Peaceful Community Fish for a Freshwater Aquarium

Find out which fish are the best choice for a calm, tranquil freshwater community aquarium.
Find out which fish are the best choice for a calm, tranquil freshwater community aquarium.

Which 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 or 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.

Neon Tetra

Neon Tetra
Neon Tetra | Source

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 really colorful, 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

Mickey Mouse Platy (Image: Bastet78 /Wikimedia Commons)
Mickey Mouse Platy (Image: Bastet78 /Wikimedia Commons) | Source

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. Sword tails 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.

Fancy Guppy

Fancy Guppy
Fancy Guppy | Source

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.


Marble Hatchetfish (Image: Dawson, Wikimedia Commons)
Marble Hatchetfish (Image: Dawson, Wikimedia Commons) | Source

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.

Zebra Danio

Zebrafish (Zebra Danio)
Zebrafish (Zebra Danio) | Source

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.

Zerbra danios are one of the fish species that have been bred into the popular, GloFish. They come in bright, florescent colors, and definitely stand out in any freshwater tank.

Otocinclus (Oto)

Otocinclus Catfish (Image: Aleksandr Skopenko / Wikimedia Commons)
Otocinclus Catfish (Image: Aleksandr Skopenko / Wikimedia Commons) | Source

Many novice aquarium keepers want a fish to help clean up algae in their tank. For this they turn to the plecostomus, the “sucker fish” 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!

Cory Catfish

Cory (Corydoras) Catfish
Cory (Corydoras) Catfish | Source

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.

Ghost Shrimp

Ghost (Glass) Shrimp (Image: Brian.gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons)
Ghost (Glass) Shrimp (Image: Brian.gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons) | Source

While obviously not fish, ghost shrimp are a fun additional 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!

Stocking Your Tank

You should be able to mix and match most of the fish listed in this article and not encounter any behaviors 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 forumula. Do not overstock your tank and you’ll have 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 if 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. Keep your water parameters in good shape to avoid dissention 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!

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Suhail and my dog profile image

Suhail and my dog 9 months ago from Mississauga, ON

Thanks for writing this informative hub. Now I know what fish to keep in my first aquarium.

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