Schooling Fish Species – 15 To Keep (With Pictures!)

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Are you looking for the perfect fish species to bring your home aquarium to life?

We often try to add as many different species to our tanks as possible, but focusing on one species can make all the difference. Adding a school of beautiful tropical fish to your freshwater aquarium is the first step toward setting up an awesome community tank.

Ready to learn more? Let’s get started!

What Are Schooling Fish?

Schooling aquarium fish are the species that hang out together in groups. They often swim around the tank together with such harmony that they almost look like one animal!

This social behavior has some important benefits for schooling fish, which is why they really don’t like to be separated from other members of their species (video source).

There are many different types of schooling aquarium fish in the hobby, and they are often amazingly colorful and peaceful fish. Schooling fish range in size from under an inch in length to real monsters that grow to several feet.

This article focuses on the best small schooling fish that your average fish keeper can have great success with.

Schooling vs. shoaling- What’s the difference?

We often use the terms schooling and shoaling interchangeably, but there is actually a difference. Technically, fish that are schooling will all be facing in the same direction and moving together in a tight group.

Shoaling fish are also found together, but they might be feeding and going about their own business in a loose group near the other fish.

15 of the best schooling fish species

Now that you know what schooling fish are, let’s dive right in and get to know 15 of the best schooling species that could look great in your own aquarium.

I’ll start with the most important care facts for each species and provide a brief description of what makes each type so amazing.

Take note of these requirements when choosing your favorite species:

  • Scientific name
  • Care level
  • Minimum tank size
  • Temperament
  • Adult size
  • Origin
  • Temperature
  • pH
  • Diet
  • School size

1. Cory Catfish

What Does A Cory Catfish Look Like
  • Scientific name: Corydoras spp.
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 15-30 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Size: 1-4 inches
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 74-80°F
  • pH: 5.5-8
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 5+

There are several species of corydoras catfish and all of them are great schooling aquarium fish. These peaceful fish are so much fun to watch as they cruise around the bottom of the tank looking for food in the substrate.

Corydoras catfish spend most of their time shoaling, but they will school up to move around in the aquarium. If you watch carefully, you might see these funny fish wink at you, and don’t be surprised to see them shoot up to the surface to take a breath of air every now and then.

2. Chili Rasbora

What Does A Chili Rasbora Look Like
  • Scientific name: Boraras brigittae
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Tank size: 5 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 0.75 inches
  • Origin: Borneo
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • pH: 4-7
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • School size: 8+

The chili rasbora is a truly tiny fish species from Southeast Asia. These nano fish can do great in a fish tank as small as 5 gallons so they’re awesome for aquarists who don’t have space for a larger setup.

Chili rasboras can be a little shy around larger fish but will feel more confident in a planted tank with a dark substrate and some floating plants.

3. Harlequin Rasboras

How Do Harlequin Rasboras Look Like
  • Scientific name: Trigonostigma heteromorpha
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 15 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1.5 inches
  • Origin: Southeast Asia
  • Temperature: 70-82°F
  • pH: 5-7.5
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 8+

No list of schooling fish would be complete without mentioning the awesome harlequin rasbora! These excellent freshwater fish are instantly recognizable by the blackish-blue triangular patch on either side of their body.

Harlequin rasboras are perfect fish for beginners because they get along great with so many other peaceful community fish. Just be sure to keep your harlequin rasboras in a nice big school to see them at their most confident.

4. Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra
  • Scientific name: Paracheirodon innesi
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 15 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1 inch
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 70-77°F
  • pH: 4-7.5
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 8+

The neon tetra hardly needs any introduction. It is no surprise that they are one of the most popular schooling fishing the aquarium hobby!

Neon tetras look almost too colorful to be real, and they are super peaceful and easy to care for too. Pick up a big group of 20 or more neon tetras if you want a really awesome display tank.

5. Cardinal Tetra

Cardinal Tetra Fish
  • Scientific name: Paracheirodon axelrodi
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 15 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1.25 inches
  • Origin: Brazil
  • Temperature: 73-84°F
  • pH: 5.5-7.5
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 8+

The cardinal tetra looks very similar to the neon tetra but they are not the same species. These amazing schooling tetras have a deep red stripe that runs almost the length of their entire body.

Cardinal tetras are not as common as neons and they can be a little more tricky to care for, especially if they are wild-caught. Choose these incredible tetra fish if you want a splash of amazing color in your tank.

6. Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus Catfish in Planted Tank
  • Scientific name: Otocinclus sp.
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 10 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 2 inches
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 74-79°F
  • pH: 6-7.5
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • School size: 6+

Otocinclus catfish are an awesome schooling species for a planted tank. Ok, they might not be as colorful as some of the other species in this list, but ‘otos’ have other great benefits.

