Barboides Gracilis – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Barboides gracilis (Dwarf Ember Barb) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Barboides gracilis, generally known as the Dwarf Ember Barb is one of the smallest fish species in the aquarium hobby. Although these tiny fish can be interesting augmentations to small aquariums, this species is still very rare due to limited supply caused by difficulty in breeding.

Barboides gracilis grows very small and prefers warm water. These fish require some pretty specific care, especially for a new tank, for that reason, they are not recommended to beginner hobbyists.

If you by chance buy them you will be surprised to find out how little is known about these little guys. Even more, virtually nothing is known about this species’ natural life traits. Much of what is currently known about the species is based on aquarium observations.

In this guide, I gathered everything that is currently known about Barboides gracilis including ideal tank setups and how to care for them.

Barboides gracilis is listed as “vulnerable” and “threatened” under the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List.

Quick Notes about Barboides Gracilis

Name Barboides gracilis
Other Names Dwarf Ember Barb, Ember Barb or Gracilis Barb
Scientific Name Barboides gracilis
Water type Freshwater
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Moderate
Breeding Difficult
Size 0.7 inches (~ 1.8 cm)
Optimal Temperature 72 – 79 °F (22 – 26 °C)
Optimal PH 6.0 – 7.0 
Optimal GH 0 – 6  
Optimal KH 0 – 4
Dwellers Middle-Bottom
Nitrate Less than 40
Diet Carnivore 
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 1.5 years
Color Form Transparent with a dark spot at the base of the tail

Taxonomy of Barboides Gracilis

Barboides gracilis (Dwarf Ember Barb) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding
photo by Charles König

In 1929, this species was first mentioned in an aquarium journal by German scientist C. Brüning. However, it was not a formal species description but more like a short report about a newly imported
barb species from Africa.

Nonetheless, even though the notes about new species were very brief they still met the requirements of the Zoological Code of Nomenclature at that time. So, it was named Barboides gracilis.

After that, in 1971 two small barbs were also described from
Benin and Cameroon (as Barbus lorenzi and Barbus camerunensis). However, 4 years later, a Belgian ichthyologist Thys van den Audenaerde found out that these two species were not only conspecific but were also identical to Barboides gracilis. 

Interesting fact: Barboides gracilis was the sole representative of the genus until 2006 when Barboides britzi was discovered in southern Benin.

Etymology of Barboides Gracilis

The word “Barboides” has come from the Latin word ‘Barbus’= ‘Barbel’ and Greek ‘Oides’ = ‘Similar to’. The word ‘Gracilis’ has also come from the Latin word ‘Gracilis’ that means ‘Slender’.

Therefore, Barboides gracilis can be literally translated as ‘Slender fish that look like fish with barbels’.

Habitat of Barboides Gracilis

Barboides gracilis (Dwarf Ember Barb) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding - destributionBarboides gracilis is native to Africa. These fish occur in small coastal rivers and streams in Benin and southern Nigeria, Benin, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea.

They are often found in tannin-rich waters where they thrive in such conditions.

Note: Tannins are natural organic matter that results from nature’s fermentation process as water passes through decaying vegetation.

Description of Barboides Gracilis

Barboides gracilis is a small cyprinid with a body size of less than 0.75 inches (or 1.8 cm). Considering their short lifespan, they reach 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) in 6 months.

Their body is narrow, elongated, and almost translucent (in some cases, goldenish). Fins are transparent.

A distinctive feature is the presence of a dark spot at the base of the tail with a pair of smaller yellow spots (closer to the caudal fin). There are also bright pink tints on the front and on the head.

Dwarf Ember Barbs have small dark dots on the upper part of the head and in the lower part of the body. The eyes are large.

Scientifically, Barboides gracilis can be easily distinguished from small Barbus species by a low number (6) of dorsal fin rays and characteristically shaped nostrils.

Lifespan of Barboides Gracilis

Once a proper aquarium is set up and optimum living conditions are met, Barboides gracilis can live up to 1.5 years.

