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'Puntius' tetrazona (BLEEKER, 1855)

Tiger Barb

SynonymsTop ↑

Capoeta tetrazona Bleeker, 1855; Barbus tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855); Systomus tetrazona (Bleeker, 1855); Systomus sumatranus Bleeker, 1860; Systomus sumatrensis Bleeker, 1860


tetrazona: from a combining form of the Greek tettares, meaning ‘four’, and Latin zona, meaning ‘zone’, in reference to this species’ colour pattern.


Order: Cypriniformes Family: Cyprinidae


Type locality is ‘Lahat, Palembang Province, Sumatra, Indonesia’ which corresponds to modern-day Lahat Regency in Sumatera Selatan (South Sumatra) province and it may be endemic to Sumatra.

Additional records exist from the Indragiri River in Riau province, Batang Hari system in Jambi province, and Musi drainage in South Sumatra province.

Records from both Malaysian and Indonesian parts of Borneo appear to correspond to the related ‘P.anchisporus,  ‘P.‘ navjotsodhii, or ‘P. pulcher with P.tetrazona possibly endemic to central and southern Sumatra.

Feral populations derived from aquarium stock also exist in a number of other territories including Singapore, Australia, the United States, Colombia, and Suriname.

Wild examples are very rare in the hobby with the vast majority produced commercially.


We’ve been unable to obtain any precise information to date.

Related species display a preference for forest streams and tributaries containing relatively clear water and substrates of sand and rocks/pebbles of varying sizes.

Marginal vegetation tends to grow thickly.

Maximum Standard Length

50 – 60 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Base dimensions of at least 80 ∗ 30 cm or equivalent are required.


Choice of décor is not especially critical though it tends to show better colouration in a heavily-planted set-up with a dark substrate.

The addition of some floating plants and driftwood roots or branches to diffuse the light entering the tank also seems to be appreciated and adds a more natural feel.

Filtration does not need to be particularly strong though it does seem to appreciate a degree of water movement.

Water Conditions

Temperature22 – 26 °C

pH: The farm-raised fish available in stores are fairly adaptable where water chemistry is concerned and should be happy within the range 6.0 – 8.0. If you can get hold of wild stock slighty acidic to neutral water is advisable.

Hardness: 36 – 357 ppm. Wild fish will probably do best towards the lower end of this range.


Probably a foraging omnivore feeding primarily on worms, insects and other zooplankton, as well as smaller amounts of plant material and organic detritus in nature.

In the aquarium it’s easily-fed but the best condition and colours offer regular meals of small live and frozen foods such as bloodwormDaphnia, and Artemia alongside good quality dried flakes and granules, at least some of which should include additional plant or algal content.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

P. tetrazona is notorious as an aggressive community inhabitant with a reputation for nipping the fins of tankmates though this behaviour only tends to be pronounced when insufficient numbers are purchased or space is limited.

It’s a gregarious species forming loose hierarchies, with rival males continually battling with each other for female attention and positioning within the group.

A group of at least 8-10 specimens should be considered the minimum requirement since this increases the likelihood that the fish will be distracted by each other rather than their tankmates but will result in a more effective, natural-looking display.

Males will also show better colouration in the presence of conspecific rivals.

That said it is relatively boisterous and doesn’t make an ideal companion for very shy, slow-moving, or long-finned fishes such as many livebearers, cichlids, and anabantoids.

Robust fishes inhabiting similar biotopes in nature, especially comparably-sized, open water-dwelling cyprinids  perhaps constitute the best choices but other potential options include balitorid, cobitid, and nemacheilid loaches as well as benthic cyprinids such as Crossocheilus and Garra species.

If geography is not an issue many rainbowfishes and tetras are also suitable, but be sure to research your choices thoroughly before purchase.

Sexual Dimorphism

Adult males tend to be slightly smaller, slimmer, and possess a more intense colour pattern than females.


Like most small cyprinids ‘Puntius‘ spp. are egg-scattering free spawners exhibiting no parental care.

When in good condition they will spawn often and in a mature aquarium it’s possible that small numbers of fry may start to appear without intervention.

However if you want to maximise yield a more controlled approach is required.

The adult group can still be conditioned together but a smaller aquarium should also be set up and filled with mature water.

This should be very dimly lit and the base covered with some kind of mesh of a large enough grade so that the eggs can fall through but small enough so that the adults cannot reach them. The widely available plastic ‘grass’-type matting can also be used and works well, as does a layer of glass marbles.

Alternatively filling much of the tank with a fine-leaved plant such as Taxiphyllum spp. or spawning mops can also return decent results.

The water itself should be of slightly acidic to neutral pH with a temperature towards the upper end of the range suggested above, and an air-powered sponge filter or air stone(s) should also be included to provide oxygenation and water movement.

When the adults are well-conditioned and the females appear gravid one or two pairs should then be introduced, and spawning should take place the following morning.

An alternative is to spawn the fish in a group with half a dozen specimens of each sex being a good number, although a larger aquarium may be necessary.

In either situation the adults will probably eat the eggs given the chance and should be removed as soon as any are noticed.

These should hatch in 24 – 48 hours with the fry free swimming around 24 hours later.

