The Best Freshwater Fish for 5-Gallon Tank


Most beginner fishkeepers tend to opt for a 5-gallon tank to start their fishkeeping journey. 5-gallon tanks are a great first aquarium as they’re convenient and small enough to fit in condos or apartments, or in spaces without a lot of room to hold larger aquariums. Because of their smaller size, however, you’ll want to be careful about the fish you choose to house in the tank. If you choose fish that grow too large or need a lot of room to swim and play, they’ll be stressed and unhappy—most likely reaching their demise well before their life expectancy. This is why it’s important to carefully select the fish to live in your 5-gallon tank. So, what are the best freshwater fish for a 5-gallon tank? We’ll cover that and more in this article. 

Let’s get started.

Red betta fish

Why Should Someone Consider a 5-Gallon Tank?

A 5-gallon fish tank is the ideal size for beginners and experts alike. They’re small enough for novices to handle and explore yet large enough for experts to enjoy.

If you want to bring some beautiful aquatic life to your workplace or just have a limited amount of room, a 5-gallon aquarium can be the right solution for you.

Pros of a 5-Gallon Tank

Everyone is able to own one of these little aquariums, which is one of the many benefits they offer. Because the financial commitment isn’t significant and the space requirement is so low, practically anybody can find a spot for a 5-gallon tank in their home, like the

Even the most jampacked classrooms can have 5-gallon tanks, making them ideal for college students living in dorms, residents of nursing homes, apartment dwellers, and so on. In many cases, apartment buildings’ “no pets” policies don’t apply to fish. Fish are pretty calming to watch, and they may give way for youngsters to take care of a pet in situations when they’re not permitted to have larger animals as pets.

Cons of a 5-Gallon Tank

5-gallon tanks, just like big fish tanks, need to be maintained, so potential buyers should avoid the idea that they can just set an aquarium up and forget about it for an extended amount of time.

The most significant disadvantage of keeping a 5-gallon tank is the increased likelihood that problems will arise quickly and frequently and can be lethal before being resolved. Although it may seem like a smaller fish tank will be easier to maintain, it’s actually the opposite. This is because the amount of water in which the fish dwell is relatively tiny, meaning that the water’s composition and temperature shifts can happen in a few minutes. As a result, it’s necessary to keep a constant eye on the state of the water and consistently execute water changes.

In the beginning, when a new fish owner breaks into a new 5-gallon tank, they need to exercise extra caution. It’s because there’s a significant increase in the number of toxins in the water when the biological system is developing. If water changes are not carried out, the conditions can become fatal rapidly.

Additionally, 5-gallon tanks can’t hold a large community of fish, and they’re also not good for fast-growing large fish.

What to Look For in a 5-Gallon Fish Tank?

You must look for the following items in any quality 5-gallon fish tank:

LED illumination and a hooded design

It’s advisable to have a hooded aquarium, especially if you have occupants like neon tetra or betta fish which are known to bounce around quite a bit.

Most 5-gallon fish tanks come equipped with LED lights incorporated into the tank’s hood. LED lights can also simulate fish and plants’ normal day and night cycles.

Design and space

Choose a fish tank that complements the room’s design scheme, space, and overall aesthetic.

Hidden filtration system

Regarding design and aesthetics, having a hidden filtration system in your fish tank can help elevate the tank’s overall style. The Marineland Portrait Glass LED Aquarium Kit shown below is a beautiful example of a 5-gallon aquarium with hidden filtration system.

The Best Freshwater Fish for a 5 Gallon Tank

There aren’t many species of fish that can happily coexist in an aquarium that is only 5 gallons in size. However, these fish species do well even in 5-gallon tanks.

·   Celestial Pearl Danio

·   Guppy fish

·   Red Cherry Shrimp

·   Neon Tetra

·   Sparkling Gourami

·   Betta Fish

·   Endler’s Livebearer

·   Chili Rasbora

·   Least Killifish

Let’s discuss these best freshwater fish for 5-gallon tanks in detail.

Celestial Pearl Danio

Celestial pearl danio fish

·       Maximum size (length): 0.75-1 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Intermediate

·       Water temperature: 72 – 75 °F

·       Behavior: Shy and peaceful

·       Diet: Plants, algae, and plankton.

