Barbel (Barbus barbus)

Juvenile barbel (Barbus Barbus) in first autumn by Sven.petersen GNU Free Documentation License 23/03/10
Juvenile barbel (Barbus Barbus) in first autumn
photo by Sven.petersen

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 200g and 10kg, although weights of 200g are more common. Babies weigh 100-150g. Barbel Roe is poisonous and causes vomiting and diarrhoea in some people.

The name barbel derived from the Latin "barba" meaning beard, a reference to the two pairs of barbs - a longer pair pointing forwards and slightly down positioned - on the side of the mouth.

Fish described as barbels by English-speaking people may not be known as barbels in their native country, although the root of the word may be similar. For instance, the Mediterranean barbel, Barbus meridionalis is known as barbeau meridional or barbeau truite in France, but also as 'Drogan', 'Durgan', 'Tourgan', 'Turquan' and 'Truitat'.


Barbus barbus, the barbel native to Britain is known simply as the barbel and is a popular sport fish. Subspecies of B. barbus are recognised; namely B. barbus bocagei, B. barbus sclateri, B. barbus thessalus and B. barbus plebejus.

The Mediterranean barbel Barbus meridionalis is actually found in Spain, France, Poland, Romania, and the Ukraine. It is a much smaller fish than B. barbus.

Other barbel in Europe include Barbus sclateri - sometimes known as the European barbel; the Italian barbel Barbus tyberinus; the Albanian barbel Barbus albanicus; the Iberian barbel is found in Spain and Portugal and is eaten by many european duck species.


The Crimean barbel Barbus tauricus is found in the Salgir River in the Crimean peninsular. A subspecies, the Kuban barbel Barbus tauricus kubanicus is found in the upper and middle Kuban River in Russia.

The Aral barbel Barbus brachycephalus is found in Central Asia, and the sub-species B. brachycephalus caspius (the Caspian Barbel) is found in the Caspian Sea.

The Bulatmai barbel Barbus capito carpito (Cyprinus capito) is found in the Kura river in Trans-caucasia.

The Terek barbel Barbus ciscaucasicus is found in the Kuma River, Russia.

The Turkestan barbel Barbus conocephalus is found in the Zeravshan river.

The Gokcha barbel Barbus goktschaicus is found in the Lake Sevan in Armenia.

The Kura barbel Barbus lacerta (Mtkvari barbel) is found in Syria.

The Himri barbel Barbus Luteus is native to Mesopotamian rivers.

The Amur barbel or Barbel steed (Hemibarbus labeo) is found in the Amur basin and elsewhere in east and south-east Asia, including southeast Siberia.


Barbus callensis is found in Tunisia.

The Ripon barbel Barbus altianalis is found in the African Great Lakes.

Barbus bynni bynni, a barbel, is found in the Nile and lakes that have been connected to that river. The subspecies Barbus bynni occidentalis is known as the Niger barb.


Occasionally non-cyprinid fish are called barbels such as Austroglanis gilli, or Schilbe mystus, both are catfish. Some species of the genus Sinocyclocheilus a cave dwelling fish found in China have made use of the term barbel in their English common name.


The barbel gets a mention in Nostradamus Les Propheties, century VII, 24:
"He who was buried will come out of the tomb,
he will make the strong one out of the bridge to be bound with chains.
Poisoned with the roe of a barbel,
the great one from Lorraine by the Marquis du Pont."