Cherry Barbs – Detailed Guide: Care, Diet, and Breeding

Cherry Barbs (Puntius titteya) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding

Puntius titteya, commonly known as Cherry barbs, is a popular freshwater aquarium fish species appreciated for its small size, beautiful coloration, activity, and personality. Due to the color contrast, they often become inhabitants of professional aquascapes and Dutch aquariums.

All in all, Cherry barbs can be even perfect beginner fish due to their easy care and hardiness. However, there are still a few potential drawbacks to consider for community tanks.

In this article, I will delve deeply and summarize everything known about Puntius titteya, including its preferences for care, diet, and breeding.

Not long ago, Puntius titteya was considered threatened (from overexploitation in the aquarium trade, habitat pollution, and deforestation) and is accordingly protected by laws that prohibit their capture in the wild. Under Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Act № 2 of 1996, this fish species is classified as only restricted (not prohibited) for exportation.

Currently, their population in the wild is recovering, and the species is categorized as vulnerable (the IUCN Red List). Due to their relatively easy breeding in captivity, their capture from the wild has also decreased.

Quick Notes about Cherry Barbs

Name Cherry barbs
Other Names Sri Lanka Cherry Barb (Sinhala name: Lé thiththaya), Red Cherry barb, and Crimson Carplet
Scientific Name Puntius titteya
Water type Freshwater water
Tank size (minimum) 10 gallons (~40 liters)
Keeping Easy
Breeding Easy-Medium
Size 1.5 – 1.8 inches (3.8 – 4.5 cm)
Optimal Temperature 72 – 82°F (22 – 28°С)
Optimal PH 5.5 – 7.5 
Optimal GH 1 – 12 
Dwellers Middle-bottom
Nitrate Less than 60
Diet Omnivore
Temperament Peaceful
Life span up to 6 year
Color Form Red

Interesting fact: The species first became available to aquarium hobbyists in 1936.

Etymology of Cherry Barbs

This genus name “Puntius” comes from the Bengali word ” Pungti” which refers to small, tropical, freshwater cyprinids.

However, I couldn’t find a specific etymological source for the term “titteya” beyond its common usage in relation to this species.

Taxonomy of Cherry Barbs

 In the year 1929, a Sri Lankan paleontologist, zoologist Paul Edward Pieris Deraniyagala (1900–1976) described and named these fish Puntius Titteya. 

  • Kingdom: Animalia (Animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (Chordates)
  • Class: Actinopterygii (Ray-finned fishes)
  • Order: Cypriniformes (Carps and allies)
  • Family: Cyprinidae (Minnows and carps)
  • Genus: Puntius
  • Species: Puntius titteya

Distribution of Cherry Barbs

Cherry Barbs (Puntius titteya) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding DistributionPuntius titteya is endemic to Sri Lanka. These fish can be found in both low and mid-country wet zones of Sri Lanka, especially in the Kelani, Kalu, Gin, and Nilwala river basins.

Based on various reports and studies, it has been documented that this species has also established non-native populations in Mexico and Colombia.

Note: This phenomenon is believed to be a consequence of the aquarium trade and the intentional release of these fish into the wild.

Habitat of Cherry Barbs

These fish are generally found in heavily shaded shallow slow-flowing streams and rivulets with thick aquatic vegetation; lots of fallen branches and leaf litter as their preferred substratum.

Description of Cherry Barbs

This is a small freshwater fish known for its vibrant appearance. The adult size of this species may grow up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length. However, the majority belong to sizes from 1.5 – 1.8 inches (3.8 – 4.5 cm).

Distinguishing characteristics of Puntius titteya:

Body Shape: Puntius titteya typically has a streamlined, fairly compressed, and elongated body, typical of most cyprinid fish.

Coloration: In males, the primary color is red, especially, during breeding season. In contrast, females tend to display a softer coloration, ranging from pink to yellowish with a white belly. The fins of cherry barbs may also display hues of red, yellow, and black.

Color patterns: They have a black lateral line running horizontally along their body from the snout to the tail. This line is particularly noticeable in females, who typically exhibit less vibrant coloration compared to the vivid red males. The lateral line is complete and has 22-28 pored body scales.

Fins: They have 7-8 branched dorsal-fin rays and 3 unbranched and 5 branched anal-fin rays. There is no spiny ray pointing forward on their back before the dorsal fin.

Eyes: The eyes are small and round, situated on either side of the head.

Cherry Barbs (Puntius titteya) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding color morphs
Veil-tail and albino morphs

Head and Mouth: Cherry barbs have a relatively small and streamlined head with a terminal mouth, and two maxillary barbs, characteristic of many cyprinid fish species. They do not possess a specific opening in their skull called the post-epiphysial fontanelle.

