Snakeskin Barb Fish – Tropical fish

If you are looking for an easy to manage exotic fish that is a true team player the Snakeskin Barb is a worthy choice! 

The Snakeskin or Rhombo Barb is a great choice for a moderately experienced freshwater tank owner who is looking for a harmonious school of smaller fish that will put the mid and upper reaches of your tank to good use. 

Read on for our comprehensive guide that provides a great introduction to this characterful little fish. We cover every necessary to provide the Snakeskin Barb the optimal freshwater aquarium environment and select great tank mates too. 

Origins of the Snakeskin Barb

The Snakeskin Barb fish is a member of the Barb family of ray-finned fish that are related to carp. These freshwater fish are known for the large shiny scales that give them their distinctive appearance and make them desirable to aquarists. 

The natural habitat of the Snakeskin Barb

This barb makes it home in the brooding jungle backwaters of Borneo. It is remarkable in being able to live in highly acidic, peat-rich forest streams that are brimming with aquatic vegetation, tree roots, and fallen leaves.

Its habitat is nitrogen-rich due to the presence of large quantities of rotting material. The decaying matter also releases large quantities of humic acid that can take the pH as low as 3!

The Snakeskin Barb is a micro predator and will forage worms, insects, and crustaceans as an omnivorous opportunist. It is not endangered and has been designated the conservation status ‘Least Concern’ by  

snakeskin barb

Alternative names for the Snakeskin Barb fish

The Snakeskin Barb goes by a variety of aliases which all reflect its distinctive appearance. Here is a list of alternative names for the Snakeskin Barb:

Desmopuntius Rhomboocellatus is its Latin name and actually derived from the Greek word for prisoner, reflecting its black stripes and its rhomboid-shaped ocellus (or eye-like) markings.  Other names include:

  • Rhombo
  • Rhomb Barb
  • Rhombo Barb
  • Barbus rhomboocellatus
  • Orange Buffalo Barb
  • Orange Barb
  • Puntius rhomboocellatus
  • Systomus rhomboocellatus
  • Barbus tetrazona Bleeker
  • Barbus kahajani

It’s easy to see why the Snakeskin Barb can be mistaken for other Barbs like the Clown Barb, Panda Barb, and Melon Barb.

Physical characteristics of the Snakeskin Barb

Shape 

This ray-finned fish is typical of the barb family, with an elongated body that is compressed laterally. The dorsal fin is sail-like and its tail fin is forked.

Size

Snakeskin Barbs achieve a length of 3.5 inches (8.8cm) with females typically being larger and fuller-bodied than males.

Rhombo Barb coloring

The Snakeskin Barb derives its name from the python-like markings that flank the fish on both sides. It has a background orange, red coloring at its head with a green iridescence to its body. It has distinctive ocellus markings that are used to distract predators. Younger fish have paler coloration with a peachy underlying tone.

Snakeskin Barb Lifespan

Considering their relatively small size, Snakeskin Barbs are very long-lived and can achieve 5 to 8 years in an aquarium with optimal diet and conditions. Environmental stressors such as poor water chemistry, inadequate feeding, and disease will shorten the lifespan of the Snakeskin Barb and of course choosing a healthy specimen to start with. 

Behavior & Temperament

Snakeskin Barbs have a good reputation for orderly behavior in the tank and you confidently introduce it to other peaceful community fish of Southeast Asian origin. Barbs can be aggressive at times but the Rhombo Barb should fit in well with other short-finned fish provided they don’t run too large or bullish as they can be out-competed for food.

Observe them carefully with slower tank mates or those that are small enough to be a mouthful! A Snakeskin Barb will be at its most relaxed among a group of around 6-8 like fish.

Take advantage of the fact that this is a schooling species as this makes a visually stunning display where males will be at their brightest and boldest while they vie for the attention of the females. 

Breeding

Snakeskin Barb can be successfully bred in the aquarium if attention is paid to a couple of key points:

  1. Water chemistry is critical and requires suitable softness and acidity to be maintained at all times. In a mature aquarium, you may simply find that you have fry without any intervention on your part. If you focus on keeping the fish healthy with optimal growth, they will spawn often. 
  2. Retrieval of the fertilized eggs and separation of the fry. Rhombos will egg-scatter and free spawn, even eating the eggs and fry, so you will need to separate off the eggs with mesh, so adult fish cannot get to them. Give fry plenty of foliage where they can develop undercover. 

Feeding your Snakeskin Barb Fish

These Barbs are omnivorous with a good appetite so you should not find it difficult to establish them on a varied diet of meat and plant-based foods.  For the Snakeskin Barb, variety is the source of life and you should work to include a variety of colorful foods such as:

  • Flaked fish food
  • Pelleted fish feed
  • Frozen fish food

Brine shrimp, Daphnia, Cyclops, and mosquito larvae are all nutritious options for the Snakeskin Barb as they prefer live foods. Microworms, chopped bloodworms, and tubifex will all be happily received.

Here are some supplement foods suitable for Snakeskin Barbs:

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Aquarium care for the Snakeskin Barb

Rhombo Barbs are a sound freshwater choice but require and tolerate acidic environments. Soft acidic water will become the foundation of your tank set up and will guide your choice of tank mates and plants. As a community fish, you will want to ensure that your tank is geared to accommodate a number of species with adequate room and decent foliage for hiding.

What size tank does a Snakeskin Barb need?

