As a beginner breaking into the fish keeping hobby, it can be tough. Trust me, I’ve been there. Walking into the local fish store, bombarded by all sorts of shapes and colors, buying a fish that ultimately dies because I was ill-informed.
Thankfully, that was a long time ago and I have since amassed a wealth of knowledge about fish keeping over the years. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the best beginner fishes to keep and the reasons to keep them.
What makes a good beginner fish?
A good beginner fish is a fish that:
- Is easy to care for and feed
- Not too aggressive
- Does not grow too big
Any fish that can fulfill these requirements will make a great beginner fish!
Best Tropical Fish For Beginners
Below, we go through 20 of our favorite beginner fish. While we won’t go onto the specifics in terms of husbandry, these fish fit our criteria of being some of the best tropical fishes for beginners.
This should come as no surprise. The guppy has been widely popular (we’ve raved about this species countless times) since the beginning of time.
Guppies are tropical fish that originate from the rivers of South America. They are small, extremely colorful, and very easy to care for.
Generally, guppies grow to a maximum length of about 1-1.5 inches from head to tail and do well in a school. They are also livebearers, making them attractive choices for any beginner thinking about breeding fishes.
2. Neon Tetras – Paracheirodon innesi
The neon tetra is also another easy to care for and widely popular tropical aquarium fish for beginners.
This species of fish is a small, schooling variety that is native to the Amazon basin in South America. Its striking color and lack of special requirements make it a great choice for any beginner looking to dabble with schooling fish (best kept in schools of 5-10 fish).
Its docile temperament and easy level of care also make it a great choice for any beginner. While growing to a maximum of 1-1.5 inches, the neon tetra if cared for properly can live to an age of up to 5 years!
3. Betta – Betta Splendens
The betta, or more commonly referred to as Siamese fighting fish, is a beautiful species of fish that originate from stagnant pools of water in Southeast Asia.
Due to their labyrinth organ, they are able to survive very well in low oxygen environments. Males of this species are highly territorial and are prone to attack or show hostility to other makes of the same species.
It is also highly probable that 2 males of the same species will ‘fight’ to the death, hence the name fighting fish. However, bettas are excellent fish to keep for beginners as they are not fussy eaters, extremely easy to care for, and will accept a wide range of water parameters. To add, they also make good additions to community tanks.
4. Platy – Xiphophorus maculatus
Also known as the southern platyfish, platys are live-bearing fish which, like the guppy has been a popular fish in the aquarium trade for a long time.
The platy originates from Southern Mexico and grows to an average length of 2-2.5 inches. They are easy to feed, care for, and come in a variety of different colors. Platies, like guppies, quickly reproduce under the right conditions, making them very rewarding fishes to keep for beginner hobbyists!
5. Silver dollar – Metynnis argenteus
The silver dollar is nicknamed due to the way they look. It originates from South America and is from the same family as the piranha!
However, unlike piranhas, these fish are peaceful herbivores and do great in home aquariums. A nice school of these fishes makes an impressive centerpiece.
They do also grow slightly larger (up to 7 inches) and live a long time (10 years). As such, they should be kept with fish of similar size or larger.
6. Tiger Barb – Barbus tetrazona
Originating from Southeast Asia, the tiger barb is also another popular fish for beginners. They are a schooling fish and get their nickname, from the pronounced vertical stripes on their body.
They grow to an average of 3 inches and have a lifespan of about 5 years. The tiger barb is very easy to care for and will eat any commercially prepared foods such as flakes and pellets.
However, tiger barbs are known to be fin nippers and should not be kept with fishes that have long fins. That said, however, a group of them will usually keep them busy within themselves.
7. Common Goldfish – Carassius auratus
Originating from China, the common goldfish traditionally is a coldwater fish that is very popular with beginners. They are active, personable, inexpensive, and have vibrant colors.
Goldfish are easy to keep and will readily gobble up most things you throw at them. They are undemanding when it comes to water quality as well, which makes them good fishes for beginners to keep when learning how to maintain pristine water conditions.
