14 Exotic Freshwater Fish for Your Aquarium

Alison Page

Alison Page

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Exotic Freshwater Fish

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Your home fish tank is suitable for so much more than tetras and goldfish! There are many gorgeous, exotic freshwater fish you can keep in your aquarium that are bound to fascinate and impress visitors to your home.

Read this guide to discover some beautiful exotic freshwater fish you can keep in your home tank.

Discus (Symphysodon discus)

Discus
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Generally peaceful
  • Lifespan: up to 10 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 75 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 82° to 86° F, pH range 6.0 to 7.0, water hardness 1 to 4 dKH

Discus are magnificent exotic fish that can reach up to 8″ in diameter when fully grown. A shoal of these majestic fish makes an impressive display as they cruise slowly around the aquarium.

These omnivorous fish originate from the lakes and flooded forest habitats of the lowland Amazon River basin and some of its tributaries, such as the Rio Negro. The fish live in huge schools known locally as “galhadas,” preferring quiet, still water areas.

There are three to five species in the Symphysodon genus, with the Blue discus (Symphysodon aequifasciatus) and Red discus (Symphysodon discus) being the most popular in the hobby.

Wolf Cichlid (Parachromis dovii)

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Highly aggressive
  • Lifespan: up to 30 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 125 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 75° to 82° F, pH range 6.0 to 8.0, water hardness 5 to 20 dGH

The Wolf cichlid is an aggressive, predatory carnivore that can grow to a maximum size of 28 inches. You’ll need a giant aquarium with plenty of swimming space to keep one of these impressive giants.

You can’t keep this cichlid species in a community tank. Even other large, aggressive species will be attacked and killed if they encroach on the Wolf’s territory. With their massive, powerful jaws full of razor-sharp teeth, the Wolf cichlid is definitely not to be messed with!

Flowerhorn Cichlid (Paraneetroplus synspilus)

Flowerhorn Cichlid
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Territorial and aggressive
  • Life Expectancy: up to 12 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 125 gallons for a pair of Flowerhorns
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 80° to 89° F, pH range 6.5 to 7.8, water hardness 9 to 20 dGH

Flowerhorn cichlids are not found in the wild environment, except in a few areas where the fish have been released after outgrowing their tanks. These exotic carnivorous fish are an artificial hybrid created by man. 

These beautiful, weird-looking fish are supposed to bring their owners good Feng Shui, luck, and fortune to their owners and can even influence health, wealth, and relationships. Whether that’s true or not, the exotic Flowerhorn can certainly bring a touch of unique beauty to your home aquarium.

Zebra Pleco (Hypancistrus zebra)

Zebra Pleco
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Temperament: Shy, nocturnal
  • Life Expectancy: Between 10 and 15 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 79° to 88° F, pH range 6.5 to 7.0, water hardness 2 to 6 dKH

The Zebra pleco comes from Brazil’s Xingu River’s Big Bend area, where the fish was discovered in 1990.  

As you can guess from their name, the bottom-dwelling Zebra pleco is black and white striped. These beautiful fish are expensive to buy and are not easy to care for, making these exotic fish best suited to experienced aquarists.

The fish are nocturnal, living in deep, fast-moving, highly-oxygenated fresh water with hiding spots among fallen trees and rocks. So, it is challenging to replicate the natural habitat the fish need in the home tank.

Thanks to the recent construction of the hydroelectric Belo Monte Dam at the northern end of the Xingú River, the water current has slowed, dramatically changing the plecos’ habitat. Because of that, the Zebra pleco is currently listed as endangered, and its export is now banned.

Dwarf Pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus)

Dwarf Pufferfish
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Aggressive, territorial
  • Lifespan: up to 10 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 72° to 82° F, pH range 7.5 to 8.3, water hardness 8 to 15 dGH

Dwarf or Pea pufferfish are tiny, growing to only one inch in length. However, these carnivores are feisty and aggressive fish that can chase away and even kill tank mates much larger than them in territorial disputes. Therefore, we can’t recommend the Dwarf puffer fish for a community tank. 

These exotic fish originate from the Malabar region of southwest India, where they live in slow-moving waters. Unfortunately, dwarf pufferfish are now classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to overfishing for the aquarium trade and deforestation.

Black Ghost Knifefish (Apteronotus albifrons)

Black Ghost Knifefish
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: around 15 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 100 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 73° to 82° F, pH range 6.0 to 8.0, water hardness 5 to 19 dGH.

Although they are exclusively carnivorous, the Black Ghost knifefish is a peaceful fish that takes its name from certain Amazonian tribes who believe that the souls of the departed inhabit the fish. Their natural habitat is the murky waters of the jungle rivers.

These fish can make an excellent choice for a very spacious community tank that can cope with their massive 20-inch length.

Freshwater African Butterflyfish (Pantodon buchholzi)

Freshwater African Butterflyfish
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Lifespan: around five years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Water parameters: Temperature 75° to 86° F, pH range 6.9 to 7.1, water hardness 1 to 10 dKH, Temperature 75° to 86° F

African Butterfly fish are aggressive carnivores that have the awesome ability to jump and even glide over short distances!

African Butterfly fish come from the swamps, lakes, and freshwater streams of West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Chad, Niger, and the Republic of Congo, among others.

