20 Colorful Species of Rainbow Fish

Tank full of Boesemani rainbow fish and bala shark

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Rainbow fish are a common freshwater community fish, but are you aware how many species are out there? All members of the Melanotaeniidae family, rainbow fish are a wonderfully diverse group of fishes with multiple international origin points. Almost all rainbow fish species are community players and get along with a variety of different freshwater fish species in an aquarium. Keep in mind, fish from different parts of the world will often have different water quality requirements, so not all species can be mixed harmoniously.

There are many species on this list that are endangered or threatened in the wild. When possible, always purchase fish from reputable breeders and ensure you are not buying fish taken from their native environments.

Species Characteristics

Rainbow fish are classified by their elongated premaxillary teeth. They live in freshwater, including rivers, lakes, and swamps. They prefer to live in planted areas and reproduce by laying eggs. Most rainbowfish species prefer schooling together in a small group. There are a variety of sizes and body shapes in rainbow fish. Here are some of the most colorful ones available.

  • 01 of 20

    Boesemani Rainbowfish

    Boesemani rainbow fish

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    One of the most recognized rainbow fish in the aquarium hobby, the Boeseman's or Boesemani Rainbow Fish has a two-toned color variation with a blue/purple head and an orange/red back end. These rainbow fish are very easy to care for and are a common fish in many tropical community aquariums. They do well in groups, and the males' color will often get brighter when they are getting ready to spawn.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia boesemani

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 4 inches (10 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, blue/purple head with orange/red back end

  • 02 of 20

    Axelrods Rainbowfish

    Axelrod's Rainbowfish

    Shirlie L Sharpe

    (image from previous publication)

    The Axelrod, or Axelrodi rainbow fish, is named after tropical fish expert Herbert Axelrod. This species of rainbow fish has a lighter colored body with a blue-tinged abdomen. The Axelrod rainbow fish prefers slower moving waters, mimicking the gentle streams of their native waters in the Yungkiri Stream of Papua New Guinea.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Chilatherina axelrodi

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 4 inches (10 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, light blue in color and horizontal dark bar along their sides

  • 03 of 20

    Desert Rainbowfish

    Melanotaenia splendida tatei

    exphorizons/Flickr

    Desert rainbowfish, native to Australia, have silvery-white females and white males with purple or green-tinged fins. Due to their limited range, they have very specific water quality requirements. A stark color variation compared to many other rainbowfish species, this one may more easily hide in lighter-colored decor and is easier to find with darker environments.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia splendida tatei

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 4 inches (10 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, white to silver body with some green or purple on fins, depending on sex

  • 04 of 20

    Madagascan Rainbowfish

    Madagascan Rainbowfish

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    A species note to fish keepers interested in the Madagascan rainbow fish is the variation in pH. Their native habitats are characterized by extremely soft freshwater, with low pH and tannin-stained water. These rainbow fish have a silver body with yellow fins, and males are more saturated with color than females. The Madagascan rainbow fish may do well with cichlids with similar water quality tolerances, such as discus and angelfish, and they like stronger current in their tanks.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Bedotia madagascarensis

    Life Span: 5 to 11 years

    Length: 4-6 inches (10-15 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Thin body, yellow/tank body with black bar along sides and belly with re-tipped fins

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Banded Rainbowfish

    Banded Rainbowfish

    isoft/Getty Images

    The banded rainbowfish is a popular species of rainbow fish, given their bright coloration and peaceful nature. Native to Northern Australia freshwaters, males will have wider, more colorful bodies and a humped forehead. Both males and females have brightly-colored fins with a darker stripe along their midbody. This species prefers being in small groups in planted tanks. Like some other species, males will become aggressive with breeding.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia trifasciata

    Life Span: 5 to 8 years

    Length: 6 inches (15 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, silver with red/orange/gold stripes and red tail

  • 06 of 20

    Threadfin Rainbowfish

    Threadfin Rainbowfish

    NERYX/Getty Images

    In addition to stark differences in their required pH and temperature, the threadfin rainbowfish has a very unique body and fin shapes. They prefer water that is soft to moderately hard, slightly acidic (pH 6.0–7.0), and with a temperature of 73–84 degrees Fahrenheit (23–29 degrees Celsius). They are significantly smaller than other species of rainbow fish with thin bodies and long extensions on the dorsal and anal fins on males. In addition to their elongated fins, males have faint vertical stripes with red/orange caudal fins. 

