Best Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank Setup
Stocking a 10-Gallon Freshwater Aquarium
A 10-gallon fish tank presents a wide array of possibilities for stocking pretty, vibrant fish. If you choose wisely, your aquarium will become a healthy ecosystem and your fish will live long, happy lives.
Unfortunately, with a tank this small there is also the possibility of making some serious mistakes. If you don't completely understand the needs and temperaments of your fish you could end up with some aquarium inhabitants who have no business in your 10-gallon tank. This will lead to premature death for your fish, and heartache for you.
Don't rely on staff at your local pet store to help you make the right choices here. Some are very knowledgeable, but others have no idea what they are talking about. Worse still, sometimes the little cards on the front of the display tanks that are supposed to give you information about a fish can be flat-out wrong.
So how are you supposed to know which fish to choose for your 10-gallon tank? You do your own research. Reading this article is a good start! Here you will find some information on good fish to stock, and others you ought to avoid.
But don't stop there. Learn as much as you can about your fish and aquarium care. It takes a little work, but it will make the hobby much more fun in the long run.
Also, keep in mind that just because some fish are appropriate for a 10-gallon aquarium doesn't necessarily mean they are easy to care for. If you are a newbie to fish keeping you may want to check out this article on the Best Tropical Fish for Beginners.
How Many Fish for a 10-Gallon Tank? The "One Inch per Gallon" Rule
So how do you decide how many fish you should put in your 10-gallon tank? You research the fish you are interest in, and learn as much about them as you can. This way you will know their care requirements, space requirements and temperaments. It takes a little work on your part, but there really is no better way.
You may have heard a "rule of thumb" that suggests one inch of adult fish per gallon of water. Therefore, if you wish to stock fish that reach an adult length of one inch, you can have ten of them in your tank.
That makes enough sense, but what if you choose a pair of five-inch fish for your 10-gallon tank? How about one nine-inch fish and a one-inch fish? Or, a single ten-inch fish?
Those are silly examples, but hopefully the point is made that this "rule of thumb" isn't worth a whole lot of thought. It's much better to do some research and understand the fish you plan to stock rather than rely on a simplistic method that doesn't take their needs into consideration.
5 Fish for Your 10-Gallon Tank
The following fish are good choices for your 10-gallon aquarium. Remember, when deciding how many to stock be sure to consider the other fish you plan to have in the tank.
Under ideal conditions most of these fish ought to live peacefully with each other, but remember that no situation is typical. If you overstock your tank, or if it simply turns out two fish aren't getting along, you may need a backup plan.
Also, hopefully it's clear that I'm not suggesting all of these fish should be in your tank together at the same time. Learn about the fish and decide how to mix and match your stock.
Corydoras (Cory Catfish)
Cories are spunky little bottom-feeding catfish that only grow to about 2-3 inches in length. They're peaceful, fun to watch, and best of all they serve as the "clean-up crew" for your tank.
Cories subsist on food that falls to the bottom of the tank. You may wish to provide them with sinking pellets to make sure they are getting the nutrients they need, but generally they will scavenge anything edible that falls into their domain.
They are schooling fish, so they're happiest when there at least six of them together.
Neons are small, vibrant fish and a school of them really makes a tank pop. Like cories they prefer to be with more of their kind, so plan for a small school. However, if you intend to have a neon-only tank you can go up to 10 or so in a 10-gallon aquarium.
Make sure your water conditions are pristine and don't overcrowd them. Even though they are docile toward other fish species, they can get nippy at each other when stressed, and this leads to death in their ranks.
These mini-gouramis have been bred to exhibit some beautiful colors, and you can find some amazing blues, reds and oranges if you choose wisely. A pair of these in a planted 10-gallon tank would make for an amazing setup.
However, be aware that these guys are considered a semi-aggressive fish species, and there can be trouble if one decides to pick on the other. Be sure to include hiding spots and plenty of decorations in your tank in case one becomes dominant.
A guppy tank is lively, colorful, and a lot of fun to watch, and like neons you can have a bunch of them in 10-gallons. Fancy guppies comes in many different colors and you can really get creative when choosing your stock. They are active swimmers in the top third of the water column, so they don't require much in the way of hiding spots and decorations, especially if they are in a species-only tank.
Be careful if combining them with other fish species, as they can become lunch for bigger tankmates!
Contrary to their reputation as the kung-fu wrecking machines of the aquarium world, Betta can live in a community tank with other fish in certain situations. The key is understanding their behavior, keeping a close eye on things and having a back-up plan if things don't go well.
That said, I do not think a 10-gallon tank is the right environment for keeping Betta with other fish. But they may do well with certain critters such as Apple Snails or Ghost Shrimp.
A single Betta in a planted 10-gallon is a great setup, for him and you. Of course it should go without saying that you should never, ever, put two male Betta fish in the same tank together.
If you want to learn more about keeping Betta with other fish and critters check out this post on Betta in a Community Tank
5 Common Mistakes When Stocking a 10-Gallon Tank
Just as you can make some really good choices when stocking your aquarium, you can make some dumb ones too. Try not to feel too bad about it if you do. We've all made stocking mistakes, and it's always a learning experience.
Some fish inappropriate for a 10-gallon tank get into this situation when they are purchased by aquarium owners who either didn't know any better, or were misled by pet-store staff.
