13 Awesome Schooling Fish for Your Aquarium

When deciding which fish to include in a new aquarium, you want to choose species that help bring distinction, color, and activity to your tank.

A great way to do this is by adding a couple species of schooling fish!

Schooling fish are generally small, brightly colored fish who are very shy in isolation, but when surrounded by others of their own kind, their true personalities come out.

It is important to also consider the water requirements, tank requirements, and temperaments of the different fish before adding them to the same tank- not all schooling fish are compatible.

13 Common Species of Schooling Fish

Here are a few schooling aquarium fish that we recommend:

Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin Rasboras
Juan R. Lascorz [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful, can get nervous around larger fish.
  • Water requirements: 72-80° F, 5.5-7.0 pH
  • Tank requirements: 10+ gallon
  • Tank level: Top and mid dweller

Harlequin Rasboras are popular schooling fish among hobbyists due to their peaceful temperaments and ease of care. They do best in schools of 6-8 fish, and are generally peaceful tank mates for aquariums of any size.

Harlequin rasboras are silver and reddish-pink with a blackish-blue triangular patch on the back half of their bodies. They are very flashy and fun to watch explore the upper levels of the aquarium.

These fish do not handle isolation well, and need at least a few companions in their school.

However, they are very adaptable, which is good news for anyone with less fish keeping experience. As long as their water requirements are met, they are very hardy.

They also pair well with other species of rasbora, which will school together with harlequins and add interest to the tank.

White Cloud Mountain Minnow

white cloud minnow
White Cloud Minnow (Source)
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Sociable and peaceful
  • Water requirements: 60-72° F, 6.0-7.0 pH
  • Tank requirements: 10 gallons
  • Tank level: Top to mid dwellers

These little minnows may not be as popular as tetras and barbs, but they are perfect schooling fish for aquariums. They are also generally more affordable than tetras and other similar fish.

These minnows are silver with a splash of red, and are named for the region where they were first discovered- the White Cloud Mountain region in China.

White Cloud Mountain minnows stay very small, and display fascinating schooling behaviors, which are complemented by their attractive coloration.

Easy to keep due to their hardiness, white clouds are incredibly active and are a perfect schooling fish for anyone trying to start their first hobby aquarium.

Cherry Barb

cherry barb
Brian Gratwicke [CC BY 2.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful, Shy if not kept with other barbs
  • Water requirements: 73-81° F, 6.0-8.0 pH
  • Tank requirements: 20-30 gallons
  • Tank level: Mid and bottom dweller

Cherry barbs get their names from, (you guessed it), their cherry-red scales!

They also have a dark band that stretches from head to tail, with brighter coloration common among males. These schooling fish are happiest and healthiest when kept with other cherry barbs.

This prevents them from becoming intimidated by other fish and therefore hiding.

They are confident when in schools of their own kind, and are pleasant to watch explore their environment.

Cherry barbs are easy to care for, and do not grow very large, making them another good beginner fish.

It is important to get the correct ratio of males to females in order to avoid aggression or timid behaviors; generally one male to every two females is the best ratio.

Rummynose Tetra

rummy nose tetra
Gavinevans [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner.
  • Temperament: Peaceful, active schoolers; will occasionally hide.
  • Water requirements: 72-77° F, 6.0-7.0 pH.
  • Tank requirements: 25+ gallons
  • Tank level: Mid dweller

Arguably the most popular of schooling fish, rummynose tetras are so named for the bright red marking that stretches across their faces. They have slim silver bodies and black and white tails.

These flashy fish are entertaining to watch as they are very active schoolers and their bright facial coloration will make for an excellent addition to any aquarium!

Rummynose tetras are a bit more specific with their water requirements, which may require some extra attention.

According to some hobbyists, the brightness of their red “noses” can be an indication for the quality of their water.

These fish are entertaining and rewarding to keep!

Cardinal Tetra

cardinal tetra

  • Difficulty of care: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful, best kept in schools
  • Water requirements: 76-81° F, pH of below 6.0
  • Tank requirements: 20 gallon
  • Tank level: Top to mid dweller

Perhaps the flashiest of the fish mentioned here, cardinal tetras have a fabulous bright red belly with iridescent blue-green scales on the top of their body.

Combined with the fact that they school in medium-large groups, they are sure to grab your attention.

Cardinal tetras are peaceful and sociable, and happiest when kept in groups with at least six, and are good tank-mates for danios, rasboras, and other tetras.

Cardinal tetras have slightly more specific water requirements. The water should be soft and acidic, with a low mineral content.

