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however not ideal to keep these fish on their own, in a small group or a cramped aquarium; otherwise, they may become withdrawn, and they may be bullied by subdominant fish continuously.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


Butterfly barb
Butterfly barbs
African Butterfly barb
Butterfly barb
Butterfly barb
Butterfly Barb
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℃


In the home aquarium, the Butterfly Barb will readily accept most good quality dried foods such as granules, flakes and sinking pellets. These modern food products have been developed to provide all adequate nutrition to maintain your fish's health and dietary requirements.

Providing additional foodstuffs such as live, frozen, and freeze-dried meals such as bloodworm, daphnia, and tubifex once or twice a week will provide additional benefits to your fish's health and well-being but is not a must for this fish.

It should be noted that bloodworms should only be given as an occasional treat and should not be used as the staple diet as they are difficult for fish to digest and can potentially cause blockages.

This fish is an omnivore in the wild, meaning it will consume some vegetable matter. Although most modern fish foods take this into account and include them in their products, you can still supplement your fish's diet with blanched vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and zucchini. Ensure you do not overfeed your fish and remove any leftovers the following day.

Tank Mates

2 interesting tank mate ideas for the Butterfly Barb could include:

Frail Gourami(Ctenops nobilis)
Indian Hifin Barb(Oreichthys cosuatis)

Sexual Dimorphism

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.

Frequently asked questions

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)
Borneo Red Fin Silver Shark(Cyclocheilichthys janthochir)
Checker Barb(Oliotius oligolepis)
View all Barbs
Date Added: 09/12/2020 - Updated: 05/01/2022 16:12:16