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8 Exotic Looking, But Affordable, Aquarium Fishes


In choosing the types of fish for this article I tried to stay with fish that could be bought for less than $400 and that didn’t need a tank larger than 125 gallons. I also chose fish that could be purchased online or in a well stock fish store. 

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Above: 3.5 inch Flowerhorn Cichlid
For sale on Ebay for $290. Tap here to put one in your aquarium.

The people who first encountered the Black Ghost Knife Fish in its Amazon Basin habitat possibly thought it was a ghostly manifestation of a departed relative. The reason for this is that the black ghost knife fish is inky black and otherworldly. They can grow from six inches to two feet in length.

Make sure it won’t eat your other aquarium inhabitants before introducing this living bit of goth ambiance into the tank.

Ease of care: Medium as long as the correct size tank is used

How big do black ghost knife fish get: About 20 inches on average

Recommended minimum tank size: At least 150 gallons per knife fish

How much do black ghost knife fish cost? $13 to $100+

Compatibility: Compatible with most similarly sized community fish. Some individuals are more aggressive than others. 

What do black ghost knife fish eat? Like most fish, they eat insects, insect larva, invertebrates, and other fish in their native habitat. In your aquarium, they will prefer live foods or frozen live foods. They will also eat flake food.

You can view more pictures of this eerie-looking fish here.

2.  Chinese Hillstream Loach

Beaufortia kweichowensis 

Image below of Hill Stream Loaches also provided by the “Neat and Tidy” Amazon store.


The Chinese Hillstream Loach is an unusual addition to the loach family. It is distinguished by its body shape and green coloration with black dots.

The Chinese Hillstream Loach’s body is adapted to its habitat in fast-moving rivers, that is, flat, to keep from being swept away, paired with a sucker fish type mouth to grip onto the surfaces of rocks.

Make sure you understand the care requirements before purchasing, as these loaches thrive only in exacting tank conditions.

Chinese Hillstream Loaches are relatively non-aggressive. They grow up to 3″ in length. A 55-gallon tank or larger will work. More than one can be kept in an aquarium

Ease of care: Medium to difficult. Hillstream Loaches need cool, fast-flowing water to thrive. Aquarists that keep this loach should keep the aquarium water temperature at 68 to 75 degrees. Tankmates should be chosen carefully as most tropical fish can’t tolerate these cooler temperatures. 

How big do Chinese hillstream loach fish get? About 3″

Minimum tank size for Chinese hillstream loach fish? 20 gallons per fish

How much do Chinese hillstream loach fish cost? $13 to $25 each. 

Compatibility: Hillstream loaches are compatible with all typical community fish. 

What do Chinese hillstream loach fish eat? They’re not too picky and can be fed live foods, frozen live foods, flake foods, algae wafers, and cooked veggies.

Discus are cichlids that boast a flat, round body of breathtaking beauty, colored in shiny greens, turquoise, reds, yellows, and white with bright highlights.

Discus breed well in captivity, and you can get started with a mating pair in the neighborhood of $1,000.

Discus requires specialized and high-maintenance tank conditions. This fish needs lots of space, a specialized diet, high water temperature, frequent water changes, and strict aquarium cleanliness.

Ease of care: Difficult to very difficult

How big do discus fish get? About 6” but can grow a bit larger.

Recommended minimum tank size: Discus require at least 30 gallons of tank space per fish. Discus require immaculately clean water, so the larger the tank and the fewer fish per tank, the better.

How much do discus cost?  $15 to $200 depending on age. Breeding pairs can run from $500 to $1000.

Compatibility: Discus are compatible with most community fish that are too large for the Discus to eat. Discus, like most fish, will eat any other fish it can fit in its mouth, so best not to keep small fish with your Discus. Discus require warmer water than most tropical fish, so make sure the other fish in the tank can tolerate the heat.

What do Discus fish eat? In the wild, they eat insects, insect larva, invertebrates, and small fish. Live foods or frozen live foods are preferred, but Discus will eat flake food.

More information on breeding discus:

Candidate species for Florida aquaculture: discus symphysodon spp., a profitable but challenging species for Florida aquaculture, University of Florida

Elephant Nose Fish:

*  Elephant Nose Fish use its snout to dig in the mud for food.

*  Elepant Nose Fish are a shy species that will spend most of its time hiding in the crevices of your tank. 

*  They are relatively territorial, so it is best to limit them to one to a tank unless you have a large tank.

Ease of care: Elephant Nose Fish are simple and easy to care for. They do need lots of hiding spots.

How big do elephant nose fish get? They grow up to nine inches in length. 

Minimum size tank for an elephant nose fish: 55+ gallons

How much do elephant nose fish cost?  $15 to $40 each

Compatibility: They are territorial with other elephant nose fish, but OK with other community fish. Elephant nose fish  are shy. They prefer hiding to swimming around the aquarium.

