Home > Tips & Tricks > 6 Small Pond Fish | Stocking Your Mini Pond

6 Small Pond Fish | Stocking Your Mini Pond

A pond brings so much life to your outdoor space! Beautiful aquatic plants, all sorts of useful insects, and sometimes even fascinating wildlife like frogs, toads, and newts. But what if you don’t have the space for a full-sized, in-ground pond? That’s where the mini pond comes in.

Although most fish get a bit too large to keep in a mini pond, you may be surprised to know that you do actually have some options in terms of livestock. Below, let’s have a look at 6 small pond fish that will help liven up your very own micro aquatic ecosystem.

What is a ‘mini pond’?

Although definitions can vary, we’d consider any water feature with a volume between 20-200 gallons to fall into the “mini pond” category. This can range from large planters and barrels to small in-ground ponds in a garden.

A mini pond is a fantastic way to enjoy most of what’s awesome about ponds in general without sacrificing a lot of space. Perfect for a city balcony, deck, or tiny garden! You’ll be surprised at how much small wildlife a well-placed and well-planted mini water feature attracts.

Setting up your tiny pond is very easy and you don’t have to be a pond expert to do it. The most important thing to keep in mind that small bodies of water are more prone to swings in temperature and water quality.

Our tips for a successful mini pond:

  • Place your pond in the shade. It will heat up too quickly and become prone to algae explosions in full sun.
  • Consider your climate. Unlike large, deep in-ground ponds, mini ponds easily freeze over. You may have to run yours only in summer, use a heater, or move it to an indoor space like a garage during winter.
  • Use lots of aquatic plants. They provide shade, offer hiding places and foraging spots for bugs + beasts, and help keep the water quality high.
  • Make sure wildlife like frogs can get in and out of the pond, like by stacking rock “stairs” in and around it.
  • Keep your pond only lightly stocked and choose appropriate fish. Adding too many fish or going for species that are too large can upset the balance of your mini ecosystem.

Below, let’s have a look at our top 6 of best small pond fish, the tiniest of which are suitable for water features as small as 20 gallons!

Did you know? Sometimes, you don’t even have to introduce any livestock into your mini pond. It’ll appear by itself! Frogs in particular will gladly flock to your pond if the conditions are right, and they might even choose to reproduce there. Truly a tiny slice of nature.

Micro pond with blooming pond lily.
We loved these micro ponds we spotted everywhere when we visited Thailand. However, only the hardiest and smallest fish can survive in a set-up like this. You should only attempt it if temperatures in your area are stable.
In-ground mini pond surrounded by ground cover plants
It’s easier to keep the temperature stable in an in-ground mini pond.

Small pond fish for your mini pond

Fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas)

Golden variety of fathead minnow fish, also known as rosy red minnow

One of the most popular fish for small ponds is the fathead minnow, or specifically, its golden color morph: the rosy-red minnow. Growing to a maximum length of up to 4″, this species is actually a North American native. It’s also one of the most commonly sold feeder fish species.

Feeder fish are kept in large numbers in cramped conditions. Only hardy species can survive this, and that’s good news for us pond keepers! Fathead minnows are able to withstand both poor water quality and low oxygen levels. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should keep these fish in dirty ponds, but it does mean they’re forgiving of the occasional beginner mistake.

Fathead minnows are lively and fun to watch. If you keep the water quality in your pond high and temperatures aren’t too hot or cold, you may even find them reproducing. You can encourage spawning by placing objects like caves in your pond, as the minnows like to lay their eggs on the undersides of these.

NameFathead minnow, rosy-red minnow, tuffy, Pimephales promelas
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size40+ gallons
Temperature range40-85 °F

Three-spined stickleback (Gasterosteus aculeatus)

Three0soined stickleback fish

If you live in North America or Europe, there’s a good chance the three-spined stickleback is a native fish for you. This teeny tiny (up to 4″) species, which can survive in waters ranging from brackish to fully marine, has a very wide natural range. For us and many others, it brings back memories of going out into local streams to catch fish and bugs when we were little!

As its name suggest, you can recognize the three-spined stickleback by the three spines on its back, in front of the dorsal fin. These are extremely hardy little fish that can do well in ponds. Do keep in mind that due to their territorial nature, it’s best to make them the only fish in smaller bodies of water.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find three-spined sticklebacks for sale, despite their suitability for pond life. It seems folks just aren’t that excited about keeping them, which is a pity! True, they need cooler water (max. 77 °F, and that’s for short periods of time) and they’re not very colorful, but their courtship behavior is fascinating and they make a great choice for a little biotope pond.

NameThree-spined stickleback, tiddler, Gasterosteus aculeatus
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size40+ gallons*
Temperature range39-77 °F
*avoid keeping multiple males in smaller ponds due to territorial issues

Mosquitofish (Gambusia sp.)

Gambusia or mosquitofish in a pond

Here’s a really cool little fish that has proven exceedingly useful to humanity: the mosquitofish or gambezi, which belong to the genus Gambusia. As their common name suggests, these small livebearers are mosquito control champions!

The Gambusia’s favorite food is mosquito larvae, which makes them very helpful in getting rid of mosquito infestations. In fact, they’ve historically been introduced in the wild outside of their natural range in order to help get malaria outbreaks under control. However, this practice is now considered outdated because these fish do have invasive potential.

There are two species of mosquitofish that are native to the USA, Gambusia affinis (Illinois to Texas) and G. holbrooki (Pennsylvania to Florida). Both of these make excellent choices for your mini pond and will help prevent it from becoming a mosquito breeding ground.

