With so many beautiful fish to choose from, finding the best ornamental fish for aquariums is exciting. I don’t know about you, but we can spend hours searching the web for different fish for our aquarium. There are hundreds of different types of fish to choose from, so it’s impossible to know everything about all of the choices.
In this article we will explore several choices to help you choose the best ornamental fish for your aquarium.
Note: Please check your local regulations before purchasing aquatic frogs and fish. Certain varieties are considered invasive species in some locations.
Guide to the Best Ornamental Aquarium Fish
Anyone who has kept an aquarium will know that there are few sights as pleasing and relaxing as watching fish swim gracefully around your tank.
Keeping ornamental fish such as guppies, mollies, goldfish, or betta fish is great for anyone looking to keep a tank as they don’t require anything too special, and they are affordable. However, if you have a bit more cash to splash then the gorgeous spectacle of an aquascape with a variety of different types of fish is definitely worth the investment.
With so many fish to choose from it can be tricky to pick which ones are right for your personal tank. With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular ornamental fish around, along with their specific needs and where you can find them.
You will definitely recognize many popular aquarium fish in our listings and some non-traditional ones as well.
Our Top Ornamental Fish Selections
Freshwater fish are among the best ornamental fish for aquariums.
- Widely available in many pet stores
- Easier to care for than saltwater fish
- More affordable than saltwater fish
Goldfish are Among the Best Ornamental Fish for Aquariums
Goldfish are perhaps the most recognizable ornamental fish in the world and can make stunning additions to almost any tank. They are very easy to keep, and don’t require any special equipment, though you will need to make sure you clean the tank regularly as they produce a lot of waste.
These fish are cold water species, so they don’t do well in tropical tanks. However, they need good water flow to keep themselves disease-free, so you will need a filter and aeration in the tank.
Goldfish are omnivores, so you’ll need to feed them a good-quality pellet food along with lots of vegetables which will keep them healthy and colorful.
When most people think of goldfish, they are likely picturing a common or comet variety. But those two just begin to scratch the surface of the different types of goldfish available for freshwater aquarium keepers.
Commons and comets can grow bigger than 12-inches, which quickly becomes too large for most living room fish tanks. Luckily many smaller types of goldfish have developed that are naturally smaller in size and visually more appealing.
Popular Ornamental Goldfish Varieties
- Black Moor
Most of the fish in the list above top out around 6 or 7 inches in an aquarium, with the fantail being an exception which would grow larger given a bigger tank and proper water conditions.
Oranda and ranchu goldfish are two of the coolest freshwater aquarium fish. Mixing and matching goldfish varieties, within reason, make some of the best freshwater aquarium fish combinations.
Goldfish have been a part of ornamental agriculture for centuries and have thrived in China and Japan. They have a devoted fanbase worldwide with many clubs and associations who promote the species and host various competitions focused on show-quality goldfish breeding.
Guppies are a Popular Ornamental Choice
Guppies remain a popular fish for aquarium enthusiasts. They come in a variety of colors and add visual appeal to any aquascape. Their small 2-inch size make them a good choice for smaller fish tanks ranging from 20 to 40 gallons.
According to JapaneseFightingFish.org there are more than 50 types of guppy fish.
Tail shape looms large in the guppy taxonomy with a seemingly endless list of choices. Here are three common and popular guppies based on tail shape.
- Round tail
- …and others
Guppies are often organized according to color. Here are some common colors:
- Green guppy
- Yellow guppy
- Purple guppy
- Red guppy
- …and on and on
And an interesting fact about guppies, if you have a male and female guppy in the same tank you will likely have baby guppies following shortly afterwards, if conditions are suitable for reproduction.
The ease of guppy reproduction contributes to their popularity. Ask 10 random fish keepers what type of fish they started out with and at least one is likely to explain they started with guppy fish. Guppies are some of best aquarium fish for beginners.
Guppies are readily available, relatively easy to produce different color and tail morphs based on selective breeding over the years and they are easily cared for by beginning fish keepers, with excellent water quality being the primary concern.
These tropical marvels hail from South America and thrive in home aquariums.
Guppies are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat, and so you’ll need to keep this in mind when picking out your plants.
Guppies are great fish for kids as well as beginners, so are a good first fish to keep. Guppies are best kept in groups of at least 5 or 6.
Mollies are Easy for Beginners
Mollies are very similar to guppies, both in appearance and in care requirements. They’re also a tropical species, so you’ll need a heater to keep your water at the right temperature.
