Many beginning aquarists assume that it is easier to maintain a smaller fish tank than a bigger one. However, this is not the case. Most of the time, it is harder to maintain smaller tanks because significant changes in their water chemistry can occur quickly and they almost always result in death.

While it can be a challenge to maintain a smaller tank like a 10-gallon tank, it is generally cheaper to own and stock such a tank. Therefore, it is better to start with such a tank as a beginner.

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In this article, I will share with you important info to help you to not only stock your 10-gallon fish tank but also to maintain it so that it becomes a thriving aquarium. 

What you need to know before stocking your 10-gallon tank

When stocking a 10-gallon or smaller fish tank, you need to carefully consider the fish and other aquarium life you choose and the number. Generally, it is best to keep only one fish in a 10-gallon fish tank. Two fish are not too bad either because there is plenty of room for both of them to swim. If you want to keep more than two fish, it is better to go for fish species that are passive and do not move a lot. This is because the small size of your tank will not really affect them since they do not move a lot. 

If you are going for one or two fish, it is best to go for one that is brightly colored. Brightly colored fish that are kept alone or in pairs in an aquarium are referred to as showcase fish. Showcase fish are mesmerizing to look at and often move a lot. Passive fish that do not move a lot and are cultivated as a group are referred to as schooling fish. You can cultivate one or two showcase fish alone or have them in your fish tank with schooling fish if they are not territorial. I will share with you the best showcase and schooling fish for your 10-gallon tank in the next section of this article. 

In addition to fish, it is best to consider an algae eater when thinking about stocking your 10-gallon fish tank. As mentioned earlier, small fish tanks usually witness rapid changes in water chemistry. This is usually because waste accumulates faster to toxic levels because of the low water volume. However, by having an algae eater or a scavenger in your tank, it will help you to reduce the toxicity by feeding on algae and waste products. One of the best algae eaters is the Dwarf Otocinclus. Other good ones include cherry shrimp and nerite snails. These are good for 10-gallon tanks because they are small in size and, therefore, do not take too much space.

The best fish to stock in your 10-gallon fish tank

Now that you know the basics about stocking a 10-gallon fish tank, it is time to know the best fish to stock in your small tank and the reasons why. Please note that am not saying that you should cultivate all these fish at the same time in your tank. The purpose of this section is to let you know about the fish and why it is best for a small tank. It is up to you to choose one showcase fish and to decide what other fish or aquarium life if any, you will have as its tank-mate(s).

  1. Neon Tetras

Tetras are small fish. You can keep one tetra or a school of tetras. So they are both showcase fish and schooling fish. Having a school of tetras will make your tank look gorgeous. And the fish prefer to be in a group. So if you choose to keep a neon tetra, you should plan to have several of them at once.

A maximum of ten tetras is great for a ten-gallon fish tank. However, this depends on what else is in your tank. Because although tetras are not territorial, they can start getting restless and nippy when they feel overcrowded. So when you see any stressed fish behavior in your new school of tetra fish, you will need to remove some to ensure the remaining ones thrive. Otherwise, many, if not all, will die.

  1. Corydoras

Corydoras aka cories are great fish for a small tank. They are a catfish that can grow to a maximum length of about three inches. This is what makes them perfect for small tanks.

The best thing about cories is that they are very fun to watch. They are also docile and do “clean” food settled at the bottom of the fish tank. So they are kind of their own filtration system.

Cories are schooling fish. Therefore, if you decide to keep them in your tank, you should plan on having around 5 or 6 of them together. 

  1. Bettas

400;”>Bettas aka Siamese fighting fish have got a bad reputation. But do not fall for the stereotype, they are great fish to keep in a 10-gallon fish tank. They are great if you do it the right way. You can keep a single betta fish in your 10-gallon tank. You can also keep two female bettas in your 10-gallon fish tank. Lastly, you can keep a male betta or two female bettas with critters such as a ghost shrimp, apple snails, or the aforementioned Dwarf Otocinclus. What you cannot do is keep a male Betta fish with another male or with another fish. That will be a recipe for war. 

Bettas are the perfect definition of showcase fish. This is because they are colorful, unique and pleasing to look at and are normally kept solo. 

  1. Guppies

Guppies, like neon tetras, are colorful, fun, and great to have in a small tank. They are typically schooling fish so they are happy when they are together in a bunch. Having five or six of them in your 10-gallon aquarium will make it look well-stocked and lively. 

Guppies are available in many colors. So it is very likely that you can get a school in your favorite color. The best thing about them is that they are active swimmers and usually swim near the top of the water. Therefore, you do not need many decorations or plants or things in your tank to create hiding spots for them. 

