One common misconception that most people have about aquariums is that you need a saltwater tank if you want brightly colored, beautiful fish. Nothing could be farther from the truth!
There are plenty of exotic and cool freshwater aquarium fish that can take your tank to the next level.
Plus, freshwater tanks are a little easier to care for, cost a lot less money to maintain, and the fish are hardier and easier to care for.
If you’re looking for some cool fish to add to your freshwater aquarium, take a look at some of our picks.
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The 15 Exotic and Cool Freshwater Aquarium Fish
Bettas are a pretty popular fish primarily because they’re so exotic looking. There are at least 14 different varieties of bettas, each with a different tail shape.
They are all available in a range of bright, beautiful colors and patterns and are a lot of fun to watch.
One important thing to note about bettas is they don’t really get along with other fish.
You should never keep more than one male betta in a tank and be very careful about choosing other tankmates. Bettas are generally pretty easy to care for and are a pretty hardy fish.
2. Neon Tetra
Neon Tetras may be small but they make up for it bright, eye-catching pops of color.
They feature a bright blue stripe running down their sides from tip to tail. Below the stripe is a white, silvery belly and a red stripe on the tail.
These fish make a great addition to any community tank. They’re generally hardy and can tolerate water changes pretty well.
If you do decide to add some to your tank, keep in mind that this is a schooling fish that prefers to live in groups of five or more.
Killifish are some of the prettiest freshwater fish out there but are a little hard to keep.
They’re recommended for people with a little bit of experience with aquariums because they’re quite sensitive to water quality.
Male killifish can be aggressive with one another so limiting the number of males you have is a good idea.
You should also provide plenty of hiding spaces in a tank with killifish. These fish are amazing jumpers so keep a lid on your tank at all times.
4. Dwarf Gourami
These fish earn their name by growing to only about two inches long. They come in a lot of different colors but males usually have a bright orange-red body with bright blue fins.
Dwarf Gouramis are calm peaceful which makes them a good fit for a community tank.
One of the great things about Dwarf Gourami is they can be kept in a smaller tank.
One or two of them can do quite well in a 5-gallon tank with plenty of live plants, including floating vegetation. They prefer a quiet environment free of aggressive fish.
5. Red Tail Shark
Red Tail Sharks have a deep black body with bright red tail fins that really give them an exotic look.
These fish are very active and can be aggressive. They won’t physically attack other fish but do enjoy chasing them so make sure you provide plenty of hiding spots.
The minimum tank size for these fish is 55-gallons and the can grow to be about six inches long. They like an environment with significant water flow and are skilled jumpers who require a weighted tank lid.
6. African Cichlids
Cichlids are one of the most diverse groups of fish in the world. In fact, it’s estimated that there could be more than 2000 types of cichlids but the African Cichlid is one of the most exotic and colorful types out there.
These fish come in all kinds of colors but tend to be brighter during mating or when they’re being aggressive.
African Cichlids like habitats with moving water and a lot of rocks and caves to explore. They also like to dig so a soft substrate is best.
7. Blue Gourami
The Blue Gourami is a hardy fish that has a gorgeous whitish-blue coloring. They grow to about five inches long and have a flattened body with large, round fins.
Caring for them is pretty easy. They’ll eat just about anything can tolerate water changes pretty well.
These fish can flourish in a tank as small as 20 gallons but they can be aggressive and territorial so choose their tankmates carefully.
Avoid other aggressive fish like dwarf gouramis, angelfish, and bettas and go for tetras, loaches, or barbs instead.
8. Jewel Cichlid
Another stunning cichlid variety is the Jewel Cichlid. It comes in colors ranging from red to dark purple and has a black spot on the center of its body.
These fish like to dig and hide so sandy substrate and a lot of nooks and crannies are essential when building your tank.
This fish is aggressive and territorial so be careful when adding it to a community tank.
They don’t really like planted tanks and have a tendency to dig up the roots. Plants with very stiff leave or even small potted plants are a better choice.
Most of the other fish on our list were chosen for their bright colors or interesting patterns. The glassfish is a little bit different.
This fish is completely transparent. Glassfish are calm and peaceful and make excellent tankmates with other medium-sized, non-aggressive fish.
These are a schooling fish and prefer to be kept in groups of at least five. They get very stressed and timid when kept in smaller groups. A small school of glassfish only need a tank that’s about 10 gallons to 20 gallons.
10. Rainbow Fish
It’s no surprise that rainbow fish are colorful. Their iridescent scales change color as the light reflects off of them which makes them really fun to watch.
These fish prefer a heavily planted environment with enough open space for them to swim freely.
These are a schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least six. They thrive in shoals of 10 or more.
If they’re kept in small groups, they become shy and may even lose their coloring. As for temperament, they’re extremely peaceful and are a great choice for a community tank.
11. Pearl Gourami
This type of gourami is one of the prettiest and is extremely easy to keep. They have a long body with long, thin fins.
