22 Small Fish for Your Freshwater Aquarium

Orange and white black-spotted fish swimming in aquarium

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Looking for a small addition to a new or existing freshwater aquarium? We have the best of the small aquarium fish breeds for your tank. All of these fish are less than 3 inches, but note that many of these species do best when in a small school of a minimum 3 to 5 individuals.

Before mixing new fish species, do your research thoroughly in order to make sure the environmental parameters match and they have the same compatibility. All new fish should be quarantined in a separate tank with separate equipment for 4 to 6 weeks to prevent the spread of disease.

  • 01 of 22

    Mickey Mouse Platy

    Mickey Mouse Platy


    Platys are colorful, live-bearing fish that are very suitable for beginners. Since they are live-bearing fish, many hobbyists start out with only one fish—which can quickly multiply into many fish. The Mickey Mouse Platy is named for a very specific color pattern formed in the tail peduncle.

    Other Platy species include the Red Wagtail, Wagtail, and many more

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Golden moon platy, mickey mouse platy, moonfish

    Scientific Name: Xiphophorus maculatus

    Adult Size: 1 to 2 inches (3 1/2 to 5 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 02 of 22


    Three male and one female guppy fish

    isoft/Getty Images

    Guppies are a cornerstone of the small fish aquarium hobby. Another live-breeding species, guppy tanks are often overrun with offspring from frequent breeding. The best skill any guppy owner can learn is to tell the difference between males and females to keep populations from exploding.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Guppy 

    Scientific Name: Poecilia reticulata

    Adult Size: 2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 2 to 3 years

  • 03 of 22

    Zebra danio (Zebrafish)

    Zebra danio fish

    isoft/Getty Images

    These small, striped fish are one of the few in the aquarium hobby that don't require tropical temperatures. Zebrafish are peaceful, community players that love schooling in groups. There are multiple Danio species available in the pet market with a variety of colors and markings.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Striped danio, zebra danio, zebrafish

    Scientific Name: Danio rerio

    Adult Size: 2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 04 of 22

    Neon Tetra

    Neon tetra fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    One of the most common small freshwater aquarium species is the Neon Tetra. These fish are known for their colorful appearance with bright red and blue stripes. They are great community fish and school together in a vibrant wave.

    The Cardinal or Red Neon Tetra is another, very similar species. They are distinguishable from the more common Neon Tetra by their longer red belly bar. The Black Neon Tetra is a similar species with black bars instead of color.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Neon tetra, neon fish

    Scientific Name: Paracheirodon innesi

    Adult Size: 1 1/2 inches (4 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

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  • 05 of 22

    White Cloud Mountain Minnow

    White cloud mountain minnow fish

    Besjunior/Getty Images

    The White Cloud Mountain Minnow is another species of small community fish that does not require tropical temperatures. These fish do well in temperate tanks with Zebrafish and goldfish, provided they are not snack size. These fish are common in some aquascape setups where focus is put on the plants, not necessarily the fish.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Canton danio, Chinese danio, white cloud, white cloud mountain fish, white cloud mountain minnow

    Scientific Name: Tanichthys micagemmae

    Adult Size: 1 1/2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 3 to 5 years

  • 06 of 22

    Harlequin Rasbora

    Harlequin rasbora fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The Harlequin Rasbora is a small, schooling fish with a vibrant ruby coloration. These peaceful fish add a bright splash of color to planted or aquascaped tanks. There are many various species of Rasbora that stay small and do well in community tanks.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Red rasbora

    Scientific Name: Trigonostigma heteromorpha

    Adult Size: 1 3/4 inches (4 1/2 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 6 years

  • 07 of 22

    Serpae Tetra

    Serpae tetra fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The Serpae Tetra is a smaller fish with a big personality. These bright red schooling fish with black fins provide color to natural tankscapes. These fish are very active, and have the habit of biting fins of their friends and tankmates.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Blood characin, callistus, callistus tetra, jewel tetra, red minor tetra, red serpae, serpa tetra, serpae tetra

    Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon eques

    Adult Size: 1 3/4 inches (4 1/2 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 08 of 22

    Panda Corydora

    Panda cory dora fish

    Miropa/Getty Images

    The Panda Corydora is the most common corydora species seen in the pet trade. These fish have white or translucent bodies with contrasting black spots, giving them their panda-esque coloration.

