When selecting aquarium fish, we’re constantly thinking about how to match them in a way that’ll be safe and beneficial for all tank mates involved: Water parameters, behavior, care, etc.
In this post, though, we’re going to indulge unabashedly in taking a look at some of the flashiest fish ever to grace a home aquarium! No worrying about tank compatibility here- Just fun ogling over some incredible species:)
It’s worth mentioning that there’s some subjectivity when it comes to deciding which fish are fancy or flashy: Sometimes the beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Some people are completely enamored with the ferocity and folklore of the arowana, for example, and might cite that as a flashy fish! However, we selected the fish on this list based on their color, patterns, iridescence, contrast, and fins.
Table Of Contents
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1 Fancy Guppy (Poecilia Reticulata)
All the colors of the rainbow! Also why they’re sometimes nicknamed “rainbow fish.” They definitely look like the tapestry from the psychedelic roommate you had in college, and they give radiant color to a freshwater tank.
Fancy Guppy, photo by © Karel Zahradka | Dreamstime
Fancy guppies are one of the flashiest freshwater fish, and they’re easy to keep. (There’s also the mosaic guppy, which has a geometric color pattern that’s not to be missed!) These fish are tiny, measuring in at no more than an inch long.
Fancy guppies are also called “fantail guppies,” because their tail is wider than those of other “regular” guppies.
Fancy Guppy, photo by © Bluehand | Dreamstime
Guppies are one of the most popular aquarium fish, for good reason. They’re extremely hardy, colorful, and not difficult to keep. They’re a tropical freshwater aquarium fish that’s available in heaps of different colors for enthusiasts.
- Guppies are studied by scientists for their model evolutionary biology.
2 Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis bimaculatus)
Red hot both in appearance and in temper, this is an extremely popular cichlid despite its advanced care level. Jewel cichlids come in some gorgeous colors from red and gold to blue and orange, but they are definitely for the advanced aquarist only. They’re highly aggressive and, like a rockstar in a hotel room, will trash their tank decorations for no good reason.
Jewel Cichlid Photo by © Mirkorosenau | Dreamstime
But seriously: Because of their aggression, jewel cichlids are best kept in a mono species tank, rather than a community tank. They’re very territorial, and their aggression becomes even worse when breeding.
Jewel Cichlid Photo by © Mirkorosenau | Dreamstime
It’s also worth noting that their aggression comes out more under stress, so keeping the tank healthy, making sure that the temperature and water parameters stay optimal and consistent, and ensuring that this fish has enough room are measures you can take to help keep the aggression at bay.
3 Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi)
Cardinal tetras are very flashy, with coloring all along their side and a reflective quality that makes them eye-catching in the tank. They’re an excellent alternative to the jewel cichlid because unlike the former, they’re friendly and easy-going, and great in a community tank.
Cardinal Tetra Photo by © Roberto Caucino | Dreamstime
I was a little on the fence about including them here because they are not easy to breed in captivity and therefore are often sourced from the wild. This can be ethically problematic. If you do seek to keep cardinal tetras, please follow these two rules:
- Source them from an aquarium store that has raised them in captivity (E.g., “captive-raised.”) Since they are harder to raise than other fish, they may be more expensive.
- Keep them in a school; They are schooling fish and are healthiest and happiest when they are with at least 6 other cardinal tetras.
Cardinal Tetra Photo by © Roberto Dani | Dreamstime
Neon tetras are also a beautiful addition, although they are a little bit smaller than cardinals.
4 Betta Fish (Betta splendens)
They’re famous for a reason: Bettas are gorgeous, and their flowing fins and bright colors are hard not to stare at! They’ve been bred into tons of different colors, sometimes even more than one color at a time, and grow to be around 2 inches.
Bettas Photo by © Yutthawee Nonthaprasart | Dreamstime
Bettas are a tropical freshwater fish and a very popular aquarium pet. They have a fascinating evolutionary characteristic (an organ called a labyrinth) that allows them to breathe oxygen from both air and water. Pretty incredible.
Half Moon Betta Photo by © Huy Thoai | Dreamstime
Bettas are a tropical fish, so the water should be 79 or 80°F. Unfortunately, many new and novice pet owners fail to place heaters in the bettas’ tank, and the fish suffers for it (this also contributes to a lowered immune system response and shortened lifespan.) This is exacerbated by the public image of a betta being kept in a bowl, which doesn’t accommodate heat control well.
Betta Fish Photo by © Sakda Nokkaew | Dreamstime
Contrary to popular belief, bettas actually can live in community tanks, although tank mates should be carefully selected and fin nippers should be avoided. There should also not be two male bettas in the tank.
5 Discus (Symphysodon)
Discus School Photo by © Andrey Armyagov | Dreamstime
Not to be missed, the discus are big enough to make a visual statement in a tank, but have the benefit of being a peaceful fish that does well as a school (together with others of its own kind). There are tons of different colors, from red to blue, brown and white, green or yellow. The patterns on these fish also come in a wide variety.
