Pigmentation in fishes is known to be variable both among individuals of a species and within individuals over time. Use of pigment characters for taxonomic diagnoses must, therefore, be carefully considered. I present experimental evidence showing that pigment characters previously considered diagnostic for three small African 'Barbus' species may differ between living and preserved specimens and that lasting changes in these characters can be induced experimentally by placing fishes in a different, less turbid environment. Lateral line pigmentation and presence of a spot on the caudal peduncle showed significant changes that resulted in different species identifications before and after the experiment. These pigment patterns are thereby shown to be labile, nontrenchant characters having little or no diagnostic utility. 'Barbus' amphigramma Boulenger, 1903, and 'Barbus' taitensis Gu??nther, 1894, are thus shown to be junior synonyms of 'Barbus' paludinosus Peters, 1852.