Tetras do best when introduced to established aquariums, rather than newly established tanks, as they are more sensitive to changing conditions.

Zebra Danio

zebra danio
Oregon State University [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner-Intermediate
  • Temperament: Generally peaceful but may nip at other fish occasionally
  • Water requirements: 65-77° F, 6.5-7.2 pH
  • Tank requirements: 25+ gallons
  • Tank level: Any level as long as they are in a school!

Zebra danios are a great fish to include in a tank that needs a bit of variety.

These fish feature bright horizontal stripes that span the length of their bodies, and the dark blue-black and silver stripes contrast nicely with some of the brighter schooling fish like tetras or barbs.

These incredibly hardy fish are rapid breeders, and they mate for life!

Zebra danios are peaceful, but being that they are active, can grow bored leading them to nip at any fish with longer fins, just for something to do!

For this reason, they should only be put in tanks with fish such as other danios, tetras, and barbs- not fish with long fins like angelfish or catfish. Zebra danios are best kept in schools of 5 or more.

Clown Loaches

clown loach
Photo by Mgroch
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful, like to have hiding spots
  • Water requirements: 75-81° F, 6.0-6.5 pH. Need very clean water.
  • Tank requirements: 100+ gallons
  • Tank level: Mid and bottom dweller

Clown loaches are unique and different from most other fish on this list. Loaches have long noses and sensing barbels, and their bodies are streamlined for speed.

They have spines on their face that are used for defense, but they are very peaceful fish are rarely have issues with their tank-mates.

However, you need to be careful what you pair them with as they grow up to eight inches in length and may not be suitable tank mates for all schooling fish.

Clown loaches have orange-gold bodies with dark, V-shaped bands that span across the sides of the body, and tend to dwell on the bottom of the aquarium, making them a distinctive fish from many of the other schoolers mentioned here.

They do best in groups of 5+, but are much more of a commitment than some other fish due to their size and life expectancies.

Platy

platy fish

  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful, can be assertive due to their activity levels
  • Water requirements: 72-78° F, 7.0-8.5 pH
  • Tank requirements: 10+ gallons for platies alone; 25+ gallons with other fish
  • Tank level: Mid-level dweller

Platies are extremely popular freshwater tropical fish that come in an array of stunning colors and are very easy to care for, making them excellent beginner fish.

They are great tank-mates as they are not aggressive and co-habitate well with tetras, mollies, and other smaller fish. Their coloration varies greatly due to breeding, but platies generally come in a combination of red, orange, silver, and black scales.

There is a fun variant of the platy called the “Mickey Mouse” platy, named for the black markings on its tail that form the shape of the famous mouse ears!

Platies are not “technically” schooling fish, but they do best in small groups, and should not be kept in isolation. They are social and highly active, with great potential for any aquarium.

Pygmy Cory

pygmy cory
Carnat Joel [CC BY 2.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Water requirements: 72-79° F, 6.5-7.5 pH
  • Tank requirements: 10+ gallons
  • Tank level: Mid-bottom level dweller

Pygmy cories are tiny catfish, and are adorable additions to a freshwater aquarium.

Pygmy cories are silver with tiny whiskers, and iridescent scales and a black stripe on their sides.

These fish do best in small schools of 6-8, but can become shy and skittish in schools of less than 6. However, in a school of sufficient size, the personality of these little guys starts to shine.

It is important for pygmy cories to live in a tank with a smooth substrate that will not accidentally be ingested while the fish dig for their food!

Due to their size, pygmy cories can be intimidated (or even targeted as prey) by larger fish, so it is important to only house these fish with other dwarf fish, shrimp, or snails.

As long as they are kept in good company, these tiny fish make excellent additions to a hobby aquarium.

Bloodfin Tetra

Bloodfin Tetra
Chronotopian [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Water requirements: 72-78° F, 6.0-7.5 pH
  • Tank requirements: 15+ gallons
  • Tank level: Mid to top level dweller

Bloodfin tetras are a variety of tetra known for the bright red coloration on their ventral and tail fins.

These fish are known for their extreme ease of care, as they tolerate a wide range of water temperatures and conditions, and are peaceful members of community tanks.

They school in groups of 6+, and are more comfortable in large schools. In less varied communities (only 2-5 other species), they can become aggressive and nip at other fishes’ fins. It is for this reason that bloodfin tetras are best kept in communities with 6-8 distinct fish species.

These fish are very active, and need a tank big enough to accommodate their activity level. Bloodfin tetras also appreciate planted tanks, and their coloration is especially striking against darker substrate, as it helps them stand out.

