5 Best Schooling Fish for Beginners
There’s something so peaceful and awe-inspiring about seeing a large school of fish swimming back and forth in perfect harmony. If you’re looking for a beautiful schooling fish to get started with, check out our top five species that are easy to care for and will look amazing in your aquarium.
1. Cardinal Tetras
Paracheirodon axelrodi has to be on our list because of the striking red and blue stripes that run down the sides of their bodies. This 2-inch (5 cm) tetra is a fairly tight schooling fish, meaning that they like to stick closely to each other to protect themselves from predators and to forage for food together. They can handle warmer temperatures above 80°F, so you often see them paired with discus or German blue rams.
Neon tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) look fairly similar to cardinal tetras, except their stripes only go partway down their bodies, making them seem like they have blue heads and red tails. Neon tetras also don’t grow as large as and are usually cheaper than cardinal tetras. You can sometimes find different varieties of neon tetras, such as gold, diamond head, and longfin types. For more information on cardinal and neon tetras, read our full care guide.
Put a large school of cardinal tetras in a planted tank filled with greenery, and you won’t be able to pull your eyes away.
2. Rummy Nose Tetras
This very popular species is known as one of the tightest schooling fish in the aquarium hobby because the fish tend to all face the same direction while swimming together. Their key features include a bright red nose and black-and-white striped tail, and you’ll often find them hanging out around the middle to top of the tank. An interesting fact is that the rummy nose tetra is sometimes known as a “canary in the mine” because it can alert you to potential problems in the aquarium. If you see their red noses lose their color, check for bullying in the tank, incorrect water parameters, or other sources of stress.
There are several species that are commonly called “rummy nose tetras,” such as Hemigrammus rhodostomus, Hemigrammus bleheri, and Petitella georgiae.
3. Silver Tip Tetra
Looking for a slightly unusual but fun schooling fish? Consider the silver tip tetra or Hasemania nana. When you put your finger on the outside of the aquarium wall, these energetic tetras have the unique behavior of swarming toward your hand, begging for any food scraps you’re willing to part with. Despite their high energy level, they’re a relatively docile community fish that only gets to 2 inches (5 cm) in length. Males have a rich yellow-orange hue while females are a lighter yellow color, and both have little, white-silver tips on all their fins.
If you want an interactive species that eagerly greets you every day, you can’t go wrong with the silver tip tetra.
4. Lambchop Rasbora
Trigonostigma espei gets its common name from the black, triangular patch on its body that looks like a little lambchop or porkchop. Put that black lambchop on a bright orange body, and you’ve got a very eye-catching color pattern that stands out in a planted aquarium or community tank with other fish. Lambchop rasboras stay around 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, but if you’re looking for a slightly bigger fish that reaches twice the size, try the harlequin rasbora (or Trigonostigma heteromorpha). They have a larger, more distinct triangle shape, and they come in both pinkish-brown and purplish-black varieties. Read our full article about both lambchop and harlequin rasboras for more details on their care requirements.
Lambchop rasboras are known for their docile nature, easy care, and bright colors.
5. Ember Tetra
If you’re searching for a smaller schooling fish that can go in a nano tank, consider the Hyphessobrycon amandae. This tiny ball of fire only gets 0.8 inch (2 cm) long and displays a brilliant red-orange color that pops against a background of live aquatic plants. Feed them tiny foods like crushed-up krill flakes and Easy Fry and Small Fish Food to keep them happy and healthy.
A school of ember tetras swimming in a planted aquarium is a jaw-dropping sight to behold.
As with all schooling fish, make sure to get a group of at least six to ten fish (all from the same species) for your aquarium. They are naturally social creatures that feel most comfortable when surrounded by their own kind, so the more the merrier. If you’re looking for a beautiful showpiece to complement your new schooling fish, check out our article on the top 5 centerpiece fish for small- to medium-sized community tanks.