Best Schooling Fish For Beginners (Some Surprises!)

Schooling fish moving from one side of the tank to the other in unison can look truly stunning. How that many fish all seem to know when the others are going to move can seem mysterious. However they do it, a school of fish can really compliment a well-stocked community tank. There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a large group of fish swimming from left to right, and then back again.

Eating Daphnia
Eating Daphnia

One of my favorite aquariums in my fish room is a 180 gallon (680 liters) tank with 200 Rummy Nose Tetras in it. They school back and forth all day long. Rummy Nose Tetras are one of the tightest schooling fish in the freshwater hobby.

What Is The Difference Between SHOALING And SCHOOLING?

A shoal can be a mix of creatures in the aquarium. When fish, shrimp, or other aquatic animals swim together, usually just in a loose cluster, they are referred to as a shoal.

A school is a collection of fish, all strictly the same species. The group moves, twists, and turns in unison. They act almost as one entity. One of the main reasons fish school is to avoid and confuse predators. They correctly believe there is safety in numbers.



What Makes A Schooling Fish Suitable For Beginners?

There are many species of fish that will school in the home aquarium, but just being a schooling fish doesn’t mean a fish is suitable for beginners. To decide which fish should be on a list of schooling fish for beginners I considered the following factors:

  • Ease of Care
  • Space requirements
  • Temperament
  • Feeding requirements

The list of ‘best schooling fish for beginners’ below contains a large number of Tetras, Rasboras, and Danios. This is no surprise. These species are so often great for the new aquarist generally. There are also some other species that you wouldn’t associate with as a schooling fish.

I have aquariums in my fish room that contain all of the species below. Just because they may be considered suitable for beginners doesn’t mean the more experienced aquarist shouldn’t enjoy them too.



Best School Fish For Beginners List

  • Rummy Nose Tetra
  • Silver Tip Tetra
  • Harlequin Rasbora
  • Pygmy Corydoras
  • Ember Tetra

Rummy Nose Tetra

The Rummy Nose Tetra is possibly my favorite schooling fish by a long way. Rummy nose tetras are probably the tightest schooling fish in the hobby. They swim from side to side with their bright red noses all facing the same direction.

I currently have a 40 gallon aquarium with 60 Rummy Nose Tetras in it. The aquarium is just a pleasure to watch. Rummy’s are easy to feed and have a very relaxed temperament.

An interesting fact about Rummy Nose Tetras is they are often described as the ‘canary in the mine’. If their nose is bright red, it usually means they are happy and life is good. When they aren’t happy the red color just washes out their noses and they go very pale. The loss of their red nose is a great early indicator something in the aquarium is wrong.

Silver Tip Tetra

Silver Tip Tetras are small fish with huge energy levels. This docile community fish grows to around 2 inches long and has bright white to silver-colored tips to the end of their tails. The rest of the Silver Tip Tetras body coloration is a subtle yellow to orange color with males being brighter than females.

If you want to show your fish-keeping skills off to your friends and family, get yourself a large school of Silver Tip Tetras. If you have 50 or 60 of them in an aquarium, they will not only school tightly, but you can also make them move from one side of the aquarium to the other by moving your fingers across the front of the tank.

More on Silver Tip Tetras in Silver Tip Tetra Ultimate Care Guide.

Harlequin Rasbora

Harlequin Rasboras are one of the most widely kept community fish in the hobby and are another very peaceful fish which schools nicely. Harlequin Rasbora will school in groups of 6 or more, which makes them ideal if you have a small aquarium, but you still want the effect of a schooling fish.

Harlequin Rasboras fit well into any community setup. It is no coincidence that they are one of the most popular community fish in the world. They are not fussy feeders and they won’t cause any disruption in your tank.

Pygmy Corydoras

Just take one look at these little catfish and it is easy to see where the common name, Pygmy Corydoras comes from. The Pygmy Corydoras only reaches about 1.2 inches long and is another super peaceful species.

Their small size means you can pack them into a small aquarium, giving you a great schooling effect on a small scale.

Unlike some other members of the corydoras family, Pygmy Corydoras don’t just stick to the bottom of the tank, they will school even in the mid-water. If you want a slightly different schooling fish to everyone else, try the Pygmy Corydoras.

More on Pygmy Corydoras in my Pygmy Corydoras Ultimate Care Guide.

Ember Tetras

Ember Tetras are probably the smallest of the Tetra species that are commonly kept in aquariums. They only reach around 0.8 inches long, but they pack an amazing amount of color for such a small fish.

The Ember Tetras bright red coloration will just pop against the bright greens of a planted tank. If you are looking to set up a nano tank but still want the schooling look, seriously consider Ember Tetras.

For such a small fish, Ember Tetras are very hardy. Keep their water clean and feed them well and you will have a tank you can enjoy for years. I’ve had my Embers for 4 Years and they still look amazing.

In Conclusion

There is no doubt a large group of schooling fish will never fail to impress. I would happily give up a night in front of the TV for a night sitting watching hundreds of fish schooling together for hours on end. Choose the fish wisely and make sure you purchase enough to achieve a schooling effect and you will not be disappointed.


About the Author

I’ve been keeping, breeding, and showing tropical fish for nearly 30 years. Over that time I’ve done it all! I’ve had great success and I’ve made some really foolish mistakes (like the time I bought an Asain Walking Catfish). Read more…
Richard James
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