Stocking a 3 to 5 Gallon Aquarium

I often see requests for information on starting a very small 3 to 5 gallon aquarium.

Most people are asking about how to stock their 3 to 5 gallon tank — what can they put in it? Or more accurately, what can they get away with putting in it?

My 5 Gallon Hex Tank

So, how big do you think this aquarium is in gallons? (Read on for answers!)

The most common (and undoubtedly excellent) advice out on the web is to put in a single male betta fish — and absolutely nothing else.

However, I believe that small tank owners not only deserve alternatives to the “betta only” model of very small aquarium keeping, but that there really are other good options available — if you’re willing to look outside the ordinary.

So what makes a “good” 3 to 5 gallon aquarium? You might not expect my answer. The things that make a “good” very small aquarium in the looks department are also important for aquarium health!

The Mysterious Secrets of a Jaw-Dropping Small Aquarium

Actually they’re not very mysterious at all. The main idea is easy: Everything you put into your aquarium must to be scaled down small enough to make your tank feel “bigger than it really is.” I’ll explain:

Imagine a dollhouse.

All of the rooms, furniture, dishes, and so on are designed to look “right sized.” In other words, a dollhouse dinner plate shouldn’t be bigger than your dollhouse armchair, and the model armchair shouldn’t be so big that it can’t fit in the dollhouse’s living room.

So, when you pick out a dollhouse, you can freely choose a big one or a small one — but once you have it, its size will determine what sort of model figurines you can use and still have it look good.

When you pick out a fish tank, you can also get a big one or a small one — and choosing a 3 to 5 gallon tank means you’ve picked a very small one.

If you put big, ordinary decorations and regularly sized fish into that very small aquarium, you will actually make your tank look dingy and small. (Smaller than it already is!) On the other hand, if you carefully chose your accessories and fish to scale, your aquarium will look like a polished, brilliant jewel on your desk — a spacious miniature world.

Incidentally, here’s my aquarium (it’s a 5 gallon hex from Marineland).

What impression does it give you? Does it “feel” big or small to you? If you only saw this picture, how many gallons would you guess it is? Does it look cramped or spacious to your eye? Do you like it? If you don’t like it, why not? What about it doesn’t attract you? What does?

Marineland Five Gallon Hex Aquarium

Maybe you will come up with a better design than me!

The Nitty Gritty Details

I’m not recommending all this for an aquarium that just looks good — it’s also important for the health and success of your aquarium. The reason most people say to stick with “just one male betta” is that not all fish can thrive or show themselves to their best advantage in very small aquariums:

  • Many small fish absolutely need buddies to feel safe (a school), so you can’t buy just two or three of them.
  • Generally, fish are only babies when you see them in the store — and they will grow bigger… sometimes a lot bigger!
  • Some fish produce lots of waste. (The more waste, the more gallons of water your aquarium must hold in order to keep them — 3 to 5 gallon tanks are ruled right out!)
  • Some fish are very active and need more side-to-side horizontal swimming space than a 3-5 gallon aquarium will allow.

Remember my principle — an aquarium that looks “crowded” will just end up looking small and dingy — BOOORING!

Everything that lives in there should look like it has lots of space to move freely, not like it’s been “penned in” to a too-small space. So here’s how to go about creating a 3 to 5 gallon aquarium that you will be proud of and love showing off:

Principle #1. Choose Your Decorations With Care (Setting Up Your Tank Structure)

You don’t want your tank to feel empty or bare, so it’s important to think carefully about how you do want it to look.

If you have an aquarium that’s taller than it is wide or a cube (square), make sure that you build some sort of “structure” up, either in the middle of the tank or along the back. Usually this means some good branches, rocks, or a combination of the two. If you’re building up from the middle of the tank (often the easiest and most attractive way of doing it), make sure that your structure is at least two thirds the height of your tank, and wide enough at the bottom not to look “tippy” or unstable.

If your aquarium is wider than it is tall, you can do much the same, but you will have to make sure that you don’t leave a section of your tank feeling overly empty or bare. You’ll probably want to collect a variety of rocks and sticks that look and feel natural together and experiment with possible layouts. Again, anything you build in the “middle-ground” of the tank should be at least two thirds of the height of your tank — though you will probably build it out sideways too, and that part doesn’t have to be as tall as your main “peak.”

