If you’re new to the hobby of fishkeeping, choosing which fish to get might seem like a daunting task. With so many options out there, it’s all too easy for a beginner to end up with a fish that they are not properly equipped to care for. This guide goes through some of the best fish for beginners.
The main thing to think about with beginner fish is how easy they are to keep happy and healthy. This generally means fish that are hardier and more able to deal with a wider range of aquarium parameters. Saltwater aquariums and their fish usually need a lot more care and attention to keep in good condition compared to freshwater aquariums (not to mention they’re much more expensive), so we generally recommend beginner fishkeepers stick with freshwater systems. Because of this, we’re just going to be looking at freshwater fish in this article.
Other things you will want to consider when thinking about the best fish to start with include:
- Nature and temperament. How peaceful is the fish, and how easily does it get on with others?
- This is of course subjective, but generally, you will want fish that are attractive and colorful, which are going to stand out in your aquarium.
- A fish might be small when you buy it, but you want to make sure it’s not going to quickly outgrow your tank.
So, here’s our rundown of the 10 best fish for beginners.
There are many different types of Danio, with the Zebra Danio probably being the most common in the hobby. These fish are my top pick for beginners. They tick all the right boxes when it comes to an ideal first fish.
Most importantly, they are very hardy. They can thrive in a wide variety of aquarium parameters, with temperatures ranging from 64-75 °F and a water pH between 6.0-8.0.
Danios are quite small and usually grow to a length of about 2 inches. You might think that they won’t be very noticeable in your aquarium due to their size, but not to worry. Danios are shoaling fish and should be in groups of at least six, but preferably 8-10. Watching them swim around your tank is mesmerizing thanks to their active, playful nature as well as their attractive coloring and patterns.
Betta fish are one of the most popular aquarium fish for good reason – they look awesome. Or at least the males do, with their long and colorful fins.
Though they have a reputation as being quite aggressive, this is generally only true if you have more than one betta in your aquarium. If your tank has just one, they will generally get along quite peacefully with the other inhabitants of your aquarium. Just make sure to give them a couple of hiding spots to keep them happy.
Typically, they grow to about 2.5 inches in length, and should be kept in an aquarium with a temperature between 78-80 °F.
Something to be aware of if you’re going to keep a betta fish is to make sure none of its tank mates will have a tendency to nip at its fins. Some tetras, for example, are quite notorious for this.
Speaking of tetras, they’re the next fish on this list!
There are many different types of tetras out there. You might be familiar with the more common Neon Tetra, however we’re recommending the Black Skirt Tetra. These larger bodied tetras tend to be a bit hardier than their smaller cousins, making them a better fish for beginners.
The Black Skirt tetras have a more subdued color compared to many other tetras, but this can actually provide a nice contrast if they’re kept in an otherwise colorful tank.
These fish like to school and you should keep them in groups of at least five. This way they will normally stick with each other and not bother any other fish in your aquarium. Like the Betta fish, they are happiest when they have a few places to hide, such as plants or little caves.
Black Skirt tetras do well in temperatures ranging from 70-80 °F and normally grow up to 2.5 inches.
These fish come in a bunch of different colors and patterns, so you can buy whatever you think will go well in your aquarium. They are quite an active fish and will generally get on peacefully with tank mates, as long as they aren’t sharing the tank with anything particularly aggressive.
As live bearing fish, it is important that you keep more females than males. Generally, at least two females per male is a good rule. This lowers the chance of the male fixating on one female and harassing her.
If you keep Platies in your aquarium, it’s important to note that they will almost certainly breed. The Platies (and the other fish in your tank) will often eat the young unless there are sufficient places for them to hide.
They are fairly hardy, and will withstand temperatures between 70-80 °F. Females grow to a maximum length of about 2.5 inches, with the males being a bit smaller.
Swordtails are very closely related to Platies – in fact, if kept in the same aquarium they can actually breed together. This is part of the reason there are so many colors and varieties of Platies and Swordtails available these days.
Because they are so closely related, most of the information about Platies applies here for Swordtails as well. They live comfortably in the same parameters of 70-80 °F, and grow to about 5-6 inches in length. The most obvious difference between the Swordtail and the Platy is the bottom fin of the male Swordtail. As you might guess from the name, it looks a bit like a sword.
