So you’re interested in setting up an aquarium and need some ideas for which fish to choose?
If this is your first ever home aquarium, and you have never kept fish before, this article is going to be the best possible starting point. We have conjured up a list of 13 tropical freshwater fish, that are perfect for both beginners, and advanced fishkeepers alike. Why 13? Your guess is good as ours.
Before that, let’s take a quick look at what constitutes a good freshwater fish for beginners.
What Makes A Fish Beginner Friendly?
The first thing you will learn about tropical fishkeeping is that every fish is different, and you can’t simply throw a bunch of them into a tank, and leave them be. There is a LOT more to it than that. When looking for beginner freshwater fish, you need a species that will tick a few boxes;
- They are hardy, and can endure more tragic conditions. We know you will treat your fish as well as you can, but when filling your first aquarium, it’s a good idea to choose fish which can survive in less than optimal conditions and won’t be as threatened by changes in the water parameters. This gives you a little leeway, and more room for mistakes.
- They are easy to care for. You are still learning, so don’t choose something that needs constant care and attention.
- They are peaceful and get on with other fish. Different fish have different levels of aggression, and while some may live peacefully with other fish, some won’t, so it’s important to choose fish which will live together as a community, and don’t spend their time attacking and eating each other.
- They will fit in your tank. Knowing the size in which a certain species of fish will grow is crucial when populating your tank. There is no point owning fish which can grow to be 2 feet long if your tank is only 2 feet wide itself. Most of the fish in this list will stay around 2 to 3 inches, making them perfect for the starter aquarium.
The 13 Best Freshwater Fish
Whilst this list is just a small example of the types of fish you can keep at home in a beginner aquarium, we believe that these 13 are perfect for those with little experience, and each tick all the boxes we mentioned before when looking for tropical freshwater fish.
Although small in size, these beautifully coloured, cool freshwater fish will surely take advantage of every bit of space in your tank and are one of the easiest fish to care for. They love being in groups, so the bigger the group, the happier they will be, so don’t be afraid of keeping as many as you want.
One of the more hardy freshwater aquarium fish available for beginners are Danios. Due to their hardiness, they are the perfect fish for people who don’t have much experience with setting up a tank. They can survive in a variety of different water conditions.
Danios are generally very active and fun to watch. In terms of their diet, they will be more than happy with fish flakes.
Our favourite Danios to keep are the Zebra Danio, and the Giant Danio.
A perfect fish for the community tank. Platies are a very peaceful fish which will live peacefully with any other non-aggressive fish. There are lots of varieties to choose from, and they come with a variety of different colours, as a result of selective breeding.
Platies are not picky when it comes to diet. They will eat any type of flake foods, as well as most frozen live foods.
A colorful freshwater aquarium fish that are perfect for beginners are Guppies. Although the behaviour and characteristics tend to be the same from fish to fish, Guppies come in a wide range of colours. They are a hardy fish, and they can eat regular fish flakes. However, like many fish on this list, they can also eat frozen (or live) brine shrimp, blood worms, and Daphnia. The fact that Guppies can go over a week without food, shows how hardy they are.
If you are interested in keeping Guppies, it’s important to know the difference between a male and a female. Guppies breed like crazy, so if you were to tank the two sexes together, you can expect a lot of Guppy babies. To stop this from happening, simply keep all males, or all females, unless of course, you are in this game to breed them.
Check out our comprehensive guppies care guide for more information.
Originating from the tropical region of Southeast Asia, the Kuhli loach is an eel-like fish which, because of its size, ability to adapt to water changes, and the fact that it is peaceful, has made its way into our list of best freshwater fish.
Being a bottom feeder, the Kuhli Loach will eat just about any spare food that has dropped to the bottom of the tank, including live foods such as worms and shrimp. The bulk of their diet should be general fish pellets.
They are a peaceful fish who will live happily with most other non-aggressive fish, but make sure you don’t house them with anything too big which may mistake them for food. To keep them happy, you should keep at least 3 at a time.
Although they may take a while to settle into their new tank, Cherry Barbs are the perfect freshwater fish for a home aquarium for all of the reasons listed above. They can tolerate big changes in water parameters, they are friendly (unlike their long-lost cousins Tiger Barbs), they only grow to around 2 inches long and in general, they are an easy fish to take care of.
As one of the most endangered species of fish in the wild, the Cherry Barb is still a favourite within the fishkeeping community, thanks to it’s bright, eye-catching colours, and it’s entertainment value. They are a very active fish, and once they become accustomed to their new surroundings, they will be very active and fun to watch.
In order to make your Cherry Barb feel as settled and as secure as possible, we recommend that you keep some live plants, allowing them to hide whenever they feel the need. Barbs can take a while to come out of their shell. They are best kept in schools, so anything above 6 is preferred.
In terms of dietary needs, they will eat just about any type of fish food, although they may not take to it at first if it’s a new tank. Give them a couple of weeks and they will be eating comfortably.
Fire Mouth Cichilid
Given its name because of the red colouration of its scales during breeding, the Fire Mouth Cichilid is a perfect fish for new fishkeepers. Although they CAN become pretty territorial during breeding season, they are relatively friendly. To be on the safe side, we recommend you keep these on their own, but if you want to mix them with other species, then make sure you provide rocks or an upturned plant pot where they can hide away in peace, to lay their eggs.
