Wondering what the best fish for a 5-gallon tank are? This guide is for you!
A 5-gallon tank is ideal if you don’t have ample enough space in your home or office for a bigger tank. In addition, this tank can comfortably be home to single or multiple individuals of some fish species.
But, which are the ideal fish for this tank size? Knowing the right ones to pick can be daunting if you do not know where to begin.
You have a wide variety of fish that can comfortably live in a 5-gallon tank. These include the world-famous Betta, Guppies, Rosy Loach, Scarlet Badis, and the Honey Gourami. The good news is that before the end of this post, you’ll be spoilt for choice on the species that can do great in this kind of setting.
The trick is to choose fish that will keep the tank clean. Their habitat has to remain healthy for these little guys to live a happy, long life.
How Many Fish Can You Put in a 5-Gallon Tank?
Many experts opine that keeping 1 inch of fish per gallon of water is the way to go. If your fish grows to two inches, it should have at least 2 gallons of water.
So, for a 5-gallon tank, you can keep 2 two-inch fish or a 1 five-inch one. Apart from size, other factors come into play.
For example, can the fish you pair up live together? Some species of fish are too territorial to have tank mates. An excellent example of this is the male Betta.
Others are too sensitive and will be intimidated by the mere presence of another species.
You also have to consider the social needs of the species in mind. For example, some fish are schooling fish, and only thrive in the company of 4 or 5 other species members.
The number of fish you keep in a 5-gallon tank is also determined by their breeding tendencies. It’s hard to keep together male and female livebearers such as Mollies and Guppies in this setting.
This is because, before long, the tank will overflow with their offspring, and the living conditions will become untenable.
What Are the Best Fish for a 5-Gallon Tank?
#1 – Betta (Betta speldens)
This is fast becoming the most popular choice for this tank size. Unfortunately, Betta grows to 2 to 4 inches, meaning you can only keep one in this setting.
This highly aggressive species is a carnivore that lives for about 2 to 4 years. Betta’s ideal water temperature conditions are 25.50 C – 26.50 C (780 F – 800 F).
Betta fish shot to fame from their natural habitat in Japan and Thailand, where they are commonly referred to as the Japanese or Siamese fighting fish.
As the name suggests, this fish is ferocious. They are likely to fight any tank mate you house them with, including members of their own species.
But, on a positive note, these are arguably the most colorful and vibrant fish for this kind of setting.
A Betta in your tank will light up the room with its resplendent display of colors and outgoing personality.
The Betta species is a tough one. It tolerates a wide range of temperatures and pH levels than most other fish its size.
This means they will live quite comfortably in a 5-gallon tank setup. However, to make their lives long and happy, ensure that the tank is always in pristine condition.
Bettas are very sensitive to changes in water quality. Therefore, you have to constantly check to ensure the tank is clean, and that the water is free of waste and contaminants.
You’ll be happy feeding your Betta fish because they are not such picky eaters. Being carnivores, they eat live insects and insect larvae, frozen food, freeze-dried foods, and flakes.
#2 – Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)
This is a peaceful species that grows to 0.6 inches in length. This means you can comfortably keep up to three males or two females in a 5-gallon tank.
However, pairing a male with a female would be unwise, considering how fast this species breeds.
Guppies live for about 2 years, surviving on an omnivore diet. This species does well in water temperatures between 220 C and 280 C (720 F and 820 F).
The popularity of guppies for 5-gallon tanks has come about because they are peaceful and widespread.
You won’t have any problem sourcing for this species whenever you want one. Likely, you’ll easily get any number you want from your local or regional breeder.
Also, they will give you a hassle-free life; you won’t have to keep wondering whether they are bullying each other.
Because of their peaceful nature, it’s possible to pair Guppies with a number of other species with moderate to docile personalities.
Keeping guppies in your home makes life enjoyable, as you watch them actively playing in the aquarium. There’s never a dull moment with this fish around.
Like Bettas, Guppies come in several varieties distinguishable by size, shape, color, and tail fin. Some are rare, and can be quite expensive.
But, the good thing about choosing guppies is that there’s always something for everyone.
