Fish For A 5 Gallon Tank – 13 Amazing fish (With Pictures)

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Are you looking for ideas on which fish to put in your 5-gallon tank? Choosing fish for this aquarium size can take some planning because there aren’t that many species that will do well in such a small tank.

In this article, I’ll introduce you to 13 of the best fish and shrimp species that you can keep in your 5-gallon aquarium and give you some good advice on setting up and maintaining your nano tank. So let’s get started!

Why choose a 5-gallon aquarium?

There is a general rule in the fishkeeping hobby that the bigger the tank, the better it is for your fish. Many new fishkeepers think a smaller aquarium is easier to keep than a larger one, but this isn’t actually true.

Small fish tanks have a number of benefits though, especially if you have limited space or want a tank for your desk. Maintaining a small fish tank can be quite challenging, so I usually recommend these aquariums to more experienced fish keepers.

The fact is though, that as long as you put in the research, and keep up with your maintenance, there’s no reason you can’t be successful in keeping your pets healthy and your miniature underwater world looking great.

The 13 Best Fish For A 5 Gallon Tank

There aren’t all that many species for freshwater aquariums of this size, but you can still find some great options.

In this list, I’ll introduce you to the best fish and shrimp species for your 5-gallon aquarium. For each of the species, I’ll provide you with some important information and facts like:

  • Scientific Name
  • Adult Size
  • Care Level
  • Temperament
  • Diet
  • Origin
  • Water Temperature
  • Swimming Level

As with pretty much every aquarium fish, a larger tank would be better, but all of these awesome animals can do great in a 5-gallon tank if you provide them with the right care.

So let’s meet the 13 best fish and shrimp!

1. Betta Fish

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Betta Fish

Betta Fish are one of the most beautiful varieties of freshwater fish available in the hobby. Easy to care for with plently of varieties!

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  • Scientific Name: Betta splendens
  • Adult Size: 2.5-3 inches
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Agressive
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia
  • Temperature: 75-80°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, Top

Betta fish are one of the best freshwater fish for a nano tank and that’s why they are so popular in the fishkeeping hobby. These beautiful fish are available in a bunch of different varieties with different color patterns and fin shapes.

You might know them as the Siamese fighting fish because the males are really aggressive towards other males, that’s why you should only keep one male in a tank. Bettas have big personalities and make awesome pets.

They like to play and can even be taught a few simple tricks like jumping right out of the water. A 5-gallon tank is perfect for a betta, just be sure to set it up with a filter and a heater.

2. Guppy Fish

Guppy Fish
  • Scientific Name: Poecilia reticulata
  • Adult Size: 2 inches
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: The Caribbean and Northeastern countries of South America
  • Temperature: 63-82°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, Top

Guppies are an awesome and often overlooked nano fish species that can be kept in a 5-gallon aquarium. These fish come in all sorts of different colors and are really easy to breed because they are livebearers.

In a 5 gallon tank, the population can grow really quick, so a good option is to keep just a trio of males. The males are usually easy to spot because they are smaller, have longer fins, and are more colorful than the females.

3. Chili Rasbora

  • Scientific Name: Boraras brigittae
  • Adult Size: 0.8 inch
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, top

Chilli, or mosquito rasboras (video source) as they are also known are awesome little fish for a 5-gallon tank. They have really vibrant color and are peaceful enough to keep with inverts like shrimp and snails.

Chilli rasboras are one of the smallest fish you can get. They do great in a 5-gallon tank and it is best to keep them without other species that might outcompete them for food.

4. White Cloud Minnow

White Cloud Minnow
  • Scientific Name: Tanichthys albonubes
  • Adult Size: 1.5 inches
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: China
  • Temperature: 58-72°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater

White cloud minnows are beautiful and peaceful fish that do best in cooler water than your standard tropical setup. Although these fish will do better in a larger aquarium, 5 gallons is about their minimum tank size.

A small group of about 4 of these fish can be kept in 5-gallon fish tanks with good filtration and regular maintenance.

5. Scarlet Badis

Scarlet Badis
  • Scientific Name: Dario dario
  • Adult Size: 0.5-0.75 inches
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-agressive
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods
  • Origin: India, Asia
  • Temperature: 64-79°F
  • Swimming Level: Bottom, Midwater

Scarlet Badis are amazing tiny fish with great colors. They are one of the best fish for more experienced fish keepers. Scarlet badis fish don’t feed well on processed food and will need to be fed frozen or live foods to stay healthy.

They are shy little creatures that aren’t good at competing with other fish, so it is best to keep these little jewels in their own tank and to watch to make sure they are eating well. The perfect setup would be one male with a group of females.

6. Dwarf Pea Puffer

  • Scientific Name: Carinotetradon travancoricus
  • Adult Size: 1 inch
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Agressive
  • Diet: Carnivorous, feed live and frozen foods
  • Origin: Asia, India
  • Temperature: 72-82°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, Top

Dwarf Pea puffers (video source) are one of the coolest little fish species available in the hobby. These fish have sharp teeth and are true carnivores so it is best to keep them on their own without any other species as tank mates. Shrimp are definitely not safe with these tiny but aggressive fish.

