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Different Fish For Tank Cycling – Starting With Something Different

Hello everyone! This is Craig. Just the other day I was helping a customer and was showing him some fish that would be hardy enough to cycle his brand new freshwater community aquarium. I went through the normal fish selections of zebra danios, blue danios, and white clouds. He expressed a certain… lack of enthusiasm towards fish that, while being sturdy and inexpensive, did not show as much character as he would have hoped. “Everyone has those fish…” is a common response to the zebra danios. Having thought about this a bit… I decided to put together a short list of fish that are durable, inexpensive, and… well… different than the zebra danio.

Brilliant RasboraFirst on the list would be the brilliant rasbora. Rasbora borapetensis is a beautiful and hardy fish. An elongated fish with gold and black lateral stripes and a red tail, the brilliant rasbora will attain a size of close to 3 inches in length. In larger schools they are quite impressive as they cruise the aquarium in a tight formation. They will not nip at plants or long fins, so brilliant rasboras make a beautiful and active addition to the community aquarium.

Harlequin RasboraStaying with the rasbora group of fishes, the harlequin rasbora ( Rasbora heteromorpha ) is another fish that is beautiful, hardy, and peaceful. The harlequin rasbora is a small schooling fish that is pink with a large black triangle covering the back half of the fish. Barely reaching 1.5 inches, this fish shows very well in schools of 8 or more. As the fish ages, the color intensifies and is really quite spectacular. The harlequin rasbora is a little gem that can be included in almost any small community aquarium.

Another hardy and colorful fish that can be used a “starter fish” is the Serpae tetra. The Serpae tetra ( Hyphessobrycon eques ) is a beautiful tetra that does best in schools of 6 or more. This fish has had a long standing history of being one of the more sturdy tetras and, when kept in a warm aquarium, can show a deep crimson color with a black spot on their sides. When kept in smaller numbers, the Serpae tetra can be somewhat nippy, but that problem is easily solved by adding more individuals to the school.

Serpae TetraThe cherry barb ( Puntius titteya ) is still another colorful and hardy small fish to add to this list. While most barbs have a tendancy to be little nippers, the cherry barb is quite a bit more relaxed and very rarely nips at fins. The males of this species are a nice cherry red, while the females are a burnt orange color. This barb swims toward the lower regions of your aquarium and will do best in groups of 5 or more. Mixing the ratio of males to females will produce the best color and will also produce some interesting courting displays from the males.

Cherry BarbSo, for those of you that want to start your freshwater community with a little more color or variety, there are options! There are actually more options than listed above, but these 4 species of fish are, quite possibly, the top 4 choices for cycling a new tank. Just remember to be patient when beginning your new aquarium, and you should have no troubles at all!


  1. avatar

    It really is all about sales isn’t it? Why not encourage new people to the hobby to cycle with plain ammonia instead of fish? It’s been well proven that the ammonia in a cycling tank often kills the fish being used, and that a lot of the fish still suffer long term negative effects from the ammonia. It’s just as easy to use ammonia instead of live creatures, and even if you can’t find ammonia without added scents/cleaners, getting a piece of shrimp from a grocery store will give you the same ammonia spike that the fish would to start and finish the cycle.

  2. avatar

    Thanks for your comment. Whether you subscribe to the fishless cycling method using ammonia, use live nitrifying bacteria, or simply start out slow with a few fish, there is no such thing as an instant aquarium. There will be some period of time for an aquarium to stabilize, for the bacteria in the system to reach a balance, some methods can be faster than others. At some point you are going to introduce fish into the aquarium, this blog is simply giving some good examples of fish to get started with.

  3. avatar

    Very good list, I keep harlequins and cherry barbs with goldfish, they don’t mind all the excess mess. The ones i have are all over a year old, perfectly healthy and happy. I buy fish about once a year to buff up the schools. I can’t recommend them enough for starter fish, they are about as close to fool proof as fish get.

    I am always wary of “enthusiasts” with their advice, yeah you can cycle a tank any number of ways, but using hardy fish is just as good as anything else, perhaps because they have always tried to follow advice to be humane they think its evil, when the reality is some fish just don’t care.

  4. avatar

    Hi Gee,

    Thanks for the comment!

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