Community fish are the best choices for keeping things calm and friendly in your aquarium. Some fish species are more assertive than others, with certain types being downright dangerous to their tankmates.
If that’s not what you’re looking for, we can help. We’ve compiled a list of the 27 best freshwater community fish that won’t bother their neighbors and aren’t too difficult to care for.
20 Peaceful Community Fish for Small Aquariums:
Here are our 20 favorite small and peaceful community fish for freshwater aquariums.
Cory Catfish (Corydoras genus)
Corydoras is a genus of small catfish, many of which are available in the aquarium hobby. Cory catfish are often seen as one of the ideal beginner fish species, as they are not just easy to keep but also easy to combine with other fish. Their peaceful nature means they won’t bother their tankmates, while their sturdy body plates protect them from nips and overly curious fish. They’re called armored catfish for a reason!
Which specific Cory catfish variety will work best in your aquarium depends entirely on what you’re looking for. Go for the tiny Corydoras pygmaeus if you’ve got a small tank, the lively Corydoras panda if you’re looking for something cheerful and the all-white albino Corydoras aeneus for something more unusual.
Cory catfish don’t have many demands when it comes to aquarium décor, although they do appreciate some cover in the form of plants and hides. Do make sure you don’t keep them on substrate that can damage their delicate barbels, like sharp gravel. Sand is ideal and allows the fish to burrow and forage as they naturally would.
Oto Catfish (Otocinclus genus)
Another genus of relatively small catfish, Dwarf Otocinclus are about as peaceful as it gets. You won’t ever see this species bother its tankmates: even juvenile dwarf shrimp are supposed to be safe in its presence. The main explanation for the Oto catfish’ mellow attitude is its diet, as the species is pretty much 100% vegetarian and lives off algae and biofilm.
If you’d like to keep Otocinclus in your aquarium, keep in mind that they do need rather specific care to thrive. These catfish are quite fragile and won’t respond well to less than ideal water quality. You’ll have to keep an eye on your water values at all times and do regular slow water changes. Additionally, it’s a good idea to avoid any boisterous or overly assertive tankmates. Consider growing algae in a separate tank or tub so you can provide a constant supply.
Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesi)
The classic neon tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) is a popular choice for beginning fishkeepers and the species is one of the most well-known among people that don’t have their own aquarium. When it comes to more experienced aquarists, though, that appears to be another story. Neons are so ubiquitous that many move away from them eventually, which is a shame for such a beautiful and well-mannered species.
Neon tetras are easy to care for and will do well in your community aquarium as long as you don’t keep larger fish that might view their smaller tankmates as a tasty snack. Keep a school of at least 6 but ideally 10+ specimens so the fish feel safe and you can enjoy their behavior and colors to the maximum.
Plant the aquarium to provide cover and possibly even consider staining the water using leaf litter to imitate the neon tetra’s natural habitat.
Blackskirt Tetras (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi)
For those who like tetras but don’t want something too standard there’s the blackskirt tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi). This species sets itself apart with its coin-like body shape and dramatic black anal fin. Quite the eyecatcher if you keep it in a reasonably sized group (ideally 8 or more fish)! Go for an aquarium of at least around 20 gallons long so the group has enough space to move around.
Blackskirt tetras get along well with most other aquarium fish that don’t have long, flowy fins. Many of the fish on this list make good choices, and the species is also often used as an accompanying species for larger cichlids. The presence of a smaller dither fish actually helps the cichlids feel safe, as it’s a sign that the waters are safe.
When it comes to water values and tank décor, blackskirts aren’t too demanding. They do prefer things relatively soft and acidic like the waters they naturally occur in. Plant the aquarium using plenty of tall vegetation and consider floating plants or even staining the water in order to block out some of the light. Do make sure you still leave plenty of swimming room: this species is pretty active.
Bristlenose Plecos (Ancistrus genus)
If you’re interested in keeping a common or sailfin Pleco, reconsider. Although these catfish are a fascinating addition to your aquarium, many of the fish labeled as ‘Pleco’ and sold in your local aquarium store will outgrow your aquarium before you know it. Instead, consider the smaller Ancistrus genus, which usually won’t surpass 6” and is therefore a lot more manageable.
