Best Fish For A Beginner Aquarium

Filling a new aquarium with fish is both exciting and a bit scary. For the novice fishkeeper, choosing compatible and easy to care for fish is generally the best idea. While your local fish store may be able to give you some solid advice, doing your research and planning on your own just adds to the fun, particularly if are waiting for your tank to finish fishless cycling.

Marine or Tropical Fishtanks?

Many people feel attracted to saline or salt-water aquariums because the fish are generally very colourful and impressive. However, for the novice hobbyist a saltwater aquarium is likely to be a source of frustration and wasted money. To start with, they are more expensive to set up, and require regular maintenance and a lot of care to keep everything running smoothly, whereas tropical fish tanks are easier to manage. Also, marine fish are in average much more expensive and difficult to get, and you will most likely need other lifeforms such as coral for a reef aquarium. So, if you have no experience keeping a real, large aquarium, start with a tropical or temperate fish tank. You’ll love your fish just the same!

It may sound strange since they are the archetypical fishbowl fish, but goldfish are not a particularly good fish to keep in a beginner aquarium, as they produce large amounts of waste and need quite a bit of maintenance, not to mention they can grow pretty large. However, if you are happy to clean the aquarium regularly you can keep goldfish in a temperate water aquarium for very little money. However, most tropical fish will require a heater in order to keep the water between 25C and 27C to be happy.

Planning Your Fish Tank In Advance

A fish tank at the Oklahoma Aquarium
A fish tank at the Oklahoma Aquarium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you go shopping for your first fish tank inhabitants, give a bit of thought to what sort of aquarium you are after. Do you want to have a few, large fish? Large amounts of small, colourful guppies? A community tank is usually the easiest for a beginner, as the fish will be more peaceful and less likely to try and eat each other. The amount of fish you can introduce to your tank, and their size, will depend on the size of the aquarium and how adequate your filtering system is. So, before spending money on buying the first fish that catches your attention, consider what is the end result you are after:

  • Do you want a single species aquarium, or several different fish species?
  • How much are you willing to do in terms of maintenance?
  • Do you want large fish, or small fish?
  • Do you prefer an aquarium full of peaceful fish, or want some more boisterous ones?
  • How big is your aquarium?
  • Do you want live plants in your tank?
  • Do you want to add lots of decoration, or keep it minimalist and sleek?How hard or soft is the water in your area?

Only buy fish that are compatible and fit your long-term plans, as impromptu purchases have a tendency to backfire. Particularly when you discover that the perfect water conditions for your new fish are totally different from the ones your existing tank already provides.

Best Freshwater Fish For A Beginner’s Tank

We have selected a variety of fish species suitable for a beginner fishkeeper’s tank that are easy to care for, play well with other fish and don’t require specialist foods or difficult to achieve perfect water conditions. However, this doesn’t mean that you can forget about their needs, so cycling your fish tank,  regular water testing and water changes and the occasional fish food treat are still part of keeping an easy to care for aquarium.


Glowlight Danio (Danio Choprae)
Glowlight Danio (Danio Choprae)

Danios are a small, hardy species that does well in a variety of conditions and are friendly towards other tankmates. They are often used for fish-in tank cycling, as they can tolerate levels of ammonia that would kill other fish, though they will not enjoy it and fishless cycling is still a more humane alternative.

Danios are the perfect fish for aquarium beginners because they are active during the day and will eat flake fish food. They prefer to live in a group, and stick to the higher levels of the aquarium.


Black Mollies, Guppies, Swordtails and Platies

Male and female guppies (Poecilia reticulata)
Male and female guppies (Poecilia reticulata) (Photo credit: Marrabbio2 – Wikipedia)

Livebearing fish don’t put eggs, they produce live fish babies instead! Fish from this category are a favourite among aquarium enthusiasts, novice and experienced. They are friendly and playful, and come in a large variety of colours and sizes. For example, fancy guppies can have tails that rival those of a siamese fighting fish, and will make a colourful display that is easy to take care of.

Livebearers will also produce a lot of fry, which means you can end up with lots of new fish provided you have plants and hiding places for the fry so they aren’t eaten by the other fish in the tank. They are best kept in a group, as the males will put on colourful displays if there are females around.

Black Skirt Tetra or Neon Tetras

Black Skirt Tetra By jfinnirwin @Flicker
Black Skirt Tetra By jfinnirwin @Flicker

This is a peaceful, easy to care for fish that loves to be in a group. They will eat just about anything, and swim in the middle of the tank so make a good combination with both danios and livebearers which like the top layers of water. Most fish from the Tetra family are cheap, easy to take care off and love to swim in schools, so they are always a good choice of tropical fish for beginners.

Another great option in the Tetra family are Neon Tetras. This small, schooling fish is highly resilient and easy to feed, and provided they are in a group of 5 or more will swim together creating beautiful displays. They are very small and non-aggressive, so perfect for a community aquarium or a small fish tank.


Gourami (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These fish come in a variety of colors, from gold to red and blue, and are slightly larger than guppies or danios so you will need a bigger aquarium. Dwarf gouramis grow only to about 2″ so they are a good alternative if you have a small aquarium. This is a very elegant fish that floats around the middle of the tank and, like other laberynth fish can breathe air through a special organ. Gouramis are big eaters, so be careful not to overfed them. They will act like they were starving if they see you, even if you have just given them food.


Siamese fighting fish, B. splendens, is often ...
Siamese fighting fish, B. splendens, is often referred to as betta in the U.S., leading to some confusion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bettas, or Siamese Fighting Fish, are another variety of laberynth fish that are both beautiful and easy to care for fish. They are very territorial, so forget about having more than one male of this beautiful species on your aquarium unless you have a really large, planted one. However, they can get along with other fish, particularly species that don’t have long, flowing fins that could make your Betta think that he has competition.

Some siamese fighters are really hungry fish that will overeat themselves to death so be careful with only giving them food they can eat within 2 minutes. If you don’t have a very large aquarium, Bettas are great fish to keep on their own but they will still need room to move, and a good filtration system. They also dislike heavy changes on water hardness and pH, so try not to disturb their environment.


Botia macracanthus
Botia macracanthus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you have bought plants for your aquarium, you may have discovered that they came with unwelcome visitors: SNAILS. There are several chemical ways to kill snails, as well as snails traps, but Loaches are usually a much more entertaining and efficient solution to the snails in aquarium problem. Keep this in mind if you plan to use algae eating snails as your algae control solution, as they won’t last long in a tank with loaches.

Loaches are bottoms dwellers, and they are not as visible as other fish, but they have a lot of charm and they are actually funny fish. Clown loaches, for example, will play dead and sleep vertically in the middle of your plants, and they are fearsome snail hunters: they will suck them right out of their shells. When no snails are available, they are happy to eat pellets though.

Stocking a Brand New Aquarium

It is easy to overstock a new aquarium, even if you have gone through the fishless cycling stage and everything seems ready. Remember, the bacterial colonies that keep your tank healthy are not prepared for a sudden influx of ammonia producing fish! In order to keep your tank from going through a mini ammonia cycle and your fish from suffering, you will need to start slow. Add just a few fishes every week, and keep a close eye on the aquarium water parameters to make sure your filter copes well.

As you become a more experienced fish keeper you may want to branch into more challenging species of fish, but to be honest there is nothing wrong with keeping these fish on your aquarium. You can have a beautiful, easy to take care off aquarium with a selection of the above novice-friendly tropical fish without having to look for more expensive or difficult to keep fish.

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