5 Beautiful Ideas For Centerpiece Fish For A 20 Gallon Tank

Estimated read time 14 min read

In this post, we’ll share a few Centerpiece Fish for a 20 Gallon Tank that will be sure to create an awesome community tank.

Setting up your first fish tank is very exciting, but it can get a little overwhelming as well. You have so many options to and configurations to choose from, and everything looks equally beautiful. But you have to narrow it down at some point. And if you have already decided on tank size, it can make things considerably easier for you.

A 20-Gallon tank is one of the best beginner tank sizes available. It’s large enough to give your fish sufficient room to “breath” (through their gills but still counts as breathing lol) and swim about. And it’s also not too bulky to handle. It can also house a decent amount of plants, without overtaking the swimming room, which is a problem with smaller planted tanks.

But that doesn’t mean this post is only for beginner and novice fish keepers. The centerpiece fish we will share for a 20-gallon tank can be accommodated in an already established tank as well. But you will have to match the parameter requirements of the fish to the tank’s current parameters. It’s like playing real estate agent for the fish. You have to find them a tank that fits their needs and wants.


Some Equipment I Use For 20 Gallon Tanks

Every tank needs to be equipped with some essentials. Their particulars can be different for different fish, but their presence might be necessary for every healthy and thriving fish tank.

Setting up a 20-gallon tank can be a lot easier if you start with the stocking. Keep in mind the bio-load, and know that the one-inch of fish per gallon rule isn’t flawless or universal. A slim and light two-inch fish will produce much less waste compared to a full-bodied one-and-a-half-inch fish would.

Also, many fish keepers assume that a 20-gallon fish tank doesn’t get polluted as fast as smaller tanks do. While it’s true that with a 20-gallon, you have much more water to disperse and dilute the nitrogen levels, but a 20-gallon will (most likely) be containing a lot more fish/bioload as well. So having a larger tank doesn’t allow you to get lax with the cleaning schedule.

Some Beautiful Ideas For A Centerpiece Fish For 20 Gallon Tank

Now, let’s take a look at some fish that deserve to be the center of attention in your 20-gallon.

1. Dwarf Cichlid (Apistogramma)

Starting the list is the small and vibrant cichlid. Understand that Dwarf Cichlid is a common name that refers to a wide variety of small cichlids. While the parameters and information provided below will fit most of the fish you would call Dwarf Cichlid; some particular species may be a bit different.

  • Care level: Intermediate
  • Size: 3.5 inches max (males) and 2-2.5 inches (females)
  • Temperature range: 73 – 81 °F
  • PH range: 5.0 to 7.0 (and soft water)
  • Social Behavior: Small groups (One male with a few females)
  • Tank size: 20 Gallons for one Harem group, larger if you want to keep two males and a few females

Apistogramma or commonly called Apistos are a subgroup of dwarf cichlid. They come from the tropical and subtropical South American regions (mostly found in the Amazon and Orinoco Basins). There are several species favored within the fish keeping community. Some of them are Dwarf Cockatoo Cichlid, Agassizii Dwarf Cichlid, and Umbrella Cichlid.

Each of them has their own distinct shapes and patterns. Cockatoo dwarf has a stunning Cockatoo like dorsal fin (spike-shaped), black stripes from head to tail and muted yellow bodies with red spots. Agassizii has stripe and a vibrant gold body, but the dorsal fin is more streamlined. Umbrella Cichlids have beautiful and shiny yellow-colored fins, head and tail, and the main body is tinted blue. Bodies of most dwarf cichlids change color depending upon their behavior (at the times of feeding, breeding, and fighting). In most species, males are relatively larger than females. Apistos are very desirable centerpiece fish, mostly because of their stunning appearance.

Apistos are generally considered a community fish. They are hardy when it comes to water parameters, but their temperaments regarding males of their own species make them a bit territorial and aggressive. But if you keep them with fish of similar size and peaceful temperaments, they are likely to behave well.

As for the tank setup, the come from slow-moving streams, so harsh currents will not be suitable for them. They feel more comfortable in low-light situations and dark substrates. A planted aquarium would be better, especially if you have floating plants. Apistos also love cave decorations. If you can have enough of them to accommodate each female, that would be great. They don’t play one happy family with each other and territorialize their caves.

They are technically omnivores but lean more towards a carnivore diet. Ideal feed for them would be live insects, larvae, and small invertebrates. Frozen food will also fit well. If you are choosing flakes and pellets, make sure they are high on animal-derived protein content. Feeding smaller amounts two-to-four times a day is better than a full course meal once a day.

