The Most Exotic Freshwater Fish You Can Raise

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If you are interested in raising a freshwater fish, there are plenty of options for you to choose from when it comes to tank inhabitants. From fish that are native to Asia to those that reside in the lakes of Africa, you will have plenty of choices when it comes to selecting the best species for your aquarium.

When you consider the term “exotic,” you may not necessarily think of these freshwater inhabitants. After all, the word “exotic” tends to conjure up images of deep sea dwellers with large teeth and vicious-looking barbs.

However, there are plenty of interested freshwater fish that can be kept in your home aquarium – and some of these are quite exotic. In fact, some of these low-moving tributaries of the Amazon River basin are some of the best places to find an exotic freshwater fish.

Luckily, most of these can easily be kept at home. Are you interested in learning more? Here are the best – and most popular! – exotic freshwater fish that you can raise at home.

Exotic Freshwater Fish

1 Arowana

Silver Arowana 2
Photo by Warrior1

Arowana fish are not for the faint of heart – a good fish for expert aquarium hobbyists, this fish can be semi-aggressive and has a long lifespan. Many live well past decade, with some aging to 15 years old or older.

These fish should be housed in warm tanks, ideally those with temperatures ranging between 75 and 8 degree Fahrenheit. They prefer a pH of 6.5 to 7.5 and can eat any kind of meat food, such as small fish, worms, carnivorous fish pellets, frozen insects, live insects, or even krill.

A sleek, silver-colored fish, this species has a streamlined appearance that helps it hunt aggressively for its prey. They have muscular bodies with drawbridge-like mouths that they use to hunt with. They can even jump out of the water to hunt for animals on low-lying branches!

This distinctive fish is a great choice for an experienced fishkeeper who wishes to raise a disincentive, more exotic fish. Requiring a tank of at least 250 gallons in size, this fish needs to live in a tank with minimal light. They need plenty of space, and even those with large tanks will be prone to jumping or nervousness around changing water conditions.

Arowanas should not be kept with other fish, as they are predators that will eat any fish smaller than themselves – which in most cases, is just about any other kind of fish. You need to be careful about keeping arowana with other fish, even with potentially suitable companions like Oscars and cichlids. Otherwise, an arowana is a species that is quite enjoyable to raise.

2 Discus Fish

Discus fish

The Discus fish is a bit easier to raise than the more challenging arowana. Native to the Amazon river delta, this fish prefers the calmer waters near the banks of the rivers, usually among fallen trees. There are many patterns and colors available for this species because it is captively bred. However, it most often is found with a flat, disk-like body. It has large red eyes and prominent dorsal fins.

A gorgeous fish to behold, this peaceful fish should be kept in a tank of around 75gallons. It can be fed algae flakes, tropical flakes, or shrimp pellets you can house this fish with other species, but it’s easier to keep this fish with others of their own kind. Caring for a discus can be challenging if they can’t feed from the bottom of the tank – which is what they prefer. You need to make sure any more aggressive fish or those prone to nipping fins are kept far away from your discus.

3 Zebra Plecos

Zebra Plecos

The Zebra Plecostomus, or zebra plecos, is an excellent fish for beginning hobbyists. It has a life expectancy of around a decade, and only needs a tank of around thirty gallons or so in size. It likes oxygen-rich water and will eat a varied diet of foods like algae wafers, prawns, mussels, blood worms, lobster eggs, peas, and pellets.

This exotic fish is native to the tributaries of the Amazon river. A bottom-dwelling catfish, this species has black and white stripes that makes it look just like a zebra. It is slightly more challenging to raise for a beginner, but still suitable for someone just starting out – just make sure you are careful about providing it with an exceptionally warm tank and oxygen-rich water.

This fish likes to have plenty of places to hide. It’s a good idea to include lots of decorations, like rocks or small caves. They are most active at night, and they’re also social creatures that prefer being housed with several others of their own kind. As peaceful individuals, you might want to keep them in a species-only tank solely to reduce stress on this fish itself caused by the presence of more aggressive species.

