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15 Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

You’re new to fish-keeping and you’re eager to start your first freshwater aquarium?

I can fully empathize with the eagerness of it all, but let me give you a word of advice:

You can jump into the deep end and hope for the best, or a better way to get started is to pick out beginner-friendly fish while you’re still learning the ropes.

To give you an idea of which types of fish are best for a beginner aquarist, I’ve compiled a list of the best freshwater fish for beginners.

These little buddies are my go-to pick for novices for two simple reasons – they’re easy to care for and are more forgiving than others if you make mistakes.

What are the Characteristics of Beginner-Friendly Fish?

Some fish are higher maintenance than others. Fish that are more resilient are “hardy” compared to fish that are maintenance intensive and delicate.

Because you’re still learning the ins and outs of fish-keeping, you’re bound to make mistakes, and sometimes your mistakes may cost the lives of your fish.

Delicate fish are unlikely to withstand improper conditions or water parameters, while hardy fish have a much higher chance of survival.

So, until you’re better at knowing your way around an aquarium, you’re better off with a collection of hardy fish.

Still, even hardy fish can be more difficult to care for, so what other characteristics should your fish exhibit to make it on the list of beginner friendly fish?

Besides being hardy, beginner-friendly fish should also be:

  • Community-friendly fish: Community fish are peaceful, and you don’t have to worry about fights between your fish;
  • Smaller in size: Fish that are 3-4 inches can live their entire lives in tanks up to 30 gallons;
  • Low-waste: Fish that are clean are easier to care for.

The freshwater fish I’m going to introduce you to in this article all make good community fish, although there are a few examples of territorial behaviors or slight aggressivity towards other males.

Still, choosing like-tempered tank buddies and species that get along together will go a long way in keeping your fish community happy and relaxed.

Best Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Now that you know what to look for in a beginner friendly fish, the following examples are all excellent choices for any novice:

1.  Goldfish

Goldfish

Goldfish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 4 inches;
  • Water temperature: 65 – 72° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Average lifespan: 10-15 years.

Goldfish Overview

There’s a reason why parents don’t bat an eye when it comes to buying goldfish for their little ones – goldfish are among the hardiest freshwater fish.

They’re easy to please, they’re inexpensive and they enjoy the company if you’re looking to buy more at once.

With goldfish, you don’t need to invest in fancy heating equipment, they do well at room temperature water or even colder.

They’re not picky eaters either, they’ll eat pellets, flakes and even freeze-dried fish food if it’s in the right formulation for them.

Your little ones may want to keep their goldfish in a bowl just like they see it in cartoons, but the truth is goldfish do better in aquariums fitted with an air pump and filter.

Besides, goldfish bowls are too small even for a single goldfish.

Decorate your aquarium with live plants that remove waste and go for bigger aquarium sizes if you’re planning on keeping more goldfish at once.

Goldfish are domesticated carp fish that were bred in China 2,000 years ago. For long, they were also the symbol of luck and prosperity.

They look cute and cuddly in the tank, but they’re considered an invasive species in the wild, so releasing them into the wild is a bad idea.

They tend to crowd native fish populations, consuming the foods other fish rely on and kick up sediment and muck in waters they inhabit, promoting harmful algae blooms.

2.  Neon Tetra

Neon Tetras

Neon Tetras

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 1.5 inches;
  • Prefers water at 68 – 79° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Average lifespan: 5 years.

Neon Tetra Overview

The Neon Tetra is a tiny fish whose special mark is a bright neon blue stripe that extends from its nose to the adipose fin, below which their belly is white-silver.

And for an extra touch of pizzazz, the Neon Tetra also sports a bright red stripe past the belly that extends all the way to its tail.

Due to this red stripe, the Neon Tetra is often mistaken for its cousin the Cardinal Tetra, whose red bright stripe extends the entire length of its body.

This fish may be tiny in size, but it’s a real gem to the eyes.

The bright colors are also indicators of health – faded colors indicate poor health and stress, while active and robust colors indicate a healthy and happy fish.

Neon Tetras are peaceful and active fish, which makes them a good community fish, but avoid housing them with larger fish that will most certainly mistake tetras for food.

Good choices for companion include small tetras, rasboras, corys, and other small catfish.