Regardless of your tank’s shape, clusters are the secret to good tank design. Usually things will look better if you group them together artfully — for example, try a tangle of small diameter branches that reach upward and combine them with a pile of rocks that trails off to one side.

If your first try doesn’t look right, keep experimenting, always clustering multiple items together. Ask yourself, “How can I arrange these materials to gain plenty of visual height without taking up too much actual space in the tank? How can I make my materials naturally ‘fall away’ from the highest point of my structure so it doesn’t look like they were piled up deliberately?” And of course, make sure whatever you go with is 100% stable!

P.S. The hardest “structure” to make look good in a tank is placing each individual item alone and apart from its neighbors. A cluster is much easier to make look good than randomly spaced objects.

P.P.S. Of course you can also use ceramic decorations and the like. However, most of them will be sized to look good in larger aquariums than yours, so keep that in mind as you pick them out. Also, they will reduce or destroy the “natural” look of your aquarium, so beware if that’s an effect you want to achieve. Ditto with brightly colored aquarium gravel.

Unfortunately, very small tanks often seem barren and empty and boring when they’re designed with just colored gravel, a few ceramic decorations, and some fake plants. Large tanks (15+ gallons) bear this decorating style much better!

If you go this route, consider buying or creating a themed tank background image of some sort to help add stylistic weight and groove to your tank and to pull it all together. Otherwise, your eye will just “go straight through” to the wall behind it when you look at your tank. Boring!

To illustrate this, notice how when you look at my 5 gallon hex tank (pictured up above), your eye stops on the driftwood/rock formation in the middle? That’s because the formation is visually “weighty” enough to draw the eye and keep it. I don’t even “see” the wall behind the tank unless I’m actually looking for it, even though it’s perfectly visible through the tank.

Because of this, I don’t need or want a taped background for my tank. Instead, when I look at it straight on, the tank feels transparent in the best way, like the contents are floating in my room, or like they’re caught in an exquisite ice crystal. It doesn’t feel “boxy” or like it has hard borders at all.

Principle #2. Add Live Plants or High Quality Fake Plants

Once you have the bones of your tank in place — the hard surface decorations like rocks and branches — you need to add a softening influence: either live plants or high quality fake plants.

In my opinion, live plants are best because they will help keep your tank balanced and healthy, recycling the nutrients from your fishes’ waste — so ammonia and such are much less likely to have a sudden, catastrophic build up. (A serious danger in a small aquarium — and the smaller it is, the higher the danger!) An ammonia spike can go as far as to kill your fish, so it’s worth doing what you can to keep your tank in good order. Live plants can make the difference between life and death in an aquarium.

Plus, I also think live plants just look right in an aquarium, but that’s just my opinion.

In either case, continue to keep the idea of “clusters” in your mind as you choose and place your plants. You can significantly improve and accent your “hardscape” rock and stick clusters by adding plants in.

And again, the weakest way to plant things is scattered apart and randomly dotted around your aquarium.

For more details on lighting a very small tank for live plants, see my post, Very Small Aquarium Challenges: Lighting and Plants.

Principle #3. Carefully, CAREFULLY Choose Your Fish

Before this step, I would recommend a kill-joy but important step:

Get your rocks/sticks and live plants going in the aquarium with water and filter and lights all working, then leave it running for a full month before you add any fish. That gives the tank some time to “cycle” — build up the “helper” bacteria that make it possible to keep fish in such a tiny place.

If you’re not familiar with the details of cycling a fish tank, I would highly recommend you google for instructions — it could mean the difference between success and failure, and it isn’t particularly complicated or difficult. Just pick a method and go for it. Or you could keep it simple and do what I recommended above, then add your fish a few at a time after the cycling month is over. You’ll probably be fine.

If you don’t have live plants (or in addition to your live plants, if you so choose), you’ll have to cycle your tank for that month by hand, “feeding” the tank some fish flakes each day so that the bacteria have something to eat and a reason to grow and get plentiful enough to handle the upcoming load of fish waste.