Red Discus Pair Photo by © Moori | Dreamstime
A type of South American cichlid, the discus are like the movie star of freshwater aquarium fish: They have a huge following, and are easily recognized.
Discus exist in all sorts of different colors: Cobalt blue, orange “pigeon blood,” and a variety of other colors and stunning and striking patterns.
Multicolored Discus School Photo by © Catalina Zaharescu Tiensuu | Dreamstime
Worth noting that they tend to be a more intermediate/advanced species to keep since they’re very sensitive to fluctuations in water parameters. They should be kept in a tank that is tailored for them, with other discus together in a school.
Moving on to saltwater fish…
6 Elegant Firefish (Nemateleotris decora)
Also called the purple firefish, this gorgeously adorned saltwater fish is native to the Indo-Pacific region. Because it grows to be up to 4 inches in length, it definitely makes a statement in an aquarium! Keep in mind though that these fish are shy creatures that are happiest when there are lots of tank decorations to hide out in.
Elegant Firefish Photo by © Antos777 | Dreamstime
They’re fairly peaceful but can be aggressive towards members of their own species, and therefore should be the only one of its kind in the tank.
Elegant Firefish Photo by © Mdockery | Dreamstime
Elegant firefish tend to hang out near the substrate, since in their natural habitat they are reef dwellers.
7 Mandarin Fish (Synchiropus splendidus)
Mandarin Fish Photo by © Olga Khoroshunova | Dreamstime
The psychedelic roommate is back! Just kidding. But really, this is the kind of fish you think of when talking scuba diving or snorkeling tropical reefs. The Mandarin fish is best left to its native habitat in the western Pacific, though, as it’s very difficult to keep them in captivity. They do best in the wild.
It’s so difficult to keep Mandarin fish in a home aquarium because of the challenges of attempting to replicate its natural environment and diet: They only eat live food, primarily a living crustacean called a copepod. And you have to keep the copepods alive in the tank long enough for the Mandarin fish to get to them.
Mandarin Fish Photo by © Zepherwind | Dreamstime
They may also accept other live food sometimes, but this is not a rule. They are definitely a species only for the advanced aquarist, and beginners and intermediate aquarists should avoid the temptation of bringing home a flashy fish that may suffer as a result of needing highly experienced care.
Mandarin Fish Photo by © Antonio Garcia | Dreamstime
- These fish are also sometimes called “Mandarin Goby” even though they’re not technically a goby:)
8 Tang, Any Tang!
Yellow Tang Photo by © Aurinko | Dreamstime
Yellow tang and purple tang are both striking in their full-bodied, bright coloring, and they contrast incredibly against home aquarium tank decor and plants.
Yellow Tang Photo by © Stuart Patterson | Dreamstime
Yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens) are endemic to Hawaii, and are not always easy to get. But for those that do have them, they make an easy-going, peaceful, beautiful addition to a reef tank.
They actually have tiny little fin “blades” on both sides of the tail, which they can use to defend themselves and which handlers should be aware of. But don’t let that fool you: They’re a very friendly fish.
For as bright as its yellow counterpart is, the purple tang (Zebrasoma xanthurum) is deep in color, covered almost completely by dark, rich purple, except for its bright yellow tail fin and accented pectoral fins.
Purple Tang Photo by © Iliuta Goean | Dreamstime
Both tangs are very active fish, and in the wild they are constantly grazing on algae along coral reefs. This symbiotic relationship helps keep corals healthy while providing nourishment for the tangs.
9 Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)
Royal Gramma Photo by © Lukas Blazek | Dreamstime
Similar to the tang, the royal gramma packs a punch with its bright dousing of color- except this one has two colors! The first half of its body is covered in bright fuchsia purple, which blends into an equally bright, almost neon yellow for the second half of its body. They also grow to a length of around 2 to 3 inches.
Royal Gramma Photo by © Voislav Kolevski | Dreamstime
The royal gramma is a peaceful reef fish native to the deep waters of the Caribbean. Like many other flashy saltwater fish, they are peaceful except when kept with members of their own kind. It’s best to have just one in the tank.
They’re very hardy, and reef safe; Your invertebrates and corals won’t be a target for this fish. Royal grammas are not picky eaters, and their hardiness makes them a great choice for saltwater reef tanks.
There are plenty of flashy, fancy saltwater and freshwater fish to stock your home aquarium with. Each species has its own care guidelines, water parameters, and tank mate needs.
Two species that definitely deserve honorable mentions are 1) The zebra danio: This is a beautiful little freshwater fish as hardy as it is friendly, available in tons of amazing colors and patterns, and even exists as a glofish! 2) Good old-fashioned goldfish. Similarly to the danios, they’re a hardy, easy-to-keep freshwater fish that comes in enough variations to keep you interested! Just make sure you have enough space as they grow to be big!
Danios aside, we think the best flashy fish for beginners are definitely guppies, fancy guppies, and bettas, while advanced aquarists can try jewel cichlids, elegant firefish, or discus- It all depends on what kind of tank you have! Either way, these fish really know how to make a statement in a tank.