Neon Tetras are omnivores, so their diets include a variety of foods like small granules, fine flake food, live foods, frozen or freeze-dried bloodworms, live or frozen daphnia or brine shrimp.

If you’re planning on breeding Neon Tetras, the very specific water conditions they need makes it rather difficult, and you’ll likely need to set up a different tank.

3.  Guppy Fish

Guppy Fish

Guppy Fish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 1.2-2.4 inches;
  • Prefers water at 72 – 79° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Average lifespan: 5 years.

Guppy Fish Overview

This mosquito-devouring gem is one of the most useful inhabitants of any body of water they’re found in.

In some areas, they’re regarded as an invasive species due to their high fertility, but their contribution to mosquito control and mosquito-borne disease control is undeniable.

Their favorite food is mosquito larvae and mosquito eggs and they can eat almost their total weight of mosquito larvae each day.

They’re not demanding fish, which makes them a good choice for beginners and those seasoned in aquarium husbandry.

An interesting characteristic of guppy fish is their great variety of colors coupled with their high fertility, which led to the breeding of a dazzling number of color combinations and patterns.

Bright colors, an elongated body, and gorgeous fins are predominant in male guppies, while females are less spectacular.

A downside of selective breeding of these species is that the more beautiful and spectacular combinations are obtained, the more demanding they are when it comes to keeping them.

If you’re looking to buy guppy fish as a beginner, go for the simplest multi-colored guppy fish.

Diet wise, guppies are easy to feed. As an omnivorous species they’ll eat a variety of foods including dried, frozen or live, and vegetables too.

Due to their peaceful nature, they’re no troublemakers, so you can pair them with fish of the same size and temperament. Avoid housing them with large predatory fish or fish that enjoy nipping fins.

4.  Molly Fish

Molly Fish

Molly Fish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 4 inches;
  • Water temperature: 72 – 78°;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years.

Molly Fish Overview

Mollies are enduring fish that have a diversified habitat and temperature ranges.

They’re available in a variety of colors and even sizes. It’s a diverse species with often very different looking fish being called mollies – black molly, Yucatan molly, sailfin molly, white molly, etc.

Of all, the black molly fish is the go-to choice for beginner aquarists. The reason? They’re the least demanding.

They technically do well in smaller tanks, but since they’re quite active, they do better in a roomy tank, where they will be calm and peaceful.

If you cram them in a smaller tank, they can become moderately aggressive. Mollies get along with other tankmates if they’re similar in size.

As with other live breeders, it’s best to keep females in groups with few males, so that females don’t become stressed out by males constantly hunting them.

Bristlenose plecos, White Cloud Mountain Minnows, Guppies, Platies, Harlequin Rasboras make excellent tank buddies for Mollies.

Mollies are omnivorous but need a decent amount of foods with vegetable fiber components.

So, besides frozen, dried and live food, make sure they have access to algae and vegetables (lettuce, boiled cucumbers, squash).

Of all the live food, they prefer bloodworm, brine shrimp and tubifex.

To breed black mollies, all you must do is keep females and males together in a tank.

5.  Angelfish

Angelfish

Angelfish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: up to 6 inches;
  • Water temperature: 74 – 84°;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons (tall aquariums);
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Territorial.
  • Lifespan: 8-10 years.

Angelfish Overview

Freshwater angelfish come in many different color varieties: white, black, gold, silver, etc.

Angelfish are not the friendliest fish especially when it comes to feeding time, and they’ll come to the surface of the tank when they see you approaching.

They’re not picky eaters, so you can feed them live, frozen, flaked foods, they’ll eat it all.

Due to their aggressive eating behavior, make sure that less aggressive fish get their fair share of meals when feeding.

Because of their tall body type, it’s best to keep these fish in taller aquariums. They like densely planted aquariums, but don’t keep them in overcrowded aquariums as they will become more aggressive.

Don’t house them with fin-nipping fish or smaller fish that they can mistake for food.

Their water temperature preference leans towards warmer water, but they’re fine with cooler water as well, only that the fry will develop much slower.

To breed angelfish, you must ensure a healthy diet and you often must set up a breeding tank to keep male and female angelfish together.

6.  Cory Catfish

Cory Catfish

Cory Catfish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 2 inches;
  • Water temperature: 72 – 78°;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Calm.
  • Lifespan: 5 years.