Sometimes parents, in an effort to please kids, end up buying inappropriate fish. Perhaps, instead of giving in to the child, this should be seen as an opportunity to educate them on respect for animals and proper care.
However they get there, these five fish often end up on the short end of the stick.
Baby angelfish are adorable, and it can be tempting to add a couple to your tank. But these guys grow over a foot tall, and their adult size is much too large for a 10-gallon aquarium. In addition, they are aggressive, new-world cichlids best housed with similar large species, or in species-only tanks. If you want angelfish, consider a tank 55 gallons or bigger.
Next to the Betta fish, the bala shark is possibly the most abused aquarium fish out there. They start out as cute little three-inch fish and end up in some kid's 10-gallon tank because they are so cool.
But bala sharks grow a foot long and need to be kept in schools. They are fast-moving, powerful fish that are easily startled, and there are even rumors of spooked adult Bala sharks cracking aquarium glass. Unless you have a truly massive tank, these guys don't belong in your home aquarium.
Dwarf gourami can do fine in a small tank, but their bigger cousins should be avoided unless you have the space to care for them properly. Gourami are large, aggressive fish with complex behaviors, and a pair should be kept in no tank smaller than 55 gallons. They may be colorful and attractive, but if you add them to your small tank you'll get more than you bargained for.
When it comes to plecos, you a really need to know what you're getting yourself into. This is the fish commonly thought of as the "sucker fish". Most species grow very large, up to several feet - way too big for most aquariums. They require driftwood to rasp on, and will demolish any live plants.
They also don't do as good a job of cleaning algae as typically thought. If you want a more tank-friendly algae eater, skip the pleco and consider a small school of Otocinclus catfish instead.
African Cichlids are the closest thing you can get to the vibrant colors of saltwater fish in a freshwater environment. Some aquarium owners specialize in cichlids, and they make for some beautiful tanks. But they are also very aggressive, very complex fish and, except for a few species, do not belong in a tank smaller than 55 gallons. Even then you need to know what you're doing to prevent them from killing each other.
Don't let their pretty colors lure you into popping a couple into your 10-gallon tank. They are not appropriate, and they can potentially devastate any tropical fish you already own.
Enjoy Your 10-Gallon Aquarium!
When I was around seven or eight years old my family got our first 10-gallon tank. We took advice from the owner of the pet store when stocking it, and, thinking back, the guy was either nuts, stupid or just trying to sell a bunch of fish.
Our stock was something like this:
- 2 angelfish
- 6 neons
- 2 cories
- 1 pleco
- 2 black mollies
- 2 swordtails.
I know now this was a very poorly stocked tank. But my parents didn't know any better and they trusted this guy to guide them.
The point is, don't rely on the staff at the fish store to tell you what is right. Do your own research and learn what's best for your aquarium. Back then there was no internet, but today you have everything you need at your fingertips to learn about any fish species you have in mind.
Good luck with your new tank!
Understanding the temperaments and care requirements of the fish you intend to stock is the most important factor when it comes to running a successful freshwater aquarium. It's smart to have a manual handy to help you find the root of challenging behaviors and choose the right fish for your tank.
More Aquarium Advice
- Betta Facts and FAQ: Betta Fish Care, Behavior and Tank Setup
Learn about Betta Fish care, behavior and tank requirements to make sure your Betta lives a long, healthy life.
- Semi-Aggressive Freshwater Fish for a Tropical Aquarium
If you’re thinking about adding semi-aggressive freshwater fish to your tropical aquarium take a moment to read through this list of suggestions.
- How to Change the Water in Your Freshwater Aquarium the Easy Way
Learn the easy way to change the water in your freshwater aquarium to avoid spilling, and ensure sure your fish stay happy and healthy!
- Aquarium Algae Control: How to Get Rid of Algae in a Fish Tank
Algae growth in the aquarium is the bane of many a fish keeper. Learn how proper tank management can get rid of algae once and for all.
- Best Aquarium Filter for 10, 30 and 55-Gallon Fish Tanks
Learn how to choose the best aquarium filter for your 10, 30 or 55-gallon fish tank, plus understand the three types of filtration.
Questions & Answers
I just want one fish. Which one would you suggest?
A single male betta is the perfect resident for a 10-gallon tank. Make sure the current is gentle and that he has proper heat and filtration. Include some plants, real or artificial, and some caves or decorations for him to hide in if he feels the need. You will have plenty of room to aquascape, and he will have lots of space for swimming. You can even have some critter tankmates such as an apple snail or some ghost shrimp if he is willing to tolerate them.
The other fish I would consider for a 10-gallon tank is a dwarf gourami. Like bettas they are anabantids, and they are very colorful. You may be tempted to get a pair for but I wouldn’t unless you are considering a larger tank. They can be aggressive toward each other, and a small tank doesn’t allow much space. However, if you wish to add a few more fish down the road, this may go more smoothly with a gourami than it would with a betta. (Personally, I would not add more fish to a 10-gallon betta tank.)
If you are willing to consider a larger tank, you have several more options. A green spotted puffer will need a 30-gallon tank (minimum) and brackish water, but they are great for single-specimen tanks. They do have some unique care requirements, so read up on them before purchasing.
For even bigger tanks, the oscar is a popular choice. These are large, aggressive new-world cichlids. You will need a least a 55-gallon tank, but bigger is better for these guys. Like the green spotted puffer, make sure you do your research before committing to keeping an oscar!