The first step to establishing a vibrant and pleasing aquarium is choosing appropriate types of fish for your specific situation. If you’re new to fish-keeping, you might be wondering which aquarium fish are best for beginners.
The expert consensus is that freshwater fish species are the wisest choice for people who’ve not kept fish in an aquarium before. Freshwater aquarium fish are hardy and resilient (because they evolved in habitats with fluctuating water conditions) and require less expertise, maintenance, & space than saltwater species.
Beginners are advised to choose freshwater fish from tropical regions. Tropical freshwater fish are more colorful than their cousins from colder temperate latitudes, and they don’t require as much space or water filtration. Here are 10 of the best aquarium fish species for novices, with a focus on tropical freshwater fish.
#1. Tiger Pleco
Tiger pleco (Hypancistrus sp.) is an excellent choice for anyone new to fish-keeping. These sucker-mouth catfish originate from the Amazon River. They have beautiful striped black and white (or yellow) patterns and large sail-like fins.
Tiger plecos grow about 5 inches long, which is considerably smaller than other popular pleco species, making them ideal for smaller aquariums. The minimum size aquarium for tiger plecos is 40 gallons.
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They are also fantastic aquarium fish for beginners because of their non-aggressive nature, so tiger plecos are easy to keep with other fish species.
However, tiger plecos are solitary and territorial and may fight with other fish of their kind. It is possible to have more than one tiger pleco in the same tank, but one must provide nooks and crannies for each individual to hide.
NOTE: The tiger pleco is a bottom-feeding fish, so it primarily eats foods that sink to the bottom of the aquarium, such as fish pellets.
These tropical freshwater fish are omnivorous. The ideal diet for tiger plecos consists of sinking algae wafers, vegetable flakes, and small amounts of fresh green vegetables combined with meat-based proteins like blood worms or brine shrimp.
Tiger plecos are hardy and low-maintenance fish, but they thrive most when the aquarium has a temperature of between 79F and 86F and a pH of between 5.5 and 7.5.
Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) are ideal for novice aquarium enthusiasts. This favorite species (also called rainbow fish) comes from the tropical northern part of South America. Guppies are small, with broad flowing tails and exquisite colors and patterns.
NOTE: Guppies are excellent for beginners because they require minimal maintenance. These fish are very hardy and are known to survive for a week or more without eating. For more detail on different types of guppies, check out my article here with 44 different types of guppies!.
Guppies are also a fine choice for novice aquarium hobbyists due to their docile nature. They cohabit peacefully with other aquarium fish species. Guppies are communal fish that naturally shoal together, so they thrive most when living with other P. reticulata.
Guppy fish are omnivores, though their natural diet predominantly consists of plant-based food like algae. Guppies should receive a mix of plant and animal-based foods such as high-quality fish flakes, frozen blood worms, and live brine shrimp and Daphnia (a tiny crustacean).
Guppy fish tolerate varied water conditions. Though freshwater fish, guppies prefer hard, mildly saline water (roughly 1 tablespoon of salt per 5 gallons of water). To support the health and appearance of guppy fish, aquarium water temperatures must be relatively warm (between 78F and 82F).
GOOD TO KNOW: Guppies are prodigious breeders, so males and females are typically kept in separate aquariums (unless one intends to engage in guppy breeding).
Swordtails (Xiphophorus hellerii) are among the most suitable aquarium fish for beginners. The name of this colorful and popular fish species derives from its long, thin, pointed tail (on the lower portion). Swordtail fish are from Central America, where they live in small, flowing streams.
Swordtails grow to an average size of 5 to 6 inches, so they don’t need a particularly large space to live. The recommended minimum aquarium size for swordtails is between 10 and 20 gallons.
NOTE: A principal reason why swordtails are ideal for novices is their resilience. Due to their natural habitat, swordtails are well-adapted to cope with fluctuating temperature and pH when kept in aquariums.
Swordtail fish are also beginner-friendly because they have a docile temperament. They are social fish, so it’s essential to have five or more individuals in one tank. Swordtails live happily with other aquarium fish species due to their tranquil disposition, which is also an advantage for beginners.
While X. hellerii fish can tolerate a wide range of water conditions, they prefer temperatures between 70F and 82F. Swordtails benefit from aquariums with pumps that generate strong water currents, though this is not essential.
Swordtails favor plant-based foods like algae and vegetable flakes, but they also consume meat. It is advisable to periodically include live foods such as brine shrimp to provide swordtails with a healthy balance of nutrients.
#4. Neon Tetra
Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innesi)is an ideal species for people with limited aquarium fish-keeping knowledge and skills. These tiny blue and silver-colored fish are renowned for their attractive, shimmering appearance.
NOTE: Neon tetras are shoaling fish. It is crucial to keep several neon tetras together in a single tank.
Due to their social nature, neon tetras also have a peaceful disposition. This lack of aggression makes neon tetras suitable for beginners, as they won’t have to deal with fighting and injured fish in their new aquariums.
Neon tetras are omnivorous. Their diet should consist primarily of high-protein fish flakes, with periodic feedings of brine shrimp, blood worms, or Daphnia.
Neon tetras don’t require excessive maintenance, which is another reason they are beginner-friendly. Neon tetra fish thrive in mildly acidic water with an average temperature of around 77F.
#5. Firemouth Cichlid
Firemouth cichlid (Thorichthys meeki) is a beginner-friendly aquarium fish species from Central America. This elegant fish is grayish-purple and red, with flecks of silver and turquoise.
Firemouth cichlids grow to a maximum length of roughly 6 inches and live for an average of 10 years. They are an excellent choice for beginners because they are docile. In general, firemouth cichlids cohabit peacefully with other types of aquarium fish (though they might eat smaller fish when breeding).