Principle #4. NOW Carefully, Carefully Choose Your Fish

Ok, you’ve set your tank up and cycled it. All it’s lacking is fish. This is where you need to make sure to do your homework before you bring any fish home. (Don’t just trust a fish store employee to tell you what is and isn’t ok!) Remember, you’re setting up your tank in advance of getting your fish, so you have some time to do a quick google search or two.

There are some fish that will be a guaranteed fail if you choose them:

  • fish that need buddies (if you only have room for two or three of them)
  • fish that are the right size now (as “fish store babies”) but will get bigger than your tank can handle
  • fish that will produce too much waste for your small tank to handle easily (goldfish are the worst, but by no means the only ones in this category!)
  • fish that are active enough to need lots of horizontal swimming space

So what fish can you put in a 3 to 5 gallon aquarium?

Generally it’s safe to have either:

1 fish that isn’t bigger (at adult size, not right now!) — or more active — than a male betta


5-7 very tiny schooling fish (all the same species)

“But that sucks!” you say.

Well, it seems pretty restrictive at first glance, but it really isn’t as much as you would think. Remember, a very small tank needs very small fish to “look right” — and not too many of them. It’s a question of scale. The bigger the fish you have (or the more varieties), the more crowded your tank will look, and not in a good way. Plus you’ll have to work harder to keep the tank clean and avoid algae overgrowth, fish disease or death, etc.

So how small is small enough?

Well, that’s a difficult question. Realistically, the smallest fish species you can find are the ones you should make your final pick from (full adult size, not just fish store size, yeah, we know, get on with it already). So the rule of thumb for a 3 to 5 gallon tank is that the smallest fish you can get will actually look the best in your tank.

For example, the Neon Tetra (a fish that is brightly colored, laid back, and available everywhere) will typically grow to a maximum of 1.2 inches long. That’s probably the uppermost range of adult size that you’re looking for, if not past it. (Ed. Note: I found this page for nano tank fish. You may want to check it out. (I’m not affiliated with them and get no compensation for providing this link.)

Also, don’t forget to check the other factors before you choose — don’t get fish that are unusually messy or that need too much horizontal swimming space. Watch your target fish for a while in the store. Do they swim in a single direction for a fairly long time, or do they usually go a few inches one way and then change direction erratically? Do they mostly just hang out or do they need a lot of motion and excitement?

My 5 Gallon Hex

In my tank, I have a close relative of the Neon Tetra — the Green Neon Tetra. They look very similar but are even smaller than regular Neons. I call them collectively “the Crown Jewels.” They are friendly and bold and very pretty. (Ed. Note: They got shy once they fully grew up. I didn’t keep up the plants well enough and later they may have not felt there were enough hiding places.)

Green Neon Tetra

On a final note, one last positive of keeping a single species of very small schooling fish in your 3-5 gallon tank…

You can add in freshwater aquarium shrimp! Go google it.

Tiger Shrimp


41 thoughts on “Stocking a 3 to 5 Gallon Aquarium

  1. natalie

    ive haved fish in the past but was never successful. i would like to restart with a 3-5gallon. some fish i prefer are: neons, harlins, white clouds, or bumble bee gobys. otherwise what size if i concider 2 rams and 1 of the fish above for a school? (shrimp?) can u help? i need to choose 1 of 3 of these schooling fish and how many i can stock it with.

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi, Natalie.

      Rams get big (3 inches adult size). I personally wouldn’t put Rams in a 5 gallon, and I especially wouldn’t put Rams in a 5 gallon with other fish as well. I think they would get stressed (which leads to sick, then dead!) and maybe even get aggressive due to lack of space and hiding places. (Plus, the information on the web suggests that they are “difficult” fish, which means they are probably harder to keep in a small tank anyway. Or just in general.)

      I would consider 20 gallons with lots of live plants and some good hiding spaces an absolute minimum for Rams + a school.

