Aquarium Maintenance

The 10 Best Schooling Fish for Your Aquarium

There is a spectacular view seeing a large school of fish that move in unison, as if it were a single creature, you may wonder who is in charge, and who decides where and when to go? How do they stay so close? Why one fish school and others choose to live alone? Read on to learn more about adding school fish to your tank.

Schooling is very common in fish and it is estimated that 80% of fish live in a school for some time. Smaller fish and eggs often spend more time in schools than large fish who can feed themselves, although some larger species often go to school. For the fish, going to school is not as easy as just meeting a group and swimming in the same place. School fish swim too close together – so close you may wonder how they can fit in with each other. Scientific research has shown that a school leader has an influence on the movement of other fish – some fish pick up from other fish around them, responding to different stimuli around them. It also makes sense regarding the body shape of the fish – they have eyes on the sides of their heads so they can easily see what is on both sides of them.

Let us know the difference between Schooling vs shoaling

The word school means the practice of a group of fish swimming in the same way in an orderly fashion. Shoaling, on the other hand, occurs when a group of fish meets for social reasons while fish schools mainly contain a single species, while for a shoal it may contain a group of mixed species.

School of fish usually goes somewhere, but when they stop feeding, they become a shoal. Shoalers and schoolers most time spend all their time in the group and get very stressed if they break up. Shoalers or schoolers only meet sometimes for a specific purpose, for example to breed or feed.

How does school live together?

A combination of senses to keep the school together. Vision is thought to be key, although sight, smell, side lines, and the use of pheromones all help fish to what the school is doing and where they are in the school. No leader, rather, each fish stays in “contact” with its neighbor and when one fish turns or moves faster, the others react in the same way.

Each fish in the school has two areas: a repulsion zone area, which helps them to keep the same distance from each other, and a “zone of orientation”, where each fish tries to do what the fish around them do. As the school progresses, each fish tries to match its neighbor; when the school stops, each fish tries to stay close to its neighbor.

Why Do fish school?
Predator avoidance

Schools are made up of thousands or hundreds of similar fish that confuse creatures and make it difficult to extract and attack a single fish. An extreme but common response of schools attacked by creatures is the construction of a circle. These behaviors are unique and very common among many species of living things and nature.

it becomes difficult for predators to select one prey from groups because many moving targets create an overload of the visual’s channel of the predator.


It makes it easier for some fish to find food. With a lot of vigilant eyes, the school can find potential victims. The school is not controlled by a single fish. It only appears if there are enough members who follow a set of relevant rules.


Schooling also improves the fish’s ability to find a mate and successfully reproduce, many species of fish congregate in schools where they need to mate, but also could be the other side. Some schools could be only females. All of them protecting themselves from male harassment.

Eggs are more likely to be fertilized in a large group, and with more eggs being produced, at least some may be able to avoid being eaten by other fish.

Recommended Types

Not all fish are schooling fish, but most fish that prefer to live in schools are community fish – that is, they tend to adapt to a wide variety of species and often have no territorial or aggressive behavior.

Below you will find a recommended list of schooling fish for your aquarium:

  1. Corydoras Catfish

fish that school

Cories are active little catfish that roam around your tank, cleaning the uneaten food that falls on the substrate. About 1-3 inches in size and fun to watch. You can think of them as part of your aquarium sanitation staff.

But some people don’t realize that cories need to stay in school. Keeping cory fish in groups helps to manage their stress levels. When they are close to others like them, they are happy and healthy.

Make sure you throw a few sinking pellets in the tank during their feeding so that your cories have enough food.

  1. Cherry barb

fish that school

They are usually peaceful and make amazing additions to the aquarium. Males are bright red in color while females are subdued.

Also, you will not usually find them hanging in a tight group like the neon ones do, but it is still important to have enough of them to avoid stress. It is also a good idea to put two females to one male, to avoid the female being stressed.

