endler's livebearer

7 Best Fish Tank Ideas for a 10-Gallon Aquarium

7 min read

A 10-gallon fish tank is one of the most common “starter” aquarium sizes because it’s small enough for an apartment, a kid’s bedroom, or even your kitchen counter. If you’re not sure what kind of fish to get or how to design the tank, get inspired by 7 of our favorite aquarium setup ideas.

1. The “Centerpiece Fish” Aquarium

A centerpiece fish refers to that one aquarium fish that really draws everyone’s attention because it’s usually the biggest animal compared to the other community tank mates. In this case, our showcase fish is going to be a gourami that’s less than 3 inches (8 cm) long, such as a powder blue dwarf gourami (females are usually more peaceful than males) or honey gourami. This brightly colored centerpiece fish has lots of personality and swims all over the aquarium, so it’s sure to stand out in the aquarium. 

Surround the gourami with six to eight schooling nano fish that have a different color. For example, don’t put the powder blue gourami with blue and red neon tetras, but consider adding orange ember tetras instead. Conversely, the yellow-orange honey gourami would look beautiful swimming amongst a group of neon tetras.

These tetras tend to school in the middle of the tank, so if you’re looking to fill in the lowest layer of the tank, Malaysian trumpet snails and nerite snails are excellent algae eaters and scavengers. Another peaceful bottom dweller would be corydoras catfish. Since they like to stick together in schools of the same species, we suggest choosing smaller species, such as four to six panda corydoras or six to eight pygmy corydoras. 

honey gourami

Honey gouramis are very docile and have a bright yellow coloration that pops in any aquarium.

2. The Nano Aquascape

Unlike the previous example, this aquarium focuses on growing an underwater garden with live plants as the main feature and fish as the side decorations. We’re talking about a highly designed piece of art that most likely uses high lighting, carbon dioxide (CO2) injection, carpeting plants, and careful placement of hardscape. A high tech planted tank like this is generally recommended for more advanced aquarists since they are harder to balance, require more maintenance, and can quicky become a huge mess if you make a mistake. Also, the water tends to become very acidic because of the active substrate and CO2 injection, which can be lethal to your fish and beneficial bacteria. However, if you’re up for the challenge, the nano aquascape can be a very rewarding and visually pleasing project to tackle.

Before you get any animals, take your time on finetuning the layout of the plants, rocks, and driftwood. Once you are satisfied with the arrangement and plant selection, then you can choose aquatic animals that enhance the design and won’t blend in too much with the landscape. Because aquascapes are often intended to imitate scenes in nature like an underwater diorama, look at adding nano fish such as celestial pearl danios, chili rasboras, and exclamation point rasboras. These tiny fish appear like a flock of birds “flying” amidst your miniature forest or mountains.

For algae control, consider getting some small snails, amano shrimp, or red cherry shrimp to keep your plant leaves and hardscape looking pristine. Dwarf cory catfish – like the pygmy, habrosus, and hastatus corydoras – are also great clean-up crew members that will constantly scavenge for excess food. Just avoid any animals like Malaysian trumpet snails and kuhli loaches that like to burrow and may mess up your scape.

High tech aquascapes may be hard to pull off, but the more you practice, the better your creations will become. Don’t get discouraged or compare yourself to professionals because their “perfect” aquascapes are usually unrealistic setups in which all the necessary equipment has been removed and the fish are temporarily added.

chili rasbora

Brigittae or chili rasboras are a favorite fish for nano aquascapes because of their tiny size and bright red color.

3. The Unheated Aquarium

Looking to set up a cool water aquarium? Then get yourself a tank full of speedy danios. As long as your room temperature at home stays between 67-80°F (19-27°C), there’s no need for an aquarium heater. These action-packed torpedoes are always a crowd-pleaser for kids, and their hardiness makes them perfect for beginners who are still learning the ropes. Danios are widely available at pet store chains and local fish stores, and they come in many varieties such as zebra, long fin, leopard, blue, and even Glofish danios.

They do best in a group of at least six, but unlike many schooling fish, they seem to be fine even if you keep different kinds of danios together. They swim all over the aquarium, but because of their hungry appetites, they often feed from the water surface and will readily take floating fish foods like flakes or freeze-dried bloodworms. On the bottom of the tank, you can add mystery snails or Malaysian trumpet snails to clean up any scraps that happen to make it past the danios.

zebra danios

There’s nothing quite like watching the feeding frenzy caused by a tank full of lightning-fast zebra danios.

