Barbus barbus

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Common barbel
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Genus: Barbus
Species: B. barbus
Binomial name
Barbus barbus
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Cyprinus barbus Linnaeus, 1758

Barbus barbus is a species of freshwater fish belonging to the family Cyprinidae. It shares the common name 'barbel' with its many relatives in the genus Barbus, of which it is the type species. Officially known in English as the common barbel, in Britain it is usually referred to simply as the barbel; similar names are used elsewhere in Europe, such as barbeau in France. The name derives from the four whiskerlike structures located at the corners of the fish's mouth, which it uses to locate food.

Distribution and habitat[edit]

B. barbus is native throughout northern and eastern Europe, ranging north and east from the Pyrénées and Alps to Lithuania, Russia and the northern Black Sea basin.[2] It is an adaptable fish which transplants well between waterways, and has become established as an introduced species in several countries including Morocco and Italy.[3] Its favoured habitats are the so-called barbel zones in fast-flowing rivers with gravel or stone bottoms, although it regularly occurs in slower rivers and has been successfully stocked in stillwaters.[4]

Barbel are very abundant in some rivers, often seen in large shoals on rivers such as the Wye.[5] Izaak Walton reported that there were once so many barbel in the Danube that they could be caught by hand, 'eight or ten load at a time' .[6]


Juvenile barbel

Adult B. barbus specimens can reach 1.2 m (4 ft) in length and 12 kg (26 lb) in weight, although it is typically found at smaller sizes (50–100 cm length, weight 1–3 kg).[7] Their sloping foreheads, flattened undersides, slender bodies and horizontally oriented pectoral fins are all adaptations for their life in swift, deep rivers, helping to keep them close to the riverbed in very strong flows. Juvenile fish are usually grey and mottled in appearance; adults are typically dark brown, bronze or grey in colour with a pale underside, with distinctively reddish or orange-tinged fins. The lobes of the tail are asymmetrical, the lower lobe being rounded and slightly shorter than the pointed upper lobe.

Barbel are typically found feeding in deeper areas of rivers with a rocky or gravel bottom. Feeding is on benthic organisms, including crustaceans, insect larvae and mollusks.

Males become mature after three to four years, females after five to eight years. Spawning occurs between May and late June on most rivers, when groups of males assemble in shallow water in pursuit of mates. Females produce between 8,000 and 12,000 eggs per kilogram of bodyweight, which are fertilised by males as they are released and deposited in shallow excavations in the gravel of the riverbed. The eggs are poisonous.[citation needed]

Parasites of Barbus barbus include Aspidogaster limacoides, a trematode flatworm;[8] and Pomphorhynchus laevis, an acanthocephalan worm.[9]

Recreational importance[edit]

A specimen barbel from the River Wye, England.

The common barbel is a popular sport fish throughout its range, long prized by anglers for its power and stamina. Walton noted that "he will often break both rod and line if he proves to be a big one... the Barbel affords an angler choice sport, being a lusty and a cunning fish; so lusty and cunning as to endanger the breaking of the angler's line, by running his head forcibly towards any covert, or hole, or bank, and then striking at the line, to break it off, with his tail".[6]

Barbel fishing is especially popular in the UK, where it reaches a weight of over 20 pounds.[10] A fish of more than 10 pounds is considered to be of specimen size. Famous UK barbel rivers include the Dorset Stour, Trent, Kennet, Wye, Severn, and Great Ouse. Several angling societies exist in the UK which specifically promote the pursuit and conservation of the species.


  1. ^ Freyhof, J. & Kottelat, M. (2008). "Barbus barbus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2010-02-11. 
  2. ^ Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2006). "Barbus barbus" in FishBase. March 2006 version.
  3. ^ "Introductions of Barbus barbus". Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "Stillwater Barbel Thrive". Match Fishing Magazine. 24 November 2011. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  5. ^ "Other Fish Species". Wye & Usk Foundation. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Izaak Walton (1869). The Compleat Angler [ed. A. Murray]. pp. 86–87. 
  7. ^ "Barbel". Environment Agency archive. Retrieved 2 October 2015. 
  8. ^ Schludermann C., Laimgruber S., Konecny R. & Schabuss M. (2005). "Aspidogaster limacoides DIESING, 1835 (Trematoda, Aspidogastridae): A new parasite of Barbus barbus (L.) (Pisces, Cyprinidae) in Austria". Annalen des Naturhistorischen Museums in Wien 106B: 141-144
  9. ^ Djikanovic, Gacic and Cakic (2010). "Endohelminth fauna of barbel Barbus barbus in the Serbian section of the Danube River" (PDF). Bulletin of the European Association of Fish Pathologists 30 (6): 229–236. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 
  10. ^ "Britain's biggest barbel fish, the Big Lady, killed by otter". The Telegraph. 30 July 2015. Retrieved 1 October 2015. 

External links[edit]