Eric is an aquarium enthusiast with over two decades of experience caring for a wide array of tropical fish.
Fish For a Peaceful Tank
Whether you are starting a new aquarium or rehabilitating an existing tank it is smart to get an idea of what kind of fish you intend to stock. The most popular choice is probably a community freshwater aquarium stocked with colorful, peaceful fish.
This makes sense. Keeping aggression to a minimum in your tank, and preventing your fish from killing and/or eating each other, is likely high on your list of priorities. Choosing the right fish can ensure everything goes well while making bad stocking decisions can turn your tank into an aquatic battle royale.
Good community fish are those that easily tolerate other aquarium inhabitants. Either because of their size or their nature, they pose no threat to each other or any other fish in the tank. That’s good if you want a serene tank filled with happy, colorful fish.
Unfortunately, figuring out who these guys are isn’t always so easy. Some fish labeled as “community” can have a mean streak under the right circumstances. Also note that some fish labeled as “semi-aggressive” can do just fine in a community setting, again under the right circumstances. You have to do the research, and understand what to expect from each fish species.
This article will help you begin to sort out exactly what kind of fish you need to stock to create a tranquil, enjoyable aquarium.
Fish That Can Live Together
Here is a list of peaceful community fish for your freshwater tank:
- Neon Tetra
- Fancy Guppy
- Zebra Danio
- Cory Catfish
- Ghost Shrimp
All of the fish listed above should be able to live together. However, it is very important to remember that individual fish sometimes behave in unpredictable ways and that you need to be on the lookout for trouble in your tank.
Remember, too, that just because these fish are all peaceful it doesn't mean you can overcrowd them in a small tank. Stressed fish may lash out at others. Stress is also one of the reasons aquarium fish die before their time.
Always do your research on any fish you intend to stock to make sure they are the right fit for your tank.
Read on to learn more about each fish!
Neons are about as peaceful as you can get for a freshwater tank, as least as far as other fish as concerned. They are shy, shoaling fish that need to be kept in schools of a half dozen or more. They are also among the most colorful freshwater fish, and there are several varieties out there aside from the blue-and-red neons most people are familiar with.
But they do come with a small warning: Take care to keep your tank conditions pristine, avoid overstocking and be sure to have a large enough school. When neons get stressed they lash out and nip at each other, often focusing on one or two weaker members of the school. In poor conditions, it is not uncommon to see neons with chewed up fins from the constant nipping.
Platies and Swordtails
Platies are red/orange fish that reach an adult length of a couple of inches. Unlike many other fish in this article they do not need to be kept in schools, but you should consider having at least a pair.
They are fairly active swimmers with a curious temperament. For the most part, they will not bother any other fish in the tank, though their inquisitive nature might get them into trouble with larger tankmates.
Female swords have a similar appearance as platies, with slightly smaller and sleeker bodies. The male sword has an elongated “sword” on his tail, making him easy to identify.
Swordtails are peaceful fish, and will not harm any other inhabitants of your tank. However, male swords with a romantic side may harass females relentlessly. For this reason, it is wise to keep two or three females for each male in order to spread the love and reduce stress on any one fish.
Guppies are tiny, active fish. The fancy versions come in a bunch of bright, vibrant colors, and they can really light up the top third of your tank. While they will not school tightly like neons, they should be kept in small groups to keep them as stress-free as possible.
These are inquisitive, spunky fish that zip around your tank like little maniacs. It’s really fun to watch, and it shouldn’t be an issue for most of the fish mentioned in this article. However, if you have slower, calmer fish in your tank you may find that a handful of guppies running wild can cause a little chaos.
Hatchetfish are a fun addition to larger aquariums. They have a unique half-moon shape that resembles, as their name suggests, a hatchet. Kept in small schools, they will occupy the top part of the water column. There are silver varieties as well as the more colorful marble hatchet fish.
There is one important thing to know if you intend to add them to your tank: they jump. A lot. This is how they avoid predators in the wild, and when startled the whole school may leap out of the water at once. In a calm tank without large, aggressive fish this behavior should be kept to a minimum, but you still want to be sure your tank is completely covered with a secure lid.
Note: Due to their skittish nature, hatchetfish may not do well with very active fish such as guppies.
Zebrafish are another small, easy-going fish that do great with pretty much any other species. It’s easy to see where they get their name from their striped bodies. This also makes them attractive additions to a tank with primarily solid-colored fish. They need to be kept in schools, and they are hardy little guys that can handle a wide range of tank conditions.
Zebra danios are one of the fish species that have been bred into the popular, GloFish. They come in bright, fluorescent colors, and definitely stand out in any freshwater tank.
Many novice aquarium keepers want a fish to help clean up algae in their tank. For this, they turn to the plecostomus, the “suckerfish” often seen clinging to the sides of fish tanks. Unfortunately, most species of pleco grow too large for home aquariums. And, while they seem placid and almost lazy, they can have an aggressive side, especially as they age.