Cory Fish Overview

Cory Catfish vary in size and color, with the Bronze Cory Catfish being the most common, but they’re easy-going regardless of their type.

Cories are bottom dwellers and they often scavenge in the substrate of your aquarium. They’re a peaceful and calm species that’s sometimes very active during the day, other times it likes to rest motionless for longer periods.

Although they can survive alone too, it’s best to keep them in a group of at least two or more, or if you want to observe their schooling behavior keep them in a group of at least six.

They’re very sociable towards their kind and their other tankmates. When creating a community, make sure to pick tankmates that are non-aggressive and friendly.

They eat pellets, fish flakes, and bottom feeder tablets. They enjoy poking around for food in the bottom of the tank, but you do have to ensure they have access to other food as well, not just leftovers at the bottom of the tank.

Even though they offer “cleaning services”, they do tend to stir up the substrate sending muck and algae into the water. Pair them with shrimps, snails and other scavengers to keep things nice and clean.

7.  Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin Rasboras

Harlequin Rasboras

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 1.75 inches;
  • Water temperature: 73 – 82°;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Lifespan: 6 years.

Harlequin Rasboras Overview

This vivid and vibrant fish jazzes up any beginner aquarium, especially that they’re schooling fish and should be kept in groups of 8 to 10. They’re a peaceful community fish that get along with like-sized fish.

The most popular of all the rasboras, the Harlequin distinguishes itself through its reddish copper color that’s accentuated by a black triangular patch on the rear half of its body.

Avoid keeping the rasboras with large predatory fish that will mistake them for their meal. Also, keep them away from fish that could nip at them.

Good tankmates include neon tetras, danios, cardinal tetras, bettas, cory catfish and other small rasboras.

They’re exclusively freshwater fish and although water temperature is not critical for them, they prefer the 73 to 78 F range.

They’re also undemanding when it comes to food, eating fresh, dried, frozen, or flake foods. Keep their diet varied to minimize any susceptibility to diseases.

They’re a more difficult species to breed and to successfully breed them, you’ll have to replicate the water conditions they’re accustomed to in the wild.

This includes being careful with water parameters such as temperature, humic acid content, or maintaining optimal water hardness and pH parameters.

8.  Zebra Danios

Zebra Danios

Zebra Danios

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 2 inches;
  • Water temperature: 64 – 74°;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Lifespan: 5 years.

Zebra Danios Overview

The attractive zebra pattern body is the signature mark of Zebra Danios. Plus, they’re active swimmers.

This fish is a favorite of hobbyists because they’re not fussy about water temperature and conditions and they’re prolific breeders.

They can do without water heaters and they’re comfortable even in temperatures in the low 60s F.

Their small size (no more than 2.5 inches) and peaceful nature makes them a good community fish.

However, they don’t do well with all species of fish. They like to take issue with fish that have long flowing fins like guppies, angelfish and bettas. Zebra Danios will often nip the fins of these fish when they’re looking for ways to pass their time.

They feel best when they’re kept in schools of five or more, and although they do take issue with certain species, they don’t mind other tank buddies like swordtails, barbs, and corydoras catfish.

It’s best to keep them with fish that have the same active temperament, otherwise your more mellow fish will become stressed by the fast-paced environment Zebra Danios tend to create.

In nature, they can be found in a variety of habitats from stagnant ponds to fast-moving streams.

Their diet is undemanding, they’ll eat almost any foods, but they do prefer fresh vegetable matter and small live or frozen invertebrates.

And a quick romantic fact about Zebra Danios: these little swimmers mate for life and stay loyal to their breeding partners.

9.  White Cloud Minnows

White Cloud Minnows

White Cloud Minnows

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 1.5 inches;
  • Water temperature: 64 – 72° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very hardy;
  • Temperament: Friendly and sociable.
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years.

White Cloud Minnows Overview

White Cloud Minnows are often compared to Neon Tetras due to their color, but they’re less expensive than Neon Tetras, which is why they were often referred to as the “working man’s Neon”.

These friendly and sociable fish thrive in schools of half a dozen or more. When kept in solitude they become timid and lose their color.

They’re a suitable choice for a beginner aquarist, but don’t pair them with larger fish or aggressive fish because they will feast on your White Cloud Minnows.