2. Striped Panchax

Also called Golden Wonder Killifish, Malabar Killi is a hardy fish for beginners.

  • Care level: Beginner
  • Size: 3.9 inches max
  • Temperature range: 72 – 77 °F
  • PH range: 6.0 to 7.5 (soft water)
  • Social Behavior: Alone or a small group. Should only be housed with fish of same, or a little bigger size
  • Tank size: 20 Gallons minimum

Striped Panchax hails from the rivers and streams of India and Sri Lanka. It’s a peaceful surface-dwelling fish that fits well in a community tank, provided that the other fish in there aren’t small enough to fit in its mouth. It’s an avid “Neon eater,” so those colorful little buggers should be kept well away from it. Other than that, it’s an amazing fish for beginners. It’s very hardy and can handle a variety of parameters and is not so delicate against parameter changes as others of its species are.

It’s a carnivore. So live feed will be best for it. Look into cheaper options like home-grown worms and small aquatic insects. But it’s not a very fussy eater, so floating flakes and pellets (surface eater) would be fine. It’s a freshwater as well as brackish fish, which means it can tolerate mildly salty water. But your other tropical fish might not like the “salty” atmosphere.

Floating plants, dim light, and dark substrate would best mimic its natural habitat. They can be kept in a small school, one male for a few females. Gobies make for its perfect tank mates. Other peaceful and larger fish will be fine as well.

3. Bolivian Ram

Bolivian Ram
It’s a relatively plain-looking fish but very personable.

  • Care level: Beginner
  • Size: 3.5 inches max
  • Temperature range: 74 – 78 °F (susceptible to stress from sudden temperature changes)
  • PH range: 6.0 to 7.5 (soft to moderately hard water)
  • Social Behavior: Alone or in pairs. It’s one of the most peaceful members of its species, so it doesn’t fit well with aggressive tank mates, otherwise great community fish.
  • Tank size: 20 Gallons minimum

Many other cichlids have a bit of bullying tendency, but Bolivian Ram is kind of the opposite. It’s the kind-hearted member of a mafia family. It has a small oval-shaped body, with muted dull brown to grayish-blue colors. They may or may not have black spots in the middle of the body or on the eyes (it varies from fish store to fish store). The fins are translucent and yellow in certain areas. Males are also relatively larger than females.

The best part about this fish is its intelligence and personality. They are very different as individuals and usually recognize the people who feed them. Many aquarists have gotten in the habit of hand-feeding them. As an omnivore, they aren’t that hard to feed and do well on a well-balanced diet of flakes and pellets. Occasionally, a bloodworm or two, or some frozen food should be thrown in the mix for optimal nutrition delivery. It should also be fed a few times a day in small portions.

It usually occupies the middle of the tank and feeds at the bottom, so large and sharp gravel is out of the question. Use either sand or fine gravel that it can sift through for food without hurting its mouth. Bolivian Ram does well in heavily planted tanks with low lighting. It fits well with peaceful bottom feeders like cories, plecos, silver dollars, and dwarf gouramis. Tetras don’t really like to be around these peaceful Rams because they promptly find themselves inside the “belly of the beast.” But other similar sized or a bit smaller fish are fine.

4. Black Neon Tetra

1305 ~ The Fish Says - "It's.....so..............BEAUTIFUL!"
A nice and active schooling fish to keep your 20-gallon lively.

  • Care level: Beginner
  • Size: 1.6 inches max
  • Temperature range: 72 – 82 °F
  • PH range: 5.0 to 7.5 (soft to moderately hard water)
  • Social Behavior: Schooling fish, should at least be kept in a school of six or more
  • Tank size: 20 Gallons (It can easily accommodate a school of 8-10)

If you stretch the idea of a centerpiece fish a bit, you can get a great schooling fish like black neon tetra to liven up your fish tank. It’s small, slim bodied and looks very similar to a normal neon tetra. It has the characteristic white strip stretching from the head to the tail (the neon stripe). Below that, the whole body is black in color. It’s darkest directly beneath the stripe and gets lighter as we go down. The black body has earned it the name, black neon. It also has colored red bands over its eyes, red and yellow.

Like its other cousins, its natural habitat is South American rivers backwaters, creeks, and tributaries. They usually dwell in the middle or bottom region of the tank and live happily with peaceful bottom dwellers. But larger and aggressive fish might not make really good tank mates to them. They show their best colors and behavior when kept in a school. A solitary black neon may get stressed and nippy.

Black neons are happy in a lightly planted tank. If possible, they would love slightly tinted water along with low lighting. Driftwood and twisted roots make for great decorations, as it gives them a lot of places to hide and play. As omnivores, they are easy to feed. The ideal substrate would be the river sand, as it would mimic their natural habitat. It can be housed with other small tetras, some catfish, non-predatory cichlids, and most snails.