Currently, breeders have developed albino and veil-tail forms of Puntius titteya as well.

Lifespan of Cherry Barbs

Currently, there is no data available on the maximum lifespan of Puntius titteya in the wild.

In aquariums, this species generally lives for 4 – 6 years, if appropriately cared for. Factors such as water quality, diet, genetics, tank mates, and stress-free environment can greatly influence their lifespan.

Typical Behavior of Cherry Barbs

Please do not skip this section of the article! Sometimes these little fish can be a real pain in the back!

Temper:

Some, many most aquarists say that Cherry barbs are not like their more aggressive cousins. You will hear that they are very peaceful and tend to coexist harmoniously without causing disturbances in the tank.

However, this is not entirely accurate! At least, it is true but only to some degree!

I have seen how Cherry barbs harassed other fish species. Males can also be pretty aggressive with each other, and conflicts between males are not always inoffensive.

I saw them injuring each other with their fins being torn and ripped. The dominant one can bully the others until they jump out of the tank. Yes, they can be nippy!

Luckily it does not happen very often and in most cases they solve their disputes by swimming side by side and pushing each other, to find out who will be the alpha.

It’s commonly believed that with adequate numbers and proper feeding, you might never see any negative behaviors from these fish.

However, I have personally witnessed instances where even in ideal conditions males would fight each other and chase others. Their temperament and individual personalities should be considered.

Sociality:

Cherry Barbs (Puntius titteya) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding communityThey are social and like to be in groups. However, Cherry barbs do not school or shoal in the literal sense. They simply display more comfortable behaviors if kept in a group.

They enjoy playing and chasing each other.

The practice of keeping these fish has shown that they will become stressed (potentially aggressive) and inactive if not provided with sufficient numbers and habitat complexity.

You need at least 6 – 9 of them to start (ideally, 1 male per 2 females). This balance helps prevent males from incessantly harassing females.

Dominance:

According to the study, males evaluate each other based on body coloration, and then consider size during subsequent interactions.

Experiments showed that under white light, where males can see red coloration, those with higher saturation become dominant. However, under green light, where red coloration is not perceived accurately, coloration no longer affects male competition, and larger males dominate.

Activity:

Cherry barbs are very active and curious. They tend to explore their surroundings and are often seen swimming around the tank. They enjoy hiding plants, in caves and nooks.

While not overly bold, they are not shy either, often seen swimming in open areas of the tank.

They are good jumpers. So, you need to cover the tank or lower the water level by at least a few inches.

Placement in Tank:

Cherry barbs often check the bottom of the tank and hover in midwater.

They enjoy exploring their environment and are particularly fond of areas with dense vegetation or places to hide.

Features:

  • Social: Yes
  • Activity: High
  • Placement: Middle and bottom dwellers
  • Peaceful: Yes (conditionally)
  • Nippers: Yes (conditionally)
  • Jumpers: Yes

Feeding Cherry Barbs

Puntius titteya is omnivorous and feeds on detritus, green algae, diatoms, dipterans, and animal matter. They have a hearty appetite and are not pushovers when it comes to feeding.

Generally, they will happily consume dry and freeze-dried foods such as flakes, pellets, and crisps as long as it is adapted to their mouth size.

It is recommended to incorporate plant-based supplements into their diet, such as blanched lettuce leaves, algae, dandelions, and spinach.

In the aquarium, Cherry barbs can be fed with a wide variety of live food such as:

Periodically supplementing their diet with carotenoids can enhance their coloration. According to the study, it can even affect their behavior.

How to feed Cherry Barbs:

This is a diurnal species, so it is better to feed them in the morning. Use the «five-minute rule».

Ideally, feed them in small portions (at least 2 times a day) rather than a large amount once a day. This mimics their natural feeding behavior and helps prevent overfeeding and aggression.

It’s essential to have “fasting days” twice a week to prevent overeating and obesity, a common issue among barbs and their relatives.

Features:

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

Are Cherry Barbs Plants Safe?

Yes, this species can be kept in planted tanks. They will not eat any healthy plants in the tank. This species does not eat living plant material.

Keeping and Caring for Cherry Barbs

Cherry barbs are hardy and very adaptable, therefore, they can be easily recommended even for beginners.

Nonetheless, poor water quality can greatly affect their lifespan. Key stressors on water quality include temperature, pH levels, oxygen levels, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates.

It is important that you cycle your tank before bringing fish home. Once the tank is cycled you need to check the quality of the water using a test kit.

