For a fish that’s one of the most common in the trade, it might be surprising to learn that we know so little about it. But that’s exactly where we are with this ID mystery, writes Max Pedley.
Every now and then I have a ‘Eureka!’ moment. As rare as it is, the most recent one came whilst discussing Tiger barbs and their proper identification with a friend. It seems that for years, we have been erroneously referring to ‘common’ Tiger barbs as Puntigrus tetrazona.
The genus Puntigrus contains only five species at present and the name itself is a Portmanteau of Puntius — a traditional catch all genus name for barbs — and tigris, the Latin for tiger. Barb-tiger, if you will. Perhaps not quite as cool as Spider-Man, but for this article it will have to do.
Who’s the original?
Most literature available in print or on the internet would probably make me look like a raving lunatic right now, as I try to convince you, dear reader, that we have been identifying this fish wrong for all this time. I can almost hear you shouting ‘Puntigrus tetrazona is the common Tiger Barb’s name’ into the page. Initially it was understood that this particular species was native to Borneo but in retrospect that probably isn’t quite right — Sumatra seems more likely. Unfortunately, as far as the aquarium export industry goes, pretty much all the Indonesian islands are second to Borneo with regards to ornamental species, and so it seems possible that exporters and breeders never really gave much attention to the Tiger barbs of Sumatra, preferring to work with Borneo fish instead. That said, let’s not rule out small isolated populations occurring on Borneo, for lack of better understanding.
We can identify P. tetrazona by its predominantly black pelvic fins which somewhat goes against the grain of its congeners, by and large. The lobes of the tail are highlighted with a brick red/dark orange hue. Four bands traverse the body, with a notable absence of pattern in the humeral region. The dorsal fin shows little to no colour other than black, with paling edges. I would truly love to tell you how to keep this fish in captivity but given its apparent rarity, I’ve never had the chance to get my hands on a group. Here’s hoping.
The traditional ‘hobby’ Tiger barb is a vivid, bold species which packs a punch both literally and lyrically when introduced to an aquarium. When chatting with my friend, we
quickly established that this stalwart of the freshwater hobby had to be Puntigrus anchisporus. Aside from more scientific meristics, this species can be identified easily at a quick glance by its bright red pelvic fins, deep body, thickest black bands and a red edge to the posterior margin of the dorsal fin. Interestingly, virtually all the colour forms of this species share these characteristics, with albino and ‘glass-bodied’ variants being the only exceptions, showing faded to no banding over the body.