Plants dominate the conversation in the world of freshwater aquariums. It’s a bit ironic considering that most people associate aquariums with fish. The reason why fish are so often overlooked is because the selection and careful arrangement of plants are the most important aspects of a freshwater aquascape. Freshwater fish are usually added afterward to compliment the aquascape, kind of like sticking a pretty, frilly paper umbrella on the top of a tropical drink. Still, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore the frilly umbrella entirely — what good is a pina colada without a little pink umbrella? The most popular species of freshwater fish might be tiny, but they make a huge impact on the overall visual quality of your aquascape.
For example, the picture up top shows just how important fish can be in a freshwater aquascape. The plants are beautifully arranged, sure, but the neon tetras (the blue fish) add striking color the scene, which is contrasted against the dull, muted colors of the rasboras (the orange fish) in the background. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that the blue tetras are the focal point of the piece. If the aquascaper had left out the tetras in favor of the rasboras, then it would have completely altered the aquarium’s focus.
Is plant arrangement more important than freshwater fish selection? Definitely, but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore fish options when you design your aquascape.
Tetras may very well be the single most popular fish for freshwater aquascapes. They’re extremely tiny — about one to two inches in length — but they pack a punch when it comes to color. Depending on the specific type, tetras can add flashes of red, blue, orange, yellow, or silver to your aquascape. They also hold the advantage of being fairly peaceful. Your tetras will float around your tank, but the most part they will add a relaxed, serene quality to the aquascape. Overall, tetras are a great way to add vibrant colors to your aquascape without drawing too much attention away from the plants and rock formations.
Guppies are another popular pick because of their colorful, elegant fins. What makes guppies so perfect for freshwater aquascapes is that their tails are an excellent complement to frilly plants. Their delicate fins will flutter in much the same way that aquarium plants drift with the current.
Tetras and guppies both do an incredible job of establishing a sense of scale for your aquascape. The smaller your fish are, the more massive the surrounding aquascape will feel. Combine a school of tetras with an underwater tree and suddenly the tree will look gigantic by comparison.
For contrast, let’s contrast guppies and tetras with discus fish. There are few freshwater species quite as eye-catching as the discus fish. As soon as you put discus fish in your aquascape, the freshwater plants will immediately have to bow out and give center stage to these dramatic, colorful fish.
Discus fish are so versatile because they come in a variety of colors. Orange and yellow discus fish will give your aquascape a warm, energetic feel, while purple and blue discus fish will make your aquascape feel more subdued. You can always mix and match colors to create an exciting display of colors. That strategy is particularly effective if you place them within an aquascape that cleverly utilizes green and red plants. And for the ladies out there, you can always use the beautiful colors of your aquascape as inspiration for your spring wardrobe or manicure colors. Few fish capture the healthy aura of spring quite like the discus fish.
As you can see, aquascapes with tetras have a completely different feel and focal point from aquascapes with discus fish. Both are eye-catching and colorful, but tiny size is (ironically) a huge factor in freshwater aquascapes. Don’t get trapped into thinking that bigger is better. Discus fish and other large species of fish are great and all, but a handful of tiny tetras or elegant guppies can add to the beauty of your aquarium without distracting viewers from the subtle plant arrangement.