What do elephant nose fish eat? Live foods are preferred, but they will eat flake food also.

You can see more pictures of Elephant Nose fish HERE.

Flowerhorn Cichlid This is what happens when someone says, “You know, this fish would look better with a bump on its head.”

The Flowerhorn Cichlid makes a huge impression with its bright coloration, lumpy body, and the humongous bulge on its forehead.

This fish is not found in the wild but has been bred as a hybrid by the Taiwanese. For some reason, someone decided, “You know, this fish would look better with a large bump on its head.” 

The Flowerhorn is kind of a meathead (pun intended). They frequently get into fights with other fish in your tank, so introduce with care.

Ease of care: Easy if kept in the proper size aquarium

How big do flowerhorn cichlids get? They grow up to 16 inches in length.

Minimum tank size: 150+ Gallons

How much do flowerhorn cichlids cost?  $35 to $250 each

Compatibility: Typical cichlid compatibility. Flowerhorn cichlids do OK in a community tank with fish of similar size. Expect a fight or two.

Of course, they will eat any fish they can fit in their mouth.

These fish are territorial when mating. What this means is that they’ll hog a huge portion of the tank making all the other fish crowd together.

What do flowerhorn cichlids eat? Live foods are preferred, but they will eat flake food also.

Additional articles to explore:

6 Exotic Looking, But Affordable, Aquarium Fishes

Bump head fish, red

How To Care For Freshwater Shrimp

Super red cardinal shrimp

Angelfish Care

Koi Angelfish

A Weird Looking, Affordable, Aquarium Fish

Transparent in body and unusual in shape, these fish are sought after for tank enthusiasts who love to see the inner workings of their specimens. Buy with care — the nocturnal Glass Catfish needs a school of at least six and can’t survive fluctuating tank conditions.

Ease of care: Glass Catfish are medium to difficult to care for. They can’t handle changes in water parameters which can make caring for them a little more challenging. Timid & shy and must be kept in groups of at least 6. The more, the better.

How big can glass catfish get? 6 inches.

Recommended minimum tank size: Six adult Glass Catfish will do best in an aquarium of at least 55 gallons. 125 Gallons would be even better.

How much do glass catfish cost? $6 each, so $36 for at least 6.

Compatibility: Compatible with most gentle similar sized community fish. Like all fish, glass catfish will eat small tank mates.

What do glass catfish eat? Glass Catfish prefer live foods, but can be trained to eat frozen “live” foods.

Even more information about Glass Catfish. Kryptopterus bicirrhis (Valenciennes, 1840) (Glass catfish)

Indigenous to the Xingu River of Brazil, the Zebra Plecostomus is a shy, fickle fish best suited for established tanks cared for by experienced aquarists.

When it makes an appearance, it makes an impression, sporting sharp black stripes against a dazzling white background.

Zebra Plecostomus fish are native to Brazil, where they are listed as endangered. They are endangered not only because of the aquarium trade, but because Brazil is building the Belo Monte Dam in their habitat making natural reproduction of this fish (nearly) impossible. It is expected that the zebra plecostomus will be extinct in the wild soon. Luckily, this fish can be bred in captivity.

Do not buy a zebra pleco unless the ad states it was captive bred. If the ad states it was imported from South America take a hard pass. You don’t need to help the fish become extinct in the wild when you can easily buy tank bred fish.

Ease of care: Easy to medium

How big does the zebra plecostomus get? Up to 3 inches.

Recommended minimum tank size: 20 gallons lightly stocked.

How much does a zebra plecostomus cost? $175 for the highest quality (distinct black and white stripes).

Compatibility: Compatible with any aquarium fish the same size or smaller.

What do zebra plecostomus eat? They appear to be omnivores, so a diet of live foods, algae wafers and veggies is appropriate.

Careful!! This gentle giant can grow to 18 inches. Only buy if you have a very large tank.

Not rare, but quite colorful. Clown loaches are natives of the oxygen-rich waters of the Yangtze River. Excessive damming of its natural habitat is threating this loach with extinction in the wild. They need a lot of tank space. They do best in social groups of four or more. If you can swing it, their flattened heads, beady eyes, and gold background color with dark, irregular blotches make them stand out in a fish collection.

Ease of care: Medium due to how large they become.

How big do clown loaches get? Clown Loaches grow to eighteen inches long.

Recommended minimum tank size: Clown Loaches should have at least 125 gallons per loach.

How much do clown loaches cost? $5 and up depending on size.

Compatibility: Gentle, timid fish. They need lots of good hiding places. Clown loaches will eat small tank mates, so keep with similar-sized fish.

What do clown loaches eat? Clown loaches are omnivores and need a varied diet. Feed Clown Loaches live foods, frozen “live” foods, and cooked veggies. Here is an interesting article on what to feed your fish. Opens in a new window.

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