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Title Butterfly Barb ('Barbus' hulstaerti)

Sara Waller

Last Updated



A brief description of the butterfly barb.

The butterfly barb is a small fish native to the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa where it has been recorded from central parts of the Congo River drainage within the great area of equatorial rainforest situated south and east of the main river channel.  The butterfly barb grows to an adult size of 1.2 to 1.4 inches long.  Males are the much more brightly colored sex, especially when they are in breeding condition.   Females tend to be duller in the body, lack yellow coloration in the fins, and are thicker bellied.


The butterfly barb should be maintained in an aquarium of 20 gallons or larger.  They can be maintained quite successfully in a well planted tank with soft water.  A soft, sandy substrate (MRA113) is probably the best choice. Driftwood roots and branches can be placed in such a way that plenty of shady spots are formed.  The addition of dried leaf litter in the form of Indian almond leaves (AL300) would further emphasize the natural feel of the aquarium and  offer even more cover for the fish that also brings with it the growth of microbe colonies as decomposition of the leaves occurs.  The microbes can provide a valuable secondary food source for fry and the tannins and other chemicals released by the decaying leaves are thought to be beneficial for black water fish species. The butterfly barb is known to display much more intense coloration in tannin stained water.  Leaves can be left in the tank to break down fully or removed and replaced every few weeks.  Because these fish prefer dim lighting, choose hardy plants such as anubias, java fern, java moss, Cryptocorynes, and moss balls.  Gentle filtration is preferred.

The butterfly barb prefers a temperature of 63°F to 76°F, a pH of 5.0 to 6.5, and a hardness of 1 to 5°H.  

The butterfly barb is a shy and peaceful fish that should be kept in shoals of eight or more individuals.  Tank mates should be chosen with care and larger or more boisterous fish should be avoided.  Good choices include small tetras, otocinclus, cory cats, and small rasboras.

In the wild, the butterfly barb primarily feeds on aquatic insect larvae and tiny crustaceans.  In the aquarium it will accept dry and frozen foods of similar sizes.  Good choices include frozen bloodworm (SF4792) and cyclops, as well as high quality flakes (AL165).  For maximum color, growth, and health these fish will look their best when given probiotics (AL169) in addition to a balanced diet.

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