One of these fish will make a great pet for a 5-gallon tank. Dwarf puffers need live and/or frozen foods like brine shrimp, micro-worms, bloodworms, and snails. These fish love to explore so consider growing some live plants in their tank. Some floating plants will also bring out the best of their personality.

7. Celestial Pearl Danio

CELESTIAL PEARL DANIO
  • Scientific Name: Celestichthys margaritatus
  • Adult Size: 0.75 inch
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Asia, Myanmar, Thailand
  • Temperature: 68-78°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater

Celestial pearl danios are one of the most popular fish species for small aquariums because they’re just so pretty and interesting to watch. These small fish look amazing in heavily planted nano tanks.

CPDs are shy little fish that can be kept quite safely with shrimps as tank mates. Adult males have the best colors and can be pretty territorial so make sure there are some plants in the tank to break up their line of sight with other fish.

8. Cherry Shrimp

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Cherry Shrimp

Great red color and very hardy. Cherry shrimp are the best beginner shrimp for shrimp tanks

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  • Scientific Name: Neocaridina heteropoda
  • Adult Size: 1.5 inches
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed shrimp pellets, algae wafers, vegetables
  • Origin: Taiwan, Asia
  • Temperature: 65-85°F
  • Swimming Level: Bottom

Cherry shrimp are a great alternative to fish for your 5-gallon tank. You can keep quite a few of these peaceful and fascinating little creatures in your tank without overstocking.

It is best to keep a group of at least ten cherry shrimp together in a shrimp-only tank because most freshwater aquarium fish can potentially injure or eat them. Cherry shrimps are ideal animals for aquascaped planted aquariums.

9. Amano Shrimp

  • Scientific Name: Caridina multidentata
  • Adult Size: 2.5 inches
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivorous, feed shrimp pellets, algae wafers, vegetables
  • Origin: East Asia
  • Temperature: 65-85°F
  • Swimming Level: Bottom

Even though Amano shrimp are not as colorful as cherry shrimp, they are one of the best fish tank cleaners and are also super interesting in their own right. Amano shrimp scavenge and love feeding on algae and decaying plant material, so they are perfect for planted tanks.

Unfortunately, Amano shrimp can easily be hurt by other tank mates. Although there a few fish species that they can be kept with, a shrimp only tank can be great fun too.

10. Female Bettas

Female Betta Group
  • Scientific Name: Betta splendens
  • Adult Size: 2.5 inches
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Asia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia
  • Temperature: 75-80°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, Top

Female betta fish are a lot less popular in the hobby than males, but they do have a bunch of great advantages. Female bettas are a lot smaller than males, their fins aren’t as big and their colors aren’t as bright. On the plus side, female betta fish tend to be a lot less aggressive than the males, which means you can keep more than one of them in the same tank.

11. Endler’s Livebearer

Endler's Livebearer
  • Scientific Name: Poecilia wingei
  • Adult Size: 0.75-1.25 inches
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Venezuela, South America
  • Temperature: 75-86°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater, Top

Endler’s livebearers look a lot like guppies but they are not actually the same fish species. These are peaceful fish, although females can be a little aggressive towards one another if you don’t have enough of them to spread the aggression.

Livebearers breed very easily in home freshwater aquariums, so you can expect a lot of babies if you keep both males and females together in the same tank. The males are smaller and more colorful than the females, so many aquarists choose to keep males only.

12. Ember Tetra

Ember Tetra
  • Scientific Name: Hyphessobrycon amandae
  • Adult Size: 0.8 inches
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Diet: Carnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods, flakes, and pellets
  • Origin: Brazil, South America
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • Swimming Level: Midwater

Ember tetras are awesome aquarium fish for small tanks. They are peaceful, stay small, and have great colors.

These fish prefer planted tanks where they can feel more comfortable in their environment. Growing some live aquarium plants can also be very helpful in maintaining good water quality in small setups.

13. Emerald Dwarf Rasbora

  • Scientific Name: Microrasbora erythromicron
  • Adult Size: 0.8 inches
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Peaceful-Semi-aggressive
  • Diet: Omnivorous, Feed live/frozen foods and sinking pellets
  • Origin: Myanmar, Asia
  • Temperature: 68-75°F
  • Swimming Level: Bottom, Midwater

The emerald dwarf rasbora (video source) is an amazing fish species for your 5-gallon tank. These little guys need higher pH water to thrive and appreciate a densely planted tank. They can be pretty shy so the plants will help them to feel more secure and act out their natural behaviors.

How To Set Up A 5 Gallon Tank For Fish

Now that you’ve met some of the best fish for 5-gallon aquariums, it’s time to learn more about setting up their home, so let’s get started! If you want to skip all of this an get a ready to run aquarium, I would suggest looking into a Fluval Spec V.

