25 Aggressive Freshwater Fish (Predator Fish) For Your Tank

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Written By Matt Stevens

Hi, I'm Matt! I've been obsessed with fishkeeping for over 15 years now and created this site to share my knowledge with others.

An aggressive freshwater fish is a breath of fresh air to a boring aquarium. And quite often they tend to change the tank dynamics, with fascinating predatory instincts and a ton of personality that’s impossible to replicate even with the best of peaceful fish.

The best part? Most aggressive pet fish are intelligent, craving healthy bonds with their owners that extend beyond the feeding routine.

In this post, we share 25 of the best aggressive freshwater fish that can take your aquarium hobby to the next level. This list includes many popular species like Cichlid fish as well as the less-common varieties such as the Ornate Bichirs.

1. Jewel Cichlid

Well, Cichlid fish seem to go hand in hand with aggression. And there’s no mention of Jewel Cichlids without territoriality.

jewel cichlid swimming in tank.

These species have a beautiful body coloration that would usually make them ideal for home aquariums. However, their aggressive temperament makes them particularly challenging to care for at home, even more so to newbie aquarists. 

You will be delighted to know that Jewel Cichlid’s typical behavior correlates with the nature and size of the aquarium. And if you give them a sizable tank, you might have just done enough to navigate their aggression in captivity.  

The safest approach to take when choosing Jewel Cichlids’ tank mates is to cherry-pick the right companions from a young age.

Size: 6 inches

Difficulty: Moderate 

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

2. Jaguar Cichlid

Jaguar Cichlid is another aggressive freshwater fish originating from Costa Rica and Honduras in Central America.

Jaguar Cichlid swimming in tank.

They are aptly named for the vibrant, light cream and yellow coloration with additional black patterns reminiscent of an actual jaguar.

Jaguar Cichlids are known to pick unnecessary fights with any newcomer to the same habitat while eating any small critters on sight. So, there’s no chance they will cohabitate with your lovely smaller fish like the Tetras.

You can do enough to control their aggression by setting up a large tank, usually 125 gallons for a juvenile fish and 240 gallons for an adult. Also, the Jaguar Cichlids can benefit from plenty of hiding spots created with caves, rocks, and a thick sandy substrate.

Size: 14-16 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 70 gallons

3. Oscar Fish

Oscar fish, Marble Cichlid, or Velvet Cichlid, is an appealing South American Cichlid kept for its intelligent personality and eye-catching marbled orange-colored body. They are large fish, measuring up to 12 inches in captivity with a solid lifespan, extending up to 20 years.

Oscar Fish

While they can be territorial to potential tank mates and other small fish, Oscar fish means the world to their owners.

Never keep Oscar fish in a community tank, just in the same you should avoid any temptation to keep multiple species in the same aquarium.

You can house them together with other large-sized, aggressive Cichlids but be careful to monitor their behavior within the first few days of their coexistence.

Size: 10-12 inches

Difficulty: Moderate 

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

4. Jack Dempsey

Jack Dempsey Cichlid is named after a legendary boxer and displays everything in its temperament and general appearance.

jack dempsey fish swimming

Like most Cichlids, Jack Dempseys have a reputation for being aggressive, only thriving in a species-only Cichlid tank with the best possible tank setup.

The biggest advantage of keeping Jack Dempsey Cichlids is their flexible requirements. They are known to survive in hot environments, giving you the freedom to tweak the water conditions depending on what works best for your fish.

To control their aggressive behavior, introduce rocks, caves, and driftwood to Jack Dempsey’s habitat. On top of that, help them mark their territories by including plenty of hiding spots within the same environment.

It’s impossible to keep more than one Jack Dempsey Cichlids in the same tank. But you can stick to a Cichlid-only aquarium as long as everyone can defend themselves. 

Size: 10-15 inches

Difficulty: Moderate 

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

5. Wolf Cichlid

Many people imagine a scary, aggressive aquarium fish at the mention of Wolf Cichlids. And truly, these Cichlids are almost becoming an infamous name in the aquarium hobby because of their aggressive temperament.

