Why My Tiger Barb Died {This Is What I Did Wrong}

What happened? One moment my Tiger Barb was fine and the next moment, there was no life left in this fish. Is there a problem with the tank or was it isolated to this specific Tiger Barb? Let’s find out.

Why My Tiger Barb Died. The water quality was the culprit. Ammonia levels spiked to .25 ppm and that was enough to cause my Tiger Barb to gasp for air. I also feel that it was lonely and I should have kept 5-12 of them together. 

How Many Tiger Barbs Should I Keep Together?

Tiger Barbs are playful, but they may not show it when they are kept on their own. I had a single Tiger Barb in my tank with six Mollies, two Otocinclus and two Corydoras.

This Tiger Barb spent most of its time hiding behind a Wisteria plant and would come out for feedings only. I knew that I needed to add at least four more Tiger Barbs, but I was waiting to get a 55 Gallon tank for the group to better enjoy themselves.

6-8 Tiger Barbs would have been ideal in a 30 gallon tank if I kept them alone. Instead, I waited too long for the upgrade and never got a chance to get up to 12 Tiger Barbs to enjoy a rambunctious and playful life together.

Did My Water Parameters Kill My Tiger Barb?

I take the full brunt of the blame. This could have been avoided. The ideal water parameters were supposed to be kept at:

  • Temperature: 70-79°F
  • pH: 6.0-8.0
  • Water Hardness: Up to 10 dGH
  • Nitrates: Less than 20 ppm
  • Nitrites/Ammonia: 0 ppm

I used a test strip, but I was told later that it could have read an inaccurate reading. I have recently purchased an API Master Test Kit to improve the accuracy.

Can Tiger Barbs Handle Ammonia?

The clear answer is no. Not even a little. I made this mistake and I hope to avoid it in the future. Leftover food seeped into the fine gravel and I failed to vacuum it the prior weekend leading up to the death of my Tiger Barb. I had been performing water changes at 10% every 5-7 days.

Ammonia levels spiked to .25 ppm, but I was under the impression that my Tiger Barb would be hardy enough to handle it. What I didn’t take into account was that its immune system could have been compromised from depression, stress and loneliness.

I should have kept my Tiger Barb in a group of 5-12 of the same species. I will also perform a larger water changes every 2 weeks at 50% instead of smaller changes. Finally, I will not forget to vacuum the gravel.

YouTube video

Did My Tiger Barb Die From Starvation?

I understand that Tiger Barbs are ferocious eaters. If they are in groups, you may see them jockeying for the best positions to receive the largest helpings of food. They establish a hierarchy and the most dominant might get the lion’s share of the food.

I avoided this by stocking only one Tiger Barb. It hid too often and came out to eat meals when I offered it. The following foods were given daily:

  • Shrimp pellets
  • Vegetable based flakes
  • Algae wafers

These food sources were shared by the bottom dwellers in my tank. The corydoras and otocinclus were supposed to eat up the leftover bits. This is what I thought. My Tiger Barb was not finishing meals and I didn’t scoop out the leftovers. The food waste contributed to the .25 ppm spike in ammonia.

I also added these foods below on the weekends:

  • cooked zucchini 
  • kale pieces
  • freeze dried daphnia
  • freeze dried brine shrimp

What I needed to also make sure of was to allow the freeze dried food to soak into the tank water before my Tiger Barb gobbled it up. Later on, the freeze dried food could expand and cause bloating in the belly of my lonely Tiger Barb.

Do Tiger Barbs Bully Each Other?

Bullying occurs when a group of Tiger Barbs establish a pecking order and decide to pick on the weakest one. This Tiger Barb could be shunned, chased away and disallowed from eating. Bullying is more common with only 2-4 Tiger Barbs.

Once the group expands, the bullying should stop after the hierarchy is established. Bullying will continue if there isn’t enough room in a tank smaller than 30 gallons. Adding more planted areas to create rest breaks and hiding spaces also helps reduce the bullying.

If it gets out of hand, the most dominant aggressor needs to be removed. A reputable fish shop may have a return or exchange policy. Choose to exchange the bully or place it in another tank away from the group. Reintroduce it in the future if you wish and notice if there are any improvements.


I made a few mistakes that could have been avoided.

  1. I should have tested the water more frequently with an API Master Test Kit instead of the cheaper testing strips.
  2. The ammonia spiked to .25 ppm without me noticing it. It was probably due to a sudden release from the substrate that had collected too much food waste and fish poop.
  3. My Tiger Barb was stressed from loneliness. Excessive hiding and not eating enough were adding to a weakened immune system.
  4. My tank wasn’t large enough for 5-12 Tiger Barbs. I will get a 55 gallon tank and stock more than 12 of them together in a species specific aquarium just for them.

It all happened so fast. I didn’t notice any bloating or discoloration. I learned from this experience and I would like to thank the online community of aquarists that we all belong to. So many of you are helpful and selfless.

Thank you for your wisdom and advice. The best we can do is learn, try again and pay it forward to help more members of our community.


HelpUsFish.com is here to help with your concerns or curiosity surrounding Tiger Barbs. We have plenty more informative articles on these and other aquatic life that may also be of interest to you. See you soon!

Brian Arial

Brian Arial has kept fish for leisure and worked with fish stores for most of his life. He enjoys writing and caring for aquariums and ponds.

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