Top 11 Popular & Easy Schooling Fish For Aquarium Beginners


One of the coolest things of keeping an aquarium is seeing fish behave like they do in real life. This is best visible with schooling fish.

When you are a beginner, I can image that you find it hard to figure out what schooling fish you want to add to your aquarium. At least that was the case for me. Since then I have looked at a lot of different possible species for beginners.

Here is a list of 11 fish species you could keep as your schooling fish in your freshwater community aquarium.

1 Harlequin Rasbora

  • 2 inches (5 cm) in length
  • Keep at least 6 of them
  • Perfect beginner fish, no special needs

Harlequin rasboras, or porkchop rasboras, are one of the best beginner schooling fish and are super popular. They will get about 2 inches (5 cm) when they are full grown and are super peaceful.

To house these fish, you do not need anything special. Clean water and enough space will do the job. You can house these fish in a 10 gallon (40 L) aquarium, when you keep about 6 of them.

However, the bigger the school the more impressive and interesting they are to watch. This goes for almost all schooling fish. Therefore, I recommend adding about 10 fish in a 20 gallon (80 L) fish tank.

They will swim in the middle of the aquarium, rarely going to the surface or to the substrate. Add some plants in the tank for some cover, although they will swim in the open waters almost all the time.

2 Rummynose Tetra

  • 2 – 2.5 inches (5 – 7 cm)
  • Keep at least 6 of them
  • Requires pristine water conditions

The rummy nose tetra is a beautiful fish to add to your aquarium. As you can see in the pictures, the combination of a bright red head and a black and white tail make for a stunning fish.

Although they do not require special care or specific equipment, they do need to be in pristine water quality. It will require some experience to properly keep this fish.

They grow to be between 2 and 2.5 inches (5 – 7 cm) and therefore can not be kept in a 10 gallon (40 L) aquarium. When you keep these fish, make sure you get at least 6 but preferably more and house them in a tank that is at least 20 gallon (80L).

Their bright red nose can also act as an indicator for their environment. If the fish is stressed, due to changes in parameters or poor water quality, the color in the nose will become dull and less bright.

Overall, they are a beautiful fish to keep.

3 Ember Tetra

Image result for ember tetra
  • 1 inch (2.5 cm) total length
  • Keep at least 6 of them
  • Stay small so do not keep them with fish that might eat them

Ember tetras are small red fish that make for great beginner schooling fish. They stay small and will not outgrow to be 1 inch (2.5 cm) long when they reach adulthood.

Because they are schooling fish, they will need to be kept in groups of at least 6, but their true inner beauty will come out when they swim in a bigger school.

Although they are small, they still need a minimum tank size of 10 gallon (40 L) because they are active swimmers who require their space. Even though this possible, it is definitely more rewarding if you keep a bigger group of tetras.

Because these ember tetras hardly come to the surface or swim down to the bottom, they will not eat food from the substrate. Therefore, tank mates like a group of catfish corydoras can be a perfect addition.

4 Tiger Barb

  • 3 inches (7 cm) total length
  • Can be aggressive towards other fish
  • Keep in a bigger school to make them less aggressive

I distinctly remember being in serious doubt whether I was going to add a school of tiger barbs to my first community tank. They were not for me.

However, that does not mean they are not for you! These fish are super popular in the hobby.

First of all, tiger barbs are beautiful. They have high contrast black stripes and colorful red/orange fins. They are a schooling fish, so when buying them make sure to keep them in a group of at least 6.

The tiger barb will grow to be 3 inches (7 cm).

The other important thing you need to know when considering tiger barbs is that they are considered to be a semi-aggressive species. They are known for chasing each other and chasing other (long finned) fish in the tank.

When they are in a small school, the aggression is much more prominent compared to a larger school.

These tiger barbs are also not small. They grow to be 3 inches (7.5 cm). A minimum tank size of 15 – 20 gallon (60 – 80L) is a must.

5 Five Banded Barb

  • 2 inches (5 cm) total length
  • More docile than tiger barbs
  • Become shy when they are in a tank with other boisterous fish

If you love the tiger barbs, but are afraid to add them to your community tank with the fear of them being aggressive, take a look at the five banded barbs!

The five banded barb is much more docile compared to the tiger barb, but also more shy. Where the tiger barb can be nippy towards other fish, especially fish with longer fins, the five banded barbs are more peaceful towards their tank mates.

The adult size will be around 2 inches (5 cm). Notice that this is slightly smaller than the tiger barb. This can be an advantage when you want to keep fish that are slightly smaller but have the same appearance as the tiger barb.

