If you’re thinking about getting into fish keeping, then the 10-gallon aquarium is the perfect size to dip your toes into the hobby. Not only is it large enough to allow you to keep a wide variety of fish, but it’s still small enough that any maintenance is quick and easy.
But that doesn’t mean that 10-gallon aquariums are only for novices, as many experienced hobbyists use these tanks to create stunning aquascapes with carefully cultivated plants and schools of colorful fish.
Listed below are some of the best fish you can choose for a 10-gallon aquarium. Some have stunning colorations, while others exhibit interesting behavior. But just remember that most fish need to be kept in groups to be happy, so you’ll likely only be able to keep a single species in an aquarium of this size.
Even though neon tetras are one of the oldest fish in the hobby, there are still few fish than can rival their impressive colors. And when kept in a planted tank with muted lighting, these fish truly shine.
If you want to keep neon tetras, it’s important to understand that they’re a schooling fish. They need to be kept in groups of at least six, and if they’re not, they may become stressed and ill over time. And while it’s important to avoid putting stress on any fish, it’s especially dangerous with neon tetras. They tend to be more fragile than other fish—mainly due to inbreeding—and once they become stressed, they are very susceptible to disease.
But if you keep your neon tetras happy and healthy, there are few fish as rewarding as these. Any tank with a school of tetras will become the centerpiece of any room it’s located in.
No list of fish for a 10-gallon aquarium would be complete without guppies. Not only are these fish one of the most attractive in the hobby, but they’re also incredibly easy to keep and breed.
In fact, their speedy reproduction almost disqualifies them from the list. While most fish are egg-layers, guppies are live-bearers, which means their babies are born fully formed and swimming. That results in a much higher survival rate for their fry, and their babies can overrun a small aquarium in a matter of months.
Another problem that relates to breeding is that guppy males will constantly try to mate with the females. That means you need to keep at least 2-3 females for every male, otherwise the females will become stressed from all the mating attempts. You can avoid this problem by keeping only males—something that many people prefer since the males are the ones with attractive tails, while the females have smaller tails with more muted colors.
However, once you’ve dealt with these minor problems, guppies are incredibly easy to keep in a 10-gallon aquarium and probably the best option on this list for a beginner.
Corydoras catfish are an incredibly underrated fish and a perfect addition to any 10-gallon aquarium. While numerous species of corydoras catfish are available, the best ones for anyone new to the hobby are bronze corydoras, corydoras julii, and peppered corydoras.
Like neon tetras, corydoras catfish are a schooling fish and need to be kept in groups of at least six to prevent them from becoming stressed or spending most of their time in hiding. Also, as they primarily dwell on the bottom of the aquarium, they should be fed a sinking food.
Another favorite among beginners, zebra danios are an excellent choice for a 10-gallon aquarium. Not only is their hardiness legendary—people used to use them to cycle new aquariums—but they’re also an interesting fish with a complex social hierarchy you can view.
Zebra danios are a shoaling fish and should be kept in groups of at least six. If they are kept in smaller numbers, they will often become aggressive towards other fish and are known to nip fins.
Another benefit to keeping zebra danios is that they’re probably rank among the least picky eaters in the aquarium hobby. They’ll accept any frozen or prepared foods you offer them, which is nice when many other fish tend to difficult to feed.
Platies are another popular choice for small aquariums, and they’re an attractive fish that comes in a wide array of colors. Like guppies, they’re livebearers, which means they’re easy to breed—a trait that many new aquarists seek out. And their fry tend to have a lower survival rate than guppies, so they don’t overrun an aquarium as quickly, which is another positive.
But because they’re livebearers, it’s important to keep at least two females for every male, as the males will constantly harass the females. If there aren’t enough females to spread out the attention, they will quickly become stressed and may become ill over time.
Harlequin Rasboras are a tiny and hardy fish that are perfect for small aquariums. It’s really hard to screw up with harlequins and they can adapt to a wide variety of water types and temperatures (though they’re still a tropical fish and need a heater).
They are a shoaling fish and should be kept in groups of at least six, which not only keeps them healthy but also is also an impressive sight when the active fish are moving in sync together.
And feeding harlequin rasboras is no problem, as they’ll happily accept any food you offer them. Along with guppies, these might be the best choice for anyone new to the hobby, as you have to try really hard to fail with harlequin rasboras.
While dwarf pufferfish (also known as pea puffers) are probably the most interesting fish on this list, they’re also the most difficult by a wide margin. Not only are they incredibly aggressive to other fish—they’ll take chunks out of fins with their beaks—but they’re also incredibly picky eaters.
Still, if you’re willing to feed them a steady diet of small snails, frozen food, and live food, you’ll be rewarded with a truly unique and fascinating fish. And unlike most of the other fish on this list, they must be kept in a species only aquarium. Any other fish kept with dwarf puffer fish will be attacked.
Learn more about Dwarf Pufferfish
A betta might sound like a strange choice for a 10-gallon fish, as most people are used to seeing them in tiny cups at the pet stores. But in the wild they actually live in relatively large bodies of water, and a betta will be incredibly happy in a larger aquarium. But this comes with the caveat that they can be the only fish in their tank.
A betta—male or female—won’t tolerate any other of their species in the same tank. Though some people have had success setting up ‘betta harem tanks’, where a minimum of five female bettas are kept together, this only works in larger aquariums, so don’t try it in a 10-gallon fish tank. And other species of fish are also unlikely to work with them. Bettas will attack any fish with even a passing resemblance to themselves like guppies. And other fish will likely nip at the bettas long flowing fins and cause infections over time.
But even a single betta makes a great center piece for an aquarium, and just because you can’t have any other fish in their tank, doesn’t mean you can’t have any other aquarium inhabitants. You can keep snails, shrimp, and other invertebrates with the betta, and when combined with live plants, you can create an amazing aquascape.
What You Need to Set Up a 10-Gallon Aquarium
Now that you’ve chosen the fish for your aquarium, don’t forget that you still need to cycle the tank. If you’ve never cycled a fish tank before, you can read an in-depth summary here.
And you’re also going to need accessories for your aquarium. Below are some of the items you’ll need to get started.
Unless you’re choosing a cold-water fish like white cloud mountain minnows or goldfish, then you’re going to need a heater for your aquarium. All the fish on this list are tropical and need to have a heater to keep them healthy. If you don’t include a heater in their aquarium, they’ll become sluggish and their immune systems will be lowered.
It’s very important that you include a filter in your 10-gallon aquarium. While there are a few advanced setups that don’t require filters, you generally need a filter to prevent the water from becoming toxic for the fish.
The two types of recommended filters for a 10-gallon aquarium are hang-on-back filters and sponge filters. Though unless you’re breeding fish, it’s usually best to go with hang-on-back filters, as they offer mechanical and biological filtration, which helps to keep the water crystal clear.
Now that you know what type of fish to choose for a 10-gallon aquarium, and what accessories you need, you’re ready to get started. But just remember to cycle your aquarium before you add any fish to it. And most importantly, have fun with your new hobby.