      If you do go with a small 3-5 gallon tank, pick the smallest fish you can (that you like), and preferably ones that aren’t too active (since it’s not much room to move). Remember, the point of putting one school of small fish in a small tank is to get a pleasant visual impact without overloading the system with waste (or having the fish be too cramped). It’s the most bang for your buck in general, and the most proportionally pleasing. The smaller the fish, the more natural and pleasing the tank will look.

      I would stick with 5-7 schooling fish. That’s enough to feel safe as a group and also look cool. If you want to add more, I would wait until you are certain that the system is stable and that adding more wouldn’t add to your cleaning workload (or that you’re willing to take it on).

      Consider the adult size of whatever fish you get. A Ram (for instance) gets to be 3 inches long. It will probably also be at least 1/2 inch thick, maybe more. In contrast, my Green Neon Tetras get to be about an inch long, and they are skinny (1/4 inch or less). Just a pair of Rams would probably produce as much waste as 6 or 7 Green Neons, maybe more. And they would have less room to move around, because a 1 inch fish in 12 inch wide tank can move about 12 times its length, but a 3 inch fish could only move 4 times its length. That’s cramped!

      Not to mention, Rams would look like big fish in a little tank. My Blue Neons look like they are the appropriate size for my set up. That actually makes it look better proportionally than big fish in a small tank does.

      Whatever you go with, I would use live plants and a light on a timer. Having live plants really helps balance things, since a small tank is much, much harder to keep stable. (That’s probably part of why you have had trouble in the past.)

      1. corinne

        Hi I will refer to this article MANY of times. I am starting a new tank I love the size of this tank and I was just wondering what kind of tank and or the company this tank in this article is made by? Thanks so much!

        1. Allison Post author

          Hi corinne,

          This is a 5 gallon Hex Eclipse tank by Marineland. You can find out more by searching it on the internet, but you could probably also find it in your local pet store. I would encourage you to consider the space you have for an aquarium and make sure whatever model you go with fits.

          Good luck!

  2. Ishana

    Hi There – great article! I just want to say how wonderful Marimo moss is. We have a 5 gallon with tons of moss and a couple small plants – and four zebra danios and a snail. The danios had babies and two survived all on their own (hiding in the moss). No filter or bubbler – nice and quiet. The light and the snail make it clean and beautiful.
    Plants are the best for natural “filtration”.
    Thanks for your work –

  3. Nicole

    Hi. Great article. I am in the process of setting up a 5 gallon tank. I have a back moss wall started, a few tiny Marimo moss balls and 2 other small plants. I am in the process of cycling it and doing fish research. I think I am going to go with 5 of the green neon tetras you suggested. I would love to add shrimp, but how many. My aquarium is short and wide. Can I add a snail and shrimp? Thank you for your suggestions.

  4. Julie

    Hi! Great article! I have a 5.5 gal rectangle tank that’s been cycling for about three days now so I still have a bit before I can start adding fish. I like the idea of doing neon tetras. They’re pretty! I don’t have any live plants yet and would like a recommendation as to what kind to get. Not something that’ll be too tall. I’ve also seen moss balls at the Petsmart. Could I do one of those? Also. I’m going to be getting some material from a friends tank to seed mine. How long after I do that until I can add fish do you think? Thanks for the advice!

  5. Kari Simigran

    I have read your article and I think it is really informative and detailed. I work for a small animal habitat manufacturer called BioBubble Pets. We make aquariums, terrariums and other habitat accessories. We would love to have you right an article similar to this for our 3 gallon aquarium. We would send you the product and in exchange you would right a review about it. Please feel free to explore our website and please contact us with any questions. I hope you decide to work with us, you would be a great brand advocate. Please email us at (Removed by Editor).

    Thank you,


    1. Allison Post author

      Thanks Kari, but I’m happy with the setup I have, and I don’t see myself adding any new pets to my life right now. I’m just a hobbyist.

  6. Bri

    I was looking at this aquarium setup:

    Since it is an aquaponics setup with a 3 gallon tank, do you think I would need live plants in the tank in addition to in the growing medium into which the aquarium water is pumped, or would the plants in the upper grow medium take care of filtering out any excess ammonia efficiently enough to forgo live aquatic plants? Also, where should I go to get green neon tetras?