The downside about guppies is that they can breed really fast. As such, pairing a male and female in the same tank would not be a good idea.
Also, be wary of purchasing pregnant females.
Additionally, this species does well in a group – it is a shoaling species. Since you can’t keep 4 or 5 of them in a 5-gallon tank, the one or two you bring home will never be happy.
#3 – Dwarf Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)
This aggressive species lives for about 4 to 5 years, growing to about 0.98 inches long.
Although a 5-gallon tank can hold 4 or 5 of them, you should keep one because of their aggressive nature.
You can keep more than one dwarf puffer in the same tank only if you have studied the temperament of each separately.
Because of his nature, the dwarf puffer never gets along well with members of other species.
They prefer a meat-based diet to plants. They are particularly fond of frozen bloodworms and brine shrimp.
This further makes it harder to get suitable tank mates from other species for them, as most small fish are omnivores.
On the brighter side, however, you can trust the dwarf puffer to fill your home with color and radiance because of their colorful shiny coats and energetic personalities.
They are also quite explorative and enjoy moving around plants and other decorative items in the tank.
#4 – Mollies (Poecilia sphenops)
This peaceful omnivore lives for about 3 to 5 years, growing to 3 to 4 inches. So you can comfortably keep 1 or 2 of this species in a 5-gallon tank.
Mollies do well in water temperatures of 220 C and 280 C (720 F and 820 F). A good number of nano-fish thrive in this temperature range.
This makes it possible to pair up this species with another of a similar temperament, such as guppies.
Like guppies, mollies are livebearers. As such, it would be imprudent to put a male and a female in the same setup, as their offspring would soon strain the resources available.
For this reason, you need to be extra careful while purchasing female molies – they must be thoroughly examined for pregnancy.
There are wide varieties of this species you can choose from. However, each species has an outstanding quality – the color, shape, size, or fin type.
To spruce up things in your home even further, you can keep two mollies varieties in the same 5-gallon tank setup.
Each will bring a different personality that will enliven your life.
#5 – Rosy Loach (Tuberoschistura arakanensis)
These natives of Myanmar, Thailand grow to between 1.25 and 1.4 inches long. The females have a spotted pattern on their backs and sides, while the males are bright red or orange.
Rosy Loach thrives in groups. In larger tanks, you can keep up to 10 of them together. You can comfortably house 6 of them.
This species of fish will make your home lively as you see them darting in the lower and middle levels of the tank.
They also like flipping, fanning their fins, and displaying the breadth of their beauty.
One thing about the Rosy Loach is that it’s very sensitive to water quality. As such, ensure the water quality is top-notch before you bring them home.
Also, take regular water measurements to prevent the build-up of toxins and contaminants.
#6 – Celestial Pearl Danio (Danio margaritatus)
This peaceful species lives for about 4 years, growing to a length of 0.75 inches. This means you can keep up to 5 nano-fish in a 5-gallon tank.
The Celestial Pearl Danio does well in temperatures between 220 C and 260 C (720 F and 790 F). Also, this fish is an omnivore.
These factors (temperature and diet) make pairing a single Celestial Pearl Danio with other friendly species possible.
This species is gaining popularity in many homes and offices because of its lively attitude and attractive look.
The black scales with dark blue or white patterns make this fish look like a precious pearl in the 5-gallon tank.
Being a timid fish, the Celestial Pearl Danio should never be placed in the same setup as the aggressive types.
Additionally, this species does well in an aquarium that simulates its natural habitat. For example, they need to be put in a densely planted aquarium.
It may be difficult for you to balance their swimming space with the dense plant population in a 5-gallon tank.
What’s more, Celestial Pearl Danio is a shoaling species that enjoys living together in groups of 4’s or 5’s.
They may not be happy if you keep only one or two in a 5-gallon setup.
#7 – Scarlet Badis (Dario dario)
This species has a lifespan of about 4 years, in which they attain a length of 0.51 inches (females) and 0.79 inches (males).
You can easily distinguish between the genders because of their different sizes and vibrant colors, and prominent fins on the males.
The distinct look of the male makes it more popular. Hobbyists like seeing the bright colors and red and white stripes in their aquariums.