They also do well alone, in groups and in community tanks and are very peaceful! If cared for properly, the common goldfish can grow up to 12 inches and live up to 10 years of age.
8. Angelfish – Pterophyllum scalare
The freshwater angelfish is also another very popular fish in the aquarium trade due to its graceful appearance and ease of care make them great fishes to keep.
Angelfish are native to South America and are generally found in slower moving water. Angelfish by nature are also not aggressive and do relatively well in community tanks as well. However, angelfish are opportunistic and will eat almost anything they can get their mouths on.
That said they are easy to feed and will eat almost anything you throw at them. They grow up to 6 inches and have a lifespan of up to 10 years.
9. Cardinal Tetra – Paracheirodon axelrodi
The cardinal tetra is a fish that is very similar to the neon tetra. In terms of care and dietary requirements, they are identical.
The cardinal tetra originates from South America as well and is a schooling fish that is just a tad larger than the neon tetra, growing to an average size of about 2 inches. They have become increasingly popular over the years as their colors tend to be more striking than neon tetras.
The main difference between the cardinal tetras and neon tetras is the red stripe on the lower half of their bodies. In cardinal tetras, this red stripe extends the entire length of its body whilst in neon tetras, it only begins midway.
The killifish is an interesting variety of fish that comes from many places in the world.
What’s most interesting about killifish is that some species of killifish eggs are able to survive without water for long periods of time. This makes breeding killifish not only fun and educational but also a great fish for beginners who are looking to try breeding for the first time.
Keeping the killifish is also incredibly easy as they are labyrinth fish. They are omnivores and will readily consume the most readily available commercial foods.
That said, there are more than 1000 different varieties of killifish, so be sure to do your research as the care while simple might differ in different species.
11. Dwarf Gourami – Trichogaster lalius
The dwarf gourami is another labyrinth fish that originates from the thickly vegetated waters in India.
In the wild, they are often found in pairs and are generally very shy fishes. They also feed predominantly off insects that fall onto the surface of the water and algae that grow off surfaces in the water.
In the aquarium, most freeze-dried, flakes, or pellets will work fine. Just be sure to include meaty items such as earthworms or tubifex worms to ensure a balanced diet.
Generally growing 6-8 inches, they are easy to keep and are a great choice for any beginner!
12. Cherry barb – Puntius titteya
The cherry barb is a schooling species that originates from Sri Lanka. They are small and very peaceful, making them a good addition for any community tank or a first fish for beginner hobbyists.
In the aquarium, they are easy to feed and care for. Generally, they will eat most commercially available food pellets and flakes, however, it is also important to supplement their diet with some meaty items such as tubifex worms so that they can maintain a balanced diet. If cared for properly, they grow to a length of about 1.5-2 inches and live to about 6 years of age.
13. Peppered Corydoras Catfish – Corydoras paleatus
The peppered cory is a species of small freshwater catfish. Originating from South America, this species of fish is a great choice for beginners looking for something interesting yet easy to keep.
The peppered cory is an omnivorous fish and is easy to care for. In the wild, they forage the riverbeds for worms and edible plant matter, however, in the aquarium they will readily finish up any leftover food that falls to the bottom of the tank.
The peppered cory if cared for properly can grow to a length of about 5 inches and live up to 8 years!
14. Swordtail – Xiphophorous helleri
Swordtails originate from Central and North America.
They come from the same family as guppies and platys do, which means they are also livebearers. Swordtails get their nickname from the males having an extended bottom tail fin which looks like a sword.
Generally, swordtail care is easy and they will eat anything you throw at them. They are perfect for the new hobbyist who wants something bigger than a guppy or platy as they grow up to 6 inches in length.
They are also a peaceful species and will do well in a community tank.
15. Mollies – Poecilia sphenops
The molly is also another species of livebearing fish that originate from South America.
The molly is also bigger than the guppy, however with very similar care requirements. What’s interesting about mollies, however, is that they have the ability to live in both fresh and salt environments.