Mollies grow to around 4-5 inches and will do well in tanks ranging from 40 – 55 gallons. Like guppies, mollies have been kept in smaller tanks for decades but will do better in larger tanks because it’s easier to maintain good water quality, which helps the fish remain healthy.
Also, water changes in a smaller tank provide a bigger change to the water conditions and can shock the fish if the Ph level changes dramatically with the new water being added.
As with guppies, mollies are best kept in their own tank, but they have been kept successfully with similar sized fish that are not mollies. They do well in groups of other mollies. They have very easily kept and grow quickly, so are a great species for breeding.
Mollies like plants, but don’t require much in the way of substrate, meaning they’re great for people with little space in the tank.
As live bearers, mollies easily reproduce similarly to guppies. Mollies are among the selections of best fish for small tanks.
Tanganyikan Cichlids Need an Experienced Keeper
Tanganyikan cichlids are a fantastic choice for anyone looking to keep a more unusual species of fish.
Their name is derived from Lake Tanganyikan, where they originated. They lake is connected to the Congo River.
- Sand dwellers
- Substrate brooders
These African fish are very high maintenance, so aren’t suitable for beginners, but are great for people who love keeping fish and want to keep something a bit more unusual.
They like warm water and need strong filtration to keep their water clean. These fish are also very aggressive, and so are best kept in their own tank.
Tanganyikan cichlids are carnivores and love live food, so you’ll need to keep feeding your tank.
Tropheus and Frontosa cichlids from Lake Tanganyikan are extremely popular with serious aquarists. They are magnificent, aggressive sand dwelling fish that thrive in water that is a higher pH level when kept in groups with sparkling-clean, well-filtered water.
Tropheus require large tanks because due to their aggression keeping them in groups of 6 to 8 (or even more) helps temper their fighting by providing many targets for that aggressive behavior.
Betta Fish are Available in Most all Pet Stores
Betta fish are perhaps the most colorful and striking fish on this list, and so make a great addition to any tank. These fish love warm water and thrive in tropical tanks.
Bettas need a good filter, as they are very messy fish and tend to get sick if the water isn’t kept clean. They also like to have lots of cover, so you’ll need to keep this in mind when choosing tank decorations.
Betta fish are solitary, so you’ll need to keep them in their own tank, and they are aggressive, so you’ll need to keep them away from other species unless you want a massacre in your tank.
Pet stores often advertise betta fish kept in small tanks, but they do best in appropriately sized tanks. They can grow up to 4 inches or more. They need a heater and quality filter.
Read more about betta fish in our article titled – 5 Tips for Betta Fish Tank Size
These magnificent fish are best cared for by intermediate and advanced fish keepers. They are not the best choice for beginners.
Our Secondary Tier List of Ornamental Choices
We created a second tier of fish in our recommendations for the best ornamental fish for aquariums’ list. It’s not that the fish are any less desirable aquarium keeping, but to better organize and focus this guide we’ve divided up the choices into categories and sub-categories.
Angel Fish are Magic in Motion
Angel fish are one of the most beautiful species of fish in the world and make excellent additions to a well-planted tank. Their flowing fins create a majestic scene in a home aquarium creating a wonderful choice as among the best ornamental fish for aquariums.
Angel fish originated in Africa. They are popular as aquarium pets because of their vibrant colors and active personalities. They are easy to care for and thrive in environments with moderate temperatures.
They are a tropical species, so you’ll need a heater and strong filtration to keep your water clean. They like flowing water, but not too strong. Water conditions are key for angel fish. In poor tank conditions, their fins will tatter, tear, and rip creating an unhealthy state that could lead to your fish passing on prematurely.
You should also keep them away from aggressive fish, as they are relatively small, and so can be bullied by larger species. This might also lead to fin damage and undesirable results.
Angel fish are omnivores and like to have plenty of plants in their tank.
Rainbowfish Provide Lots of Ornamental Possibilities
Rainbowfish are stunning fish that are bright and colorful, and perfect for anyone who loves a bit of ‘rainbow’ in their tank.
Based solely on visual appearance rainbowfish might be the best choice for an ornamental fish aquarium.
These fish like warm water, and don’t do well in cooler temperatures, so you’ll need to keep them warm with a good tank heater and warm room in your house.
