10 Most Exotic Freshwater Fish 28

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If you’re looking to decorate your tank with wonderful exotic fish with bright and sparkling colors then keep on reading.

There are several unique aquarium fish species to choose for beginner and advanced hobbyists.

We are going to go over the 10 most exotic freshwater fish. Maybe you will be able to pick out a few favorites to add to your tank.

10 Most Exotic Freshwater Fish

1. Discus


Discus fish are a genus of cichlids native to the Amazon River basin. They have bright colors, and a circular shape (hence the name). They are popular because of their markings, patterns, and wide variety of exotic colors.

Over the last 30-40 years they have developed a reputation for being only cared for by elite aquarist- but these fish are easy to take care of.

The most popular types are the red, blue and turquoise Discus. They can grow fairly large, with a height and length of about 8-10inches when full grown.

Another main reason hobbyists love Discus is that these fish tend to take on some personal behaviors and might even recognize you and greet you when you approach the tank.

2. Arowana


Some would say the Arowana looks like a dinosaur with their large powerful jaws and razor sharp teeth. They also come from the Amazon River basin and can grow to be 48 inches in the wild and 30 inches in captivity.

These fish are large, so you will need to have a large tank, 4ft x 4ft or even larger so they will have enough room to turn around easily.

They prefer to feed on live fish such as crabs, bugs, shrimp or frozen food and pellets. As they are a large fish and consume a lot of food, they will produce large amounts of waste so heavy filtration is extremely important.

They will be most comfortable if their environment is as close to their natural habitat as possible. They should be surrounded with plants, sand and rocks.

Certain species, like the silver Arowana in the wild jumps out of the water to capture prey. Make sure you do not startle an Arowana or you might be trying to pick it up from the floor!

3. Datnoid


The Datnoid comes from Indonesia and Thailand waters. They are also called Tiger fish because of their large black stripes and tiger-like patterned bodies.

You will need a fairly large aquarium because this fish can grow to be 65 cm. You should try to mimic the natural conditions and habitat of the Datnoids native surroundings.

Plants and hiding spots will be a good idea since they love to hide and mimic stalking and hunting behavior.

Despite their love for hunting, this fish species is non-aggressive and should be kept with other docile fish. Their diet consists of frozen food, pellets and live food.

4. Freshwater Sting Rays


Also from the Amazon River basin, Rays are peaceful in nature, omnivorous and will love to have hiding spots in your tank.

Certain species will grow to be one meter in size so you will need a large tank if you want to keep Rays. Take note of special care for certain species, their skin and tails are fragile, and some species tails are venomous.

There should be no substrate but fine sand on the bottom of the tank. Some Rays can grow to be 3 feet in diameter so be sure to know how big your Ray will get before you commit to caring for one.

If you’re planning on keeping other tank mates in your freshwater aquarium then it would be best to choose larger, docile and non-aggressive fish friends.

5. Axolotl


The Axolotl is from Mexico City and is also known as the Mexican salamander. This is a very unique (and sometimes adorable) and exotic creature that is actually classified as an amphibian (salamander).

They are carnivorous and prefer to eat insects, worms and feeder fish. They should only share a tank with other large tank mates. Like Rays, they have sensitive skin and should be kept on smooth and fine sand.

You will need at least an 11-gallon tank if you want to keep an Axolotl in your home aquarium.

The water conditions of your tank are extremely important when thinking about caring for an Axolotl and frequent water changes are a must along with occasional water testing.

6. Green Spotted Puffer Fish


This colorful yellow-green fish is native to Southeast Asia. They have black and brown spots and have become popular in freshwater aquariums because of their interesting behavior and personality.

Although this fish has a long lifespan, (10+ years) you will need to be a well-educated aquarium owner because these fish have specific needs and care instructions.

The Green Spotted Puffer has been known to attack and kill other fish in the tank. They are very aggressive and are best kept alone in a large 55+ gallon tank.

They will grow to about six inches and they aren’t afraid to come to the tank if you are in the room to ask for food.

7. Flowerhorn (hybrid)


The Flowerhorn Cichlid originates from Malaysia. These Cichlids as hybrids are highly popular amongst hobbyists because of their great size and beautiful mix of colors.

They come in combinations of blues, reds, pinks, yellows and orange with wonderful dark flowerlike markings on their bodies.

This carnivorous and aggressive species prefer large tanks all to themselves; only one should be kept per tank.

They prefer a diet of pellet, flake and live foods, will grow to be 16 inches and have a lifespan of 5-8 years.

8. Malawi Cichlid


The Malawi Cichlid is native to East Africa in Lake Malawi. If you decide to keep a Lake Malawi Cichlid in your tank, you will need certain requirements so that this fish stays healthy and continues to display its beautiful and bright colors.

