by Stefan Pahl, Neuenhagen – revised by Matthias Vogl, Künzing & Christian Braun, Fürth
The division “barbs” basically stands for the entire family of carp fish (Cyprinidae). The fish we address as “barbs” in aquaristics are found in the carp subfamily. Together with catfishes, characins, sandfishes and New World knifefishes, they belong to the Ostariophysi a group of true bony fishes. Many “barbs” are found in the genera Barbus and Pontius of the subfamily Barbinae. Other aquaristically relevant subfamilies would be those of the danios (Rasborinae) of the danios (Danioninae).
Some of our native whitefish, such as lead (Abramis brama), roach (Rutilus rutilus) or moderlieschen (Leucaspius delineatus) are also carp fish and are found in the whitefish subfamily (Leuciscinae).
Characteristics and behaviour
Carpfish are found in many parts of the world, with the exception of South America, Australia, Madagascar and New Zealand, and live almost exclusively in freshwater. Very small carp fish species can be found, such as the Paedocypris progenetica, which only grows to about 8 mm and was only discovered in 1996. However, we also know species with lengths of up to 2.5 m (Barbus tor).
The characteristic features of carp fish include:
- a “typical” fish shape
- absence of an adipose fin
- Barbels may be absent – if present, then max. two pairs (exception: Gobiobotia)
- Head scaleless, body covered with round scales (exception: Sawbwa)
- Mouth usually widely protruding (e.g. proboscis mouth of carp)
- Low number of teeth (in up to two rows on the lower maw bones)
- horn-like painting plate at the base of the pharyngeal bones
Not all carp fish are outright swordfishes. Anything is possible in this huge group of fish. As a rule, carp fish spawn in open water or lay their eggs among plants and roots. Since they don’t care about their spawn for the most part, the number of eggs deposited is often considerable to allow enough larvae or fry to survive..
One of the exceptions is the native bitterling (Rhodeus amarus). It engages in indirect brood care, because it lays its eggs in the gill opening of mussels. In this way, eggs and larvae develop in the protection of the mussel and are safe from predators. The next generation of the native Moderlieschen (Leucaspius delineatus) is also protected. The clutches, which are attached to previously cleaned plant stems, are supplied with fresh water by the male by nudging the plant stems and moving the fins.
Historically, carp fish have played a not insignificant role in aquaristics. For example, goldfish (Carassius auratus) first arrived in Europe from their Chinese homeland around 1610 (Frey; 1973), but it was only after they were successfully bred in Holland in 1728 that they became more widely known in Europe (Sterba; 1990). Subtropical carp fish, such as the splendid barb (Puntius conchonius), are among the oldest introduced ornamental fish. It was brought to Europe in 1903 (Ladiges; 1962).In the aquarium, carp fish are often omnivores, feeding on various worms, insect larvae, snails, but also algae and plant parts. Many appreciate oxygen-rich clean water with a slight current. In general, the keeper should be well informed about the water values, as the wide distribution and specialisation in different habitats has led to a high degree of adaptation in many species. To accommodate the urge to move of many barbs and danios, an aquarium with sufficient swimming space should be set up. The substrate should be such that the fish can burrow in it, as many barbs need the microorganisms living in the mulm to support their digestion. The use of fine sand and the creation of a mulm corner has proved successful.
Among the carp fish, the barbs, danios and rasboras are particularly suitable aquarium fish, as they are often quite striking in colour and the final size of many species is usually in the range of 2-10 cm. It is advisable to keep at least 10 of each species so that the fish can interact with each other. This is especially true for the Sumatran barbs (Puntius spec. aff. tetrazona), which are considered “quarrelsome”. Kept in a larger group, they will then occupy themselves more with each other than with other tank inhabitants.
“Barbs and danios” have been part of the standard assortment of the pet trade for decades. The demand is almost exclusively covered by offspring, which mostly come from Asia or the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, it is sometimes noticeable that the animals offered do not always meet our expectations in terms of colouration and nutritional condition. The animals have to grow up in the breeding farms in a short time, which often leads to deficiencies. Here you are well advised to look for good animals or better to buy breeders’ offspring, here in the IG or at the fanciers’ exchange at the club around the corner. By the way, there is a very readable article on the topic ‘From “bad parents” good young fish?’ by Helmut STALLKNECHT (DATZ 45 (1), p. 17-19, 1992).