WHAT ARE GOOD FRESHWATER FISH FOR BEGINNERS

Written by Katherine Barrington Updated January 22, 2014
What makes a freshwater fish a good candidate for beginners? In this article you will learn how to choose your first freshwater fish and receive some advice on good species for the beginner.
Keeping freshwater aquarium fish is a relaxing hobby, even if you are a complete beginner. Starting this hobby does come with some choices, however – namely, the type of fish you are going to use to stock your tank. With the sheer number of fish choices available online and at the store, the new fish hobbyist may have a hard time making this decision. How can you possibly choose when there are so many different shapes, sizes and colors to choose from?

Perhaps the best way to select your first freshwater aquarium fish is to consider those species which have been shown to be friendly for the novice aquarium hobbyist. This article considers what makes a freshwater fish a good candidate for beginners, and then provides lists of good fish for beginners as well as fish that should not be your first choice. At the end of this article you will also receive resources for buying freshwater fish online.
 
What makes a fish a good candidate for beginners?

When you are trying to decide which fish to stock your first tank with, there are several things you need to consider. Some of the most important factors, however, include: compatibility, hardiness, feeding requirements, size, price and breeding ability. Below you will find a brief explanation of each of these factors.
 
Compatibility
 
The compatibility of a species has to do with how well the fish will do in a community setting. Is it a peaceful fish or aggressive towards others? Or perhaps the fish is not particularly “aggressive,” but does have a tendency to eat anything that fits into its mouth. For the beginning aquarium hobbyist, it is best to choose fish that are peaceful – this includes schooling fish which are used to living in groups.

Pilot Fish by Citron via Wikimedia Commons

Hardy/Undemanding Constitution
 
Some species of fish are better able to handle changes in aquarium water parameters than others. The ability of a fish to withstand minor changes in their environment is referred to as hardiness. As a novice freshwater aquarium hobbyist, you are likely to make some mistakes while you are still learning the ropes so it is best to choose a species that can handle a little variation.
 
Feeding Requirements
 
When you are still getting used to the ins and outs of the aquarium hobby, it is best to start with fish that are not picky about what they eat. You have enough to worry about without having to spend time every day preparing special food (for example, if the fish requires live food).
 
Price

Over all, freshwater fish are more affordable than marine livestock. However, just looking at the wide range of freshwater fish available, you'll see that some freshwater fish are more reasonably priced than others. Using prices from LiveAquaria.com (Doctors Smith and Foster's livestock site), we compare the following freshwater fish for their prices (for evaluation purposes, we limited the survey to fish reaching a maximum adult size of 2-3" in the tank):

Type of Fish
 
Price
 
Glowlight Tetra
 
$1.49
 
Betta - Male
 
$2.49
 
Albino Aeneus Cory Cat
 
$4.99
 
Hexazon Bar
 
$6.49
 
Besemani Rainbow Fish           
 
$12.99
 
Sidthimunki Botia Loach
 
$19.99
 

Considering that many freshwater fish prefer to be in schools of at least six fish, the price of adding fish to your tank can really add up. We kept this list to fish that would reach an adult size of 2-3 inches. Many larger freshwater fish can be found in the $50 dollar range depending on availability and demand! Price is definitely a factor to consider when stocking your first tank, but it is not the only thing or the most important thing you need to think about.
 
Adult Size and Size Requirements
 
All fish start out small but will grow, grow and grow. Not everybody will be happy with fish that stay at 2-3 inches. However, our list of beginner fish does limit fish to about under a foot at adult size so that your beginner fish will not outgrow your starter tank.
 

Betta Fighting Reflection by Malzees via Wikimedia Commons

Breeding

Some freshwater fish breed prolifically in the home tank with little input from the aquarium hobbyist, though some do not. People are interested in breeding fish for different reasons – some simply enjoy that aspect of fish keeping while others are interested in making money by selling the offspring of their fish. Livebearers (guppies, platies, and swordtails) are notoriously effective tank breeders. Keep in mind that breeding does include its own challenges such as keeping the fry (baby fish) from getting eaten and successfully feeding the fry. While breeding ability can be considered a benefit of certain freshwater fish, it should not be your primary concern when selecting a species.
 
Good Freshwater Fish for Beginners

Here is our list of freshwater fish that would be great for the beginner to start with. For pricing purposes, we used the LiveAquaria.com site.
 
