10 Best Schooling And Shoaling Fish For Freshwater Aquarium

Schooling and shoaling fish

Last updated on August 7th, 2022 at 07:05 pm

There are many different types of fish that make great additions to freshwater aquariums, and schooling and shoaling fish are among the most popular options due to their social nature and beautiful colors. These fish need at least 15 gallons of space to live comfortably and should be kept in groups of at least three, but larger schools or shoals are best.

So before you add any fish to your tank, it’s important to consider how they will interact with each other and the environment surrounding them, including tank mates, diet, and water temperature.

Having fish in your freshwater aquarium adds life to any room, but choosing the right kind of fish can be tricky. Knowing which schooling fish and shoaling fish work best in an aquarium requires careful consideration since these types of fish have particular requirements when it comes to water temperature, tank size, and diet.

In this guide, we’ll go over the best freshwater aquarium schooling and shoaling fish so you can stock your tank with healthy and beautiful fish that will thrive there.

What is shoaling fish?

Shoaling fish - shoaling fish

The term shoaling fish describes any group of fish that congregates for social reasons, and schooling describes a shoal that is swimming in the same direction. The majority of fish shoal all their lives, but about one-half of them do so for a period of time.

Aquarists usually consider species as shoaling fish if they are fish that prefer to swim in groups. A school of fish is an association of similar-sized fishes, swimming closely together with synchronized movements. It is common for many species of pelagic (open water) fish, particularly small ones, to school.

Groups of fishes can assemble in schools at certain times in their lives because it is advantageous in some way, such as reducing their chances of being eaten by predators or increasing their ability to catch prey.

The benefits of shoaling are numerous for fish. Fish that swim in schools are less likely to be eaten by predators since they are less likely to be attacked individually. Furthermore, it may aid a fish in finding food, as well as a mate. A school of fish may even move faster than one individual fish.

When choosing shoal mates, fish usually prefer shoal mates of their own species, those who are similar in size and appearance to themselves, as well as healthy fish and kin (when recognized).

Predators may target shoal members who stand out visually. Fish may group with individuals who resemble them, which may explain their preference for shoal formation. This phenomenon is called the oddity effect.

What is shoals of fish?

In the aquatic world, shoals of fish refer to a group of fish, shrimp, or other aquatic creatures that swim together in a loose manner. Different species of fish may form the group. A school is made up of several fishes of the same species swimming in synchrony. They move in sweeping, glinting shapes and turn, twist, and flip.

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In biology, shoals are groups of fish that swim in formation or move about as a group. Schools of fish can be so tightly knit that it is difficult to distinguish individuals.

What is a school of fish?

A school of fish is any group of fishes that swim together in the same direction in a coordinated manner. The term school can be used to describe any grouping of animals, though it is most commonly applied to fish. The reason why some species of fish swim in schools while others do not remains somewhat unclear, but there are several theories as to why animals form groups.

Schools are found among many species of fish, including salmon, herring, sardines, shad, mullet, tuna, and mackerels. While schooling is useful for protection from predators and mutual defense against competitors of other species, it can also make detection by schools’ prey easier.

With their natural tendency to school, shoals of fish are both visually interesting and help provide protection from larger predators such as raccoons.

Why do fish school?

Research has shown that most fish show schooling behavior at some point in their life cycle. Fish school in order to avoid predators, improve foraging, and improve swimming.

When fish school, they gather in groups to provide safety in numbers. A shoal of fish can be any number of fish up to thousands strong. They can provide protection from predator attacks, as well as increase their chances of survival by swimming together to find food more efficiently.

Schooling behaviors are innate (meaning they are an animal’s natural reaction) but also learned through social interactions with other members of its species and can change depending on environmental factors like temperature, food availability, or perceived predators.

Difference between shoaling and schooling

Schooling fish

Schooling is any collective action of fish swimming in the same direction for social reasons, and shoaling is any group of fish that stay together for just social reasons, hence they are called shoaling fish.

When people use these terms, they are generally speaking about whether or not fish have an inclination to form groups in their natural habitat. A shoal is any group of fish that swim together. This can be as simple as two fish swimming side by side or as complex as hundreds of fishes, like tuna, swimming together in one massive school. Schooling behavior can be seen among all sorts of different species, from tiny minnows to massive whale sharks.