Wolf Cichlid swimming in fish tank.

While they can naturally light up any aquarium with their gorgeous bodies, and even more so, with matchless intelligence, newbie aquarists will never have an easy time looking after Wolf Cichlids at home.

Aside from their aggression, another stumbling block to tankmate selection is Wolf Cichlid’s large body sizes. Juvenile fish enjoy a steady growth rate, demanding an instant tank upgrade when least expected.

Even with the most suitable tank mates, a Wolf Cichlid’s habitat must have a soft sand substrate, caves, rocks, and ample swimming space.

Size: 28 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 120 gallons

6. Flowerhorn Cichlid

How about a strange-looking Cichlid fish for a picture-perfect aquarium?

Flowerhorn Cichlid is a hybrid fish that has been quite a revelation in the aquarium community.

Flowerhorn Cichlid swimming in tank.

Like most hybrid fish, Flowerhorns exist in multiple color forms, types, and sizes, the bottom line being their aggressive disposition. The choice to keep these Cichlids alone or together with other aggressive fish depends on the specific species you have at home.

While some can readily cohabitate with equally aggressive fish of similar size, others lead solitary lives, never to be kept with any large-sized fish in the same tank.

Flowerhorn Cichlids are a pure gem when kept in the right environment, readily elevating the tank’s appearance with their colorful look and loveable personality.

Size: 12-16 inches

Difficulty: Intermediate

Minimum Tank Size: 70 gallons

7. Arowana

Who knew the world’s most expensive aquarium fish would be categorized among the most aggressive freshwater species?

Silver Arowana swimming in fish tank.

The ever-popular Arowanas are among the most exciting freshwater predator fish in the aquarium hobby yet highly territorial. Be it the Silver Arowana or the Asian varieties, both species share one thing in common; aggression.

They are bony-tongued fish with streamlined bodies that have made them quite appealing to many aquarists. Also, they have exceptional scale patterns and exist in multiple color forms, including red, gold, and silver.

They enjoy a steady growth rate in a sizable aquarium, but their aggressive disposition limits the number of fish you can introduce to their habitat.

Size: Up to 3 feet

Difficulty: Advanced

Minimum Tank Size: 250 gallons

8. Convict Cichlid

The beautiful world of freshwater Cichlids is incomplete without mentioning Convict fish, a true gem in the aquarium hobby with much more to them than the sparkle of their greyish-blue bodies. 

Convict Cichlid swimming in tank.

Convict Cichlids are small, attractive, and affordable fish with simple care requirements. And many aquarists will tell you that such is a rare combination in the Cichlid world.

At first sight, they look like the dream pet fish, ready to accentuate any tank with the magnificence of their smooth-looking bodies.

Unfortunately, they are just another aggressive Cichlid fish, and it won’t be long before you discover that the Convict given name perfectly matches their typical behavior.

Size: 4-5 inches

Difficulty: Moderate 

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

9. Red-Tailed Shark

Despite their beautiful plain looking dark bodies with red-edged tails, Red-Tailed Sharks tend to go under the radar. They aren’t true, man-eating sharks and are similar in many ways to most fish from the Cyprinidae family.

Red tail shark swimming in an aquarium.

But when it comes to captivity life, they have a stark contrast to most fish from this family. They are aggressive bottom-dwellers that can sometimes live solitary lives. 

Their aggression level is so extreme that Red-Tailed Sharks won’t even coexist with any tank mate of their kind. If you consider them as part of a home aquarium, ensure you eliminate possible troubles by adding caves, rocks, and driftwood to the tank.

Size: 6 inches

Difficulty: Moderate 

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

10. Red Terror Cichlid

Ranking highly among the most colorful freshwater fish, Red Terror Cichlid is another aggressive and extremely territorial fish that prefers a rocky substrate with clear waters.

red terror swimming in tank.

Just like their name alludes, there aren’t many species that can match Red Terror Cichlid’s strength when fully infuriated, with a typical fish known to attack any small, defenseless fish on sight. Sometimes, they will even attempt to bite the owner’s hand during feeding.

