10 Tropical Fish Species Every Beginning Aquarist Should Know

These colorful freshwater tropical fish species are some of the best freshwater aquarium fish choices for the beginning aquarist! Choosing the wrong fish is a mistake you don't need to make. Learn which tropical fish species are the easiest to keep! 

When it comes to stocking your first aquarium with tropical fish, it is wise to take things slow. If you try to rush into your new hobby, or take on too many challenges too quickly, you may end up making mistakes that could cost your fish their lives. This being said, the best way to go is to ease your way into the hobby by stocking your first tank with species of fish that are "easy" to keep. These species are typically capable of tolerating a variety of tank conditions and may provide you with a buffer against the mistakes you are likely to make as a novice aquarist. If you stock your tank with delicate species, even the smallest change in water quality could be deadly. Once you have mastered the basics of freshwater fishkeeping and have gained some experience in the hobby, you'll feel more confident to move on to more challenging species of fish.

Small Freshwater Fish Breeds

If you are looking for species of tropical fish that are relatively easy to maintain, you will find many choices among the small breeds of community fish. Because they are small, these fish take up less room in the tank, which means that you can mix and match a variety of species if you choose. Most of these species are schooling fish that should be kept in groups of at least three of their own species, though most species will be more comfortable in groups of five or more.

guppy xs 16305519Guppies: The Fantail Guppy is especially popular among novice aquarists because they are colorful fish that do not require a lot of effort to maintain. These fish are very tolerant of many water conditions and can be kept in either small or large aquariums. Guppies make great community fish and because they remain small, they will not put your tank at risk for overcrowding. Because Guppies are schooling fish it is wise to keep them in groups of 5 or more. If you want to avoid having an overflow of baby Guppies, however, it is wise to stock your tank with only one sex.

molly 1Mollies: Though often recommended as freshwater community fish to beginning aquarium hobbyists, Black Mollies tend to do better when kept in slightly brackish conditions. These fish are best kept in planted tanks with some salt content - about one teaspoon of salt per gallon is recommended. Black Mollies produce a great deal of waste when fed properly, so adequate filtration is essential to help maintain acceptable water quality.The Molly is a peaceful breed of community fish that can serve multiple purposes in your tank. Mollies are available in a wide range of colors and patterns so they can help to enhance the aesthetic appearance of your tank. Additionally, Mollies can serve as algae eaters in your tank, picking bits of algae off your live plants and tank decorations. These fish will eat both live foods and flake foods and, if well cared for, can live up to two years. Like the Guppy, Mollies are also likely to breed without much effort on the part of the hobbyist, so if you want to avoid having to raise Molly fry, limit your tank to female Mollies.

neontetra xs 20086716Neon Tetras: While most breeds of Tetra are relatively easy to maintain, the Neon Tetra is one of the most popular fish for beginners. These fish are easy to keep and, if treated properly, can live up to ten years. Like most Tetras, Neon Tetras are best kept in groups of at least three to five of their own species and get along well with other community fish. For a more dramatic and eye-catching display consider keeping a school of 15 - 18 in a densely planted tank with open areas for swimming. If you are looking for a cool freshwater fish species that will add vibrant color to your tank, the blue and red coloration of Neon Tetras is and excellent choice!

danio xs 18971378Danios: There are four well-known varieties of Danio - the Zebra Danio, the Leopard Danio, and the long-finned variety of each breed. These little fish are very active swimmers and their silver and blue bodies shine as they zip around the tank. Because they are so active, it is imperative that you provide Danios with adequate tank space so they have room to swim. Like Guppies, Danios are tolerant of a variety of water conditions and they can live up to five years if properly cared for. This species is also known for being enthusiastic feeders, likely to thrive on just about any commercial fish food you give them. This being true, it is important not to overfeed Danios or to let them eat all of the food designated for other fish in your tank.

barbs-300Barbs: There are several varieties of Barbs including Tiger Barbs, Ruby Barbs, and Giant Barbs. In general, Barbs are peaceful schooling fish and should be kept in groups of at least five or more to prevent them from developing aggressive behaviors. Though they are typically easy-going, Barbs have been known to nip the fins of some long-finned breeds like Angelfish. Therefore, it is not recommended to mix Barbs with long-finned species such as Angelfish, Gouramis, or Siamese Fighting Fish. Barbs can grow up to three inches, though some species like the Rosy Barb may grow up to six inches, and they can live between one and three years.

betta xs 21982778Bettas: Betta fish, also called Siamese Fighting Fish, are very popular as starter fish. Known for their vibrant colors and variety of fin types, Bettas are sold not only in pet stores, but can sometimes also be found in grocery stores and home decoration stores. These fish are very hardy - tolerant of a wide range of water temperatures, pH levels and water conditions. However, like all aquarium fish they have an ideal range of water conditions for optimum health. Though they are easy to care for on their own, it's best not to keep Bettas in a typical community aquarium, especially with other Bettas present. These fish can become very territorial, so if you plan to keep a Betta, keep only one to a tank. If you want to house your Betta with other fish an acceptable setup would be a 10 gallon tank with 3 or more Corydoras Catfish to occupy the bottom level. 

