The 11 Best Schooling Fish For Freshwater Aquariums In 2024

One of the cool things about having various types of schooling fish as your aquatic friends is that it’s like watching a beautifully choreographed dance.

However, you may have heard people discuss “schooling” and “shoaling” fish. To give you the lowdown, schooling fish are those that swim as a team, typically of the same kind, whereas shoaling is more like a relaxed gathering of fish in loose groups.

Thus, in this article, we will provide you with the 11 best types of schooling fish including their major requirements so you may have a better understanding of them.

Let’s get started!

Schooling Fish vs Shoaling Fish: What’s the Difference?

In aquariums, there is often confusion between the terms “schooling” and “shoaling.” Let’s simplify it:

  • Schooling Fish – These fish function as a closely united team. They swim close to each other with coordinated precision. Utilizing their remarkable lateral line system, they can sense each other’s movements and maintain synchronization.
  • Shoaling Fish – Shoaling fish are similar to a group of friends gathering together. They stay nearby due to their social nature, but they do not swim in a strict formation. It’s like friends meeting at a coffee shop, chatting and enjoying themselves without the need for synchronized movement.

So why does this matter for your aquarium? Well, it has an impact on the aesthetics of your aquarium. Small schooling fish for aquarium create an impressive show with swimming patterns, while shoaling fish bring about a more relaxed atmosphere.

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Understanding the Behavior of Schooling Fish

Schooling fish, those elegant aquatic performers, possess a valid motive behind their synchronized movements. It goes beyond aesthetics and serves the purpose of survival.

Collective Safety: In their natural habitat, smaller fish are vulnerable targets for ravenous predators.

However, by swimming close as a unit, these fish create confusion among their predators.

Food Search: Schooling behavior not only facilitates the food search but also enhances its chances of being found.

With multiple individuals actively searching, the likelihood of stumbling upon a meal significantly improves.

Finding Mate: Swimming in a school increases the probability of encountering a suitable mate! In larger groups, the odds are higher to meet and connect with an ideal partner.

Hence, these coordinated swimmers do more than just put on impressive displays; they survive and find their ideal mates through schooling.

The Best Schooling Fish For Freshwater Aquariums

Now, that you are fully aware of the difference between schooling and shoaling fish, here we are going to present the best schooling fish.

Have a look at these colorful freshwater schooling fish!

1. Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin RasborasHarlequin Rasboras are highly popular colorful freshwater schooling fish among aquarium enthusiasts due to their low maintenance and lively nature.

It is advisable to house them in groups of 6-8 individuals, as their silver bodies adorned with pinkish-red hues and distinctive blue-black patches create an aesthetically pleasing display.

These captivating small schooling fish for aquarium prefer swimming in the upper levels of the tank. Their adaptable nature enables them to tolerate varying water conditions, making them particularly suitable for novice fish keepers.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Easy (Beginner to Intermediate)
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 70-80 F, 5-7.5pH
Tank requirements 15 gallons
Tank level: Top and mid-dweller

2. Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras Catfish

Multiple species of the freshwater schooling fish Corydoras catfish gracefully comb the substrate of the tank in search of food. When navigating the aquarium, these large schooling fish occasionally form schools but generally stay in shoals. They might even wink at you or come to the surface for a breath of air.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 74-80°F,pH 5.5-8
Tank requirements 15-30 gallons
Tank level: Top to Mid-dwellers

3. White Cloud Mountain Minnows

White Cloud Mountain minnowsWhite Cloud Mountain minnows, while not as well-known as tetras and barbs are an excellent choice for colorful freshwater schooling fish. These silver minnows with red accents get their name from the White Cloud Mountain area in China where they were originally found.

Despite their small size, White Cloud Mountain minnows have fascinating schooling behaviors that beautifully match their attractive colors. These small schooling fish are ideal for beginner aquarists!

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 60-72° F, 6.0-7.0 pH
Tank requirements 10 gallons
Tank level: Top to Mid-dwellers

4. Neon Tetras

Neon TetrasThe most well-liked freshwater schooling fish in the aquariums hobby are neon tetras, which are renowned for their vivid colors.

Neon tetras, a small schooling fish are a top option due to their beautiful appearance, calm temperament, and simplicity of care. In your tank, a school of 20 or more neon tetras puts on a spell-bounding show.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 70-77°F, pH 4-7.5
Tank requirements 15 gallons or more
Tank level: Top to Mid-dwellers

5. Cherry Barbs

Cherry barbsThe Cherry barbs have earned their name due to their vibrant red scales and a distinct dark band that extends from their head to their tail. These colorful freshwater schooling fish prefer being in the company of other cherry barbs, which helps them feel more secure and noticeable within the tank.

Cherry barbs small schooling fish for aquarium are relatively low-maintenance and make an ideal choice for those new to fishkeeping.

To avoid aggression or shyness, it is advisable to maintain a proper male-to-female ratio of one male per every two females.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful and Shy
Water requirements 73-81° F, 6.0-8.0 pH
20-30 gallons
Tank level: Mid and bottom-dwellers

6. Otocinclus Catfish

Otocinclus catfish

Otocinclus catfish are skilled at forming schools and thrive in planted tanks. Despite their more subdued coloration compared to other species, these peaceful freshwater schooling fish excel as algae eaters, ensuring a clean and well-maintained aquarium.

