Rosy Barb

A Great Starter Fish for Your Aquarium

Rosy Barb dance of males desplay
Thomas R. Reich, PhD

Barbs make up a very large family of fish that come in a wide range of sizes and colors. All barbs are members of the subfamily Barbinae, with family members found in Europe, Asia, and (according to some sources) Africa. Barbs come in many sizes and colors, though they all share a common shape. Rosy Barbs are well known to aquarists as one of the hardiest and best of the egg-layers for beginners.

Breed Overview

Common Names: Rosy Barb, Red Barb

Scientific Name: Pethia conchonius

Adult Size: 4–6 inches (often smaller in captivity)

Life Expectancy: Up to 5 years

Characteristics

Family Cyprinidae
Origin India
Social Peaceful, especially in groups; otherwise semi-aggressive
Tank Level All
Minimum Tank Size 20 gallons
Diet Omnivorous
Breeding Eggs scattered to substrate
Care Easy
pH 6.5–7
Hardness 519 dGH
Temperature 75 degrees F (though they can survive at temperatures as low as 60 degrees F)

Origin and Distribution 

The rosy barb was first described in 1822. They are generally found in flowing streams, tributaries, lakes, ponds, and even swamps in India. Other wild populations can be found in Singapore, Australia, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia. They are numerous and widespread and not considered to be threatened or endangered. 

The popular name “rosy barb” was derived from the fact that at spawning time, a rosy color covers the lower part of the sides of the male. Many derivations of the wild rosy barb have been developed over the years through selective breeding. In many strains of farm-raised rosy barbs, the males are rosy almost all the time. Another variety has beautiful, long, flowing fins and tail, and the male of that strain is almost completely rosy red.

Colors and Markings

Like all barbs, the rosy barb has a long, oval-shaped body, a forked tail, and two dorsal fins. Female rosy barbs are yellowish-pink and have greenish backs, while males are redder on the underbelly and sides. Look for black spots along the fins on both males and females. Some (especially those from West Bengal) have more intense coloration as well as reflective scales.

Tankmates

Rosy barbs require cooler water, so tankmates should also be able to tolerate temperatures around 75 degrees F. They are semi-aggressive, especially with tankmates that are slow-moving. Large groups of six or more Rosy Barbs do well together, and they get along well with energetic tank mates.

Rosy Barb Habitat and Care

Rosy Barbs prefer a tank with a soft, sandy bottom, plenty of plants, and a good deal of swimming room. Their natural habitats include wood and rock, so driftwood or similar items will help make them feel at home. Because rosy barbs are schooling fish, they need enough space to move through the tank as a group. Providing space is not only good for your pets' well-being; it also ensures that they will be less aggressive toward other fish, and much more interesting to watch.

It's important to be sure your tank receives at least a couple of hours of sunlight per day. This is beneficial for the health of the fish, and the reflective light also makes them appear even more beautiful. You will also need a good filter and water movement to ensure that they achieve their best coloration.

Rosy Barb Diet

Rosy barbs are omnivores and need a good variety of foods. Include both vegetables and meats in the form of flake food and live or frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms.  

Sexual Differences

Both sexes are ornamented with a large black spot faintly outlined in brown near the base of the tail. The male, as in the case of many fish, wears the brightest colors. His back is a greenish-gray, blending into silver at the sides. The female is olive-brown all over. First indications of sex in young fish are that the males develop a black area in the dorsal fin. Strange as it may seem, males show their best colors when kept together.

Now and then, when male rosy barbs are kept alone together, they perform a circular dance. Head to tail, they gyrate round and round until the viewer is treated to something that compares to a fireworks show in colors. During this spin, the fins are fully extended, and their coloring is superb. When placed in a breeding tank, spawning will take place, but the male rarely adorns himself in the colors produced when two males perform their strange dance while alone together in a tank. 

Breeding the Rosy Barb

Breeding is relatively easy, at an age of about 12 months. The water in a sterile breeding tank should be soft to medium-hard at about 77 F and a pH 6.5 to 7.2. The tank need not be larger than a 10-gallon, provided it has filtration, a substrate of sand, an area of open water, and a clump or two of live plants (as prescribed for barbs) or a hanging clump of nylon wool. Introduce the ripe female first, then put in the male a few days later.

Very often, spawning takes place the following morning, the fish coming together flank to flank, and the male then wrapping his body and fins around the female. Spawning lasts for about two hours; when it is done, remove both fish to prevent them from eating their eggs. The eggs hatch in about 24 to 48 hours. 

Start feeding the fry when they are free swimming. Give them infusoria for one to two weeks, adding baby brine shrimp and fine dry fry food after a week. By the end of the third week, the fry will be strong swimmers, eat most anything offered, and grow very quickly. As with all barbs, feed your rosy barbs a varied diet of live and dry food, as available. Keep the filtration shut off until the end of the second week, then use a sponge filter till the fry are a 1/2 inch long.

In nature, a mature rosy barb can grow to 5 to 6 inches long. But when the species was adapted and bred for the aquarium, the fish adapted to a length of 2 to 2 1/2 inches, and they breed true to this length, whether bred at home or on a fish farm.

More Pet Fish Breeds and Further Research

If you're interested in rosy barbs, you might enjoy reading more about other barbs:

Or, check out some more freshwater pet fish breed profiles.