Top 10 Midwater Schooling Fish for your Next Aquarium

Top 10 Midwater Schooling Fish for Your Next Aquarium

When planning out what kind of fish to add to an aquarium, we like to pick species that live in different layers of the water column. The whole tank is full of interesting activity, rather than animals that are concentrated in one area. We’ve talked about the top-dwelling and bottom dwellers of our favorites, so let’s talk about the brightest and most active fish that swim in the middle.


1. Green Neon Tetra

Paracheirodon simulans

The green neon tetra, which is smaller than the regular neon tetra, has an iridescent horizontal stripe of blue-green that shines brightly even when the aquarium lights are off. The green neon tetra can grow up to one inch (22.5 cm) in length, meaning that six of them can live in nano tanks as small as five gallons. Because they are small, they prefer to be in large groups with plenty of aquarium plants and other cover. They also need tiny food that fits in their mouths such as Easy Fry, Frozen Cyclops and Small Fish Food, crumbled flake foods, and baby brine shrimp.

2. Pygmy Corydoras

Corydoras pygmaeus

Cory catfish are widely considered to be bottom dwellers, but some species like the pygmy cory display unusual behaviors. This 1-inch dwarf corydoras is known for fluttering its fins and hovering like a hummingbird in the middle of the tank. They like to perch on plants leaves and driftwood above the ground. Their whisker-like barbels allow them to locate foods like Repashy gel food or sinking wafers. If you want to breed them in a colony of birds, place the pygmy corys into a mature tank that is species-only and has plenty biofilm, mulm, and plants.

3. Serpae Tetra

Hyphessobrycon eques

The shyness of smaller species can sometimes make them a bit timid. If you are looking for bright colors and a confident personality in your fish, the serpaetetra might be the right choice. The red-orange body with black and white markings adds color to planted aquariums. Serpae tetras can grow up to 2 inches (5 cm) in size and aren’t afraid to boldly swim out in the open. Because of their rowdy behavior and potential for fin nipping, we recommend getting at least 8-10 in a school and keeping them with other fast-swimming fish, like black skirt tetras and zebra danios.

4. Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish

Melanotaenia praecox

Although most rainbowfish prefer to be in the upper part of the water column, we were able to sneak this gorgeous fish in because of its red-orange fins and shimmery blue scales. These fast swimmers can reach 3 inches (8cm) in length and will get along with any similar-sized fish, with peaceful to aggressive temperaments. For best results, give them a mix of brine shrimps, bloodworms, flakes, and other live fish foods. Read our full care guide to learn more.

5. Von Rio Tetra

Hyphessobrycon flammeus

Also known as the flame tetra, this species has a striking appearance with a yellow front half and red back half. They are 1.5-2 inches long (4-5 cm) and have a thick-bodied profile. They are a great choice for a community tank with their calm nature and small size. There may be some minor chasing between them, but this is normal Tetra behavior. This is when the males display their dominance to the females. It establishes their social hierarchy.

6. Harlequin Rasboras and Lambchop Rasboras

Trigonostigma heteromorpha and Trigonostigma espei

Both of these peaceful rasboras are well-loved staples in the world of community tanks. The orange body with black triangle patches at the tail is stunning in a forest filled with underwater plants. Harlequin and lambchop rasboras are both larger than their counterparts, measuring in at 1.5 inches (4 cm). Because of their hardiness and ability to live in a wide range of parameters, they do well with beginners and are commonly available in most pet stores. Learn more about their care requirements.

7. Congo Tetra

Phenacogrammus interruptus

The 3-inch (8 cm), congo tetra is another larger schooling fish that can be found in large to medium-sized aquariums. The red-orange and shiny horizontal stripes of male congo tetras and their flowing finnage are what are most known. However, the smaller females have a silvery gold sheen and are smaller in size. These tetras can be paired with many community fish, including rainbowfish, livebearers and unaggressive catsfish, as long their tank mates do not become fin nippers.

8. Celestial Pearl Danio

Danio margaritatus

Celestial pearl daanio (CPD), also known as galaxy rasbora, is one of the most popular aquascaping species. Their bright red-orange fins and golden-dotted bodies make them look like tiny brook trout, which is perfect for building a nature scape. We have had success in getting them to be more confident. You can also keep them alive without an aquarium heater if you have room temperature between 72-76°F and 22-24°C. For more details, see their full care sheet.

9. Cherry Barb

Puntius titteya

Cherry barbs are often overlooked because barbs have a bad reputation for being boisterous fin nippers, but this species is an excellent tank mate for peaceful community aquariums. Both males and females have an intense red color, while the males have a darker hue. They also both have a horizontal black stripe running down their sides. Not only are they as friendly as similar-sized tetras and rasboras, but they also spawn fairly easily. To help the babies to survive, add lots of dense foliage with a marble substrate and remove the parents soon after breeding.

10. Rainbow Shiner

Notropis chrosomus

You may not be able to decide what color will best suit your aquarium. This multicolored minnow comes from the Southeastern United States. The color of the fish will vary depending on its breeding status. They may display orange, pink, blue or black. Rainbow shiners are more comfortable in cooler temperatures than 72 degrees F (22 degrees C), making them the ideal species for outdoor mini ponds or coldwater aquariums. Their life span is only about 2 to 3 years. Our forum has tips and tricks for breeding them successfully at home.

There are so many incredible midwater-dwelling species of fish, we can’t even cover them all. Make sure you check out our top online fish retailers for the latest stock.