Common barbel

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Common barbel
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii
Order: Cypriniformes
Family: Cyprinidae
Subfamily: Barbinae
Genus: Barbus
B. barbus
Binomial name
Barbus barbus

The common barbel, 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. In Great Britain it is usually referred to simply as the barbel; similar names are used elsewhere in Europe, such as barbeau in France and flodbarb in Sweden. [2] 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

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. [3] It is an adaptable fish which transplants well between waterways, and has become established as an introduced species in several countries including Scotland, [4] Morocco and Italy. [5] Although barbel are native to eastern flowing rivers in England, they have historically been translocated to western flowing rivers, such as the River Severn. [6] 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. [7]

Barbel are very abundant in some rivers, often seen in large shoals on rivers such as the Wye. [8] 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' . [9]


Juvenile barbel Barbus Barbus (juvenile).JPG
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). [10] Adult barbel can live to over 20 years of age. [11] 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 active fish and often travel long distances in quite short time periods. Individuals can move between 16 and 68 km in a year, with mean (average) daily movement between 26 and 139m. [12] Adults commonly feed at night, although they may feed during the daytime in the safety of deeper water or near bankside cover and underwater obstructions. [13] Their underslung mouths make them especially well adapted for feeding on benthic organisms, including crustaceans, insect larvae and mollusks, which they root out from the gravel and stones of the riverbed. Barbel diets change as the fish develop from fry to juveniles and then to adults. [14] Diatoms that cover rocks and the larvae of non-biting midges ( Chironomidae ) are particularly important foods for young fish. [15]


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. Upstream migration to reach spawning grounds typically occurs between March and May, depending on water temperature. [12] Females produce between 8,000 and 12,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight, which are fertilised by males as they are released and deposited in shallow excavations in the gravel of the riverbed. Barbel bury their eggs below the gravel, creating redd-like pit and tailspill structures. [16] High amounts of fine sediment can be detrimental to the eggs and larvae of barbel, with emergence being delayed when sand content was above 30%. [17] Barbel can spawn multiple times in captivity [18] and there is also evidence for multiple spawning either of individuals or across the population, in wild rivers. [19]


Parasites of B. barbus include Aspidogaster limacoides , a trematode flatworm; [20] Eustrongylides sp, a nematode; and Pomphorhynchus laevis , an acanthocephalan worm. [21] [22]

As food

The Barbel is a swete fysshe, but it is a quasy meete and perilous for mannys body [23]

Many authors have noted the highly toxic nature of barbel roe when eaten by humans, including Dame Juliana Berners and Charles David Badham. [24] [25] Badham relates the experience of Italian physician Antonio Gazius, who, he says, "took two boluses, and thus describes his sensations: 'At first I felt no inconvenience, but some hours having elapsed, I began to be disagreeably affected, and as my stomach swelled, and could not be brought down again by anise or carminatives, I was soon in a state of great depression and distress.' His countenance was pallid, like a man in a swoon, deadly coldness ensued, violent cholera and vomiting came after until the roe was passed, and then he became all right."

Despite the risks associated with eating barbel and its roe during the spawning season, several notable cookery authors have included recipes for barbel in their books. Mrs Beeton, for example, writes that they are in season in the winter months, and suggests simmering them with port and herbs. [26]

Recreational importance

A specimen barbel from the River Wye, England. River Wye barbel.jpg
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. Izaak 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". [9]

Barbel fishing is especially popular in the UK, where it reaches a weight of over 9 kg (20 lb). [27] A fish of more than 4.5 kg (10 lb) is considered to be of specimen size. Famous UK barbel rivers include the Hampshire Avon, 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, including the Barbel Society and the Barbel Catchers Club. Barbel conservation is important, for although populations appear robust in some larger river systems, localised populations can be vulnerable to environmental factors. For example, the relatively small River Wensum in the county of Norfolk was of national importance to barbel anglers from the 1970s until the early 2000s, at one time producing the British record fish. But in recent years the reintroduction of otters in the river catchment (together with siltation of spawning gravels) has had a devastating effect on the barbel population as they are easy to catch in the shallow, clear river. Now only a fragmented population remains, and barbel may be on their way to local extinction. [28]

Baits for catching barbel vary widely according to local practices and conditions. In the UK, popular baits include tinned luncheon meat, fishmeal-based pellets, hemp seed, maggots, and boilies. In areas with high angling activity fishmeal-based pellets could constitute up to 71% of the barbel diet. [29] In France, many anglers still use natural baits, especially caddis larvae, which they collect from the stones and gravel near the fish's feeding areas. [30]

Related Research Articles

Cyprinidae Family of freshwater fish

Cyprinidae is a family of freshwater fish, commonly called the carp or minnow family. It includes the carps, the true minnows, and relatives like the barbs and barbels. Cyprinidae is the largest and most diverse fish family and the largest vertebrate animal family in general, with about 3,000 species of which only 1,270 remain extant, divided into about 370 genera. Cyprinids range from about 12 mm in size to the 3-m giant barb. By genus and species count, the family makes up more than two-thirds of the ostariophysian order Cypriniformes. The family name is derived from the Greek word kyprînos.

<i>Squalius cephalus</i> Species of fish

Squalius cephalus is a European species of freshwater fish in the carp family Cyprinidae. It frequents both slow and moderate rivers, as well as canals and still waters of various kinds. This species is referred to as the common chub, European chub, or simply chub.

Quillback Species of fish

The quillback, also known as the quillback carpsucker, is a type of freshwater fish of the sucker family widely distributed throughout North America. It is deeper-bodied than most suckers, leading to a carplike appearance. It can be distinguished from carp by the lack of barbels around the mouth. The quillback is long-lived, with age beyond 50 years documented.

