Adding colorful tropical fish to your aquarium is a no-brainer if you love being mesmerized by beautiful colors and patterns. Many people, when they hear the word ‘fish’ think of dull grey fish or the classic ‘gold’, that’s actually orange, goldfish. But there is a variety of freshwater fish boasting gorgeously bold scales.
If you’re thinking of starting up a feature tank or you’re just really fascinated by exotic-looking fish then you’re going to want to invest in one of the best tropical fish tanks. Our list below of colorful tropical fish will help point you in the right direction of what style tank will suit your fish friends best. Details such as their diets, personality traits, and lifespan will help you figure out which colorful tropical fish suits you best.
Although fish aren’t like owning a dog where you have to take them out for regular walks and ensure they don't cause havoc when left on their own, fish aren’t necessarily ‘low maintenance’ animals to keep as pets. A clean tank is essential for creating the right environment for your fish but it’s not the most glamorous task for a fish parent to take on. You’ll also need to invest in the right food for your fish breeds.
While you ponder if you could commit to owning your own small aquarium, take a look at what colorful tropical fish are out there.
The best colorful tropical fish for your tank
1. Cherry barb
Lifespan: 2-10 years
Cherry barbs are great fish for beginners, as they are quite hardy. You'll need to get more than one cherry barb, as they're a schooling-type fish and will move around a lot together in the tank. Otherwise, they may hide and become shy. Make sure that your ratio of males to females is correct – male cherry barbs are quite aggressive during mating season, so don't let them outnumber the females. The ratio should be one male to every two females. Cherry barbs like heavily planted tanks, with low light, and an aquarium temperature around 75 degrees.
2. Neon tetra
Lifespan: Up to 5 years
Neon tetras can live in a freshwater tropical aquarium, and their bright blue and red colorway will liven up your tank. Native to South America, they live in murky water and need to be bright in order to help keep track of eachother. They are a breed of fish who normally travels in schools of 10-15, so keep that in mind, and they don't do well with larger, aggressive fish as they're so small.
Lifespan: 10-15 years
Discus are beautifully regal and bright, and there are several species of them. They can grow to be quite big, so it's recommended that you have at least a 75-gallon aquarium – tall ones are best for their body shape, as they can grow quite tall. They are calm and peaceful but can be aggressive towards each other during spawning. If they become bullies, you'd have to remove the more submissive fish as discus are so large and could injure them. They are freshwater fish that prefer water around 82 to 86 degrees, with broadleaf plants and driftwood to mimic the flooded forests from which they're from.
4. Paradise fish
Lifespan: 8-10 years
Paradise fish are freshwater fish that can be a bit aggressive, so you'll only want to introduce them to your tank if you're a veteran fish owner. The fish are considered to be very active, and are usually only aggressive to their own species, but not always. Paradise fish can usually be found closer to the top of the water in the tank, as these fish have an organ that lets them breathe air! They like a warm tank between 70 and 80 degrees with plenty of plants.
5. Betta fish
Lifespan: Up to 3 years
Betta fish are quite popular fish found in home aquariums. They're colorful, energetic, and have beautiful flowing fins. These freshwater fish are from Southeast Asia, and have grown in popularity over the last several years. However, they aren't as easy to take care of as some may think and are notoriously mistreated in the fish industry, so you'll want to be somewhat experienced before you add them to your tank. Betta fish can be aggressive, especially males, so choose their tankmates carefully – they aren't fond of other aggressive fish, or ones that are particularly right in color. They enjoy hiding and exploring in their tanks, which should be full of warm water, and they thrive in larger tanks.
6. Flowerhorn Cichlid
Lifespan: 10-12 years
These striking freshwater fish are so unusual-looking and bright that they're a popular fish choice for home aquarium owners despite their aggressive nature. Flowerhorn Cichlids need to be in a tank with at least one other of the same species, and can be a bit expensive (between $40 and $80), so you'll want to consider that when picking your fish. They can bite and chase other fish species, although they move quite slowly due to their large bodies. The breed loves to claim territories in nooks and crannies in rocks or caves, so make sure their tank includes that, and they need a very large tank due to their size – around 150 gallons for two of them.
Lifespan: 10 years
Angelfish are beautiful fish, with flat bodies and long, elegant fins that resemble angel wings (these are very delicate, so avoid sharp-edged objects in any tank that has angelfish in it). These flatwater fish prefer calmer waters, so they won't fit in well if you have a filtration system in your tank that kicks up a current. They are peaceful fish who enjoy being with a few of their own, so you'll need to ensure you have enough space for them to grow and thrive. They prefer warm, tropical water tanks with standard lighting.
Lifespan: 3-5 years
You know these fish well thanks to Finding Nemo. The clownfish is a popular reef fish that is a great fit for tropical tanks – but these are saltwater fish, so they require more effort than the other freshwater fish on this list. Clownfish are peaceful fish, but they are aggressive towards other species of clownfish (of which there are at least 30), so make sure you only have one clownfish species in your tank. They are weak swimmers and need to have places to hide and feed, and you'll need your tank to have anemones in it to support them, which are harder to keep than the fish themselves. Anemones require specific lighting, a large tank, and water between 74 and 80°F.
9. Blue Tang
Lifespan: 8-20 years
And after Nemo comes Dory, a blue tang with stunningly neon blue and yellow coloring. They have very specific tank requirements, are prone to skin diseases, and can be aggressive to other fish. Blue tangs need space as they are very active, but they also enjoy darting in and out of rocks, so the tank will need to be big enough to accommodate that. They can be fairly well-behaved with other fish, but can get aggressive with other species of tang. They are saltwater fish that need tank temperatures of around 82°F.
Lifespan: 2-3 years
Endler's or Endler's livebearer, are tiny and vibrant freshwater fish that are pretty easy to care for. They look like colorful guppies, and have psychedelic patterns that will add some trippy vibes to your tank. Endler's don't need a very big tank – a 20-gallon is more than enough for around four of them, but you'll have to increase the size if you add more fish. They like high pH water, can tolerate a pretty wide range of temperatures (between 64°F and 84°F), and need live plants as they provide both food and shelter.
If any of these colorful tropical fish has taken your fancy, don’t forget to check out the best fish tank accessories. Not only do these provide the perfect living environment for your fish but they also add even more flair to your already exotically decked-out aquarium.
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