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  • Writer's pictureGautam

Indian Ornamental Fish for Planted Aquaria

When you think about planted aquarium fishes, names like Cardinal Tetra, Rummy Nose tetra etc comes to a hobbyist’s mind. Undoubtedly they are beautiful, but then with various restrictions, becoming the new normal in these post COVID days, question remains about their availability for the Indian Aquarium Hobbyist. The reason behind my doubt is that most of these all time favourite fishes are imported and not readily bred in India and there can be possible import restrictions.

No one can predict what is the future but then I wondered, can’t we look for some alternatives from our own local fishes or in other words Native Indian Ornamental Fish. While some Indian ornamental species like Channa, Badis etc are quite popular among hobbyists abroad but then except a few like Densoni, same cannot be said about Indian hobbyists. Guess familiarity breeds contempt. I know this can be debatable topic but then without getting into the debate, let me describe some of my own favorites which can easily be used in planted aquariums by the hobbyists.


Figure 1: Psilorhynchus sp.

The hill streams of North East India, Nepal, Bangladesh are home to certain cypriniformes which can be introduced as very nice algae eater. Two species that I have personally observed at RIPPLES Aquarium Gallery in Kolkata are:

  • Psilorhynchus sucatio, and

  • Psilorhynchus balitora

To quote “Occurs mainly in the edges of sandy streams. Common near emergent or overhanging vegetation . Prefers pools and run areas of mountain streams”. The water they are normally found in has a pH range of 6.8 - 7.4. But more importantly the water temperature is in the range of 15°C - 23°C (1,2).

I have seen them to like daiatome algaes a lot, but I am not sure whether they will like filamentous algae or not. Filamentous algae, in my opinion, is best tackled by shrimps and or mollies. I plan to write a separate blog post on Indian shrimps soon.

The other important factor is that the hobbyist must keep water temparature low and maintain good flow. Both should not be an issue for planted aquariums.

Yes these fishes will be “wild caught” only, but then their status is shown as “Least Concern” in IUCN Red List (3).


Figure 2: Dwarf (Kerala) Puffer

The Dwarf Puffer a.k.a Pea Puffer a.k.a Kerala puffer a.k.a Malabar Puffer is a little gem of a fish. I am just in love with this fish.

Carinotetraodon travancoricus is endemic to the state of Kerala, India. An exclusively freshwater species usually inhabiting sluggish, heavily-vegetated inland waters. It grows to an tiny adult size of only 1″ (2.5cm). Water temperature is in the range of 72 – 82°F (22 – 28°C). They prefer neutral to medium-hard water, within pH in the range of 6.8 – 8.0. It should be fed small snails (shell on) regularly, in order to maintain its sharp teeth. As with other puffers, these grow continuously and become a problem for the fish if they’re not kept ground down (4).

I have seen them doing pretty well in planted tanks. While they can be kept in community planted tanks, but I feel, they are best kept alone as they have a tendency to nip fins. They should be best kept in species only planted tanks, in my opinion.

They simply love snails. So it can be fantastic choice as planted aquarium snail eradicator. But then this habit of theirs makes it a difficult species to keep if one cannot arrange continuous supply of snails. While their small mouth makes it easy for them to eat small snails, but I have seen them taking larger snails if offered after crushing the snail. I have heard that they can be fed live tubifex worms. But I have not tried that as in no way one should introduce tubifex worms in planted tanks.

Irrespective of their utility as a snail eradicator, they are simply a fun fish to have. Their behavior is so amusing. An extremely cute little fish.

Unfortunately massive habitat loss has led IUCN to list it as “vulnerable” (5). Hobbyists should attempt to breed them so that we do not have catch them from the wild for aquarium purposes. I feel fortunate to have kept them as an aquarist.


No Planted tank is complete without a wavy shoal of fish moving thru the pathways within the plants. Rummy nose tetra, kitty tetra, scissor tail rasboras and even all-time favourite cardinal tetras are great examples of shoaling fish. But then I must mention the following two can outcompete their international counter parts for their shoaling behaviour.

  • Laubuka dadiburjori, and

  • Pethia Setnai or Narayan Barb

No aquascape or a planted aquarium is complete without a shoal of fishes moving around the plants or the rocks or the driftwoods. They are the ones which amplifies the drama of an aquascape. If you check the accompanying video of the blog post, both of these fishes are excellent native fish for shoaling.

Figure 3: Laubuka Dadiburjori

Laubuka Dadiburjori, a cyprinide, named in honour of Bombay aquarist Sam J. Dadiburjor is found in wild streams of south Indian states of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. They grow to a size of 20-30 mm with water pH in the range of 6.0 – 7.5 (6). Has a straw yellow body colour, a slightly blue hue can be observed in the upper portion of the body. A distinctive dark line in the mid portion of the body, makes the fish stand out when they move in a shoal.

Found in wild in streams full of aquatic vegetation and hence is a great choice for planted aquarium. Mostly available as “wild caught”, the fish establishes well in captivity and accepts artificial food. As the fish does best in cooler waters, I think, it will be a great choice for any planted aquarium, which by design has to be kept cool.

Figure 4: Pethia Setnai

Pethia Setnai, commonly known as Narayan Barb are endemic of rivers of Western Ghat. They can grow to a size of 60 – 65 mm. Water temperature typically is in the range of 20 – 26 °C and pH: 6.0 – 7.5. Ideal décor for aquarium can consist of twisted roots, round rocks and pebbles (7).

This is one of the most boisterous yet peaceful barb that I have come across in the hobby. But the best part is that unlike their many infamous cousins, they hardly disturb their tank mates. They just schools beautifully and can beat many popular schooling fishes normally found in planted aquariums. Please check the accompanying video.

While they are omnivores but algae forms a part of their natural diet. I have seen them meticulously clean filamentous algae. This is another reason of making them an excellent choice for planted aquariums.

The other point worth mentioning about this fantastic fish is the indigo blue band of colour that develops in the middle portion of matured males. I don’t recall any barbs that has blue as a part of their body colour.

This fish too has been classified as “vulnerable” by IUCN (8). Serious hobbyists should try and breed the same for future use in aquarium hobby.


Aplocheilus Blockii a.k.a Green Panchax is a little jewel of a fish which can be introduced as a specimen fish in any planted aquarium. One can consider using the same as a dither fish as well.

Figure 5: Aplocheilus Blockii

Aplocheilous blockii are endemic of Southern Indian states and are known to be found in Sri Lanka too. They mostly inhabits lowland, often coastal, habitats containing still or slow-moving brackish or freshwater and are found in rice fields too. They can tolerate a wide pH range of 6.0 – 8.5. Grows to a maximum size of 35-45 mm (9).

Like all panchax Aplocheilous blockii are predators by nature. But thankfully they are small in size compared to other panchax. Thus they pose little threat to their fellow aquarium inhabitants. Shrimps may not be so fortunate though.

I have seen them to settle well in aquariums and they accept most aquarium foods. They are pretty hardy as well.

Their iridescent yellowish green spots adds to their sublime beauty. Hobbyists must try out keeping this little gem in their aquariums.


Enjoy this small video of all of the above mentioned species. Do try them out. Enjoy fishkeeping.


References & Credits:

1. Information on Psilorhynchus sucatio sp:

2. Information on Psilorhynchus balitora sp:

4. Information on Carinotetraodon travancoricus:

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