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Pethia tiantian (KULLANDER & FANG, 2005)

SynonymsTop ↑

Puntius tiantian Kullander & Fang, 2005


Pethia: the generic vernacular name for small cyprinids in the Sinhala language.

tiantian: deciated to the authors’ two sons Didi (Mandarin Chinese for earth, little brother) and Tiantian (Mandarin Chinese, meaning heaven), who ‘had to repeatedly suffer their parents’ absence searching for these and other fish in faraway lands. Puntius tiantian inhabits streams at the foot of the Himalayas, that is, somewhat close to heaven.


Order: Cypriniformes Family: Cyprinidae


Known only from the remote, mountainous area of Putao in Kachin state, northern Myanmar.

The holotype and most of the type series was collected from the Nan Hto Chaung (Nan Hto stream) with the Mali Hka River representing the only other locality known.

Both are part of the upper Irrawaddy/Ayeyarwady system.


The Nan Hto Chaung flows through forested hills and at time of collection was narrow (~3 m wide), shallow (< 0.5 deep in most places), and fast-moving with intermittent riffles.

The water was clear and colourless with a substrate of rocks, gravel and sand. There were no aquatic plants although marginal vegetation was well-developed and provided significant shade.

The Mali Hka is a large river over 100 m in width and described as ‘relatively shallow’ at the collection point. Just a single specimen was recovered from a marginal area with rocky substrate.

Sympatric fishes in the Nan Hto Chaung included Batasio tengana and Badis pyema plus unspecified members of Devario, Microdevario, Barilius, Psilorhynchus, Lepidocephalichthys, Acanthocobitis, Schistura and Mastacembelus.

At the Mali Hka P. tiantian was collected alongside an Acanthocobitis sp. plus juveniles of Bangana sp., Neolissochilus sp., Schizothorax sp., Semiplotus cirrhosus, and Tor sp.

Maximum Standard Length

40 – 50 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Base dimensions of at least 75 ∗ 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 and will also do well in a hill stream-type set-up.

Water Conditions

Temperature: This species is subject to seasonal temperature fluctuations in nature and should be comfortable between 15 – 25 °C with even greater extremes being tolerated for short periods. In many climates or well-insulated homes it can be therefore maintained without artificial heating year-round.

pH: Prefers neutral to slightly alkaline water with a value between 6.5 – 7.5.

Hardness: Inhabits soft waters so aim for somewhere within the range 18 – 90 ppm.


Wild fish are probably foragers feeding on diatomsalgaeorganic detritus, small insects, worms, crustaceans, and other zooplankton.

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 ↑

Generally very peaceful making it an ideal resident of the well-researched community aquarium.

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.

Quite a few fishes from the Ayeyarwady basin are available in the aquarium trade including Danio chopraeD. albolineatusD. kyathitD. tinwiniDevario apogonD. shanensisPethia stoliczkanaP. padamyaP. tiantianP. tictoAcanthocobitis botiaSchistura vinciguerraeLepidocephalichthys berdmorei, and Crossocheilus latius.

As always research your planned combination before purchase in order to avoid problems.

Try to buy a mixed-sex group of at least 8-10 specimens, include other schooling fishes to provide security, and you’ll be rewarded with a more natural-looking spectacle.

The interaction between rival males is interesting to watch and they will display their best colours when competing for female attention or hierarchical position.

Sexual Dimorphism

Adult males are noticeably smaller, slimmer, and have a more intense colour-pattern than females, the flanks assuming a coppery-orange colouration in nuptial individuals.


We’re yet to receive details of a successful aquarium spawning but recommendations for related species are as follows:

Like most small cyprinids Pethia 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 ↑

P. tiantian is only exported occasionally although an undescribed fish often traded as ‘Burmese bumblebee barb‘ is sometimes mislabelled with its name.

It was formerly included in the Puntius conchonius ‘group’ of closely-related species alongside P. aterP. bandulaP. conchonius, P. cumingii, P. didiP. erythromycterP. geliusP. khugaeP. macrogrammaP. manipurensisP. meingangbiiP. nankyweensisP. nigripinnisP. nigrofasciatusP. padamyaP. phutunioP. punctatusP. revalP. shalyniusP. stoliczkanusP. thelys, and P. ticto, but all of these were moved to the new genus Pethia by Pethiyagoda et al. (2012), as were P. melanomaculata, P. pookodensis, P. muvattupuzhaensis, P. ornatus, and P. yuensis.

Puntiusnarayani was not moved to the new genus and is currently of uncertain generic placement since it uniquely possesses 9 branched dorsal-fin rays and 6 branched anal-fin rays.

Pethia species are defined by the following combination of characters:  rostral barbels absent; maxillary barbels minute or absent; possession of a stiff, serrated last unbranched dorsal-fin ray; presence of a black blotch on the caudal peduncle, and frequently, black blotches, spots or bars on the side of the body; infraorbital 3 deep and partially overlapping the preoperculum.

P. tiantian is very similar in appearance to several of these, most notably P. cumingii, P. didi, and P. meingangbii; these all possess both a dark, vertically-orientated marking towards the front of the body and another, rounder one on the caudal peduncle.

Following Kullander and Fang (2005) it’s distinguishable from those three species by the fact that the lateral line continues to the base of the caudal fin (vs. only present on 5-10 scales.

From P. didi it further differs by being an overall slimmer fish (body depth 35.4-39.8% SL vs. 40.4-48.2%) with a relatively shorter dorsal fin (dorsal fin length 23.2-26.0% SL vs. 26.6-31.8%) and a single dark stripe in both anal and dorsal fins (vs. two sets of elongate dark markings in the dorsal fin and a series of black markings in the anal fin).

The last unbranched dorsal fin ray is slender and flexible with some short serrations on the posterior edge vs. thick and strongly-serrated in other Pethia spp.

Younger specimens may be confused with P. phutunio but that species has additional markings on the body below the dorsal-fin base both anteriorly and posteriorly as well as only 10 (vs. 12 in P. tiantian) circumpeduncular scales.

The genus Puntius was viewed as a polyphyletic catch-all containing over 100 species of small to mid-sized cyprinid for a number of years 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 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.


  1. Kullander, S. O. and F. Fang, 2005 - Copeia 2005(2): 290-302
    Two new species of Puntius from northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  2. Hamilton, F., 1822 - Edinburgh & London: i-vii + 1-405, Pls. 1-39
    An account of the fishes found in the river Ganges and its branches.
  3. Knight, J. D. M., K. Rema Devi, T. J. Indra and M. Arunachalam, 2012 - Journal of Threatened Taxa 4(3): 2409-2416
    A new species of barb Puntius nigripinnis (Teleostei: Cyprinidae) from southern Western Ghats, India.
  4. Kullander, S. O., 2008 - Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 19(1): 59-84
    Five new species of Puntius from Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  5. Kullander, S. O. and R. Britz, 2008 - Electronic Journal of Ichthyology, Bulletin of the European Ichthyology Society 2: 56-66
    Puntius padamya, a new species of cyprinid fish from Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  6. Pethiyagoda, R., 2013 - Zootaxa 3646(2): 199
    Haludaria, a replacement generic name for Dravidia (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  7. 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).
  8. Rainboth, W. J., 1996 - FAO, Rome: 1-265
    Fishes of the Cambodian Mekong. FAO Species Identification Field Guide for Fishery Purposes.

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