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Fish Compatibility

By: Dr. Amy Wolff

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Setting up an aquarium is an exciting hobby, but when you add different fish to a confined space, you can create a beautiful, natural and balanced aquarium or an arena of constant battles and harassed fish that fail to thrive. Setting your goals for what you want in an aquarium will help you avoid some common mistakes and help you select the proper fish.

Types of Tanks

When setting up your aquarium, keep in mind the type of environment you want to create. You may want an aquarium that is peaceful and relaxing to watch, or you may prefer fish that are more active and aggressive. You may want to limit yourself to one species of fish, or have a breeding program in mind. Get an idea of what works best for you by considering some of the following options.

The Community Tank

A community tank is an environment that allows different species of fish to occupy different levels of the aquarium. For example, you will want a few bottom dwellers that live down on the gravel, swimming or schooling fish that will live in the middle of the tank, and perhaps a few surface feeders. This type of tank is the most common because it allows for the addition of a larger number of species. Because these tanks have more peaceful fish living together, it is usually a very relaxing to watch.

Recommended Fish

  • Corydoras catfish
  • Plecostomus
  • Neon tetra
  • Rasboras
  • Rosy tetra                
  • Swordtail
  • Australian rainbow fish
  • Hatchet fish
  • Cardinal tetra
  • Rosy barb

    Species Tank

    A species tank limits the hobbyist to a few fish that are representative of one species. The aquarium will need to be set up so the particular species of fish you choose will be most at home in a tank that represents its natural environment. You may need a tank that has a lot of rocky outcroppings and hiding places, or you may need a heavily planted area. It depends on the particular fish of your interest.         

    A few examples of a species tank would include:

  • Cichlid tank – Cichlids are numerous and range in behavior from peaceful to aggressive and territorial. Almost all prefer a rocky landscape with hiding places. Try Oscars, Jack Dempseys, firemouths and convicts as tankmates.

  • Live-bearing tank – Live bearers are fish that bear live young instead of laying eggs. They breed easily and produce large numbers of fry. Try a colorful mix of swordtails, platys, black mollies and guppies.

  • Discus – This unusual cichlid warrants entire books to their care feeding and breeding. Many hobbyists make these stunning fish a lifetime pursuit. Try green or Heckles discus if you want a challenge.

    Geographic Tank

    A geographic tank is selected based on your interest in the species from a certain geographical area. You might want to re-create the waterscape and species from an African lake, Southeast Asia or South America. These are locations where a lot of the commonly kept aquarium species originate. The idea is to display species and plants from one specific area. Consider these possible geographic tanks.

  • African lake (i.e. Malawi) – Zebra cichlid, golden tropheops, pseudotropheus species, tilapia.

  • South America – Plecostomus, neon tetras, x-ray fish, penguinfish, headstander, hatchetfish.

  • Southeast Asia – Pearl gouramis, dwarf gouramis, chocolate gouramis, paradise fish, betta (1 male per tank, several females).

    Remember: Any time you add fish to an aquarium, their compatibility depends on a number of factors. Water quality, reproductive behavior, tank size and number of inhabitants will influence the behavior and health of any aquarium community.

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