4 Elephantnose Fish

Elephantnose Fish

The elephant nose fish is a very unique exotic fish. It has a trunk-like mouth extension that makes it look not unlike a dolphin. It uses this extension to eat, communicate, and even defend itself.

Native to the Niger River in Africa, this fish has a unique electrical field that is used to sense its surroundings as well as to communicate with other fish in stagnant, murky waters. These fish like muddy water with dense foliage and tend to be most active at night.

Even with experienced hobbyists, these semi-aggressive fish are rare. They have very strict water requirements that dictate temperatures between 73 and 80 degrees and a pH between 6.5 and 7.0. They need tanks of around fifty gallons, and because they are nocturnal, it may be more difficult to feed these fish.

5 Freshwater African Butterflyfish

African Butterflyfish
Photo by Two Oceans Aquarium

The African Butterfly Fish is one of the oldest surviving fish species that has remained unchanged for the last 100 million years. A unique fish with an exotic appearance, it looks not unlike a butterfly when viewed from above. This fish has long, extended ventral, caudal, and dorsal fins that add to this appearance.

The mouth of this fish is also unique. It is turned upward in a frown, which is designed to catch small fish and insects that hang out around the top of the water. A dark brown fish, this species is usually speckled so that it can blend in with the surrounding foliage. This fish lives for about five years in captivity, and although it can live in communities, you need to be careful about housing it with fish that are smaller than it. These fish are best kept in shallow tanks with other butterflyfish instead.

6 Flowerhorn Cichlid

Flowerhorn Cichlids
Photo by Eme emepe

The Flowerhorn Cichlid is one of the most unique freshwater fish you can raise. It has a unique appearance in which it has a large horn-like growth at the top of its head. This horn, the namesake of the fish, doesn’t serve much of a purpose besides ornamentation, but it sure is interesting to look at!

This aggressive fish has a life expectancy of eight to ten years. It needs to be kept in very warm waters and needs a tank of around 75 gallons. That is the amount required by a single cichlid – if it has any tankmates, it will need a tank that is at least 200 gallons.

This fish is characterized as aggressive because it is hostile toward fish from other species. However, around humans and other flowerhorns it is quite docile. These fish add a splash of color to the tank – males and females usually have bright red horns and can be found with bodies in a rainbow of patterns and colors.

These fish occasionally suffer from health problems because they are hybrid fish. They are not found naturally in the wild. That being said, as long as you can provide this fish with the water and tank conditions it needs, it can happily live for up to twelve years in confinement.

7 Dwarf Puffer Fish

 Dwarf Puffer Fish
Photo by anna pang

The unique dwarf puffer fish is one of the few puffer fish that can be successfully raised by beginners. An adorable little fish, this exotic species has a life expectancy of around five years. It can be a bit aggressive, but only needs about ten gallons to raise a single individual. These fish have diets consisting mostly of snails, bloodworms, shrimp, and blackworms.

Dwarf puffer fish max out at around one or two inches in length, but they are nevertheless packed right full of personality. Native to southwestern India, these fish only like freshwaters. Therefore, they are perfect for your exotic freshwater tank. Most are greenish brown in color but many have yellowish white bodies. What’s really interesting about these fish is that they have eyes that move independently of the rest of their body, like chameleons.

These fish require extremely clean waters – you can have no ammonia in your tank at all, as this can be deadly. You can keep your dwarf puffer fish with several other dwarf puffers, but you should avoid housing them with other tank mates, as their unique displays of aggression can ultimately be quite deadly.

8 Snakehead Fish

Snakehead Fish

The snakehead fish is not a fish to be taken lightly – it should be attempted only by the most experienced fish keepers. That being said, if you know what you’re doing and have plenty of space – this fish needs at least 450 gallons in order to thrive – this fish can live a long life, with many living in excess of eight years..

You need to be careful about raising the snakehead fish not only because it is a difficult thing to do, but also because in some areas, snakehead fish has been labeled an invasive species. You will want to make sure your local laws do not prohibit you keeping it in your aquarium.

These fish feed primarily on fish, birds, reptile, small mammals, and crustaceans. They are a bit odd to look at, with unique scales and a flat shape that make it look like a snake. In the wild, they are naturally found in the rivers of Africa, Siberia, China, and Afghanistan.