Keep bristlenose Plecos in an aquarium of at least 30 gallons. Although these catfish don’t grow very large, they still produce a lot of waste and water quality will quickly deteriorate if you place them in a smaller tank. Tankmates aren’t much of a concern, as the species is quite sturdy and camouflages itself well.
Keep in mind that although they’re often referred to as algae eaters, Ancistrus are actually omnivores. Provide a combination of bottom feeder tablets, fresh vegetables and frozen foods to keep your bristlenose Pleco(s) healthy.
Marbled Hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata)
The shy marbled hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata) is one example of a species that won’t hurt a fly. This oddly shaped fish will spend almost all of its life at the water surface, where it would naturally catch small insects while taking advantage of the fact that it can pass for a floating leaf. Fascinating to see and a great option for your peaceful community.
Because marbled hatchetfish really are quite timid, you’ll have to select tankmates that won’t bother it. Keep the hatchets with plenty of their own species to help them feel safe: they’ll love the presence of at least around 10 other hatchetfish and will display much more interesting behavior this way.
Your aquarium should be 20 gallons (long) or up if you’re interested in keeping the marbled hatchetfish. Soft and acidic water works best and since this species inhabits the top water layer, water flow can’t be too strong. Make sure the tank has a well-fitting lid that leaves no open spaces: hatchetfish are extremely notorious jumpers that have developed the ability to ‘fly’ pretty far out of the water in case of danger. Hatchetfish keepers widely report finding their fish dried up on the floor if there aquarium lacks a hood. If it does have one you’ll likely hear a startled hatchetfish hitting the plastic or glass on a regular basis, which thankfully usually doesn’t seem to faze the fish too much.
Zebra Danios (Danio rerio)
The highly active zebra Danio (Danio rerio) has been a staple in the aquarium hobby as long a pretty much anyone can remember. This decoratively striped species is very hardy, making it the perfect fish for beginners and anyone looking for something low-maintenance. Additionally, it’s quite peaceful. Avoid tankmates with long fins but choose freely other than that!
Because zebra Danios do appreciate having plenty of space to move, they are good community fish for aquariums at least 20 gallons (long). Go for a school of at least 6 fish. Try planting the edges of the tank to provide cover, but do make sure to also leave plenty of open space so the fish can swim around as they naturally would.
Harlequin Rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
Harlequin rasboras (Trigonostigma heteromorpha, also still sometimes Rasbora heteromorpha) are a peaceful favorite for both beginners and more experienced aquarists. You can find this easy species in almost every aquarium store and it makes a great choice for calm community tanks with other friendly species like most of the ones mentioned on this list. Just avoid any fish that might be large enough to eat a rasbora, as they are quite small.
With a maximum size of barely 1.8”, this little schooling fish doesn’t require a large aquarium. A tank of 15 gallons (long) and up should be enough to house a reasonably sized group of around 10 individuals. Our preference will always go out to something larger, though: a group of 20 or more specimens of any aquarium fish in a sizeable tank is very spectacular to see.
The harlequin rasbora’s natural habitat consists of slow moving streams with aquatic plants and stained water. You can imitate this in your aquarium by using plenty of tall vegetation and placing a layer of leaf litter on the bottom of the aquarium. Don’t worry about not being able to see the fish properly. They actually show better colors when the water is darker and plenty of hides are available.
Cherry Barb (Puntius titteya)
Barbs in general have gained a bit of a bad reputation because of the behavior of the tiger barb (Puntius tetrazona), a popular aquarium fish due to its striped pattern and hardiness but also a rather notorious fin nipper when kept in groups or aquariums that are too small. Not all barbs are nippy, though. In fact, there are a few species that actually make ideal freshwater community fish. The beautifully rosy colored cherry barb (Puntius titteya) is one of them.
Because they can handle a wide range of water values as long as the water is clean and the aquarium is cycled, cherry barbs can be combined with pretty much any other peaceful species. They are shoaling fish, so go for a group of at least 6 individuals to keep them happy.