Malawi fish are popular because of the enchanting colors and charming behavior. Most species grow to about 12 inches and undergo dramatic color changes.

You should try to mimic the natural environment and water chemistry of their native habitat.

Your tank should contain rocks, hiding spots; detritus, plants, sand and the water temperature should be stable and have good filtration.

Unlike the South American Cichlids, these East African Cichlids should be placed in large enough groups of their own species to prevent territorial disputes that might not end well.

9. Electric Blue Lobster


The Blue Lobster, despite its name, is a crayfish native to Florida. The Blue Lobster is combative and proper precautions should be in place before placing one in a community aquarium as it is an opportunistic omnivore and will eat small fish.

They will grow to about 5-7 inches long and will require a tank of at least 20 gallons. Make sure your tank contains places to hide and climb because this crayfish loves to explore.

With proper water conditions and care, the Blue Lobster can live for up to 5 years.

10. Oscar


Another species of the Cichlid family, the Oscar is native to South America. The popular Tiger Oscar has bold orange and black patterns across its body. Several other types of Oscars have a dark base with lighter stripes. There are even albino, red, and yellow Oscars.

They will grow to be 10 -12 inches long so you will need a lot of aquarium space. You will need a 55 gallon tank or preferably larger. Because of their playful and aggressive nature, they will move objects around in the tank and uproot your plants; so heavy décor will be necessary.

With their strong predatory sense, they love eating carnivorous foods and if you are planning to have an Oscar in your tank, keep it only with other South American Cichlids.

What's Your Experience?

Have you taken care of any of these exotic freshwater fish in your aquarium?

We’d love to hear all about it, let us know your experiences in the comments section below.

About Dennis Hanson

Dennis is an experienced aquarist with many years of knowledge and experience in keeping successful tanks. He also has no relations to the pop group Hanson.

28 thoughts on “10 Most Exotic Freshwater Fish

  1. Reply Rick McCloy Jan 23,2015 5:05 pm

    I must note that your list of the top 10 exotic freshwater fish includes two that are not fish, one, an amphibian, two being a crustacean. As you did not seem to note this, perhaps we can go with your top 8 list:).
    More seriously, however, is that while speaking of Silver Arowana, you depict an Asian arrowana, a fish very threatened, and current under the protection of CITES, among other laws, thus making them illegal to own without the correct permits. Please match your pic to the fish described, at least:).
    I will also add that, saying Malawi cichlids, is simply is not specific enough to cover the many varieties of cichlids there; either be specific, or strike that from your list as well,as you might just have well said characin, expecting that to be specific enough to qualify for your list.
    All in good fun, of course, but please do pull up your socks a bit.—rick

    • Reply Trevor Apr 29,2017 1:26 pm

      I know this comment is old but Rick you are absolutely correct with everything you said.
      Just like the rest of his articles Dennis has no clue what he’s talking about. The fact he titled this “Exotic Fish” is a joke all in itself. Dennis it doesn’t surprise me you would use the word exotic seeing what a terrible writer you are. The word exotic means originating or having characteristics from a foreign or distant country. So depending on where you live all fish not originating in your country are technically exotic. Your ignorance literally baffles me.
      I understand what you meant by “exotic” but that doesn’t excuse you improperly using it. Nor does it excuse your list of fish that are far from “exotic”, the majority of these can be found anywhere selling aquarium fish. If these are what you consider “exotic” then all the more reason why you have absolutely no business writing articles about aquariums.

  2. Reply Stefan Jan 23,2015 8:42 pm

    Peculiar selection of fish. Where is Pterpohyllum Altum for example? Clearly missing.

  3. Reply les pullan Jan 24,2015 6:37 pm

    My local aquatic store M@L aquatics has a beautiful display tank of discus fish.Would love to add some to my tank but i have a couple of large angel fish and am told they should not be kept together.Any thoughts?

  4. Reply J. H. Jan 28,2015 2:21 am

    The Green Spotted Puffer is not freshwater, it requires Brackish to Fully Marine conditions to support long term health.

  5. Reply Lissa Vrtjak Jan 29,2015 1:56 am

    I had both the blue lobster & an albino Oscar. Watch out with the blue lobster – mine loved to explore so much he left the tank regularly! They’re great climbers – it didn’t matter how I rearranged his basking rocks, he always found a way to climb out & I would have to searching for him. He’d be covered in lint, motoring away! My albino Oscar was wonderful. He grew to about 10″ and immensely enjoyed being ‘top fish’ in the 30g tall tank where he lived with other, smaller cichlids. He never ate any of his tankmates & he came right up to the surface to take food from my fingers and get his nose gently bopped.