Firemouth cichlids are also suited for novice aquarium hobbyists because these fish don’t require arduous maintenance or a high level of technical expertise.
Firemouth cichlid fish are omnivorous. These fish have sensitive digestive systems, so it is inadvisable to feed them excessive amounts of protein-rich foods. The firemouth cichlid diet should combine plant-based foods like algae and vegetable flake with small quantities of blood worms, brine shrimp, or mosquito larvae.
NOTE: While firemouth cichlids are not aggressive towards other species, they become territorial when breeding, and may act aggressively towards other cichlids in the tank.
If more than one pair is kept together, the tank must be large enough (and have ample hiding places) to accommodate their territorial behavior during breeding periods. The recommended minimum aquarium size for two firemouth cichlids is 30 gallons. This volume must be increased by at least 5 to 10 gallons for every additional firemouth in the tank.
Firemouth cichlids tolerate a wide range of conditions. They thrive most in a water pH range of 6.5 to 8 and temperatures between 75F and 86F. Adequate water filtration is essential because firemouth cichlids are sensitive to excess nitrogen accumulation in the tank.
#6. Cory Catfish
Cory catfish (Corydoras sp.) is undoubtedly one of the best aquarium fish for beginners. These little, bottom-feeding catfish are from South America. There are dozens of Corydoras species with an impressive diversity of colors and patterns.
Beginner aquarium enthusiasts can expect to enjoy success with cory catfish because of their peaceful and social temperament. Cory catfish don’t pose a threat to other aquarium fish. Indeed, the primary concern is that cory catfish may get eaten by larger fish (like firemouth cichlids).
Cory catfish are also beginner-friendly because they are low-maintenance aquarium fish. For instance, cory catfish don’t have specialized dietary requirements.
NOTE: A balanced diet of plant and meat-based foods is suitable for cory catfish. However, they need regular feeding to prevent bigger fish from out-competing them for food.
Cory catfish have a shoaling habit, so it is essential to keep a minimum of 3 to 6 individual cory catfish in a tank. Cory catfish are 1 to 3 inches long, so a 20-gallon aquarium is sufficient to house a small group of individuals.
The ideal water temperature range for cory catfish is 72F to 82F. Cory catfish tolerate pH levels between 6.5 and 7.8, though they prefer slightly acidic water.
#7. Kuhli Loaches
Kuhli loaches (Pangio sp.) are different-looking, eel-like aquarium fish that make an ideal choice for beginners. These nocturnal, bottom-dwelling freshwater fish originate from Southeast Asia. Kuhli loaches are about 3 to 4 inches and are usually pale pink with striking purplish-brown stripes.
NOTE: There are numerous reasons why kuhli loaches are recommended for novice aquarium enthusiasts, mainly because they are shy and non-aggressive fish that are easy to keep with other species.
In addition, kuhli loaches are known for their hardiness. These fish will adapt to most freshwater tank conditions. Kuhli loaches are scavengers and consume most meat and vegetable-based fish foods. Sinking foods like pellets are best.
Having 3 to 6 kuhli loaches in one tank gives them the confidence to come out of hiding and move around the tank. The optimal tank size for a small community of kuhli loaches is 20 gallons.
#8. Freshwater Angelfish
Freshwater angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare) are highly recommended for any beginner’s aquarium. This majestic fish from tropical South America is typically kept in aquariums as a showpiece. Angelfish have long, delicately-trailing dorsal and ventral fins, and are usually silver with bold black stripes.
The average size of angelfish is 3 to 4 inches in length and about 6 inches in height including their fins. Due to their size, angelfish need a tank with a minimum volume of 55 gallons.
Angelfish are hardy, making them a favorable aquarium fish for novices. While angelfish might sometimes be mildly aggressive towards other fish, they rarely trouble their tank mates when provided with sufficient space.
Angelfish prefer aquariums with water temperatures between 75F and 86F and a pH range of 6 to 7.
NOTE: Angelfish are primarily carnivorous, so they need a high-protein diet.
Platy fish (Xiphophorus sp.) is a smart choice for beginners. This genus of aquarium fish is from Central America. There are many platy species available in a mesmerizing palette of colors.
Platies are well-suited for novices because they are exceptionally peaceful and hardy fish. They are easy to keep with other fish species in the same tank and require minimal maintenance.
NOTE: Platies are omnivorous. They are generalist eaters and consume most aquarium fish foods.
Platies are communal fish, so it is best to have at least 5 or 6 individuals in a tank. They are small fish and average about 3 inches, so the recommended minimum tank size is 10 gallons.
Though tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions, platies are most healthy and happy in hard water. They also prefer temperatures of 70F to 77F and a pH level of between 6.8 and 8.
Mollies (Poecilia sphenops) are highly-suited for people new to fish-keeping. The colors of molly fish species are as varied as their shapes and sizes.
NOTE: Mollies are perfect for beginners because they are super-hardy and peaceful fish.
P. sphenops is a shoaling fish. It is best to keep 4 or more individuals as a group. Mollies average about 4 inches in length, but a 10-gallon tank is sufficient to house several individuals.
Mollies subsist primarily on plants like live algae. It is beneficial for the health of molly fish if they occasionally receive minuscule portions of meat-based foods like brine shrimp or blood worms.
The optimum water temperature range for molly fish is 70F to 78F. Mollies thrive with a pH of 7.5 to 8.5.
Anyone starting their journey as an aquarium enthusiast will benefit from choosing the appropriate types of fish for their tanks.
Beginners should consider selecting tropical freshwater fish to increase their probability of success. Tropical freshwater fish are ideal for novice fish-keepers because they are relatively hardy, low-maintenance, and non-aggressive compared with many other types of aquarium fish.
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