Best 15 Exotic and Cool Freshwater Aquarium Fish

When you look at the shallow freshwater rivers of Africa, South America, and Asia, you may not think of the word “exotic.”

After all, most “exotic” fish are deep-sea creatures with strange patterns and additional attachments.

Therefore, you may be surprised to learn that the slow-moving waters of the Amazon and other shallow tributaries are home to some of the most exotic freshwater fish, many of which you can present in your own aquarium, like Freshwater Aquarium Shrimp, Eels, Sharks, Crabs.

A common mistake that most people have about aquariums is that you need a saltwater tank if you want colorful and beautiful fish. Could not be farther from the truth!

There are plenty of fresh and exotic freshwater aquarium fish that can take your tank to the next level.

Additionally, freshwater tanks are slightly easier to maintain, cost much less to maintain, and fish are more difficult and easier to maintain.

If you are looking for fresh fish to add to your freshwater aquarium, take a look at some of our tips.

The 15 best Exotic and Cool Freshwater Aquarium Fish

1. Bettas

Bettas are a pretty popular fish primarily because they’re so exotic looking. There are at least 14 different varieties of bettas, each with a different tail shape.

They are all available in a range of bright, beautiful colors and patterns and are a lot of fun to watch.

One important thing to note about bettas is they don’t really get along with other fish.

You should never keep more than one male betta in a tank and be very careful about choosing other tankmates. Bettas are generally pretty easy to care for and are a pretty hardy fish.

2. Arowana

Arowana’s semi-aggressive fish are powerful swimmers built for their native Amazon river in South America. These graceful silver fish are carnivorous, streamlined predators that can grow up to 4 feet long if given enough space. Their muscular bodies feature unique “drawbridge” mouths and small rear flippers. They are probably best known for their tendency to “hunt” by jumping out of the water for short periods of time and hunting animals in the low branches of trees. The combination of their size and behavioral trends makes them perfect for very seasoned hobbyists looking for a distinctive and exotic fish to add to their collection – arowanas are not ideal for beginners!

Arowanas are used to having a wide range in low light, to mimic their natural Amazon River environment. They need a lot of space, and even with a large enough tank they will tend to jump and panic in changing conditions. It is also important to note that arowanas may not pair well with other fish as tankmates; They are predators and will eat most fish smaller than themselves, and due to their semi-aggressive nature, they are not the easiest to pair with tankmates. Some fish to consider may be angelfish, catfish, Plecostomus, Oscar, and cichlids, but there is no guarantee of maintaining a peaceful tank with arowanas if the individual fish do not get along. Despite these challenges, arowanas are rewarding and unique fish to keep and are considered by some to be the “crown jewel” of an exotic collection of freshwater aficionados.

3. Neon Tetra

Neon tetras may be small, but they make up for bright, eye-catching splashes of color.

They have a light blue stripe that runs across the sides from tip to tail. Under the stripe is a white, silvery belly and a red stripe on the tail.

These fish are a great addition to any community tank. They are generally robust and tolerate water changes fairly well.

If you decide to add something to your tank, keep in mind that this is a school fish that prefers to live in groups of five or more people.

4. Discus

Diskus is native to the Amazon Delta, but generally seeks calmer waters near the riverbank among fallen branches and trees. Due to captive breeding, there are a variety of colors and patterns, but the disc has a flattened disc-shaped body with large dorsal fins and red or yellow eyes. They are beautiful fish, but their maintenance is a little more complicated than that of some harder fish. Therefore, they are recommended to fans with a little more experience.

The disk is another exotic freshwater fish that can be kept with other fish, but is best kept in a tank of its own kind. Caring for them can be difficult if they cannot feed from the bottom of the tank due to the presence of bottom inhabitants, or if they are intimidated by aggressive fish or fin fins. Advanced hobbyists may want to keep Discus in a community tank, but beginners should only accommodate Discus with other Discus in a tank over 75 gallons.