  6. Reply Deborah Mitchell Feb 2,2015 9:50 am

    I would leave the amphibean off the list and put Pacu on… what’s not to brag about having the largest pirahna species in your tank? They are gentle giants,growing to 3 feet in captivity, larger in the wild. Luckily our Zoo will take them if ou grow one too big to turn around in your tank. (I did,16.5 inches in a 55 tank before I found out about the Zoo.) They are omnivore, eating almost anything that falls into the Amazon in the wild. Mine loved worms. Best kept by themselves although in the 125gal another lived happily with 2 Oscars that ate goldfish.

  7. Reply KT Feb 27,2015 1:33 pm

    I understand from my personal friends Discus is not easy to keep but seems to have different understanding from here. Anybody can further confirm. I have just reset my tank and I am seriously considered keeping Discus.

  8. Reply John Kozolanka Mar 5,2015 2:04 pm

    I have 9 discus in my show tank. It took some time for me to figure them out but now that I know what to do (water change, water change, water change) and quarantine new arrivals for 6 weeks they are thriving. Friendly fish who like to be fed by hand. They won’t leave me alone when I am maintain their tank. Always swimming around my hands and arms and going in for a peck (they haven’t figured out that I’m too big to eat). Beautiful, beautiful fish but can be expensive, so read up on care and you will be fine.

  9. Reply tirtho May 13,2015 1:25 pm

    Most exotic??Golden arowana,red texas,vieja synopsilum,frontosa,datnoids,
    are few of my favourites.not to mention…Pacus are in my dislike list,they eat everything and get big too soon+ they miss the attitude that red bellys have…a complete fake..

  10. Reply Billy Wortham May 23,2015 6:09 am

    Tiger Oscars (2)
    Jack Dempsey
    Blood Parrot Fish
    Red Empress (4)

    I have these 9 fish in a 55 gallon aquarium and I’ve never had any issues with them as far as being so aggressive and territorial as everyone warned me about. I bought them all nearly a week apart and about the same size 3″.
    Now they’re at least 8″ and I’m currently waiting on my custom built 150 gallon to be built and delivered by the Fish Mart here in Houston Tx. These really are peaceful fish and majority of the time if I put my hand in the tank I can play with them. They’re regular diet is frozen bloodworms but I tend to switch it up once a month between beefheart and nine shrimp. I was just introduced by the fish mart of the super carnivore meal that includes all different meats so I’ll post later on how that goes. So far they tend to like it….

  11. Reply kennedy Nov 9,2015 10:57 pm

    the arowana looks like a mini aripima!!!

  12. Reply THQ Dec 18,2015 1:19 pm

    When I think exotic, I think, very unusual looking,, expensive/rare fish, or have very unusual habits. Cichlids (incl. malawis, flowerhorn, oscar and discus, 4 out of your 10) are in every fish shop. Also axolotls and blue lobsters are in normal pet shops and aren’t even fish. The only ones I would keep on the list are arowanas and freshwater rays.

    Let me suggest replacements for the other 8, that you can still find in many fish stores:
    1. Black ghost knife fish
    2. Archer fish
    3. Bichir
    4. Lungfish
    5. African butterfly fish
    6. Elephantnose
    7. Vampire tetra
    8. Halfbeaks and gars

    Most of these come from Africa, some from South America.

  13. Reply Peter B Jan 23,2016 2:44 am

    Liked your article on Exotics for the aquarium. Here are a couple that are also good in a large aquarium with plenty of tunnels and hiding places. Clown Loaches, Red tailed black shark, Coryadoras catfish, and Siamese flying fox shark, Golden and blue gouramis.

    Another thing that will bring out the brilliant colours of plants and fish is the aquarium backdrop. I made one form a sheet of Styrofoam. Simply run a gas torch across the front surface so it melts like a rocky surface, then glue a strip of timber along the top edge, onto this add a couple of plastic hooks that will support the very light backdrop on the upper rim of the tank, secure these hooks to the timber strip with a couple of screws. Next simply paint the backdrop with Black or dark brown paint. Simply hang it on the rear of the aquarium and what a display you will have.

    If at some stage you wish to go to marine fish simply remove the backdrop and paint it Caribbean or dark blue. This will also enhance corals and make your marine fish colours like ‘Exotic magic’.


    Peter B

  14. Reply Cole Apr 11,2016 8:43 pm

    Hey I keep axolotls and they grow really fast a really big. To keep one the minimum is at least 20 gallons and they like more floor space for walking.
    Plus feeder fish are incredibly bad for them and the staple of there diet should be nightcrawlers.

