Due to space constraints, it’s not always possible to get a large aquarium. As such, sometimes you’ll have to settle for something as small as a 2.5 gallon tank. Sadly, not many fish will be happy living in such a cramped condition.
Then, what type of fish for a 2.5 gallon tank? In short, you should get small-sized fish, such as Bettas, tiny Tetras, and miniature guppy fish.
Continue reading to learn what other fish can live happily and healthily in a nano tank. Be forewarned. Nano tanks are not for beginners.
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The Perfect Fish for a 2.5-gallon Fish Tank
There are not many fish that can live in a 2.5 gallon tank, especially if we are going to be strict about the “one-inch-fish-per-gallon” rule. Although your options are limited, you can still make the most of the following fish species.
1. Siamese fighting fish
Also known as bettas, these fish are perfect for a 2.5-gallon tank, although some experts recommend a minimum of five gallons for optimum Betta health, happiness, and longevity.
Bettas are colorful, with vibrant fins and tails in different shapes (i.e., veil, half-moon, crown, and double). Sadly, Bettas are not very social, making them the perfect choice as a solitary fish in a nano tank. A single Betta can have the aquarium all to itself.
You can add dense aquatic plants and makeshift caves to make your Betta feel safe as it swims in the 2.5-gallon nano tank.
2. Guppy fish
Not many beginner aquarists know there are nearly 300 guppy fish species, ranging in size from 0.6 inches (for males) to 2.4 inches (for females). Guppies are effortless to care for. They are sociable and are not picky eaters. Guppy fish can also help clean the 2.5-gallon tank by eating algae.
So, how many guppy fish can go in a 2.5 gallon tank? These fish need tank mates to be happy, preferably their kind. After all, they are schooling fish.
Ideally, you will want to put as many guppy fish in your 2.5-gallon tank. Unfortunately, the rule says only one-inch fish per gallon. Hence, you can only put a maximum of three male guppy fish in your 2.5-gallon nano tank.
3. Tiny minnows
Minnows are ideal fish for small tanks, such as a 2.5-gallon unit. They range in size from 1.5 inches (i.e., White Cloud Mountain minnow) to 2 inches (i.e., Rosy Red minnow), although other species can reach ten feet, such as Giant Barb Catlocarpio siamensis).
We recommend getting the more colorful and dwarfish ones so you can put more into the nano tank. Some users report putting 6 minnows into a 2.5-gallon tank. However, we do not advise such an approach because it goes against the 1:1 rule.
You can escape with four to avoid minnows getting lonely, as minnows lose their color when left in solitude.
4. Small tetras
Tetras are a favorite for beginners because they are inexpensive and tiny, ranging from 0.8 to 4 inches. They are also a peaceful and low-maintenance species, so you won’t have to look after them too much. We recommend the smaller varieties to fit into your 2.5-gallon tank.
You can put three to four 0.8-inch Ruby Tetras or two 1.5-inch Neon Tetras in your 2.5-gallon tank. Other two-fish stocking options include Lemon (1.5 inches), Flame (1.5 inches), Black Neon (1.5 inches), Flag (1.5 inches), and Ruby (1.3 inches).
If you want three Tetras in your 2.5-gallon tank, you can choose Green Neon and Ember Tetras (both 1-inch fish).
The tiniest barbs we know are the Sawbwa (1.5 inches) and Checkerboard barbs (1.75 inches). There are also two-inch varieties, such as the Cherry, Five Banded, Greenstripe, and Redside barb.
The Sawbwa has a bright-red snout, red-spotted caudal fins, and a sleek, silvery-blue body. These fish are territorial, requiring a higher ratio of females to males.
Meanwhile, Checkerboards love to roam. They have a chestnut-brown to brassy-silver hue, with the iconic checkerboard look on their scales.
As barbs are sociable fish, you’d want to opt for the smallest options so that you can put two in your 2.5 gallon tank.
6. Danio fish
Effortless to care for, Danios make excellent beginner fish. Their small size should also not be an issue with a 2.5-gallon nano tank. Feeding is a cinch because these fish are not picky.
You can put two Zebra danio fish in your aquarium and marvel at their silvery-dark blue stripes running along their 1.5-inch bodies. Alternatively, the 0.8-inch spotted Danio tinwini should allow you to put three to four into the 2.5-gallon nano tank.
Like most species in this list, Danio fish thrive best in a large community, so we’d suggest opting for the spotted species so there can be more Danios in the tank.
