It seems like everyone who purchases their first freshwater aquarium wants to immediately run out and fill it with colorful freshwater fish. And there’s nothing wrong with that (assuming you know how to cycle an aquarium). An aquarium filled with colorful fish can make a stunning addition to nearly any room in your house. The problem arises when they purchase fish for their looks, and not their suitability for a beginner.
Some fish may have special water requirements, while other will go belly up if you let their water conditions go out by even the slightest. And some fish are completely homicidal to anything else in their fish tank.
So how do you decide which fish to choose? Thankfully there are numerous easy to care for, and hardy colorful fish for beginners. Below is a list of some easy and colorful fish to choose from.
Even someone who knows nothing about freshwater aquariums will recognize the iconic betta fish. This fish was long known as the Siamese fighting fish, and you can find them crammed into tiny fish bowls all over North America. And it’s easy to see why – this is by far one of the most stunning fish in the hobby.
Unfortunately, along with goldfish, they are also one of the most mistreated fish around. No matter what someone tells you in a pet store, they need a heater and a filter on their aquarium. Bettas are a tropical fish, and they will suffer if their water is kept at room temperature – especially if you experience cold winters in your area. And while they can breathe from the surface, they still need regular water changes and a filter to keep the water clean.
And please don’t go out and buy one of those betta bowls for them. The fish tanks designed for them are way too small. A single betta should be kept in at least a 5 gallon(23 litre) aquarium. But don’t worry – even in larger aquariums they still make a stunning centerpiece fish.
You can read a full guide on caring for betta fish here.
The neon tetra is another popular and easy to care for beginner fish, that is an excellent addition to nearly any community tank. While this fish isn’t as hardy as it used to be, if you manage to find some healthy neon tetras, you will have a stunning and long-lived fish on your hands.
They can adapt to most water conditions (unless you plan to breed them), and they can thrive in aquariums as small as 10 gallons. You have to be careful when purchasing this fish though, and if there is even a single sick neon tetra in their tank at the fish store, you should look elsewhere. They can often be infected with the “neon tetra” disease, which is fatal and highly contagious.
You can read a full guide on caring for neon tetras here.
Guppies are a great fish for beginners, and they come in some spectacular color varieties now. With that being said, some of the more exotic guppies are highly inbreed, and aren’t nearly as healthy as they should be. Only the males tend to be colorful, so many people keep male only tanks (though female guppies are an attractive fish in their own right).
If you decide to keep males and females together, it’s important to understand that they are a live-bearer fish. They give birth to live babies, so they will have a very high fry survival rate (most egg-layers fish eat all their own eggs). If you keep males and females together in the same fish tank they will breed like rabbits – or more accurately, like guppies. So always have a plan in place to deal with the vast amount of babies that they will produce.
They can survive in an aquarium as small as 5 gallons (23 litres), though 10 gallons (45 litres) should really be considered the minimum tank size for this colorful freshwater fish.
You can read a full guide on caring for guppies here.
Platies are a live-bearers like guppies, and they are another undemanding and easy to care for fish. Both the males and females share the same coloring, so make sure that you know how to sex them if you don’t want to end up with hordes of babies over flowing your aquarium.
They are well known in the hobby for their hardiness and they will survive most non-catastrophic errors that a new aquarist can make. While they will thrive in aquariums as small as 10 gallons, you will need a larger tank if you plan on keeping males and females together. Pregnant female platies have earned the nickname “the bus”, thanks to how massive they grow when they are pregnant. So expect a fish that large to produce a lots, and I mean lots of fry.
You can read a full guide on caring for platies here.
A lot of people would argue that tiger barbs aren’t a beginner fish, and they are more aggressive than any of the other fish on this list (with the exception of two male bettas kept together). However, it does display stunning colors, and is an extremely tough fish.
And while it is aggressive, it does quite well if it’s kept in a species only tank and in a group of at least six. With that being said, if you plan on keeping them with other species of fish, or in a group smaller than six, all bets are off.
They also require a somewhat larger aquarium than most other fish on this list, and the minimum size aquarium for a group of tiger barbs should be at least 20 gallons.
You can find a full guide for caring for tiger barbs here.
Dwarf gouramis are a favorite of many in the hobby, and they combine beautiful colors, with a peaceful and docile nature. They are extremely hardy, and their ability to breathe from the surface allows them to tolerate less than ideal water conditions for short periods of time.
It’s important to understand that this fish is only peaceful when it is kept in a pair with one male and one female. If you try to keep more than one male in a small aquarium, you’re going to find that they turn extremely aggressive, extremely fast.
While a pair of dwarf gouramis could technically survive in a 10 gallon aquarium, it is recommended that you keep them in at least a 20 gallon aquarium.
You can find a full guide on caring for dwarf gouramis here.