The Top 10 Starter Fish for Aquariums
Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Thinking about setting up your first aquarium? Walking into a pet store and seeing their walls of aquariums filled with fish can be intimidating. As a first time owner your best bet is picking something hardy, relatively cheap and something colourful and interesting.
This is our top 10 list for beginner fish that are easy to care for and would all make great additions to your first aquarium. Their in no particular order, so pick the one that you feel would be best!
1 - Rasboras
Rasboras come in a wide range of types, personally we love the Axelrod’s Dwarf Rasbora and the Crossbanded Rasboras! They’re bright and distinctive nano fish - a peaceful species that only grow to be about two inches long. Other fan favourites are the Harlequin Rasbora, the Lambchop Rasbora, the Miniscule Neon Green Rasbora and the Galaxy Rasbora.
They’re only small, coming in at 2 inches at their max length, and as they're shoaling fish it's recommended that you keep between 6 and 8 at a minimum - they like their social circles! For this amount of fish, we'd recommend a 20 gallon tank, though bare in mind that if you want to add more fish, you'll need a bigger tank. This Aqueon Aquarium here has excellent reviews and a good price point.
Related Article: How To Set Up Your First Aquarium
2 - The humble Common Goldfish
Goldfish are a great beginner pet - there’s a reason why they’re the cultural staple in the first aquarium realm. They’re quite hardy, and will resist temperature changes, a range of water parameters such as pH levels and water hardness and often have quite the personality! There are some negatives however. Most people don’t realise that these little gold tadpoles we see in the tanks in pet shops will actually grow to be a foot long, so they do require big tanks (around 30 gallons of water each!) and there are some other issues related to this growth.
They aren’t the cleanest fish to begin with, and as they get bigger it’ll mean more maintenance for your tank to keep it clean. It’s also advisable that they remain in a one species tank, as any little fish like the Rasbora fish, may fit into their mouths, and will be eaten.
With Goldfish your main challenge will be keeping water quality high. Make sure you cycle your tank (there's a guide here on cycling) and it's vital you get a water testing kit for any fish, but especially goldfish. We only have one choice that we'd recommend and that's the API Master Test Kit - check out the cycling guide to learn what each reading is for and how they play a part in your tank. API Also offer test strips to help you judge where your levels are at for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate as well as pH and hardness. They're easy to use, very quick but less accurate than the Master Kit.
3 - Tetras
Oh, the neon tetra. It’s probably the second most popular starting fish next to goldfish. Tetras are another popular, small schooling fish just like Rasboras, and they come in lots of varieties too. As we’ve mentioned, the neon tetra is very popular, but there’s also the Cardinal Tetra, the Black Neon Tetra, the Congo Tetra for something colourful and the X-Ray Tetra, named as such because you can see their insides (Very cool for both adults and children!). They’re pretty easy to care for and prefer neutral pH waters from 7.0 to 7.8.
As with most schooling fish, like the rasboras we’ve mentioned, keep them in groups of ten or more because they enjoy safety in numbers. In fact, tetras go very well with rasboras and other community fish as both species are very friendly and neither will grow to the size of a goldfish, where smaller fish become food. We'd recommend a 20 gallon tank again for Tetra's as although they're small, you need to keep quite a few of them to keep them happy and sociable.
4 - The Corydoras
Corydoras are another type of schooling fish who are very peaceful in their nature. These fish will fit in very well with the rasboras and tetras, but these guys will all hang out at the bottom of the tank. They scavenge around for crumbs but you should feed them specifically a variety of sinking food, as the other fish will tend to get there first with regular flakes. Many people tend to assume that corydoras will eat the algae in the tank, similarly to Pleco, but this is not the case - If you’re looking for an algae eater then you’ll have to check out our list instead.
But Corydoras are excellent in other ways - they are massively customisable for your tank as there are at least 160 different species all with different colours, spots and stripes! They’re also very playful, keep at least 3 of them in a tank and they’ll follow each other around in conga lines! Popular species include the Panda Corydora, the Emerald Green Corydora and the Bandit Corydora.
If you were thinking of Corydora fish because you wanted something to help clean up the tank then sorry, they wont do that. However you can find alternative fish here, and can learn about clean up crews here.
For a tank size we'd recommend 10 gallons if you're housing 6 to 8 Corydora's, Aqua Culture has a standard 10 gallon tank with great customer ratings and an excellent price. It's just the tank which means that you won't get a heater or filter with it like kits provide, but this means you're fully open to any option for your tank so if you're wanting to go with something like an undergravel filter or a sponge filter, you're free to do so!
5 - Platy Fish
Platies are an excellent alternative to goldfish. If you want that goldfish look without the foot-long goldfish, the Orange Platy is the way to go! These will only grow to be about 3 inches long, typically the females will be larger than the males. They’re quite robust and can get by fine in a wide range of pH levels. They also prefer harder waters. They love to eat and will snack on nearly any omnivore community food you throw at them!