But this doesn’t mean Red Terror Cichlids are impossible to keep at home. Give them the right environment with suitable tank mates, and you won’t fail to spot their striking display in a split second.

Size: 13-18 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons

11. Black Piranha Fish

They might not have gained enough attention from fish lovers in the aquatic scene, but Black Piranha fish will easily match your expectations if you need variety inside the tank. 

Black Piranha swimming in tank.

We’ve been talking about aggressive and semi-aggressive fish throughout this post, but Black Piranhas seem to take it to a whole new level.

They are ranked among the most dangerous freshwater fish, with a fully enraged adult capable of attacking anything on sight. Typically, an angry Black Piranha is a threat to the tank mates and the owner and can easily cause multiple injuries when least expected.

If you are going to keep these fish at home, be careful during feeding and ensure you only prioritize high-quality commercial foods.

Size: 12 inches

Difficulty: Advanced

Minimum Tank Size: 110 gallons

12. Ornate Bichir

Have you ever heard of the Ornate Bichirs before? They are rated as one of the most aggressive freshwater fish, which only worsens when kept with the wrong tank mates.

 Ornate Bichirs swimming in an aquarium.

When kept in home aquariums, Ornate Bichirs tend to target other fish’s fins, especially the weak, defenseless species, meaning close monitoring is necessary if you introduce new members to the same habitat.

A significant aspect of Ornate Bichir’s care entails the general tank setup. Luckily, they tend to mind their own business when kept in community tanks, giving you just the slightest chance of housing them together with most of your favorite small fish.

Size: Up to 24 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons

13. Severum Fish

Banded Cichlids, commonly called Heros severus, are stunning freshwater fish endemic to the upper Rio Negro and Orinoco river basins in South America. They are massive freshwater fish, growing up to 48 inches in full maturity.

Heros severus swimming in tank.

Naturally, they are aggressive tropical fish that can coexist with most temperate freshwater species under the right conditions.

However, their typical behavior quickly changes during spawning, switching from a normally calm and friendly demeanor to a more aggressive temperament.

Many aquarists keep Severum fish in groups of up to 5 species or more to limit their aggression. But when doing so, be sure to factor in the tank size and general water conditions.

Size: Up to 7.5 inches

Difficulty: Beginner

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

14. Mini Dovii

Cichlasoma grammodes, commonly called the Mini Doviis, are peculiar-looking freshwater fish and aggressive members of home aquariums.

Mini Dovii Cichlid swimming in tank.

They are large fish, measuring about 12 inches in full length. And you would be mistaken to think they are just ordinary peaceful pet fish.

Instinctively, Mini Doviis are natural killers and will constantly attack, terrorize, and, if possible, kill any creature inside their habitat.

They tend to have a slower growth rate compared to most freshwater fish, which could be a significant advantage by eliminating the constant need for immediate tank upgrade.

As long as the initial setup is perfect and you maintain a constant supply of high-quality fish food, you won’t have much to worry about Mini Dovii care.  

Size: Up to 12 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 125+ gallons

15. Afer Knife

The Knife family of fish is famous for their natural shyness and friendly temperament, making them a highly sought-after species in the aquarium hobby. But one member breaks away from the norm; the Afer Knife.

swimming in tank.

They are pretty uncommon in the aquarium hobby but readily exist if you need variety inside the tank. Like a favorite pet fish, the Afer Knife isn’t one of the easiest to deal with at home, and that’s down to their aggressive temperament.

They are well-suited to large aquariums with similar-sized fish, and just like most species, they will benefit from enough hiding spots and additional decorative elements like aquatic plants and driftwood for added cover.

Size: 20-30 inches

Difficulty: Moderate-Advanced

Minimum Tank Size: 150-200 gallons

16. Betta Fish

If you haven’t considered introducing the ever-popular Betta fish to your home aquarium at some point, you could be missing a lot already. Or wait, will you manage to sustain their spontaneous aggression in the long term?

crowntail betta swimming in tank.

