Top 15 colorful freshwater fish to brighten up your tank

With over 33,000 types of fish species estimated in the world today, and yes you may be able to narrow that figure down considerably further when focusing specifically on aquarium freshwater fish. The point being, there’s an abundance of choice and choosing the right one, is no easy feat. I discovered the hard way when starting my fish keeping journey, that some species are far easier to manage and look after than others.

Colorful freshwater fish, are the icing on the cake adding to the allure of your aquarium when you have finally managed to set one up. Through this article, I’ll share with you my favorite colorful freshwater fish, which I hope will give you some clarity on what’s available out there; before you take the plunge into the world of fish keeping. 

Busting fishkeeping myths

Have you been thinking of starting your own aquarium then something suddenly stopped you? Naturally, when the popularity of anything grows, as people pass on information and advice, myths tend to be born. Well, fear not, I’m going to clear up some controversies to help you make an informed decision.

Fish will only grow to the size of their tank

This is a common and untrue myth.

If you keep fish in old water, they will experience stunted growth but this has absolutely nothing to do with the tank. Fish will release growth hindering pheromone that prevents them from overcrowding in small ponds, and if it accumulates in your tank, it slows their growth. In addition, high levels of nitrate accumulating in the tank will also reduce the fish’s vigor and affect their overall health.

However, regular replenishing of water will keep nitrate levels low and replace essential trace elements. Along with a proper diet, these conditions will boost the growth rate of your fish irrespective of the tank size.

All fish need is a bit of salt to stay healthy

Before people understood the nitrogen cycle, most fish got subjected to higher ammonia and nitrate levels. Salt was used to counter nitrogen toxicity, and fish in salt seemed to grow healthier. However, fish keepers didn’t know how the salt helped the fish, and so the myth began.

Mistakenly, I once added a pinch into my tank, and it only placed my fish under stress, thus performing no useful function. Later, I realized that extreme salt dosage could be detrimental and cause a significant problem in several fish species. 

I agree that salt has its uses in treating nitrate poisoning, hydras, leeches and white spots, but you should never use it in a freshwater aquarium for any other reason. Note that freshwater fish thrive well in freshwater, and salty conditions can lead to a premature death.

You can’t overpopulate a tank

Fish all need a sufficient oxygen supply, or else they’ll suffocate. You also need to dilute the waste before it poisons them. An overcrowded tank will increase the build-up of toxic waste and there will be less oxygen for each fish to survive.  Making it far harder to maintain an environment for your fish to thrive in. 

Filters are not needed

Sadly, this is also untrue.

Filters are an essential part of your tank if you want to keep your fish alive. It helps remove dangerous chemicals, uneaten food, and waste. Failure to remove these hazards will result in the buildup of ammonia and nitrite that  will pose a  deadly threat if they rise to higher enough levels. 

Fish don’t feel pain

It’s more than likely that fish do feel pain.

Just like any other vertebrates, they contain neurotransmitters and an active nervous system that responds to pain. My fish don’t audibly scream, but by observing an injured one, you can note that it’s suffering. Research shows that fish feel pain, and we should treat them with the utmost consideration.

Betta fish must always be kept in solitude

The Siamese fighters can be part of a successful fish community with other calm species. However, they may dislike the company of other Betta fish, especially the male sex, but will tolerate others better. The female species also tend to be less aggressive. Some of the fish species that you can put together with your beta fish could include; Neon tetra and Pygmy Corydoras.

needyfish’s 15 favourite colorful freshwater fish

Check out our favorite colorful freshwater fish:

1.) Paradise Fish  – 

  • Origin: Asia
  • Lifespan: 6-8 years
  • Care level: Beginner (medium)
  • Size (Maximum): 2.4 inches (24 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-8 and 70°-82°F (21.2°-27.8°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 20 gallons (75 liters) with densely planted areas
Paradise Fish (needyfish)

Overview

I love its beautiful blue and red stripes. However, this species is known to get a bit aggressive at times. The unfriendly behavior varies between individuals, and surprisingly, others will appear relatively active and social. It would help if you watched out for the mating behaviors since the males tend to get more hostile as they compete for the females.


