Top 10 Midwater Schooling Fish for your Next Aquarium

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Top 10 Midwater Schooling Fish for Your Next Aquarium

When planning out what kind of fish to add to an aquarium, we like to pick species that live in different layers of the water column. Instead of having animals that cluster in the same area, the entire tank is filled with interesting activity. Let’s not forget about the bottom dwellers and top-dwelling fish. Now let’s see the vibrant and colorful options that swim in and around the tank’s middle.


1. Green Neon Tetra

Paracheirodon simulans

The green neon Tetra is a smaller cousin to the regular neon Tetra. It has an iridescent, blue-green horizontal stripe which shines brightly even if the aquarium light is off. They only grow to 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, so a school of six green neons can live in a nano tank as small as 5 gallons. Because they are small, they prefer to be in large groups with plenty of aquarium plants and other cover. Plus, they require tiny foods that can fit in their mouths, such as frozen cyclops, Easy Fry and Small Fish Food, crumbled flake food, and baby brine shrimp.

2. Pygmy Corydoras

Corydoras pygmaeus

Cory catfish are widely considered to be bottom dwellers, but some species like the pygmy cory display unusual behaviors. The dwarf corydoras, measuring 1-inch in length, is well-known for flapping its fins and hovering in the middle of the tank like a hummingbird. They like to perch on plants leaves and driftwood above the ground. Their whisker-like barbels allow them to locate foods like Repashy gel food or sinking wafers. You can breed them in colonies by placing the pygmy Corys in a mature, only-species tank with lots of mulm and biofilm.

3. Serpae Tetra

Hyphessobrycon eques

The shyness of smaller species can sometimes make them a bit timid. If you are looking for bright colors and a confident personality in your fish, the serpaetetra might be the right choice. The red-orange body with black and white markings adds color to planted aquariums. Serpae Tetras can reach 2 inches (5 cm) and will swim freely in open water. We recommend keeping at least 8-10 Serpae tetras in a school to avoid fin nipping and their rowdy behavior.

4. Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish

Melanotaenia praecox

Technically, most rainbowfish like to hang out in the upper half of the water column, but we wanted to sneak in this beautiful, almond-shaped fish because of its shimmery blue scales and red-orange fins. These fast swimmers can reach 3 inches (8cm) in length and will get along with any similar-sized fish, with peaceful to aggressive temperaments. To get the best colors and healthy growth, feed them a balanced diet of bloodworms and brine shrimp, flakes and live fish food. Learn more about our care guide.

5. Von Rio Tetra

Hyphessobrycon flammeus

Also known as the flame Tetra, this species is strikingly beautiful with a yellow front side and a red back side. Their length is 1.5-2 inches (5-5 cm), with a deep-bodied profile. Their calm nature and small size make them the ideal residents for a planted community tank. Although you may occasionally see minor chasing, this is normal tetra behavior. The males will show off to their females and establish their social hierarchy.

6. Harlequin and Lambchop Rasboras

Trigonostigma heteromorpha and Trigonostigma espei

These peaceful rasboras make a great addition to community tank life. The orange body with black triangle patches at the tail is stunning in a forest filled with underwater plants. Harlequin rasboras can reach up to 2 inches (5 cm), while lambchop rasboras stay slightly smaller around 1.5 inches (4 cm). Due to their toughness and ability to adapt to a variety of conditions, they are great for beginners and are readily available at most pet shops. Read about their care requirements for more info.

7. Congo Tetra

Phenacogrammus interruptus

Another bigger schooling fish on our list that does well in medium to large aquariums is the 3-inch (8 cm) congo tetra. The males are well-known for their brightly colored finnage and flowing horizontal stripes, while the females are smaller and have a silvery sheen. As long as their tank mates are not fin nippers, these tetras can live with most community fish like rainbowfish, livebearers, and unaggressive catfish.

8. Celestial Pearl Danio

Danio margaritatus

One of the darlings of the aquascaping world is the celestial pearl danio (CPD) or galaxy rasbora. The bright red-orange bodies and golden-dotted fins make them look like tiny brook tilapia, making them ideal for building nature scapes. Although they can be timid, we have been able to coax them out of their shells by increasing the size of their school, giving them shelter and making sure that none of their tank mates bully them. Also, they prefer cooler waters from 72-76degF (22-24degC) and can potentially live without an aquarium heater, depending on your room temperature. See their complete care sheet for more information.

9. Cherry Barb

Puntius titteya

Cherry barbs are often overlooked due to their reputation as noisy fin nippers. However, this species makes a great tank mate and is a good choice for peaceful community aquariums. Both males and females have an intense red color, while the males have a darker hue. They also both have a horizontal black stripe running down their sides. Not only are they as friendly as similar-sized tetras and rasboras, but they also spawn fairly easily. Add lots of dense foliage and a marble substrate to help your babies survive. The parents should be removed as soon as possible after they have bred.

10. Rainbow Shiner

Notropis chrosomus

You may not be able to decide what color will best suit your aquarium. This multicolored minnow comes from the Southeastern United States. Depending on the breeding condition of the fish, they can display orange, purple, hot pink, blue, black, and more. Rainbow shiners are more comfortable in cooler temperatures than 72 degrees F (22 degrees C), making them the ideal species for outdoor mini ponds or coldwater aquariums. Their life span is only about 2 to 3 years. Our forum has tips and tricks for breeding them successfully at home.

There are so many awesome midwater-dwelling fish that we couldn’t cover them all, so make sure to browse the current stock of our preferred online fish retailers to see everything they have available.