THE TOP CHOICES FOR STOCKING A 10-GALLON TANK

Written by Katherine Barrington Updated July 13, 2016
Maintaining a thriving 10-gallon tank can be a challenge but it will help if you are careful about how you stock it.
If you are new to the aquarium hobby you might assume that a smaller aquarium is easier to maintain than a larger one. Truth be told, however, smaller tanks are generally more of a challenge because even a slight change in water chemistry can be devastating. Still, if you have limited room for an aquarium or you don’t want to spend a small fortune to set up and stock a larger tank, you may be able to make a 10-gallon tank work if you are careful.
 
Tips for Stocking a Small Home Aquarium

When it comes to stocking a smaller aquarium you need to be very careful about which fish you choose and how many you purchase. Unless you have your heart set on cultivating a single fish or a pair of fish (many cichlids prefer to be kept individually), your best bet is to go with some passive community species. Passive fish tend to fare better in smaller tanks where swimming space is limited and schooling fish can make your small tank appear full without overstocking it. A school of small, peaceful fish should make up the majority of your community but you can add one or two accent fish – fish that are brightly colored and active so they stand out. These are often called “showcase fish”.

In addition to stocking your small aquarium with small schooling fish and one or two showcase fish, you should also consider including some kind of algae eater or scavenger. One of the main challenges associated with keeping a small aquarium in good condition is related to water quality – waste tends to accumulate faster in a small tank and it can have a seriously negative impact on the water quality in your tank. Adding a small algae eater like a Dwarf Otocinclus or some other kind of scavenger will help to keep the detritus level in your tank under control. Some good options to consider include nerite snails, cherry shrimp, and smaller corydoras.


The Top 10 Fish for Stocking a 10-Gallon Tank

There are many small species of aquarium fish that could be a good fit for your 10-gallon tank, but some species are more adaptable to smaller tanks than others. Here is a list of the top 10 species to consider when choosing the fish for your 10-gallon tank:

  • Neon Tetras – One of the most popular beginner species, Neon Tetras are an excellent choice for the smaller home aquarium. These fish generally reach a maximum size under 2 inches and they have bright silver bodies with an iridescent blue stripe and a bright red bar. If you are looking for a species to add color to your 10-gallon aquarium, consider a school of neon tetras.
  • Dwarf Corydoras – Corydoras catfish make excellent bottom feeders for the community tank and dwarf corydoras are ideal for 10-gallon tanks. These fish grow to a maximum length around 1 to 1 ½ inches and they are very peaceful. Keep dwarf corydoras in schools of 6 or more.
  • Pencilfish – These fish are named for the long, narrow shape of their bodies. Pencilfish generally grow no more than 2 inches in length and they are very peaceful by nature. These fish prefer warm temperatures and slightly acidic water, though they are fairly adaptable. Keep these fish in schools of 8 to 10 or more.
  • Dwarf Lamprologus – One of the smaller, shell-dwelling species of cichlids, the dwarf lamprologus is a good choice for the 10-gallon tank. This species can be a little territorial but they generally do well if they are the only bottom-dwelling species in the tank. This fish grows to a maximum length around 1 ½ inches and they have pink-brown bodies with electric blue markings.
  • Cardinal Tetras – Very similar in size and color to the neon tetra, cardinal tetras are a very peaceful species that tends to do well in community tanks. Cardinal tetras are omnivorous fish that will accept a wide variety of foods and they enjoy densely planted aquariums. This species has the same blue and red coloration as the neon tetra but they have a little more red to them. Feeding these fish a high-quality diet will help to bring out their color.


  • Zebra Danios – These fish are named for their striped appearance and they make excellent additions to the community tank. Zebra danios are a schooling species best kept with 6 or more of their own kind and they are very peaceful. These fish come with short fins or long, flowing fins - there is also a leopard-spotted variety.
  • Sparkling Gouramis – While many gouramis grow fairly large, the sparkling gourami is an exception – it only grows to a maximum length around 1 ½ inches. These peaceful fish have gold-colored bodies with brown, green, and red iridescent speckles – they are a great showcase fish for a 10-gallon tank. Speckled gouramis are omnivorous fish so they should be fed a varied diet and, to avoid timidity, they should be kept with other peaceful fish.
  • White Cloud Mountain Minnows – The white cloud is an excellent beginner species because these fish are very small and they are adaptable to various water conditions. White clouds grow no larger than 2 inches in length and they enjoy a planted tank. These fish are omnivorous and they are best kept in groups with 8 or more of their own species.
  • Harlequin Rasbora – If you are looking for a colorful fish that will bring your 10-gallon tank to life, consider the harlequin rasbora. These fish grow to a maximum length of 2 inches and they have bright copper-colored bodies with a black patch near the tail. These fish love planted tanks and they are generally happiest when kept in schools of 8 to 10.
  • Dwarf Gouramis – Like the speckled gourami, the dwarf gourami is an excellent choice for a showcase fish because they are brightly colored but still remain small. This species features bright red and blue coloration and they are peaceful fish that generally do well in community tanks.

Before you select your fish, be sure to do your research in order to determine whether the habitat requirements for all of the fish you’ve chosen are compatible. It is generally a good idea to choose fish that occupy different levels of the tank as well – some species tend to swim nearer the surface while others inhabit the middle or lower regions of the tank. Whatever fish you choose, just be mindful of how many you buy so you don’t overcrowd your tank.


Tips for Maintaining a Smaller Aquarium

The biggest factor in maintaining any aquarium successfully is keeping the water quality in your tank high. As your fish eat food and produce waste, that waste accumulates at the bottom of the tank along with other detritus. As organic waste decomposes, it produces ammonia as a byproduct and ammonia is extremely toxic to fish. As long as your tank is fully cycled before you add fish, the beneficial bacteria will help to break down waste and convert ammonia into substances that are less harmful for your fish. So, if you want to keep your tank clean and your water quality high, you should do what you can to cultivate and maintain a thriving colony of beneficial bacteria in your tank. Using biological filtration media in your tank filter is one of the easiest ways to do this.

In addition to using biological filter media, regular water changes are also essential for a 10-gallon tank. You should plan to change about 15% of the total tank volume once a week with a larger 25% water change once a month – you should replace your filter media at this time as well. To prevent waste from accumulating too quickly in your tank, avoid feeding your fish more than they can consume in 2 to 3 minutes. If you are using pellets or wafers, remove any uneaten portions from the tank after an hour so they do not break down completely.

If you have your heart set on a smaller aquarium, a 10-gallon tank certainly can work but you will need to be very careful about choosing your fish and be mindful about maintaining high water quality. It may take some extra time and maintenance but it is definitely a goal that can be accomplished. 
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