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10 colorful tropical fish to brighten your tank

colorful tropical fish
(Image credit: Worachat Sodsri on Upsplash)

Colorful tropical fish can turn your fish tank into a kaleidoscope of color that will dazzle you every day. Imagine turning to peer at your fish tank and seeing a flash of iridescent blue glide by, or a pop of bright orange. 

Colorful tropical fish can make fish tanks works of art, especially if you have one of the best fish tanks to put them in. We'll help you pick what tropical fish are right for your tank with this list, which lays out their diets, lifespan, and personality traits that will help you determine if a betta fish or an angelfish is better for your at-home aquarium. 

Remember that fish aren't low-maintenance pets – they need to be in the exact right environment, given a clean tank, and fed proper food. Acclimating a fish to a new tank takes work, so keep that in mind when looking through this list of colorful tropical fish.

The best colorful tropical fish for your tank

1. Cherry barb

Cherry barb

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Cherry barb info

Puntius titteya
Class:
Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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

Pet Fish - Neon tetra

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Neon tetra info

Paracheirodon innesi
Class: Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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.

3. Discus

Discus

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Discus info

Symphysodon
Class: Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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

Paradise Fish

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Paradise fish info

Macropodus opercularis
Class: Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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

Best betta fish food

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Betta fish info

Betta splendens
Class: Actinopterygii
Diet: Carnivore
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

Flowerhorn Chiclid

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Flowerhorn Cichlid info

Amphilophus labiatus
Class: Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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. 

7. Angelfish

Angelfish

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Angelfish info

Pterophyllum
Class:
Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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.

8. Clownfish

Pet Fish - Clown Fish

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Clownfish info

Amphiprion ocellaris
Class:
 Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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

Blue Tang

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Blue Tang info

Paracanthurus
Class:
 Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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. 

10. Endler's

Endlers fish

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Endler's info

Poecilia wingei
Class:
 Actinopterygii
Diet: Omnivore
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.