20 Popular Tropical Fish to Add to Your Aquarium

Updated December 28, 2021
Girl feeding pet fish

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

Popular Tropical Species of Aquarium Fish

Some of these fish can live together, while others are best kept only with fish of the same species. Many are relatively inexpensive, while others can fetch a premium.

Dwarf Gouramis

These shy and colorful fish are quite hardy. Quick stats about dwarf gouramis include the following.

Trichogaster (Colisa) in aquarium
  • 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 coloration 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 Anabantidae family, which means they can breathe through their gills and also by gulping air at the water's surface.
  • They lay eggs and will build bubble nests at the water's surface where they 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, and two male dwarf gouramis likely need a large aquarium with ample space to have a chance to get along. It's best to include a lot of plants in your aquarium to give them places to retreat. Preferred plants include hygrophila, limnophila, and riccia.

Swordtails

Known for their long, sword-like tails, this fish species is great for beginners. Swordtail quick stats include the following.

Red Wagtail Swordtail Fish, xiphophorus helleri wagtail
  • 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. These fish are popular because they are quite attractive and come in several color varieties. You'll find gorgeous reds, yellows, blacks, and more. The males have the characteristic long tip on the bottom of their tail, which resembles a sword, hence their common 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 it's best to have only one male in a tank. If any baby male swordtails mature, you may need to remove them and place them in other tanks or find new homes for them.

Leopard Cory Catfish

The leopard cory catfish is a cute and beneficial addition to an aquarium. Their stats include the following.

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 that ends up on the bottom of the tank, but you still need to provide appropriate food options just for them. Do not rely on uneaten food to provide for their nutritional requirements.

  • These cute little catfish get along with most community tank species. However, you should 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

If you want mollies, who are another hardy freshwater fish, here are their basic stats.

Dalmatian Molly Fish
  • 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. They can be found in different colors, such as blacks, dalmatians, and golds. Other available and unique characteristics include 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 generally laid back, but they can be known to do a bit of chasing and fin nipping, especially if a tankmate 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 among a variety of plants, which offer them places to hide whenever they feel the need.
  • Plants also provide cover for any babies they might produce, since these fish are prolific livebearers.

Rainbow Shark

Native to Southeast Asia, the rainbow shark is not a shark at all. Keep the following in mind when considering this species.

Rainbow shark catfish (Epalzeorhynchos frenatum)
  • 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 other fish 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 that 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 loaches are relatively small, eel-like fish. Keep these quick stats in mind when considering adding them to your tank.

Kuhli Loach Catfish Pangio kuhlii freshwater aquarium fish
  • Average size: 4 inches long
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 15 gallons
  • Typical diet: Sinking loach pellets, frozen or live brine shrimp, 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

Common plecos -- known scientifically as Hypostomus plecostomus -- are very often available in the aquarium trade. However, these do not make good beginner fish for one simple reason: they grow to a gargantuan size, with some specimens reaching as much as 24 inches in length. A pleco this large needs a tank that is at least 150 gallons in volume, with ample space on the tank bottom to move around.

Several species commonly referred to as plecos are smaller, however. if you plan to add a pleco to your tank, you must do your research and discuss species identification with your local fish store. A reputable store will make the effort to identify their plecos by species, and ensure your setup is large enough to accommodate them.

Hypostomus Plecostomus
  • Average size: Common plecos can reach as much as 24 inches; choose a species that is suitable for your setup
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: Depends on species and adult size; as much as 150 gallons or more
  • 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. They also have an endearing 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 members of the catfish family, and some species have barbels that 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 an appopriate 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 help reduce light levels, which makes these catfish feel more at home.

Neon Tetras

Neon tetras are tiny fish that are easy to care for. Here's what you should know about them.

Neon Tetra Fishes
  • 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 are 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 are groups of five or more.
  • They should not be housed with larger fish who 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.

Betta

Bettas are popular fish, whether kept by themselves in a tank or as part of a community tank with compatible fish.

Blue betta fish Aquarian swims in aquarium
  • Average size: Up to 2-1/2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 5 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake and pellet food, live or frozen brine shrimp, daphnia, live or frozen bloodworms, mosquito larvae

Bettas are beautiful fish known for their fancy, flowing fins and a variety of colors. While they have a reputation for being singular fish, you can keep them in a community tank with compatible species.

  • Male bettas will be aggressive and territorial toward other male bettas, as well as fish of similar size, coloring, and fin shape.
  • Though they are often featured in small bowls, these vessels are not suitable to keep a betta truly happy and healthy.
  • They enjoy a tank that has ample hiding and resting places; don't be surprised if you see your betta taking a nap. Choose live or silk plants, as plastic plants can cause their fins to fray and become damaged.

Angelfish

Angelfish are lovely, which makes them a popular tropical aquarium fish, although they are not always the best choice for beginners.