The following are 10 of the best schooling and shoaling fish for your freshwater aquariums.

10 best shoaling and schooling fish

Neon Tetra

Shoaling fish - Neon Tetra

The Neon Tetra is one of my favorite freshwater shoaling fish. It’s tiny, affordable, and comes in a variety of colors: green, red, blue, black, or a combination of all four. They get along well with other schooling and shoaling fish like Danios, Rasboras, and Rainbowfish. Their beautiful coloration makes them an excellent choice to add some life to your freshwater aquarium setup.

Green Tiger Barb (Puntius Tetrazona)

Not only that but they also make good scavengers so they’ll help keep your tank clean. But be careful because their small size can mean that they don’t have enough room to swim around if you don’t provide enough hiding places. Make sure you give them plenty of plants and rocks where they can hide from larger predatory fish such as Cichlids or Barbs.

Black Skirt Tetra

Shoaling fish - Black Skirt Tetra

The black skirt tetras are excellent shoalers that grow to about 2 inches in length. Due to their small size, they can be kept in schools of 12-15 or more depending on tank size. Keeping them in schools will provide ample protection from bigger fish.

Black skirt tetras tend to be active swimmers. As such, keeping them with other small schoolers is ideal as they will move about just like them, unlike most tetras who prefer still waters. They also do well with larger fish as long as they aren’t large enough to eat them. They enjoy mid-level lighting, but no direct sunlight and temperatures between 72°F – 82°F (22°C – 28°C).

Like all tetras, black skirt tetras should only be fed once every day or two. The diet should consist of high-quality flake food supplemented by frozen foods such as bloodworms and brine shrimp.

Corydoras Catfish

Shoaling fish - Corydoras Catfish

Corydoras catfish are extremely personable little fish. There are many different species with varying coloration, but they all have attractive spots that add some flash to your aquarium. The only drawback is their size, most max out at about an inch long.

Corydoras are sometimes sold as dwarf cory or pygmy cory, but these terms can be misleading, the fish don’t grow much larger than an inch in length, even in an aquarium. While small, they do require space to swim around; it’s best to keep them in groups of five or more.

These schooling and shoaling fish will happily swim around your tank together. They prefer soft water and plenty of places to hide; rocks, driftwood, plants, etc., will make them feel right at home.

Otocinclus Catfish

Shoaling fish - Otocinclus Catfish

The Oto or Otocinclus Catfish is one of, if not my favorite freshwater aquarium shoaling fish. They are very small catfish that are nocturnal, hiding in your plants during daylight hours. They don’t grow to be much larger than 3 inches long and they have a flat body.

This little shoaling fish guy is great at cleaning up algae from your aquarium glass as well as eating leftover food from your tank. You can keep them with other peaceful fish and shrimp in your community tank but I would avoid keeping them with any type of predatory fish.

They are easy to care for once you get used to their feeding schedule which is twice a day when they wake up (at night) and then again around midnight when they go back into hiding. They like water temperature between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit but will do fine anywhere between 60-90 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Pygmy Sunfish "Elassoma Evergladei"

Zebra Danio

Shoaling fish - Zebra Danio

This small fish makes an excellent schooling fish species for your freshwater aquarium. It is extremely peaceful, active, fast swimmers, with attractive colors that live well in groups. Due to their size and active nature, they are perfect with other shoaling fish like platies, tetras, or bettas.

Their small size also means they can’t compete with larger or more aggressive tank mates like barbs or cichlids. They prefer cooler water so make sure you keep them away from heaters. They will eat most flake foods as well as frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp, and daphnia.

Cherry Barb

Shoaling fish - Cherry Barb

The cherry barb is an interesting fish that is native to northern Australia. It’s often found in groups of 20 or more and makes an excellent choice for both beginner hobbyists who want to add a unique species to their tank, as well as experienced aquarists.

This schooling and shoaling fish will add color, movement, and character to your freshwater aquarium while also consuming leftover food particles from your other fish. They’re relatively easy to care for, but it’s important to remember that they are still active swimmers so plan accordingly with your filtration system. A hang-on-back filter would be ideal for housing these fish.