Like many of the species on this list, the cherry barb naturally inhabits areas with dense vegetation and possibly leaf litter that stains the water a darker color. The water flow in these habitats can range from weak to relatively strong.
Dwarf Gourami (Trichogaster lalius)
If you’re in need of a peaceful addition to the top water layer of a calm community aquarium, the timid dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius) might be a good option. These colorful fish are sometimes avoided by aquarists that think they’re overly territorial, but they actually function quite well in communities as long as tankmates are chosen carefully.
To keep your dwarf gourami happy and healthy, the most important factor is a calm environment. That means avoiding strong water flow, dimming the tank lights using floating plants and absolutely no overly assertive neighbors. Colorful and boisterous fish are not a good choice. Instead, go for small schooling species like the harlequin rasbora or bottom feeders like kuhli loaches (both species are discussed in this article).
Dwarf Pencilfish (Nannostomus marginatus)
Naturally found in South America, the dwarf pencilfish (Nannostomus marginatus) isn’t one of the most popular aquarium fish. Pencilfish in general aren’t kept as other schooling fish like livebearer or tetras, which is a pity since they make a great addition to community aquariums.
Dwarf pencilfish live up to their name with a maximum size of only around 1”. This means you won’t need a large aquarium if you’d like to keep a group of these striped fish: a 15 gallon long tank should be plenty to sustain 8-12 specimens. Go for calm tankmates that don’t have an appetite for small fish, as this species doesn’t like being surrounded by very active or assertive neighbors.
The natural habitat of the dwarf pencilfish often consists of very shallow and calm waters with low acidity/hardness, lots of leaf litter and low flow rate. This means this fish won’t do well in bare tanks or hillstream-type set-ups. Instead, you should aim to make the aquarium as peaceful and well-planted as possible, ideally with a thick layer of leaves on the substrate to darken the water and floating plants to block out excess light.
Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)
Even the majority of non-aquarists have heard of the ever-popular guppy (Poecilia reticulata) at some point. This livebearer is appreciated in the hobby for many of its characteristics: beautiful and varied coloration, long and flowy fins, easy care and even easier breeding. To top it all off, these fish are also peaceful and community-proof.
Guppies are best kept in an aquarium of 15 gallons (long) or up. Although the species is not too demanding when it comes to water values, it does best when the water is on the hard and alkaline side.
If you’re setting up an aquarium with guppies, don’t forget what we said about ease of breeding. This species is extremely proliferous and can easily produce enough fry to completely overrun your tank. If you don’t have the means to house this many guppies, consider getting only males to avoid this problem.
Glowlight Tetra (Hemigrammus erythrozonus)
Like the previously mentioned neon tetra, the glowlight tetra (Hemigrammus erythrozonus) is a small, colorful and peaceful tetra species. It makes a good choice for beginners since it isn’t too demanding when it comes to water values and can easily be combined with many other species of peaceful aquarium fish.
Like other tetras, the glowlight tetra is a schooling species that should be kept with as many of its own species as possible. 8-10 fish would be good to start, but more is better! Go for a long aquarium of at least 20 gallons so the tetras have space to swim. Tankmates aren’t much of a concern, although you should keep in mind that this species is a little too small to combine with larger cichlids like discus fish.
Glowlight tetras naturally occur in a single river that features very acidic black water. It’ll do best in similar conditions in the aquarium and won’t show its best colors in light or bare surroundings. A South American biotope set-up would be ideal for this species and will allow you to really see its true colors and behavior.
Platies (Xiphophorus genus)
Like guppies, platies from the genus Xiphophorus are livebearers that have been selectively bred for coloration. Although they surpass their guppy cousins in size, you’ll find they’re relatively similar when it comes to everything else. This species is undemanding, proliferous, peaceful and loved for its looks.
Keep platies in an aquarium or at least 15 gallons, ideally 20 and up. Keep the water on the harder and alkaline side and go for tankmates that appreciate similar conditions. If you’d like as much fry as possible to survive, add plenty of floating stem plants to the tank to function as both cover and foraging grounds.