  1. White minnows of clouds

fish that school

“White Cloud Mountain Minnow” by mira d’oubliette is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

White cloud minnows are cold-water fish. When tropical fish thrive in temperatures between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, the minnows prefer a temperature of about ten degrees cooler.

It’s always best to keep them in a tank of their own or with other fish that can tolerate cold temperatures such as cories, guppies, and zebra danios. You always want to do some research before you bring the fish home, but that’s especially true with white minnows of clouds.

  1. Otocinclus Catfish

fish that school

“Otocinclus” by AJC1 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many new aquarium owners are looking for algae-eating fish to help keep the area spiffy. They are looking at Plecostomus, a suckerfish that always clings to the side of the tank. The only problem is that the adult pleco can reach the size of two feet and is not suitable for most aquariums.

Instead, many owners of fresh aquarium water could be better off with an otocinclus catfish school. Otos look like small plecos and will cling to glass in the same way. Its best to house them in groups and avoid keeping them together with large fish that could eat them. Make sure you feed algae wafers so you know your otos are getting enough food.

  1. Neon Tetra

fish that school

“Neon Tetra” by michelle.khuu is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Neon is among the most colorful freshwater fish in your aquarium. They are small – about an inch long as adults – so do not include them with large fish that may see them as a snack. They do better when they are in groups than alone.

  1. Harlequin Rasbora

fish that school

“File:01.Rasbora heteromorpha.jpg” by Juan R. Lascorz is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Harlequin rasboras are peaceful and grows to a few inches in height. They have a reddish-orange color on their sides, aligned with their black markings on their tails. These fish usually thrive in groups of six or more, though large schools are definitely appreciated. These types are adaptable which makes it a good choice for beginners.

As with the other small fish, avoid including them with large tank partners that can be viewed as lunch. Alternatively, the harlequin rasbora is a colorful and easy fish to keep in your tank.

  1. Tiger Barb

fish that school

“Tiger Barb” by cb_agulto is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tiger barbs are attractive fish with striking black stripes. They are aggressive and they have a reputation for being the last bullies.

You can put them in a group of six or more to help keep them calm, but they can still be kept with other semi-aggressive fish. Avoid keeping them with fish that have flowing long fins.

  1. Zebra Danio

“zebra danio (stripe)” by bob_jenkins is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Zebra danios have slender long bodies and can have long or short fins. These fish are silver with blue / dark black stripes horizontally like a zebra. What makes them fun to watch is how they dart around quickly around the tank.

They are small, peaceful fish and are best kept in a peaceful community tank and other peaceful fish that are not big enough to eat them. Remember: Big fish eat small fish, so whenever you put in a small fish like Zebra Danio you should be careful.

  1. Hatchet fish

“Baltimore–October 19 2007–National Aquarium–Hatchet Fish” by Makuahine Pa’i Ki’i is licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is one of the coolest fish out there, but not for everyone. Hatchet fish is peaceful and lives in the upper part of the water column. However, they are easily alarmed and use an interesting strategy to escape predators. Jump out of the water!

In the wild, the jumping hatchet fish will return to the river. In a home aquarium, it may jump out of your tank. It is very important that you make sure that your entire aquarium is tightly covered if you intend to keep them.

  1. Black Skirt tetra

“Black Skirt Tetra” by Ken_Lord is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Bigger than neon and a better choice if you have big fish in your tank. Their slender bodies with black stripes and flowing black fins make them look like sharp fish. Keep them in groups of six or more and give them at least a 15 gallon tank. Like most tetras, they will enjoy an aquarium with many medium and long vegetation.


Many hobbyists want understandably want a variety of fish in their aquariums and will buy one or two of the many selected species. In fact, the fish mentioned above will be much happier, healthier, less stressed, and more colorful when being kept together in larger groups.

You can build a small school in your home tank. School-going fish do more than give you a source of entertainment, they will be much smaller, less prone to hiding in the shadows and can enhance the look and function of your entire tank and everything that goes together, is worth it!

Next: 20 safe and compatible goldfish tank mates

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