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Filtration

The challenge with keeping a small aquarium is keeping the water healthy and safe for your pets. The smaller the amount of water, the faster things can go wrong in there. Your first line of defense here is good filtration!

You absolutely have to have a filter for your 5-gallon tank, there’s no getting around it. But what kind of filter should you get? Well, there are many great options out there, including, hang-on back, internal power filters, and sponge filters.

You can even use a small internal power filter AND a sponge filter, just remember that your space in the tank is limited and you want to keep the current gentle. If you do use a power filter, make sure it is fitted with a pre-filter sponge to avoid your fish or shrimp being sucked up through the intake.

Heating

Another important piece of equipment that you will need is a heater. Temperatures will swing quickly in small tanks, and that’s why you need a heater to maintain a stable temperature that your fish prefer. You should also install a thermometer to keep an eye on your heater’s performance.

Tank Maintenance

The most important part of your tank maintenance routine with a 5-gallon tank is to perform regular water changes. As a rough guide, a water change of 20-30% of the volume of your tank every week or 2 is recommended. The size of the water change and how often you need to do them will vary though depending on a couple of factors like:

  • How heavily stocked your tank is (number and size of fish)
  • The quality of your filtration
  • How many plants you have in the tank

When putting new water back into your tank, make sure it’s the same temperature as your aquarium to avoid shocking your livestock. Always treat the water with a conditioner before adding it to your tank to neutralize any harmful chemicals.

Water Quality

Performing regular water changes and running a good quality filter are the first steps towards maintaining great water in your 5-gallon aquarium, but there are a few other things you should be doing to keep your water parameters in line.

Keeping Your Tank Clean

Solid waste tends to build up on the bottom of the tank in time, and this should be cleaned up when you’re doing your water changes. Go ahead and use a gravel vacuum to suck up all that dirt and uneaten food while you’re removing water.

When it comes to feeding your fish, try not to supply more food than your fish can consume right away (within a few minutes). That way you don’t have to worry about the food rotting away in your small tank.

Algae is a natural, but sometimes annoying part of fishkeeping. You can use an algae scraper to keep your glass clean.

Water Testing

Testing your water regularly is the best way to monitor your water parameters. The most important things to monitor are ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels.

Keep a close eye on your ammonia and nitrite levels. These should read zero to indicate that the nitrogen cycle is running properly in your small aquarium. Testing is easy with a liquid test kit or some strip tests that you can find at your local fish keeping store.

Growing Plants

Many of the fish on this list will do best in a planted small tank because the structure creates great hiding places and shelter that makes the fish feel more secure. This helps the fish behave more naturally and lowers their stress levels.

Another huge benefit of keeping fish with live aquatic plants in your freshwater tank is their usefulness in lowering nitrates in the water. This helps keep the water quality good for your pets.

If you’ve never tried before, growing live plants can be really easy, so go ahead and check out my aquarium plant growing guides for more information.

Where To Buy Fish For A 5 Gallon Aquarium

Most of the fish on this list are easy to find at local aquarium stores, but nano fish can be a little harder to track down sometimes.

Flipaquatics.com is a trusted online fish supplier that I recommend. They keep pretty much all of the fish on this list!

They put all their livestock through a 30-day quarantine and have an amazing live arrival guarantee which takes so much of the stress out of transporting small, fragile fish.

FAQS

How many fish can you keep in a 5-gallon tank?

In the aquarium hobby, 5 gallons is considered pretty small, and aquarists need to be careful not to overstock their tank. So how many fish is too many fish in small tanks?

There is an old rule of thumb that says you can keep 1 inch of fish for every gallon in the tank. This is only a very rough guideline, and depending on your set up, you might be able to keep more fish or less.

The guideline is a useful start for the fish in this list, as long as you have good filtration, and stay on top of maintenance.

Is a 5-gallon aquarium big enough for 2 fish?

You can keep 2 fish in a 5-gallon aquarium, provided they are suited for such a small tank. Tiny species like the dwarf rasboras and danios can do great in small schools of 2 or more in a 5-gallon fish tank.

What kind of fish can I put in my 5-gallon tank?

Your options are a little limited when it comes to stocking a 5-gallon tank because most of the freshwater fish in the aquarium hobby need a much bigger fish tank. Any of the amazing fish in this list can be kept as long as you have all the necessary equipment and stay on top of your maintenance schedule.

What can live in a 5-gallon aquarium besides fish?

Apart from the great fish on my list, you can also keep red cherry shrimp or other dwarf freshwater shrimp, freshwater snails, or even one or two African dwarf frogs in a 5-gallon tank

Is a 5-gallon tank big enough for a betta?

5 gallons is a great size for a betta fish tank. Just remember to pick up a heater and a filter for your betta fish, and keep up with regular tank maintenance to keep your pet happy and healthy.

Final Thoughts

Keeping fish in a 5-gallon tank is a fascinating and fun hobby. It does take a little discipline and effort but as long as you stick to the species on this list, and provide them with the care they need, you can create your own amazing miniature aquatic environment.

Have fun with it, and comment below with any questions!

by Mark

Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping - both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.

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