Typical Behavior of Barboides Gracilis

·      Temper:

Barboides gracilis is not an aggressive species. On the contrary, these fish are completely harmless and will not bother anybody in the community tank.

If anything, they are more likely to be on the receiving end of aggression as their small size places a target on their backs from other bigger fishes.

·      Sociality:

Like most small species, they are also social. In nature, they are generally found in large schools. Therefore, in aquariums, Barboides gracilis will also prefer to be in large groups. It makes their life richer and less stressful.

You need at least 6 (bare minimum) of them to start. Large groups (15 or more) make them more confident.

Important: Do not underestimate the importance of this factor because this is one of the reasons why aquarists tend to fail when Barboides gracilis is kept in smaller numbers.

·      Activity:

Although they can be shy a little, especially, in the beginning, Dwarf Ember Barbs are not very timid fish. However, certain conditions should be met:

  1. a) There are no big and/or aggressive fish around.
  2. b) There are many covers for them to dash into if they feel threatened. In a heavily planted tank, for the most part, you will see them schooling around in the open.
  3. c) They should be kept in large numbers.

·      Placement in Tank:

Dwarf Ember Barbs may cruise the top level of the tank periodically, however, they do stay at the middle and bottom part of the tank most often.

Generally, they do not swim like crazy but when they do, they are very quick.


  • Social: Yes
  • Activity: Average
  • Placement: Middle and bottom dwellers
  • Peaceful: Yes

Diet of Barboides Gracilis

Barboides gracilis (Dwarf Ember Barb) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding 2
Photo source

Some sources say that these fish feed mainly on aquatic plants and detritus. Well, this is not completely true.
Judging by their preferences, Barboides gracilis should be classed as micro predators or micro-carnivores. It means that they feed mostly on other small aquatic organisms such as worms, insect larva, zooplankton, and small crustaceans.

In the aquarium, Barboides gracilis can be fed with a wide variety of meals such as:

This species does not require only live foods. They also accept frozen and commercial food as well, such as:

  • fluval bug bites,
  • hikari first bites,
  • any kind of really small crushed-up tiny flake food.

Dwarf Ember Barb will have no problem taking any small live or frozen food as far as it is small enough to fit into its mouth for mastication and digestion. Therefore, for example, large worms should be chopped into small pieces.

What should we do if Barboides gracilis refuses dried foods?

First of all, it will be great to ask the seller about the feeding routines. It will help you to avoid getting surprised by their picky behavior.

Also, do not give up and keep ‘training’ them. Give them time to learn that this can be a food source for them as well.

How Often to Feed Barboides Gracilis?

Adults can be fed once a day whereas juveniles should be fed twice per day.

How to Feed Barboides Gracilis?

  • They are diurnal animals, thus these fish should be fed during the day.
  • Dwarf Ember Barbs also have very small mouths, therefore, be prepared to cut in pieces or grind up some flakes.
  • Make sure it is a protein-based diet. A varied diet is always best.
  • Clean up leftover food to avoid fouling the water.
Important: Barboides gracilis is not an aggressive eater. On the contrary, they are pretty slow at it. In addition, considering their small size, it can be difficult to keep them fed if you have other fish species in the tank.

Generally, they do not jump into the food when there are too many other fish.


  • Diet Type: Carnivore
  • Food Preference: Meat
  • Feeding Frequency: Daily

Are Barboides Gracilis Plants Safe?

Yes, Dwarf Ember Barbs are completely plant safe. They will not eat any healthy plants in the tank. They simply do not eat healthy, living plant material.

Keeping and Housing Barboides Gracilis

Dwarf Ember Barbs require clean water. They do not tolerate high levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates. Therefore, before introducing them, your tank should be cycled and fully established.

Tank Size:

A 10-gallon (40 liters) tank should be enough for housing at least 20-30 Dwarf Ember Barbs.

Even if you are planning to keep only 10 of them, it is still better to have at least 10 gallons. The reason is pretty simple.

