Max Size: 3.5cm

Butterfly Barb (Barbus hulstaerti)

Butterfly Barbs are one of the smaller species of Barb. These Barbs are rarely available in the hobby due to decades of political unrest in its native Congo region. It is also known to be tricky to keep and very difficult to breed. However, these fish are very peaceful, active and attractive and would make an excellent project for the willing hobbyist.

Butterfly Barbs are not recommended for community aquariums as they are quite shy and have a retiring nature and will be intimidated and outcompeted for food by the bigger and more boisterous tankmates. It would be more beneficial if you house them with fish of similar size that has an equal temperament.

Although these fish are gregarious in the wild, it is a shoaling species rather than schooling, and they develop a distinct pecking order between males. You should ideally maintain these fish in a group of at least eight or more individuals. Still, the tank must be of adequate size so that the weaker individuals can get some respite from more dominant fish and decorated in such a way that plenty of hiding places are provided.

It is, however not ideal to keep these fish on their own, in a small group or a cramped aquarium; otherwise, they may become withdrawn, and they may be bullied by subdominant fish continuously.

The Butterfly Barb has an elongated pale body colouration and a blunt head. Their body displays three bold blueish-black splotches of varying size and yellow shading in the male’s dorsal, ventral and anal fins, and the caudal fin is typically translucent.

Tank Mates for the Butterfly Barb

2 ideal tank mate ideas for the Butterfly Barb include:

Frail Gourami(Ctenops nobilis)
Indian Hifin Barb(Oreichthys cosuatis)
Quick Facts
Scientific NameBarbus hulstaerti
Other NamesNone
OriginsDemocratic Republic of the Congo
Aquarium LevelMiddle
DifficultyIntermediate - Advanced
Best kept asGroups 8+
Lifespan2 - 4 years
Water Parameters
Water TypeFreshwater
PH4.5 - 6.5
GH0 - 6
TDS18 - 90
62 - 75℉
16.7 - 23.9℃

Photos of the Butterfly Barb

Butterfly barb
Butterfly barbs
African Butterfly barb
Butterfly barb
Butterfly barb

Natural Habitat

The Butterfly Barb originates from the settlements of Bokuma and Bonguma, the Momboyo River, the town of Boende on the Tshuapa River, the Pimo River and the Bowa River close to Opala in the Central parts of the Congo River drainage in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa.

These Barbs inhabit shallow, slow-moving, shady rainforest swamps and streams containing dense vegetation. The water is typically stained a brown colour due to the release of tannins and other chemicals released by decomposing plant material. The substrate is covered with twigs, fallen leaves and branches. These habitats characteristically contain very soft, acidic, cool water and are often shaded due to the rainforest canopy above.

What to feed the Butterfly Barb

Butterfly Barbs are not particularly fussy and will accept good-quality dried foods of a suitable size. However, it would be best if you did not feed them this exclusively. Providing these Barbs with daily meals of small live and frozen foods such as artemia, daphnia, and similar will result in the best health and more vibrant colouration of your fish. It will also help to encourage the fish to come into breeding condition.

How to sex the Butterfly Barb

It is relatively simple to distinguish male from female Butterfly Barbs. Males are more brightly coloured than females, especially when they are in breeding condition. In contrast, the females are usually duller in colour and lack the yellow colouration in the fins. They also have thicker bodies than males.

How to breed the Butterfly Barb

This Butterfly Barb is a seasonal spawner, so breeding activity occurs over two periods every year from March to June then September to November. Like other cyprinids, these are egg-scattering, continuous spawners that take no part in parental care. When in good condition and if you have both males and females, they will lay relatively small numbers of eggs daily in an adequately furnished aquarium, so small numbers of fry may start to appear without human intervention.

However, if you wish to increase the yield of fry, a slightly more controlled strategy is required. You can still condition the adults together, but you should also set up one or more small containers.

Temperature is also essential as most breeders have found that if the eggs and fry are raised with higher temperatures, most of them will turn out to be male. In contrast, if you grew them in lower temperatures, you will find a more equal and desirable spread of genders as a result.

