If you’ve been following this blog or my youtube channel, you already know that betta fish are an excellent choice for the Marineland 5-gallon Portrait Tank. Aside from betta fish, this article will list the 10 best fish for a 5-gallon tank, like the Marineland Portrait Tank.
For those of you who want to use this tank for betta fish, feel free to check “How to Setup the MarineLand Aquarium Tank for Betta Fish” for some guides and tips that I have specifically for bettas.
As a preface, this list is more of a starting guide on what options you have out there. This is NOT a complete comprehensive care guide for any of these species. So please do additional research once something piques your interest on this list.
I. Dwarf Shrimp
My 1st suggestion would be Freshwater Shrimp.
Overall, shrimp are enjoyable to watch when they graze around the various corners of your tank. Generally, you have four options that are readily available for freshwater shrimp:
Amano shrimp (Caridina multidentata)
Ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes paludosus)
Red cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davida)
Crystal red shrimp (Caridina cantonensis)
Along with these different choices, Caridinas and Neocaridinas come in various colors and patterns.
In my experience, red cherry shrimp and ghost shrimp are most readily available in big-box retail stores. But you can often find crystal red shrimp in local fish stores.
To choose between Caridinas and Neocaridinas, a good tip is to check your tap water and determine whether it's naturally on the softer or harder side.
Water hardness is the amount of dissolved calcium and magnesium in the water. Hard water is high in dissolved calcium and magnesium, amongst other minerals.
Neocaridinas tend to thrive better in hard water, while Caridinas thrive better in soft water.
I have more success with Neocaridinas because my tap water is naturally on the harder side. To be clear, Neocaridinas can tolerate a wide range of water parameters compared to Caridina. But where the shrimp are sourced (i.e., US-bred vs. imported) also plays a significant role in success and adaptation to water hardness.
Neocaridinas can be a great breeding project because they reproduce relatively quickly if the environment is right.
II. A Pea Puffer
My 2nd suggestion would be one Pea Puffer (Carinotetraodon travancoricus).
Take into consideration:
The size of the tank
Level of aggression
No tankmates, only one pea puffer in the tank (highly suggested)
There is never a dull moment when you only have a Pea Puffer. Pea Puffers pack a lot of personality.
Other things you should consider:
Pea Puffers can be picky with what they eat (do your research)
They live as long as 8-10 years (consider the commitment)
3. Endler Guppies
My 3rd suggestion would be Endler Guppies (Poecilia wingei).
If you decide to go this route, I highly suggest 2-3 male Endler Guppies or 2-3 females. If it's color and aesthetics you're after, go for male Endlers over female Endlers. Males tend to have better coloration and longer fins.
What I don’t recommend is that you mix the sexes. Endler guppies can reproduce relatively quickly. Before you know it, you'll overstock your 5-gallon tank within a week.
Overall, Endlers are a great beginner choice. You could find them anywhere, they're pretty easy to feed, and they're not that picky with their diet. One can argue that they tend to be more hardy than ordinary guppies.
Endler guppies come in different patterns and colorations. They're also really entertaining to watch.
4. Nerite or Mystery Snails
My 4th suggestion would be Nerite snails (Neritina turrita) or Mystery snails (Pomacea bridgesii).
With Mystery snails, you will need a lid because they are known to be escape artists. The good thing with the MarineLand Portrait 5-gallon tank is that it comes with a cover.
Mystery snails also tend to be bigger than Nerite snails, but Nerite snails come in various colors and patterns.
The one caveat with Nerite snails is that you will see them lay little individual eggs throughout the tank over time.
Mystery snails also lay eggs, but not on an individual basis. They tend to go above the waterline, and lay groups of eggs called a clutch of eggs.
Both are great suggestions if you want to do a snail-only tank. Snails also tend to be great co-inhabitants with the other choices on this list but be mindful of the significantly higher bio-load that Mystery snails have.
Bioload is a term used to generalize the amount of life existing in an aquarium and the amount of resultant waste produced by that life.
Be careful adding snails into a Pea Puffer tank, as it is a toss-up whether they will be compatible or not.
5. Sparkling Gouramis
My 5th suggestion would be Sparkling Gouramis or Pygmy Gouramis (Trichopsis pumila).
I would only suggest putting 3 in a 5-gallon tank with Sparkling Gouramis.
Like bettas, they have a labyrinth organ and thus, will swim to the top to get air. Always leave a layer of air at the top of your water column when filling your 5-gallon tank.
