Funny fish faces in an aquarium tank
Photo by iv3 via Twenty20

What are some good pet fish for a beginner?

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My aunt left me her old aquarium, which hasn’t been used in years, and I’m thinking of setting it up in my living room. What are some good low-maintenance pet fish for a beginner?


First fish

Fish are pretty, they’re relaxing and interesting to watch, and they don’t poop on the living room rug. They are, however, slightly more difficult to choose for most beginners, simply because fish have a whole different set of requirements than a cat or a dog.

As a result, some fish are more suited for a beginner — some are more “hardy” than others, some are less picky about their water than others, some get along better with other fish than others, and so on — and some are terrible ideas for beginners.

Let’s take a look at some recommended “starter” fish for the beginning aquarium aficionado.

Pet fish for a beginner? A few ideas

Goldfish: There’s some debate over whether the goldfish is a good choice or not. On the one hand, they prefer room-temperature water, are generally a pretty hardy fish, and are inexpensive.

On the downside, they need a large tank (they can grow to over 18″), they produce a lot of waste and need a good filtration system, and the “fancy” ones like the bubble-eyes and so on are more prone to disease and injury.

The verdict: stick to “common” goldfish, avoid “feeder” or “fancy” ones and you should be okay.

Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish: These bright little guys have an iridescent blue body with red or yellow fins, and are native to Australia, New Guinea, and Madagascar.

Growing to about two inches in length, they don’t need a lot of room — but they are a social fish, so you should get at least 5 to 6 of them.

They prefer warm water (75-82 F) and alkaline water (6.5-6.9 pH), but they’re pretty tolerant of most water as long as it’s warm and not acidic. Like any fish, keeping the water fresh with regular changes will make your fishies happy.

Dwarf rainbowfish Melanotaenia praecox in freshwater aquarium
Photo by NERYX/Envato

Platy: Native to Central America, the platy is a livebearer — they give birth to live young, not hatched from eggs — that comes in a wide variety of colors and variations.

They’re tolerant of pretty much any water acidity/alkalinity except for extremes, they do okay with poor water conditions (though you really should keep the water maintained anyway), they don’t need a big tank, they’re mellow towards other fish, and they’re pretty active. They also make a great fish for teaching kids about the facts of life — just put a male and a female together and wait a bit.

GloFish: The GloFish (which is, in fact, a trademarked brand) are fluorescent fish available in many different colors and breeds, and were initially created to detect environmental pollutants.

The original model was bred from a Zebra Danio with a fluorescent protein gene from a sea anemone spliced in. They’re fast-moving and active, forgiving of poor water quality and varied water chemistry, eat just about any fish food, and are just generally hard to kill.

The company now has┬áhybrids created with betas, tetras, barbs and more. These guys have all the characteristics of the original fish — just with an added burst of color. Take a look:

Lots of small neon fish in the aquarium
Photo by vlad_star/Envato

Corydoras catfish: Commonly called just “corys,” these are peaceful little guys that actually do some work for you — they like to scavenge through the gravel at the bottom of the tank, helping it stay clean.

Corys are at their most interesting, playful and happy in a group, so definitely pick up 4 to 6 of them. They’re tolerant of a wide range of water conditions, though they do prefer a more sandy gravel, as it keeps their whisker-like barbles from being injured. They hate salt, so avoid using it as a medication in a tank with corys.

More fishy things going on

Of course, there are many more fish out there (not in the sea) that are a good choice for the beginner, and it would be hard to cover them all here.

It never hurts to find a good specialty pet store in your area with staff members who are knowledgeable about fish, and talk over with them your concerns and ideas you may have.