We’ve mentioned the Orange Platy, but we also love the Dalmatian Platy, the Blue Platy, the Blue Coral Platy and the Variatus Platy! A 10 gallon tank can house up to 5 Platys, but bare in mind if you want to add more in the future, or you want more stable water quality then go for 20+ gallons.
6 - Betta Fish
Betta fish are vivid in colour and beautiful to look at. Team this with their small size and their simple requirements and it’s easy to see why these are really high up on the beginners list! You can keep them alone in a small tank or include them in your community of fish such as the tetra, corydoras or other small and peaceful species.
However, you should just stick to the one Betta fish - they’re called Siamese Fighting Fish for a reason! Also avoid adding them in with fish that might nip at their amazing fins. Betta fish are meat eaters, so you’ll be feeding them on a diet of frozen bloodworms, betta pellets and other floating foods. They come in a range of colour types, and a range of tail types! Some favourites are the Veil Tail, The Half Moon, The Super Delta and the Crown Tail. Below we've added amazon links to the highest rated and most popular Betta Fish Food.
Many people keep Bettas on their own, the minimum tank size we'd recommend is 5 Gallons to keep your water quality managable. Marineland have a beautiful tank that's very popular with excellent ratings that would be a perfect fit for a Betta Fish.
7 - Barbs
We’ve got the Cherry Barb, the Tiger Barb, the Odessa Barb, the Arulius Barb and the Ticto Barb to name a few. Barbs are lively and action-packed and will mean a great addition to your community tank! These cuties will fit in well with your rasboras, tetras and corydoras! They grow up to 4 inches and some are considered to be kind of aggressive, so we recommend you buy at least 6 to reduce fin nipping! Keep them away from your Angel fish or Betta fish. For a tank size we'd recommend one on the larger size - 45 gallons to give them plenty of space and keep water conditions easily manageable.
8 - Bolivian Cichlids
The Bolivian ram (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus) is an excellent beginner cichlid from South America that’s very similar to their colorful but less hardy cousins, the German ram. Running at three inches long, they make a great centerpiece fish for a medium-sized community aquarium because of their unique cichlid behavior, yellow and black coloration, and ease of breeding. Bolivian rams appreciate pH of 7.0 to 8.0 and temperatures around 72 to 79°F, and they can be kept with nearly any community fish that matches these same requirements.
9. Kuhli Loaches
Kuhli loaches (Pangio kuhlii) will either fascinate or freak you out because they look like little 4-inch eels or snakes. As nocturnal fish, they tend to be a little shy and hide behind decor, so keep them groups of at least three to six so that they feel safe enough to come out and explore. Like corydoras, these bottom dwellers scavenge for leftovers on the ground and between rocks, but you must specifically feed them to make sure they don't go hungry. Read more about them in our kuhli loach care guide.
With their beautiful shape, distinctive fins, and lovely striped pattern, the striking angelfish certainly lives up to its name. Since they can grow to the size of a small saucer, keep them in 55 or more gallons of water (especially in vertically tall tanks). This large showpiece cichlid does well with rasboras, tetras, and other community fish, but it’s best to just keep one to avoid territorial fighting among their own species. Common varieties include marble, zebra, koi, and veil angelfish.
For 2 Angelfish, we'd recommend a 30 gallon tank but if you opt for a 40 gallon and add live plants, you'll manage water parameters a lot easier! If you have more fish, obviously you'll need a larger tank!
BONUS ROUND - the Pleco
The first thing to know about this fish is that it is nocturnal. This means during the daytime you won’t see much activity, however at night they’ll slowly make their way around the bottom of the tank, slurping up any algae and leftover food as they go! We’ve included this fish because they can be helpful in first time aquarium owners for minimising algae build up. It’s important to note that while they do eat algae, it shouldn’t be their entire diet. If you give morning and night feeds to your fish, drop some sinking food or algae wafers to the bottom for your pleco to snack on during the night feeds. They have a suckermouth and they attach themselves to the glass, or the rocks in the aquarium, and you’ll be able to see them nibbling on the algae growing there.
Plecos come in a range of hundreds of types, though the colours pretty much are all brown, some grow quite large (24 inches) and some stay small (A few inches - these are the spotted dwarf pleco, the clown pleco and the rubbernose pleco). These are great fish for small children as they’ll find the fish that sticks to the glass quite entertaining! We'd recommend keeping the smaller sized plecos in a 30 to 45 gallon tank, the larger species ideally need a pond!
So here's our Top 10 (+1) list of beginner friendly fish. All of these beginner fish are hardy, easy to care for, and readily available at your local fish store, so have fun researching your next fish and deciding which one is best for you!
If you're new to fishkeeping, you should get to know the basics first. You might be interested in these beginner guide: How to Set Up Your First Fishtank, and Common Care Mistakes for New Fish Owners. Also if you're thinking about the Pleco for its algae eating benefits, you have even more options for clean up crews.
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