5. Killifish

Killifish are some of the prettiest freshwater fish out there but are a little hard to keep.

They’re recommended for people with a little bit of experience with aquariums because they’re quite sensitive to water quality.

Male killifish can be aggressive with one another so limiting the number of males you have is a good idea.

You should also provide plenty of hiding spaces in a tank with killifish. These fish are amazing jumpers so keep a lid on your tank at all times.

6. Zebra Plecostomus (Zebra pleco)

Like other exotic freshwater fish, zebra plecostomus are native to tributaries of the Amazon. This pleco is a variety of catfish that live on the ground and which, you guessed it, are patterned with black and white stripes like a zebra. The Zebra-Pleco is recommended for more experienced amateurs because it places higher demands on tank temperature and pH.

Zebra plecostomus are basic inhabitants and are used in their natural environment to hide in small caves and among rocks in the river bed. The tank should be equipped with caches and hooks so that the fish stays comfortable and thrives. These fish are more active at night and are more suitable for some other zebra plecos in the same tank. They are peaceful fish, but they are not the best aquarium companions for other fish species.

7. Dwarf Gourami

These fish deserve their name when they are only two inches long. They come in many different colors, but men generally have a bright orange-red body with light blue fins.

Dwarf gouramis are calm and peaceful, making them very suitable for a common tank.

One of the best things about Dwarf Gourami is that it can be stored in a smaller tank.

One or two of them can work quite well in a 5 gallon tank with many live plants, including floating vegetation. They prefer a calm environment without aggressive fish.

8. Elephantnose fish

Elephant nose fish are incredibly unique and are among the most exotic freshwater fish for collectors. They are named after their stem-shaped mouth extensions, with which they feed, communicate and defend themselves. These fish come from Niger in Africa and are even more special due to the electric field they have developed to capture their surroundings and communicate in the murky waters where they call their home. These fish appreciate muddy, stagnant water with dense foliage and are most active at night.

Elephant nose fish are rare even in hobby collections and are not suitable for beginners due to their strict water requirements and their sensitivity to substances in the water. Because they are nocturnal, their feeding schedule may not be ideal for all fans. However, if you can meet your needs, these fish are definitely the most exclusive in your collection!

9. Red Tail Shark

Red-tailed sharks have a jet black body with bright red tail fins that really give them an exotic look.

These fish are very active and can be aggressive. They don’t physically attack other fish, but they like to hunt them. So make sure you have enough hiding places.

The minimum tank size for these fish is 55 gallons, and the can becomes approximately six inches long. They like an environment with significant water flow and are experienced jumpers who need a weighted tank top.

10. African Cichlids

Cichlids are one of the most diverse groups of fish in the world. It is estimated that there could be more than 2,000 types of cichlids, but the African cichlid is one of the most exotic and colorful types that exist.

These fish come in all kinds of colors, but they tend to be lighter during mating or when aggressive.

African cichlids like habitats with running water and plenty of rocks and caves to explore. They also like to dig so that a soft substrate is the best.

11. Blue Gourami

The Blue Gourami is a robust fish with a wonderful whitish blue color. They grow to five inches long and have a flattened body with large, round fins.

Taking care of them is easy enough. They eat almost anything that tolerates water changes pretty well.

These fish can thrive in a tank of just 20 gallons, but they can be aggressive and territorial, so choose your tank mates carefully.

Avoid other aggressive fish like dwarf gouramis, angelfish, and bettas, and resort to tetras, loaches, or spikes.

12. Jewel Cichlid

Another impressive cichlid species is the jewel cichlid. It is available in colors from red to dark purple and has a black spot in the middle of the body.

These fish like to dig and hide in a sandy substrate and many corners that are essential to build your tank.

This fish is aggressive and territorial. So be careful when you put it in a community tank.

They really don’t like planted tanks and tend to dig up roots. Plants with very stiff foliage or even small potted plants are a better choice.

13. Glassfish

Most of the other fish on our list were chosen for their bright colors or interesting patterns. The glass fish is a little different.