Sparkling gouramis can be pretty skittish. Plant your tank as much as you can and ensure that the light isn't too bright.
The stock light that comes out of the MarineLand Portrait 5-gallon kit is not too bright, which plays in our favor here, but there are other alternatives you can look into.
These fish only get 1-1.5 inches long, so they are an excellent choice for a 5-gallon.
Since sparkling gourami are known jumpers, you will need a lid.
And lastly, similar to bettas, they don't like high currents or flows in the tank, so you may want to make some modifications to prevent high flow.
6. Celestial Pearl Danios
My 6th suggestion would be Celestial Pearl Danios (Danio margaritatus).
Celestial pearl danios always want to be in a group. I would suggest a minimum of 6.
In terms of swimming patterns, they don't school but rather tend to shoal. They're not overly active, which is ideal for this tank size.
Like the sparkling gouramis in the previous section, Celestial Pearl Danios prefer a heavily planted tank with low to medium light. These tank conditions will allow them to be more prone to come out, be comfortable, and be less skittish.
In full disclosure, I would say Celestial Pearl Danios are not the hardiest fish on this list. My one suggestion is to check if the breeder that they come from has:
A good quarantine process
7. Chili Rasboras
My 7th suggestion would be the Chili Rasboras (Boraras brigittae).
They may not look that exciting at first in fish stores, but that might be because they’re stressed in the store and resultantly discolored.
Another cause for lackluster coloration could be that they're relatively young. Interestingly, once they settle in your tank and grow out a few months, they usually color into this intense, beautiful red.
To ensure optimal living conditions, heavily plant your tank. A bonus is that they will surely pop out within a green background of vegetation. The fact that red and green are complementary colors doesn't hurt either!
Chili Rasboras like to school and thus do better in a group of at least 6. I wouldn't go higher if you keep them in a 5-gallon tank.
They tend to be picky when it comes to eating and prefer to eat in the middle layer of the water column. Do your research, see what's worked for others, and see what hasn’t.
8. Green Neon Tetras
My 8th suggestion would be the Green Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon simulans).
You might have already seen Neon Tetras and Cardinal Tetras. But I highly suggest you look into Green Neon Tetras because they stay smaller than their former counterparts. Since they stay smaller, they work perfectly for this tank.
They are mid-water schoolers. Please keep them in a minimum group of six.
If you get the wild-caught Green Neon Tetras versus the captive-bred ones, they can be a little finicky regarding diseases and what they like to eat.
Ensure you have a good quarantine process and research how to convert them to dry food if needed. You'll probably have to start with live and frozen food first.
Green Neon Tetras aren't as readily accessible compared to Neons and Cardinals. But if you ever see them in your store, I would highly suggest you look into them.
9. Least Killifish
My 9th suggestion would be a Least Killifish (Heterandria formosa).
These fish are tiny. The males max out at three-quarters of an inch, and the females are slightly bigger than that.
I added these to my list for those of you who aren't looking for a fish that is too brightly colored. These killifish have a tan body and a black stripe that goes across it.
Quick things to know about water parameters:
You will most likely have to buy a heater
They thrive better in hard water. Like with the dwarf shrimps, check your tap water
10. White Cloud Mountain Minnows
My last and final suggestion would be the White Cloud Mountain Minnow (Tanichthys albonubes).
As the name suggests, these originate from the White Cloud Mountains of China, specifically in the adjacent streams. Taking that into consideration, this fish does prefer flow within their tank. Luckily, the Marineland Portrait 5-gallon tank's filter pump has a pretty strong current.
This fish has been referred to as the poor man's neon, but that name doesn’t give this fish's beauty any justice.
It's a great beginner fish. They're cheap, easily accessible, and can handle various parameters. You can't go wrong with this fish. You most likely won't need a heater, and they are not picky when it comes to feeding, despite their tiny mouths.
They come in a few iterations. You can find them in the color gold, long-fin types, and regular finned types.
They also do not reproduce as quickly as guppies, especially since they are known to eat their own fry (yikes!).
Again, if you decide to pick anything on this list, do your research. Keep in mind what hardness of tap water they thrive in, which fish they can get along with, and most importantly, what environment suits them.
Whatever fish or fish combinations you decide to buy, know how to maintain their tank with the Maintenance Guide for MarineLand Portrait - Gallon Aquarium.