Scarlet Badis are generally peaceful. However, the males are known for being aggressive against other males.
Scarlet Badis thrive on a diet of live food, and have been known to eat snails and dwarf shrimp. As such, these are not appropriate tank mates for this species.
Because they are shy and slow, this species will likely be harassed by aggressive fish.
#8 – Harlequin Rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
This 2-inch, peaceful species grows to a ripe old age of 3 years. The Harlequin Rasbora thrives on all types of food a fish can eat.
This makes it reasonably easy to maintain this fish in your home. Furthermore, this hardy nano-fish can live in a wide range of temperatures, from 230 C to 280 C (730 F to 820 F).
This fish is much beloved because of its unique patterns and lively personality.
The moniker harlequins come from the unique black patterns on this fish’s back that look like black and red suits.
They are an ideal choice for a 5-gallon tank because they can tolerate changes in the water. All the same, you must do your best to maintain water cleanliness for the sake of a stable tank ecosystem.
It is easy to pair up a Harlequin Rasbora with another fish with similar qualities. However, this species is happiest when you put them in groups of up to 7.
You may be unable to put 7 of them in a 5-gallon tank because it is simply not tenable. However, 5 of Harlequin Rasboras will comfortably live in this setup.
If you choose to keep a school of 5 Harlequin Rasboras, you’ll need to create special conditions in the tank.
For example, you need unique plants and a filtration system. This could be daunting for a beginner, but not too complicated for an experienced aquarist.
#9 – Honey Gourami (Trichogaster chuna)
This native of India and Bangladesh can live and grow to 2.2 inches. So you can keep one or two of them in a 5-gallon tank.
Either way, the Honey Gourami will be happy. Since they are not schooling fish, they don’t have to be in pairs or groups to thrive.
Both the male and the female have docile personalities. As such, they can make great tank mates for other nano-fish with a similar disposition.
The male Honey Gourami is more colorful and outgoing than the female. He has an orange coloration around the throat area, which becomes more radiant during the courting period.
This is his foremost courting tool, which he uses to woo potential mates.
Pick a suitable tank mate for this species because they get anxious easily. Also, give them easy access to surface water since they are air-breathing labyrinth species.
#10 – White Cloud Minnow (Tanichthys albonubes)
This nano-fish lives for about 4 years, a period in which it grows to 1.5 inches in length. You can keep about 4 of these cute pets in a 5-gallon tank.
The White Cloud has unique water temperature needs of 140 C to 220 C (580 F to 720 F). This makes it difficult to find a suitable tank make for this fish.
However, this species is peaceful and likable. If you can find another fish that can thrive in these temperatures, you won’t have trouble keeping them together.
They do particularly well with other small fish species, such as Mollies, Guppies, and Bloodfin Tetras.
For their safety and comfort, do not put White Cloud Minnows with aggressive or large fish.
More and more White Cloud Minnows are finding their way into home-based aquariums because of their lively personalities and active nature.
They are hardy and versatile, making this nano-fish ideal even for a beginner aquarist.
One thing you have to constantly check on is the tank’s cleanliness. Unfortunately, the White Cloud Minnow has a low tolerance for poor tank conditions, such as contaminants and usually high carbon dioxide levels.
#11 – Great Neon Tetra (Paracheidron simulans)
This South American native lives for about 3 years. It is a great addition to your 5-gallon tank for its versatility.
Its tiny size means you can keep 5 or 6 of them in a 5—gallon tank.
This species is closely related to the two other members of his genus: the Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi) and the Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi).
However, the Green Neon Tetra is harder to find than the other two. It can survive in blackwater – freshwater blackened by dead leaves and barks of trees.
This hardy species makes it ideal for a first-time nano-fish keeper. All the same, it’s important that you provide them with a good tank setup (with proper conditions) and a good diet.
This fish enjoys living in an aquarium with adequate plant cover and enough hiding places.
#12 – Endler’s Livebearers (Poecilia wingei)
This nano-fish can live for up to 5 years and attain a maximum length of 1.25 inches. Its small size suggests you can keep about 5 of them in a 5-gallon tank.