Carp various species of cyprinid fishes

Carp are various species of oily freshwater fish from the family Cyprinidae, a very large group of fish native to Europe and Asia. While carp is consumed in many parts of the world, they are generally considered an invasive species in parts of Africa, Australia and most of the United States.

Common carp Species of fish

The common carp or European carp is a widespread freshwater fish of eutrophic waters in lakes and large rivers in Europe and Asia. The native wild populations are considered vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but the species has also been domesticated and introduced into environments worldwide, and is often considered a destructive invasive species, being included in the list of the world's 100 worst invasive species. It gives its name to the carp family, Cyprinidae.

Brown trout Species of fish

The brown trout is a European species of salmonid fish that has been widely introduced into suitable environments globally. It includes purely freshwater populations, referred to as the riverine ecotype, Salmo trutta morpha fario, a lacustrine ecotype, S. trutta morpha lacustris, also called the lake trout, and anadromous forms known as the sea trout, S. trutta morpha trutta. The latter migrates to the oceans for much of its life and returns to fresh water only to spawn. Sea trout in Ireland and Britain have many regional names: sewin in Wales, finnock in Scotland, peal in the West Country, mort in North West England, and white trout in Ireland.

<i>Puntius</i> Genus of fishes

Puntius is a genus of small freshwater fish in the family Cyprinidae native to South Asia and Mainland Southeast Asia, as well as Taiwan.

Common dace Species of ray-finned fish

The common dace is a species of freshwater and brackish water ray-finned fish from the family Cyprinidae which is native to Europe but which has been introduced to other parts of the world. It is a quarry species for coarse anglers.

Sea trout Form of brown trout

Sea trout is the common name usually applied to anadromous forms of brown trout, and is often referred to as Salmo trutta morpha trutta. Other names for anadromous brown trout are sewin (Wales), peel or peal, mort, finnock (Scotland), white trout (Ireland) and salmon trout (culinary). The term sea trout is also used to describe other anadromous salmonids—coho salmon, brook trout, Arctic char, cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden. Even some non-salmonid species are also commonly known as sea trout—Northern pikeminnow and members of the weakfish family (Cynoscion).

Tench Species of fish

The tench or doctor fish is a fresh- and brackish-water fish of the order Cypriniformes found throughout Eurasia from Western Europe including the British Isles east into Asia as far as the Ob and Yenisei Rivers. It is also found in Lake Baikal. It normally inhabits slow-moving freshwater habitats, particularly lakes and lowland rivers.

Eel-tailed catfish Species of fish

The eel-tailed catfish, Tandanus tandanus, is a species of catfish of the family Plotosidae. This fish is also known as dewfish, freshwater catfish, jewfish, and tandan.

Barbel (fish) Freshwater fish

Barbels are group of small carp-like freshwater fish, almost all of the genus Barbus. They are usually found in gravel and rocky-bottomed slow-flowing waters with high dissolved oxygen content. A typical adult barbel will range from 25 to 100 cm in length and weigh anywhere between 200 g and 10 kg, although weights of 200 g are more common. Babies weigh 100–150 g.

Dalmatian barbelgudgeon Species of fish

The Dalmatian barbelgudgeon is a European ray-finned fish species in the family Cyprinidae. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Aulopyge. The genus name is derived from the ancient Greek aulós + pygé, and thus means approximately "fluted tail-stem". The specific name honours the Austrian naturalist and diplomat Charles von Hügel. Though the genus was established in 1841, the species was only mentioned but not described at that time; that happened the following year, and in 1843, the frequently-seen misspelling huegeli was introduced. Many fish databases use 1843 as the year of description. The IUCN Red List uses 1842 and also has an explanation of the confusion here.

<i>Luciobarbus graellsii</i> Species of fish

Luciobarbus graellsii is a ray-finned fish species in the family Cyprinidae. It is here placed in Luciobarbus following the IUCN, but that genus is very closely related to the other typical barbels and perhaps better considered a mere subgenus of Barbus. The Andalusian barbel was formerly included in L. bocagei as subspecies.

Italian barbel Species of fish

The Italian barbel is a species of freshwater fish in the family Cyprinidae, nearly related to the common barbel Barbus barbus.

<i>Romanogobio uranoscopus</i> Species of fish

Romanogobio uranoscopus, alternatively known as the Danubian longbarbel gudgeon, Danubian gudgeon, Danube gudgeon or the steingressling, is a European species of freshwater cyprinid fish. It can be found in Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine.

Freshwater bivalves are one kind of freshwater mollusc, along with freshwater snails. They are bivalves which live in freshwater, as opposed to saltwater, the main habitat type for bivalves.

Kura barbel Species of fish

The Kura barbel or lizard barbel or is a species of freshwater cyprinid fish from the Near East region.

Stable isotope ratio

The term stable isotope has a meaning similar to stable nuclide, but is preferably used when speaking of nuclides of a specific element. Hence, the plural form stable isotopes usually refers to isotopes of the same element. The relative abundance of such stable isotopes can be measured experimentally, yielding an isotope ratio that can be used as a research tool. Theoretically, such stable isotopes could include the radiogenic daughter products of radioactive decay, used in radiometric dating. However, the expression stable-isotope ratio is preferably used to refer to isotopes whose relative abundances are affected by isotope fractionation in nature. This field is termed stable isotope geochemistry.

Angling records in the United Kingdom

This is an impartial and comprehensive record list of 292 British record freshwater fish, past and present, involving 57 different species/sub-species of fish caught using the traditional angling method of rod and line. Records to include the angler, species, weight, date, venue, also referenced with a recognizable publication. The list is intended to include all categories of fish caught by anglers, that enter freshwater including and some migratory sea fish. The time since last record fish was caught is 227 days.


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