10 Best Aquarium Fish for Beginners
If you’re getting into freshwater aquariums for the first time, it can be intimidating to know which fish to pick. You want something sturdy, affordable, colorful, and with an interesting personality. Here’s a list of the top 10 beginner fish that you can keep in your aquarium.
There are many types, but we love the Trigonostigma heteromorpha harlequin and lambchop. These peaceful nanofish are well-known for their bright orange coloration, distinctive black triangular patches, and they can be purchased in most pet shops. The microdevario kubotai, a tiny neon-green rasbora, and the larger Risbora trilineata are two other rasboras. A school of six or more of the same species of rasbora will make an impressive display in your community tank. You can find more information about caring for your rasboras in our care guide.
2. Common Goldfish
Veterans often warn new fish keepers to stay away from goldfish because they get so large, but they’re still a great beginner pet because they’re very resilient and easy to care for. Common goldfish (Carassius auratus), can grow up to 12 to 14 inches. This means that they need 30 gallons of fresh water (or two goldfish in 55-gallon aquariums). After they reach adult size, many people put their goldfish into outdoor ponds. They love eating spirulina algae, vegetables, Repashy Super Gold, and other foods higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein content.
Although they are very patient with water parameters like pH and hardness, goldfish require frequent water changes to maintain their tanks clean. A single-species aquarium is preferred, since they will try to eat any animals (and plants) that fit in their mouths.
Tetras, like rasboras and other small schooling fish, are also very popular. They come in tons of different varieties, including neon tetras (“Paracheirodon Innesi”), cardinal tetras (“Paracheirodon “axelrodi”), black neon tetras (“Hyphessobrycon shebertaxelrodi”), and Congo tetras (“Phenacogrammus intermitus”) They are easy to take care of and they prefer neutral pH water from 7.0 to 7.8 (usually higher for African tetras, and lower for wild-caught South American Tetras). Because they are schooling fish, it is best to keep them in small groups of six or more. Tetras are great with rasboras, and other community fish. Our neon tetra or cardinal Tetra guide has more information.
Cory catfish are calm schooling fish similar to tetras or rasboras. However, they live in the bottom of the aquarium. They grow up to 1 to 3 inches in length and enjoy looking for crumbs on the tank floor. You must feed them sinking food to ensure they get enough nutrients.
There are over 160 species of corydoras, the most common being the bronze and albino (Corydoras alpino), panda (Corydoras panada) and emerald-green corydoras (Corydoras splendens). Keep them in a group of at least three to six of the same species to best enjoy their silly antics. Learn more about cory catfish care.
These 3-inch livebearers (meaning fish that bear live young) are especially robust, even more so than guppies. They are capable of handling pH levels as high as 7.0, and prefer harder water. Plus, platies are voracious eaters and will eat nearly any omnivore community food you throw at them. Variantus platys (Xiphophorus variatus) are our favorite, so make sure you check them out!
6. Betta Fish
Because of their vibrant colors and small size, Betta fish is the ideal beginner fish. You can keep them by themselves in a 5-gallon aquarium with a gentle filter. Or, you can keep them with other fish in larger tanks (10-gallon). You should not keep them with any other betta fish. Their nickname is “Siamese fighting Fish” because of their tendency to fight. Suitable tank mates include tetras, corydoras, and other peaceful creatures, but avoid any fish that may nip their beautiful fins. They are meat-eaters and will eat betta pellets, frozen worms, and small floating foods. Find out how to set up a beautiful betta fish tank by reading our guide.
Barbs are a fun, active addition to any community tank. They can grow up to three to four inches and larger. The most popular barbs are Odessa barbs or Puntigrus tetrazona, Tiger barbs (Puntigrus padamya), and Cherry barbs. Some species are semi-aggressive so we recommend that you buy six or more to decrease fin nipping. Good tank mates include rasboras, tetras, and corydoras, but stay away from long-finned fish like angelfish and betta fish.
8. Bolivian Cichlids
The Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is an excellent beginner cichlid from South America that’s very similar to their colorful but less hardy cousins, the German ram. They are three inches in length and make great fish for a medium-sized aquarium. Their unique cichlid behavior and yellow and black coloration make them a great focal point fish. Bolivian rams are happy with temperatures of 72-79 degrees F and pH 7.0-8.2. They can also be kept with any other community fish that has the same requirements.
9. Kuhli Loaches
Kuhli loaches (Pangio kuhlii) will either fascinate or freak you out because they look like little 4-inch eels or snakes. As nocturnal fish, they tend to be a little shy and hide behind decor, so keep them groups of at least three to six so that they feel safe enough to come out and explore. Like corydoras, these bottom dwellers scavenge for leftovers on the ground and between rocks, but you must specifically feed them to make sure they don’t go hungry. Read more about them in our kuhli loach care guide.
With their beautiful shape, distinctive fins, and lovely striped pattern, the striking angelfish certainly lives up to its name. They can reach the size of small saucers, so keep them in 55 gallons or more of water, especially in tall tanks. The large, showpiece cichlid is a good choice for rasboras and tetras. However, it’s better to keep one than to prevent territorial fighting between their species. There are many varieties, including marble, zebra and veil angelfish.
These beginner fish are all hardy and easy to care for. They can be found at your local fish shop. Have fun looking for your next fish and choosing the best one for you.