Medium and Large Aquarium Fish Breeds

gourami xs 12826617Gouramis: These fish are very hardy, able to tolerate a range of temperatures and various water conditions. Gouramis come in a variety of sizes and colors and they are generally peaceful fish. Some types of Gourami, like the pearl Gourami and dwarf Gourami, are more inclined to be community fish while other breeds, like the kissing pink Gourami and blue Gourami, have a tendency to be semi-aggressive and territorial. In order to avoid conflict, do not keep more than one male Gourami in a tank and provide all of your fish with adequate hiding places. If given enough space, Gouramis can peacefully coexist with other breeds - provided these fish are not so small that the Gouramis might be tempted to eat them.

pleco xs 21566839Plecostomus: The Plecostomus is a well-known type of algae eater. Plecostomus, or plecos, require very little care because the main portion of their diet is made up of algae and uneaten fish food gleaned from the walls of the tank as well as items of tank decor. In small tanks, or tanks stocked with multiple bottom feeders, it may be necessary to supplement your pleco's diet with algae wafers or spirulina pellets. Under the right conditions, Plecostomus have been known to grow upwards of 10 inches and they can live as long as ten years. As these fish increase in size they may become aggressive and territorial, so only small Plecostomus are recommended for new fishkeepers.

oscar xs 20727078Oscars: The Oscar is a very popular fish among aquarium enthusiasts because these fish have a tendency to develop a personality. Oscars have been known to greet their owners and are prone to begging around mealtimes. However, because this species grows very large, they require a sizeable tank. For a single specimen, a 125 gallon tank is recommended. A regular water maintenance routine is essential since these fish are very messy eaters and produce a lot of waste. If you decide to put an Oscar in your tank you should be prepared for the commitment since Oscars can easily live for more than 10 years. You should also be willing to make the investment in a high-quality filtration system and perform weekly 25% to 50% water changes to maintain a high level of water quality since poor water conditions makes this species especially susceptible to disease.

angelfish 474339Angelfish: Angelfish are a hardy species that are very popular in the aquarium hobby with both novice and experienced aquarists. Because of their tall body shape, Angelfish prefer to live in tall tanks rather than wide ones. Though they can become territorial at times, Angelfish are more likely to be bullied by other fish, so they should only be kept with smaller community species. Angelfish are not pick eaters - they will eat flake food as readily as they will consume frozen and freeze dried foods. Some breeds of Angelfish can grow up to six inches and will live between 8 and 10 years.

Tips for Maintaining a Successful Tank

Even though these species of tropical fish are known for being easy to care for, there are still a few precautions you should take to ensure that your tank remains harmonious. Do not overstock your tank - overcrowding will put undue stress on your fish and it could also increase the biological load of your tank to such a high level that the water quality declines. Keep in mind that while most small species of community fish can be kept in a tank together, some larger breeds may be aggressive toward smaller fish. Before you select the fish for your tank, brush up on the basics of tropical fish compatibility. Once you have an understanding of the different categories into which certain species of fish fall you will be more equipped to make the proper species selections for your tank. If you are able to maintain peace in your tank your fish will be that much happier and healthier.

In reality, it should not be difficult to keep most species of freshwater fish. Though some fish could be considered delicate or picky when it comes to their requirements for water parameters, your tank equipment will do most of the maintenance work for you. As long as you have a strong filter to provide water circulation and filtration and a heater to regulate the tank temperature, there is little work that you will actually have to do. Regardless what type of fish you choose to stock your tank, you will still need to perform routine water changes and you should also test the water once a week to keep an eye on the water chemistry. If you do these things and provide your tropical fish with a balanced and varied diet, then you should have no trouble successfully maintaining a perfect, healthy aquarium.


I frequently get asked about how I keep the water in my tanks looking so crystal clear. The answer is simple....install a quality filter. That's the first and most important step to a crystal clear tank. I can't stress enough the importance of having a quality filtration system for your aquarium. There are many choices to consider, but my favorite choice is a well made canister filter such as Eheim or those made by Fluval. And yes, there are other good ones out there as well. If you'll buy a canister filter that is slightly oversized for your tank capacity you'll be glad you did.


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