Top 10 Freshwater Predator Fish for Aquariums – Catfish, Cichlids, Birchir and more

We’ve put together a list of what we consider the top 10 freshwater predator fish, that are suited for aquariums. There are some fish that are certainly bigger or scarier predators but they simply get too large to be really suited for aquarium life. You can check out our list of the top 10 fish you should never buy for your aquarium by clicking here. You’ll see many large predators listed on that page.

This list will mainly cover fish that can go in store bought (aquarium store, not department store) sized tanks and live comfortably. They are also all serious predators, so don’t think they can live in a community aquarium without careful planning. If you think we forgot one or you want to post your own list, feel free to do so in the comments.

I’ll start with a list of honorable mentions. All left out for varying reasons, they just didn’t make the cut.

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Jaguar Cichlid pictured above, see # 7 on the list below for more info.

Top 10 Freshwater Predator Fish for Aquariums

10. Pike Cichlids (Crenicichla) – The Pike Cichlid starts off the list at # 10 and comes in as many varieties as almost any other fish around. There are so many different sub species it is almost like it never ends. They grow to sizes ranging from as small as 5″ to over 22″. You just have to make sure the place you’re getting your Pike from knows exactly which Pike it is so you can have the proper sized tank. I personally love these fish, they are like sonar guided rockets in the water. I have had smaller Belly Crawler and larger Venezuelan Pikes.  They were all great fish and deserve a spot based on not only the precision of their attack but also because of how many awesome Pikes there are. If you ever get a Pike, you’ll really understand why most people get more after having one.

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Belly Crawler Pike Pictured at a small size, about 2-3″

9. Bichirs (Polypterus) – These guys come in many sizes, but the most commonly available species if one of the smaller ones. You’ll be the Senegal Bichir at even larger chain pet stores. They can be referred to as Dinosaur Eels. They also come in much larger varieties so make sure to do research if you don’t have a larger tank. Some of the large ones can exceed 2′ eventually, so you need a 200+ gallon aquarium for those guys. The smaller ones can live fine in a 55 gallon tank. These guys are bottom dwelling predators that will tear pieces of food off of a larger piece if they cannot swallow it. They do an alligator roll type of attack, it’s very cool to watch. The Bichir also breathes air, you will see them dart up to the surface for a gulp of air from time to time. They are not the most exciting fish though, so they come in at # 9.

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Group of Bichir (Polypterus) pictured – click here for the Bichir Profile Page

8. Freshwater Amazon Stingrays (Potamotrygon Sp.) – I don’t really suggest a Stingray for most but if you’ve got a huge tank and keep your water clean by changing weekly they are really amazing fish.  They glide around and suck up prey like a vacuum. You just have to be really careful when working in the tank, they have a venomous spine capable of delivering an extremely painful wound. I almost left the Ray of this list but they are not impossible to care for by any means, you just have to devote the time and you’ll be rewarded by having a pet that will leave all of your guests in awe. They are not the most vicious predators though and do require a lot of time and space so they’re at the number 8 spot on the list. They are also sometimes very picky eaters. You may notice these are also on my list of fish you should never buy, this is because they are not for beginners. You should also note some species get much larger than others as well.

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Potamotrygon Motoro Stingray Pictured

7. Jaguar Cichlids (Parachromis managuensis) – The Jaguar Cichlid is a very cool looking fish, it’s got a shimmering pattern and spots that make them easily recognizable. They are a member of the Guapote family, along with the Wolf Cichlid listed at # 6. These guys can reach 1′ and above in some cases but will mostly be fine in a 125 – 200 gallon sizes tank as full grown adults. They have sharp teeth and will gulp up prey using the protruding jaw, gripping them with sharp pointed teeth. They take the number seven spot. Jaguar Cichlid pictured at the top of the article.

6. Wolf Cichlids (Parachromis dovii) - The Wolf Cichlid will reach a pretty large size and has some sharp teeth, how can we not include it. It should also be noted they have stunning colors, check out the photo below. They can and will tear apart tank mates they do not approve of. So be careful if you try to keep them with other fish. They also require a pretty large tank when grown, we’re tank 200 gallons and above for a 25″ + Dovii Cichlid.

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Breeding pair of Wolf Cichlids in an aquarium. Screen shot from this video.

5. Peacock Bass (Cichla) – I hesitated on some of these fish for size reasons, these were on of the fish I almost left off. They are just too awesome though, they jolt through the water like lightning. They have amazing colors and they are just downright cool. I cannot stress enough that you need a HUGE tank for these guys. Even the smallest species need a few hundred gallons to roam. The larger Temensis Peacock Bass need over double that at 26+ inches. There are some species that have amazing colors such as the Kelberi.

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Peacock Bass pictured in a large home aquarium, screen shot taken from this video.

4. Amazon Catfish under 2′ - I wasn’t sure how to do this entry. I think there are numerous catfish that make amazingly cool predator fish but most get way to large. My favorite catfish, the Red Tailed Catfish is the # 1 fish on my Top 10 fish you should never buy. So I can’t really suggest one of them, they just get too large. The only way I could is if you had a custom made pool sized tank or pond. Aside from that there are lots of very cool South American Catfish from the Amazon that can live in normal sized tanks. The Jaguar Catfish is super cool looking and is just as much of a predator as it’s larger relatives. There is also the Tigrinus Catfish, a very unique pattered fish with long trailer on its fins. So I will give the Catfish of the Amazon the # 4 spot, all of them under 2′ that is.

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Tigrinus Catfish

3. Piranhas  (Pygocentrus sp.) - The number 3 spot is filled by none other than the Piranha. We’re not being specific either, this counts as the Red Belly or Black Piranha. They are all capable of delivering a toothy bite. They need a good sized tank though, I suggest something like a 180 gallon tank for a nice sized group of 6 fish. You won’t have to worry about people putting their hands in the tank, trust me on that one. The feeding times can be pretty impressive if the fish are comfortable and hungry.

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Red Bellied Piranha 

2. Snake Head (Channa sp.) – I hesitate to even put the Snakehead on the list because you can’t even have one in the US. However they are too vicious to keep off the list given their size and you can keep them in other parts of the world. The smaller Snakehead only reaches 10″ or so but the larger species like the Northern Snakehead (Channa Argus) will reach over 3′. You have all seen the TV specials about the Killer SnakeHead and it’s not for nothing, they are toothy mean predators. So they take the # 2 spot on the list.

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Northern Snakehead (Channa Argus) - image credit wiki

1. Wolf Fish (Hoplias malabaricus / Hoplias curupira) – These South American terrors take the number 1 spot, the Wolf Fish. They have huge teeth, brute strength, and tough exteriors. They will tear apart prey and kill most any tank mate. These are typically kept alone in larger tanks for a reason, they are mean and nasty bruisers. They are fun to have though if you can find one, but be careful of the Wolf it will bite. They reach 10-16″ long but are pound for pound the best.

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Wolf Fish

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