If you notice some scratching on the glass at night (most likely due to spawning activity), then you should consider adding a few plants or decorations near their sleeping area in order to deter them from making contact with glass; they are prone to injuring themselves when agitated during mating season!

Harlequin Rasbora

Shoaling fish - Harlequin Rasbora

The Harlequin Rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) is one of many common shoaling fish species. A member of the Cyprinidae family, it is native to Asia in areas like Thailand, Indonesia, and Laos. Their lifespans tend to be fairly short, at just three years on average.

This fish gets its name from its unique coloring; you will see blue scales with red vertical stripes separated by black lines that look like harlequins’ clothing. They are very small fish, growing only about 2 inches long. You should not keep them with large or aggressive tank mates because they are quite timid and do not fight back when attacked.

However, they are excellent community tank members because they get along well with other small schooling or shoaling fish species. They also do well when kept in groups of 10 or more individuals in an aquarium environment as long as there are plenty of places to hide such as plants and rocks.


Shoaling fish - Hatchetfish

There are 6 species of hatchetfish that can be added to your freshwater aquarium. These small shoaling fish get their name from their flat, broadheads, which look like hatchets. Hatchetfish are peaceful fish that can be kept with other similar-sized species, such as livebearers, tetras, and danios.

They need at least 20 gallons of space in order to feel comfortable and thrive. Similar to other schooling fish, hatchetfish get along best when kept in groups of at least 5 or more. If you have a large tank, you may want to consider keeping several different species together. Some common species include silver hatchetfish (Gasteropelecus sternicla), giant hatchetfish (Carnegiella strigata), and blackstripe hatchetfish (Carnegiella myersi).

Hyphessobrycon Sweglesi (Red Phantom Tetra)

Tiger Barb

Shoaling fish - Tiger Barb

The tiger barb is an active, beautiful fish that grows to about six inches. They swim in shoals and are great with tankmates—except their own kind! Tiger barbs shouldn’t be kept with other tiger barbs or they will fight. The only exception is if you have many of them in your tank. Their diet consists of meaty foods, like bloodworms, daphnia, and brine shrimp.

You can feed them flakes as well, but keep in mind that these fast-moving fish need more than just flake food to thrive. A varied diet will ensure they stay healthy and happy. In addition to feeding them daily, clean out uneaten food after 24 hours so it doesn’t pollute your water.

These little guys also need lots of oxygen, so make sure there are adequate filtration and circulation systems in place to provide them with plenty of oxygenated water. Be careful when netting these fish out because they can easily get away from you!

White Cloud Mountain Minnow

Shoaling fish - White Cloud Mountain Minnow

The White Cloud Mountain Minnow is native to Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and China. They prefer schools of 20+ fish in an aquarium with medium-hard water. In captivity, they are known to reach 2.5 inches in length as adults. They will eat flakes, pellets, frozen foods, and live foods like brine shrimp and daphnia.

It is recommended that you feed them 1-2 times per day. Their tank should be at least 10 gallons with plenty of hiding places and plants. This species prefers cooler temperatures between 68–76 degrees Fahrenheit (20–24 degrees Celsius). These minnows are very peaceful but can become territorial with their own kind so it’s best to keep only one male per tank.

These schooling fish will not tolerate being kept alone or being bullied by other species. The males have been known to attack each other if kept together, even when females are present. Do not house them with aggressive species such as tiger barbs or large cichlids.


When deciding what types of shoaling fish to include in your aquarium, it’s important to understand that not all fish are compatible with each other. Schooling fish tend to be more peaceful, meaning they don’t provoke much aggression from other species.

For example, if you decide to keep Barbs in your aquarium, you should avoid keeping them with Goldfish. This is because Goldfish are very territorial and will attack Barbs due to their abundance of fleshy fins.

On the other hand, schooling and shoaling fish are typically less aggressive and won’t start fights unless provoked. To ensure your school stays intact as long as possible, it’s best to choose at least three or four species that have similar dietary requirements. For example, choosing a combination of Cichlids and Tetras would work well together since both groups eat algae-based foods.