Love platies? You might also like the almost identical swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii), that is named after the enlarged bottom tail fin seen on the males. A very decorative fish that can be combined with other livebearers to make for an active and colorful tank.
Sparkling Gourami (Trichopsis pumila)
One of the most fascinating species on this list (in our humble opinion) is the tiny sparkling gourami. Unlike other gourami, this fish doesn’t grow larger than around 1.7”, making it a true nano fish that can be kept in smaller aquariums. Just 10 gallons should be enough to house a pair or small harem of sparkling gourami.
If you’d like to keep sparkling gourami in your aquarium, make sure to heavily plant things and provide ample cover. Coconut caves, upside-down terracotta pots, long-rooted floating plants: the gourami will appreciate any spots they can dart to when startled. Keep in mind that gourami are labyrinth fish, which means they have evolved to breathe air. They need access to the surface and don’t like being swept away by strong currents, as their natural habitats are very calm.
Keep your sparkling gourami in soft and acidic water with other small and peaceful species like mosquito rasbora or kuhli loaches (both discussed below). Larger and more active fish can stress this small gourami out.
Mosquito Rasbora (Boraras brigittae)
It doesn’t get much smaller than this: the tiny mosquito rasbora (Boraras brigittae) rarely reaches an inch in size. Despite this, these rasboras are a real eyecatcher in your aquarium and definitely a species to consider if you’re setting up a peaceful community, especially with other Indonesian species. Their red coloration and fascinating territorial squabbles make them a joy to watch.
You can keep mosquito rasboras in long aquariums of 10 gallons and up, although we like to shoot for at least 15 so we can keep larger groups and introduce some tankmates. Obviously your choices when it comes to fish to keep with these rasboras aren’t unlimited: they’re so small and vulnerable you should really take care to avoid anything that might be able to eat them. They do work well with other small schooling fish, Corydoras or timid labyrinth fish like the previously mentioned sparkling gourami.
The Southeast Asian streams and ponds these rasboras inhabit are characteristically very calm and stained a dark brown from leaf litter and branches. Go for something similar in the aquarium if you want to keep this species happy and healthy. Feed a combination of dried foods and, ideally, home-bred live foods like daphnia. You’ll love seeing these little fish hunt!
Glass Catfish (Kryptopterus vitreolus)
There are multiple catfish species from the Kryptopterus genus available in the aquarium trade that are referred to as glass (or ghost) catfish. For those looking for a peaceful and calm addition to their aquarium we prefer Kryptopterus vitreolus, a smaller variety that does well in calm communities.
Despite the fact that it’s the smaller Kryptopterus variety, this glass catfish can still reach a size of 2.6” inch or even a little more. Since it should also be kept in groups of at least 6 or more individuals, it’s not a good idea to keep it in a small aquarium. Instead, go for a tank of at least 30 gallons in order to make sure the fish have enough room to move.
This glass catfish is naturally found in Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand. Here, it inhabits waters with very little movement and dark water of low acidity and hardness. This means it won’t appreciate strong flow or lighting in the aquarium. It should also be noted that this species can be a little fragile, meaning it might not be the ideal choice for beginners. The aquarium should also be fully cycled and you should make it a point to keep up with your water changes to keep glass catfish successfully.
Mollies (Poecilia sphenops)
Another livebearer makes the list today. Not surprising, as most species are peaceful, hardy and popular additions to the aquarium. Molly fish (Poecilia sphenops) are no exception. They have been selectively bred into different colors and body shapes, meaning you can have plenty of variation within a single school. There’s the classic black molly, but you’ll also find white, dalmatian, orange and “sunburst” (with a dash of orange) mollies in your local aquarium store.
Mollies combine well with pretty much any fish that thrives equally in harder and more basic water, including the other livebearers on this list. Do keep in mind that they’re a little larger than guppies and platies (reaching a maximum size of around 4.5”), which means you’ll need to house them in a long aquarium of at least 30 gallons in order to provide them with the swimming space they need.
Mollies (as well as guppies, platies and swordtails) have a very high salt tolerance as they naturally inhabit habitats with varying degrees of salinity. This means they actually make a great choice if you’re looking for a peaceful addition to a brackish community aquarium. In fact, you can keep them in salinities up to full marine!