The little otocinclus catfish is a better choice for the typical community tank. Otos should be kept in schools and will disappear into the landscape of your tank. If you look closely you can find them clinging to the glass and any decorations where they can find algae.
For most aquarium owners they are a smarter option than the common pleco, and I think a lot more fun too!
Cories are bottom-dwelling catfish that reach an adult length of two-to-three inches. Sometimes they are active little dynamos, working hard to keep your tank clean by munching up any excess food that comes their way. Other times, you’ll find them resting under a plant or decoration. Keep them in schools of half a dozen or more.
Cories come in many colors and patterns, some more exotic than others. While they make their living as scavengers, be sure to supplement their diet with sinking pellets to ensure they are getting enough to eat.
While obviously not fish, ghost shrimp are a fun addition to a community freshwater aquarium, as long as it is inhabited by other peaceful fish. These shrimp are industrious little critters that will help clean up any debris they find at the bottom of your tank. They are fun to watch, and they might even reproduce if conditions are right.
While they pose no threat to live fish, ghost shrimp themselves are often seen as lunch for larger tankmates. None of the fish listed in this article ought to see them that way, but you never know so keep an eye out!
Rules for Stocking Your Fish Tank
In most cases, these fish should be able to live together. You should be able to mix and match most of the fish listed in this article and not encounter any behavioral issues.
That said, be aware that it simply isn’t possible to know for sure how a fish is going to interact with tankmates. We can predict based on the typical behavior of different species, but until you put your tank together you won’t know for sure.
Here are a few things to think about when stocking your tank:
- Avoid overstocking: How many fish should you have in your tank? Normally I advise against the one-inch-per-gallon rule that recommends one inch of adult fish per gallon of water. It is far too general to be of use to most fish keepers. In this case, since the fish listed in this article are all fairly small, it’s not a bad way to ballpark your stocking scheme. Still, it is important to understand the needs and tendencies of the fish you’ll keep rather than simply rely on this formula. Do not overstock your tank and you’ll have a much better chance of everyone getting along.
- Choose tankmates wisely: Big fish eat little fish. It’s usually that simple. If you intend to keep large fish along with neons, zebras, guppies or other small species, you might find the little guys disappearing overnight. Be smart when choosing tankmates. Some large, otherwise peaceful fish get labeled as semi-aggressive simply because of their size and their appetites.
- Manage water conditions: When conditions are poor, fish get stressed. When fish get stressed, behavior issues are magnified. This is very obvious in species like the aforementioned neon tetras. Perform regular water changes and keep your water parameters in good shape to avoid dissension in the ranks.
Above all, remember that we all make mistakes. If you lose a fish here and there, try to figure out why and learn from the experience. Once your tank is established you’ll get to enjoy a serene aquarium filled with happy, peaceful fish.
Good luck with your community tank!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on April 28, 2020:
Thanks Ivan! Cories are Corydoras catfish. I appreciate the article suggestions. I have a lot on my to-do list right now but I'm always looking for new ideas.
I wouldn't put those vampire crabs with fish small enough for them to eat!
Ivan on April 27, 2020:
That was extremely helpful! Keep up the great work! When I found out that Vampire crabs can live with calm fish, I directly checked this perfect website. Just one question : Are Cories Choridoras catfish?
Next time, can you please write an article on how to protect dwarf shrimp. If you don’t like this option, then please write an article about tank life hacks? Thank you. Five stars, ten out of ten!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on July 17, 2019:
@Maddi - Probably not, but it's hard to say for sure. Of those three fish I'd consider the betta the biggest concern, depending on how small the snails are. The cory might disturb them but is unlikely to eat them.
I would need to know more about the situation to suggest what you should do.
Maddi Penney on July 16, 2019:
Will a guppy, a male beta fish, and/or a cory catfish eat or disturb a lot of baby mystery snails? If so what should I do? And can you refer me to another article that explains this a bit more? Thank you!
Dominic's Aquatics on December 28, 2018:
I feel like you missed some fish: cherry barb, kuhli loach, glass catfish, danio, tetra, etc.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on October 02, 2018:
@Ava - It would really depend on the specific fish you are considering. This is why it is so important to research the fish you intend to stock. You should be able to able to have a good variety in a 75 gal though, again depending on who you choose. Good luck!
Ava on October 01, 2018:
What would be a good amount of Chiclids to put into a 75 gal?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on August 07, 2018:
@Kathy - That's a very broad question. This article might help:
Kathy on August 06, 2018:
What’s a good start up fish community to put in in a 29 gallon tank, and how many fish?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on February 28, 2018:
@Miah: You're welcome! Good luck with the tank!
@sofia: Yes, especially the males.
@massen - They ought to. I've never had any trouble with platies picking on ghost shrimp. However, you never really know until you get them together.