Molly fish also come in many varieties and colors, making them a very attractive choice for a beginner fish. If cared for properly, they can reach about 3-4 inches in length.
They are also voracious eaters and generally will eat anything you throw at them, however, it is also important to balance their diet with meaty items like worms so that they have a well-balanced diet.
16. Harlequin Rasbora – Trigonostigma heteromorpha
The harlequin rasbora or sometimes referred to as the red rasbora is a small schooling fish that originates from Southeast Asia. They generally inhabit small streams and stagnant ponds.
The harlequin rasbora is also a schooling fish, making them impressive fish if kept in a group.
Generally, this species of fish is easy to keep as they are very hardy and have a voracious diet, making them good fishes for beginner hobbyists.
A varied diet of pellets, as well as worms, will ensure that they are healthy. They can live up to 6 years of age.
17. Sparkling Gourami – Trichopsis pumila
Also known as the pygmy gourami, sparkling gouramis are a small labyrinth fish that originate from the rice fields of Southeast Asia.
They are a small fish that grow up to a maximum of 1.7 inches and are very easy to keep. Their small size, vibrant colors and easy care make them one of the best picks for new hobbyists today.
In the wild, they usually feed on small insects that fall on the surface of the water. In the tank, they will eat any commercially available pellets or flake foods. Be sure to supplement with meaty items such as tubifex worms to ensure they have a balanced diet.
18. Black Skirt Tetra – Gymnocorymbus ternetzi
Native to the waters of Brazil, the black skirt tetra is a small freshwater fish that is peaceful and easy to keep. Their name comes from their long flowing fins which look like ‘black skirts’.
They are an omnivorous species that generally feed on most things that fall through the water column. In the aquarium, it is best to keep them in small groups of about 5-10 fishes.
If cared for properly, they can grow up to 2 inches in length and live up to 5 years of age.
19. Bristlenose pleco – Ancistrus sp
The bristlenose pleco is one of the most popular pleco species in the aquarium trade today.
They are usually chosen over the commonplace due to their small size and placid nature. They originate from the rivers of South America and do a phenomenal job at keeping your tank free from algae.
The bristlenose pleco is almost exclusively herbivorous so you might want to keep that in mind when feeding them. The bristlenose pleco gets its nickname from the tentacles on the front of their snout.
These tentacles are generally longer and more prominent in males than in females. If cared for properly should not grow larger than 5 inches and can live up to 6 years of age.
20. Zebra Danio – Danio rerio
The last and final fish on this list is also my favorite. The zebra danio or commonly known as the zebrafish is probably one of the easiest beginner fish to keep. Not only are they beautiful, but they are also easy to feed and require no special care.
Originating from Eastern India, the zebrafish is a tough species of fish that accepts a wide range of water parameters making it the perfect fish for a beginner to keep! The zebrafish is best kept in schools of 5-10 fishes and will thrive with little care.
If kept well, they can survive for up to 5 years and grow to a length of 2 inches.
Q: What food can I feed the fish on this list?
A: Any commercially available pellets or flakes will work well for any fish in this list with the exception of the bristlenose pleco which might require algae wafers instead.
Q: I saw a fish but its not in this list, what should I do?
A: Do not buy on impulse, I repeat, do not buy on impulse! If you don’t know the species, speak to the owner, ask for a name, do some research before making any purchase.
Some fish can look small and harmless can quickly outgrow your tank into a huge monster. Fishes like the alligator gar look harmless. And unassuming when young but can grow to a size of several hundred kilograms.
Q: What is the best tank size for the fishes above?
A: While this is a subjective matter, depending on how big the fish grow and how many fishes you would like to keep in a tank, a good start for either a small school of fish. Or a pair of bigger fish is 12 Gallons.
Again, the rule of thumb is an additional 1 gallon of water for every 1 inch of fish.
There are many fish out there today that make great beginner fishes.
For that reason, we hope that our list of top 20 best beginner tropical fishes has been of some help to you in selecting a fish for your tank. That said, we hope you’ve had as much fun reading this article as we did writing it.
Thanks for reading!