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Iriatherina werneri

    Life Span: 3 to 5 years

    Length: 2 inches (5 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Narrow body, red sides, males have elongated black dorsal/anal fins and red-tipped tail fin

  • 07 of 20

    Celebes Rainbowfish

    Male Celebes Rainbowfish

    cejoos/Getty Images

    The Celebes rainbowfish is a smaller, more slender species of rainbowfish. This species likes to be kept in large schools of 8-10 fish, so be sure to plan your aquarium accordingly so you have enough room for everyone. Celebes rainbowfish have a unique fin shape with two dorsal fins colored yellow/golden and black, and a translucent body.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Marosatherina ladigesi

    Life Span: 3 to 5 years

    Length: 3 inches (7 to 8 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Narrow body, translucent main body with accented fins with yellow/black, and blue bar along the lateral line.

  • 08 of 20

    Neon Rainbowfish

    Neon Rainbowfish

    NERYX/Getty Images

    The neon rainbowfish is one of the smallest rainbowfish species in the commercial market. Given their smaller size, they like to be in larger groups of 10 or more individuals. They are very picky about their water quality parameters, so be sure to pay special attention to your water tests if you are adding a bunch of fish at once. They are named for their neon blue and green coloration, which can present as a brilliant flash in your aquarium as they all school together.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia praecox

    Life Span: 3 to 4 years

    Length: 2.5 inches (6 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide, light colored body with flashy green/blue accents, and red on fins.

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Lake Kutubu Rainbowfish

    Lake Kutubu Rainbowfish

    wrangel/Getty Images

    The Lake Kutubu rainbowfish is named for its origin at Lake Kutubu in Papua New Guinea. This species of rainbow fish is known for jewel-tone blue, yellow and/or turquoise appearance. Like most rainbowfish species, the males tend to be more vibrantly colored than females.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia Iacustris

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 5 inches (12 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide, light colored body with flashy green/blue accents

  • 10 of 20

    Red Irian Rainbowfish

    Red Irian Rainbowfish

    ArtEvent ET/Getty Images

    The red rainbowfish, or red Irian rainbowfish, originates from New Guinea’s Tami River and Lake Sentani. Males can be differentiated from females with their bright red coloration with high rounded back. In contrast, females have silver bodies with tints of yellow and green.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Glossolepis incisus

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 6 inches (15 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, males are red/orange with females more lighter in color

  • 11 of 20

    Lake Wanam Rainbowfish

    Lake Wanam Rainbowfish

    90 530 152 33 90 IZMIR TURKEY/Flickr

    Although the Lake Wanam rainbowfish is named for their origins in Lake Wanam in Papau New Guinea, you are very unlikely to find any remaining in their home waters. The Lake Wanam rainbowfish is listed as critically endangered and not common in the hobby, and only sold through specialized breeders. As with any fish species you are looking to purchase, always consider if your fish is coming from a breeder or wild stock.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Glossolepis wanamensis

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 3 inches (8 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, darker color with tan/orange/red stripes along their bodies

  • 12 of 20

    Forktail Rainbowfish

    Forktail Rainbowfish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The forktail rainbowfish is a small, slender species of rainbowfish with blue eyes and namesake forked tail. Their colors brighten during breeding season, with the males becoming brilliantly yellow. Given their small size, this species really likes being in large groups with lots of plants to hide in.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Pseudomugil furcatus

    Life Span: 3 years

    Length: 2.5 inches (6 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Slender body, blue eyes, clear body with yellow/black accents

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Crimson-Spotted Rainbowfish

    Crimson spotted rainbowfish

    Barry Meiklejohn/Flickr

    Also known as Duboulay's rainbowfish, the crimson-spotted rainbowfish is so named for its characteristic red spot on both sides of their head. Their red coloration continues as red/orange speckles, which may conjoin to form lines, along their body sides. They are native to Australia and have been released into swamps and rivers to help combat mosquitos.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia duboulayi

    Life Span: 3 years

    Length: 4.5 inches (11 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, grey/black body with red/orange spots

  • 14 of 20

    Murray Rainbowfish

    Murray River Rainbowfish

    Jeff Webb/Flickr

    The Murray River rainbowfish, also known as Murray rainbowfish or Australian rainbowfish, have more subtle colors, often being a soft rainbow of blue, green, yellow or silver. Male Murray River rainbowfish will have a bright orange stripe on their back end when they are getting ready to spawn.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia fluviatilis

    Life Span: 3 years

    Length: 4.5 inches (11 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide, silvery body with green-tinged scales. Fins may have yellow, red or orange pigmentation

  • 15 of 20

    Redfin Dwarf Rainbowfish

    Redfin dwarf rainbowfish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The redfin dwarf rainbow fish has a unique appearance with black stripes and vibrant red/orange tinged fins. Native to Australia, this rainbowfish can tolerate a wide range of water quality parameters and they breed readily in captivity.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia maccullochi

    Life Span: 3 years

    Length: 3 inches (7 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide, silvery-green body with black horizontal stripes, red/orange fins.

