Tropical Fish: Ultimate A-Z List (From Arowanas To Zebra Danios)

Fish keeping is one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can have, which is proven by the millions of people that have fish in their homes all across America.

Being able to watch fish move through their aquatic world has been proven to reduce stress.

If you are interested in keeping magnificent and interesting fish, then the best groups of fish to keep are tropical fish.

What better fish to choose than those which are the most colorful and unique?

In this article we will look at the most popular tropical fish, and what it takes to look after each of them.

What is a Tropical Fish?

A tropical fish is one which lives between 74-80°F, but they can come from both saltwater or freshwater. They are often the brightest colored, thanks to pigmented and iridescent cells on their skin.

Though they all started as a wild species, lots are now bred from captive specimens and this means even more colors are available.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular tropical fish that are available for your tanks.

Tropical Freshwater Fish

1. Angelfish

Angelfish

One of the best-known freshwater fish are Angelfish.

These Cichlids have one of the most unique body shapes and grow to be larger than most people expect.

With the right tank mates that are not small enough to be eaten, they will be peaceful and great in community tanks that are at least 55 gallons.

2. Arowana

Arowana are highly sought after fish. The most expensive aquarium fish ever sold was a Platinum Arowana that cost over $400,000!

There price tag is so expensive because of their beauty and difficulty to breed in captivity.

Because of their price tag, they are for highly experienced aquarists that have a tank which is at least 250 gallons.

3. Barbs

Barb

Barbs are energetic fish that school in groups of at least 5 and cannot be kept with slow or weak tank mates as they can be quite reckless. They are hardy and suitable for beginners to tropical fish keeping.

Many varieties are available, such as Tiger Barbs and Black Ruby Barbs.

4. Betta

Betta Fish Swimming

These aggressive and intelligent fish are one of the most beautiful fish available, bred for their long colorful caudal fins. The female’s fins are less impressive but can be kept in groups called sororities. Males however, should be kept alone.

Bettas can recognize their owners and can be trained to perform tricks, making them one of the most interesting fish to keep.

5. Black Ghost Knifefish

These curious looking fish are one of the most fascinating species you can keep in a home aquarium. This is because Knifefish are nocturnal and use electrolocation to navigate the tank.

It’s best to have some experience before keeping this fish.

To keep them, a tropical fish tank that is at least 100 gallons is needed.

They will eat live or frozen foods, such as brine shrimp and bloodworms.

6. Cichlid

Cichlids can be one of the most rewarding fish to keep, with amazing patterns and so many different sizes.

Remember though, they can be aggressive towards other fish but make great species only tanks as they are intelligent and active.

7. Clown Loach

Clown Loach

Growing up to a foot long, these peaceful bottom dwellers are active members of community aquariums and bring a bright splash of color with them.

They are schooling fish and need a large tank which is a minimum of 100 gallons, with plenty of places to hide among rocks and plants.

8. Cory Catfish

Most Cory Catfish are hardy, peaceful and adorable bottom dwellers that love to socialize and clean the sediment in the tank.

There are over 160 species, with the most popular including Peppered, Sterbai and Emerald Cory Catfish. Most are great tropical fish for beginners, but some are fussy eaters and would be better suited to experienced aquarists.

9. Discus

Discus
Discus are a group of Cichlids from South America that are loved for their incredible shape and colors.

They have some of the most exciting variations but can be difficult to keep, making them a dream tropical fish for many advanced aquarists.

Discus need at least 50 gallons and vertical driftwood to make them feel comfortable.

10. Gourami

These peaceful community fish have some intense colors and love to explore with a friend, so keeping them in pairs is a must. A well planted tropical fish tank and a flake food diet will keep them happy.

There are many sizes and colors of Gourami species, such as: Dwarf, Pearl and Kissing Gourami.

11. Guppies

Guppy

Guppies are the ideal beginner fish that come in a huge variety of colors with a peaceful temperament. They are live bearers that live in large schools and will eat almost everything.

Endlers Guppies are hybrids of both a Guppy and the smaller Endler fish. They have intense coloration and do well in nano tanks.

12. Pictus Catfish

These unique tropical fish are easy to care for in a large tank, where they will be active and entertaining to watch. Pictus Catfish have long barbels and spines on their pectoral fins that require care to prevent them from breaking.

They come from South American rivers, so love a tank with rocks, driftwood and a good water flow.

13. Platies and Swordtails

Swordtail

These two popular groups of fish come from the same family (Xiphophorus) and are both easy to keep. They come in bright reds and blues as well as black and white varieties.

A well planted tank will make these fish easier to keep and breed.

14. Rainbow Sharks

These aggressive and territorial fish are for more experienced fish keepers.

They have a striking appearance (even if they are not real sharks) and are active in the aquarium which makes them great entertainment.

When introducing them to an aquarium, they should be added last as this will help reduce their aggression.

15. Rainbowfish

Rainbowfish

These stunning fish are highly sought after because of their amazing colors and peaceful temperament.

They are great in community tanks as they bring energy and brighten up the tank. These fish can live in tanks as small as 10 gallons, but prefer larger, planted aquariums.

16. Tetras

These beautiful schooling fish come in many different varieties, with the most popular being Neon, Glowlight. and Black Phantoms.

