7 Freshwater Fish That Are Perfect for a 10-Gallon Tank

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: November 7, 2018
7 Freshwater Fish That Are Perfect for a 10-Gallon Tank

Image via iStock.com/Pirotehnik

By Robert Woods of Fishkeepingworld.com

A 10-gallon fish tank is one of the most popular tank sizes available. It is great for beginners due to its small size, relatively cheap (i.e., ideal for those on a budget), and also makes a great breeder tank for the more experienced aquarist.

Stocking Your 10-Gallon Tank

While a 10-gallon tank is pretty small in comparison to other fish tanks, there are still plenty of stocking options when it comes to freshwater fish tanks.

Due to the small size of a 10-gallon fish aquarium, it’s really important to research and understand how to care for each individual species of freshwater fish that will be put into the tank. Pollutants can quickly build up if a small tank is overstocked or if regular water changes aren’t conducted.

There are some fish advisors who use the ‘rule of thumb,’ which suggests one inch of fish per gallon of water. This is not a great rule to follow, because some species require more space. Always research the individual species that you want to keep, how compatible they are with other species, and how many can be kept in a community tank.

There are plenty of stocking calculators available online which can help you decide how many of each species you can comfortably fit in your 10-gallon tank.

Most of the following freshwater fish are schooling fish, which should be kept in a species-only tank due to the small size of a 10-gallon tank. If you’re wanting to create a community tank, there are a few species listed here that you may be able to include, with care, if you want more of a variety of fish.

So, let’s take a look at the best freshwater fish for a 10-gallon tank.

Celestial Pearl Danios

Celestial Pearl Danios (Celestichthys margaritatus) are very peaceful fish that are easy to care for. They are a relatively new addition to the aquarium hobby, having only been discovered in 2006. They are also perfect for 10-gallon tanks because they only grow to a maximum of one inch.

This stunning fish has a deep blue metallic body with jewel-like spots and horizontal orange bands on its fins, which add a welcome splash of color.

They prefer well-planted aquariums with plenty of rocks, caves and driftwood, and should be kept in schools of a minimum of six. You can keep up to 10 Celestial Pearl Danios in a 10-gallon tank.

If you choose to keep 10, then keep it a species-only tank. If you have less than that, you could perhaps include some Cherry Shrimp.


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SubstrateSource cholla wood 4-inch driftwood

Golden Dwarf Barbs

While the Golden Dwarf Barb (Pethia gelius) is one of the less well-known Barbs, it is an ideal freshwater fish for a 10-gallon tank because it only grows to 1.5 inches.

This fish is native to northern India, Nepal and Bangladesh, and they are usually a rich golden-yellow color with black markings.

They are happiest when they’re kept in a well-planted tank with a mixture of floating plants and driftwood. They should be kept in minimum groups of five. You can fit a maximum of 10 in a 10-gallon tank.

They can also be kept in smaller schools of five with a few other diminutive species, such as Microdevario or Trigonostigma.


SubstrateSource cholla wood 6-inch driftwood

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) are one of the most well-known freshwater aquarium fish. They have iridescent blue bodies and a bright red stripe starting midway down their body.

They prefer plenty of plants to hide in, and adding driftwood and rocks will replicate the natural environment that they are used to in the clear streams of South America.

Neon Tetras grow to around 1.25 inches long and are very peaceful. They thrive when kept in schools; you can fit around 10 in a 10-gallon tank.


Pisces USA Seiryu aquarium rock

Pygmy Corydoras

The Pygmy Corydoras (Corydoras pygmaeus) is a tiny, peaceful pet that should be kept in groups of around 10. They have an iridescent body with a horizontal black line that runs from their snout to their tail.

These freshwater aquarium fish need densely planted tanks and plenty of hiding spots. You can use wide-leaved plants and driftwood to create hiding places. They also need a sandy substrate to protect their barbels.

These fish require weekly partial water changes because they are so sensitive to nitrate levels. 

Growing to a length of around 3 centimeters, Pygmy Corydoras should be kept in species-only tanks with eight to 12 fish, or with other tiny specimens such as Ember Tetras or micro Rasboras.


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CaribSea Super Naturals freshwater sand


Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are one of the most beginner-friendly fish; they are very easy to care for. They’re so easy to care for that they can breed without any extra assistance, so if you’re putting them in a 10-gallon tank, you should have either males only or females only. Otherwise they’ll breed, and the fry will quickly overstock your tank (unless you want to set up a specific breeding tank).

You can have between five to 10 guppies in a 10-gallon tank. If you’re setting up a breeding tank, use the ratio of one male to two females (and make sure you have another tank to transfer the fry into!)

Guppies come in many different colors, the males being a lot more colorful than the females. They thrive in well-planted aquariums with hardy varieties such as Java Fern and Java Moss.


Marina Hang-On breeding box

Betta Fish

Bettas (Betta splendens) are another popular freshwater aquarium fish. They come in a wide variety of vibrant colors and are very easy to care for.

Ideally, they should be kept singularly, although depending on the nature of your Betta, they may be suitable for a community tank if they are peaceful enough. They should not be kept with species that look similar (for example, fancy guppies, which have similar flowing fins).

Many people keep these fish in small bowls, however, they should really be kept in a planted tank with a filter.


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Dwarf Gourami

The Dwarf Gourami (Colisa lalia) is a peaceful fish with moderate care needs. This makes them ideal for people with previous fishkeeping experience.

Males are orangey-red with blue vertical stripes, whereas females are silvery blue-gray with very faint yellow vertical stripes.

They can be kept with other peaceful fish, and the tank should be kept in a quiet area—loud noises can scare them. They need plenty of plants, including floating plants, and choosing a dark substrate will help to display their colors.

You can keep three Dwarf Gouramis in a 10-gallon tank, or just one with a school of other peaceful fish, such as five Neon Tetras.


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Tips for 10-Gallon Fish Aquariums

It’s important to stay on top of water changes with a 10-gallon tank, because ammonia levels and nitrites can build up quickly.

Make sure you don’t overfeed your fish with fish food or overstock your tank; these things will also have a negative impact on the water quality.

Always do your own research, and don’t rely solely on the advice from the pet or fish store.

Any of these seven freshwater fish will work well in a 10-gallon tank and will provide you with an entertaining and colorful aquarium. Good luck with your 10-gallon aquarium!

Best Freshwater Fish for 10-gallon tank

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