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. Ideally, you want something hardy, budget-friendly, and colorful 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 of rasboras, but our favorite ones are the harlequin rasbora (Trigonostigma heteromorpha) and lambchop rasbora (Trigonostigma espei). These peaceful nanofish are well-known for their bright orange coloration, distinctive black triangular patches, and they can be purchased in most pet shops. Other rasboras include the miniscule neon green rasbora (Microdevario kubotai) and larger scissortail rasbora (Rasbora trilineata). Get a school or six or more of the same rasbora species, and they’ll make a striking display in your community tank. You can find more information about caring for your rasboras in our care guide.
2. Common Goldfish
Veteran fish keepers warn novices to avoid goldfish due to their size. However, they are a great choice for beginners as they are resilient and easy to take care of. 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 reaching adult size, many people place their goldfish in outdoor water ponds. They love eating spirulina algae, vegetables, Repashy Super Gold, and other foods higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein content.
Goldfish are very forgiving with water parameters such as pH and water hardness, but they do require lots of water changes to keep their tank clean. An aquarium with only one species is preferable, as they will eat any animal or plant that fits in their mouths.
The tetras, which are small schooling fish like rasboras also come in a variety of colors, such as neon tetras or Paracheirodon innesi, cardinal and black tetras or Hyphessobrycon thebertaxelrodi, and Congo-tetras. They are very easy to care for. They prefer neutral pH waters between 7.0 and 7.8 (which is usually higher for African tetras than for wild-caught South American ones). 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. You can find more information in our cardinal tetra and neon tetra guides.
Cory catfish, a peaceful, schooling fish that looks a lot like tetras and rasboras, live at the bottom of your aquarium. Growing to one to three inches in length, they love scavenging around the tank floor and looking for crumbs, but you must specifically feed them a variety of sinking foods to make sure they get enough nutrition.
More than 160 species have been identified to date. The most popular species are the bronze and albino corys (Corydoras albino), panda corys (Corydoras Panda), and the emerald corys (Corydoras splendidens). 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. They are also very picky eaters, and will eat just about any omnivore food you offer them. We love the variatus platy (Xiphophorus variatus), so be sure to check them!
6. Betta Fish
Because of their bright colors, small size and easy care requirements, betta fish are the best 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). (Don’t keep them with other betta fish because their nickname is “Siamese fighting fish” for a reason.) Tetras, corydoras and other peaceful creatures are good tank mates. However, avoid any fish that could nip their fins. As meat eaters, they like betta pellets, frozen bloodworms, and other small floating foods. Our guide will show you how to create a beautiful betta tank.
Barbs can be a vibrant, energetic addition to your community tank. The most common barbs grow to 3-4 inches in length and are Odessa barbs, tiger barbs (Puntigrus Tetrazona), and cherry barbs. Some species are semi-aggressive so we recommend that you buy six or more to decrease fin nipping. The rasboras are corydoras as well as tetras and corydoras. But avoid long-finned fish such angelfishes and bettas.
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. Running at three inches long, they make a great centerpiece fish for a medium-sized community aquarium because of their unique cichlid behavior, yellow and black coloration, and ease of breeding. Bolivian rams can be kept with almost any fish in a community aquarium that meets their requirements. They are tolerant to pH levels between 7.0 and 8.0, as well as temperatures between 72 and 79degF.
9. Kuhli Loaches
Kuhli loaches, or Pangio kuhlii, will amaze or scare you. They look like tiny 4-inch eels and snakes. They are nocturnal fish and tend to hide behind decor. Keep them in groups of three to six to make it easier for them to explore the outdoors. These bottom dwellers, like corydoras and corydoras scavenge from the ground for leftovers between rocks but must be fed to ensure they are not hungry. Learn more about them in the kuhli locach care guide.
The striking angelfish is a stunning specimen due to their unique shape, distinct fins and beautiful striped pattern. 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.
All of these beginner fish are hardy, easy to care for, and readily available at your local fish store, so have fun researching your next fish and deciding which one is best for you!