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.
First 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.
Staying 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.
The 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.
So, 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!