  7. kathy

    Unless your friend is an experienced aquarist, I’d be careful adding material from their aquarium for fear of adding a potential disaster to your aquarium (snails, disease, etc.). Seeding the new aquarium with “dirty” water from an established healthy aquarium is a great way to immediately cycle your aquarium and I have done it myself. However, it really doesn’t take long for a nano to cycle itself naturally and patience is the key for successful aquariums anyway. Take your time to do it right the first time. I have 2 Endlers Guppies; will get a couple more when available, hundreds of Cherry Shrimp, 2 Oto Cats, 2 Nerite Snails, and a pygmy Cory Cat in my planted 8 gal nano aquarium. My 5 gallon nano is on order and I have been researching the possible inhabitants online. I’ve never heard of Green Neons so now i’ll look them up. Also thinking of a school of Celestial Pearl Danios. I’m a patient person so the tank will be planted for awhile before I decide on it’s final residents.

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  9. Denise

    I previously had two Zebra Fish that seemed to do rather fine in my 3.5 gallon tank. I’m now down to one and I don’t think it’ll last much longer. If I were to get the Neon’s how many would you recommend for a 3.5 gal tank?

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Denise,

      If your Zebra fish dies, I would consider 5-7 very small fish in a 3.5 gallon. I would say 5, but tetras prefer larger groups if possible, hence the 5-7 estimate. I’ve had 5 tetras before, though, and that is plenty to appreciate visually, and would be less stress on such a small system. If you can’t find green neons, you might want to find another very small species or get regular neons, but stick to 5, maybe 6.


  10. Audrey Groneck

    So I have a 5 gallon tank with one male betta and a mystery snail. I was hoping I can add some green neon tetras to my tank, maybe like 4 or 5. I’m pretty sure the answer is no but it doesn’t hurt to ask right?

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Audrey,

      A five gallon is a very small tank. You might have aggression problems with such close quarters (it probably wouldn’t be a problem with a bigger tank), and it would be stressful for both tetras and betta. You also would be possibly giving yourself water quality issues depending on how careful you are to change the water.

      I would advise against it because there just isn’t enough room to give the two species space to be separate.


    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Fab,

      A little research says that platies grow from 1.5 to 2.5 inches, depending on gender. I definitely wouldn’t add any other fish to your tank, since it is so small, but if you watch the water quality carefully, you might be ok. It sounds like platies are pretty hardy, which should help. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they should be in bad conditions just because they are hardy.

      The biggest thing you could do for stabilizing a tank that small would be to put in live plants. I also have a short post on that subject. If you just have fish and no live plants, the swings in water quality could get really hard on your platies, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want them to be miserable.

      Give it some thought, anyway — even a few moss balls and an office lamp for light would be a start.

  11. Anel

    Hi! Great article, super helpful. About 2 months ago we set-up a small 5 gal aquarium, and got 3 Rasbora harlequins, two of them died. I was thinking adding more buddies for the little guy so he’s happier, but now after reading your article, I am hesitant… I also read Rasboras need long space to swim. Would you think it best to add smaller different specie? Or a few more Of its kind since they are schooling fish? I don’t have live plants but will like to add some too, it doesn’t matter if the fish are already there right? Your advise is super appreciated, thanks!

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Anel,

      Those are some tough questions, since you have just one Rasbora right now. They are schooling fish, so yours would probably prefer a couple friends of the same species, even if space is cramped. I think you may have had trouble with fish dying partially because you don’t have plants — plants are hugely helpful for keeping a small aquarium stable (and also for giving fish a sense of security, since they have a place to hide). As for your question about plants, there’s no problem adding plants to an aquarium that has fish in it already. Just make sure you pick plants that you can keep alive in your light conditions. I have only low light plants because I don’t have a very strong tank light. I’m guessing you may need to do the same. If you’re interested, here’s my post on plants in small aquariums.

  12. Sophie

    Are there any tank mates I could keep with a very shy, laid back female betta? I was looking at the tiny ember tetras as a possibly? I have good heating, filtration and so many plants it looks like a jungle.