One thing you should know about guppies is that considering their small size, they can be eaten by other fish. So you should endeavor to keep them alone or with other equally smaller or docile fish.

  1. Mini Gouramis

Gouramis are showcase fish. This is because they come in very bright color patterns featuring colors such as orange, red, and blue. They are really eye-catching and are better kept solo or in pairs. A 10-gallon tank is fantastic for keeping a pair of them.

While it is great to have a pair of gouramis in your small tank, you should keep in mind the fact that they are semi-aggressive. Therefore, you should have hiding spots in your tank for one of them when the other decides to become aggressive. 

  1. Pencil fish

Pencil fish are normal looking fish but with narrow and long bodies. However, their bodies don’t normally grow beyond 2 inches. This is what makes them perfect to cultivate in small aquariums.

Pencil fish are schooling fish. They are happy in groups. Therefore, in case you choose to keep this type of fish, you should keep a bunch of them.

  1. Danios

Danios aka zebra danios are a type of schooling fish. They have a striped appearance (hence the name zebra danios) and are usually kept in a group of five or more in small aquariums.

Danios are essentially peaceful fish. This means you can have them in your tank together with a showcase fish species such as a female betta or a neon tetra. 

  1. White Cloud Mountain Minnows

White cloud mountain minnows are a special type of fish to keep. They are small and are a surprisingly hardy fish. By calling them hardy fish I mean that they can quickly adapt to changes in water chemistry. Therefore, they are perfect for beginning aquarists who still do not know much about setting or adjusting water parameters and maintaining good water quality.

The best thing about white cloud mountain minnows is that they do not grow a lot. They grow to a maximum length of 2 inches. This is why they are great for small fish tanks. 

White cloud mountain minnows are schooling fish and are usually kept in a group of about eight.

  1. Rasboras

Rasboras are a colorful schooling fish. They are the type of fish you should go for if you want to build an aquarium that looks as if it is full of life. This is because, with them and their bright copper bodies in your tank, it will automatically come to life.

Rasboras love live plants so you should make sure you have such plants in your 10-gallon tank. 

They are happy in a group of seven to ten. 

I hope that the information above has given you a few pointers to help you stock your small tank. Now that you know what to include in your small tank, let me tell you what not to include. 

Many people recommend many different types of fish to stock in small fish tanks. The only problem is that some of the fish they recommend as perfect for 10-gallon tanks are too active or grow to great lengths. Fish species that are too active are not perfect for small tanks because they will not have enough space to swim and be happy. Similarly, fish species that grow to more than three or four inches are not perfect for small fish tanks since they will not have enough space to swim and be happy. And if there is one thing you should know, it is that when fish are not happy, they get stressed and die. 

What I am trying to say is that you should not stock fish species that are too active or grow too big in your 10-gallon tank. Species that are too active but are still recommended for small fish tanks include danios and marble hatchets, while species that grow too big but are similarly still recommended for small fish tanks include platies, angelfish, Bala sharks, plecos, and goldfish.

Fish tank stocking ideas

Now that you know the type of fish species you can keep in your small tank and those that you cannot, it is time to share with you some ideas. As I highlighted earlier, it is up to you to choose a showcase or centerpiece fish or schooling fish to stock. I also mentioned that it is up to you to decide what compatible fish and/ or aquarium critters, you will stock together with your showcase fish or schooling fish.

However, I have got the easy way out for those of you who don’t want to great creative. I have listed some peaceful stocking ideas for a 10-gallon fish tank below:

  1. Six to eight tetras with live plants
  2. Six to eight white cloud mountain minnows
  3. One or two female bettas and three danios
  4. Six guppies and 4 black tetras 
  5. Two gouramis 

How to maintain your 10-gallon fish tank

  1. Make sure you get a filter for it if it does not have one. A filter will clean the water of remnant food debris, detritus, and toxic waste. This will ensure the quality of water in your small tank does not deteriorate and affect your tank inhabitants.
  2. Cycle your 10-gallon tank before adding fish. Cycling your tank will prepare the filter to breakdown ammonia into harmless nitrates. So cycle it before you add fish or any other critters to ensure they are protected from the accumulation of toxic ammonia.
  3. Make sure you get an air pump. An air pump will aerate your fish tank and ensure its re-oxygenation. This will ensure your fish continue breathing good air and thriving. Without proper aeration or water changes, your tank water will gradually lose its oxygen and become very dangerous for your fish and plant life.

The above three tips should help you to maintain your small tank and build and sustain a thriving 10-gallon aquarium for any type of small fish species in your home.