The Celestial Pearl Danio is one of the latest tiny fish to become available for the fishkeeping hobby. Because they don’t require very hot temperatures, these fish may thrive in aquariums as small as 5 gallons, with temperatures between 72 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Typically, these fish don’t swim in schools. Instead, males establish relatively narrow territories, freeing females to roam. The males will put on a show in the hopes of attracting a partner and scaring off potential competitors for their attention.

Therefore, it’s essential to get your fish sexed since having an excessive number of males in an aquarium that is just 5 gallons in size might result in fierce space battles. Ideally, you should have a 1:2 male to female sex ratio (one male for every two females). 

Guppy Fish

guppy fish

·       Maximum size (length): 0.7-2 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Beginner

·       Water temperature: 74 – 84 °F

·       Behavior: Sometimes aggressive towards their species

·       Diet: Soft algae and plantation.

Guppies are primarily found in tropical regions of the world, primarily in South Americas oceans. Guppies are also considered among the best fish for 5-gallon aquariums due to their small size (0.7 to 2 inches).

Guppies are well-liked because of their striking colors, and they’re not difficult to care for or breed at all. Remember that guppies have a fast reproduction rate, so if you have a small aquarium and don’t want it to get overcrowded, purchasing a handful of males rather than many females is best. Males also have more vivid colors and a more attractive appearance.

Red Cherry Shrimp

·       Maximum size (length): 1 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Beginner

·       Water temperature: 73 – 85 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful

·       Diet: Algae, fish pellets, and aquarium plants.

The Red Cherry Shrimp are very beautiful shrimp and are one of the best alternatives to the Red Crystal Shrimp, which are also quite expensive. 

Red Cherry Shrimp are hardy and live in various water conditions. Cherry Shrimp are far more resilient than other shrimp species and can flourish in multiple water conditions. They devote most of their time to combing through the moss and plants in search of leftover food and algae particles. There are numerous classes of red cherry shrimp, with the highest grade being the one with the most vibrant red color. Various options are available in tones of green, black, gold, and other colors.

They have an extremely low bioload and are beautiful complements to most of the fish in a 5-gallon tank, with the exception of the Pea Puffer, which enjoys eating shrimp.

Neon Tetra

Neon tetra fish

·       Maximum size (length): 1.5 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Beginner

·       Water temperature: 72 – 76 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful

·       Diet: Omnivore, plants, fish pellets, baby shrimps, etc.

Neon Tetra, a favorite among freshwater fish enthusiasts, is found naturally only in regions of the Amazon River. Neon Tetras belong to the fish family Characidar and are characterized by their bright blue and red color patterns. Their tiny thin bodies and short fins set them apart from other fish in the family.

As a schooling fish, neon tetras should be kept in a group of at least three in a planted tank that is at least 5 gallons in size. The more space there is in the tank, however, the more energetic the fish will be.

Neons are robust fish that are easy to care for and don’t have particular dietary preferences. They also don’t need any specialized equipment to keep.

Sparkling Gourami

·       Maximum size (length): 2 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Intermediate

·       Water temperature: 72 – 82 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful; territorial

·       Diet: Scavengers love meaty treats.

The Sparkling Gourami may grow up to 2 inches. These fish get along well with guppies, neon tetras, and danios in the same aquarium, although they require a water temperature between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beware, though: if they’re hungry or if you don’t feed them well, they’ll consume your snails if there are any in the tank. They have a voracious appetite for food waste and will consume nearly any meaty meal that sinks to the bottom of the tank, even if it’s a dead snail. They also take pleasure in scavenging for food. All things considered, a 5-gallon aquarium should be adequate for these fish.

Betta Fish

betta fish

·       Maximum size (length): 2-4 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Intermediate

·       Water temperature: 75 – 80 °F

·       Behavior: Semi-aggressive

·       Diet: Omnivorous

Betta fish or bettas are highly well-liked in the community of fish keepers worldwide. Due to these fish’s aggressive and territorial nature, they’re also known as Siamese fighting fish. Playing, leaping, and darting around are among their favorite things.

Males of the species frequently engage in battles to the death with one another. So, caring for them properly is a must. If you have bettas, we strongly suggest that you don’t have more than one male betta in your 5-gallon tank to prevent fights from breaking out. You may also consider adding some cherry shrimp to the aquarium, so it has some company.