The same information about breeding applies here too. The females give birth quickly and frequently, and if you want the fry to survive you must ensure your aquarium has plenty of hiding places, such as plants.
The Cherry Barb is a great fish for beginners due to its hardiness and its striking red color. This is another schooling species and they should be kept in groups of at least six to ensure they are able to thrive. They are very lively fish, and don’t strictly stick to their schools. This variation makes them quite enjoyable to watch.
In nature, the Cherry Barbs habitat is shaded with densely grown plants. It is best to try to mimic this in your aquarium if you are going to be keeping these fish, to minimize their stress and keep them as happy as possible as they are quite shy without sufficient cover.
In an ideal environment with a good balance of open water and cover, however, they are great fit for a community tank.
They grow up to about 2 inches in ideal conditions, and should be kept at a temperature of 72-80 °F.
These fish are probably one of the easiest Gouramis to keep, and are not very demanding at all. As long as they are in a large enough aquarium with a few hiding places, and their tank mates are not too aggressive, they will be happy and get along peacefully in a community tank.
The Pearl Gourami is named after the attractive pearl-like pattern across its body, and they will look good in any aquarium.
This fish typically often swims around the middle and top levels of an aquarium, and you should note that your aquarium surface should be exposed to fresh air. This is because the Pearl Gourami, like other Gourami, is able to breath directly from the air.
Your aquarium temperature should be in the range of 75-82 °F to keep these fish comfortable, and they typically grow to 4.5 inches.
These fish are an excellent novice choice if you’re looking for a fish that will take care of any algae which might be growing in your aquarium. Many beginner fish keepers make the mistake of getting a fish such as a Pleco to fill this niche, not realizing that a Pleco can often grow to quite a large size and quickly end up too big for the tank.
Not so with the Otocinclus. These fish generally only grow to about 2 inches in length, and are most comfortable in a group of around six. Like most other shoaling species, however, more is better. They do well with a temperature of 72-80 °F.
The Otocinclus is generally quite active and can often be seen darting quickly around an aquarium, so they can be quite entertaining to watch.
One important thing to consider before getting these fish is how established your aquarium is. As the Otocinclus mainly eat algae, they won’t do very well in a brand new tank. I’d recommend your aquarium has been active for at least six months, ideally longer, before adding these guys.
The Black Molly is one of my favorite fish on this list, mainly due to their black coloring. I think the black contrasts really well with the typical bright aquarium that most people go for. If you have plants in your aquarium, the Black Molly stands out really well against the green.
These fish are another example of livebearers, and the same rules as above will apply in this case – keep at least a couple of females per male, and ensure there is plenty of plant cover if you want the fry to survive.
They aren’t ideal for a general community tank as they prefer water containing a small amount of salt. So make sure any potential tank mates can tolerate similar conditions. Otherwise, they are quite peaceful fish and will be compatible with other fish of a similar size and disposition.
Black Molly’s should stay at a temperature of 70-80 °F, and the females grow up to about 5 inches. The males are smaller, only growing to about 3 inches.
A shoal of Harlequin Rasbora can provide a striking visual in any tank. Their colorful, metallic look makes them stand out, and their active nature means they are a constant source of enjoyment as they dart around the upper levels of an aquarium.
These fish are very peaceful and shouldn’t have any problems if kept with other fish of a similar size. They are generally hardy and able to tolerate a wide range of water parameters, making the Harlequin Rasbora a good resident in a general community tank for the beginner fishkeeper.
As mentioned, they are a schooling fish and should be kept in a group of six at the very least. The more you have, of course, the more stunning their display. Make sure they have plenty of open water to show off in, but also provide them with a few plants to hide in.
These fish grow to about 2 inches, and prefer a temperature around 72-80 °F.
So that’s it. If you’re a newcomer to the aquarium hobby, hopefully you found this list useful. As you can see, there is quite a wide range of fish available that are suitable for beginners, and this list is by no means comprehensive. Have a look around and you’ll find many other examples of what people consider the best aquarium fish for novices.
Whatever fish you think you like the look of, it is important that you do your own research beyond this article. You’ll need to find out exactly what conditions and water parameters each fish can tolerate, what they eat and how they behave with other fish. Aquarium keeping can be a fun and rewarding hobby, but an important part of the hobby is the research that goes into making your aquarium the best it can be.
Have we missed anything out? What do you think is the best fish for beginners? Leave a comment below!