It gets its name from its coloring, creamy orange color with flecks of pearl and brown. They also a black strip that runs from mouth to tail.
Pearl gourami prefers a heavily planted environment with subdued lighting. They’re peaceful fish that are a great choice for a community tank as long as they aren’t any aggressive fish around.
Males can be aggressive with one another so a good grouping would be one male with several females.
Freshwater angelfish are probably one of the most recognizable fish species and for good reason. They’re unique shape, coloring, and patterns make them a cool, fun fish to think about adding to your tank.
Angelfish are omnivores and will eat just about anything. They’re gluttonous and will keep eating everything you give them so it’s very important not to overfeed them.
House them with medium to large sized fish but remember they can be aggressive with smaller ones.
13. Bloodfin Tetras
Bloodfin tetras have an iridescent silver body with a green tint and bright red fins that really pop.
They’re a pretty hardy fish and are easy to care for which makes them good for beginners. These fish are really animated and fun to watch.
This is a schooling fish and they prefer to be in groups of five or more which requires a 10 to 20-gallon tank.
They prefer a well-planted tank that resembles their natural habitat and tankmates that are small and peaceful, just like they are.
14. White Cloud Mountain Minnow
While the White Cloud Mountain Minnow isn’t one of the brightest freshwater aquarium fish, it definitely catches your eye. It has a greenish brown tint along its back and a white belly.
There’s a reddish tint on the sides along with a black stripe down the side. The fins are red in the center with transparent edges.
These fish are happy in a tank as little a 5.5-gallons and prefer the water a little cooler. They prefer a heavily planted environment with a lot of room for swimming and like to be kept in small groups of around five or six.
There are different varieties of swordtail but it’s generally a really good choice for beginners. Its colors vary but the most common color is bright orange.
This fish gets its name from the male’s appearance. The caudal fin protrudes along the bottom half and can be as long as the rest of his body.
These fish are really easy to care for but they do require a lot of space. A 20-gallon tank is a bare minimum. Another thing to keep in mind is these fish are relatively easy to breed.
They’re livebearers who can have 50 to 100 babies at a time every six weeks or so. Separating the females from the males is the best option to prevent over-breeding.
How to Take Care of Freshwater Aquarium Fish?
Here are some of the main things you have to do to make sure your freshwater fish stay happy and healthy:
Cycle the Tank
The most important thing freshwater aquarium fish need is a clean and balanced ecosystem which is why cycling your tank is so important.
Every aquarium relies on colonies of good bacteria to break down waste. These colonies live in the substrate and filter and eliminate toxins like ammonia and nitrite that accumulate due to fish waste and uneaten food.
When you first set up your aquarium, it’s important to encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria before you stock your tank. This process usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks.
First, set up your aquarium and run the filter for about 24 hours. Then, add a few hardy fish that aren’t too sensitive to ammonia and nitrites.
Recheck the levels every few days. Eventually, the bacterial colonies will develop enough to balance the tank without having to replace any water. Once this happens, you can begin stocking your tank slowly.
How to Safely Add Fish to an Aquarium?
If you’ve ever brought a fish home from the pet store and added it to your aquarium only to have it die in the next few hours, there’s a good chance that it wasn’t acclimated properly.
Ideally, new fish should be isolated in a separate tank for a week or two before adding them to the main tank. This is just to make sure that they’re healthy and don’t have any diseases that they might pass onto the fish in the community tank.
To transfer a new fish to the main tank, follow these steps:
- Turn off the lights in the tank to reduce stress.
- Let the bag with the fish float on the surface for 10 to 15 minutes to let the temperature even out.
- Open the top of the bag and fold it over in such a way that the opening is kept above water.
- Check the pH of the water in the bag and the water in the tank.
- If the difference between them is less than 0.3, add a ½ cup of tank water to the bag every 15 minutes for one. If the difference is 0.4 to 0.8, do this for two hours.
- Lift the fish from the bag into the tank and discard the water.
General Tank Maintenance
Every day, make sure the water temperature is appropriate and visibly check the tank.
Replace 10% of the tank with clean water every week and use a testing kit to check the chemistry. Clean away any algae or floating debris like plant leaves.
Once a month, you should perform a thorough cleaning of the tank. Remove and clean the decorative items, replace the air stone, and vacuum the gravel. Prune any plants that need it and clean away any algae.
This is also a good time to inspect the filter as well as clean or replace cartridges or media as needed.
It’s very important not to overfeed your fish. The general rule is to feed them as much as they’ll eat in two or three minutes.
You can do this once or twice a day but remember that each type of fish is different and some have different feeding requirements than others.
Overfeeding is one of the most common mistakes with fish so make sure you’re only giving them what they need. Believe it or not, it’s actually better to underfeed than overfeed your fish.
Most people think that a saltwater aquarium is the only way to have a tank full of brightly colored, exotic-looking fish. Nothing could be further from the truth! There are plenty of cool freshwater aquarium fish that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.