Even Goldfish are a bad companion for Minnows, despite sometimes being sold as companion due to their preference for the same water temperature. Goldfish will not shy away from eating these fish, so it’s best to keep them apart.

They’re undemanding when it comes to water quality (water pH and hardness are not crucial), but make sure you keep them in room temperature water or colder as warm water will shorten their lifespan.

In fact, when kept in temperatures that are optimal for them, they will display richer colors.

When it comes to eating, they eat pretty much anything from live to frozen and flake food. If you want to feed them live food, know that they have a taste for daphnia, mosquito larvae and shrimp.

10. Platies

Platy Fish

Platy Fish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 2 inches;
  • Prefers temperature in the range of 65 – 78° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years.

Platy Fish Overview

A colorful breed, platies come in many variations and shades from pale yellows to deep black.

If you want an eye-catching tank, this is a species that allows for a great variation in colors and patterns.

They’re a popular breed with aquarists and they’re a great community aquarium fish. They’re easy to breed and they’re tolerant to a wide range of water conditions.

They’ll eat flake food, but do supplement their diet with frozen or live foods like chopped up earthworms, mosquito larvae, fruit flies, microworms, etc.

They play well with a variety of other fish, but they prefer the company of fish like Guppies, Swordtails, Mollies, Danios, Angels, Tetras and Catfish.

11. Black Skirt Tetras

Black Skirt Tetras

Black Skirt Tetras

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 2 inches;
  • Prefers water at 68 – 79° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful.
  • Lifespan: 5 years.

Black Skirt Tetras Overview

Known also as Black Widow Tetras, these active species are a good choice for first-time aquarists.

Their signature mark is the black dorsal and anal fins, and black vertical body stripes.

Black Skirt Tetras bred in captivity display more variety and color options, but natural colors include white and pinkish-hued varieties.

Other color options have been achieved with artificial dyes, but I advise you against buying these specimens (usually pastel-colored) because they’re prone to diseases and the artificial coloring process is stressful to the fish to the point where it can shorten their lifespan.

Black Widow Tetras are schooling fish by nature, so keep them in groups of 3 or more. Their easy-going and peaceful nature makes them an excellent community fish.

Despite their chill nature, they do tend to nip the fins of species with long fins, so keeping them together with Bettas or Angelfish may not be a good idea.

In nature, they eat a lot of live foods, but in captivity they don’t mind frozen, flaked, or dried foods either. A varied diet consisting of brine shrimp, flake foods, worms, spirulina will keep your Black Skirt Tetras happy and healthy.

In their natural habitat they have access to large plants, so in captivity they prefer a well-planted aquarium.

Although not demanding about water, cold water can stress them and leave them vulnerable to diseases.

12. Swordtails

Swordtail Fish

Swordtail Fish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 5 inches (with tail);
  • Prefers temperature of 72 – 82° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Very hardy;
  • Temperament: Some male vs male aggressivity;
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years.

Swordtails Overview

The distinctive feature of Swordtails is their long bottom fin that resembles a sword. They’re known as a beginner-friendly fish due to their ability to survive in very diverse environments.

They come in a variety of colors from olive green shades to shades of red. In the wild, they’re usually olive green and have a red stripe that stretches along the body.

They’re not schooling fish, but they do live in groups, so it’s best to keep them in groups of five.

Given that they’re not very big in size, they don’t take up much space, but they’re an active little bunch, so they do benefit from a larger tank. They’re also jumpers, so make sure to cover your tank.

They are good community fish and are generally peaceful, but male swordtails are aggressive towards other males of the same species, which means you should take care of male to female ratios in your tank (preferably keep one male along with two to three females).

Other than this, swordtails play well with platies, mollies, or angelfish.

They’re livebearers and they breed quickly and efficiently, but you’ll have to take measures to separate the fry from adults to prevent them from becoming food to adult fish.

Once they become large enough to no longer pass for food, you can reintroduce them to the tank.

Swordtail fish are not picky eaters, they’ll munch on pretty much anything you’ll offer – flake food, brine shrimp, fruit flies, daphnia, bloodworms, mosquito larvae and herbivorous food.

13. Kribensis Cichlid

Kribensis Cichlids

Kribensis Cichlids

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 4 inches;
  • Prefers temperatures of 72 – 82° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 29 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Territorial;
  • Lifespan: 5-8 years.