In the wild, these fish are found in calm waters or heavily planted ponds or streams. Try and mimic these conditions in your tank by providing a lot of cover and darker areas for your fish. A dark substrate will help let their colors stand out more.

If there is not enough cover, these fish will become extremely shy.

You should not keep these fish with extremely boisterous, as that would make the five banded barb very timid.

6 Glowlight Tetra

  • 1.5 inch (4 cm) total length
  • Good for beginners, no special needs
  • Keep at least 6 of them

The glowlight tetra! My first schooling fish, I got 10 of these for my first 20 gallon (80 L) community tank.

The reason why I like them so much is because of their bright red stripes. It almost looks like they are emitting light! Especially if you keep them in a planted tank with a black background and dark surface, their color really pops.

The glowlight tetra will grow to be about 1.5 inch (4 cm) in size. The females will be slightly larger than the males. The minimum tank size is 10 gallon and make sure you keep at least 6 of them at the same time.

These fish are perfect for beginners and do not require much special care. They will accept dried food as well as frozen and live food. As long as the water quality remains good than these fish are happy.

If you are looking for tankmates for the glowlight tetra, you have a lot of options.

They are community fish, so they can be kept together with other peaceful community fish like corydoras, danios, guppies, peaceful loaches and more.
Just make sure you do not pair them with bigger fish as they will consider the glowlight tetra to be a tasty snack.

7 Brown Diptail Pencil fish

  • Grow to be 2.3 inches (6 cm)
  • Stay at the top of the tank
  • Prefer floating plants

This fish is a bit of wild card. These fish are extremely calm and peaceful. Every time someone asks me for inspiration for calm fish I show them the brown diptail pencil fish.

They grow to be about 2.3 inches (6 cm), and do well in a group of 6 or more. Because they grow to be this size, their minimum tank size is 15 gallons (60 L).

You will almost always see these fish at the top of the aquarium. They usually sit in slow moving rivers, eating insects.

They will accept dried food, but it is best to also feed them some frozen of live food on a regular basis.

Because they are so super peaceful, it also makes them a little shy. They require enough plants in the tank to feel comfortable. Floating plants will provide them with some welcomed cover.

These fish do not do well with fish that can be aggressive towards other fish like bigger cichlids or for example tiger barbs.

8 Chilli Rasbora

  • Tiny schooling fish (only 3/4 inch or 2 cm)
  • Good for nano tanks
  • Active swimmers

If you are looking for a fish species to add to a smaller tank, do not look further! A chilli rasbora is perfect for nano tanks, as they only reach 3/4 of an inch (2 cm).

Although they are so small, they are quite active which makes them a pleasure to watch. Especially if you get a group of them. As they are also a schooling fish, make sure to keep half a dozen or more of these fish together.

Keep them in a tank of around 10 gallon (40 L). Obviously you can go bigger but it will be harder to spot them as they are so small.

These fish can be found in dark-water streams in Indonesia, so try and replicate this in your tank. Give them plenty of places to take cover when necessary. Provide some darker spots in the aquarium and add plenty of (live )plants.

Food-wise these fish are quite versatile. They will accept dried food. In nature, these fish are tiny predators who love hunting down smaller creatures.

Give them a chance to show and practice their abilities by feeding them live daphnia or microworms every once in a while.

9 Hatchetfish

  • Can jump, so keep a lid on your tank
  • Grow to be 1 – 1.5 inch (2.5 – 3.5 cm)
  • Stay at the top of the aquarium
  • Keep at least 6 of them

These marble hatchet fish are so much fun! If you have never seen one and only just saw the picture, hear this. They are super flat.

If they turn towards you, they look super thin, hence their name “hatchet” fish.

What you should know first is that they are great jumpers. When they are spooked, because of you or because of intimidating other fish, they can jump further than you would expect.

Therefore, a tight lid on the aquarium is a must.

Also, these fish do best in a group so make sure you are keeping at least 6 fish at the same time.

They desire slightly acidic water parameters, between 5.5 and 6.5 pH should make them feel at home. By the way, their native home is in South America. To achieve a slightly lower pH, you can add catappa leaves or filter over peat moss.

Although they eat a lot of insects in the wild, they will accept dried food in your aquarium. However, make sure to feed them frozen or live food every once in a while for a varied and complete diet.

10 White cloud mountain minnows

  • Need colder water (64 to 72 F / 18 – 22 C)
  • Grow to be 1.5 inches (4 cm)
  • Keep at least 6 of them

If you are running an aquarium that does not have a heater and will stay around room temperature, the white cloud mountain minnow may just be what you are looking for.

These fish do best in a temperature range from 64 to 72 F (18 – 22 C), and therefore do well in a tank without a heater.

