Pentazona barb – great little fish!

Five-banded barbs playing in the current with their friends the rummy-nosed tetras

Five banded barbs and rummy nosed tetras
Five banded barbs and friends (click to enlarge)

When we first got live plants going in the Fireplace Aquarium, we thought it might be fun to get a fish that would enjoy hiding in the plants to get a bit of a “hide and seek” thing going.  A trip to the local aquatic centre and we found a well-planted tank with small stripy fish peeking out from the foliage.  These turned out to be five-banded barbs, Desmopuntius pentazona:  ‘pentazona’ from Ancient Greek πέντε (pénte, “five”) and ζώνη (zṓnē, “zone” or “band”) obviously because they have 5 black distinctive vertical black bands across their bodies.

Five-banded barbs are a peaceful community fish.  In the store they might have been hiding in the plants because they were stressed or scared.  In the Fireplace Aquarium they do occasionally venture into the plants, but not usually.  They are content to swim in a social manner and have no problems hanging out with their friends the rummy-nosed tetras.  In fact, they intermingle to such an extent that it wasn’t really possible to get a picture of just the five-banded barbs on their own as you can see from the photo.  They superficially resemble tiger barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona), except tiger barbs have 4 black bands rather than 5, and tiger barbs have a reputation as being a bit of a fighty/nippy fish, while the pentazonas are completely peaceful in nature.

The five-banded barbs have a subtle reddish colour to their bodies.  When I kept cherry barbs previously it was pretty clear that the males were more reddish in colour with the females actually not too different in colour from the five-banded barbs, so it’s tempting to speculate that the more reddish five-banded barbs are likewise the males, although with the five-banded barbs this difference is much more subtle, not that it makes much difference anyway in this (non-breeding) tank.

Initially the five-banded barbs were more shy than the rummy-nosed tetras – the tetras used to inhabit the upper reaches of the tank with the barbs in the more middle depth area.  That meant that at feeding time when the fish food (flakes) were sprinkled on the surface the tetras had first shot at the chow and the barbs got what was left.  It didn’t take the barbs long to realise that wasn’t how they wanted to play things, and they braved up and now they’re largely inseparable from the tetras, including at feeding them when the barbs are right there in the mix and going for it.

Four-banded barbs vs. Five-banded barbs vs. Six-banded barbs

6-banded barb
6-banded barb
Tiger barb
Tiger barb

The four-banded barbs are the tiger barbs, and they have (naturally) 4 dark transverse bands.  The five-banded barbs have 5 dark bands, but so do the six banded barbs!  In the stamp from Singapore it looks like there is a sixth band at the very base of the tail; is this artistic license or factual representation?  There is some opinion that the difference between five-banded barbs and six-banded barbs is the five-banded barbs have a dark spot at the rear base of their dorsal (upper) fin, missing in the case of the six-banded barbs.  My fish don’t have this dark spot which would actually make them six-banded barbs by this description.  As is usual, confusion and inaccuracy in the trade is to be expected (and arguably is part of the fun of it all).

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