Angelfishes in a fish tank
  • Average size: Up to 6 inches long, and 10 inches tall
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 30 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake, pellet and granular food, live or frozen bloodworms, and brine shrimp

Angelfish are peaceful fish, though they can be territorial if they are kept in a tank that's too small. This species is relatively easy to care for, although maintaining certain water conditions is critical to keeping them healthy.

  • Angelfish need water that is kept very clean and at a pH of 6.5 to 7.5. They need a temperature around 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. Ammonia and nitrate levels must be monitored to keep these fish healthy.
  • They do best in a tank with other angelfish, but can live in a community tank if the other fish are not fin nippers like tetras.
  • Their tank should have plenty of places for them to hide with driftwood, rocks, and live or artificial plants.

Guppy

Guppies are livebearers who come in an amazing array of colors and patterns, as well as tail and fin shapes. The following are their quick stats.

Guppy. Poecilia (Lebistes) reticulata
  • Average size: Up to 2-1/2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 20 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food, veggie pellets, spirulina tablets, frozen bloodworms, tubifex worms, and brine shrimp

Guppies are not only well-known tropical fish for their appearance and ease of care, but they're popular with breeders, as well. You can even head to a fancy guppy breeding show where you'll see an incredible range of these beautiful small fish.

  • Guppies are livebearer fish; therefore, you will need to regularly care for guppy fry if you keep males and females together in one tank.
  • Guppies are easy to care for because they can tolerate a variety of water conditions and are not as delicate as other fish species.
  • Their tank can contain other tankmates, as long as they are peaceful fish. They do well in tanks with either live or fake vegetation, and guppy fry will need plants like floating ferns to keep them safe from adults.

Oscar

These fish are not for beginners, because they typically require a species tank -- meaning that these are the only fish kept in the system -- and ample room to move. Oscars are members of the cichlid family, and hail from South America. Their quick stats are as follows.

Oscar fish
  • Average size: Up to 12 to 14 inches
  • Care level: Difficult
  • Preferred tank size: 75 gallons minimum for a single Oscar; two Oscars need at least 125 gallons
  • Typical diet: Oscars are carnivores who eat live food such as fly larvae, mealworms, wax worms, crickets, shrimp, and small feeder fish.

Oscars are fascinating and intelligent tropical aquarium fish. Some owners describe them as having their own unique personalities.

  • Aside from needing a large tank, Oscars are difficult to care for in that they have very specific water quality needs. You must have excellent filtration, perform regular cleanings, and do water changes to keep them healthy.
  • Oscars can easily jump out of a tank, so a secure tank hood is non-negotiable when keeping these fish.
  • Oscars are known for "redecorating" their tank by moving decorations and plants around. This can make keeping the tank clean difficult and can also harm live plants.

Zebra Danio

Zebra danios are small, peaceful schooling fish that can be an excellent addition to a community tank.

Zebrafish in aquarium
  • Average size: Up to 2 inches, though some can get to 3 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake and pellet food and live or frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, or daphnia

Zebra danios are a very commonly kept fish because they're easy to care for and compatible with many other species.

  • They are known for their colored stripes. Although they're small fish, they are active swimmers who will dart around your aquarium.
  • Zebra danios are schooling fish and do well when kept with five or more of their own species in a tank.
  • They do best in aquariums with a mixture of open areas for fast swimming and areas rich with vegetation for hiding.

Platy

Platys are an excellent choice for people new to keeping an aquarium, as they are hardy fish that are generally easy to care for.

Sunburst tuxedo platy male Xiphophorus
  • Average size: Up to 2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food and live, frozen or freeze-dried brine shrimp, bloodworms, and tubifex worms

Platys are peaceful, small fish who are popular for novice and advanced fishkeepers. They are easy to care for and come in a wide array of colors and patterns.

  • Platys are livebearer fish who can live with many other species that have an equally peaceful temperament.
  • They will give birth if males and females are housed together and can have baby fry often.
  • Platys can survive harsher water conditions compared to other species, though you still need to change their water and clean the tank regularly. They do best in tanks with a lot of vegetation, whether live or artificial.

Cherry Barb

Cherry barbs are treasured for their vivid coloring, which can be made even brighter by feeding certain foods. Males tend to be more red in color, while females are a paler shade tending towards white.

Beautiful red fish on soft green plants
  • Average size: Up to 2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 25 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake foods, algae wafers and live, frozen or freeze-dried blood worms, daphnia, and brine shrimp

Cherry barbs are schooling fish who do best when kept with others of their species. They should be kept at a ratio of one male to every two females in a school.