These peaceful community fish are specialized algae eaters, and they do an amazing job of keeping freshwater aquariums clean!

They are suckerfish that feed on surfaces like driftwood, plants, and even glass. It’s important to keep these helpful fish in a tank with a good supply of algae to make sure they stay well fed.

7. Glass Catfish

Glass Catfish in Aquarium
  • Scientific name: Kryptopterus vitreolus
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Tank size: 30 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 2-2.5 inches
  • Origin: Thailand
  • Temperature: 68-79°F
  • pH: 4-7
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • School size: 6+

If you’re looking for something strange and unusual for your aquarium, look no further than the glass catfish.

These guys aren’t very colorful, in fact, they have almost no color at all! It’s amazing to watch these peaceful schooling fish because you can see right into their bodies.

8. White Cloud Mountain Minnow

White Cloud Minnow
  • Scientific name: Tanichthys albonubes
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 10 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1.5 inches
  • Origin: China
  • Temperature: 58-72°F
  • pH: 6-8.5
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • School size: 8+

White cloud mountain minnows are coldwater fish from China that look awesome in a school of their own kind. These inexpensive fish usually don’t need a heater, so it’s important to keep the white cloud mountain minnow separate from tropical fish that enjoy higher temperatures.

There are a few varieties of white cloud mountain minnows available in the hobby, including a popular form with longer fins and an awesome gold morph.

9. Rummy Nose Tetra

Rummy Nose Tetra
  • Scientific name: Hemigrammus rhodostomus/ H. bleheri
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 20 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 2 inches
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 76-80°F
  • pH: 5.5-7
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 10+

These popular schooling fish are known for their bright red nose or face. Rummy nose tetras are great fish for community tanks because they are so peaceful and easy-going!

Rummy nose tetras are very active fish that spend their time schooling in the top and middle layers of the tank. The rummy nose tetra needs plenty of swimming space and a school of at least 10 to really shine.

10. Red Eye Tetra

Red Eye Tetra
  • Scientific name: Moenkhausia sanctaefilomenae
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 20 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 2.8 inches
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 72-79°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 6+

The red-eye tetra is an elegant silvery fish with just enough color to make things interesting. They are hardy fish which makes them a great choice for beginner fish keepers.

You will love watching these peaceful fish school and hang out at the mid-water level of your aquarium. These easy schooling fish grow a little larger than most other tetras so it is best to keep them in large tanks with plenty of swimming space.

11. Ember Tetra

Ember Tetra School
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon amandae
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 10 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 0.75 inches
  • Origin: Brazil
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • pH: 5-7
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • School size: 8+

The ember tetra is also known as the flame tetra because of its bright orange color. They are great nano fish that look amazing in a big school. These tiny tetras don’t need a big tank, but they do prefer slightly acidic water.

The ember tetra is an amazing choice for a nano planted aquarium. They will look and act their best in a school of at least 8, but consider a much larger group if you have the space!

12. Cherry Barb

Cherry Barb Profile
  • Scientific name: Puntius titteya
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 15 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1.5-2 inches
  • Origin: Sri Lanka
  • Temperature: 68-81°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 6+

Cherry barbs are rewarding fish that are a perfect choice for beginners and experts alike. These Asian fish from the carp family are not aggressive fish like their relatives the tiger barbs.

The huge scales, deep orange color, and dark lateral stripe make these eye-catching aquarium fish great for a display tank. Cherry barbs are highly social creatures, so consider picking up a school of 10 or more to really see them thrive.

13. Serpae Tetra

Serpae Tetra Fish
  • Scientific name: Hyphessobrycon eques
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Tank size: 20 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
  • Adult size: 1.5 inches
  • Origin: South America
  • Temperature: 68-82°F
  • pH: 5-7.5
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 10+

Serpae tetras are stunning fish. They are generally peaceful but they can have a bit of a mean streak. Keeping them in a large school of ten or more is the best strategy to minimize aggression but choosing the right tankmates is also important.

Other semi-aggressive and slightly bigger fish make good tank mates for serpae tetras. Smaller fish with long fins should be avoided.

14. Danio Fish

Giant Danio Fish in Aquarium
  • Scientific name: Brachydanio rerio
  • Care level: Easy
  • Tank size: 20 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 1.5-2 inches
  • Origin: India
  • Temperature: 64-77°F
  • pH: 6-8
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • School size: 8+

Danios are great schooling and shoaling fish for freshwater aquariums. There are many awesome species, but the well-known zebra danio is one of the best examples.

