Aquarium setups are so visually striking and peaceful, but the idea of keeping a bunch of fish alive can be daunting. That being said, by learning more about resilient fish that are hard to kill and are great for beginners, you can become a confident aquarium owner in no time. So how do you make sure they stay happy and healthy, without a premature trip to the great fish tank in the sky?
Before diving in, it's best to remember that maintaining an aquarium does require time and care. "We want to be sure that fish keeping is a responsibility and that fish are not regarded or treated as disposable pets," Eric Radi,
aquatics content producer and aquarium expert at LiveAquaria, tells Romper. "Research your fish before purchasing to ensure compatibility with other fish, potential size, diet, and nutrition."
With a little prep work, you can learn how to create a great home for your new fish, but don’t assume it will be any easier than
owning other pets. “A lot of people get pet fish as a trial pet, because everyone assumes that it’s less work, when they are absolutely no less work than a cat, dog, hamster, guinea pig, [or] anything like that,” Dr. Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV, owner and chief veterinarian of Aquatic Veterinary Services, tells Romper. “It's usually going to be a lot more work, especially when you're first starting out, because a lot of the times your filtration hasn't been established, which is something they don't tell you when you're picking out your fish [at the] store. The best advice I have is to plan ahead as much as you can, get the biggest tank you can, and try not to overload it with individual fish — and then be patient and make sure you do your regular maintenance.”
With that in mind, there are a few species of fish that are probably best left to more veteran fish keepers. "Cardinal tetras, rummy-nose tetras, pencilfish, [and] celestial danios," for example, aren't necessarily the best fish for beginners, as Radi explains, as their needs can be demanding. But there are plenty of fish for kids and newbies, so read on to find out which ones.
1 Comet goldfish Lifespan: 5-14 years Size: 8-12 inches Recommended tank size: at least 50 gallons Feeding schedule: 2-3 times a day What parents need to know: Ah, the classic goldfish. According to Sanders, comet goldfish make a great starter fish. Plus, they come in a bunch of different color combinations and patterns. “[Comets] are amazingly resilient and put up with a lot of beginner mistakes,” Sanders says. “But they do tend to be fairly messy, so the bigger tank you have, the more water you have to kind of dilute everything else.” Keep in mind that comet goldfish swim around constantly, so they require a large area to move around in, which is why they often thrive in bigger tanks. 2 Bushy nose plecostomus (aka pleco) Lifespan: at least 5 years, but can live up to 12 years in captivity Size: 3-5 inches Recommended tank size: at least 25 gallons Feeding schedule: 1-2 times a day What parents need to know: If you'd like some help cleaning the aquarium, these fish are on the job. "Bushy nose plecos perform the janitorial service of eating the algae that grows in the aquarium," says Radi. Although they do require food in addition to algae, bushy nose plecos are handy at cleaning aquarium glass and decorations. 3 Candy cane tetra Lifespan: 3-5 years Size: 1-1.5 inches Recommended tank size: at least 15 gallons Feeding schedule: 2 times a day What parents need to know: If you are considering adding some of these hardy, candy-colored fish to your tank, know that you’ll likely be getting a small school at a time, but that doesn’t really require more work than raising one fish. "These quarter-sized schooling fish will be an overall pink color with highlights of red and white, resembling the colors of a candy cane," says Radi. As far as fish go, they tend to be affordable choices that accept a whole variety of food types, as Radi further explains on his YouTube video about the candy cane tetra. 4 Siamese fighting fish (aka betta) Lifespan: 2-5 years Size: 2-3 inches Recommended tank size: at least 3 gallons Feeding schedule: 2 times a day What parents need to know: Delicate and dramatic-looking, Siamese fighting fish, also known as bettas, can make good pets for first-time fish owners. "These colorful, hardy fish do best by themselves and do not require a large aquarium," says Radi. "However, they do require a heated aquarium since they are considered 'tropical,' originating from Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia."
When housed in their own tank that's kept at the right temperature, these fish can do quite well. “Bettas are great if you don't have a lot of room,” Sanders says. “What's most important with them is that they have a tank with a filter. It just can't be too strong because they have very long flowing fins that can get pushed around fairly easily. And they absolutely
need to have a heater in order to be healthy.” 5 Corydoras (Cory) catfish Lifespan: 3-5 years Size: 1-4 inches Recommended tank size: at least 10 gallons Feeding schedule: 1-2 times a day What parents need to know: You've probably spotted some of these distinctive fish in home aquariums or pet stores. An aquarium staple, the Corydoras catfish do a great job cleaning the aquarium substrate (the gravel or sand at the bottom of a tank), says Radi. Cory catfish are peaceful, hardy fish that coexist well with other fish. Keep three or more at a time, because they are a schooling fish. 6 Dwarf gourami Lifespan: 4-6 years Size: 3.5-4.5 inches Recommended tank size: at least 5 gallons Feeding schedule: 1-2 times a day What parents need to know: Available in a range of different varieties and colors, the dwarf gourami are another solid choice for beginners. However, there is a small possibility you will get an aggressive one. “Most of them play very nicely with others, but sometimes you get an individual who just didn't read the rulebook and is fairly aggressive to other fish in the tank and even their own species,” Sanders says. “Unfortunately, it's really hard to know that from watching them in the pet store, so that's the only caveat with them — you might accidentally get an aggressive one, and then you're going to have to move him to either a bigger tank or a different tank.”