Kribensis Cichild Overview

If you want an attractive aquarium, these fish are an excellent choice as they come in a variety of flamboyant colors – yellow, green, blue, and red.

They’re known by many different names – Purple Cichlid, Pink Kribensis Cichlid, Rainbow Krib, etc.

Because of their ability to withstand a wide range of water conditions and because they remain small, it’s a species preferred by beginners and people who are not interested in keeping large fish.

Cichlid are territorial plus they may nip the fins of more mellow fish, so you must observe a few rules when you pair them with other fish.

Avoid housing them with angelfish and other fish with long, flowy fins, and avoid keeping them together with cave-dwelling fish (they’ll fight for those too!) and bottom dwelling fish to avoid territorial disputes.

Add plants and caves to your aquarium to provide cover but have open spaces for swimming as well.

When it comes to their diet, Kribensis Cichlid are easy going and omnivorous. They’ll eat frozen or freshly hatched brine shrimp, flake or pellet foods, mosquito larvae, daphne, and even veggies like zucchini.

Since they are bottom dwellers, remember to also feed them food that will sink, which is a good way to keep them healthy and happy.

14. Betta Splendens

Betta Fish

Betta Fish

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 3 inches;
  • Prefers temperatures of 75 – 80° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 5 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful (if housed alone);
  • Lifespan: 2-3 years.

Betta Splendens Overview

They aren’t the staple of beginner-friendly fish, but if you house them alone in certain configurations, you’ll have no issues with aggressivity towards other fish.

You’ll recognize these fish by their long flowing fins (male Bettas) and brilliant colors including yellow, pink, orange, turquoise, black, etc.

Although in nature they may not display such bright colors as fish bred in captivity, breeding competitions have led to a myriad of color combinations.

As I mentioned before, Betta Splendens aren’t the friendliest bunch towards other species or towards other males. Therefore, the best combination possible is to house more females together and add a single male to the mix.

Also, you can house them with smaller fish that don’t have a habit of nipping fins. Keeping male Bettas with fish that have the same body type and fins similar to those of the Betta is also a bad idea.

Because Bettas like warm water, keeping them in a small bowl, where you cannot control the temperature is an absolute no-no.

In the wild, Bettas are carnivores, and their diet consists almost exclusively of insects and their larvae.

In captivity, if you feed them flake food, you’ll have to supplement their diet with live food whenever possible.

Good meal options include daphnia, brine shrimp, glassworms, beef heart. They’ll also eat frozen and freeze-dried food.

Because they have a short lifespan, they’re more prolific breeders if they’re under a year old.

15. Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

Bristlenose Pleco

Quick Facts

  • Average size: 6 inches;
  • Prefers temperatures of 68 – 77° F;
  • Minimum Tank Size: 29 gallons;
  • Aquarium Hardiness: Hardy;
  • Temperament: Peaceful;
  • Lifespan: 3-4 years.

Bristlenose Pleco Overview

Bristlenose Plecos have a peaceful temperament, which makes them a great companion for other fish. They’re an affordable fish and you can find them easily.

They’re also very useful thanks to their love for algae – they’ll clean the tank of algae and “sweep up” any remaining food from the bottom of your tank.

They usually appear in darker color shades like green, brown or gray, except for the albino Bristlenose, which is white.

Their fleshy tentacles on their wide head earned them the name Bristlenose. This feature is common for both males and females.

Because they’re bottom dwellers, make sure you provide them with enough hiding spots like caves, roots, and plants.

Avoid keeping them with aggressive fish and instead choose companions that have the same sort of mellow temperament they do.

Bristlenose Plecos are herbivores, so they thrive on algae, spirulina wafers, the occasional lettuce, spinach or zucchini. They’ll also eat granules, flakes, and bloodworms.

Because they also like to forage in the substrate of your tank, make sure you don’t overfeed them.

Breeding these fish is easy and you don’t really need to do much, except perhaps provide caves and driftwood to their habitat if you want to encourage mating.

Final Thoughts

If you’re starting a freshwater aquarium for the first time, these should be the fish you ought to pick for your starter fish.

Whichever you pick, make sure to read up on their needs (water requirements, temperature, temperament, feeding, etc.) to be able to provide them the best possible environment and to enjoy them for many years to come.

Updated: August 30, 2019 | Freshwater

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