Otocinclus small schooling fish for aquarium graze on surfaces such as driftwood, plants, and glass, consuming algae when it is available in sufficient quantities for sustenance.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 74-79°F, pH 6-7.5
Tank requirements 10 gallons
Tank level: Mid-level

7. Cardinal Tetras

Cardinal tetrasWith their vivid red bellies and shimmering blue-green scales, cardinal tetras stand out. Their preference for learning in medium-sized classes only serves to increase their allure.

These colorful freshwater schooling fish are calm and social fish that get along well with other tetras, danios, and rasboras in groups of at least six.

Cardinal tetras have particular water needs and prefer water that is soft, acidic, and low in minerals, which makes them better suited for established aquariums.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner-Intermediate
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 76-81° F, pH less than 6.0
Tank requirements 20 gallon
Tank level: Top to mid-dweller

8. Rummy Nose Tetras

Rummy nose tetrasRummy nose tetras, a small schooling fish for aquarium are known for their distinct red noses and peaceful temperament.

They tend to swim together in the upper and middle parts of the tank. To fully enjoy the beauty of this freshwater schooling fish, it is important to provide them with enough space to swim freely and keep a school of at least 10 individuals

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful, active schoolers
Water requirements 72-77° F, 6.0-7.0 pH.
Tank requirements 25+ gallons
Tank level: Mid dweller

9. Zebra Danios

Zebra Danios

Zebra Danios brings a unique element to the aquarium with their vibrant horizontal stripes that stand out among other types of schooling fish such as tetras or barbs. Their ability to thrive in various conditions and reproduce quickly makes them a durable option for your tank.

Notably, these colorful freshwater schooling fish, exhibit lifelong partnerships when it comes to mating.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner-Intermediate
Temperament Usually peaceful but may nip at other fish sometimes
Water requirements 65-77° F, 6.5-7.2 pH
Tank requirements 25+ gallons
Tank level: Any level

10. Platy Fish

Platy FishFreshwater schooling fish, platies are a popular and simple-to-care-for fish that come in a stunning array of colors. Although they are not schooling fish, they benefit from being kept in small groups and shouldn’t be kept alone. They can add life to any aquarium because they are social and very active.

Conditions Requirement
Difficulty of care Beginner
Temperament Peaceful
Water requirements 72-78° F, 7.0-8.5 pH
Tank requirements 10+ gallons (for platies only and 25+ with other fish)
Tank level: Mid-level dweller

11. Red Rainbowfish

Red rainbowfishRed rainbowfish are a common selection for community tanks of rainbowfish. Males exhibit vivid red, orange, yellow, and silver hues, while females have more muted hues. Rainbowfish is the best example of colorful freshwater schooling fish as they come in a variety of colours and patterns.

Temperament Peaceful and Shy
Water requirements 75-82° F, 7.0-8.0 pH
Tank requirements 75+ gallons
Tank level: Mid-level

How to Choose Suitable Types of Schooling Fish?

Selecting the ideal types of schooling fish for your aquarium is a little bit hard task!

Several factors must be taken into account to ensure harmonious swimming among the fish.

Here are some key considerations;

Tank Size:  Certain types of schooling fish, such as Zebra Danios, are like marathon runners in the aquatic realm; they require ample space to stretch their fins comfortably.

On the other hand, others like Neon Tetras prefer more intimate living arrangements similar to cozy spaces.

Before making a decision, you must know how much room each fish requires to thrive optimally.

Water: Some favor warmer temperatures, while others prefer cooler waters. Additionally, factors such as pH levels and water hardness play a significant role in creating their ideal aquatic environment for small and large schooling fish.

For example, Cardinal Tetras thrive in soft, slightly acidic water conditions, whereas Harlequin Rasboras are more adaptable to varying water preferences.

Food: Understanding the dietary preferences of your fish is crucial. Some fish have a versatile palate and consume both plant matter and small organisms, while others prefer a more carnivorous diet.

Activity Level: Consider the activity levels of different fish species. Some are highly active, constantly swimming and bringing liveliness to the tank.

On the flip side, some large schooling fish prefer a more relaxed lifestyle, preferring to stay in one spot. Your decision will impact the overall atmosphere of your aquarium.

Why does Schooling Size Matter?

When dealing with types of schooling fish, the number of companions they swim alongside significantly impacts their behavior and well-being.

Most of these fish prefer to be in a group of at least six friends, but having an even larger group allows them to engage in their natural behaviors.

However, it is important not to overcrowd your fish tank as having too many large schooling fish can lead to aggression and illnesses.

Therefore, learn about types of schooling fish preferences’ regarding group size so that everyone is comfortable at the party!


When you’re setting up your new fish tank, you want to make it lively and colorful, right?

Well, that’s where the types of schooling fish come in!

They’re these tiny, bright fish that can be a bit shy when alone, but they really come alive when they’re with their fishy friends.

But wait, there’s a catch – not all of them get along, so you need to think about things like water, tank, and temperament before you mix them up in your aquarium.

Scott Evans

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