    There are multiple species of corydoras with similar, peaceful temperaments. The main differences between these species are their colors and markings. All corydoras are small, peaceful, bottom-dwelling, nocturnal fish species.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Panda catfish, panda cory, panda corydoras

    Scientific Name: Corydoras panda

    Adult Size: 2 inches (5 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 10 years

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  • 09 of 22

    Glowlight Tetra

    Glowlight tetra fish

    bdspn/Getty Images

    The Glowlight Tetra is not to be confused with GloFish species. Their coloration comes from natural color patterns and has not been genetically engineered.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Glowlight tetra, glolight, fire neon

    Scientific Name: Hemigrammus erythrozonus

    Adult Size: 1 1/2 inches (4 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 10 of 22

    Pea Puffer

    Pea puffer fish

    Daniel Szente/Flickr

    A newer addition to the aquarium hobby, the Pea Puffer is a small but mighty member of the pufferfish family. Don't let their small size trick you! These small fish can be aggressive, even against their own kind.

    The Pea Puffer is not recommended for beginner hobbyists. Proper diet and environment is key in long-term survival of these fish.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Pea Puffer, Dwarf Puffer, Bumblebee Puffer, Malabar Puffer, Pygmy Puffer

    Scientific Name: Carinotetraodon travancoricus

    Adult Size: 1 to 1 1/2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 4 years

  • 11 of 22

    Tiger Barb

    Tiger barb fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The Tiger Barb is an easy fish to take care of, but they do not play well in community tanks. Be sure they are in more aggressive level tanks and have lots of room to swim.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Tiger barb, sumatra barb, and partbelt barb

    Scientific Name:  Barbus tetrazona

    Adult Size: 3 inches

    Life Expectancy: 6 years

  • 12 of 22


    Orange swordfish with black spots swimming

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    Named for their elongated ventral tail fin, the Swordtail is another live bearer fish that can quickly overwhelm a small system. There are many color varieties of Swordtail available in the pet fish market.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Swordtail 

    Scientific Name: Xiphophorus helleri

    Adult Size: 3 to 4 inches

    Life Expectancy: 3 to 5 years

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  • 13 of 22

    German Blue Ram

    German Blue Ram fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    There are many species within the Cichlid family tree, but relatively few that stay small in size. The German Blue Ram is one such species, but are not recommended for beginners given their strict water quality and habitat requirements.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: German Blue Ram, Ram Chiclid, German Blue

    Scientific Name: Mikrogeophagus ramirezi

    Adult Size: 2 to 3 inches

    Life Expectancy: 2 to 3 years

  • 14 of 22

    Buenos Aires Tetra

    Buenos aires tetra fish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The Buenos Aires Tetra is making a comeback in the aquarium hobby. Once known as voracious plant eaters, these colorful fish are being seen more in heavily planted tanks, where plant food is plentiful. These community fish are easy to care for and can tolerate many beginner mistakes.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Buenos Aires tetra, diamond spot characin, red cross fish

    Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon anisitsi

    Adult Size: 2 3/4 inches (7 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 15 of 22

    Dwarf Gourami

    Male Dwarf Gourami

    Mirko_Rosenau / Getty Images

    Of the many gourami species, there are few that stay small. Most gouramis are medium-sized fish, but the Dwarf Gourami, as the name suggests, tops out at only 2 inches. Like other gouramis, these intermediate-level fishes have specific environmental requirements for successful lives.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Dwarf gourami, flame gourami, powder blue gourami, red gourami, sunset gourami

    Scientific Name: Trichogaster Ialius

    Adult Size: 2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 4 years

  • 16 of 22

    Gold (Chinese) Barb

    Gold barb fish

    NERYX/Getty Images

    Although this fish is green in the wild, it has been captively bred to show brilliant golden coloration. These active fish play well in community tanks but do prefer slightly less than tropical temperatures.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: China barb, Chinese barb, Chinese half-striped barb, gold barb, green barb, half banded barb, half-stripes barb, Schubert's barb, six-banded banded barb