Rainbow fish grow 2 – 6 inches in size, depending on the specific type, and live up to 8 years or more. Unfortunately, many don’t reach these ages and sizes because fish keepers sometimes are unable to maintain ideal habitat for them (i.e., clean, disease-free water, quality food sources, water pH, etc.)
Rainbowfish are social fish and are often kept in groups, though you should keep males and females apart, as they can become aggressive towards their own sex.
Rainbowfish are omnivores and should be fed a good-quality flake food along with lots of greens.
Cardinalfish are a Colorful Option
Cardinalfish are another stunning species with brilliant coloration and make excellent additions to almost any tank. These fish can be a little more finicky than some other species, so you’ll need to make sure to keep your water clean and test it regularly to ensure it’s at the right temperature and pH.
You’ll also need to keep your tank well-planted, as cardinalfish like to hide in the plants. These fish are omnivores, so you’ll need to feed them a good-quality flake food along with lots of greens.
Dwarf Gourami are Smaller Fish with Giant Personalities
Gouramis make great additions to both long and short tanks and are particularly striking in a planted tank. These tropical fish are easy to keep, provided you keep their water clean, and they’re also very easy to breed, making them a great choice for beginners. However, you’ll need to keep dwarf gouramis in their own tank, as they are aggressive towards other species. Gouramis are omnivores and should be fed a good-quality flake food along with lots of greens.
Ornamental fish are a great addition to any tank, be it a large, planted tank full of angelfish, a large school of Tropheus whirling and whizing around in choreographed, constant activity, or a smaller sized aquarium with some guppies; they will add color and life to any home.
Ornamental fish are a great hobby for kids and adults alike, as long as you have the room to keep a tank, and the right equipment to keep your fish healthy, and a willingness to learn proper fish keeping techniques. With so many different species to choose from, you’re sure to find one that’s right for you.
Finding the best aquarium fish combination for multi-species tanks takes time. Many beginners choose to focus on a single species and branch out as they gain more experience.
And Even More Ornamental Fish (and Frog) Choices:
In aquariums, we’re not limited to only fish, and for ornamental fish we’re not limited to home aquariums. if you are still interested in learning about even more of the best ornamental fish for aquariums, we have assembled some additional fish, and even some frogs, for your research and consideration.
Koi are ornamental goldfish originating from Japan. They are considered a symbol of good luck in Japanese culture. Today they are widely kept as ornamental fish in ponds and large tanks.
Koi fish are not suitable for home aquariums and do best in outdoor ornamental garden ponds that are professionally maintained, landscaped, and filtered. It’s not uncommon for a koi pond to cost more than $15,000 to build and thousands to maintain on an annual basis.
Keeping koi in an indoor aquarium would require a massive tank with lots of high-quality filtration.
Puffer fish are bony fish that live in warm seas worldwide and are popular aquarium fish. They are often kept as pets due to their beautiful coloration and their ability to produce a toxin if provoked.
Puffer fish are not for beginners. Before buying a puffer for your aquarium do proper research and understand proper care and handling. This likely goes without saying, but do not eat them.
Platies are a type of tropical fish that originated in South America. They are popular as pets because they are relatively easy to maintain and do not require much space. They are also docile and peaceful, making them good for beginner aquarists. Platies make good tropical fish for beginners.
Rainbow trout are a species of rainbow colored fish that originate in North America. They are also called brook trout and charr. Rainbow trout are popular as pets because of their colorful appearance and calm nature. They are easy to breed and tend to live longer than many other types of fish.
Barramundi are a type of saltwater fish that originated in Australia. They are well suited for aquariums because of their fast growth rate and high tolerance for water temperature fluctuations. They are also easy to breed and are docile.
As amphibians, most frogs require both water and areas in the tank for resting outside of the water. Some frogs are aquatic and spend the majority of their time in the water.
Please don’t harvest pet frogs from the wild environment. Seek out captive bred and captive raised frogs as pets. Be aware that some frogs and even fish are considered invasive species and there are regulations that restrict ownership in some locations.
Here are two choices.
African Dwarf Frog
African dwarf frogs (Hymenochirus) are amphibians native to sub-Saharan Africa. They are sometimes called “crawdad”, “water frog”, or “African clawed frog”. They are kept as pets mainly for their cute appearance.
African Clawed Frog
The African clawed frog (Xenopus) is a species of African clawed frog native to the western coast of Central and Southern Africa. They are kept as pets for their bright colors and interesting behavior.