Barbus is a ray-finned fish genus in the family Cyprinidae. The type species of Barbus is the common barbel, first described as Cyprinus barbus and now named Barbus barbus. Barbus is the namesake genus of the subfamily Barbinae, but given their relationships, that taxon is better included in the Cyprininae at least for the largest part (including the type species of Barbus).

Description and uses


Their common names â€" barbs and barbels â€" refer to the fact that most members of the genera have a pair of barbels on their mouths, which they can use to search for food at the bottom of the water.

Barbels are often fished for food; in some locations they are of commercial significance. The roe of barbels is poisonous, however. The large Barbus barbs are also often eaten in their native range.

At Shanhûr in Egypt, remains of a jar from the sixth to seventh century AD were unearthed which contained a bunch of fish bones. The fishes were apparently pickled to produce a dish similar to the modern fesikh (or faseekh). Among the ancient remains, barbs (perhaps Barbus perince) were plentiful, and Egyptians in our time still consider B. perince good for preparing fesikh, as it is traditionally done for the Sham el-Nessim (spring festival) celebrations.

The smaller barbs are in some cases traded as aquarium fish. Some are quite significant, but as a whole, the genus is not yet as well represented in aquaria as the Southeast Asian Puntius.

One species, Barbus microbarbis from Rwanda, is known to have gone extinct in recent times. Several others are only known from the type specimens, and their status and continuing existence must be confirmed. As many of these are from Lake Victoria, which underwent massive ecological upheaval after Nile perch (Lates nilosus) were introduced, it may well be that some of them have not survived, either.

Systematics and taxonomy

Barbus has a long history as a "wastebin genus". Historically, most fish commonly known as "barbs" were usually placed here by default. More recently, many "barbs" have been reclassified into genera such as Barbichthys, Barbodes, Barboides, Barbonymus (tinfoils), Barbopsis, Caecobarbus, Capoeta, Carasobarbus, Clypeobarbus, Hypselobarbus, Hypsibarbus, Labeobarbus (yellowfishes), Leptobarbus, Luciobarbus, Mesopotamichthys, Messinobarbus, Poropuntius, Probarbus, Pseudobarbus (redfins), Puntioplites and Puntius (spotted barbs, commonly kept in aquaria).

Thus, Barbus is for the time being restricted to the typical barbels and barbs, and only contains fishes from Africa and Europe, as well as adjacent Asia. However, the genus even in the reduced version is probably paraphyletic, and many African species (particularly the small ones) do not seem to belong here either. Eventually, Barbus is likely to be restricted to the group around B. barbus â€" the large European to Ponto-Caspian species commonly known as "barbels". Luciobarbus and particularly Messinobarbus are highly similar and might better be included in Barbus again. They all seem to be close relatives â€" perhaps the closest living relatives â€" of the Dalmatian barbelgudgeon (Aulopyge huegelii). Carasobarbus and Labeobarbus are probably closely related to this group, too, and some large hexaploid barbs (e.g. B. reinii) now placed in the present genus may well belong in Labeobarbus.

The small barbs from Africa, by contrast, are quite distinct. They might even warrant establishment of a new subfamily â€" in particular if the Labeoninae are not included in the Cyprinae â€", as they seem to be as distinct from barbels and typical carps, as these are from the garras (which are part of the disputed Labeoninae), rendering the old "Barbinae" paraphyletic. Within the small African barbs, several linages can be recognized. These are mostly diploid; a tetraploid group largely restricted to southern Africa is very close to Pseudobarbus and might even be included therein. In particular, the group called "redfins" may well be monophyletic and belong in Pseudobarbus entirely, instead of being split between Pseudobarbus and Barbus, as is now done.



There are 311 recognized species in this genus:

Fossil species

There is a fossil species (Barbus megacephalus Günther, 1876) known from the Paleogene Sipang Fauna of Indonesia.

See also

  • Danionins




  • Valid species list of genus Barbus on FishBase.
  • Banister, Keith Edward (1973) A revision of the large Barbus (Pisces, Cyprinidae) of East and Central Africa. Studies on African Cyprinidae. Part II. Bulletin of the British Museum 26(1): 1-148. Fulltext at the Internet Archive
  • de Graaf, Martin; Megens, Hendrik-Jan; Samallo, Johannis & Sibbing, Ferdinand A. (2007): Evolutionary origin of Lake Tana's (Ethiopia) small Barbus species: indications of rapid ecological divergence and speciation. Anim. Biol. 57(1): 39-48. doi:10.1163/157075607780002069 (HTML abstract)
  • FishBase [2009]: Barbus species. Retrieved 2009-SEP-20.
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (2009): 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. Retrieved 2009-SEP-20.
  • Lambert, Derek J. (1997): Freshwater Aquarium Fish. Chartwell Books, Edison, New Jersey, USA. ISBN 0-7858-0867-1
  • van Neer, Wim & Depraetere, David (2005): Pickled fish from the Egyptian Nile : osteological evidence from a Byzantine (Coptic) context at Shanhûr. Revue de Paléobiologie S10: 159-170. PDF fulltext.

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