Keep the conditions in the tank at temperatures between 240C to 290 C (750 F to 850 F). Also, ensure that this tiny fish pet is well supplied with a rich omnivorous diet.
Ender’s Livebearers have often been mistaken for Guppies. Although these two fishes look alike in many aspects, they are different species.
They have the same coloration and features as Guppies. However, Endler’s Livebearers are about 0.5 inches shorter than Guppies, which grow to a maximum of 2 inches in length.
Although both Endler’s Livebearers and Guppies have the same silver coloration and shiny scales, Guppies’ scales are broader and flatter.
Also, the scales on Endler’s Livebearers are more iridescent.
#13 – Pygmy Corydoras (Corydoras pygmaeus)
This little pet fish has a lifespan of 3 years and can grow to a length of 0.75 inches (males) and 1 inch for females.
Besides being longer than the males, the females are rounder and plumper – especially when gravid.
You can keep up to 5 of these species in a 5-gallon tank with a water temperature between 230 C and 260 C (730 F to 790 F).
The Dwarf Corydoras (as this species is sometimes called) is an omnivore that can live with a wide range of other nano-fish.
Because this species is a bottom dweller and swimmer, the most appropriate tank mates are either top or middle swimmers.
This way, the entire breadth and length of the 5-gallon tank is well-utilized.
The most beautiful thing about Pygmy Corydoras is their white and black metallic stripes that run their body length.
You don’t have to look too hard to see these stripes shimmer as the fish lies or swims contentedly at the bottom of the tank.
Feed him well with greens and flesh to keep this pet fish happy. Also, ensure the tank is well-covered in dense foliage.
This is a schooling fish and prefers to be kept with other species members.
#14 – Least Killifish (Heterandria Formosa)
This cute nano-fish lives for about 3 years, growing to 2 inches long. You can keep about 3 of these pets in a 5-gallon tank.
Because of its peaceful nature, the Least Killifish won’t have any trouble accommodating other small fish of his disposition.
Maintain a water temperature of 200 C to 270 C (600 F to 800 F) to make this little friend happy and healthy.
This temperature range gives you a lot of room: it covers a wide array of other species you can choose for a suitable tank mate.
The pleasant personality exuded by this fish and its vibrant character makes it a welcome addition to any aquarium.
Beginner hobbyists will be happy to note that this is a hardy fish that doesn’t require much special care.
This little fellow is good to go as long as the tank conditions are good and the diet is proper.
The Least Killifish is a livebearer – in the same category as Mollies, Guppies, and Ender’s Livebearer. Care should be taken, therefore, not to put males and females in the same tank.
The offspring would soon make the conditions in a 5-gallon tank untenable.
Additionally, don’t bring two or more males of this species in the same tank. Males fight like crazy as they try to establish dominance in the tank.
#15 – Sparkling Gourami (Trichopsis pumila)
This aggressive nano-fish grows to 1.5 inches in length when it reaches the ripe old age of 3 years.
You can comfortably house 3 Sparkling Gourami in a 5-gallon setup. However, keeping any two males together would be a big gamble considering their aggressive nature.
So, the best arrangement would be to have one male and two females to keep him occupied.
The water temperature should be maintained at 240 C to 270 C (760 F to 820 F). This pet prefers to stay in a heavily planted tank.
This means you should be ready to care for the fish and the plants if you want to keep this species.
Since this species can be quite delicate, constantly monitor the tank parameters.
The Sparkling Gourami will reward you with its beautiful and unique coloration. The scales on this fish shine iridescently when they pass under direct light.
This is why they got the sparkling moniker from: their shimmering scales.
Before you introduce tank mates from other species, find out if they are compatible with the Sparkling Gourami.
This pet fish lives well with docile, non-aggressive tank mates.
#16 – Licorice Gourami (Parosphromenus deissneri)
This nano-fish grows to about 1.5 inches long, although you can find some as big as 1.8 inches. It is ideal for living in a 5-gallon tank because of its short length.
This docile freshwater nano-fish will do very well in the company of other small fish, as long as he’s given the right tank mates.