Zebra danios are one of the most popular schooling fish because they are so affordable and get along great with so many different tank mates in community tanks.

These fish love to school in the middle and upper layers of the tank, and they don’t need a heater because they are comfortable in cooler water temperatures. Zebra danio fish are active swimmers so they need plenty of swimming space to stay healthy.

15. Rainbow Fish

Rainbow Fish in Planted Tank
  • Scientific name: Melanotaenia spp.
  • Care level: Moderate
  • Tank size: 15-30 gallons or more
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Adult size: 2.5-4.5 inches
  • Origin: Australia & New Guinea
  • Temperature: 73-82°F
  • pH: 6.8-7.5
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • School size: 6+

There are many beautiful rainbowfish species in the hobby, including popular species like the neon and Boeseman’s rainbowfish. These peaceful fish are great for planted aquariums where they will school in the top and midwater levels of the fish tank.

The different species of rainbowfish have slightly different needs so make sure you research each species carefully before adding it to your tank.

School Size – Does it matter?

All the fish mentioned in this article are social fish that need to be kept in groups to be happy. One common question that pops up is whether you can put together a school of one of each different species and unfortunately, the answer is generally no.

Schooling fish will form mixed schools sometimes, but it’s important that you have the minimum number of each species. Schooling fish can be extremely shy if they are kept on their own, and they won’t show all the fascinating natural social behaviors that you’ll see in a big group.

Most schooling fish will do really well in groups of 6 to 10 individuals. This is a minimum number, and you can go much much higher if you have the space. Remember, many of these fish occur in schools of hundreds or even thousands in their natural habitat.

Choosing Tank Mates

Many fish keepers prefer to keep more than one species of fish in their aquarium, but how do you know which other fish will get along together? Let’s take a look at some of the most important factors when putting together a community tank with schooling fish.

Fish Size

Big fish have a habit of eating little fish. Any tank mate that is large enough to swallow one of the other fish whole should be avoided. Most schooling fish stay pretty small, so it’s best to choose similar-sized tank mates.

Minimum Tank Size & Filter Capacity

Your tank needs to be big enough for each species to live comfortably. You also need to take care not to overstock your tank by adding too many fish. Most of the fish in this list will do great in a tank of 15-20 gallons, but if you want a really big school, a 30-gallon tank is a great choice.

A big enough tank and high-quality filtration are both very important factors for a healthy tank full of schooling and shoaling fish. I always recommend buying the best quality filter in your budget.

Temperament

Some fish are known to be aggressive and territorial. These fish usually don’t make the best community fish. Avoid semi-aggressive fish like the tiger barb and territorial African cichlids when choosing tank mates for your schooling and shoaling fish. Also, avoid aggressive fish that will eat your schooling fish.

Water Parameters

All of the tank mates that you keep in a community tank should be comfortable in the same water temperatures and parameters.

White cloud minnows and zebra danios, for example, like cooler water temperatures so they aren’t going to be comfortable with tropical fish like the rummy nose tetra. Other parameters like pH are just as important.

Avoid keeping hard water fish like livebearers with cardinal tetras and other species that prefer slightly acidic water.

Where To Buy Schooling Fish

All of the great fish in this list are really popular and easy to find. You should have no problem finding them down at your local pet shop or fish store. You can also buy your fish online from a trusted online dealer. Now that’s convenient!

FAQs

What does schooling do for fish?

Schooling is a natural behavior for many fish species that helps them stay safe from predators. By living in big groups, fish are able to maintain safety in numbers. Keeping schooling fish in big groups ensures that the fish stay confident and behave in their natural ways.

How many schooling fish should I get?

Most schooling fish can be kept in groups of 6 to 10, but keeping a dozen or more will ensure the most natural behaviors.

Can schooling fish live with other schooling fish?

Schooling fish often occur in mixed schools of other similarly sized fish in nature. This is possible in aquariums too if you have enough space and the correct water parameters.

What freshwater fish can school together?

Most freshwater schooling fish will school together if they are comfortable in the same water parameters. Size is also important, however, and small fish will often avoid larger species.

What is the smallest schooling fish?

The chili rasbora (Boraras brigittae) is the smallest schooling fish in the aquarium hobby. These tiny fish grow to just 0.75 inches in length and are ideal for planted nano aquariums.

Final Thoughts

There’s something really special about the way fish school together when they are kept in large groups. This fascinating behavior is something we fish keepers never get tired of watching. Keeping a healthy school of colorful tropical fish is easy with the right knowledge. Choose any of the species in this list with confidence and watch your aquarium burst with life!

What is your favorite schooling freshwater fish? Let us know in the comments below!

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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