The decor in the aquarium can be straightforward; good-sized bundles of java moss or a couple of spawning mops will give the fish somewhere to drop their eggs, and a handful or two of real peat fibre is recommended to create the right water conditions. You can keep the bottom of the tank bare for maintenance purposes, and you can have a small air-powered filter containing peat and set to turn over slowly as a good alternative; otherwise, filtration is not essential. It might be beneficial to add a few almond, beech or oak leaves to the tank also.

It would be best if you then introduced a single pair of well-conditioned adult fish to each container. It is wise to perform the transfer slowly to avoid excessive levels of stress, but if they like the conditions, they should begin to spawn daily in the evening.

We are unsure if these Barbs consume their eggs or not although they do not seem to hunt for them as many other Barbs do actively.

Once spawning has begun, it should continue at irregular intervals daily, and it is at this point that the plants or spawning mops become twice as useful as they offer sanctuary for the female when she needs to flee the attentions of the over-eager male.

You can leave the pair where they are to spawn, and when the tiny young are born, they will survive on their yolk sacs for a few days. After they have consumed their entire yolk sac, you should then provide them with paramecium or other microscopic foods. Once they get bigger and become free-swimming, you can feed them on microworm and artemia nauplii.

While the days pass, you may see additional fry appearing from later spawning results.

It is advisable that you wait a week or two before you start to perform small water changes; this will avoid unnecessarily shocking the young Barbs.

Frquently asked questions about the Butterfly Barb

Are Butterfly Barbs suitable for a community aquarium?

Butterfly Barbs are not really suitable for most community aquariums. They have a shy, retiring nature and can be intimidated or outcompeted for food by larger, more boisterous tankmates. Instead, it would be best to choose similarly-sized, peaceful African species such as Jae Barbs, Killifish and smaller Tetras, as well as small south American Characins. Corydoras Catfish and Otocinclus may also make good tankmates.

How big do Butterfly Barbs get?

Young Butterfly Barbs develop very fast and show their first large spot within a week. At two weeks old, the second spot becomes apparent, and by six weeks old, the young fish have reached their full size of up to 3.5 cm, where they swim alongside the adults.

How can you tell male and female Butterfly Barbs apart?

Males will display brighter colouration and have a yellow tint in their fins, especially when they are in breeding condition. In contrast, the females are a duller colour and have stockier bodies.

How many Butterfly Barbs should you keep together?

Although Butterfly Barbs are sociable by nature, they are a shoaling fish rather than a schooling species. These Barbs develop a distinct pecking order between males. Therefore, you should ideally maintain this fish in groups of 8 or more individuals; however, the tank needs to be of sufficient size, allowing weaker individuals a break from dominant individuals and decorated in such a way that you have plenty of broken lines of sight. If you choose to keep these fish singly, they can become withdrawn in a tiny group or cramped conditions, and subdominant fish may be bullied regularly.

What should I feed my Butterfly Barbs?

Butterfly Barbs will accept dried foods such as flakes or granules of a fitting size; however, you should not feed them this solely. Daily meals of small live and frozen foods such as artemia, grindal worm, daphnia, and suchlike will result in the best colouration and health as well as help to encourage your fish to come into breeding condition.

Where do Butterfly Barbs initially come from?

Butterfly Barbs are endemic to the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, where they have been recorded in major parts of the Congo River drainage system within the great area of equatorial rainforest situated east and south of the main river channel. Butterfly Barbs inhabit slow-moving, shaded, shallow rainforest swamps and streams with dense vegetation. The water is typically stained a brown colour due to the release of chemicals and tannins released by decomposing plant matter, and the substrate is covered with fallen leaves, branches and twigs. These environments contain very soft, acidic, cool water and are often dimly lit due to the rainforest canopy overhead.

Other Barbs of interest

African Banded Barb(Barbus fasciolatus)
Arulius Barb(Dawkinsia arulius, Puntius arulius)
Black Ruby Barb(Pethia nigrofasciata)
Blue Spotted Hill Trout(Barilius bakeri)
Checker Barb(Oliotius oligolepis)
Cherry Barb(Puntius titteya)
View all Barbs
Date Added: 09/12/2020 - Updated: 05/01/2022 16:12:16