THE LEMON BARB

SO YOU THOUGHT TIN­FOILS WERE BIG…

Animal Scene - - FRONT PAGE - Text and pho­tos by AN­GEL L. AMPIL

Barbs have al­ways been a fa­vorite among Filipino fish­keep­ers. If you have kept an aquar­ium at home, at one time or an­other you must have kept some Barbs. Th­ese are tooth­carps from the fam­ily Cyprinidae. Barbs are quite pop­u­lar in the Philip­pines. Af­ter all we do have some na­tive and en­demic Barbs in our wa­ters; how­ever, we barely know that they ex­ist. What are pop­u­lar in the Philip­pine aquar­ium trade are Barbs from our Asian neigh­bors: the Tiger Barb, Su­ma­tra Barb, Golden Barb, Rosy Barb, Aure­lio Barb, One Spot Barb, and Tin­foil Barb are most com­monly seen in the fish stores all over the ar­chi­pel­ago.

My first in­tro­duc­tion to Barbs was when I was about 5 or 6 years old. This was quite a long time ago and chances are, you were not even born yet. But th­ese Barbs we find in the aquar­ium trade were in­tro­duced to the mar­ket even be­fore I was born. For an ar­ti­cle I wrote many years back, I was for­tu­nate enough to in­ter­view one of my lo­cal fish in­dus­try he­roes: the late Earl Kennedy. Ac­knowl­edged as the “Father of the Philip­pine Aquar­ium Fish Trade,” he nar­rated to me his first en­counter with Barbs dur­ing an in­ter­view while he was on his deathbed. “It was a few years af­ter the war and Manila was pick­ing up from the disas­ter when I was ad­vised by the China Pet Cen­ter to check out their new fish from Siam. When I ar­rived in their shop, there they were. I fell in love in an in­stant. They were so beau­ti­ful… Tiger Barbs!”

This is a story I have al­ways shared with fel­low fish­keep­ers since it con­cerns a mo­ment in Philip­pine his­tory. I could imag­ine how pretty the Tiger Barb looked like at that time when “Mang Earl” was still a young man. Many decades later, gen­er­a­tions of new­bie Filipino fish­keep­ers are still amazed by Tiger Barbs.

If Tiger Barbs were the “cool” Barb of his time, in my gen­er­a­tion, Tiger Barbs were still pop­u­lar but the “cool” Barb was now the Tin­foil Barb ( Bar­bony­mus schwa­nen­feldii). My gen­er­a­tion wit­nessed the evo­lu­tion of aquar­i­ums from the gal­va­nized iron-edged tanks with a max­i­mum size of 30 gal­lons to the 75-gal­lon all-glass aquar­ium, which for that time was mon­strous in size. With such a huge tank, the Filipino fish­keeper longed for a big­ger fish to keep in it, and the Tin­foil Barb was the an­swer. It was an in­stant hit. From the 2-inch barb we were ac­cus­tomed to, we be­gan to pride our­selves on hav­ing a 12-inch mon­ster in our tanks. The Tin­foil Barb was the king of the Barbs back then, since prac­ti­cally no one here had seen a Barb that big.

MEET­ING THE BIG BARB

Then a year ago, I saw a Barb that could eas­ily dwarf a 12-inch Tin­foil Barb. Of course I had read about this Barb on the In­ter­net, along with var­i­ous ac­counts from fish­keep­ers in dif­fer­ent fish fo­rums. But once you see them in per­son, you will be amazed by how big it gets.

It was late last year, at my friend Martin Manalang’s place, that I had this jaw-drop­ping

