Popular Tropical Aquarium Fish

Kelly Roper
Dwarf Gourami
Dwarf Gourami

Fish like guppies and angelfish are staples for aquarium hobbyists, but there are plenty more species to choose from. If you want to add more visual interest to your tank, consider these other tropical beauties.

Popular Tropical Fish Species

Some of these fish can live together while others are best kept only with fish of the same species. Many are relatively inexpensive at five dollars or less for young specimens.

Dwarf Gouramis

  • Size: About 3-1/2 inches long
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: About 10 gallons
  • Typical diet: Flaked food, species-appropriate pellets, and live foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp

Dwarf gouramis are prized for their lovely coloring of an almost fluorescent blue with red stripes. Males will flush a deeper purple and flare their fins when they are trying to court females, putting on quite the display.

These fish are members of the anabantoid group, which means they can breathe through their gills as well as by gulping air at the water's surface. They are egg layers and will build bubble nests at the water's surface where they will attach their eggs.

Dwarf gouramis are generally peaceful toward other species, but you must take care to avoid housing them with fish known for aggression, such as bettas. Males can be a bit aggressive towards other dwarf gouramis, so it's good to include a lot of plants in your aquarium to give them places to retreat. Preferred plants include hygrophila, limnophila and riccia.

Swordtails

  • Swordtail
    Size: Up to 6 inches long
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 20 gallons or larger
  • Typical diet: Flake food, brine shrimp, bloodworms, tubifex worms

Walk into any aquarium shop, and you're bound to find Swordtails available. These fish are popular because they are quite attractive and come in various color varieties. You'll find gorgeous reds, yellows, blacks and more. The male of this species has the characteristic long tip on the bottom of his tail which resembles a sword, hence the name.

Swordtails are livebearers so plan on stocking the aquarium with bushy plants, especially Java moss, to give the babies a place to hide. Males of this species can also be a bit territorial with each other, so you'll need to remove extras and place them in other tanks or find new homes for them.

Leopard Cory Catfish

  • Leopard Cory Catfish
    Size: Approximately 2-1/2 to 3 inches long
  • Care level: Moderately easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons
  • Typical diet: Sinking pellets, frozen bloodworms, frozen or live brine shrimp

Leopard cory catfish are popular for their attractive, leopard-like pattern as well as the fact that they help keep the bottom of the aquarium clean. They are bottom feeders, so they eat the food which winds up on the bottom of the tank.

These cute little catfish get along with most community tank species, but do not keep them with more aggressive fish such as cichlids. They tend to do well in small groups of three or four cories. Make sure your tank's gravel is fairly smooth to avoid unnecessary damage to their barbels, or whiskers. These fish also like a well-planted aquarium with bogwood they can use for cover.

Mollies

  • Molly
    Average size: About 2 inches long with some varieties growing larger
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 20 gallons
  • Typical diet: Flaked food, bloodworms, brine shrimp, algae

The popular molly comes in numerous varieties. There are different colors such as blacks, dalmatians and golds, as well as specimens with sail-fins, lyre-tails, and balloon-shaped bodies. With so many types to choose from, you can certainly set up a visually stunning tank.

Mollies are laid back as a rule, but they are known to do a bit of chasing and fin nipping, especially if a tank mate has flowing fins. These fish typically spend a lot of time at the mid-tank level, but they are little explorers who love to swim the entire length of the aquarium.

Like most community aquarium dwellers, mollies appreciate living amongst a variety of plants which will offer them places to hide whenever they feel the need. The plants also provide cover for any babies they might produce since these fish are prolific livebearers.

Rainbow Shark

  • Rainbow shark
    Average size: Up to 6 inches long
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 29 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food, tubifex worms, bloodworms

The beautiful rainbow shark typically comes in shades of gray to black and has red fins, but there is also a striking albino variety that has a pinkish-pearl body with red fins. These fish are not true sharks, but they are prized for the drama they add to a community tank.

These fish should only be housed with other semi-aggressive species such as barbs, some tetras and others of similar size. Plan on only housing one shark per aquarium because these fish are fairly territorial and will display aggression toward other sharks.

Rainbow sharks prefer habitats which include plants, driftwood, rock caves and even tank ornaments that help define the space so they can establish their territory and find a secure place to rest.

Khuli Loach

  • Khuli Loach
    Average size: 4 inches long
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 15 gallons
  • Typical diet: Sinking loach pellets, frozen or live brine shrimp and bloodworms, flake food

Khuli loaches are popular, in part, because they resemble small eels and are colored brown with tan stripes along the length of their bodies. They are peaceful fish, but they do have some specific requirements if you're going to keep them in a community tank.

They should only be housed with peaceful species, and they are happiest when they have a small group of other khuli loaches to keep them company. The bottom of their tank should be filled with sand, not aquarium gravel because they like to sift through it. You should also provide them with a hiding place where they can sleep during the day, such as a shrimp hut or a cave made from rocks. If possible, you should add a few almond leaves to the tank to condition their water.

Plecostomus

  • Plecostomus
    Average size: Potentially up to 18 inches as adults
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 75 gallons
  • Typical diet: Algae pellets, parboiled romaine lettuce and peas, bloodworms, tubifex worms, and all other uneaten food in the aquarium

Plecos, as they are commonly known, are popular because they look so prehistoric and they have a habit of sucking on the aquarium glass until they attach to it. The numerous varieties come in an array of color patterns, but most tend to have some shade of brown as a base color. They are actually members of the catfish family and have barbels which help them locate food.

Plecos are peaceful fish, but they do not tolerate other plecos very well. For this reason, you should only keep one pleco in a community tank.

Plecos eat a lot and create a lot of waste, so you need a good filtration system to keep the water clean. For their habitat, they prefer a soft substrate such as sand and need a cave or tube to sleep in during the day. Java ferns and various floating plants provide light filtration for this species.

Neon Tetras

  • Neon Tetra
    Average size: About 3/4 of an inch long
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food, live or frozen brine shrimp, daphnia, bloodworms

Simply put, hobbyists love the way neon tetras light up an aquarium. These tiny fish are olive green on top with silver bellies. The back half of their bodies is bright red, and they have an iridescent, neon blue stripe on each side. The fins are basically transparent.

Unlike some tetras, neons are quite peaceful and rather timid. They prefer to live in shoals, which means groups of five or more. They should not be housed with larger fish which might consider them prey.

Their habitat should include driftwood and a lot of plants, especially floating plants, which offer plenty of places for your fish to hide. Plan on using dark gravel to show their brilliant colors to the best advantage.

Choose Compatible Species

Stocking your tank is just the beginning of all the fun, but you need to make sure the species you select, if you select more than one, can live together in relative peace. Live Aquaria offers an excellent chart which shows which species can get along as a community. With careful choices and an appropriate aquarium setup, you can enjoy your tropical fish for many years to come.

Popular Tropical Aquarium Fish