If you were to ask my opinion on what I consider to be the best beginner fish, you’d probably expect me to choose a popular fish like zebra danios or maybe guppies. And while numerous websites and guides tout these as the best beginner fish, I believe the unassuming fathead minnow is actually the best fish for anyone new to the hobby (though this reveal was likely already spoiled by the title of the article).
Fathead minnows, more commonly known by their color variant name, rosy red minnows, are found in feeder fish tanks and bait buckets across North America. And while they’re often referred to as tropical fish, they’re really native to North America, and due to their popularity as bait and feeder fish, have spread from coast to coast.
Now, you might be wondering why I think these fish are such a good beginner fish. The answer is simple – they have every trait a good beginner fish needs.
To start with, if you can find healthy rosy red minnows (admittedly not always an easy task), they’re virtually impossible to kill. These fish can adapt to almost any conditions, and they thrive in everything from tropical to nearly arctic temperatures. They can survive in low oxygen environments and are able to live in almost any type of water, hard or soft. This adaptability is part of the reason their range extends from the warm waters of Chihuahua in the south to the frigid waters of Great Slave Lake in the far north.
And hardiness is an important trait when someone is choosing a beginner fish. Anyone new to aquariums is going to make mistakes. It’s not a question of if, but of when. And while most mistakes, like forgetting to do regular water changes, or improperly cycling an aquarium would leave the majority of fish floating upside down, rosy red minnows will usually soldier on through almost anything you can throw at them. This alone makes them a great beginner fish.
And if their impressive hardiness wasn’t enough, these fish are also incredibly easy to feed. Many fish in the aquarium hobby are picky eaters, often requiring expensive live or frozen food. And that’s not including all the wild-caught fish that sometimes refuse any food offered to them. In contrast, rosy red minnows will eat almost anything that you give them. They’re omnivores in the wild, and will happily accept flake food, freeze-dried food, frozen food, and live food in the home aquarium.
And finally, to really round out rosy red minnows as a great beginner fish, they are incredibly easy to breed and have fascinating breeding behavior. It’s no secret that most people who keep fish want to at least try their hand at breeding. And while most other commonly kept fish will consume their own eggs and young without a second thought, rosy red minnows show a level of parental care nearly on par with cichlids.
When a male rosy red minnow is ready to breed, he will claim a cave (or anything similar to a cave, like a clay pot on its side) and clean the surface with the tubercles on his head. After fighting off any male challengers, he will entice multiple females to enter the cave and deposit their eggs. The male will then carefully tend to the eggs, cleaning them and fanning them until they hatch. And all of this is done out in the open, allowing a new aquarist to watch every step.
All these traits combine to make the rosy red minnow a real contender for the title of best beginner fish. The only truly difficult part of keeping rosy red minnows is finding healthy fish in the first place. Most rosy red minnows are kept in terrible, overcrowded conditions, and they often need to be treated for diseases and parasites before being added to an aquarium. But if you’re lucky enough to find some healthy rosy red minnows, they make a truly amazing addition to any aquarium.