This is a demanding fish and requires good and stable water quality. Unfortunately, it is difficult to achieve and maintain in small tanks unless you are a very experienced aquarist. In small tanks, everything can go wrong so fast that there may be little time to fix things.

If there is a choice, long tanks are better than tall tanks of the same size for keeping Dwarf Ember Barbs. They like shallow water.

Water Parameters:

Temperature: Since they are tropical species, the water in the tank should be warm. You must ensure that the water in the tank is anywhere between 72 – 79 °F (22 – 26 °C).

If your water tends to get colder, you may need to invest in a tank heater to maintain the correct temperatures.

pH: Dwarf Ember Barbs thrive best in slightly acidic waters under pH values between 6.0 – 7.0.

Hardness:They will appreciate soft water between 0 – 6 GH. If you do not have that you will have a hard time keeping them alive. The hard water is not good for Barboides gracilis.

Salinity: They do not tolerate even brackish water. Barboides gracilis is a freshwater species.

Water Flow:

In the natural ecosystem, Barboides gracilis inhabits shallow streams and rivers where the current is very slow-moving.

Therefore, any surface agitation makes them very uncomfortable and causes stress. Still / very slow water currents are important requirements for tanks housing this species.

Water Changes:

When it comes to the tank water, you should change it on a weekly basis. Any water that you add to the tank should also be at least dechlorinated. Dechlorinators are available at any pet store (for example, Seachem Prime – link to check the price on Amazon).

You will have to change 20-30 % of their water every week. However, you may need to remove a different percentage of water depending on your filter and other tank factors.

Note: If you are planning to keep shrimp in the tank with Dwarf Ember Barbs, keep in mind that dwarf shrimp do not like big water changes. It can cause them to have some molting problems.


No special requirements.

Generally, the substrate should be adapted to the needs of plants in your tank. Also, the substrate can play a crucial role when you need to keep your pH less than 7.0 (neutral).

For example, active substrates (such as ADA Amazonia aqua soil, Fluval Plant and Shrimp StratumAkadama-Bonsai soil, etc.) will lower the water parameter (pH).

At the same time, a mixture of substrates will help attain a more natural and visually appealing look. However, avoid sharp or rough substrates that can damage their bodies.


Dwarf Ember Barbs prefers dim-medium lighting conditions. The presence of high lighting stresses them out. Floating plants (like Duckweed, Water Wisteria, etc.) can be used to diffuse bright lighting within the tank.

So, if you have plants, lighting should also be adapted to the needs of the plants in the tank.


For small tanks with Dwarf Ember Barbs, a sponge filter is, probably, the best option. These filters are cheap, easy to maintain, and safe for the fry if your fish starts breeding (the fry will not get sucked into that).

In addition, sponge filters do cause some surface agitation but not nearly as much as other filters do.

Plants and Decorations:

The natural habitat of Barboides gracilis is characterized by the presence of submerged plants and leaf litter, and this should be replicated in an aquarium.

This species is found in tannin-rich waters. It helps them to show their best coloration and improved their immune system. Therefore, putting tannins in the aquarium is great for the fish.

Plants provide good hiding spots for your fish. Dwarf Ember Barbs love to hide. You can use floating plantsfake plantsdriftwoodleaves, and small rocks to provide great hiding spots for them.


Keep in mind that these fish are mostly wild-caught from Africa. So, they are often delivered to pet stores in poor conditions.

Before putting Dwarf Ember Barbs into the tank, we need to at least temperature acclimate them.

Give them time to acclimatize before adding to the tank. Do not rush the process! Sudden changes in habitat can harm them.

Related article:

Breeding Barboides Bracilis

Dwarf Ember Barbs are not normally bred in captivity. Some aquarists may have attempted to do so over the years, however, we do not have a breeding protocol yet.


In Barboides gracilis, sexual dimorphism is weakly expressed. Thus, it is difficult to distinguish males and females externally.

  • Females are a little bit larger and fuller than males.
  • Males have slightly more intense in body color.


