Cherry Barbs – Puntius titteya

Barbs are a group of hardy, colorful freshwater fish that are extremely popular in the aquarium trade. While many people may think of the classic Tiger Barb when they hear the term “barb,” there are many others that you should get to know if you have (or plan to have) an aquarium.

Cherry Barbs deserve a place on that list.

Cherry Barbs are members of the taxonomic Cyprinidae family, and it shows in their strong (if miniaturized) resemblance to the common carp. Their bodies are elongated and compressed, with a horizontal stripe at eye level extending from the tip of the snout to the base of the caudal fin.

As their name indicates, these fish come in a cheerful red color that will liven up any tank. Males tend to have more red pigmentation than females, who typically appear in the yellow-to-orange range of the color wheel. Adults reach a maximum of only 2 inches in length, making them ideal even for small apartment aquariums.

Aquarists have selectively bred this species into several morphological variations that don’t exist in the wild, including Longfin Cherry Barb, the Albino Cherry Barb, and the Veiltail Cherry Barb. All of these new varieties are descended from the “true” Cherry Barb and are available on the market to varying degrees.

Peacefulness is a key selling point for these fish. Cherry Barbs are docile and relatively shy. In fact, they’re so timid that it’s best to have them be the only mid-level schooling fish in their aquarium. Having too many other, active fish inhabiting the same section of the tank as your Cherries could stress them out and cause them to hide. Since hiding would defeat the purpose of owning such gorgeous creatures, you definitely don’t want that to happen.

One notable difference between Cherries and other types of barbs is that Cherry Barbs aren’t fin nippers. They’ll get along with pretty much any other species in a community tank, as long as those other species are also peaceful. Common tankmates include Mollies, Platys, Neon Tetras, pretty much any bottom dweller.

As we mentioned above, Cherry Barbs are schooling fish. This is important, both for their health and happiness and for an engaging aquarium. You should aim to keep your Cherries in a group of no less than five at any given time. This will provide your fish with adequate socialization and a feeling of security. As with any schooling fish, the more you have, the more confident your fish will be; there’s safety in numbers. This confidence will result in less shyness and more entertaining schooling maneuvers for you to enjoy. 

One detail to keep in mind when populating your tank with Cherry Barbs is the ratio of males to females. Ideally, you should have one male for every two females to avoid problems during mating season. If there are too many males in your tank, they will stress the females out during mating season by chasing them constantly. This can lead to health complications in your females and even death in extreme situations.  

Hardiness is another trait that earns the Cherry Barb high marks. While they have environmental preferences like any living creature, they can tolerate a greater range of variables than some other types of fish. This quality makes them an excellent choice for people new to the aquarium hobby.

Feeding Habits

Cherry Barbs are omnivores, which makes them super easy to feed. They eat a wide variety of foods in the wild and will be similarly unfussy in a domesticated environment. That being said, it’s always a good idea to feed your fish (of any species) a high-quality food. Many low-cost fish foods contain high percentages of cereal grains, which no fish naturally consumes.

In addition to regular pellet and flake food, you should occasionally augment their diet with frozen or live foods, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and daphnia. Throwing in some occasional algae wafers or blanched veggies will keep your Cherries happy, healthy, and always excited for feeding time. Aim to only feed them what they can easily consume in two minutes and remove excess food because it can quickly foul up your water.

Breeding Behavior

What’s better than a few Cherry Barbs in your tank? More Cherry Barbs!

While you can always add to your collection by purchasing more fish from your local pet stores, you should consider breeding your own, too.

Not only is this an entertaining and rewarding exercise, but breeding at home ensures that you avoid getting sickly or severely stressed fish that die soon after you purchase them. Plus, Cherry Barbs are easy to breed and spawn often.

Sexing Your Fish

Step one in breeding any fish is ensuring that you have both males and females in appropriate numbers. Luckily, Cherry Barbs are easy to sex since the males and females are obviously different colors. 

Males are also typically larger than females and possess a more slender silhouette than the “fuller-figured” females. As we mentioned above, try to keep a two-to-one ratio of females to males so that the males don’t harass any one female too much during mating season.

Tank Setup

At a minimum, you should insert a divider into your regular tank and place your breeding pair(s) into the private side. Ideally, though, you’ll have a dedicated breeding tank where your fish can do their thing in private, without having to worry about other fish interrupting them.

Begin by slowly raising the water temperature by a couple of degrees over the course of a few days. This signals to the fish that now is a good time to spawn. At the same time, augment their diet with extra live or frozen foods. Doing so will encourage them and ensure good health for this exhausting process.

If you’re using a breeding tank, keep the lighting dim, the water movement to a minimum, and the acidity slightly more elevated than in their regular community tank. Plants are also essential for two reasons. For one, Cherries prefer to lay their eggs on plants. The other reason is that plants provide important hiding places for newly-hatched fry.

Courtship and Spawning

When the time is right, males will become even brighter red than usual as a way to signal to the ladies that they are in the mood for love. They’ll also start chasing and flirting with females. Once the female chooses her male, the two fish will wrap around each other over the spot that they have chosen to lay their eggs.

Cherry Barbs are egg scatterers, which means that females release their eggs onto an object or substrate and the male fertilizes them. The fertilized eggs – numbering between 200 and 300 at a time – adhere to whatever they come into contact with. After that, parental involvement ends and you can remove your breeding pair from the vicinity of the eggs. If you don’t, you run the risk of the parents deciding they need a snack and going cannibalistic on their own offspring.

Fertilized eggs will hatch in 24-48 hours, although the new fry will hide for the first few days of life. After that, they become free-swimming and you should start feeding them. Keep in mind that Cherry Barb fry are extremely small and, thus, will not be able to eat regular fish food. It can take a month or more for them to reach a mere 1 centimeter in length.

You will want to buy special fry food that their tiny mouths can handle. Vinegar eels and micro worms are good options until they are large enough to consume brine shrimp.

After approximately two months, the fry will have reached adult size and can be moved into the community tank.

One last consideration about Cherry Barb breeding is that the females often lose energy after breeding (sound familiar, ladies?) and may need to be kept apart from the males, who will continue to look for love in all the wrong places. Once your females have had a couple of days to recover, they can be placed back in the community tank.

Size Variations

There is not much variation in size for Cherry Barbs, even among different morphs.

Fact Sheet

Common Name:  Cherry Barbs

Latin Name: Puntius titteya

Size: maximum 2 inches

Place of Origin: Sri Lanka

Temperament: docile

Water Level: mid to bottom

Tropical / Coldwater: tropical

Preferred PH: neutral to slightly acidic (6-8 pH)

Soft / Hard Water: soft to medium hardness (4-15 dH)

Johanan Viljoen

Johanan Viljoen