Adult Cichlids can grow to be around 6 inches long, and their diet can consist of regular flake food. Thanks to their popularity, you can find them at most pet stores, and they are generally very cheap, which is another advantage when looking to fill your own aquarium.
Also known as the Lace Gourami, this cool tropical freshwater fish is one of the most popular Gourami fish for aquarium lovers, thanks to its beautiful appearance and its hardy build. They are easy to care for and can be kept in tanks with at least 30 gallons of water, but like many other types of Gourami, they do require space at the top of the tank so they can breathe air.
When it comes to feeding time, the Pearl Gourami can eat a wide variety of different foods, both plant-based, and meat based. For the best overall nutrition, we recommend feeding an algae-based flake food, as well as live food such as brine shrimp, blood-worms and tubifex.
Pearl Gouramis do not like to live with aggressive fish, so keep that in mind when filling your aquarium. They also like a place to hide, so a small covering of floating ferns can give them a good place to hide and feel comfortable. We have several articles on setting up a new tank with plants, here.
A peaceful freshwater fish, originating from South America (The Amazon River in Brazil) is the Tiger Pleco. Because they spend most of their time at the bottom of the tank, they do well with sinking food such as pellets, but they also thrive on brine shrimp and blood worms. Keeping Plecos nice and satiated will keep them from eating your tanks plants, which they can have a tendency to do.
Tiger Plecos are peaceful, but very territorial, so if you plan on keeping more than one, it is recommended that you fill the bottom of your tank with rocks and wood ornaments, so they can find a place to call their own.
Growing up to 5 inches in length, they have a lifespan of up to 8 years under optimal tank conditions. The closely related Bristlenose Pleco is a great choice of pleco fish, too.
Another peaceful fish which will live harmoniously with most other fish is the Cory Catfish. With over 140 species to chose from, the Cory fish is the perfect addition to a beginners fish tank (Not to be mistaken for other catfish such as the Pictus Catfish). Being aggressive eaters, these freshwater fish will be responsible for keeping your tank clean, thanks to their love for vegetative matter and algae which can build up at the bottom of home aquariums.
With a lifespan of up to 20 years, the Cory Catfish is a communal fish, which strives better when kept in groups of at least 3. In the wild, they will feed on insects, larvae and any vegetative matter that sinks to the bottom of shallow shoals. You can replicate this by offering them a variety of vegetable flakes, insect larvae, and worms such as blood-worms.
Mollies are a versatile fish which can survive in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums if the changes are made gradually. They are great for beginners because they are extremely hardy, and are not as aggressive as some other tropical fish. There are many to choose from, and the term ‘mollies’ is quite vague since there are so many variations of size, color and optimal tank conditions.
Because of the vast difference between each type of molly fish, choosing the right water conditions can be tough. However, all mollies prefer warm water, so a temperature between 25 and 28 degrees would be optimal.
In the wild, mollies prefer to eat a plant-based diet, most specifically, algae. Evolution has slowly turned mollies away from a carnivorous diet, and more towards a plant-based diets, so their digestive systems are designed to digest algae better than most other tropical fish. The optimal diet for aquarium mollies would be algae, vegetarian flakes, and the occasional blood-worm or brine shrimp as a treat, but limit them to once or twice per week, max.
Often touted as a ‘beginner only’ fish, swordtails (Given the name due to the sword like shape of their tails) have recently begun to build a huge following of devoted fans, looking to seek out the rarest of the species. Mostly found in small streams, swordtails typically prefer a plant-based diet, so a tank full of naturally occurring algae will be perfect for them, however, they also do well with live foods from time to time. A vegetable-based flake would be the perfect food for them on a consistent basis.
Growing up to 12 cm in length, and with low demands for water conditions, swordtails are perfect for new fishkeepers. Keep in mind that they thrive better in communities, so it’s always better to keep more than one, preferably 5 or more. The optimal water temperature would be between 25 and 28 degrees celcius, but they can also do well in cooler or warmer tanks.
In the wild, swordtails would typically be found in fast flowing water, so if you can emulate this by keeping a strong flow of water somewhere in your tank, they will be grateful and will feel more at home.
Although not typically recommended as a beginner fish, due to their aggressive nature (They aren’t called Siamese Fighting Fish for nothing), the Betta fish will generally be aggressive toward other Betta fish, so as long as you only keep one, they should be fine.
We have added the Betta to our list of best freshwater fish for beginners because they are one of the most stunning tropical fish you can keep. The long colourful fins will catch the eyes of anyone having a peek in your tank. Betta fish are also very easy to care for, and they will eat most types of food including fish flakes, blood-worms and brine shrimp. For a treat, try offering some live foods to the tank.
When looking for tank mates, make sure you don’t add any fish which have a tendency to nip. Because of their huge fins, the Betta would be a prime target for nipping fish, but nipping an aggressive fish like the Betta will never end well.
So What’s Next?
The 13 freshwater fish that we just introduced to you are just a drop in the ocean when compared to the amount of fish that can be found in aquariums around the world.
If you are ready to start your first
If you’re still interested in learning more about freshwater fish, why not check out our freshwater fish section before you leave? If you’re feeling brave you can also check out our 5 Best Tropical Fish For Advanced Aquarists article to learn more about the more difficult fish to keep.
If you’ve made it this far, we would love to hear from you. Let us know in the comment box below what fish you are interested in keeping in your aquarium. Also, feel free to ask any questions you might have.