Tank size:

Despite their small size, a group of 6-9 Cherry barbs will require an absolute minimum aquarium size of 10 gallons (40 liters). Additionally, they need horizontal swimming space more than depth.

There are a couple of important reasons for that, such as:

  • These fish are pretty active and move around a lot.
  • If you have several males, there will be aggression because of limited space.
  • Maintaining water balance and parameters is easier in larger aquariums because they provide a larger volume of water.
  • This allows for more stable water conditions and dilutes any potential fluctuations in water chemistry.
Important: Cherry barbs are jumpers! So, it is imperative to take measures, for example: using a tank cover, lowering the water level, and using floating plants, which is essential to ensure their safety.

Water parameters:

Temperature: This species needs water temperatures ranging between 72 to 82°F (22°C to 28°C). They tolerate slightly cooler temperatures in winter if acclimated slowly.

pH: In their natural environment, the optimum pH range for Puntius titteya was found to be 4.95-7.11. They thrive in acidic waters. In aquariums, it is better to keep the pH range between 5.5 – 7.5.

Hardness: The tank should preferably have soft to medium water hardness as well. However, anything in the 1 – 12 GH range is acceptable. They do not like very hard water.

Lighting:

Subdued lighting will be the best choice for the Cherry barbs. It simply causes less stress and, as a result, they appear more brightly colored.

However, if you decide to keep these fish in planted tanks, lighting should be adapted to the needs of your plants.

Related articles:

Water flow:

In the natural ecosystem, Cherry barbs inhabit shallow streams and rivers where the current is slow or relatively moderate. They do like to swim in it.

Of course, it is absolutely possible to keep these fish in an aquarium without a current, it will not significantly affect them too much. 

Aeration:

Aeration and water flow often go hand in hand.

Keep in mind that a powerful filtration system needs to be in place to properly aerate the aquarium water and maintain a high level of oxygenation as well. The fish enjoys water with rich oxygenation.

Air stones and other aeration decors can be added to the tank for more oxygenation.

Related article:

Substrate:

No special requirements.

Decorations and Plants:

Cherry barbs will benefit from tank decorations, such as all types of rocks, driftwood, PVC pipes, clay caves, bamboo caves, slate shelves, plants, fake plantsleaves, and other decorations to enrich the environment in your tank.

They may retreat to these hiding places if they feel threatened or stressed.

Related article:

Breeding Cherry Barbs

Breeding and reproduction of Puntius titteya is a relatively easy process, similar to other egg scatterers. For breeding purposes, it is recommended to keep a ratio of 1 male to 1-2 females. They do not exhibit perennial breeding behavior.

Maturity:

Depending on the temperature, males of Cherry barbs reach sexual maturity at 150-210 days at 79 – 82°F (26 – 28°C). Females become mature in 180-210 days.

At this time they become more colorful. So, you will definitely know the males when they mature.

Sexing:

Cherry Barbs (Puntius titteya) – Detailed Guide Care, Diet, and Breeding sexingSexual dimorphism and dichromatism have been documented in the cyprinid fish Puntius titteya.

  • Although there is no sexual difference in body size, males have longer fins than females.
  • Males displayed redder and more saturated body coloration compared to females. Females showed near-red and highly saturated coloration around the gill cover but less so on the abdomen.

Mating:

Results of the experiments showed that females prefer males with redder body coloration, which correlated with longer semen longevity. This suggests that male red coloration in this species may signal reproductive quality, allowing females to choose mates with better reproductive potential by selecting redder males.

During mating, the male swims closely to the female and nudges the female’s abdomen to induce her to release eggs, which he will then fertilize externally.

Note: The breeding pairs can spawn again in 48 – 60 days.

Eggs:

Females tend to expel 3-4 eggs and males fertilize them. Females do not lay eggs continuously but serially.

The eggs are adhesive. In nature, they often attach to the leaves and roots of plants.

These fish are prolific breeders. Each female can carry from 200 to 300 eggs.

Interesting fact: Puntius titteya is multiple (batch) spawners in which successive batches of eggs become mature as the previous ones are released.

Incubation:

Depending on the temperature, the eggs will usually hatch after 24 – 48 hours.

Fry:

The cherry barb fry will be around 0.4 inches (1 cm) long. They are colorless. The fry become free-swimming within 2 days.

They consume the yolk within 2-3 days and require a constant supply of live food (such as infusoria, microwormsvinegar eelsrotifers, etc.) later on.

Note: Live food such as Artemia nauplii and microworm produce a significantly higher growth than just a plankton diet.

After 2 months juveniles will grow up to 0.7 inches (1.8 cm) mean length.