Kuhli Loach (Pangio kuhlii)
Although they may not be 100% safe for baby shrimp, kuhli loach (Pangio kuhlii) can be combined with pretty much anything else you can think of (as long as it’s not highly carnivorous).
This peaceful species is a bottom feeding loach that spends almost all of its life in the lowest water layer, foraging for leftovers and wedged in tight crevices between décor. Their shy nature makes them perfect for a tropical community fish tank with other shy fish.
No idea where your kuhli loaches are? These fish are well-known for being able to stay out of your sight for weeks. The trick here is to understand that this species is actually nocturnal, meaning it becomes active at night. Try installing a moonlight that turns on for a while after the regular tank lights are off if you’d like to see these fish in action.
Threadfin Rainbowfish (Iriatherina werneri)
Although this list is full of brightly colored and very decorative fish, the cheerful threadfin rainbowfish (Iriatherina werneri) might just take the cake. In addition to being beautifully colored, the males of this species feature dramatic finnage used to impress females during spawning time.
Considerably smaller than most rainbowfish, the threadfin can be kept in aquariums of 15 gallons and up. Do make sure you go for a long tank rather than a tall one in order to provide the swimming room this schooling fish needs. Choose peaceful tankmates that won’t nip at the males’ showy fins and aren’t too boisterous, like the marbled hatchetfish mentioned earlier.
The aquarium should be densely planted if you really want to see this species at its best. It’s naturally found in calm habitats with very abundant vegetation, so try to replicate this as best as possible in the aquarium. Water acidity and hardness isn’t too much of an issue, but as always the tank should be clean and fully cycled.
7 of the Best Community Fish for Medium Sized Aquariums
Looking for fish that are a little larger yet won’t both their tank mates? Any of these options are some of the best community fish for medium to large sized aquariums.
Pearl Gourami (Trichopodus leerii)
Gourami don’t always make our list of the top peaceful community fish because many can be semi-aggressive to aggressive. However the pearl gourami is one of the gentlest despite being not a small fish. At 5 inches in length they are sizable but gentle residents for aquariums of 30 gallons or more in volume.
Originally from Southeast Asia they prefer warm temperatures of 75℉ or more and soft, acidic water conditions (pH 7.0 or less). However, they have been tank-raised for so long that they will still do well in alkaline water (pH 7.0+) though their colors won’t be as strong and they probably won’t spawn.
The only aggression you might see can arise between two males. Pearl gourami will compete for access to females. However their bouts are rarely serious since they have no teeth. Just make sure you keep your two or more males in a heavily planted aquarium where there are breaks in line of sight.
Silver Dollar Fish (Metynnis argenteus)
Sometimes even peaceful fish in a medium sized freshwater community fish tank might find small schooling tetras and other dither fish to be delicious. Therefore it is better to add similarly sized schooling fish, such as silver dollars.
Silver dollar fish are actually closely related not only to tetras but also to the infamous piranha. Looking at them you can easily see the resemblance: the tiny, silvery scales, broadly shaped body, and sizable teeth are all hallmarks of this family.
However silver dollars are almost entirely vegetarian. They use their big teeth for chewing up plant leaves, seeds, and other crunchy food.
This makes silver dollar fish impossible to keep in a planted aquarium; they will even eat tough, bitter plants like java fern and anubias. However they are otherwise very peaceful, even to the point of being shy.
Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
Freshwater angelfish are favorites of aquarists all over the world thanks to the nearly infinite number of patterns and fin shapes they come in. Growing up to 8 inches across, they are very gentle; so much so that you might not realize that they are cichlids.
Most cichlids are aggressive to some degree and often become murderously so when defending their eggs and fry. But angelfish are peaceful, preferring to hide among twigs, driftwood, and broad leaved plants like Amazon Sword plants.
While angelfish will spawn in captivity telling apart males from females is nearly impossible, even for advanced angelfish keepers. Your best bet is to raise a half dozen or more angelfish together in a community tank. They will eventually sort out sexes and find their way to spawning.
