior, such as hiding or being shy.

Ideally, if you have a mix of male and female barbs, you will have two females to every singular male. This helps to prevent fighting within the school and will reduce the rate of stress-induced deaths experienced by the females, who may feel overwhelmed if too many males are fighting over her. Additionally, if a male only has one female to himself, he may stress her out, also resulting in death.

Cherry barbs make great additions to community tanks as they are peaceful and often social so long as they feel comfortable and secure. Cherry barbs should be kept in groups of no fewer than six fish. The larger the school, within reason, the more comfortable your fish will be and the more aesthetically they will be to observe.

Cherry Barb Appearance

Cherry barbs have a distinctive look to them that will make them stand out in almost any kind of tank. They are small, getting to be only about two inches long, but their elongated body and bright colors make them stand out in even large tank sets.

They are relatively slender fish and have a lateral stripe that goes from their head to their tail. In females, this lateral stripe tends to look more brown than black.

Males tend to be a vibrant red color, lending to the cherry title. The females are usually more white or pale than males. They also have rounder stomachs, while males are on the slimmer side.

The dimorphism between the sexes, particularly where coloration is concerned, is often the reason that many hobbyists will choose males over females of this species unless they’re intending to breed them.

Tank Setup and Water Requirements

Cherry barbs are a favorite among beginner keepers because they are easy to care for once you have their preferred water parameters figured out and stabilized. But cherry barbs are impressively hardy fish and can tolerate a wide range of water parameters with some variations.

For six to ten cherry barbs with no other fish, you will need a tank of at least 15 to 25 gallons to adequately accommodate them and give them the proper amount of space to roam and comfortably school. However, they will thrive in larger tanks with larger numbers as well.

You want to make sure to have a balance between plants, decor, or other hiding spaces and open, clear water for your fish to swim around freely. Java fern, hornwort, and Anacharis are excellent plants that provide optimal coverage for your cherry barbs to feel secure should anything in or out of the tank scare them.

For the best decorating practices, you should position plants, driftwood, and other decorative items around the inner perimeter of the aquarium. This will not only provide your cherry barbs with safe places to hide and feel secure when they’re frightened but will also allow them to maximize the remaining amount of available space for swimming and free-roaming.

Tank Conditions

Because cherry barbs come from tropical climates that experience very little variation in temperature. However, cherry barbs will still tolerate a decent range in temperature as long as it is applied gradually. They will tolerate a gradient of about 73 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit, so you have a bit of room to work with depending on any other fish in the aquarium. They do tend to prefer temperatures in the mid- to high-70s range, though.

Cherry barbs also tend to prefer water that is closer to a neutral pH balance. They do best in a range of 6 to 7.5 pH with moderate water flow or circulation.

As far as the hardness of the water is concerned, they prefer the level to be somewhere between 4 and 15 dGH. Again, cherry barbs are hardy and will tolerate a pretty wide range of conditions, but they are not immortal or immune to sudden, drastic changes in their accepted parameters.

Tankmates and Compatibility

Cherry barbs are peaceful schooling fish and do best with other peaceful fish that won’t be tempted to eat them. Larger fish, even peaceful ones, may decide to supplement their diet between meals with a cherry barb or two if they can fit them in their mouth, so it’s best to keep your cherry barbs with similarly-sized fish or those that do not require protein as part of their diet.

Some of the ideal tankmates for cherry barbs include:

  • Neon or cardinal tetras
  • Harlequin rasboras
  • Platies
  • Mollies
  • Dwarf or small gouramis
  • Rainbow sharks
  • Otocinclus catfish
  • White cloud mountain minnows
  • Clown loaches

Also, cherry barbs are not aggressive toward invertebrates like shrimp or mollusks. So if you want to add some shrimp species, snails, freshwater crabs, or other similar species, you can without worrying that your cherry barbs will try to eat them.

Because they’re so wildly peaceful, cherry barbs make an excellent, vibrant addition to almost any kind of community tank that houses similarly peaceful, small fish or invertebrates.

If you have more semi-aggressive or aggressive fish or larger fish in your tank, cherry barbs won’t make a good addition. This is because they’re likely to be picked on and even eaten due to their small size, whether they exist in a large school or not. Even other barbs, like the tiger barb, may be more aggressive and can be known to attack cherry barbs when added to their territory.

They will not do well with semi-aggressive or aggressive fish like cichlids or Oscars, and will easily become food for these species of fish.

When adding your cherry barbs to your tank, make sure to acclimate them slowly to their new environment. They may dull in color or be shy and inactive for a few days or weeks depending on the other fish in the tank, available hiding places, and the number of cherry barbs that you have or plan to add.

Give your cherry barbs time to properly acclimate to their new environment and any tankmates.

What do Cherry Barbs Eat?

Cherry barbs are omnivorous, so they tend to eat whatever they can fit into their mouths. Once they are comfortable in a new tank or environment, they are not generally picky about what they consume. They may be a little finicky at first due to stress or a limited palate, but with some patience and time, they will prove to have impressive appetites.

Everything is a potential food item to these small, brightly-colored fish. Algae, plant matter, zooplankton, diatoms, small insects, worms, and more all make fantastic diets for cherry barbs.

They love live and frozen food items and have been known to be fond of brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia. But, they’ll just as happily take high-quality tropical fish flakes or extra small pellets that contain a mix of plant matter and protein.  