This fish is completely transparent. Glassfish are calm and peaceful and make excellent companions for other medium, non-aggressive fish.

These are school fish and are preferred to be kept in groups of at least five. They become very stressed and shy when kept in small groups. A small flock of glass fish only needs a tank that is about 10-20 gallons in size.

14. Rainbow Fish

It is no surprise that rainbow fish are colorful. Its dazzling scales change color when they reflect light, which is really fun to watch.

These fish prefer a well-planted environment with enough space to swim freely.

These are school fish and should be kept in groups of at least six. They thrive in swarms of 10 or more.

When kept in small groups, they become shy and may even lose their color. The temperament is extremely calm and a good choice for a community tank.

15. Pearl Gourami

This type of gourami is one of the most beautiful and extremely easy to maintain. They have a long body with long thin fins.

It takes its name from its color, creamy orange with pearls and brown. They are also a black stripe that runs from the mouth to the tail.

Pearl Gurami prefers a highly planted environment in low light. They are peaceful fish that are a good choice for a community aquarium as long as they are not aggressive fish.

Men can be aggressive towards each other, so a good grouping would be a man with multiple women.


How to Take Care of Freshwater Aquarium Fish?

Tank cycle

The most important thing freshwater aquarium fish need is a clean and balanced ecosystem, which is why your tank cycle is so important.

All aquariums depend on colonies of good bacteria to break down waste. These colonies live in the substrate and filter and remove toxins such as ammonia and nitrite that build up from fish waste and uneaten food.

When you first set up your tank, it is important to encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria before storing your tank. This process usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks.

First, set up your aquarium and let the filter run for about 24 hours. Then add some hardy fish that are not overly sensitive to ammonia and nitrites.

Feed them normally and after a few days use a testing kit to determine the levels of ammonia, nitrite and pH. If anything is too high, replace some of the water.

Recheck the levels every few days. Eventually, the bacteria colonies will develop enough to balance the tank without changing the water. Once this happens, you can slowly start storing your tank.


How to Safely Add Fish to an Aquarium?

If you’ve ever brought home a fish from the pet store and added it to your tank to let it die for the next several hours, chances are it hasn’t been properly acclimated.

Ideally, new fish should be isolated in a separate tank for a week or two before adding them to the main tank. This is only to make sure they are healthy and do not have any diseases that they can transmit to the fish in the community aquarium.

Follow these steps to transfer a new fish to the main tank:

  • Turn off the tank lights to reduce stress.
  • Let the bag of fish float to the surface for 10-15 minutes to allow the temperature to drop.
  • Open the top of the bag and fold it so that the opening remains above the water.
  • Check the pH in a meter of the water in the bag and the water in the tank.
  • If the difference between the two is less than 0.3, add 1/2 cup of tank water to the bag every 15 minutes. If the difference is 0.4-0.8, do it for two hours.
  • Remove the fish from the bag and place it in the aquarium and discard the water.


General Tank Maintenance

Every day, make sure the water temperature is right and visibly check the tank.

Every week, replace 10% of the tank with clean water and use a test kit to check chemistry. Clean algae or floating debris such as plant leaves.

Once a month, you should thoroughly clean the tank. Remove and clean the decorations, replace the air stone and vacuum up the gravel. Prune plants that need it and clean up algae.

This is also a good time to inspect the filter and to clean or replace cartridges or media as needed.


Appropriate Feeding

It is very important not to overfeed the fish. The general rule of thumb is to feed them as much as they eat within two to three minutes.

You can do this once or twice a day, but keep in mind that every fish is different and some have different nutritional needs than others.

Overfeeding is one of the most common mistakes in fish, so make sure to only give them what they need. Believe it or not, it’s actually better to underfeed than to overfeed your fish.



Most people think that a saltwater aquarium is the only way to have an aquarium full of brightly colored, exotic-looking fish. Couldn’t be further from the truth! There are many cool freshwater aquarium fish that come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

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