5. Rosy Barb

Rosy Barb
Rosy barbs are active swimmers and a schooling fish.

  • Care level: Beginner
  • Size: 2.5 to 4 inches (In the wild they can reach sizes of up to 6 inches)
  • Temperature range: 64 – 75 °F
  • PH range: 5.0 to 7.5 (soft to moderately hard water)
  • Social Behavior: Schooling fish. You should keep at least 5 of them.
  • Tank size: 20 Gallons (is enough for 5-6 of them)

Rosy barb is another fish hailing from the Indian region. But this one is also found in Australia, Mexico, and Columbia. There are several varieties In the Rosy Barb family, but most have a streamlined body and a forked tail fin. As the name suggests, they have rose-colored bodies, and males are more brightly colored and relatively thinner than females.

It’s an active swimming fish and doesn’t confer to “regional tendencies.” Which means you can find them at the top, bottom, and middle of the tank. And if the lid isn’t in place, you may even find them on the floor (just kidding). They are very hardy and do well with their own kind. But they also don’t mind other fish. Though there might be some fin nipping of the slow swimmers, other barbs, danios, some cichlids, most gouramis, and many swordtails would be fine with the Rosy barbs.

They are more into swimming then sightseeing (or hiding), light plantation and plenty of room to swim would be more suited for them though they won’t mind some low-lying plants that don’t take up swimming spaces. As omnivores, they will eat anything you will throw in there, just make sure to keep a good mix.

A Few Tips

It’s not just about how good a tank to build. It’s also about how good a tank you can keep. And that includes taking care of everything that goes on in there. Most beginner fish are not very demanding, but no fish thrives in an unkempt tank. So even if you have a powerful filter in place, make sure you develop a good cleaning schedule with partial water changes.

Also, when you are feeding the fish, make sure that all are getting their fair share. Some sick or shy fish might lose the race to the “flake shower” you throw in there and might not get their fill. So keep an eye out for that. Having a few peaceful bottom feeders will help you with the leftover food, and also add a little more personality to your community tank, but keep the bioload in mind.

Final Words And A Few More Centerpiece Fish

A 20-Gallon is a decent sized tank, but if you try and stock a very large center fish in it, especially if you are building a community tank, you might end up making a beautiful looking tank but not a happy tank for your fish. Aesthetics are important, but not as important as the health of your fish. Also, many small fish that you can keep in a 10 gallon can be kept in a 20 gallon, in a larger school.

  1. Betta: A single or a pair of Bettas would look just as stunning in a 20-gallon tank, but be judicious in picking the tank mates.
  2. Rainbow Kribs or Kribensis: It’s beautiful and brightly colored fish from Africa.
  3. Zebra Danio: Active swimmers.
  4. Swordtails: Violent name but peaceful fish. It prefers fast-moving waters.
  5. Otocinclus: Peaceful algae eaters that like to stay out of the action and drama of the tank.

On their own, a lot of fish can be kept in a 20-gallon tank. But make sure to research the social behavior of the fish you are keeping. Some fish like to occupy the tank alone, some look for a little activity. If you prepare a tank where all the fish are comfortable and happy, the liveliness it will present will have its own beauty.

What fish can go in a 20 gallon tank?

There are a lot of fish that can be kept in a 20 gallon tank; a few popular centerpiece fish are;

How many fish can I put in a 20 gallon tank?

The number of fish you can keep in a 20 gallon tank depends on the species of fish and their temperament.

For example:

You could easily fit 10-12 peaceful small Tetras and have plenty of room for your Tetras to live a long, happy life.

However, you probably wouldn’t want to keep two Oscars in a tank this size. They would grow far too large, create too much mess, become very aggressive, and ultimately kill one another.

As a starting point, you can use the 1″ of fish per gallon rule.

However, you should also consider the type of species you are keeping; are they peaceful, aggressive, or a predator?

Lastly, what do they require in terms of territory, water requirements, and how big will they be when fully grown.

Can you put cichlids in a 20 gallon tank?

There are many types of Cichlids that can do very well in a 20 gallon tank.

A few examples are;

  • Dwarf Cichlids
  • Shell Dwellers
  • Ram Cichlid Mikrogeophagus ramirezi
  • Bolivian Ram Mikrogeophagus altispinosus
  • Borelli’s Apistogramma

Further Reading About Centerpiece Fish:

Beautiful Ideas For Centerpiece Fish For A 20 Gallon Tank

Featured Images Credit: Dornenwolf

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