But there are many more varieties to choose from.

They are sensitive to water changes but that does not make them bad beginner fish. Provided they are in planted aquariums in a shoal of at least six they should be fine.

Tropical Saltwater Fish

17. Blenny

Blenny

Blennies are intelligent and complex fish that need sediment and a lot of food in reward for being an active and hardy fish. They often become the favorite tropical fish of community setups because of their curious nature and great facial expressions.

18. Butterflyfish

Butterflyfish are one of the more iconic saltwater fish with endearing colors and a variety of fin shapes. Many have long noses which they use to feed in between rocks, while others eat only coral polyps making them expensive fish to keep.

They need at least 75 gallons as they are active, and roaming the tank is part of their charm.

Most varieties are difficult to keep however, so they are recommended for experienced tropical fish keepers only.

19. Cardinalfish

Cardinalfish

One of the most curious and beautiful looking fish, these nocturnal hunters are peaceful and easy to add to new aquariums. There are two popular species: the Pajama Cardinalfish and the Banggai Cardinalfish.

Banggai cardinalfish are at risk of extinction from over collection, so make sure that you only buy captive bred specimens.

20. Chromis

The most peaceful Damselfish available, Chromis are energetic shoaling fish with shimmering bodies that are suitable for reefs. They are also very hardy, though they are carnivores that need feeding multiple times a day.

They need a minimum tank size of 30 gallons and must be in a shoal of at least 6.

21. Clownfish

Clownfish

No saltwater fish list would be complete without mentioning the Clownfish.

They are generally known as the best saltwater beginner fish, both for their friendly nature and ability to live in tanks as little as 10 gallons.

Bigger tanks are easier to manage, but they can also be kept in smaller tanks.

22. Damselfish

There are over 250 species of these incredible fish, such as the 12-inch Garibaldi or the stunning Blue Sapphire Damselfish. The variation means each species has its own needs, but all are territorial, so they need to be paired with bigger fish that will put them in their place if they get too aggressive.

23. Dottyback

Dottyback

Smart, brilliant and hardy fish, these are the ideal beginner saltwater fish. They can be territorial to their own kind and a little aggressive, but this can be prevented by pairing them with more aggressive species.

They can survive in smaller tanks but need plenty of hiding spots for when they don’t feel like braving the open spaces.

24. Firefish

These excitable little Gobies almost glow with their bright reds and blues, while they switch between hiding away, to frantically exploring.

This makes them amazing members for your tank, and you will always be surprised by their activities.

They need a minimum 20 gallon tank and are peaceful with other species.

25. Goby

Goby

These beautiful fish have many varieties that all have great differences in color and personality – each fish will be distinctly unique in pattern and behavior.

They will need at least 50 gallons (as some species can grow over 6 inches) and plenty of substrate to sift through. If kept with certain species of shrimp, they will form a symbiotic pair but this is rare in a home aquarium.

26. Hawkfish

These amazing hunters will eat any small tank mates but will be peaceful towards larger tank mates. They can be kept in reefs with the right inhabitants, or in smaller species only tanks.

Hawkfish can be fussy eaters, but if fed correctly they can be rewarding with their bright red colors and shy personalities.

27. Lionfish

Lionfish

Though troublesome outside the tank, as part of a tropical fish tank they are magnificent pets to have. They are peaceful to those that are too big to fit in their mouths and are mostly docile.

Most species need at least 50 gallons and make an impressive addition to any reef. Their dorsal spines have venom so care must be taken when handling them.

28. Mandarinfish

These are one of the most incredibly patterned fish available.

They require constant feeding and are one of the more time-consuming fish available, but their beautiful looks make this more than worth it.

29. Marine Betta

Marine Betta

These are easy to care for tropical fish, which have interesting behaviors such as resting face down to make their body resemble a moray eel.

Marine Bettas are both hardy and disease-resistant, so can make great beginner fish. They are also full of personality and make great pets.

30. Tangs

Dory from Nemo has a few cousins, and they are all incredible to have in the aquarium.

They are peaceful fish that eat algae and vegetables, with colors that blow other fish out of the water.

Tangs are often difficult to keep and need large tanks (125 gallons).

31. Triggerfish

Triggerfish

If you are looking for a hardy saltwater fish, then a Triggerfish probably ticks most of your boxes.

They are intelligent, incredibly powerful and have a great personality.

32. Wrasses

There are 600 species of Wrasse, and each has their own unique color and personality. They can be anywhere from half an inch to over 6 feet long, however it’s the smaller varieties that are more commonly in home aquariums.

Wrasses are energetic fish and demand a lot of food, but if you can provide that they will be active parts of a small tank or a reef setup.

Summary

There are thousands of tropical fish that can be kept in a home aquarium.

Hopefully one on this list caught your eye, and you are considering adding them to your tank.

If you thoroughly research any new fish you plan to add to your tank, you will be much less likely to make any mistakes.

Keeping fish lets you see many wonderful animals. To successfully take good care of them is one of the greatest achievements.

Did we miss your favorite tropical fish from our list? Let us know in the comments section below…

Robert Woods Portrait
Robert Woods is the creator of FishKeeping World, a third generation fish keeper and a graduate in animal welfare and behavior. He is also a proud member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and the Nature Conservancy.

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