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  17. Reply moontanman Jun 16,2016 5:00 pm

    I am looking for a relatively large aquarium fish that swims constantly in mid water similar to a Pink-tailed Chalceus. Similar size shape and swimming habits but a fish that will not eat small fish like cardinal tetras..

  18. Reply danny Jun 20,2016 3:54 am

    My son purchased a small ten gallon tank, he bought an orange gurami (sore of) and 2 tetras and an algae eating fish. The 2 tetras died in 24 hrs. Do you think they died due to the gurami or they died due to tank shock.

  19. Reply no name Aug 3,2016 11:56 pm

    discus are actually easy to keep you only have to do water changes every other day in a 100 gallon

  20. Reply Ryan Sep 5,2016 4:43 pm

    I haven’t got a fish tank but I like to no that what if you put a batfish and a cowfish together and clownfish together

  21. Reply Masood Rayan Oct 12,2016 4:00 am

    The mesmerizing feeling of warm sun rays leaning down into tropical waters, and breaking back through the water’s vivid facade as it rebounds off the glistening scales of a rare fish provides an experience that stays in one’s memory for a lifetime.

    Probably I will keep your list of fish in my aquarium.

  22. Reply KRC Jan 9,2017 9:57 pm

    I am an owner of the blue lobster (2 of them), and a tank of Africa chilids. I will say that I absolutely love my chilids, although territorial they are beautiful fish, that are pretty low maintenance overall. As long as they have hiding spots for each fish that live in the tank and plants to move through they are happy.
    The blue lobster,crayfish however was a purchase made with no real knowledge or understanding of what I was clearly getting myself into. I originally thought they were able to go into the tank with my non agressors, and boy was a wrong. They eat fish, or should I say attack fish if they feel their territory is being trampled on. They are little boogers for sure. We immediately got a tank for both of them to be in and introduced them at the same time so that territory disputes weren’t much of a concern. They did fight over housing for awhile but battles were won and these two are living happily ever after for the time being. I will need to increase their tank size to 20 gallons in the coming months, however both currently are about an inch a piece.
    Good luck to anyone who wants to purchase one of those. They are wirey, quick, little things, that are pretty unreadable. Honestly interesting to look at I am not sure I woukd purchase them again. Costing about 20 dollars a piece they will demand a home, food, and care. Depends on what all you are into I guess. Outside of two 60 gallon tanks our now 10 gallon tank for the crayfish, we also have 2 hermit crabs, which can be high maintenance ad well, we have three dogs and 7 cats. Starting to feel a but like an exibit around here 😊.

  23. Reply Jeff Handwerg Jan 20,2017 7:04 pm

    I have kept 4 of these beauties and am acquiring a 5th one tonight. I have recently had discus (beautiful fish), a long time ago kept oscars, currently keep freshwater stingrays and a silver arowana, and am picking up a datnoid tonight. Love all of these fish.

    I do agree 2 of these are not fish, 1 amphibian and 1 crustacean.

    I would exchange those for bichir and knifefish. Both I keep as well! lol So I am a little biased.

    Most of these fish are not for beginners and I highly recommend the larger the tank the easier to maintain. My tanks are 240 gallon and 180 gallon. I am going to be upgrading to a 500 gallon as silver arowana and clown knife fish get over 3 feet long which most people do not consider when purchasing.

    Anyway I love this hobby and very grateful to have a very understanding wife!

  24. Reply Daniel Feb 9,2017 5:11 am

    Take the axolotl off of here. they shouldn’t be housed with any fish, they aren’t fish, they are cold water, warm water will shorten their life spans, they shouldn’t eat fish generally as the bones are hard to digest, they eat brine shrimp, bloodworms, earthworms, and high protein trout feed.

  25. Reply Debra Mar 23,2017 6:45 pm

    I use to have Albino Frogs in my freshwater tank. They are so cute when they eat with their little hands. Do you know where I can get Albino Frogs in Los Angeles?

  26. Reply Jim Palmer May 15,2017 10:05 pm

    nothing cooler than a goo school. silver hatchets above cardinal tetras, way beloe a large group of monos sebaae or argenteus. Triedto school silver or black arrowannas but they gang up one on one or two or three on one or two and kill each other, not pretty. Gymnotodis knives are about as exotic as you can get but kind of hard t find and keep. Stingrays so cool, illegal in California, best schooloing fish are Monos if you can afford them–get the cheap tiny ones, they grow as fast as you can feed them. Argenteus more colorful but sebae more exotic shape and larger.brackish if you have parasites. Archers will live happily above them. Best suggestion;school of monos.

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