When I was a young aquarist in the 1960s, a beautiful yellow barb began arriving in stores. It was small and peaceful, and it was a good choice for community aquarium setups. They called the fish “schuberti barbs,” and the scientific name Barbus schuberti was often associated with them. This yellow fish went on to become the gold barb — a mainstay of our hobby today — but the scientific name turned out to be false. It was probably just an honorific name someone used on wholesale lists and for an aquarium-raised strain of fish that had been developed by hobbyist Thomas Schubert of Camden, New Jersey.
Even today, though we know who created the strain, there remains a little mystery as to the origin of the modern gold barb fish. Two scientific names are commonly associated with it: Puntius semifasciolatus and P. sachsii. The 19th revised edition of Innes’ Exotic Aquarium Fishes, which was published around the time this fish appeared, says that Thomas Schubert developed the “schuberti” barb from P. semifasciolatus. Although I believe I have seen gold barbs that display markings similar to the wild half-banded barb (semifasciolatus means “half-banded”), typical gold barbs are much different. They have no thin vertical lines. Instead, there is often a horizontal line of broken blotches.
I’m not exactly sure what a wild P. sachsii looks like because every photo I can find with that name shows what appears to be an aquarium-raised strain of gold barb, rather than a wild fish. I did find a line drawing in Sterba’s Freshwater Fishes of the World (1967), which shows P. sachsii with markings quite similar to P. semifasciolatus. It’s possible that these two species are sufficiently similar to have been confused as a single species over the years and hybridized into our current gold barb.
If I had to pick a scientific name, I’d bet that William T. Innes was correct and go with P. semifasciolatus, especially since the wild fish was well-known at the time. The gold barb’s wild counterpart, which is a fish with a slight greenish sheen and red fins, is now rare in the trade. Only the gold strain is commonly available.
The gold barb is yellow with red in all fins, except the pectorals. Mature specimens in condition, especially males, can also exhibit a bit of reddish flush on the underside or at the root of the dorsal fin. Some specimens exhibit no markings on the side or a few scattered speckles. Others have several heavy spots in a horizontal row. The spots are generally black but often display a green iridescence. Whether the flanks are plain or marked, most gold barbs have a single dark spot at the base of the tail.
In the Aquarium
The peaceful gold barbs are great additions to the typical community aquarium. Unlike tiger barbs, they are not nippy or overactive, nor do they grow large like some other barb species. A typical adult size is about 2 inches, but they can grow to 3 inches.
This gold barb’s colors will display best if you keep them in a planted aquarium with dark gravel, a dark background and perhaps some rocks or driftwood. The yellows and reds in the fish’s body and fins will deepen considerably for your enjoyment in this natural setup.
You can keep any number of gold barbs, and they will fare well; they are happiest in loose shoals, however, so it is best to keep three or more. As with any shoaling species, you’ll get a better result if you keep larger groups. In small numbers, the fish tend to go their own way instead of hanging together, which creates a more massive splash of color. So if your aquarium has room, consider keeping six to 12 or more in your community. Gold barbs primarily inhabit the lower half of the aquarium.
In general, gold barbs like their water neutral or a little on the alkaline side, so a pH of 6.8 to 7.5 is ideal. They’ll accept a broad range of water hardness. Any dH reading from 5 to 19 (soft to very hard) is acceptable for gold barbs. These fish prefer their water a little cooler, say, around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But they handle tropical aquarium temperatures well up to around 80 degrees.
Gold barbs are omnivores. They’ll eat any fish food you throw at them, including flakes. In the wild, their diet consists of aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms and plant matter. Like most fish, they relish feedings of live, frozen or freeze-dried foods, such as Daphnia, brine shrimp, bloodworms and blackworms. But you should also give these fish a fair amount of plant matter in their diet, or they have a tendency to become overweight and slow. Algae flakes or algae tabs make a good supplement.
A Golden Opportunity
Breeding gold barbs is relatively easy. A bare 10-gallon aquarium filled with a lot of fine-leaved aquatic plants, such as Java moss or Myriophyllum, will work. The temperature should be 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. Separate males and females, and feed them heavily with live, frozen and freeze-dried fish foods to condition them for a few weeks. Males tend to be smaller and slimmer, and they may have more red in the fins or in their body markings. Use a pair or a trio of two males and one female.
Introduce the breeder gold barbs to the breeding aquarium in the evening. Spawning should occur the following morning, especially if sun rays hit the aquarium. The male(s) will drive the female into the plants, where she will scatter adhesive eggs. Remove the breeders afterward, or they will eat the eggs. Eggs hatch in a day and a half to two days. When the fry become free-swimming, offer them infusoria, microworms or powdered egglayer fish food. Later, they will accept baby brine shrimp.
Gold barbs are peaceful, popular and easy. You won’t likely regret keeping these beautiful fish in your aquarium. Happy fishkeeping!