2.) Gourami – 

  • Origin: Rivers near Pakistan, India, Korea, and Bangladesh
  • Lifespan: 3-4 years
  • Care level: Beginner (easy)
  • Size (Maximum): 3 inches (7.6cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-9 and 77°-82°F (25°-27.8°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 10 gallons (38 liters)
Gourami - (needyfish)

Overview

There are several varieties of gourami ideal for anyone seeking highly colorful fish. They have different colors ranging from deep blue to red, and some have orange spots alongside their scales. It’s a peaceful species with playful, active, and entertaining traits, but they require dense foliage.


3.) Peacock Cichlid – 

  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Lifespan: 8 Years
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size (Maximum): 4-6 inches (10-15 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 7.8-8.5 and 76°-82°F (24.4°-27.8°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 55 gallons (210 liters) with a sandy substrate and cave options
Peacock Cichlid - (needyfish)

Overview

It’s a stunning species that will stand out in your aquarium with colors ranging from blue, red, to yellow. It’s an active swimmer that always hunts for food in the sand. It’s also a bottom dweller that will live in peace with other species and is a tamer member of the Cichlid family.


4.) Flowerhorn Cichlid – 

  • Origin: Central America and Malaysia
  • Lifespan: 8-12 years
  • Care level: Beginner (Moderate)
  • Size (Maximum): 10-12 inches (25.4-30 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-8.5 and 82°-85°F (27.8°-29.4°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 75 gallons (284 liters) and sizeable swim areas
Flowerhorn Cichlid - (needyfish)

Overview

It’s a unique species that will stand out from the rest thanks to its bulging head and exotic colors. It contains petal markings throughout the body, and its appearance keeps changing until maturity. It’s very spirited and can get hostile with other species, so I’d recommend getting it a separate tank to avoid confrontation with smaller fish.


5.) Electric Yellow Lab – 

  • Origin: Lake Malawi
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size (Maximum): 4-5 inches (10-12.7 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 7-8.5 and 71°-80°F (21.7°-26.7°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 55 gallons (210 liters) with rock piles or sandy substrates
Electric Yellow Lab - (needyfish)

Overview

One thing I like about this species is its striking electric yellow colors that inject a splash of bold hues in my tank. It’s a shy and peaceful species but has distinct territorial behaviours. It can be hostile towards other fish species with similar color and shape since it will regard them as a threat. 


6.) Male Betta – 

  • Origin: Asia (Countries Included – Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam et al.)
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Care level: Easy – very hardy
  • Size (Maximum): 2.25 inches (5.7 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6.5-7 and 76°-82°F (24.4°-27.7°) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 5 gallons (18.9 liters), with more surface area
Male Betta - (needyfish)

Overview

Betta have spectacular looking fins with colors ranging from orange, yellow, red, blue, purple, white to black. It’s an intelligent species that recognizes its owner, and you can even teach it some tricks. However, it gets unfriendly towards other bettas, but pairs well with less aggressive fish. 


7.) Bluefin Notho Killifish  

  • Origin: Mozambique
  • Lifespan: 1 Year
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size (Maximum): 2.4 inches (6 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-7 and 70°-75°F (21.1°-23.9°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 10 gallons (38 liters) with adequate hiding places
Bluefin Notho Killifish - (needyfish)

Overview

Bluefin Notho will add an incredible allure to your aquarium. The male species have a blue and red-colored body with red, black, and blue fins, and are known to get aggressive with each other. They will require a densely planted tank. 


8.) Harlequin Rasboras – 

  • Origin: The Malay Peninsula, Thailand, and Sumatra
  • Lifespan: 5 years
  • Care level: Beginner
  • Size (Maximum): 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-7 and 72°-77°F (22.2°-25°C) Temperature)
  • Ideal Tank: 20 gallons (75 liters) with open swimming areas and live plants
Harlequin Rasboras - (needyfish)

Overview

These species have a distinctive appearance with dark triangular patches extending from the tail to the dorsal fin. The other body has a silvery tone with reddish and yellowish markings. They like to swim at the top and middle of the tank and will live peacefully with other calm fish species. 


9.) Discus – 

  • Origin: Amazon River Basin (South America)
  • Lifespan: 10 years.
  • Care level: Advanced – Moderate
  • Size (Maximum): 6.5-8 inches (16.5-20.3 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-7 and 82°-86°F (27.7°-30°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 30 gallons (113 liters) with live plants
Discus - (needyfish)

Overview

This is an incredibly colorful species with a vast array of patterns and hues ranging from brown, orange, pink, blue to yellow. It requires high maintenance in clean water and dense foliage. They will live in harmony with other peaceful communities but may eat the smaller fish. They are also known to be fragile with complex requirements. So would not be suitable for a beginner.