4. The Livebearer Aquarium

A 10-gallon aquarium is the perfect home for Endler’s livebearers and live aquatic plants. Endlers are like a smaller version of their cousin, the guppy, and they come in many colors and types, such as N-class, tiger, and black bar. They’re called livebearer fish because they give birth to live young that can freely swim and find food within a few hours of being born. Adults do predate on their own fry, so to increase the survival rate, add lots of dense foliage like java moss and water sprite to provide hiding spots for the babies. If you’re worried about overpopulation, you can always remove some adults to sell to your local fish store.

Endler’s livebearers eat virtually anything, such as flakes, pellets, frozen foods, and even giant wafers that they can nibble off. They are very hardy and easy to care for, and yet they’re small enough to keep in a kid’s bedroom or on your office desk. If you’re looking for an easy aquarium that’s bursting with life and color, you can’t go wrong with a tank full of energetic endlers.

endler's livebearer males

Endlers are perfect for 10-gallon tanks because of their small size, colorful patterns, high energy level, and ease of breeding.

5. The Frog Tank

If you want an aquatic pet that isn’t a fish, why not try an aquarium full of African dwarf frogs? Usually an individual frog is purchased as a last-minute afterthought that looks interesting, but we recommend going crazy with five or six of them. Pick the healthiest frogs at the pet store that are well-fed and have a slightly rounded belly. They may try to jump out of the water, so make sure to have a tight-fitting glass top or aquarium hood to prevent escape. You can decorate the tank with normal aquarium gravel, plants, and driftwood or rocks that are tall enough to reach right under the surface so that the frogs can perch up top and peer out of the water.

Because they are rather slow eaters, they don’t do as well if you put fast-eating fish with them. Good tank mates include larger snails, a clown pleco, or more African dwarf frogs (not the larger African clawed frog). They feed at the tank bottom by using their webbed hands to waft things into their mouths, so don’t give them flakes and freeze-dried foods that float or shrimp pellets that disintegrate quickly. Instead, feed them lots of meaty foods like frozen bloodworms, frozen brine shrimp, and live blackworms. If you add java moss or other plants that offer dense cover, your frogs may start to exhibit breeding behavior like singing and “wrestling” with each other.

African dwarf frogs

African dwarf frogs can be messy eaters, so it may help to get snails or a small pleco to clean up any leftovers.

6. The “Upside-Down Forest” Aquarium

We got this idea when looking at a bunch of dwarf water lettuce. If you give this beautiful floating plant lots of light, it consumes your fish’s toxic nitrogen waste from the water and creates long, bushy roots that look like branches in an upside-down forest. For the perfect schooling fish to swim amongst the fuzzy roots, get six to eight green neon tetras, which have a reflective, blue-green stripe that can be seen even in ambient lighting when the aquarium light is off. Because these tetras can be a little shy, get a group of outgoing rosy loaches, which only get to 1.25 inches (3 cm) long and are known for their red-orange males and speckled females.

Since floating plants propagate quickly, you may need to make a little hole at the water surface to drop some micro pellets (and other tiny foods) and then stir the water a little to make the food sink. If the dwarf water lettuce becomes too dense, remove some of them to feed to your plant-eating animals (like turtles) or give them away to friends and local stores.

green neon tetras

Green neon tetras look very similar to regular neon tetras, except their blue-green stripe is predominantly displayed and their red stripe is not as visible.

7. The “Breeding for Profit” Tank

If you’re searching for a fun breeding project beyond livebearers, try an aquarium of long fin white cloud mountain minnows. Unlike most fish, the adults are not known for predating on their own eggs or fry, so it’s quite possible to breed them in a colony without separating out the babies. However, juvenile white cloud minnows may start to snack on their younger siblings, so make sure to fill the tank with tons of floating plants up top and dense mosses and plants on the bottom. In fact, if you really want to increase your population, keep this as a species-only tank with no other fish, snails, or even shrimp to prey on the fry.

White cloud mountain minnows are extremely hardy and can live in unheated aquariums or outdoor mini ponds in the summer. Keep the minnows well-fed with a wide selection of tiny foods, like the powder from Repashy gel foods, Easy Fry and Small Fish Food, Hikari First Bites, frozen cyclops, and live baby brine shrimp. Eventually, when the fish tank becomes more crowded, talk to your local fish store about selling some to help offset the cost of your aquarium hobby.

white cloud mountain minnow

There are many varieties of white cloud mountain minnows, such as regular, gold, and long fin.

If you’re thinking of upgrading to a 20-gallon aquarium, there’s a whole new world of fish, invertebrates, and plants you can keep. Read about our 5 best fish tank ideas for a 20-gallon aquarium, and enjoy nature daily.