Note that two males will fight one another, according to Radi. To keep the peace, house a single male (or a male and female pair) in your tank.
7 Kribensis Lifespan: about 5 years Size: 3-4 inches Recommended tank size: at least 20-30 gallons Feeding schedule: 3 times a day What parents need to know: This is another super popular type of fish for beginners. They are not an overly demanding fish, according to Radi, and they rarely disturb plants or tankmates too large to swallow, making them perfect for diverse community fish tanks. As long as you provide them with a spacious, well-maintained aquarium, they should thrive. In other words, it's a solid choice for newcomers to the hobby. 8 Kuhli loach Lifespan: 7-10 years Size: 3-4 inches Recommended tank size: at least 20 gallons Feeding schedule: 2 times a day What parents need to know: This fish looks like something that slithered straight out of a Tim Burton movie, so much so that Radi notes kuhli loaches are a "favorite among children for their eel-like appearance and Halloween colors of orange and brown." But even though they look like eels, they aren’t. “These guys are really cool — they are scale efficient and kind of swim like a ribbon, almost eel-like, but they’re not technically eels because they have little fins,” Sanders says.
Despite their spooky vibes, these fish are a bit shy. In fact, the reclusive and nocturnal kuhli loach will require a safe hiding place somewhere in the tank, as Radi explains. For example, they love going in and out of the sand, which definitely requires some maintenance on the fish keeper’s part. “It's really important to make sure that your substrate is appropriate for these guys, because they like playing around in the sand, which can be a bit of a pain,” Sanders says. “So if your filter pool is too high, it's gonna keep picking up the sand.”
Still, they make great hardy starter fish. “Overall these guys are fairly resilient,” says Sanders. “It's usually best to put them in an already established system, rather than have them going into a brand new tank.”
9 Neon tetra Lifespan: 5-10 years Size: 1-1.5 inches Recommended tank size: at least 15 gallons Feeding schedule: 1-2 times a day What parents need to know: These fish are another variation of the tetra and a great fun choice for children. “My absolute favorites are neon tetra,” Sanders says. “They’re small fish, but they're really pretty. They have a red and a blue stripe, and usually you're going to get a school of them.” 10 Platy Lifespan: 3-4 years Size: 2-3 inches Recommended tank size: at least 20 gallons Feeding schedule: 1 time a day for adults, 3 times a day for juveniles What parents need to know: This is something of a go-to fish for fish-keeping newbies. "Platies are a beginner aquarium fish staple," says Radi. "These hardy live-bearing fish have been in the hobby for decades and come in a wide variety of colors." As opposed to egg layers, these give birth to live baby fish.
Just note, though, that these fish can get
busy quickly. “A lot of the time people will bring home pregnant females from the store without realizing it, and two days later, the tank is full of more babies,” Sanders says. “These guys reproduce insanely quickly, so the most important thing with this is that you separate the boys and the girls.”
The good news is that platies do have some external features to tell the genders apart. “Depending on what breed of [platies], there's a bunch of different color varieties of them,” Sanders continues. “You can obviously mix them and match them, but just keep the boys and girls separate or your tank will be overpopulated very quickly.”
11 Swordtail Lifespan: 3-5 years Size: 5-6 inches Recommended tank size: at least 15 gallons Feeding schedule: 2 times a day What parents need to know: These distinctive-looking fish are another beginner-friendly choice. The swordtail is a fairly tough fish with low demands for water conditions, making them generally low-key in terms of maintenance. That being said, you’ll likely want to stick with a single gender in one tank. “They are also known to replicate fairly quick,” Sanders says. “So with that, it's also important to keep the boys and the girls separate. And they're probably going to be in a group at school together, so you can get a bunch of them at once.” 12 Zebra danio Lifespan: 3-5 years Size: 1.5-2.5 inches Recommended tank size: at least 10 gallons Feeding schedule: 2 times a day What parents need to know: If you'd like an aquarium filled with bright and lively fish, then these are a great option. Zebra danios are "colorful ... active smaller fish that loosely school together," says Radi. Zebra danios are social and have a generally peaceful nature, though they can be aggressive if housed in a crowded tank.
With a bit of research and planning, it's definitely possible to start your first aquarium and keep it stocked with happy, healthy, and hardy fish that beginners and children will love. If you have questions about specifications in terms of caring for your fish, definitely ask your local aquarium expert at the pet store or vet.
Experts: Eric Radi, aquatics content producer and aquarium expert at LiveAquaria Dr. Jessie Sanders, DVM, CertAqV, owner and chief veterinarian of Aquatic Veterinary Services
This article was originally published on
Sep. 27, 2019