They should be fed on an infusoria-grade food for the first few days until large enough to accept microworm, Artemia nauplii, or suchlike.

NotesTop ↑

Among the most ubiquitous species available in the aquarium hobby, and several selectively-bred, ornamental forms have been produced and achieved great popularity.

The ‘green’/’moss’, ‘albino‘, and ‘golden’ (leucistic)  variants are particularly common but there also exist ‘platinum’, ‘blushing’ and ‘coral red’ strains.

These have no additional requirements and care is as described above.

Unfortunately the degree of inbreeding among farm-bred stock has resulted in a situation whereby many of the fish available today are genetically weak and prone to disease or develop physical deformities.

The species has also been subjected to the abhorrent practice of artificial dying, a cruel and undoubtedly painful process which involves injecting the fish repeatedly with coloured dyes. We urge readers to avoid these unfortunate fish and any shop stocking them.

P.tetrazona is a member of a lineage of closely-related species also containing ‘P.anchisporus, ‘P.navjotsodhii,  ‘P.pulcher, and  ‘P.partipentazona, of which the first three are native to western, central, and eastern Borneo, respectively, and latter to Indochina.

Together they form part of the larger ‘P.tetrazona ‘group’ (see below), and among them ‘P.tetrazona sensu stricto is distinguishable by the following combination of characters: lateral line incomplete; 12 circumpeduncular scales; 19-21+2 scales in the lateral row; dorsal fin mostly black with paler outer margin; pelvic fins black in middle, hyaline at base and tip; dark body bars relatively wide, covering up to 2.5 scales.

In fact there exists ongoing confusion as to exactly which species the aquarium tiger barb is, a mystery discussed in detail in our blog here.

The genus Puntius was for a number of years viewed as a polyphyletic catch-all containing over 100 species of small to mid-sized cyprinid until Pethiyagoda et al. (2012) published a partial review covering South Asian members.

The majority of sub-Himalayan Puntius species were reclassified and new genera Dawkinsia, Dravidia, and Pethia erected to accomodate some of them, with the remainder either retained in Puntius or moved to the existing Systomus assemblage, though the definition of the latter was altered meaning some Southeast Asian species formerly placed there are no longer members.

It subsequently became clear that the name Dravidia was preoccupied by a genus of flesh fly, therefore the replacement name Haludaria was made available by Pethiyagoda (2013).

No species from Indochina, China, or Indonesia were included in the study meaning a significant number of former Puntius and Systomus spp. are currently classed as incertae sedis, i.e., of uncertain taxonomic placement, and this also applies to a number of South Asian species of unresolved status.

They’re perhaps best referred to as ‘Puntius‘ for the time being whereby the genus name is surrounded by quotation marks to denote its questionable usage, and that is the convention used here on SF at the moment.

Within the Southeast Asian species several species ‘groups’ were defined by Pethiyagoda et al., and ‘P. tetrazona is included in the ‘Puntiustetrazona group, members of which are characterised by possession of serrations on the posterior edge of the last unbranched dorsal-fin ray, presence of maxillary barbels, and a colour pattern comprising 3-6 black vertical bars and/or blotches on the body.

The lateral line may be complete or incomplete and rostral barbels present or absent.

Other ‘P.‘ tetrazona group members include ‘P.‘ anchisporus, ‘P.‘ endecanalis, ‘P.‘ foerschi, ‘P.‘ hexazona, ‘P.‘ navjotsodhii, ‘P.partipentazona,  ‘P.‘ pentazona, ‘P.‘ pulcher, and ‘P.‘ rhomboocellatus.


  1. Bleeker, P., 1855 - Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indië v. 9: 257-280
    Nalezingen op de vischfauna van Sumatra. Visschen van Lahat en Sibogha.
  2. Alfred, E. R., 1963 - Bulletin of the National Museum of Singapore 32: 135-142
    Some Colourful Fishes of the Genus Puntius Hamilton.
  3. Collins, R., K. F. Armstrong, R. Meier, Y. Yi, S. D. J. Brown, R. H. Cruickshank, S, Keeling, C. Johnston, 2012 - PLoS ONE 7(1): e28381
    Barcoding and Border Biosecurity: Identifying Cyprinid Fishes in the Aquarium Trade
  4. Kottelat, M., 1992 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 40(2): 187-192
    The identity of Barbus johorensis Duncker, 1904 (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  5. Kottelat, M. and H. H. Tan, 2011 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 22(3): 209-214
    Systomus xouthos, a new cyprinid fish from Borneo, and revalidation of Puntius pulcher (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  6. Kullander, S. O. and F. Fang, 2005 - Copeia 2005(2): 290-302
    Two new species of Puntius from northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  7. Pethiyagoda, R., 2013 - Zootaxa 3646(2): 199
    Haludaria, a replacement generic name for Dravidia (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  8. Pethiyagoda, R., M. Meegaskumbura, and K. Maduwage, 2012 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 23(1): 69-95
    A synopsis of the South Asian fishes referred to Puntius (Pisces: Cyprinidae).
  9. Tan, H-H., 2012 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 25: 285-289
    Systomus navjotsodhii, a New Cyprinid Fish from Central Kalimantan, Borneo.
  10. 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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