Did you know? Like other livebearers, such as swordtails, Gambusias breed quickly. You may be able to sell the offspring yours produce to other pond enthusiasts or use them as live food for predatory fish in your other ponds or aquariums.

NameMosquitofish, gambezi
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size20 gallons
Temperature range40-100 °F

White cloud mountain minnow (Tanichthys albonubes)

Gold variety of the white cloud mountain minnow, a popular pond and aquarium fish
‘Gold’ variety of white cloud mountain minnow

If you’re an aquarist, you’ll probably know the white cloud mountain minnow as a popular freshwater aquarium fish. But did you know it can also make a good addition to small ponds? The species doesn’t require the tropical temperatures many other aquarium fish do, and its beautiful colors really shine even when it’s viewed from the top.

This peaceful species gets along with similarly inoffensive fish. It likes a meaty diet and particularly appreciates frozen or live foods. Happy white clouds kept in groups (preferably 10+) may even spawn in your pond!

White cloud mountain minnows hail from a mountainous region in the Chinese Guangdong province, where they’ve evolved to adapt to strong seasonal temperature swings. As a result, you can keep these little schooling fish outdoors down to around 50 °F. According to a study on potentially invasive species in Canada, they can withstand temps as low as 41 °F for short periods of time.

High temperatures are no problem for white clouds either. They should be able to survive at up to 104 °F, although this is obviously not ideal in the long run.

NameWhite cloud mountain minnow, Tanichtys albonubes
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size20+ gallons
Temperature range50-80 °F

Japanese ricefish (Oryzias latipes)

Japanese ricefish among lily pads, close-up

Also commonly known as the medaka, the Japanese ricefish (Oryzias latipes) is indeed naturally found in Japan. A tiny (max. 1.5″) but hardy species, it occurs in rice paddies, ponds, and slow-flowing streams in its natural range. Given this affinity for shallow waters with minimal flow levels, it’s not surprising this little fish does well in our garden ponds too!

Because bugs are their favorite food, Japanese ricefish are often used to prevent mosquito infestations in ponds. They also make for a fun breeding project for the beginning pond keeper, as they reproduce readily and often.

As a result of selective breeding, there are now various different ricefish color morphs. Keep an eye out for medakas in shades of orange, silver, black, blue, and more. Heck, there’s even a fluorescent transgenic version, although obviously there’s some discussion about whether it’s ethical to genetically modify fish with jellyfish DNA.

NameJapenese ricefish, medaka, Oryzias latipes
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size20+ gallons
Temperature range40-95 °F

Weather loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)

Albino form of dojo loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus)

Another popular aquarium species, the weather loach (also known as dojo loach) is named after the fact that it has the ability to predict the weather. Well, kind of anyway—like many animals, they can sense the drop in barometric pressure that precedes a storm. In response, they start swimming around frantically!

These unusual loaches have several adaptations that make them extra-hardy. They can breathe air if the water oxygen levels are too low and have the ability to burrow in order to find relief from high or low temperatures. Additionally, they’re unusually tolerant to low water quality.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should keep your weather loaches in a dirty pond, but it does help. A water feature of at least 50 gallons (preferably more) works well for this species. Freezing temperatures may be a bit much for your weather loaches, but they should do alright in waters as cold as 40 °F, at least for short periods of time.

Tip: Check the legal status of the weather loach in your region before acquiring one. They’re not legal everywhere anymore due to their invasive potential. If you keep this species, you should be absolutely sure it can’t escape somehow! Depending on your location, you can try looking into alternatives like the European weather loach (Misgurnus fossilis) or spined loach

NameWeather loach, dojo loach, Misgurnus anguillicaudatus
Difficulty levelEasy
Minimum pond size50+ gallons
Temperature range45-85 °F
DietMostly carnivorous

Bonus: Cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi)

Red cherry shrimp (Neocaridina davidi 'Red Cherry')

Ornamental dwarf shrimp in a pond?! It’s a concept that might seem odd to aquarists used to keeping shrimp in their indoor tanks, but it can actually work pretty well. Shrimp of the genus Neocaridina, including the super-popular cherry shrimp, are hardier than we tend to think. In fact, pond life suits them quite well.

Consider: the sunlight that hits a pond on a daily basis stimulates the growth of algae. This happens to be a favorite food for these shrimp. Additionally, there’s plenty of biofilm and other tasty stuff for them to snack on!

Cherry shrimp work well in ponds that don’t contain larger fish, as any species that can fit them into its mouth will do so. White cloud mountain minnows or ricefish can work as cherry shrimp pondmates, though be sure to use plenty of live plants so juvenile shrimp can hide until they’re large enough to avoid being eaten.

You can keep cherries outdoors year-round if temperatures in your area don’t drop much below 50 °F. In very large and deep ponds (not mini ones as we’re discussing here), they’ve actually been reported to survive frost.

NameCherry shrimp, Neocaridina davidi ‘Red Cherry’
Difficulty levelIntermediate (relatively fragile)
Minimum pond size10 gallons
Temperature range50-85 °F
DietOmnivorous, mostly plant matter


Setting up and stocking a mini pond with some small pond fish is easier than you might think, and you’ve got a good few options in terms of livestock.

Need help setting up your mini pond, or even a full-sized one? Whether you just want a few white cloud mountain minnows or big, beautiful koi fish, FantaSEA Aquariums is here to help. Contact us with your pond ideas and we’ll make your dream water feature a reality!

Gertzen, E., Familiar, O., & Leung, B. (2008). Quantifying invasion pathways: fish introductions from the aquarium trade. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 65(7), 1265-1273.

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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