10 Small Colorful Fish for Freshwater Tanks

Posted by on 3/11/2024

One of the best parts about owning an aquarium is selecting fish to stock it with. As long as you've done your research on a fish's temperament and care requirements, there are tons of different combinations you can do in your tank!

While some hobbyists prefer to keep a large school of one particular fish, others may want to track down some of the most colorful fish in the hobby. With new species of fish still being discovered by the scientific community, there is no shortage of options for hobby aquarists. In this post, we'll recommend 10 of our favorite small colorful fish that will brighten up the appearance of any aquarium!

Our Favorites

If you own a small tank (less than 10-gallons) then small-sized fish are your only option when it comes to stocking freshwater fish. Luckily, small-sized fish are just as colorful as their larger-sized counterparts. Here are some of our favorites.  

Eques Corydoras

First up on our list is the rare Eques Corydora. We're big fans of the fish, as it's landed on our list of 20 Best Fish for Planted Tanks and our list of 7 Bottom Feeder Fish for Small Aquariums. While these fish can be difficult to track down for sale, those who are in the know are willing to pay a premium for their peaceful temperament and colorful appearance. Similar to other species of corydoras, the Eques is a bottom dweller, and we think the fish's color contrasts beautifully in an aquarium with a dark-colored substrate.

Eques Corydora
Pavaphon Supanantananont/Shutterstock.com
An Eques Corydora


Arguably the most controversial fish on this list has to be the patented GloFish. This fish is the result of genetic editing by pet conglomerate Spectrum Brands, and only GloFish, a subsidiary of Spectrum Brands is legally allowed to sell them to authorized retailers. Luckily for hobbyists, these fish are capable of living a full life in captivity, but potential owners will want to know the underlying species of their GloFish. Danios, Tetras, Tiger Barbs, Rainbow Sharks, and Betta fish are all species that have been genetically edited by Spectrum Brands, and all sell under the "GloFish" name. Still, it's undeniable that these fish are some of the most colorful around.

GloFish under blue LED lighting

Galaxy Koi Betta

One of the most crossbred species in the hobby is the betta fish (scientific name: betta splendens), and it's no surprise as to why. These freshwater fish have displayed appearances and personalities that rival saltwater fish, and hobbyists across the globe have bred these fish to produce unique colors and patterns. One color pattern that's become quite popular is the Galaxy Koi Betta. These male bettas display brilliant colors and patterns, making them a favorite among hobbyists.

A Galaxy Koi Betta
Ron Kuenitz/Shutterstock.com
A Galaxy Koi Betta

Rocket Clown Killifish

Next up on our list is the Rocket Clown Killifish. For those new to Killifish, there are a few things you should know. These fish have a relatively short life expectancy, averaging around 2-3 years. They also tend to dwell near the surface, where they track down food using their upturned mouths. As surface dwellers, they're prone to jumping out of the tank, so a tight-fitting lid is a must for any Killifish owner. If you're up for caring for Killifish, the Rocket Clown is without a doubt one of the most colorful in the hobby.

Rocket Clown Killifish
A Rocket Clown Killfish, named after the appearence of the fish's tail

Celestial Pearl Danio

This list couldn't be complete without mentioning the Celestial Pearl Danio (often abbreviated as CPD). These fish have been in high demand by hobbyists ever since their discovery in Myanmar, the same country that is home to other exotic freshwater species, such as the Sulawesi Shrimp. These fish are known for their "galactic" appearance and are nothing short of stunning. We highly recommend the species to anyone looking for a colorful tank addition.

Celestial Pearl Danio
The Celestial Pearl Danio, native to Myanmar (formerly Burma)

Apistogramma Cacatuoides

Hobbyists new to the freshwater scene may not be familiar with dwarf cichlids. These fish are much smaller compared to the more commonly found larger cichlids such as the Electric Blue Jack Dempsey or Cuban Cichlid. Adult apistos only reach about 3 inches in size, but hobbyists will still want to provide an aquarium that's at least 20 gallons in size to house one male. Nothing short of stunning, the appearance of the Apistogramma Cactuoides is sure to please!

An Apistogramma Cacatuoides
Daylowdart/Light Fish
A male Apistogramma Cacatuoides

Green Kubotai Rasbora

It's not every day that you come across a green-colored Rasbora. Most of the Rasboras seen in the hobby are orange, red, and silver. Enter the Green Kubotai, a brightly-colored green fish that looks fantastic in a freshwater aquarium. We particularly like this fish with red aquarium background plants, as the fish's green coloration will contrast beautifully with the reds and pinks seen in some of the hobby's most popular red-colored plants.

Green Kubotai Rasboras
Rays Aquatics/Light Fish
A Green Kubotai Rasbora

Bluefin Notho

Perhaps the most vibrantly colored fish on our list is the Bluefin Notho (scientific name: Nothobranchius rachovii). Native to Africa, these brightly-colored fish display brilliant shades of blue and orange, but hobbyists looking to acquire these fish should be aware that males will display aggression towards other males, especially in the presence of females. Aim for one male for 2-3 females for every 10 gallons of water. Similar to the Rocket Clown Killifish, these fish have a short lifespan, and should also be kept in an aquarium with a tight-fitting lid due to their tendency to jump at potential food sources.

Bluefin Notho
A Bluefin Notho, native to Mozambique

Bumblebee Goby

One of our favorite fish is none other than the Bumblebee Goby. This fish is known for its bumblebee-like appearance, comical upturned-mouth, and laid-back temperament. The Bumblebee Goby can be found perched along the aquarium substrate or lounging on pieces of driftwood. Bumblebee Gobies are typically always in high demand, and hobbyists will undoubtedly appreciate all that these fish have to offer.

A Bumblebee Goby
A Bumblebee Goby perched on top of driftwood

Everglades Pygmy Sunfish

There are quite a few species of Pygmy Sunfish, but one of our favorites is the male Everglades Pygmy. The fish displays a beautiful dark-colored body, adorned with iridescent neon-blue speckles. However, beginner hobbyists should be warned - these fish have unique dietary requirements, making them more suitable for the experienced hobbyist. These fish will need to be fed live black worms, bloodworms, and grindal worms 1-2 times a day, and unfortunately only live for about 2 years. Still, if you're up for the challenge, the Everglades Pygmy Sunfish is a gorgeous tank addition. We cover the fish in more detail, in our guide Pygmy Sunfish: Care, Appearance & Types, Diet & More.

A male Everglades Pygmy Sunfish
A male Everglades Pygmy Sunfish


As you can see, there's no shortage of small colorful fish in the freshwater aquarium scene. While we've only covered 10 in our list, hundreds of other fish make excellent candidates for a small-sized tank. 

Did you have a colorful fish that didn't make our list? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to check out our marketplace, where you can find some of these fish for sale from hobbyists and small businesses throughout the United States.

Image of Miles Harrison

Miles Harrison

With over a decade of aquarium experience, Miles can be found writing about saltwater and freshwater aquariums. When he’s not writing about fish, you can find him going for a run or building websites, such as this one!