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The Pros & Cons of Tinfoil Barbs

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The tinfoil barb, named for its shiny silver scales, is a popular, fast-growing tropical fish with colorful fins and tail. Previously, it was mainly available to hobbyists only in red and was often called the red-fin or red-tail barb. In recent years, however, many other colors of tinfoil barbs have become available, increasing the tinfoil's popularity. This shiny fish has its drawbacks, however, and is not right for every aquarium.


Tinfoil barbs grow to a large size in a short amount of time. Even though most are sold when they're around 2 inches long, they don't stay small for long and can reach 14 to 16 inches. This means that they can't be kept in small tanks, such as those under 75 gallons or so. On the other hand, these quick-growing fish can quickly fill a large tank with flashy color.


For the most part, tinfoil barbs are mild-mannered and get along with most other fish. They may, however, nip at and cause damage to fish with long trailing fins, such as angelfish. A large barb will also eat small fish, given the opportunity. So while they can fit in with the inhabitants of most large tanks, they may also cause problems for the fanciest and smallest members of the population. Tinfoil barbs prefer to live in schools, so are best kept in groups.


A tinfoil barb will eat just about anything, preferring plant matter, but also consuming meat when it's available. This makes it easy to feed a barb, who can eat algae, flakes, pellets, chopped worms, spinach, mosquito larvae and brine shrimp. There's a major drawback to the tinfoil barb's healthy appetite -- overeating. A school of these fish will quickly 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, usually killing them.


A fairly hardy fish, a tinfoil barb can happily live in a wide variety of pH levels and water temperatures. This means that tank conditions can be modified to suit more sensitive types of fish without affecting the barbs. One thing a tinfoil barb cannot tolerate well, however, is a lack of aeration or low oxygen levels. A good filtration system that keeps water moving and oxygenated is necessary to keep a tinfoil barb healthy.

Other Considerations

Tinfoil barbs come in a wide variety of colors that will often school together, so a custom rainbow or single-color school is easy to put together. Breeding is not easy in a typical aquarium situation, however, which is good for the hobbyist that doesn't want to add more barbs. This can be frustrating, though, for someone who wants their fish to reproduce. Tinfoil barbs are also known for jumping out of tanks, so they must be kept in an aquarium with a lid or cover.