When talking about “exotic fish,” most aquarists think of saltwater species such as clownfish or blue tangs. After all, many saltwater fish come with a magnificent array of varied colors, patterns and personalities. But you may be surprised to learn that there are a host of exotic freshwater fish that are perfect for your aquarium.
These colorful and unique fish are often found in the waters of South America, Africa and Asia, and they provide your aquarium with the vibrant touch it needs. If you want to start keeping exotic freshwater fish, here are 7 great options to choose from!
Petland Texas image of a purple/blue discus fish in a freshwater aquarium.
Native to the Amazon River delta, the discus is a calm and beautiful fish that is easily recognizable by its slender, disc-shaped body. Thanks to years of captivity, this species comes in a wide variety of gorgeous colors and patterns: they are a delight to behold in any aquarium! Most discus have yellow or red eyes and remarkable dorsal fins.
Although relatively easy to care for, discus are more delicate than other freshwater species, so they are usually recommended for experienced aquarists. Their typical diet may consist of algae flakes, tropical flakes or shrimp pellets. These little swimmers love to feed on the bottom of the aquarium, which can make feeding time a challenge.
Discus are very peaceful and can get along well with other freshwater fish, but do best with other members of their species. Be sure to keep any aggressive fish or bottom dwellers away from your tank.
2. Wolf Cichlid
Flashy and bold, the wolf cichlid is an intelligent freshwater fish known for its territorial personality. They should be kept in a 200-gallon tank to give them plenty of room to move around. You may notice that these swimmers are very attractive. This is because their colors range from silver to gold, with blue, black, green and even purple scales.
Wolf cichlids do not like to share the limelight with other aquarium companions. They can be aggressive with any freshwater fish that is not their own species. It’s also not a good idea to add live plants to an aquarium with a wolf cichlid. Why? Well, their favorite hobby is digging, and they won’t hesitate to pull up a plant.
These fish are perfect for a hobbyist with years of experience. Wolf cichlids are very intelligent and can easily learn and bond with their owners. Their diet should consist of insects, mosquito larvae and small crustaceans. If you are consistent with care, you can expect to have a long-lasting fish friend for a few decades.
3. Flowerhorn cichlid
Petland Texas photo of the Flowerhorn Cichlid Cichlid fish in a freshwater aquarium.
The Flowerhorn Cichlid is one of the most unique and beautiful freshwater fish out there. They are immediately notable for the bizarre, horn-like growth on the top of the head and the vibrant color pattern.
Their beauty is also accompanied by their wonderful personality. Flowerhorn cichlids are known to be interactive, intelligent and curious. They love to bond with their owners; some even enjoy being petted!
Flowerhorn cichlids come in a variety of colors and patterns that add a vibrant splash of color to your aquarium. Their “horn,” however, is always bright red. Unfortunately, these fish seem to know they are beautiful and so they hate to share their owner’s love with other tank mates. Flowerhorns prefer members of their own species and show aggression towards other freshwater fish.
They require an aquarium of at least 75 gallons. If you plan to have them share a tank with other Flowerhorns, the aquarium should be at least 200 gallons or larger. They should also be fed crickets, mealworms and frozen shrimp.
4. Dwarf Pufferfish
Petland Texas image of a dwarf pufferfish swimming in a freshwater tank.
The Dwarf Puffer is a rather adorable little fish that is easy for beginning aquarists to keep. Only reaching 1 to 2.5 inches in length, Dwarf Puffers only need a 10-gallon tank to be happy and healthy. They also love to eat shrimp, bloodworms and snails. Their usual colors are greenish brown with a yellowish white belly. They also have a great chameleon-like ability to move their eyes independently of their body.
Despite their friendly appearance, dwarf pufferfish are not friendly with other fish. They are charming to their owners, but their bold personalities can cause them to intimidate their tankmates. They tend to get along well with other members of their species.
It is important to keep ammonia levels low in an aquarium, as it can be deadly to dwarf pufferfish. Tanks should also be cleaned regularly so that these little fish can live a long and happy life!
5. Zebra Plecos
Petland Texas image of Plecos zebra fish swimming on the bottom of a freshwater aquarium.
Another great fish species for beginners, the Zebra Plecos is best known for its black and white color pattern. It is native to the Amazon River, where it prefers to live in small caves and among rocks. Your aquarium should have good hiding places, such as rocks and other decorative features, to accommodate the living preferences of your Zebra Plecos.
Zebra Plecos should also be kept in a tank that is at least 30 gallons, warm and rich in oxygen. They are nocturnal and enjoy being around other members of their own species.
6. Black Phantom Knifefish
Petland Texas image of black ghost knifefish in a freshwater aquarium.
Because of its adaptation to low light environments, the Black Ghost Knifefish is a freshwater fish with a unique appearance. It does not have scales like other freshwater species. Instead, they possess a black “skin” and a narrow, knife-shaped body (hence the name). Their tolerance for low-light environments has given them the ability to use electromagnetic fields for navigation – similar to eels!
Like zebra plecos, black ghost knifefish like to have a good place to hide. These swimmers have incredibly shy personalities and tend to come out of hiding at night. Therefore, it is important that the tank housing these fish has enough decoration to serve as a hiding place for them.
Knifefish also do best in tanks of at least 150 gallons (or more, depending on the number of tank mates). They love to eat a variety of foods, especially live worms, meat and freshwater flakes. Their peaceful and shy personalities make them good companions for other freshwater fish, but they can be prone to disease. You should also make sure your tank is kept clean and regulated daily.
7. African freshwater butterflyfish.
Petland Texas image of an African freshwater butterflyfish swimming in an aquarium.
The African freshwater butterflyfish, long native to the rivers of Africa, is a slow moving fish with a unique history. The morphology of this species has not changed for over 100 million years, making it one of the oldest fish species on this list.
These beautiful fish look like butterflies when viewed from a distance. Their long ventral, caudal and dorsal fins give them the illusion of wings. Their mouths are also shaped like frowns to help them catch small fish and insects. Most butterflyfish have a dark brown color with a mottled pattern that helps them blend in with plants.
These fish can live in fish communities, but it is not a good idea to keep them with smaller fish. Instead, keep them with other butterflyfish and feed them regularly with brine shrimp, insects and frozen foods to keep them happy.
Not all exotic fish require extensive or thorough aquarium care, although most of the species listed do need some attention. Keep in mind that most exotic fish are more expensive than regular goldfish due to their rarity. They may also have specific dietary tastes, especially if they are aggressive species. If you’re ready to dive into the unique world of exotic fish, we hope one of our choices is the perfect match for your aquarium!