The following table summarizes what we covered in this section. Please note that our answer to the question, “how many fish in a 2.5 gallon tank?” hinges on the “one-inch-one-gallon” rule.
|Average Size (in inches)
|Number of Fish in 2.5 Gallon Tank
|Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta)
|1 pair (male/female) or maximum of 3
|1.5 to 2 inches
|1 to 2
|0.8 to 4 inches
|1 to 3
|1 to 2
|0.8 to 1.5 inches
|2 to 4
Other Species That Can Live in a 2.5-gallon Tank
Here are a few more 2.5 gallon stocking ideas, assuming you do not like putting fish into your 2.5-gallon tank.
1. Cherry shrimp
A Cherry shrimp’s deep reddish-orange hue will look marvelous in a 2.5-gallon tank. Unlike other aquatic livestock, Cherry shrimp produce minimal bioload. This attribute will help you maintain the nano tank’s cleanliness and safeguard the water quality parameters.
The ideal ratio of Cherry shrimp to a gallon of aquarium water is 2:1 up to 5:1, depending on the shrimp size. Hence, you can place five to twelve Cherry shrimp in a 2.5-gallon nano tank.
2. Zebra snails
Although it is peaceful, the black-and-gold striped Zebra snail is a voracious algae eater. They make perfect inhabitants in a 2.5-gallon ecosystem, growing only up to an inch.
The recommended stocking is a Zebra for every five gallons, but you can escape with two in a 2.5-gallon tank if no other fish are around.
3. African dwarf frog
A single African Dwarf frog in a 2.5-gallon tank with ample vegetation should make for a dazzling sight. These amphibians are effortless to care for, making them excellent non-fish options for first-time nano tank owners.
Fish That Should Not Keep in a 2.5-gallon Tank
Fish you cannot put in a 2.5 gallon tank are those bigger than 2.5 inches, following the “one-inch-fish-per-gallon” rule.
Fish need adequate space to explore and move about. Nano tanks do not provide such convenience, limiting the fish’s movements and potentially undermining its happiness and health.
Newbie fish keepers must realize that aquatic species have “feelings,” too. They hide when uncomfortable or experience stress. Unfortunately, seeking a haven in a cramped 2.5-gallon tank can be challenging for large fish.
There is also the issue of cycling. The tiny, 2.5 gallon fish tank size is faster to accumulate nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, ammonia, and other organic compounds. Trace amounts of these substances are sufficient to kill aquatic livestock.
Hence, you might want to avoid putting freshwater fish that produce too much waste. Examples of fish that excrete more than other species include Plecos, goldfish, Clown loaches, and Oscars.
However, Pleco, goldfish, Oscars, and Clown loaches are larger than 2.5 inches, automatically disqualifying them from a 2.5-gallon environment anyway.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are 2.5-gallon tanks good for kids?
No, a 2.5 gallon aquarium is not advisable for kids. Nano tanks (fish tanks between 2 and 2.5 gallons) are best suited for expert fish keepers because these aquariums’ cycling requirements are very challenging.
Nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, phosphates, and other harmful organic substances accumulate faster than in larger fish tanks. And since the volume is only 2.5 gallons, trace amounts of these organic compounds are enough to kill fish.
If you must help your kid learn about fish keeping, a 20-gallon fish tank is ideal. You can also pick a 10-gallon tank if you have budgetary or space availability issues.
What else can I do with a 2.5-gallon fish tank?
Here are a few 2.5 gallon fish tank ideas you can try.
- Use it as a fish fry nursery. You can start with fish eggs, allow them to hatch, and let them grow before transferring them to a larger aquarium.
- Grow algae and moss to feed fish. Alternatively, you can convert a 2.5-gallon tank into a live aquatic plant-only ecosystem.
- Convert the aquarium as a temporary fish shelter during cleaning and draining.
- Turn it into a quarantine tank for sick fish.
- Grow insect larvae as protein-rich fish food.
- Use it as a practice tool to master the art of cycling an aquarium.
Although we provided answers to the question of what type of fish for a 2.5 gallon tank, we implore beginner aquarists to consider getting at least five gallons. Except for Bettas, most fish species we featured are schooling – they thrive best in large groups.
Sadly, the “one-inch-one-gallon” rule prevents us from putting more than three one-inch species in the 2.5-gallon tank. You can still place these fish, but they might not thrive as well as in a larger aquarium.