mo­ment. Upon en­ter­ing the gate, you are greeted by his 300-gal­lon tank that looks crowded—but there are only seven fish! It took just seven Lemon Barbs to fill up that huge tank. They weren’t par­tic­u­larly long as they mea­sured 16 to 22 inches each, but ow­ing to their body shape, they ‘stood’ tall and wide and were thick fish al­to­gether. Imag­ine the fat­test full grown Tin­foil Barb you ever saw; now dou­ble that size and this should ap­prox­i­mate the size of th­ese mon­ster Lemon Barbs. Lemon Barbs are not par­tic­u­larly rare fish. They are abun­dant in their na­tive wa­ters where they are an im­por­tant food fish. They just aren’t pop­u­lar aquar­ium fish, par­tic­u­larly in the Philip­pines. But if you like your fish big, then the Lemon Barb fills the bill! The Lemon Barb is clas­si­fied un­der Hypsi­bar­bus wet­morei, which was first de­scribed by Smith in 1931. Syn­onyms of this species were rec­og­nized as Pun­tius daruphani by Smith in 1934; Bar­bus beasleyi by Fowler in 1937; and Pun­tius daruphani tweed­iei by Menon in 1954. As if the sci­en­tific names were not con­fus­ing enough, the com­mon names at­trib­uted to the Lemon Barb will guar­an­tee you more con­fu­sion. They have been given the names Lemon Fin Barb, Yel­low Belly Barb, Yel­low Tin­foil Barb, Di­a­mond Shark, and Golden Belly Barb, among oth­ers. The Lemon Barb is wide­spread in main­land South­east Asia, in­clud­ing the lower Mekong basin in Laos, Thai­land, and Cam­bo­dia; the Tapi, Chao Phraya, and Mae Klong sys­tems in Thai­land; and var­i­ous smaller wa­ter­sheds in south­ern Thai­land and north­ern Penin­su­lar Malaysia, as far south as the Pa­hang River. They pre­fer flow­ing wa­ter­ways and rivers to stand­ing pools. The Lemon Barb is a mi­gra­tory fish, es­pe­cially dur­ing the spawn­ing sea­son. They are large fish, with fe­males reach­ing 24 inches in length. They are deep-bod­ied. The fish should mea­sure 12 inches or more from the tip of the dor­sal fin to the tip of the anal fin. The body is like­wise wide as it is a thick fish, maybe about 4 inches thick. Males are gen­er­ally smaller than the fe­males. From the group that Martin has, the males were be­tween 16-17 inches while the fe­males were 20 to 22 inches. The Lemon Barb is quite hardy and can cope with a wide ph range so long as ex­tremes are avoided. A mod­er­ately acidic ph of 6.0 to a mod­er­ately al­ka­line ph of 8 is a range that Lemon Barbs are com­fort­able with. It is rec­om­mended to keep the wa­ter hard­ness be­tween soft to medium hard, or a range of dh 4 to 12. Be­ing from South­east Asia, the tem­per­a­ture re­quire­ments of the Lemon Barb are not a con­cern for Filipino fish­keep­ers so long as tem­per­a­ture stays in the 22–28°C range. The Lemon Barb is a real eye-catcher. The body color is sil­ver, with large scales edged in black. The fins are of­ten­times bright yel­low. The yel­low fins of the Lemon Barb dif­fer­en­ti­ate it from a Tin­foil Barb, which has red fins. It is quite a so­cia­ble an­i­mal, so they are best kept in schools of at least 4. This, how­ever, will re­quire a very large tank. I sup­pose a tank mea­sur­ing 6 ft x 2 ft x 2 ft and hold­ing 180 gal­lons is your min­i­mum tank size to hold 4 adult Lemon Barbs. It might be more prac­ti­cal to keep them in ponds if you wish to keep a big­ger school. Lemon Barbs are vo­ra­cious eaters and are not picky at all. I guess they will need a lot of food to be able to grow to a big size. They read­ily eat al­most any­thing, from com­mer­cially pre­pared pel­let fish food, to frozen food like fish or shrimp chopped to the ap­pro­pri­ate sizes. Just make sure the serv­ings are big be­cause they do have big ap­petites. They are known to eat aquar­ium plants, so it might not be a good idea to put in some with them. Ow­ing to their large size, small tank­mates may find them­selves on the menu, so se­lect tank­mates care­fully. As with other fish known for their leg­endary ap­petites, pe­ri­odic wa­ter changes will be nec­es­sary to keep wa­ter in op­ti­mum con­di­tions. Make sure this is done reg­u­larly and of­ten. The Lemon Barbs are gen­er­ally peace­ful and may be a wel­come ad­di­tion to your col­lec­tion. The only hin­drance is their size. They may be big but they are very gen­tle and will never en­dan­ger the lives of tank­mates. If you are long­ing for large peace­ful fish to put in a com­mu­nity tank, then the Lemon Barb should be a wise choice.

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