Betta fish inhabit several Southeast Asian regions and are only nicknamed the Siamese Fighting fish for a pretty obvious reason; aggression.

Beautiful as they are, Betta fish never hesitate to launch an attack when they feel threatened or in the presence of a potential aggressor. They are one of the best aggressive fish for 20-gallon tanks that don’t see eye to eye with similar-looking species and those with free-flowing fins.  

Male Betta fish are the most aggressive and are best housed alone, with a one fish per tank rule as the best strategy. 

Size: 2.25-2.5 inches

Difficulty: Easy

Minimum Tank Size: 3 gallons

17. Tiger Barb

For a small fish with such a charming personality, a few would expect Tiger Barbs to have an aggressive side. But their name confirms the unexpected, symbolizing their beautifully striped appearance that resembles an actual tiger.

Tiger barb swimming in tank.

Hailing from the tropical waters of Southeast Asia, Tiger Barbs are small, active freshwater aquarium fish that can add a unique personality to your tank. However, their aggression sometimes makes them quite difficult to manage at home.

Despite appearing peaceful for the better part of the day, Tiger Barbs are infamous for nipping at other fish’s fins, especially the free-flowing ones.

Size: 3 inches

Difficulty: Beginner-Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

18. Green Texas Cichlid

Dominantly found in the Rio Grande River in Central America, Green Texas Cichlid is a true show stopper in the aquarium hobby, guaranteed to turn a few heads with its stunning body.

Texas Cichlid swimming in tank.

They spot beautiful dark gray base coloration with complimentary spots that take on an iridescent blue coloring.

Juvenile Green Texas’ presumed friendliness fools many aquarists into thinking they are peaceful fish. 

However, everything changes quickly as these fish approach adulthood, readily developing an aggressive temperament that limits the possible tank mates you can introduce to the same habitat.

Don’t panic when that happens because there’s always a way out. And it involves keeping these fish together with the right tank mates like the Jack Dempsey fish, Green Terror Cichlids, and Firemouth Cichlids among the rest.

Size: 12 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 50 gallons

19. Umbee Cichlid

Umbee Cichlids are attractive freshwater Cichlids with feisty personalities. They can light up your aquarium if you match them to suitable living conditions.

Umbee Cichlid

Typically, Umbee Cichlids have a beautifully popping brown or olive green coloring all over their bodies. On top of that, a turquoise coloration completes their striking display, extending from the head to the tailfin.

It’s worth reminding that just like most Cichlids, Umbee Cichlids dwell in rocky lakes and streams of South America. And you can replicate the same by introducing large rocks, natural plants, driftwood, and plenty of hiding spaces.

What’s more, you won’t have anything to worry about if you maintain the water temperature within the acceptable range (72°F-80°F) and an alkali pH.

Size: 20 inches

Difficulty: Moderate-Advanced

Minimum Tank Size: 180 gallons

20. Dwarf Pea Puffer

Now, Dwarf Pea Puffers are one of the most difficult freshwater predator fish to analyze in captivity, and that’s down to their small sizes. At first sight, everybody assumes they are a peaceful fish, given their small sizes, with a carefree attitude in any environment.

Dwarf Pea Puffer swimming in tank.

However, everything changes quickly when many realize that these species aren’t worried about picking fights with any fish on sight. They are one of the best aggressive fish for 20-gallon tanks and can thrive with their kinds if the aquarium is large enough. 

Also, their tanks must be well planted, with plenty of hiding spots and rocks to replicate the actual conditions in the wild.

Size: 1.5 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons

21. Peacock Bass Cichlid

If you’ve been in the aquarium hobby long enough, chances are, you might have stumbled upon the beautiful Peacock Bass Cichlids. They are a large freshwater predatory fish endemic to the Orinoco and Amazon River basins in South America.

 Peacock Bass Cichlid swimming in tank.

They live for 8-10 years in captivity and have become a popular choice for many aquarists keen to introduce variety inside the tank. The Peacocks resemble the largemouth bass, with beautiful color variations from one species to another.