Spawning tank requirements:

  • 1-2 females per 1 male.
  • pH 6.0 – 6.8
  • temperature from 79 to 82°F (26°C to 28°C).
  • dim lighting.
  • a protective net is placed on the bottom of the spawning tank or spawning mop.
  • no substrate.

Important: After spawning, remove the parents from the tank to prevent them from eating the eggs.

Note: In one of the studies, it was also observed that flowing water systems with high Total Dissolved Solids also promoted spawning. It was suggested that the spawning pattern is related to the rainfall pattern of their natural habitats which may bring about changes in water quality parameters specifically dissolved solids, water currents and water depth.

Cherry Barbs and Suitable Tankmates

These little fish may be cute and friendly but do not rely only on that. If their numbers are insufficient, or if they experience deficiencies in their diet (such as protein deficiency), or encounter other stressors, these small fish can surprise you with their aggressiveness in just one day.

The best choice would be a species-only aquarium.

Fish:

If you still decide to keep this species in community tanks, its tank mates should be all small fish species that are not big enough to eat them.

Dwarf Shrimp:

When I was preparing to write this article, I came across a vast amount of messages and information suggesting or describing experiences of keeping Cherry barbs with dwarf shrimp, claiming it to be almost entirely safe.

Some even suggested that if there were any issues, you wouldn’t really notice them.

Personally, I don’t share this optimism. These fish are micro-predators, and they enjoy hunting not only for the fry but also for shrimp, especially shrimplets. They will definitely prey on your shrimp, so keep that in mind, especially if you have any expensive specimens. I would never keep them together.

Snails:

They are compatible with any freshwater snail

Avoid:

  • Large and/or aggressive, and/or boisterous fishes.
  • Long-finned fish.
  • Keep them away from all types of crayfish and most types of freshwater crabs. 

Related article:

In Conclusion

Cherry barbs are known for their hardiness, personality, and vibrant coloration. Even more, the striking colors have made them one of the popular choices for freshwater aquariums.

However, I disagree with the notion that they are the ideal community fish. While they are stunning to look at, they can be quite aggressive and may not peacefully coexist with other tankmates.

You might get lucky, but it is important to keep in mind that not everything is as ideal as portrayed by many bloggers and resources.

References:

  1. Deraniyagala, P. E. P., 1929- Ceylon Journal of Science Section B Zoology 15(2): 73-77
    Two new freshwater fishes.
  2. Sundarabarathy, T. V., U. Edirisinghe, and C. M. B. Dematawewa. “Captive breeding and rearing of fry and juveniles of cherry barb (Puntius titteya Deraniyagala), a highly threatened endemic fish species in Sri Lanka.” (2004).
  3. Fukuda, Shoko, and Kenji Karino. “Male red coloration, female mate preference, and sperm longevity in the cyprinid fish Puntius titteya.” Environmental biology of fishes97 (2014): 1197-1205.
  4. Mieno, Aki, and Kenji Karino. “Sexual dimorphism and dichromatism in the cyprinid fish Puntius titteya.” Ichthyological research64, no. 2 (2017): 250-255.
  5. Kortmulder, K., M. J. S. Wijeyaratne, and S. S. DE SILVA. “A comparative study of the food and feeding habits of Puntius bimaculatus and P. titteya (Pisces, Cyprinidae).” Netherlands Journal of Zoology27, no. 3 (1976): 253-263.
  6. Eaton, Lewis, Kristian Clezy, Donna Snellgrove, and Katherine Sloman. “The behavioural effects of supplementing diets with synthetic and naturally sourced astaxanthin in an ornamental fish (Puntius titteya).” Applied Animal Behaviour Science182 (2016): 94-100.
  7. Ogita, Maki, and Kenji Karino. “Effect of Body Coloration on Male–Male Competition in a Cyprinid Fish Puntius titteya.” Zoological science36, no. 2 (2019): 141-146.
  8. Abeyrathne, P. A. B. P., and R. A. G. N. Ranatunga. “Habitat and Breeding Ground Preferences of the Vulnerable Fish Species Sri Lankan Cherry Barb (Puntius Titteya) According to the Water Quality in Aquatic Habitats in Lowland Wet Zone, Sri Lanka.” (2022): 180.
  9. Fonseka, Warnage Priyangi. “Preliminary investigations on the effects of photoperiod and substrate on breeding activity of Black ruby barb (Punt/us nigrofasciatus Gunther) and Cherry barb (Punt/us titteya).” PhD diss., University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Nugegoda, 2005.
  10. The IUCN Red ListCategories and Criteria. 2024

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