The white could mountain minnows should be kept in a school, so make sure you keep at least 6 or more of them in your tank. They grow to be around 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length at adult size, so the minimum tank size is 10 gallons.

For tankmates, these fish can be kept with other peaceful community fish of the same size. Just make sure that both fish will like colder temperatures.

If the tank mates are too big, they will most likely eat the mountain minnows. The mountain minnows are often sold as good companions for goldfish, but again, when the goldfish gets too big it will see the mountain minnow as food.

These fish are suitable for beginners and will eat dried food, live food and frozen food. In the wild they usually eat mosquito larvae, daphnia, other insects etc.

11 Neon Tetra

  • Super popular aquarium fish
  • Grows to be 1.5 inches (4 cm)

Over the past couple of decades, neon tetras have become one of the most popular community fish in the hobby. Their vivid colors are beautiful and look perfect in any tank.

The neon tetra is a schooling fish and should therefore be kept in groups of 6 or more. The minimum tank size is 10 gallons (40 L), however when keeping about 12 of them upgrade to a tank size of 20 gallons (80 L).

These fish grow to be 1.5 inches (4 cm) in length.

Neon tetras make good tank mates for a lot of other peaceful community fish, however you should not put them with fish that might possible eat them.

In general, when you suspect a fish could be able to eat a tetra, do not put them together.

Food-wise you have a lot of options. Regular dried food and flake food will suffice, but these fish do love their frozen and live food once in a while. In the wild, these fish eat insects and small swimming animals like daphnia and mosquito larvae.

12 Cardinal Tetra

  • Grows to be 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Keep at least 6 of them

When you first look at a neon tetra next to a cardinal tetra, you might confuse them for the same species. While they look very similar, there is a difference. I would not call it a big difference, but there is.

Where a neon tetra has a blue had and a red tail, the cardinal tetra has both blue and red throughout its body. Its entire body is divided in the two bright colors.

The cardinal tetra is slightly bigger compared to the neon tetra at adult size. The cardinal tetra grows to be about 2 inches (5 cm) long. In general, they are also a bit more expensive compared to the neon tetra.

To keep the cardinal tetra properly, keep at least 6 of them at the same time. Because they are active swimmers, keep them in a tank of at least 15 gallons.

If you want to add tank mates, you can add other peaceful community fish. Examples can be corydoras as bottom dwellers, an ancistrus catfish as algae eater and a couple of hatchet fish in the top of your tank.

13 Denison Barb

  • Grow to be 6 inches (15 cm), which is big
  • Keep at least 6 of them in at a least 55 gallons (200 L) tank
  • Need space to swim

This beautiful fish is the schooling fish for big boy aquariums. They grow to be about 6 inches (15 cm) when they reach their adult size.

The denison barb has many names: roseline shark, bleeding eye barb, red comet barb, torpedo barb and some more. They all are the same fish species.

In general, these fish are peaceful towards other tankmates that are of the same size. They can and will be aggressive towards smaller fish, so take this into account when adding them to your tank.

Because they grow to be quite big, they need a big aquarium. They are a schooling fish so make sure you keep at least 6 of them together. Therefore, a minimum tank size of 55 gallon (200 L) is needed.

Also, make sure you will get a long aquarium over a tall aquarium. This to ensure these fish have enough space to swim freely.

References:
Harlequin Rasbora image – Author: Juan R. Lascorz Licensed under: CC3.0 no changes made
Rummynose Tetra image 1 – Author: Lerdsuwa Licensed under: CC3.0 No changes made
Rummynose Tetra image 2 – Author: User:Lerdsuwa Licensed under: CC3.0 No changes made
Ember Tetra image – Author: Gordon Axmann Licensed under: CC3.0 No changes made
Tiger Barb image 1 – Author: Editor General of Wiki Licensed under: CC4.0 No Changes made
Tiger Barb image 2 – Author: Aka Licensed under: CC2.5 No changes made
Pentazona Barb image – Author: Sun-man Licensed under: Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa – Na tych samych warunkach 2.0 Niemcy No Changes
Glowlight tetra image – Author: gonzalovalenzuela Licensed under: CC2.0 No changes made
Hatchet fish image – Author: SOK Licensed under: CC4.0 No Changes made
Chili Rasboras image – Author: Atulbhats Licensed under: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International No Changes

Bart Sprenkels

I have been keeping multiple aquariums since I was 18 years old. Just like many of you, I started with two goldfish but quickly learned they were not suitable for aquariums. Later, I switched to a tropical community tank and I also have two pet musk-turtles in a bigger aquarium. You can read more about me here.

Recent Content