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Leptobarbus rubripinna (FOWLER, 1937)

Red-finned Cigar Shark


Order: Cypriniformes Family: Cyprinidae


Widely-distributed in the Chao Phraya and middle/lower Mekong river systems in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam with type locality ‘Mekong drainage, Thailand’. Fish from Peninsular Malaysia and the Greater Sunda Islands of Sumatra and Borneo are now known to represent L. hoevenii, not a species seen in the aquariumtrade as far as we know (see ‘Notes’).


pelagic species primarily occuring in rivers and larger streams but also some lakes such as Bueng Boraphet reservoir in central western Thailand. Adult specimens tend to be found in deeper areas such as pools or slow-moving stretches but sometimes move into faster-flowing water to feed. During the rainy season it’s known to migrate into temporarily-inundated floodplains where spawning takes place.

Maximum Standard Length

800 – 1000 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Suitable only for public installations or the very largest private aquaria.


Choice of décor is not as critical as water quality and the amount of open swimming-space provided. However should you possess the means to both provide and decorate a sufficiently-sized aquarium this species a set-up designed to resemble a flowing river with a substrate of variably-sized rocks and gravel, some large water-worn boulders and perhaps a couple of driftwood branches is recommended.

Like many fishes that naturally inhabit running waters it’s intolerant to the accumulation of organic wastes and requires spotless water at all times in order to thrive. It also does best if there is a high level of dissolved oxygen and a decent level of water movement in the tank so external filters, powerheads, etc., should be employed in order to obtain the desired effect.

Be sure to fit the aquarium with a heavy, tightly-fitting cover as larger cyprinids can be quite skittish at times and usually possess a powerful leap.

Water Conditions

Temperature23 – 26 °C

pH6.0 – 8.0

Hardness90 – 215 ppm


Stomach analyses of wild specimens have shown it to feed on plant matter, zooplankton and larger invertebrates both aquatic and terrestrial. In the aquarium it’s easily-fed and will accept just about anything offered. For it to develop its best colours and condition offer regular meals of small live and frozen foods such as bloodworm, Daphnia and Artemia along with good quality dried flakes, granules and plenty of vegetable matter. Shelled peas, blanched courgette, spinach and chopped fruit all make good additions to the menu. Larger specimens will also take chopped earthworm, prawn, mussel, etc.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

Peaceful although very small fishes are likely to be eaten. In the correct surroundings similarly-sized, robust cyprinids, characins and catfish are recommended tankmates but proper research is essential.

This species is found swimming in schools in nature and some individuals can become skittish or even aggressive if kept in insufficient numbers in the aquarium.

Sexual Dimorphism

Sexually mature females are likely to be thicker-bodied than males.


Has not been bred in captivity to date. An aquarium breeding project is probably beyond the scope of the hobby given the size of tank required for it to exhibit anything close to natural behaviour. It is farmed for the trade in large numbers via the use of hormones.

NotesTop ↑

For many years this fish was considered to be Leptobarbus hoevenii and will be seen labelled as such in most aquarium literature but this represents a long-standing case of mistaken identity.

The type locality of L. hoevenii is Bandjarmasin, a port town in the Indonesian province of South Kalimantan (Kalimantan Selatan), Borneo. It was described by several early authors, using specimens collected from the Greater Sunda Islands, as a plainly-coloured fish with a dark blotch behind the gill cover. Young fish (<3.9″/10 cm SL) exhibit a faint lateral stripe. Tan and Kottelat examined material from Sumatra, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia and found agreement with the above description, meaning the Sundaic fish should be considered L. hoevenii.

However the ones seen in the aquatic trade mostly originate from Thailand and juveniles possess a thick, dark lateral stripe with distinctive orange/red finnage, a more rounded head shape, different eye position, shorter barbels and more rounded caudal-fin lobes. Tan and Kottelat (2009) concluded that the Indochinese and Sundaic fish represent separate species and the name L. rubripinna, first proposed by Fowler in 1937, was therefore reinstated for the mainland fish.

L. rubripinna may also be seen on sale with the names ‘mad barb‘, ‘sultan fish’, ‘maroon shark’ or ‘Hoven’s carp’. The first is particularly interesting because it refers to a phenomenon whereby the fish reportedly consume seeds and other parts of the Chaulmoogra tree (Hydnocarpus kurzii) and subsequently appear to be ‘intoxicated’, losing orientation and swimming erratically. Across some parts of its range it can therefore be poisonous to eat at certain times of the year.

It’s a popular sport fish in its native countries and we include it here purely in order to discourage sales. Unfortunately it’s quite readily available in the trade at a size of 100 – 150 mm with no indication as to its potential size or long term care requirements.

As a result of the systematic changes described above there now exist five species in the genus two of which, L. hosii and L. melanopterus, are endemic to Borneo. While the former has probably never been seen in the aquatic hobby SF member Andy Rushworth kept a pair of L. melanopterus on one occasion. This species would appear to be a far more manageable aquarium subject than L. rubripinna as not only is it more colourful but Andy’s specimens stopped growing at around 14″/350 mm. L. melanotaenia is also found on Borneo but also ranges through Sumatra and Peninsular Malaysia as far north as Thailand.


  1. Kottelat, M., 2001 - WHT Publications, Colombo: 1-198
    Fishes of Laos.
  2. Rainboth, W. J., 1996 - FAO, Rome: 1-265
    Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong. FAO Species Identification Field Guide for Fishery Purposes.
  3. Roberts, T. R., 1989 - Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences 14: i-xii + 1-210
    The freshwater fishes of western Borneo (Kalimantan Barat, Indonesia).
  4. Tan, H. H. and M. Kottelat, 2009 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 20(1): 13-69
    The fishes of the Batang Hari drainage, Sumatra, with description of six new species.

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