Are Guppies Schooling or Shoaling Fish?

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This question may come as confusing for many novice guppy owners, and the answer is equally as confusing. Guppies are both schooling and shoaling. But, before we explain why guppies fall into both categories, let’s define the terms first.


Schooling is a social behavior that consists of tight and organized swimming formations. Guppies will resort to this swimming tactic when sensing danger. The tighter formations will provide them with a sense of security and scare predators away. That’s because, when guppies school, they create the impression of a single, larger organism instead of multiple smaller fish, which can scare potential predators.

Some fish are exclusively schooling, always swimming in a coordinated and tight manner. Surgeonfish and rabbitfish are two prime examples. Guppies will only resort to schooling when threatened as a protective mechanism.


Shoaling refers to simply sticking together. There’s no coordinated swimming or tight formations; the fish will simply stick in large groups because that’s their biological imperative.

Guppies are a primarily shoaling breed since they enjoy the company of other members of their own species. They will swim together in large groups and only resort to schooling in the presence of perceived danger.

The 2 notions are similar but not identical, and it’s important to know the difference between them. In this article, I will explain why.

How Many Guppies To Keep In a School?

There is no set answer to this question. It generally depends on your overarching goals, the tank’s size, and how many guppies you’d like to keep. Whatever the case may be, I advise against having just 1 guppy.

As I have already explained, guppies are social creatures who enjoy the company of others of their species. Keeping them alone may stress them out and lower their immune system.

At a minimum, I would suggest having 3-4 guppies. That would be 1 male and 2-3 females. This would be the golden ratio for guppies. However, if you’re aiming for a male-only tank, you should have at least 6 of them.

This will spread male aggression among all of them instead of having several males targeting one fish. The more males there are, the lower the risks of one fish taking in all the violence.

But this is a different subject that I’ve already discussed in one of my other articles.

Why Guppies Don’t School in My Tank?

As you already know, guppies only school in the presence of perceived danger. The fact that they don’t school in your tank is actually a good sign. That means that they feel comfortable and safe. You may, however, notice signs of shoaling, although not that obvious, since you will only have a limited number of guppies.

If your guppies do school, they might do that in response to an outside threat. Maybe they spot someone new in the room, coming too close to their tank. Or maybe there’s too much traffic in the room, compared to the usual.

Their behavior shouldn’t concern you, however. They will break their defensive formations as soon as the threat goes away and they calm down.

Will Guppies School With Other Fish?

No, guppies don’t school with other fish. They will shoal (swim together in irregular patterns) with other fish species, however. That’s because guppies are friendly and peaceful by nature, leading them to socialize with all non-aggressive breeds.

They will, however, only school with each other. The schooling behavior is only typical between members of the same species. Guppies will display schooling behavior only with members of their own species that look like them.

Do Guppies Need To Be In Groups?

They don’t absolutely need to, in the sense that guppies can live alone if the circumstances force them. But that doesn’t mean that they will enjoy it. Guppies have a very well-developed social sense and enjoy the company of their own species. They even enjoy the company of other fish, if that’s all they have.

If you’re a guppy lover, don’t grow guppies alone. Guppies won’t die of loneliness, but they will be sad and stressed. This will lower their immune system with time, leaving them vulnerable to infections, diseases, and parasites.

I advise keeping at least 3 or 4 guppies in the same tank, making sure to limit the number of males. Have at least 2 guppy females for each male. If you’re planning to keep multiple guppy males, consider investing in a larger tank, providing your fish with more water volume.

You should also decorate the aquarium with plants, caves, driftwood, or whatever you may see fit along these lines. These aquatic decorations will break the line of sight between guppies and provide hiding spots for them to retreat to when feeling threatened. And this will happen a lot when placing many guppy males together.

Can Guppy Fish Get Lonely if Kept Alone?

Yes, they will, but you won’t necessarily be able to tell. As I’ve mentioned, the feeling of loneliness won’t affect your guppies directly but indirectly as it leads to stress.

This is common in social animals who enjoy the company of their own kind.

There’s no reason to keep a guppy alone if you really care about its comfort. Guppies who live alone will have shorter lifespans and will definitely be more miserable in the long run. They are also more prone to diseases.

If you don’t have the right money to invest in a tank, wait it out. Postpone the investment until you get at least a 10-gallon tank that can hold up to 5 guppies. That will be the minimum if you want to have a thriving guppy population.


Guppies are naturally predisposed towards creating social bonds. They enjoy being around their own kind and can get stressed out when living alone.

If you already have a decent guppy population, you should be able to observe their shoaling behavior throughout the day.

If you’re interested in how to make your guppies’ lives more peaceful and comfortable, check out my other articles. I provide extensive information on dieting, breeding, tank maintenance, finding the ideal tank mates, and other useful aspects.

Updated: November 10, 2021
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