These fish are stealth hunters who spend most of their time hanging at the water surface looking for prey—the fish hide beneath the cover provided by dense submerged or overhanging vegetation.

Arowana (Scleropages formosus)

Arowana
  • Care Level: Moderate
  • Temperament: Aggressive, territorial
  • Lifespan: Up to 50 years!
  • Minimum Tank Size: 250 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 75° to 82° F, pH range 6.5 to 7.5, 

The prehistoric-looking carnivorous Arowana fish grows to four feet in length and is aggressively territorial. So, if you want to keep one of these fish, you will need a huge tank with a great deal of space for just one specimen.

Arowana, or Dragonfish, as they are also known, are said to bring good fortune to their owners. Given that the fish can survive for up to 50 years with proper care, that’s a lot of good luck!

Elephantnose Fish (Gnathonemus petersii)

Elephantnose Fish
  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Generally peaceful
  • Lifespan: From 6 to 10 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 73° to 82° F, pH range 6.5 to 7.2, water hardness 0 to 10 dKH

The Elephantnose fish is probably the weirdest exotic fish you’ll find in your fish store! They are known by several popular common names, including Long-Nosed Elephant Fish, Ubangi mormyrid, Elephant Fish, and Peters’ Elephant Nose Fish. 

Elephantnose fish are carnivores that inhabit several African rivers, including the Chari River, Niger River, and Ogun River.

The waters here are murky, and the visibility is poor, primarily due to the debris and sandy riverbed, but the current here is also slow. The fish use their peculiar “trunk” or Schnauzenorgan to navigate through the water and find food.

These fish are extremely fussy regarding water parameters, so we don’t recommend this species for beginners.

Snakehead Fish (Channa lucius)

Snakehead Fish
  • Care Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Aggressive
  • Lifespan: Around 10 to 15 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 150 gallons
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 75° to 82° F, pH range 5.0 to 6.5, water hardness up to 8 dGH

Snakeheads are incredible fish that can even survive out of the water if they stay wet! For that reason, you need a tank with a tightly fitted lid if you plan on keeping one of these aggressive fish.

The fish are found in many locations, including Iran, Afghanistan, China, Siberia, Senegal, and the Congo River drainage in Africa.

Snakeheads can live for up to four days out of the water and migrate for up to ¼ mile on wet soil, using their fins and bodies to wriggle across the ground.

Rope Fish (Erpetoichthys calabaricus)

Rope Fish
  • Care Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: From 15 to 20 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 45 gallons
  • Water Parameters: Temperature 72° to 82° F, pH range 6.8 to 8.0, water hardness up to 20 dGH

Rope fish are a peaceful species that use their excellent sense of smell to find food, squirming across the sandy substrate like tiny snakes. These fascinating creatures can also sidewind through the water column.

These nocturnal fish evolved millions of years ago. Although you need a large tank with plenty of space to accommodate their length, Ropefish are compatible with many different fish species and their own kind.

Ropefish can tolerate fresh and brackish water conditions in the wild environment, so the possibilities for your aquarium are endless!

Chinese Hillstream Loach (Beaufortia kweichowensis)

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: Up to 8 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 45 gallons
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 68° to 75° F, pH range 6.0 to 5.8, water hardness up to 15 dGH

Chinese Hillstream loaches are peaceful herbivores, spending most of their time swimming on the river or creek bottom of their habitat. 

Reticulated Hillstream loaches, as they’re also known, live in fast-moving mountain streams throughout Asia and India. When the fish are frightened, they change to a lighter color and lose their spots. When riled, the fish also lightens but develops a dark line along its back and around the edges of the fins.

Vampire Tetra (Hydrolycus scomberoides)

Vampire Tetra
  • Care Level: Advanced
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: 6 months to 2 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 500 gallons
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 75° to 82° F, pH range 6.0 to 8.0, water hardness 2 to 25 dGH

Vampire or Payara tetras are typically only seen in large public aquariums. At four feet in length, these fish need lots of space and are much too big for the average home fish tank.

Although they are peaceful omnivores, this species of fish looks pretty intimidating. Their upturned mouths are packed with razor-sharp teeth, and they have two terrifying fangs that can reach four to six inches long!

Izumo Nankin Goldfish (Carassius auratus)

  • Care Level: Intermediate
  • Temperament: Peaceful
  • Lifespan: From 10 to 15 years
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Water Conditions: Temperature 60° to 80° F, pH range 7.0 to 8.0, water hardness of 0 to 25 dGH

The tiny goldfish you see for sale in your local fish store or pet shop might not appear to be especially exotic. However, the Izumo Nankin goldfish is both rare and beautiful.

This fancy goldfish is only available in Japan, where the fish are highly sought after and popular. Generally, Japanese fish breeders do not export their fish outside of Japan to preserve the quality of the fish and the purity of the gene pool.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our exotic freshwater fish list that you can keep in your home freshwater tank? If you found the article interesting and helpful, please share it!

Although we’ve included some rare and expensive exotic fish species in our list, plenty of others are readily available at affordable prices for most hobbyists, including beginners.

What exotic fish do you have in your collection? Did you choose any of the fish we mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them! Tell us about your fish in the comments box below.

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