·         Anabantids (Bettas and Gouramis) Bettas are also known as Siamese Fighting Fish (named for their tendency to fight other males of the species). Bettas and Gouramis are beautiful labyrinth fishes – the labyrinth is a special organ that enables these fish to breathe air at the surface of the water. The downside of keeping male Bettas is that you can only keep one Betta male in a tank (you may be able to keep other fish but no other male Bettas). Gouramis, however, are usually peaceful additions to the community tank. Price range for Bettas is $2.49 to $6.49. Price range for Gouramis is $2.49 to $12.99.
 
·         Cichlids. There are so many different Cichlid species that you will have no problem picking one that suits your aquarium. It is important to note, however, that not all cichlid species are recommended for beginners. Some cichlids can get very large and are territorial during breeding season. Some good cichlids for beginners include Firemouth Cichlids, Rams, and Convict Cichlids. Price range for African Cichlids is $5.99 to $39.99. Price range for New World Cichlids is $3.99 to $59.99.
 
·         Cyprinids (White Cloud Mountain Minnow, Zebra Danios, Rasboras, and Cherry Barbs) These little guys are hardy and very entertaining to watch as they dart around the tank. You will find tons of color and pattern variations in these species as well. You will also enjoy watching their schooling behavior. If you had to pick one fish to start with, you could not go wrong with a White Cloud Mountain Minnow. Price range is $1.29 to $7.99.
 
·         Livebearers (Guppies, Platies, and Swordtails) These beautiful fish will stay small (under 3 inches for the most part) but that is not the only thing about these guys that makes them a great pick. Brilliantly colored and happy in the community tank, these peaceful fish are extremely easy to keep. Out of all the starter fish, they are the easiest to breed in captivity. Though they come in a range of vibrant colors, many with long flowing tails, these fish are very affordable. Price range is $1.99 to $5.99 to $34.99.
 
·         Tetras are so cheap it is practically criminal! Tetras are great additions to the community tank and their vivid colors will attract your attention every time they dart around in their little schools. Price range is $1.49 to $7.99 with most of them in the under $3 range.
 
·         Loaches are bottom dwellers that differentiate themselves from most of the fish in this list. They are more secretive; they tend to hang out alone, with many being nocturnal. Loaches require currents in the water as they are stream dwellers in the wild. They will also take care of your snail population if you have a problem with it. Price range is $2.99 to $13.99.
 
Freshwater fish that are not great for Beginners

While the list of fish you can safely keep as a beginner aquarium hobbyist is long, there are a few species you should avoid. These fish do not make good pets for beginners because they are aggressive, grow very large or are simply difficult to keep. Here is a brief list of fish that you should not pick the first time you stock your freshwater tank:
 
·         Discus. For the most part, too expensive for the beginner. Go for an Angelfish if you like the silhouette.
 
·         Birchirs. These guys are interesting in that they can survive for short periods out of the water due to their lung like swim bladder. The problem with birchirs is that they will eat any other fish that they can get into their mouths. Reaching adult sizes of one to two feet, they can fit quite a lot in their mouths! They are also notorious jumpers.
 
·         Dwarf Plecos. These fish are expensive! They are good starter fish if budget is not an issue.
 
·         Bala Shark. This fish is not a shark at all but receives its name from its triangular dorsal fin. The bala shark is a peaceful, hardy fish but it will grow too large for the beginner's first tank (up to 10 inches when reaching adult size). Many novice aquarium hobbyists make the mistake of buying these fish because they are sold as juveniles when they are still small – it won’t be long, however, until they outgrow your tank!
 
·         Goldfish. Goldfish are coldwater fish; you cannot keep them with other tropical freshwater fish. They are also extremely messy (read - tons of filtration and maintenance). Beautiful and with many not that expensive, they are still a favorite of many hobbyists.
 
·         Mollies. Mollies like brackish water which is a mixture of fresh and saltwater. So while they do well in freshwater, they do even better in brackish water. This is okay as long as you want to keep a brackish tank.

By now you should have a pretty good idea what kind of fish would make a good choice for your first freshwater aquarium. Keep in mind that you have many options to choose from so you do not need to limit yourself to this list. If you are looking for a good place to start, however, and don’t want to do a lot of in-depth research on your own, start with some of the fish listed above.
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You may be aware that there are over 30 species of betta fish in existence but did you know that these species can be divided by their breeding habits?
Breeding Mouth Brooding African Cichlids
BREEDING MOUTH BROODING AFRICAN CICHLIDS
Learn how to succesfully breed mouth brooding African Cichlids.
Breeding Freshwater Fish
BREEDING FRESHWATER FISH
Learn how to succesfully breed freshwater fish.