10.) German blue ram – 

  • Origin: River Basin Venezuela and Colombia 
  • Lifespan: three years 
  • Care level: Difficult 
  • Size (Maximum): 2 inches (5cm) 
  • Water conditions: PH 4.0-7-0 and 78-85°F (25-29°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 30 gallons or more
German blue ram - (needyfish)

Overview

The German blue ram is incredibly sensitive to poor water conditions and should only be added to a mature, stable aquarium environment. Therefore, they’re not recommended for those just starting. The German blue ram is part of the cichlids family and is among the only members to happily live in a community with other fish species. They thrive in densely vegetated areas. 


11.) Fantail Guppy – 

  • Origin: South America
  • Lifespan: 2 years
  • Care level: Easy
  • Size (Maximum): 06-2.4 inches (1.5-6.9 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 7-7.2 and 75°-82O F (23.9°-27.8°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 10 gallons (38 liters)
Fantail Guppy - (needyfish)

Overview

Fantail Guppy can have numerous color combinations, including red, purple, yellow, blue, green, and teal, among others. They are peaceful, active swimmers that move around most of the time and live in harmony with other calm species. They love groupings, and you will often see the male chasing the females wiggling their fins to try and impress them, which I’m sure you’ll find amusing. 


12.) Cherry barb fish – 

  • Origin: Sri Lanka
  • Lifespan: 5-7 years
  • Care level: Beginner (Easy)
  • Size (Maximum): 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6-8 and 75°-80°F (23.9°-26.7°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 20 gallons (75 liters) with adequate swimming space
Cherry barb fish - (needyfish)

Overview

The cherry barb fish is a uniquely colored fish with silver or white hues, but the male turns to cherry red when spawning. They have a slender and elongated appearance with lateral stripes flowing from head to tail. They are very active on the leafy parts of the aquarium but tend to clique together when threatened. They swim in all parts of the tank and live well with other calm species.


13.) Danio margaritatus – 

  • Origin: Myanmar, Asia
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size (Maximum): 1 inch (2.5cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6.5 – 7.5 and 73° – 79°F (22.8° – 26.1°C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 10 gallons (38 liters)
Danio margaritatus - (needyfish)

Overview

The Danio margaritatus has a long dark green body with red-orange fins and bright yellow dots. The males appear thinner and have more vibrant colours. It’s a shy fish that enjoys swimming in and out of plants. Therefore, it’s advised to keep them in groups of six or more. The males can get aggressive, and it’s recommended to keep more females than males. It will live peacefully with other calm fish species.


14.) Boraras Brigittae – 

  • Origin: Borneo
  • Lifespan: 4-8 years
  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size (Maximum): 0.7 inches (1.8cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 4.0 – 7.0 and 68° – 82° F (20°-28 °C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 5 gallons (19 Liters)
 Boraras Brigittae - (needyfish)

Overview

They are a red-pink color and have a dark spot at the caudal fin and brown-black lateral stripe. The males are slightly smaller and are brighter colors than females. I’d advise keeping it with other small and peaceful fish to make it feel comfortable since it’s known to be shy. 


15.) Glowlight Danio – 

  • Origin: Asia
  • Lifespan: 1-3 years
  • Care level: Beginner (Easy)
  • Size (Maximum): 1.5 inches (3.8cm)
  • Water conditions: PH 6.5 – 7.0 and 73° – 79° F (22.8° – 27.2° C) Temperature
  • Ideal Tank: 10 gallons (38Liters)
Glowlight Danio - (needyfish)

Overview

It has a slender-body with stripes, bars, and beautiful bright colored spots in radiant gold, red, turquoise, and green. The Glowlight Danio prefers a planted tank environment with enough swimming space, coupled with other Danio species. It’s very peaceful and will live happily with most fish species. 


Summary

I hope the above has given you a clearer idea of what colorful freshwater fish are out there. We have mentioned 15, however, through more research, you’ll soon see there’s an abundance of species to choose from. Make sure you do your research to understand the living requirements necessary to sustain a healthy group of colorful freshwater fish, in particular if you’re going to mix species. Remember fish keeping is fun, so enjoy it!

As always if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. 

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