Scissortail Rasboras

Scissortail Rasboras
Lerdsuwa [CC BY-SA 3.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Beginner
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Water requirements: 73-78° F, 6.6-7.0 pH
  • Tank requirements: 20+ gallon
  • Tank level: Mid-upper level dwellers

Scissortail rasboras are tiny fish with forked tails that look like the blades of a pair of scissors.

When swimming, they open and close their tails, making their unique tail fins truly resemble scissors, and their lithe bodies make it easy to zip through the water.

They are sleek silver fish that stay smaller than 4 inches in length, and are peaceful schooling fish perfect for community tanks.  Scissortail rasboras do best in groups of about 6 of their kind.

They are highly compatible with many other fish species commonly kept in community tanks, such as danios, cories, angelfish, and other species of rasboras.

These fish do require a great deal of swimming space, and are happiest when kept in tanks that are long rather than tall, so they have a greater range to explore.

Like many other schooling and freshwater fish, they do best in clean, slightly acidic water. Scissortail rasboras are excellent fish to add to an aquarium lacking a top-dwelling, friendly, entertaining school!

Red Rainbowfish

Red Rainbowfish
Thomnight [CC BY-SA 2.0]
  • Difficulty of care: Intermediate-Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Water requirements: 75-82° F, 7.0-8.0 pH
  • Tank requirements: 75+ gallons (4-6 feet in length to accommodate adult size)
  • Tank level: Mid level

There are many varieties of rainbowfish, but red rainbowfish are among the most popular for hobbyists to keep in community tanks.

These vibrant fish are sexually dimorphic, and the males are the more colorful sex, displaying bright red, orange, yellow, and silver hues while the females are mainly silver. Other varieties come in every color of the rainbow!

Red rainbowfish are more prone to “shoaling” than they are to schooling. This means that rather than keeping in tight formation and turning when other member of the group turn, these fish will “hang out” close to each other, but may face different directions and not necessarily follow each other’s leads.

However, don’t let this discourage you from considering these beauties as additions to your aquarium!

They are very active fish, and grow up to 6 inches in adulthood, meaning they require a large tank with plenty of room for swimming. These fish are best kept in groups of 6-10, as with many schooling fish.

They are generally hardy, but as they are very sensitive to poor water conditions, may not be the best choice for inexperienced hobbyists.

Congo Tetras

congo tetra
André Karwath [CC BY-SA 2.5]
  • Difficulty of care: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful but can be skittish or stressed
  • Water requirements: 75-81° F, 6.0-6.5 pH
  • Tank requirements: 30+ gallons
  • Tank level: Mid to top-level dwellers

Congo tetras are popular for their shimmering silver and orange scales which can have hints of iridescent blue or green.

In order to avoid skittish or stressed fish, they need to be kept in schools of 6 or more, and should be the “dominant” fish in the community to avoid becoming reclusive due to feeling threatened.

They are timid fish who should not be kept with large, fast, or aggressive fish. Their coloration should remain bright, and any fading or muting of their color indicates stress due to their environmental conditons, either water or tank mates.

Congo tetras require a nice array of plants in the aquarium to use as hiding spots. They are rewarding fish to keep but are best for hobbyists with a bit of experience and knowledge of which fish would make suitable tank mates for the congo tetras.

Important Notes on Keeping Schooling Fish

Not all schooling fish are made alike! There are many factors that need to be considered when deciding which schooling fish are right for your aquarium.

Temperament

Some schooling fish will become intimidated by large or fast fish, and most will become shy and skittish if they are kept in schools of insufficient size.

Additionally, many of the fish discussed here are listed as “peaceful”, but that may change when paired with a certain species of fish.

It is crucial to study the temperament of each fish in the tank and make sure that there will be no personality clashes.

Water Parameters

The temperature and pH of the tank must be suitable for all inhabitants, and even a difference of a couple degrees can cause fish to become ill, lose their coloration, and even perish.

This ties in with tank size- overcrowding can become a big issue, especially as you begin to build a community of several species.

Tank Mates

If there are too many fish at a given level, some fish may become territorial and aggressive, not to mention the tank will look cluttered and too busy.

It is definitely possible to find schooling fish that will be perfect for an existing community, or to incorporate into a new aquarium.

However, it is crucial to take the time to research each fish and make sure that they will be happy and healthy in their new environment.

Final Thoughts

Schooling fish are a great way to add action, color, and liveliness to any aquarium. There is something extremely “natural” about watching fish interact in a school.

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