Okay, I'll just come out and say it:
I'm shockingly ignorant on Barbs.
Yeah, one of the sort of "cornerstone" groups of aquarium fishes...well, sort of.
And I'm downright poor in my knowledge of them.
I mean, I can identify some of the basics; hold my own in a very lightweight conversation on them with general hobbyists. However, once you get beyond, "Which do you like better: The 'classic' Tiger Barb, or the 'Moss Green' Tiger Barb?" My lack of knowledge is front and center!
It's hard to imagine being this ignorant about a group of fishes that are so pervasive in the hobby, but I simply think I just haven't played with them as much as other fishes. When I was a kid, I always had a few Cherry Barbs or Tiger Barbs; maybe a "Gold Barb" or two- in my tanks- but was always held back by what "the books" said about them attaining larger sizes, needing larger quarters, being a bit mean, relentlessly active, and pooping a lot. Oh, and nibbling on live plants! So, I was a classic example of someone who was "programmed" by the popular opinions of the day, and it sort of shut me down on this large and diverse group of fishes for decades!
However, in defense of my ignorance- I don't think I'm the ONLY one who was sort of "chased off" by the popular sentiment regarding these guys! Why is it that we have all sorts of Cichlid clubs, Killie clubs, Betta clubs, Guppy Clubs, even Catfish clubs, but NO "Cyprinid clubs?" (okay, you can say the same about characins, too...but let's stick to the Barbs here, lol)? Maybe what's not helping these guys is that taxonomically, they're heaped into the family Cyprinidae, which also includes such notable ugly and non-aquarium-friendly fishes as Carps and Minnows...Yeah.
Now, in defense, the family Cyprinidae also includes the ultra-cool Danios and the popular "Sharks", not to mention, Rasbora- so we can't categorically "dis" the whole group...but man- the "poster children" of the family are, well...everything our forefathers in the aquarium world told us: Big, ugly, gluttonous fishes that would lay to waste any well-managed aquarium in minutes!
Cyprus carpio- Latin for "Big ugly fish?" Scared me off... Pic by Kapr Obecny (Used under CC BY SA-3.)
But then again, if you're a kid, looking at active, cool fishes for your first 20 gallon tank, the Tiger Barb (currently Systomus tetrazona) and it's relatives are sort of hard to turn away from...Of course, until it starts beating the crap out of your Neons, that is.
The "classic" Tiger Barb. Pic by Anandarajkumar (used under CC-BY-SA 3.0)
The reality is that many, many of these guys DO make cool aquarium fish, particularly if your tank is large enough to keep a school, and to provide enough room for the other inhabitants to "get out of the way" when the barbs start partying.
And yes, there are a ton of Barbs that come from tinted, acidic waters in Southeast Asia- perfect for what we do. And frankly, I think this is another group of fishes that could benefit from being maintained under conditions more closely representing their natural habitats...which are both interesting and attractive aquarium subjects. Can you imagine a Barb "biotope" tank? Oh, yeah.
Well, wait just a minute.
Remember our video "The Tint Meets The Aquascaper", by the legendary George Farmer, which we have in our "Inspiration" section? What fish did George choose to "star" in this awesome blackwater aquarium? Why, Puntius pentazona, which look incredibly sexy when given the proper environment, don't they? And when an aquarium personality with the extraordinary taste and talent of George freaking Farmer chooses to feature them in one of his videos, you'd think it would open up the floodgates to a new era of popularity for these seemingly forgotten fishes...
A tank this nice, with fish this cool- should definitely help change some minds on this diverse group. And yet...I still cannot recall off the top of my head if I have received to date a pic of a tank from one of our community set up exclusively for- or even featuring-Barbs!
I mean, they look awesome in blackwater! Hello?
So, what IS it that keeps these fishes from exploding with popularity?
At a loss, here.
Work with me...
I really do think that this is a group that truly suffered/suffers from the cumulative "bad press" they've received over the decades, warning us about the need for "large tanks", "hefty filters", "tough tank mates", etc. I totally fell for this, when the reality as that a group of these guys doesn't seem all that much more aggressive than a bunch of rowdy Apistos, if you ask me.
The fact that they are so diverse, generally hardy (with the exception of the damn Cherry Barb for many of us)- Barbs have a certain "character" that many of the shoaling fishes we keep (like my beloved Tetras) seem to lack. Maybe it's because many of them are "larger" fishes by aquarium standards- 3" (7.62cm) or so average..Not sure, but they do have that "It factor" going for them...
(The undeniably sexy Black Ruby Barb (Puntius nigrofasciatus), captured by my mentor, the great Bob Fenner!)
And not all of them are aggressive, mean bastards that nip fins and eat live plants, so maybe we need to cut 'em some slack?
I think we do...
As always, stay open-minded. Stay resourceful. Stay excited.
And Stay Wet.