These Rhombo Barbs are keen swimmers and will get great satisfaction out of mid-level cruising of the tank and they also will need space for the antics of their small mixed-sex group. 8 of these Barbs need a 60 to 100-gallon tank to provide the room they need. This will prevent stress and allow room to exercise a flight response when needed. A single Barb needs 15 to 20 gallons.

Water movement need not be excessive. In its natural habitat, this fish can live in dank stagnant swamp water as well as faster-moving streams. Water flows via a filter with a turnover of 4-5 times the tank volume should be adequate. We use Wavemakers to create a similar effect in our freshwater aquariums. Read our buyers guide here.

Lighting for the Snakeskin Barb should be soft and dim, like their jungle habitats which have dense cover from foliage. Aim for just enough to enhance their beautiful coloration. Floating plants can be used to dim the tank. 

tropical fish
An aquarium of 60 Gallon+ is required to keep Snakeskin barbs

Water temperature for the Snakeskin Barb

Warmth is important for this tropical fish, ough it should not be excessive as it can become stressful. Aim to maintain an aquarium water temperature of 73 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (23 to 28 degrees Celsius). 

Soft acidic water is the mainstay of this species 

  • The ideal pH range for the Snakeskin Barb is between 5.5 to 6.8.
  • Water Hardness for this barb should be between 4 and 6 dKH. 

Water purity is important and Rhombo Barbs can benefit from peat filtration as it softens water and reduces its pH as well as removing chemicals and substances that may be harmful.

Use peat that is specifically for aquarium use. Given its acidity, rainwater can be used for water changes and top-ups. 

Snakeskin Barb Fish - Tropical fish 7

We use API Freshwater test kits on our aquariums. Link to the latest prices on Amazon here!

Create a great aquascape for a school of Rhombo Barbs

If you enjoy working with aquatic plants, you will enjoy creating an atmospheric forest steam aquascape where a shoal of these fish can dart and cruise. 

Set up your tank with a dark, fine-grained substrate with rocks and caves where they can hide-out. Driftwood and planted and free-floating aquarium plants will provide cover and the interest they need to remain active. Like their natural environment, leaf litter can be used to taint the water as long as suitable filtration is in place. 

An area of open water should also be part of your setup as it allows them to swim freely if desired. Ideal plants for the Snakeskin Barb will thrive in low light conditions and include:

  • Anubias sp.
  • Bucephalandra or Buce sp.
  • Java Fern

Tank mates for the Rhombo Barbs

Barbs are known to be fiesty fish, but the Snakeskin Barb is far more straightforward, meaning that you have a range of options for tank mates. Also, Rhombos are not necessarily timid meaning that when congregated in a shoal they will give plenty of airtime with their attractive display.

They only have a propensity to nip or consume far smaller fish, which leaves a broad range of fish that will thrive peacefully with similar water chemistry. Look for similarly sized short-finned species, though the Rhombo can get on with long-finned fish too and larger freshwater invertebrates. Other compatible species include:

Snakeskin Barb diseases

Rhombo Barbs are susceptible to a range of diseases that affect many other aquarium fish. Stress, poor water conditions, and malnourishment will predispose these fish to parasitism. Treatments can be difficult for the fish to tolerate given the sensitivity to pH and temperature so prevention is essential with strict quarantining of any new arrivals to the tank.

Here are some of the common diseases to look out for:

  1. Hexamita

Also known as ‘hole in the head’ disease, this protozoan infection has high lethality to barbs. These parasites infect the gastrointestinal tract of affected fish causing abdominal swelling, lesions, and organ damage. Poor appetite, weight loss, and abdominal distension are key features of this disease that is treated with metronidazole.

  1. Marine ich

Ich is a common infection that can rapidly spread through a community of fish of varying species. It can also be difficult to eradicate. The causative parasite Cryptocaryon irritans produces characteristic white lesions on infected fish, with loss of appetite, lethargy, breathing problems, and death if untreated. Preparations for freshwater fish can include malachite green and formalin. Frequent water changes also help in keeping recurrences at bay. 

  1. Fin rot

This bacterial or fungal infection can be aggressive if not treated promptly. It starts at the extremities of the fine and will work its way to the base. Fraying and white dots on the fin can mean that it is mistaken for Ich.

Malachite green is a common ingredient in treatments for fin rot. Water changes and close attention to water purity and chemistry are also essential until the barbs are clear of disease.

  1. Dropsy

This is another notable condition in barbs and other freshwater fish that involves infection by the bacteria Aeromonas. It can be endemic in tanks without problem but a dip in water quality, overcrowding, or other stressors can precipitate the condition.

It is characterized by body swelling, particularly of the abdomen, lethargy, swollen or sunken eyes, and protruding scales. Act quickly to treat this condition by moving your barb to a hospital tank that has been treated with Epsom salts and commencing a course of antibiotic fish food.

snakeskin barb

Read our complete Tropical fish disease and treatment guide

Rounding up: Snakeskin Barb Fish

Snakeskin Barbs are a great choice for a sociable school of freshwater fish. Once proper attention is paid to their water conditions you have lots of scope for creating an exciting planted jungle swamp aquascape for your new additions to roam and hide out in.

You can also introduce these fish confidentiality to a peaceful community as they lack the ferocity of barbs like the Tiger Barb. Maintenance once settled in is easy leaving you plenty of time to enjoy their capers!

Carl Broadbent