Avoid housing this native with larger or aggressive-type fishes. Otherwise, the Licorice Gourami will be stressed and likely cooped up in hiding most of the time.
Although the Licorice Gourami is generally shy, the males may turn aggressive if housed together.
As such, you need to verify the personality and temperament of the males you want to house together before you do so.
Many hobbyists prefer males because of their colorful and outgoing personality. In addition, it features a stylish fin that spots blue and white colors.
The females are more modest, but are equally important, especially for breeding purposes.
The Licorice Gourami does well in a tank with many plants covered in dim light. You should also consider that this species is a labyrinth breather. It needs access to surface air for oxygen intake.
What Are the Best Fish Combinations for a 5-Gallon Tank?
The number of fish you can keep in a 5-gallon tank simultaneously depends on a number of factors.
For example, are the species compatible, and can they live together?
Also, are the combinations you have in mind used to living in small spaces? If they are, you’ll have no problem combining them.
Also, you have to look at the behavior of each fish you want to bring on board.
While some fishes are clean and will do well in a 5-gallon space, others will dirty the environment, and the tank conditions will plummet. Therefore, the bio-load of each fish is an important consideration here.
You also have to factor in their feeding needs. For example, some species are purely carnivorous, while others are omnivorous.
The omnivore’s diet may have serious health ramifications on the carnivore if the two are put together.
Equally important, you should consider where each species spends time in the tank. There are three types of species to consider here:
- Top-level swimmers and feeders
These ones do most of their activities close to the surface.
- Middle-level swimmers and feeders
These hunt and operate in the middle of the tank.
- Bottom dwellers
These are found at the bottom of the tank, where they forage for food and spend their time.
It would be prudent to put in combinations that cater to all three levels. This way, you’ll maximize the space available in the 5-gallon tank.
At the same time, you’ll prevent aggressive competition for food, space, and other resources.
Fish You Should Not Keep in a 5-Gallon Tank.
Not all fish species can thrive in a 5-gallon tank. Getting the right residents for an aquarium of this size is a delicate balancing act.
This is more so if you keep more than one species simultaneously.
So, what type of fish should you NOT keep in this setup?
Unless you are an experienced aquarist, avoid fish that respond negatively to the slightest fluctuations in tank conditions.
Changes will have to take place from time to time – some planned and some not. So you need a species strong enough to take such changes in its stride.
Schooling or shoaling fishes are not the best suited for a 5-gallon tank because of their active natures.
These fishes are very playful, moving around the tank at great speed as they interact with their schoolmates.
Again, because of their skill and great mastery of this hobby, expert aquarists can handle some of the schooling species we have included in our list above.
However, if you are a beginner, you should avoid this type of fish as they may overwhelm you.
A 5-gallon tank can hold so much and no more. Are you thinking of a species that can grow too big for this tank? It would be wrong to put it in this space.
Some fishes are quite tiny when they are young. But they keep growing and growing, and before you know it, they have outgrown the 5-gallon tank.
To make matters worse, most large species tend to be active swimmers. As a result, they need more space to be happy and healthy.
Although it is a territorial species, betta fish are known to do well in a 5—gallon tank. Unfortunately, not all territorial fish are endowed with this gift.
It would take the mastery of a skilled aquarist to house a territorial fish in this space. So don’t keep these fish in a 5-gallon tank unless you have special skills in this field.
Most territorial species readily fight to the death, trying to assert their superiority. As such, they need larger spaces to thrive.
A 5-gallon tank is too small a space to introduce species considered dirty. For example, compared to Bettas, Goldfish have a higher bio-load. It is a messy fish, so to speak.
So, apart from its obviously large size, the goldfish should be excluded from a 5-gallon tank because of its uncleanliness.
Understandably, you’d want a 5-gallon tank instead of a bigger one. Perhaps, you don’t have the space in your home to accommodate anything bigger.
Or, it could be you want your kids to get started on the journey of responsibly by interacting with small aquatic animals.
Whatever the case, you need to think critically about the kind of fish to go into that 5-gallon tank.
We hope our list will get you started as you make your choices. We have included a good number of the little guys we know would do well in that space.