This fish is unique in that it requires a bit of air to stay alive. You will often see this eel-like creature leaping to the surface of the water to gulp air before submerging again. A large fish, this one is definitely worth keeping if your local laws allow it – and if you have a monumental amount of space it requires.

9 Rope Fish

Rope Fish

This fish is a unique little creature that can live as long as twenty years if you are able to provide it with the proper conditions. Designed for beginning aquarium hobbyists, this fish prefers waters that range between 72 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit. It feeds primarily on live or frozen prawns, bloodworms, mussels, and insects.

A good alternative to the snakehead fish, this eel-like species is quite a bit smaller and exhibits some of the same behaviors. It also has a flattened head and scaly body, plus it has odd tentacles that pop out of its face and look like nostrils.

This fish is nocturnal, native to the African river tributaries where there are plenty of plants, low-lying branches, and hiding spots. They are also capable of breathing air, as they have both lungs and gills.

These fish are quite peaceful and will get along with most other aquarium inhabitants. You may keep them with other species like loaches, plecos, catfish, and angelfish. Although they are natural predators, they usually won’t attempt to hunt these creatures.

10 Chinese Hillstream Loach

Chinese Hillstream Loach
Photo by Em Fulloway

Loaches are popular among beginning fishkeepers for several reasons. Although Chinese Hillstream Loaches are somewhat more difficult to raise, they can be attempted by intermediate fishkeepers. These bottom feeders are very good at cleaning up the algae in your tank, and will use their specialized fins to suck onto the tank glass and crawl along it to feed.

These fish have interesting black and yellow color patterns. They look a lot like plecos and other bottom feeders, but they tend to hide among the plants and gravel as they eat. As a result, you probably won’t see them much during the day. These fish can live up to ten years when given the proper conditions, but can’t tolerate a wide variety of water temperatures and pH levels. They can, however, eat many different types of food, including cucumber, spinach, bug larvae, bloodworms, sinking pellets, shrimp, and more.

These fish aren’t aggressive toward other freshwater fish, but it may be more difficult to house them in a community tank because of their particular water requirements. That being said, you can keep your Chinese Hillstream Loach with any other gentle and docile community fish. Ideally, you should keep them with fish who live in the middle or top levels of the water column.

11 Black Ghost Knifefish

Black Ghost Knifefish
Photo by wakhyudin mubarok

Native to the dark waters of the slow-moving rivers of the Amazon river basin, these fish are long-lived species that have a unique adaptation to life in limited lighting. They have black skin and a knife-like body, and they have electromagnetic fields for navigation like eels.

These fish need relatively large tanks – ideally those larger than 150 gallons – but can be fed a wide variety of foods, like freshwater flakes, meat, and live worms. They are compatible with most other freshwater fish, but can be more prone to disease and injury. Therefore, it’s important that you only keep them with peaceful tank mates and that you keep your tank immaculately clean.

12 Wolf Cichlid

Wolf Cichlid
Photo by Kevin Dickinson

The final fish on our list is the wolf cichlid. An aggressive fish, this cichlid requires a large tank of more than 200 gallons in size. With a life expectancy of more than fifteen years, these silver-blue fish need a lot of space because they can grow to more than two feet in length.

As intelligent fish, wolf cichlids are prized because they have the ability to learn and to form connections with their owners. However, don’t expect them to be making any friends with your other tank inhabitants any time soon – these fish are extremely aggressive and also cannot be housed with live plants. They have a tendency to dig and will easily unroot any plants that you put in the tank.

Is An Exotic Freshwater Fish Right For You?

While many of these exotic freshwater fish require additional space and unique care requirements, that’s not the case for all exotic fish. Keep in mind, however, that most exotic fish will come with a higher price tag than your standard guppy or molly – and you will need to be prepared to meet those costs as well as though related to the trickier upkeep of these unique individuals.

Otherwise, if you’re ready to add a more unique perspective to your freshwater aquarium, one of these exotic freshwater fish could be just the choice for you.

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