The only information I could find is that to simulate natural processes, we need to give them a high-protein diet and slightly decrease the temperature over a few weeks. Also, peat filtration is suggested in order to produce soft acidic water. In nature, these are all signs of the rainy season.

If you are lucky, the couple will complete the mating ritual.


Dwarf Ember Barbs are egg scatterers, they are not livebearers.

They release their eggs and milk into the water column. Fertilized eggs then fall down under the substrate where they will develop for a few days and hatch.

It was also reported that adult fish may eat the eggs if left unprotected, so you should either:

  • remove the eggs from the tank into a new container,
  • move the mature fish instead,
  • provide enough safe places by adding plants, gravel, etc.


Newly-hatched fry looks like the miniature version of the adult with an average length of 1.5±0.5 mm.

If the adults’ Dwarf Ember Barbs are well fed, they generally do not predate on their young. So, the babies can be kept in the same tank as the parents.

Barboides Gracilis and Suitable Tankmates

Dwarf Ember Barbs have a gentle temperament and should be kept together, as they are a schooling species. The larger their group, the more glamorous their display.

  • Fish

These small fish can be kept only with fish that is not big enough to eat or harass them such as Pygmy Cory, Boraras, Panda Garra, Clown Killifish, Cherry barbs, Guppies, Harlequin Rasboras, Otocinclus, Endlers, Brilliant Rummynose Tetras, etc.

The problem though is that even small fast swimming fish may scare them. So, it is in your best interest to monitor their interaction to ensure nothing goes haywire.

Some tank mates to avoid are Cichlids, Goldfish, Monos & Scats, Jack Dempsey, Oscars, etc. Even Betta, Paradise fish, Siamese Algae Eater, Angelfish should never be placed in a tank with Dwarf Ember Barbs.

  • Shrimp:

Dwarf Ember Barbs will not hunt down adult dwarf shrimp. However, if newly-hatched shrimp are tiny enough to fit in their mouth, there is always a chance that they might snack on them.

Note: Shrimplets that are 1 – 2 weeks old will be too big for them to eat.

Nonetheless, if you are serious about breeding dwarf shrimp, I would not recommend keeping them in the same tank even though the chance of predation is low.

  • Snails:

They are compatible with any freshwater snail


  • Large and/or aggressive, and/or boisterous fishes.
  • Keep them away from all types of crayfish and most types of freshwater crabs. 
  • Even small African Dwarf Frogs  will definitely try to catch small Dwarf Ember Barbs whenever it is possible.

Related article:

In Conclusion

Barboides gracilis is great for intermediate leveled aquarists since the fish doesn’t tolerate poor water quality so well. It does take some research to make sure that all components of the tank are compatible with each other.

They are absolutely harmless creatures and can be safely kept in planted tanks. Their small size also makes them suitable even for small fish community tanks.

The main problems, though, are that they are hard to breed in captivity and are pretty rare in the pet trade. 


  1. Brüning, C. 1929. Der Clou und der Pipifax. Wochenschrift für Aquarien- und Terrarienkunde 26: 758-759.
  2. Conway, Kevin W., and Timo Moritz. “Barboides britzi, a new species of miniature cyprinid from Benin (Ostariophysi: Cyprinidae), with a neotype designation for B. gracilis.” Ichthyological Exploration of Freshwaters 17, no. 1 (2006): 73.
  3. Eschmeyer, W.N., 1990. Catalog of the genera of recent fishes. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, USA.
  4. Liao, T. Y., Kullander, S. O. and F. Fang, 2010 – Zoologica Scripta 39(2): 155-176
    Phylogenetic analysis of the genus Rasbora (Teleostei: Cyprinidae).
  5. Rüber, L. , M. Kottelat, H. H. Tan, P. K. L. Ng and R. Britz, 2007 – BMC Evolutionary Biology London: 7-38. Evolution of miniaturization and the phylogenetic position of Paedocypris, comprising the world’s smallest vertebrate.
  6. Froese, Rainer; Pauly, Daniel (eds.) (2006). “Barboides gracilis” in FishBase. April 2006 version.
  7. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018-1 [182317]

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