Home | Aquarium Livestock | Schools Aren’t Just For Kids – Schooling Fish for your Aquarium Part 2 – Freshwater Species

Schools Aren’t Just For Kids – Schooling Fish for your Aquarium Part 2 – Freshwater Species

African Three-stripe CatIn my last blog I talked about schooling fish, their interesting behaviors and some schooling species for your marine aquarium. If you have a freshwater aquarium, the list of schooling fish species is pretty long. Dozens of tetras, barbs, danios, and rasboras are available and new species are being introduced regularly. There are also several other types of schooling fish that you may not see in the average pet store. These colorful and interesting fish can really contribute something special to a home aquarium.

One of the most interesting schooling fish is the African Three-striped Glass Cat, Pareutropius buffei. Collected in the rivers of Cameroon and Nigeria, this is a very peaceful schooling fish with a clear or silvery body, black horizontal stripes and a distinctively blunt nose.  Constantly buzzing around in search of food, a group of these 3 inch fish will go into a veritable feeding frenzy once food is located. This species is one of the best scavengers available for the freshwater community aquarium. A single specimen will likely hide and may refuse to eat, so make sure to keep several of these fish (groups of at least 6 individuals) to make them feel secure. Open swimming space is a must, but some plants for cover will be appreciated. They can be housed with community fish including Rosy Barbs, Cherry Barbs, Serpae Tetras, and other similarly active medium-sized species.

Staying with the “something different” theme, cichlid enthusiasts may want to try fish belonging to the genera Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis.  These fish are available from time to time (though sometimes at a high cost) and they are quite different from your typical cichlid, in build and in behavior. Both Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis are sardine-like cichlids that inhabit the open waters of Lake Tanganyika. They can be found in very large schools, feeding on zooplankton. Cyprichromis are the larger of the two genera, with one species (Cyprichromis zonatus) reaching almost 6 inches. Cyprichromis leptosoma is probably the most common species in the trade, with several regional variants available to hobbyists. Males often display vibrant blue and yellow color and will often “light up” when next to another male for an impressive display.

P. nigripinnisThere are two species of the smaller Paracyprichromis currently described, with only one seen readily in the hobby. Paracyprichromis nigripinnis is a charming little torpedo-shaped fish that that grows to about 3.5 to 4 inches. Both males and females are golden brown with blue stripes. Mature, dominant males have intense neon blue coloration in those stripes and through the fins. Like their bigger cousins, Paracyprichromis are found in open water columns in Lake Tanganyika.

Both Cyprichromis and Paracyprichromis will fair best in species tanks or Tanganyikan community tanks with at least 6 or 8 individuals in the school. If you can manage more, it always helps to keep them calm make them feel secure, but the bare minimum should always be 6.  Adding some ornamentation to the tank is acceptable, but make sure that you leave plenty of open swimming space.

With so many choices out there for schooling freshwater fish, don’t be shy about checking out some that are a little more uncommon! Whether it is a strange catfish or a new type of rainbowfish or one of the cichlids mentioned above, schooling behavior definitely adds life and energy to your aquarium. You will see interactions between fish that you would never see otherwise!


  1. avatar

    I’m planning a Niger river biotope (my kribensis pair inspired me to do a themed tank around them) so I was looking into a school of African glass catfish, however my LFS only has 1 of these little guys left. I was going to pick it up today after work, and was planning on adding more when they next come in – but is it likely to stop eating and die on its own until I can find it some friends?

    Its been in the LFS 2 weeks now alone (though in a tank with some different species, none of which are catfish) does that mean its been eating or has it starved all this time?

    Will it school with any other common species? If I buy a bunch of similarly shaped tetras that swim at the same level will it feel a bit safer with them until I can get more of its own kind? I feel bad to buy just 1 lone specimen but I suppose it’s alone whether I buy it or not… I wonder why whoever bought the others didn’t buy this guy… It seemed healthy enough to me…

    Alternatively there are 2 Congo tetras (females) left in a different tank at the LFS. If I went with these I know I’d have to call it a west African theme rather than a true biotope (kribs don’t live in the Congo and Congo tetras don’t live in the Niger river). But I could go this route too… The congos are really pretty… The LFS did say he’d be getting more of them in soon so they wouldn’t be lonely for long…

    Ahhh! Decisions!

  2. avatar

    Miss Cellany, Thanks for your question, As you already said, the Glass Catfish are a docile schooling fish, and are recommended to be kept in a school of several fish. I would go this route if possible, while it is not impossible for them to survive alone, their chances are much better in a school. Will your local LFS feed the fish for you, or is there someone there to talk to who would know whether or not the lone catfish is eating?

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