In general, these Cichlids have three beautiful bands running vertically on their olive-green bodies. However, the overall coloring tends to fade with increasing age, making them less conspicuous as they approach full maturity.

Be wary of their aggressive temperament that only the large-sized Arowanas, Redtail Catfishes, and Freshwater Stingrays can match at home.

Size: 30 inches

Difficulty: Moderate-Advanced

Minimum Tank Size: 200 gallons

22. African Cichlids

African Cichlids represent a distinct group of freshwater Cichlids originating from Africa. This group includes over 1200 different species, with a vast majority dwelling in the warm waters of Lake Malawi in Southeastern Africa.

African Cichlid swimming in tank.

Like most Cichlid fish, the African varieties are known for their uncontrollable temperament that only worsens with the wrong tank setup. A few best examples include the Red Zebra Cichlids, Blue Peacocks, Maingano Cichlids, Mbuna Mixed Cichlids, and Frontosa Cichlids.

The biggest bonus you will get from African Cichlid fish is natural hardiness. And anyone looking to introduce new colors to their aquariums should never hesitate to get the right variety.

Still, be ready to match your Cichlid to the best possible water conditions to limit their aggressive behavior.

Size: 3-8 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons

23. Gourami

Yes! Gouramis. They are known for their small sizes and colorful bodies, but Gouramis also have a lesser-known side that involves their typical aggression.

black ruby barb swimming in tank.

Aggression in Gourami fish depends on the tank setup and the selected tank mates. So, to navigate around it, try as much as possible to avoid small or shy tank mates with long, free-flowing fins.

Also, the male Gouramis are more territorial, and it’s recommended to keep just one of them inside the aquarium at any given time.

As for the rest of the tank conditions, Gouramis prefer a fine to a moderately-sized substrate, with neutral to acidic water pH, and optimum temperatures ranging from 74°F-79°F.

Size: 5-6 inches

Difficulty: Easy

Minimum Tank Size: Variable

24. Black Wolffish

Black Wolffish is endemic to the Amazon River Basin and boasts impressive predatory instincts that match their temperament in the wild. They spend much of their time at the lower end of the water column as aggressive fish that eat other fish.

Black Wolffish swimming in an aquarium.

When introduced to a home aquarium, Black Wolffish will be keen to mark its territory.

If you are a cautious risk-taker, you can introduce other fast-moving, aggressive species to the same habitat but be sure to monitor their relationship over time. 

As for the ideal tank setup, Black Wolffish prefer warm waters, with temperatures maintained in the range of 76°F-82°F. Also, ensure you provide enough live and frozen foods to keep your fish healthy and active for the longest time.

Size: 20 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 120 gallons

25. Bucktooth Tetra

Bucktooth Tetra is a standout fish species with iconic black dots on its body. They are small predatory fish you won’t regularly see in the aquarium trade but can add a unique personality inside the tank if you provide a pristine environment.

Bucktooth Tetra swimming in tank.

Bucktooth Tetras have silvery-gray bodies with attractive red fins and unusual behavior of tearing other fish’s scales and eating them when no one’s watching. And that’s one of the biggest reasons they flourish in species-only aquariums.

They enjoy each other’s company as the perfect semi-aggressive fish for a 55-gallon tank. 

Going with a smaller number of fish can be tempting for many reasons. Unfortunately, it only leads to endless squabbles inside the tank, as everyone battles for territorial control.

Size: 5 inches

Difficulty: Moderate

Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons

Final Thoughts

Turns out the most aggressive freshwater fish are also the neatest looking of all, with a beautiful appearance and a ton of personality that’s unmatchable in the aquarium community.

Understanding the specific needs of a freshwater aggressive fish before introducing them to a home aquarium is one of the easiest ways to navigate its territorial tendencies.

Usually, this begins with proper research beforehand to understand what these fish would prefer in a confined setting.

Are you psyched up to give it a try? Get the right aggressive fish species from our predator fish list above and see how easily they could become your favorite pet buddy in no time.