Top 10 Colorful Fish to Brighten Up Your Next Freshwater Aquarium
It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or veteran in the freshwater aquarium hobby — everyone is attracted to colorful fish. Bright reds, yellows, blues, and iridescent hues always get the most attention at pet stores because there's nothing like coming home to a beautiful tank full of color and activity. Because there are so many good-looking species to choose from, let’s highlight some of our favorites that possess the most amazing kaleidoscope of colors.
Of course, we have to start our list with one of the most commonly sold fish in the world — the humble guppy. You can buy assorted varieties at pet stores for as low as $3, or save up for specialty strains such as mosaic, tuxedo, albino, and more. They do enjoy harder water with pH above 7.0, so if you have soft water, consider adding minerals using Wonder Shell or Seachem Equilibrium. While the fish only gets to about 2 inches (5 cm) long, you just need to get a trio of one male and two females to get started in a 10- or 20-gallon aquarium. That’s because this livebearer is especially easy to breed, where you'll find the females giving birth to live young every 30 days. To protect the babies from predation, add lots of dense plants like water sprite and Pogostemon stellatus ‘octopus’ as shelter. Also, avoid keeping the guppies with fin nippers that may nibble on their long, flowy tails. For more information, check out our guppy care guide.
2. Cardinal Tetra
Many people get the cardinal tetra confused with its more well-known cousin, the neon tetra. While both have a blue horizontal stripe, the cardinal tetra’s red stripe spans the full length of its body, whereas the neon tetra’s red stripe only covers the back half. This peaceful, 2-inch (5 cm) fish gets a little bigger than the neon tetra, so put a school of at least 6–10 in a 20-gallon tank or larger. They can be a little shy if you have a smaller group, so increase their numbers and consider adding a lot of live aquarium plants as cover. Even when the aquarium light is off, you will catch a glimpse of their glowing blue dashes weaving in and out between the leaves. For more details, read the full article.
Discus are one of the most beautiful freshwater fish in the aquarium trade and have been nicknamed “the king of the aquarium.” They come in many varieties, like brilliant turquoise, pigeon blood, albino yellow, and wild types. Discus have a reputation for being harder to care for because they prefer much warmer temperatures between 84–86°F (29–30°C). Plus, they can grow to the size of a 5- to 7-inch (13–18 cm) bread plate, so a school of 6 adult discus needs a 75-gallon tank or larger. The key is to raise the heat, keep the water clean and stable, and feed them correctly, so read our discus care guide to learn more.
4. German Blue Ram
Another warm water fish from South America is the ram cichlid. The regular type is covered in all sorts of colors — like red, orange, yellow, blue, black, and white. You can also get other variations, such as electric blue, yellow gold, and black rams. At only 2–2.5 inches (5–6 cm) in size, a pair of rams can live in a 20-gallon community tank or in a species-only 10-gallon breeding tank. Just be aware that they like high temperatures around 84–86°F (29–30°C) and may become territorial during spawning seasons. Possible tank mates that can stand the warmer waters include cardinal tetras, Sterbai cory catfish, plecos, discus, angelfish, and other dwarf cichlids. See our German blue ram article for more tips and tricks.
5. Betta Fish
No list of colorful fish would be complete without mentioning betta fish. The most popular species is Betta splendens because they come in almost every shade imaginable and have a multitude of tail shapes as well. Because they have a labyrinth organ that allows them to gulp air from the surface, some people think they can live in a cup-sized container or vase for the rest of their lives. Instead, we recommend putting them in a 5-gallon tank or bigger that has an aquarium heater and gentle filtration like a sponge filter. Because of their aggressive nature, not all betta fish can have tank mates, but if yours has a chill personality and you want to try it, then consider upgrading to a 10- or 20-gallon tank with lots of cover and live plants to block line of sight. Check out the full betta fish article to learn about their care requirements.
6. Boesemani Rainbowfish
Naturally, rainbowfish are schooling fish that are known for their stunning colors, and one of the most famous species is the Boeseman’s rainbowfish. Its almond-shaped body is divided in half with iridescent blue in the front and vivid orange in the back. Because they are speedy swimmers and males grow up to 4 inches (10 cm) long, they prefer a fish tank with at least 4 feet (1.2 m) in length once they reach adulthood. While the guys are more colorful than the girls, make sure to get a ratio of more females than males so that the boys will show off their best breeding colors. Boesemani rainbows go well with other fast-paced tank mates such as loaches, barbs, medium-sized livebearers, giant danios, and other rainbowfish. You can read all about them in our complete care guide.
7. Golden Wonder Killifish
Many people avoid keeping killifish because some species have very short lifespans or are aggressive in temperament. However, you can often find golden wonder killies at major pet store chains because of their ease of care, hardiness in a wide range of environments, and bright yellow color. They can live up to around 3 years, especially in slightly cooler temperatures, and are often paired with rainbowfish, congo tetras, peaceful catfish, barbs, and other similar-sized species. Because of their large mouth and large appetite, they will indiscriminately go after dwarf shrimp, baby fish, and anything small for them to gulp down. To satisfy their craving for protein, feed them bloodworms, brine shrimp, Vibra Bites, and other meaty fish foods. To accommodate their 3- to 4-inch (8–10 cm) length, go for a 29-gallon tank or bigger, and make sure to get a tight-fitting lid with all the cracks covered to prevent them from jumping out.
8. Cherry Barb
Looking for something a little more peaceful? The 2-inch (5 cm) cherry barb is one of the more mild-mannered barbs that acts like your average tetra and gets along with other community fish. As per their common name, males are a deep cherry shade, whereas females are tannish-red. They are often recommended as beginner fish because of their tolerance for a broad range of temperature, pH, and water hardness. A school of six in a 10- or 20-gallon planted tank would look amazing because of the contrast between their red scales and green foliage. Because of their small mouths, we like to feed ours nano pellets, daphnia, and spirulina flakes for some extra vegetable and algae content in their diet. They spawn quite easily for an egg layer, so learn how to breed them in the full care guide.
9. Jewel Cichlid
This genus of gorgeous cichlids comes from West Africa and therefore does not have the high pH and hard water requirements of African cichlids from Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. There are many species that come in all sorts of colors such as blue-green and gold, but the red kinds are the most familiar ones in the aquarium trade. They can grow up to 5–6 inches (13–15 cm) and would do best in a 40-gallon aquarium or bigger. Plus, they have an aggressive personality, so be careful when putting them with tank mates. If you have a large enough tank, you can try similar-sized African or South American cichlids, plecos, barbs, or freshwater sharks, but be prepared to move them if it doesn’t work out.
10. Electric Blue Acara
Speaking of South American cichlids, the blue acara is a 6- to 8-inch (15–20 cm) fish that can be relatively peaceful and live in a community tank with larger tank mates. The electric blue variety is a special color morph of this species and is known for its bright, neon blue body with hints of orange and gold on the fins and scales. Unlike most cichlids of this size, they are not overly destructive and can be put in a 50-gallon tank or bigger with aquatic plants. Feed them high-quality cichlid pellets, frozen foods, worms, and other meaty foods.
Hopefully, one of these colorful beauties captured your eye and gave you inspiration for your next aquarium. Although we do not ship live fish at Aquarium Co-Op, we recommend that you check out our list of preferred online retailers to see what species they currently have in stock.