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Sophie,

      Most of what I have read is that bettas react badly to tank mates, but if yours is very unaggressive, you may be able to do all right. I would be careful to pick very peaceful tank mates and have an idea what you will do if it doesn’t work out. Also, if your tank is big enough, a bottom feeder might be workable, since they don’t use the same zones in the tank.

  13. Ben

    Hi there i got a full 5 gallon tank and was wondering if i could do 5 neon tetras 1 shrimp ( kinda like the one in the picture you have) and 1 apple snale. Is that to over crowded? Please reply quickly!
    Thanks – Ben

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Ben,

      That sounds like a great plan! If your tank isn’t cycled, I would look that up on google. Maybe put in some live plants and the snails first and let it build up the good bacteria. Then I would add the fish (two to start with, then the other three), wait again, and add the shrimp after you’re totally sure the tank is stable.

      If you aren’t that patient, I would put in fish first, but add the shrimp in a week or two. Shrimp are very sensitive to water quality changes, so you would be at risk of having them all die on you if you put everything in at once.

      Good luck!

    1. Allison Post author

      You might want a betta (just one, since they fight if they are together), or some very small schooling fish. However, with a three gallon, you are very cramped. I think you would get more enjoyment out of a betta. They are full of personality, from what I’ve heard, and very handsome as well. You may not find schooling fish as entertaining. They mostly hang out. (Especially in so small of a tank where there isn’t much of anywhere to go.) I think if I were starting again from scratch, I would be more likely to go for a betta.

      Plus, if you keep a betta, you should be all right, but if you go with schooling fish, you will have to be extremely on top of water quality, and do you really want to commit to that for the length of time you will be keeping this tank?

  14. Laura

    I just set up a 5 gallon tank. I did not know about the cycling that it goes through and I already put 4 guppies in it. I do have a couple of questions: 1. Are four guppies too many for a 5 gallon tank? 2. Would a live plant be beneficial to my tank since I did not properly cycle it? I do have a filter for the tank.

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Laura,

      I wouldn’t put any more guppies in the tank, but you may be ok with 4. I’m not the best expert there. The question comes down to how much waste they produce and whether they bother each other because there isn’t enough room to get away from each other. Here’s a page on guppy care you might want to read.

      As for plants, I would definitely say that’s a terrific idea. Make sure you pick something that can handle the amount of light (or lack of it) that you have. There are some good low light plants, especially if you go to an aquarium shop instead of a general pet store.

  15. Jane

    I’m looking into serting up a 5 hallon tank so I’m doing some reading first. But I had a couple questions if that’s okay? Firstly, do male bettas do well by themselves? Or would they simply be too big to have more than one? Also if I do go with a betta as oppossed to a tetra would they still be able to live comfortably with some shrimp? Lastly, with the natural look – such as driftwood and live plants – how often would you recommend I clean the fish tank?
    Sorry if this is long, but thank you for the article!

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Jane,

      Bettas do very well by themselves. You’ll find out why they are called “fighting fish” if you put more than one together! You could look into a second tank if you want more than one.

      I’m afraid I can’t tell you whether your betta would do well with shrimp. Some do ok, others try to eat them! I would avoid crowntail bettas if you want shrimp. I hear they are more likely to be aggressive. However, any betta will be hard to predict in that way. In any case, I guarantee any betta (or any fish other than maybe an algea eater) will try to eat the shrimp babies, so you will probably not be able to breed the shrimp.

      As for cleaning the tank, you will need to remove physical waste by vacuuming the substrate and remove chemical waste by changing out a portion of the water. Use your judgement for the physical waste. For the chemical waste (that you can’t see with your eye), use a chemical test kit or strips to tell when the water is getting bad. Your local fish store can get you one. You will probably want to vacuum/change some of the water every week or two to keep it sparkling.

      Don’t forget to cycle your new tank before getting either fish or shrimp buddies! (You can google “cycle fish tank.”)

  16. Fallon

    5-7 small schooling fish! Are you insane!? Schooling fish need a lot of room to swim. You need atleast 10 gallons for even the smallest rasbora. You should really check out reputable fish websites such as and aqadvisor for stocking advice before putting misinformation on your website.