  • Although they're smaller fish, they need at least a 25-gallon tank to accommodate a school. They can tolerate a range of water conditions, but do best with a pH of 6 to 7.5 and temperatures around 73 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cherry barbs can live with other peaceful tank mates, such as tetras, platys, mollies, guppies, and gouramis.
  • Their habitat should include driftwood and a lot of plants, especially floating plants, which offer plenty of places for your fish to hide. To show off their brilliant colors, plan on using dark gravel.

Discus

Discus are distinctive for their round, "disc-shaped" bodies and their wide array of bright colors and patterns, which can change over time and in response to their environment.

Discus Fish
  • Average size: Up to 8 inches in diameter
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 50 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food, spirulina, algae pellets and live, frozen or freeze-dried blood worms, brine shrimp, and mosquito larvae

Discus are striking fish, but they can be difficult to care for. They are not the best choice if you're a novice fishkeeper.

  • They are schooling fish who are peaceful, but do best in tanks without other species. They can be territorial around food with other varieties of fish.
  • They need warm water at around 82 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH level between 6 and 7. They also need a tank with calm water, so avoid filters and powerheads that produce fast-moving currents.
  • Their tank should offer a mix of places for them to hide, including plants and driftwood, as well as open areas for swimming.

Harlequin Rasbora

Harlequin rasboras get their name from the black section of the back half of their bodies.

The Harlequin Rasbora (Rasbora heteromorpha) a popular freshwater aquarium fish
  • Average size: Up to 2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food and live, frozen or freeze-dried bloodworms, and tubifex worms

Harlequin rasboras are peaceful fish who can live with many other species, although they should not be kept with larger carnivorous fish.

  • They are known to be shoaling fish, which means they stay together in groups of their own species. However, unlike schooling fish, they do not participate in coordinated movements together.
  • They need water kept around 72 to 81 degrees Fahrenheit and a pH between 6 and 7.8 to stay healthy.
  • They require a lot of plants in their tank for hiding, which can be live or artificial, although they do not need other types of decorations, such as rocks, wood, or statues.

White Cloud Mountain Minnow

Also known as the "white sky fish," the white cloud mountain minnow originates from the White Cloud Mountains of China. These are not actually tropical fish, as their natural range is temperate, so be aware that they do not make good tankmates for tropical species.

White Cloud Mountain Minnow Fish
  • Average size: Up to 2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 10 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Flake food and live, frozen or freeze-dried bloodworms, and tubifex worms

These small fish are popular for aquariums due to their peaceful nature and their elegant appearance (silver to gold shimmery colors coupled with a red tint). These are a cold-water species, so plan to house them in their own setup.

  • White cloud mountain minnows should be kept in schools. If you have at least eight in a tank, their activity level will increase.
  • They need aquarium conditions kept at 64 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit and a water pH of 6.5 to 7.5.
  • White cloud mountain minnows do best with a mixed tank habitat that has some planted areas for hiding and open areas for swimming about.

Congo Tetras

Congo tetras are gorgeous fish featuring a shimmery rainbow pattern on their side. These fish are also relatively easy to care for. Review their quick stats here.

Congo tetra aquarium fish
  • Average size: 3 to 3-1/2 inches
  • Care level: Easy
  • Preferred tank size: 30 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Pellets or flakes, daphnia, bloodworms, and brine shrimp.

This species is native to the Congo River basin in Africa; therefore, they prefer warmer water temperatures between 72 and 82 degrees. Congo tetras are fairly hardy fish who make beautiful additions to most aquariums.

  • Congo tetras are peaceful fish but can be shy, so they don't do well when paired with aggressive species.
  • These fish can become anxious when they're not in a school, so it's best to have at least six or more Congo tetras in your tank.
  • It's important to have plants and decor that can serve as hiding places for these skittish fish.

Boeseman's Rainbowfish

The Boeseman's rainbowfish is appropriately named for the vibrant coloring across their body. Their care requirements and stats are the following.

Boeseman's rainbowfish (Melanotaenia boesemani)
  • Average size: Up to 4-1/2 inches
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Preferred tank size: 30 gallons minimum
  • Typical diet: Pellets or flakes, mosquito larvae, daphnia, and vegetables

This species requires a bit more care than beginner fish due to their demanding water requirements. Feeding a healthy diet consisting of fresh or thawed frozen foods can help intensify their coloration, and loss of color could indicate a problem or illness.

  • These peaceful fish can do well with most tank mates, although they must be kept in warmer water temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit, so you should pick companions who can tolerate the same range.
  • These rainbowfish are schooling fish, so they need open water to swim.
  • Boeseman's rainbowfish can live up to 5 years with the right care.

Choose Compatible Tropical Fish Species

Stocking your tank is just the beginning of the fun. However, if you select more than one species for your setup, you need to make sure they can live together in peace. Live Aquaria offers an excellent chart that 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.

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20 Popular Tropical Fish to Add to Your Aquarium