Endler’s Livebearer

·       Maximum size (length): 1.5 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Beginner to Intermediate

·       Water temperature: 75 – 80 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful

·       Diet: Omnivorous (frozen, live, or flake food)

The Endlers Livebearer belongs to the Livebearer subgroup that loves being in a freshwater aquarium, and looks very similar to a guppy. Because of their attractive coloration and overall appearance, they’re on the verge of extinction in their natural habitat.

You can keep Endler’s Livebearers in the aquarium without many special conditions being met, as they’re also quite simple to care for in a contained space; however, they can only survive in an environment where the water in the tank is slightly alkaline.

The Endler’s Livebearer is a striking omnivorous fish that can consume flake food, frozen meals, and even tiny bits of live food. They thrive in healthy environments with enough clean water and a high reproductive rate.

Chili Rasbora

The Chili Rasbora are indigenous to Indonesia and live in groupings and villages throughout the country. These fish have distinctive personalities and are some of the most appealing freshwater aquarium options, with sizes ranging from 5 to 10 gallons.

When they’re in groups/schooling, they maintain their calm demeanor. They can coexist with other invertebrates as long as they have a calm attitude.

The Chili Rasbora has a lovely crimson body with dark stripes running along the length of its body. The striking appearance of the stripes results from the red body tint, which contrasts with the stripes.

Males and females are distinct, and you can distinguish their sex according to brighter coloring on males and a more red belly.

·       Maximum size (length): 0.6-0.8 inch

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Beginner

·       Water temperature: 68 – 82 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful

·       Diet: Omnivore or micropredator

Least Killifish

You can easily keep a pair of least killifish together in a 5-gallon aquarium. They’re considered one of the best fish because they always prefer to swim in pairs.

The maximum length they can reach is between 0.8 and 2 inches, but because they’re such energetic swimmers, they need a tank with at least 5 gallons of capacity. There isn’t much more that they require to be happy than some flora and a few ornamental pieces that may be used for fun.

When raising two least killifish females, you need to be sure to have just one male for them. Be on the lookout for any young fish, however, as you may notice their offspring contributing to your tank’s fish population.

·       Maximum size (length): 1-2 inches

·       Fishkeeping experience level: Intermediate

·       Water temperature: 69 – 76 °F

·       Behavior: Peaceful

·       Diet: Carnivorous

How many fish can I have in a 5-gallon tank?

It depends on the behavior and type of fish. If it’s betta fish, then you should only keep one. If it’s neon tetra, then you can keep three neons in a 5-gallon tank. On the other hand, you can have 10 chili rasboras or five guppies in a 5-gallon container tank. So, it totally depends upon the fish type and behavior. Consult our list above and choose the fish according to their behavior and size.

What freshwater fish can you have in a 5-gallon tank?

You can have the following fish in a freshwater 5-gallon tank:

·   Celestial Pearl Danio

·   Guppy Fish

·   Red Cherry Shrimp

·   Neon Tetra

·   Sparkling Gourami

·   Betta Fish

·   Endler’s Livebearer

·   Chili Rasbora

·   Least Killifish

Can angelfish live in a 5-gallon tank?

Angelfish have a magnificent appearance, but they grow to be far too big to keep in an aquarium of only 5 gallons capacity. Angelfish like the company of other angelfish, but they can become aggressive when there isn’t enough space between them. Additionally, they have a nasty attitude against other kinds of fish. So, ideally, the minimum tank size for angel fish is 30 gallons.

How many guppies can I put in a 5-gallon tank?

The rule of thumb is that you need one gallon of water for every inch of fish. As a result, a 5-gallon tank may accommodate an additional 5 inches worth of guppies. To be more specific, it’s possible to house three male fish in a tank of this size. When it comes to the females, you have the option of keeping two, although more experienced folks may recommend keeping three.

All About the Best Freshwater Fish for 5 Gallon Tank

Keeping freshwater fish may be a highly satisfying hobby because there’s a wide variety of freshwater fish to choose from in terms of their appearance, size, morphology, and color. The fish mentioned above are better suited to smaller 5-gallon tanks. 

When maintaining a small aquarium, it’s essential to stock it with fish that do not cause disturbances. It’s impossible to exaggerate how important it is to limit the number of aggressive fish to a maximum of one or two.

We hope you like our article about the best freshwater fish for a 5-gallon tank/aquarium. Tell us in the comments which 5-gallon tank mate you’ll try.

Good luck with your fishkeeping!

Logan Price

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