  • 16 of 20

    Parkinsoni Rainbowfish

    Parkinsoni Rainbowfish

    Aquarianer Schweiz/Flickr

    The Parkinsoni rainbow fish is a mix of silver and vivid yellow. Depending on the individual, they may have a lot of yellow pigmentation on their sides, or only in their fins.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia parkinsoni

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 5.5 inches (14 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, silvery-green body with black horizontal stripes, red/orange fins.

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Spotted Blue-Eyed Rainbowfish

    Spotted Blue-Eyed Rainbowfish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The spotted blue-eyed rainbowfish, also know as Gertrude's spotted rainbowfish, is a small species of rainbowfish that has a unique fin appearance with black spots and vivid yellow tint. As its name implies, their eyes are ringed with blue, giving them a very vibrant appearance. This species of rainbowfish is very small, so they do best in schooling groups.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Pseudomugil gertrudae

    Life Span: 12-18 months

    Length: 1.5 inches (4 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Narrow body, spots along dorsal and anal fins with yellow tint on tail fin, dorsal fin and body

  • 18 of 20

    Lake Tebera Rainbowfish

    Lake Tebera Rainbowfish

    Mirko_Rosenau/Getty Images

    The Lake Tebera rainbow fish originates from Papau New Guinea near Lake Tebera. Like Axelrod's rainbowfish, this fish takes its scientific name from aquarist, Herbert Axelrod. They can have a quiet to vibrant yellow body with a black stripe along the middle of their sides. Their fins may be tinted red or yellow.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia herbertaxelrodi

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 4 inches (12 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, yellow body with black stripe along side

  • 19 of 20

    Sentani Rainbowfish

    Chilatherina sentaniensis

    Street Parrot/Flickr

    Although they may not be considered very "colorful" compared to other rainbowfish, the orange/tan coloration of the Sentani rainbowfish is a bright contrast against the greens and browns of a planted aquarium. Their fins have a mix of blue/green/red pigments that catch the light as they dart around their tank. This is a critically endangered species, so be wary where you purchase this species from and ensure they are captive-bred individuals. The Sentani rainbowfish shares its habitat with the red rainbow fish and is commonly mistaken for Chilatherina fasciata.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Chilatherina sentaniensis

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 4 inches (12 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide, tan body with pale stripes and multicolored tail

  • 20 of 20

    Eastern Rainbowfish

    Eastern Rainbowfish

    GlobalP/Getty Images

    A close relation to the desert rainbowfish, the Eastern rainbowfish has a more orange and grey coloration with iridescent scales. They are best visualized in brightly lit aquariums with lots of plants. These are a larger rainbowfish species, but still do best in a small group.

    Species Overview

    Scientific Name: Melanotaenia splendida spendida

    Life Span: 5 years

    Length: 6 inches (15 cm)

    Physical Characteristics: Wide body, orange and grey with iridescent scales

Whenever you are looking to add fish to your aquarium, ensure that your water quality parameters are correct before you mix different species. Trying to hit a "sweet spot" to accommodate a variety of water quality ranges does not end well. It is best to pick a mix of species that have compatible water requirements rather than mixing by appearance.

Most rainbowfishes like to be in a small school, so plan on having at least five to six individuals for the larger species and eight to 10 individuals for the smaller species. Ensure that your tank will have enough space for all of your fish.

Rainbowfish are generally peaceful, community fish, so they can easily be mixed with other tropical community fish, again, provided their water quality requirement is compatible.

Always thoroughly vet any potential vendor to ensure you are buying captive bred animals and are not taking any endangered fish from the wild. Many rainbowfish species are threatened or endangered and need to be purchased from a reliable vendor that sells commercially farmed fish.

Article Sources
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  1. Captive-Bred Rainbowfish Going Back Into the Wild. AMAZONAS Magazine. Accessed June 7, 2022