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Puntigrus tetrazona (BLEEKER, 1855)

Tiger Barb

SynonymsTop ↑

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


Puntigrus: formed from part of the generic name Puntius and tigrus, a word created to sound like the Latin word tigris, meaning ‘tiger’, in allusion to the barred colour pattern and the common name ‘tiger barb’ used for some members.

tetrazona: from the Ancient Greek τέτταρες (téttares), meaning ‘four’, and ζώνη (zṓnē), in reference to this species’ colour pattern which comprises four dark vertical bars.


Order: Cypriniformes Family: Cyprinidae


Probably endemic to central and southern Sumatra, with records from Borneo corresponding to congeners. Additional records exist from the Indragiri, Batang Hari, and Musi river systems in Riau, Jambi, and South Sumatra provinces, respectively.

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

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


Unconfirmed, but Bornean congeners display a preference for forest streams and tributaries containing relatively clear water and substrates of sand and rocks/pebbles of varying sizes (M. Lo, pers. comm; M. Ford pers. obv.).

Maximum Standard Length

50 – 60 mm.

Aquarium SizeTop ↑

Base dimensions of 80 ∗ 30 cm or equivalent should be the smallest considered.


Choice of décor is not especially critical though it tends to show better colouration in a well-decorated set-up. The addition of floating or overhanging vegetation and driftwood roots or branches also seems to be appreciated.

Water Conditions

Temperature20 – 26 °C

pH: 5.0 – 8.0; commercial strains tend to be adaptable, but acidic to neutral conditions are recommended for wild stock.

Hardness: 18 – 357 ppm. Wild fish will do best towards the lower end of this range.


Probably an omnivore feeding primarily on aquatic invertebrates, as well as smaller amounts of plant material and organic detritus in nature.

In the aquarium it is easily-fed but the best condition and colours offer regular meals of small live and frozen foods such as chironomid larvae (bloodworm), Daphnia, and Artemia, alongside good quality dried flakes and granules, at least some of which should include additional plant content.

Behaviour and CompatibilityTop ↑

This species is notoriously aggressive with a reputation for biting the fins of other fishes, although this behaviour only seems to be pronounced when insufficient numbers are purchased or space is limited.

That said, it is relatively boisterous and does not make an ideal companion for timid, slow-moving, or long-finned species such as many livebearers, cichlids, and anabantoids.

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

It is a gregarious species forming loose hierarchies, with rival males continually battling with each other for female attention and hierarchical position within the group.

A group of at least 8-10 specimens should be considered the minimum purchase since this increases the likelihood that the fish will be distracted by each other rather than their tankmates and will result in a more natural-looking display. Males will also show better colouration in the presence of conspecific rivals.

Sexual Dimorphism

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


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

When in good condition they will spawn often, and in a mature aquarium it is possible that small numbers of fry may start to appear without intervention. If you wish to maximise yield a more controlled approach is required, however.

The adult group can be conditioned together but an additional aquarium should be set up and filled with mature water. This should be 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 females appear gravid one or two pairs can then be introduced, and spawning should take place the following morning. A second option 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 should be removed post-spawning. The eggs should hatch in 24 – 48 hours with fry swimming freely 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. tetrazona is traditionally considered to be among the most ubiquitous species available in the aquarium trade. Wild examples are rarely traded, however, and there exists ongoing confusion as to the identity of the commercially-produced ‘aquarium’ tiger barb.

A number of selectively-bred, ornamental strains are available. The albino, ‘green’ (aka ‘moss’), and ‘golden’ (leucistic) variants are particularly popular, but there also exist ‘platinum’, ‘blushing’, ‘black marble’, and ‘coral red’ strains. These have no additional requirements and care is as described above.

Unfortunately, many of the fish traded today are genetically weak, prone to disease, or develop physical deformities due to excessive inbreeding. This 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.

P. tetrazona is distinguished from congeners 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.

The genus Puntigrus was raised by Kottelat (2013) in order to accommodate a group of species formerly referred to as the ‘Puntius tetrazona group’. Other members are P. anchisporus, P. navjotsodhii,  P. pulcher, and P. partipentazona, of which the first three are native to western, central, and eastern Borneo, respectively, and the latter to Indochina.

This assemblage is diagnosed by possession of a unique colour pattern comprising 4 black bars on a pale body, and black pigmentation on at least the basal half of the dorsal-fin. The anteriormost body bar passes through the eye, the second is anterior to the pelvic-fin base, the third is above the anal-fin and continues onto it, and the posteriormost is at the caudal-fin base.

The following combination of characters also aid in identification, although individually they are not unique to the genus: body rhomboid, deep; last simple dorsal-fin ray serrated posteriorly; rostral barbels absent; maxillary barbels present; lips smooth and thin, postlabial groove interrupted medially; lateral line complete or incomplete; 18–23 lateral line scales; 9½–10½ [5½/1/3–4½] scale rows between dorsal-fin origin and ventral midline anterior to pelvic-fin base; 12–14 circumpeduncular scale rows; 8–9 rakers on first gill arch.

The genus Puntius was previously viewed as a polyphyletic catch-all containing over 100 species, but this situation has been largely resolved since the turn of the century. Puntigrus tetrazona is referred to as Puntius tetrazona, Systomus tetrazona, or Capoeta tetrazona in older literature.


  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., 2013 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 27: 1-663
    The fishes of the inland waters of southeast Asia: a catalogue and core bibiography of the fishes known to occur in freshwaters, mangroves and estuaries.
  5. Kottelat, M., 1992 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology 40(2): 187-192
    The identity of Barbus johorensis Duncker, 1904 (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  6. 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).
  7. Kullander, S. O. and F. Fang, 2005 - Copeia 2005(2): 290-302
    Two new species of Puntius from northern Myanmar (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  8. Pethiyagoda, R., 2013 - Zootaxa 3646(2): 199
    Haludaria, a replacement generic name for Dravidia (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  9. 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).
  10. Tan, H-H., 2012 - Raffles Bulletin of Zoology Supplement 25: 285-289
    Systomus navjotsodhii, a New Cyprinid Fish from Central Kalimantan, Borneo.
  11. 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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