Roseline Torpedo Shark (Sahyadria denisonii)
The roseline torpedo shark is very well named, as you can see. Sleek and vibrantly colored, these are actually medium sized barbs and therefore related to rasboras, danios, goldfish, and koi.
Roseline torpedo sharks are very active fish that come from fast moving, well oxygenated water. While they aren’t hard to keep this means that they do demand excellent water quality and good aeration as well. They are also schooling fish so a group of 6 to 12 in a tank 55 gallons or larger in size is the key to success.
Assuming you keep their water clean and well oxygenated you will have no trouble feeding these speedy little torpedoes. Roseline sharks will eat just about anything including small pellets and flakes. And while they will occasionally pick at other members of their school they are peaceful enough to coexist with fish of nearly any size.
Still, I’d recommend not keeping them with shy tetras and other fish from the above list. Roseline sharks are so large and active that they can easily frighten smaller tank mates.
Hoplo Catfish (Megalechis thoracata)
One look at a hoplo catfish and you should immediately see its resemblance to the smaller corydoras genus. Hoplo cats are medium-sized members of the family Callichthyidae and have the same armored scales as their smaller cousins.
They also have the same peaceful nature: hoplo catfish do get pretty big; anywhere from 5 to 8 inches long. However they have tiny mouths and can’t eat any of their tank mates. Instead, hoplo cats feed on worms, fish eggs, small shrimp, and other small prey.
Interestingly, hoplo catfish are also nest building fish. Similar to betta fish, gouramis, and cichlids the male hoplo cat will care for the eggs and fry after they spawn. They build bubble nests among floating plants and court females under them to spawn.
Black Pacu (Colossoma macropomum)
Black pacu are relatives of both the silver dollar fish and the piranha except that these fish grow even larger. A full grown black pacu can reach nearly 3 feet long and weigh over 20kg. These fish are also entirely herbivorous and have teeth capable of crunching not only leaves but also fruit and seeds.
They move in massive schools during the flood season, when the forest is overwhelmed by the rivers of the Amazon Rainforest. Pacu then feed on the bounty of the forest, growing fat and preparing to spawn when the waters recede.
So keep in mind that these fish eat a lot, which means they also poop a lot. Your aquarium needs to be hundreds of gallons in volume. Pacu also do very well when kept together so ponds (in warm regions of the world) or huge display tanks are your only option here. When kept with peacock bass and other mega fish your pacu will make an impressive display.
Common Plecostomus (Hypostomus plecostomus)
Sucker fish, suckermouth catfish, plecostomus, pleco. These fish go by so many names it can be hard to tell which fish people are talking about sometimes. But the common plecostomus is a favorite of aquarists all over the world.
It is an excellent algae eater, especially when small and young. However few fish keepers realize that plecos will grow to be up to 2 feet long. And when they have grown this large, few fish tanks can grow enough algae to keep them well fed.
These giant vegetarians do well in aquariums of 75 gallons or more in volume and a steady diet of blanched vegetables like spinach, lettuce, and zucchini. Plecostomus can sometimes be aggressive, especially towards other bottom dwellers trying to steal their favorite hiding spots.
But so long as they are well fed and able to hide, they are otherwise peaceful members of the large community fish aquarium.
More Frequently Asked Questions about Freshwater Community Fish
Angelfish are good community fish for aquariums that are at least 40 gallons in size. Just don’t keep them with neon tetras and other tiny fish because angelfish do get big enough to see them as food.
Discus are large peaceful community fish that work well in aquariums 55 gallons or more in volume. They are a little sensitive to poor water conditions, however. So make sure to keep them in warm, acidic water that is well filtered and free of ammonia and other nitrogenous waste products.
Cichlids have a reputation for being too aggressive and needing to be kept alone but this is not true. So long as you give them space and choose your species carefully cichlids can be kept in a semi-aggressive to aggressive tropical community fish tank.
Besides mixing and matching fish I love setting up tropical community fish tanks where all of the species are from the same part of the world. You can choose all Amazonian natives, all Southeast Asian fish, and so on. And you can use plants from the same part of the world as well; these are called biotope community tanks.