If you’ve ever wanted to take the plunge and get into the aquarium hobby, it can feel overwhelming at first. When you first walk into a pet store, you’re confronted with a wall of tanks containing brightly colored fish and invertebrates. And while some will survive in almost any conditions, others seem to drop dead if you look at them wrong.
So, what fish should a beginner get for their aquarium?
The good news is that there are plenty of fish that are easy to take care of—even if you make a few mistakes along the way. All the fish on this list are perfect if you’re new to the hobby, and as a bonus, they’re all inexpensive to purchase.
While most people wouldn’t consider a betta for their aquarium (instead keeping them in betta bowls), they are one of the best beginner fish out there. And when kept in the proper conditions, they become colorful and active, which makes them an excellent centerpiece for any small tank.
Also, since they live in less than ideal conditions in the wild, bettas will survive just about anything a new aquarium owner can throw at them. Poor water conditions, low oxygen, and other screw ups will barely phase these fish. Of course, with that being said, they do thrive in a properly maintained aquarium, so don’t take that as an invitation to slack off on their tank maintenance.
And on the subject of tanks, don’t listen to anything anyone tells you about ‘bettas not needing an aquarium’. While they are kept in small cups in the store, they are a tropical fish and need a proper tank with both a heater and a filter.
No beginner fish list would be complete without the iconic guppy fish. Guppies have graced home aquariums for decades and are incredibly easy to keep. And they’re easy to breed, so if you keep them happy, you’ll almost certainly see some fish babies (better known as fry).
But guppy fish do have some very specific requirements. If you want to keep some of them in your aquarium, you need to have at least three females to every male for it to work. The males will constantly attempt to mate and if there aren’t enough of the females to spread the attention around, they’ll get stressed out and sick.
An alternative is to keep only males in the tank—something that is quite popular as the males are the ones with the colorful tails. There are occasionally aggression issues in this type of tank, but it tends to be pretty rare.
Including goldfish on this list will probably be controversial, but they still rank among the best beginner fish. Not only are they incredibly hardy and long lived, but they’re also a cold-water fish and don’t need a heater for their aquarium. And they’ll eat just about anything you offer to them—a nice perk when so many other fish are picky eaters.
But they absolutely cannot be placed in a goldfish bowl. Goldfish are incredibly messy fish, and they’ll foul a tiny fishbowl in a matter of hours. They need a large aquarium with a powerful filter, and even then, you’ll need to keep on top of water changes.
If you can handle all that, goldfish make an incredible beginner fish. Not only do most become friendly enough to eat out of your hand, but it’s not unusual for them to live for over ten years. If you take care of your goldfish, you can end up with a long-term pet that amazes everyone with their size.
4. Zebra Danios
Another popular fish in the aquarium hobby, zebra danios are a great choice for beginners. They’re hardy, active, and interesting to watch. They’re so tough in fact that many people use them to cycle an aquarium (something I don’t personally recommend) as they can handle the poor water quality better than most other fish.
But to succeed with zebra danios, you need to keep them in a group of at least six. Any less and they become aggressive and may nip their tank mate’s fins. When they’re kept in a larger group, they do well in most community tanks and rarely cause problems outside of their little hierarchy.
5. White Cloud Mountain Minnows
Another cold-water fish, white cloud mountain minnows are great for beginners. They were once referred to as ‘the poor man’s neons’, back when neon tetras were prohibitively expensive. And it’s easy to see how they earned this name, with their stunning colors. Any tank is brightened by the addition of white cloud mountain minnows, especially when they’re well cared for.
Like the zebra danios, white cloud mountain minnows are a schooling fish and do best when kept in groups of at least six. But because they thrive in temperatures lower than most tropical fish, it’s best if they’re not kept in a community tank.
The five fish on this list all make great choices for anyone new to the aquarium hobby. All of them are hardy, interesting, and attractive. And if you treat them well, they’ll be with you for years to come.