Some of the cherry barbs favorite foods include:

  • Bloodworms
  • Ground or crushed fish flakes
  • Spirulina
  • Daphnia
  • Brine Shrimp
  • Fish-friendly micro wafers

Make sure that any offered food items are small enough for your cherry barb to consume safely. They have difficulties swallowing large chunks of food, so grainy foods and meats may have to be crushed or ground up to be more easily ingestible for these small fish.

Breeding

Similarly to make other fish, cherry barbs are egg-scattering fish that deposit and fertilize eggs and provide minimal, if any, care to their offspring once they’ve developed. If you want to breed your cherry barbs, doing so is easy with a little observational skill and some appropriate preparation.

The temperament of the male cherry barbs you plan to breed is important, as is the coloration. Brighter, more vibrantly-colored males are more likely to successfully fertilize the spawned eggs of the female cherry barb.

Cherry barbs will lay anywhere from 200 to 300 eggs at a time on the substrate and plants in their tank. They are very easy to breed fish once they’re established and happy.

You will need to set up a separate tank for spawning, fertilization, and hatching. Make sure that you do this well in advance of when you want to introduce your breeding cherry barbs, as you’ll need to add plants and have the appropriate temperature and water parameters to effectively breed your cherry barbs.

The water should have a similar if not slightly more acidic pH balance to the home tank and should be somewhere in the warmer range of what your cherry barbs will tolerate. Typically, around 77 degrees Fahrenheit is a great spawning temperature. The water flow and circulation of this tank should be low, just enough to provide oxygen but not enough to disturb the eggs.

Your female cherry barb, once ready, will spawn her eggs on the plants in the tank or in the substrate if there are not enough plants available. Alternatively, you can add a spawning mop or net into the tank to catch the eggs. This is especially useful if you did not move your fish prior to breeding.

If your fish are not in the breeding tank when spawning happens, remove the eggs from the home tank and carefully put them into the spawning tank. Do this quickly, because otherwise the eggs may be eaten.

Keep the smaller spawning tank dimly lit and make sure that the water flow rate isn’t too high. The more closely you mimic their natural environment while the eggs and fry develop, the better your chances of success.

After a few days, the fry will hatch. It will take a few additional days before they can swim around and explore on their own. During this time, it’s important to feed them particularly tiny food items like micro worms and vinegar eels, which will be small enough for them to consume easily. As they grow, you will be able to begin feeding them brine shrimp and other similarly-sized items.

The fry will grow for approximately two months before reaching their adult size. When this happens, you can safely introduce them to the home tank. Make sure you acclimate them appropriately to avoid shock if there’s any difference in the temperature of the water or heavy difference in the acidity.

One thing to keep in mind while breeding your cherry barbs is that the mating and breeding season will often make your male barbs more active and aggressive, while your females may seem more lethargic with less energy following the egg-laying.

It may be necessary, depending on how aggressive your males are at this time, to remove the females from the home tank into a smaller quarantine tank so that they can regain their strength and energy without the additional stress of the aggressive males.

How to Care for the Cherry Barbs

Cherry barbs are a hardy little fish, but they are susceptible to some common illnesses that you should be aware of and prepared for. Ich, dropsy, and fin rot are some of the common ailments that can affect cherry barbs.

For ich, you may notice that your cherry barb will separate from the rest of the schooling group. It may also be breathing rapidly and suffer from a loss of appetite, depending on the progression of the infection. You can treat ich easily with aquarium salt doses or formalin. You can also use aquarium salt for fin rot.

But they are also reported to be affected by gold-dust disease. Gold-dust disease is caused by a parasite that is known as Oodinium pilularis. The parasite is a microorganism that typically attaches itself to the fins or gills of the host – that is, your cherry barb.

Gold-dust disease is characterized by the development and formation of a velvety layer on the skin on your cherry barb. This can cause labored breathing, general lethargy, a loss of appetite, and frequent rubbing against objects such as gravel, rocks, driftwood, and other decorative items throughout the tank.

To treat gold-dust disease, you can dose your aquarium with aquarium salt and a copper sulfate solution. You should also raise the temperature of the water to the higher end of the spectrum tolerated by the fish housed in your tank. The combination of salt, copper sulfate and heat will help to eradicate the parasite before it can spread to your other fish.

Make sure that you use aquarium salt and not table salt or sea salt to dose your tank, as these varieties will not treat the illnesses in your fish and may cause additional problems for your cherry barbs and their tankmates.

Is a Cherry Barb for You?

A single cherry barb may not be for you, simply because the likelihood of it surviving on its own is not very high. But multiple cherry barbs that can form a school are a great option for almost anyone who wants to keep fish.

They are hardy, active, and sociable with attractive, bright colors. If you’re looking for a new addition to a community tank with similarly-tempered and sized fish, these would be great fish to choose. They’ll add a splash of color and personality to your aquarium.

Keep in mind that cherry barbs may be shy at first when you first bring them home, but if you provide them with hiding places such as plants, they will acclimate quickly and will explore the environment with confidence so long as they can easily travel as a school.

Whether you’re a new keeper or an expert, the cherry barb is a low-maintenance, fantastic addition to have in your home.

Richard Rowlands
Richard Rowlands

Hello fellow aquatics enthusiasts! My name is Richard Rowlands. I’m an aquarium keeper and enthusiast and have been for about 25 years or so. While I won’t claim to be the end-all expert on aquatic life, I will say that I know my way around a tank.

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