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Ankita, There are several species that are considered danios. So it would depend on what kind of danio, and how active the danios are. The 2″ danios are too big for a 5 gallon tank, but there is at least one I saw listed as 1″ fish and a couple barely over an inch, and those would be better.

      However, I’m not certain how active danios are. I would go to the fish store and watch the ones you are interested in. If they do a lot of swimming straight ahead, a 5 gallon tank may be too cramped even if you get the small ones. When I picked out my tetras, I watched them and they usually darted 1 or 2 inches and then changed direction. From that I figured that they didn’t need a really wide tank. You can also find small tanks that are extra long, but not very deep or tall. For more active fish, that might be better. Remember, the smaller the tank, the more work you may have to do to keep it clean!

  17. Dionne

    Hi there
    After having some problems with my tank, I decided to rehome my 3 tetras and catfish and totally restart. It’s a 5 gallon, fairly square tank, and I have one live plant with a Moss ball and some little ornaments. I’ve been having a big problem with strange bacteria, so I plan on totally cleaning everything and recycling my tank..
    Do you have any suggestions for fish? I’d like an algae eater of some kind, but other than that I’m not picky! My experience with neon tetras has been awful (fighting, killing each other and my otto) but maybe green neon sign would work.

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Dionne, I never had problems with my green neons, but they did get shy once they grew up and mostly hung in the back of the tank. If you have three tetras, I would either rehome them or get more, because you don’t have room in a five gallon for two schools.

      I don’t know much about algae eaters — but research the heck out of any you get. The little I know suggests that most either need a school or grow really big over time. You might consider some Amano shrimp or similar instead.

      In any case, if you are having weird problems with bacteria, I would avoid getting creative with adding fish until you have that under control, because more fish are likely to just add to any water quality problems you are having. Good luck!

  18. kevin

    Im going to purchase a 4 gallon tank and I would like some bright colored fishes with shrimp in the tank. What fish and shrimp combo would you recommend. (Very new to this fish tank thing sorry!)

    1. Allison Post author

      Your best bet would be tiny tetras or rasboras for being with shrimp. Smaller fish are a must for a tank that size and besides, bigger fish would be likely to try to eat the shrimp. For shrimp, I would go with a single species of neocardina — they are hardier (single species because otherwise they could interbreed and make wild-form brown shrimp babies, which would defeat the ‘bright colored’ intention). Your best bet for really good coloration on shrimp is online, but you can always check at your local store. Note: coloration of babies may be a moot point, because if you house fish and shrimp together the fish are likely to eat the shrimp babies, if the filter doesn’t get them first.

      I would cycle the tank very thoroughly, add the fish, then let the tank settle for a while and only then add the shrimp. They do really need very good water quality, so you want a stable tank first.

  19. Informatively harsh

    Hello, first off very informative and also a beautiful tank, but as someone whose bred Neon Tetras for ages now, I can tell you that you really don’t know what you’re talking about with the fish stocking… Neon Tetras are NOT suitable for a 5 gallon tank. Neon Tetras are not only very active fish but also schooling fish. You’d need a longer tank(and larger!) to keep your Neons happy and healthy. If all your Neons have passed away by now, you know why.

  20. Adeel

    I am putting my 5 gal tank through a manual cycle by hand since I don’t have any plants yet. If I feed it Betta food , does that mean I can only put a betta fish in that environment or it will still be suitable for neon tetra if I change my mind and not have a betta?

    1. Allison Post author

      Hi Adeel, if you are feeding the tank Betta food, that’s terrific! The point is to grow the bacteria that filter out the fish waste, and most fish food is similar enough that it doesn’t matter whether it is “Betta” food or “regular” food. If you change your mind, the bacteria will still be there and will still work just fine.

      However, if it was me, I would go for the Betta over the tetras. Bettas are so fun and funny, and I think you would love having one. Regular Neon Tetras won’t have much space in a 5 gallon tank, so they will be kind of cramped, and they might not be very happy. A Betta would be really happy in a five gallon, and a happy Betta is so fun to watch. (Mine is hilarious and personable!)

      Good luck!


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