    Scientific Name: Puntius semifasciolatus

    Adult Size: 3 inches (7 1/2 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

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  • 17 of 22

    Betta Fish

    Male betta fish

    Getty Images/DEA/C. DANI

    Betta fish are one of the most common pet fish species. Given their aggressive nature, male bettas should be kept away from other male bettas. Some female bettas can get along in groups, but not all. Betta fish come in a rainbow variety of colors and tail shapes.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Betta, siamese fighting fish

    Scientific Name: Betta splendens

    Adult Size: 3 inches (7 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 2 to 3 years

  • 18 of 22



    Besjunior/Getty Images

    Looking for a more challenging and rare small fish species? Hatchetfish have a very unique, compressed body shape, known for flying over the top of the water using their wing-like fins. These fish are not for beginners, since they have very specific tank requirements.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Marbled hatchetfish

    Scientific Name: Carnegiella strigata

    Adult Size: 1 to 1 2/5 inches

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 19 of 22

    Congo Tetra

    Two Congo Tetra

     Getty Images/Mirko_Rosenau

    The Congo Tetra pushes the maximum length of the small fish category, but these schooling fish are a rainbow addition to many tanks. They are peaceful aquarium fish, with males having longer fins than females.

    Species Overview

    Common Name: Congo Tetra

    Scientific Name: Phenacogrammus interruptus

    Adult Size: 3 to 3 1/2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 3 to 5 years

  • 20 of 22

    Beacon Fish

    Head and Tail Light Tetra

    Dennis Amith/Flickr

    The Beacon fish is another member of the tetra family. Also known as the Head and Tail light tetra, this fish has distinctive copper spots that resemble lights on a vehicle. These fish do best in lower lighting with lots of plant cover.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Beacon fish, beacon tetra, head and tail light tetra

    Scientific Name: Hemigrammus ocellifer

    Adult Size: 2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

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  • 21 of 22

    Black Phantom Tetra

    School of Black Phantom Tetra fish

    Getty Images / c1a1p1c1o1m1

    Rather than bright colors, the Black Phantom Tetra is known for its darker appearance with elongated dorsal fin. These fish make a great contrast with other tetra species, who typically will all school together.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Black phantom petra, phantom tetra

    Scientific Name: Megalamphodus megalopterus

    Adult Size: 1 3/4 inches (4 1/2 centimeters)

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

  • 22 of 22

    Black Ruby Barb

    Black Ruby Barb fish

    Derek Ramsey/Wikimedia Commons

    Also known as the Purple-Headed Barb, the Black Ruby Barb has a distinct deep red coloration not commonly seen in other aquarium fishes. With a similar body shape as the Tiger Barb (above), these fish start with a pale yellow body that deepens with maturity.

    Species Overview

    Common Names: Purple-headed barb, purplehead barb, ruby barb, black barb

    Scientific Name: Pethia nigrofasciata

    Adult Size: 2 inches

    Life Expectancy: 5 years

Small fish may have small bodies, but that doesn't mean they need a small tank! Some small species have larger tank requirements due to territoriality or the need to school in groups. Before adding any new fish to an existing tank, be sure to do your research to make sure everyone will get along and have the correct water quality requirements, including temperature.

  • How many fish can you keep in one aquarium?

    Depends on the fish and the size of the tank. However, the basic math is 1-inch of fish to one to two gallons of water.

  • How do I take care of fish in an aquarium?

    The best way to take take of your new aquarium is maintain the aquarium: keep an eye on water conditions, including checking pH levels and temperature; make sure the tank is properly cleaned monthly. Then, make sure the fish you add are properly acclimated, and that you watch your fish closely to be sure they are thriving.

  • How do you feed fish in an aquarium?

    Most fish thrive on two feedings a day, morning and night. The fish will see you approach the aquarium with the food in your hands and swim to the surface. But before this, you need to know what to feed the fish you have, and that's where the salespeople people where you bought your aquarium can be a great resource for you: there are fish flakes, fish pellets, fish tablets, and fresh food. Make sure you have the right food for the breeds in your tank.