Miah A. Glueckler-Romero on February 27, 2018:
Oh, shoot! You're right!!! I never really paid attention to the platies, and my teacher's tank is sorta above 10 gallons. You don't hafta say anything for THIS coment. THAAAAANNNNNNNKKKKKKKK YYYOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUU!!! :D
sofia on February 27, 2018:
Are rainbowfish colorful?
masen on February 27, 2018:
Eric do ghost shrimp get along with platies?
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on February 27, 2018:
@Miah - If you are using a 10-gallon tank or bigger you can go with three platies. I wouldn't put them in anything smaller than that though. Good luck!
Miah A. Glueckler-Romero on February 26, 2018:
Good job with your help. The only problem is that my teacher needs only two or three fish for now, and the only critter that doesn't have to have any groups are the Ghost Shrimp. :(
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on November 14, 2017:
Hi Barbara. I think mollies are fine in most tanks. I've had peaceful mollies, and others that were terrors. They aren't usually aggressive though. Just annoying sometimes.
Barbara on November 13, 2017:
Hi, I didn't see any mention of mollies? Wouldn't they be okay in a community tank? I have tetras, platys, swordtails, guppies and 6 mollies and they seem to be doing fine. It's just important to keep your tank to one "gender" because if find the males will continually harass the females and stress them out. Except I have 2 female swordtails in my tank with all males of other species and they seem to leave these two girls alone (thankfully) I guess because they are a different species themselves. But I have seen platys endlessly pick on the females and I had to remove them and now I have an all male tank besides the two swordtails.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on September 28, 2017:
If you go with cherry shrimp consider a small school, not just a couple. You'll have a lot of bottom dwellers with the cories and pleco. I don't *think* any of your fish will bother them, but you never know until they get in there. Adding a larger fish (such as a gourami) will certainly endanger the shrimp.
Amanda on September 27, 2017:
If we got a couple shrimp (probably cherry shrimp) would the barbs bother them? Also, if we decide against the barbs is there a fun showpiece fish (maybe a bit bigger than the rest) that would be fun to add... I didnt have good luck with dwarf gouramis in the past thinking.. a gourami though or something similar? Thanks for the insight. Too many choices!
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on September 27, 2017:
Hi Amanda. With the fish you mentioned (cories + pleco + platies) I would think a little school of cherry barbs would be fine. I actually really like them and though they are often considered semi-aggressive I've never had any issue with them. Be aware they usually don't school tightly unless they are threatened (like doing a water change) so they will disperse around the tank. Good luck!
Amanda on September 26, 2017:
Would cherry barbs be a good add? Got the driftwood. Thinking shrimp too
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on September 26, 2017:
@Amanda: I'd definitely consider a piece of driftwood if you get the pleco. Any of the fish listed in this article would be fine for your tank. Just keep your stocking levels under control. Even with the new fish you mentioned you can add a school of neons or guppies. Good luck!
Amanda on September 22, 2017:
Stocking question.. We are currently upgrading from a 10g to a 29g and in the process are going to switch to sand. We currently have 6 adult platies and 2 peppered cories as well as 4 platy babies (that we know of). The tank is planted with fake as well as real (anacharis) plants. We are planning on upping our cory school to 5 or 6 and adding a bristlenose pleco (my son has been begging for one, but we didnt have a big enough tank before). The platties are constantly breeding (tank has been up and running for 9 months now.. all 4 females have been prego multiple times, but nature has kept no more than the 4 from surviving.. which is fine). We are upgrading because its getting a little crowded, as well as I've heard the cories enjoy sand more and I'd like to get them more friends as they never leave each other's side.
To my question... How is this stocking? Are there any other fun, peaceful fish that you think would be a good add? Is driftwood necessary? Where is the best place to buy it?
We've had these fish pretty much the whole time the tank has been running... we had issues with water parameters in the beginning and lost quite a few guppies, cories and a gourami, but these 8 (platies/cories) have been with us for 7-8 months.
Also, any tips for making the switch without losing fish would be helpful!
Thanks in advanced.
Sam on August 03, 2017:
@Madeline For feeder goldfish, (comit) They grow huge, I would say to be about 12", For 2 comit goldfish, I would say for for a 150g. That would be a better size for them, sorry about the news, I know its crazy to here, your goldfish might be small, but they will grow.
Eric Dockett (author) from USA on April 11, 2017:
@Madeline: You should have zero goldfish in a 2-gallon tank. Goldfish are supposed to grow much too large for typical aquariums. They belong in very large tanks or ponds.
Really, there are no fish that belong in a 2-gallon tank. Even Betta fish need at least a 5-gallon, preferably 10-gallon, living space.
I know this isn't the answer you wanted to hear, but I hope it helps. Good luck!
Madeline herman on April 10, 2017:
I have a feeder gold fish in a two gallon tank. I used to have two in the same tank. Now I have one.How many fish can I have in a two gallon tank?
Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on January 23, 2016:
Thanks for writing this informative hub. Now I know what fish to keep in my first aquarium.