29+ Freshwater Aquarium Fish Species for Beginners


| LAST UPDATE 05/02/2022

By Stanley Wickens

Caring for fish is an important responsibility. Owners usually want to make sure they're doing the job right - especially at the beginning! Luckily, we've found some great options for aquarium newbies.


These little angels of fish really live up to their name when it comes to being good pets. Since they're part of the cichlid family, it's very surprising that these little swimmers are easy to care for.

Angelfish pet aquarium fishAngelfish pet aquarium fish
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Most members of the cichlid family tend to be rather aggressive, but angelfish are a lot more peaceful than their relatives. With the right kind of care, these fish can live up to ten years. They prefer taller tanks that can fit up to 20 gallons - which also need to be frequently cleaned!

Betta Fish or Siamese Fighting Fish

These feisty little fish originated in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and can live in water with little oxygen. With the help of an organ called a labyrinth, they can get their oxygen from the surface. These fierce creatures were bred in Thailand to compete in fighting contests and are known for their short temper.

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Despite their hot-tempered nature, however, betta fish are actually capable of living peacefully when placed in a tank with species that aren't aggressive. Their ideal home is a fish tank with water that can frequently be replaced. And most importantly, they need to be kept away from other bettas!

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Corydoras Catfish

The Corydoras is one of those gill-bearing creatures that love to lurk along the bottom of the aquarium. And although we may not notice them swimming near the ground, this species can be found across South America - usually in shallow bodies of water with slow movement.

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Judging by their appearance, these aquatic creatures may seem harmless at first. But don't be fooled by those large eyes - they have a tough exterior with venomous spines to fend off anyone who tries to approach. Sadly, that means no petting these fearsome fish. The good news is that they do well around other fish.

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Neon Tetra

The neon tetra is one of the most popular options when it comes to buying freshwater aquarium fish to keep as pets. Small and boasting bright colors, the neon tetra is originally from the Amazon River Basin. Their flashy blue and red stripes allow them to easily be spotted in dark waters.

Neon Tetra fish beginnersNeon Tetra fish beginners
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Most neon tetras today are commercially bred in fish farms across Asia. With their ability to easily adapt to changing water conditions, they make wonderful pets for beginners. They get along well with other fish in the tank and can live from five to ten years under proper care.

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Molly Fish

Most of us have seen these fish at almost any fish supply store - or even any pet store! Native to the Americas, these fish particularly thrive in the continents' warmer regions. Not only that, but a variety of molly fish species can be found in Mexico alone.

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These peaceful fish do well around other small fish in aquariums, such as guppies, platies, and swordtails. Their popularity among pet owners means that some vets have treated these creatures clinically over the years. One molly fish became well-known after undergoing a 40-minute surgery to remove a cancerous growth.

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Rainbow Shark

We know the name may be a bit alarming, but don't worry - we're still talking about pet-friendly swimmers! Contrary to what their name might suggest, these fish make great pets for beginners. Rainbow sharks are easy to identify, thanks to their dark-colored bodies and red tailfins.

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Although they may resemble their carnivorous cousins, these little gilled creatures are rather peaceful. They spend most of their time swimming near the floor of the aquarium to feed on leftover food or sometimes even algae that might grow on the tank's surfaces.

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Silver Hatchetfish

The silver hatchetfish is a surface swimmer that has a liking for low-flying insects that roam above the water. Powerful jumpers, these fish can leap out of the water to quickly catch their prey and have even been spotted jumping out of uncovered aquariums. Their hunting activities are fascinating to watch at home.

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This unique fish gets its name from the flat shape of its body, which is similar to a hatchet. In their natural habitats, these fish thrive in freshwater environments in the Amazon River basin and can be found in streams, lakes, and shallow bodies of water.

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Kissing Fish or Kissing Gouramis

These smoochy swimmers can often be seen locking lips in tanks as well as their natural habitats. But don't be fooled by this apparent display of affection - this behavior is far from romantic. Kissing fish tend to do this to display aggressive behavior and dominance.

Kissing Gouramis pet fishKissing Gouramis pet fish
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These fish originally come from the freshwaters of Southeast Asia. Similar to betta fish, kissing fish have lungs that allow them to breathe in oxygen from the surface. Although they can often be seen on restaurant menus in Southeast Asia, these fish are also frequently exported as pets.

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Bolivian Ram

The colorful Bolivian ram is another fish that makes for a great pet for beginners. It thrives in freshwaters and isn't difficult to care for. This member of the cichlid family is native to tributaries of the Amazon River basin in western Brazil and Bolivia.

Bolivian Ram pet fishBolivian Ram pet fish
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But unlike their cichlid family members, these gummy bear-colored creatures are as peaceful as they look. They do well in most community tanks with at least 20 gallons of water. Though they're not picky about their food, these fish are big on privacy - they love hiding in tanks with submerged wood or fake underwater vegetation.

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Although today they're known as good aquarium pets, guppies have previously been famous for their skills as hard workers. Originally from the northeast of South America, this tiny fish species used to be bred to clear bodies of water from mosquito larvae.

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Because of selective breeding, male guppies have acquired majestic tails that fan out proudly, which distinguishes them from the females with smaller tails. They also breed very fast, making it easy for them to overpopulate a tank. But because taking care of them is not hard at all, quite common to see them in pet stores.

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Harlequin Rasbora

The harlequin rasbora is yet another swimmer from the waters of Southeast Asia that makes a wonderful pet for beginners. For those at the beginning of their journey of learning how to take care of fish, this species may be one that's worth considering.

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These fish find their ideal habitats in swamps and murky rivers. They're commonly referred to as "harlequins" and get their name from the black shape printed on their bodies near their tails. Harlequins do best in the company of others of their kind. In fact, it's recommended that owners have a minimum of four of these fish.

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Next up on our list is a cousin of the guppy. Platies are a great choice for aquarium beginners and are also a way to add color to any fish tank. They come in a variety of bright colors and have fascinated aquarium owners for decades. They're very easy to take care of as pets.

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Similar to their relatives - mollies, swordtails, and guppies - platies are livebearers, meaning that they give birth to live offspring - called fry - as opposed to dropping eggs like other fish. These social fish mate and reproduce quickly and like to live in aquariums with other fish that are the same size.

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Black Phantom Tetra

Its name may sound a little intimidating, but this fish is actually a popular option among aquarium newbies - and for good reason. Their resilient yet entertaining nature makes them great pets that are fun and easy to care for. Originally from South America, black phantom tetras can be found in aquariums around the world.

Black Phantom Tetra fishBlack Phantom Tetra fish
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In their natural habitats, these fish swim in slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water, which allows them to easily adapt to changes in water conditions. Like the majority of other tetras, black phantoms are social fish and do well living in aquariums with others of their kind.

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Ever since they were introduced to us by breeders, GloFish have only increased in their popularity among aquarium enthusiasts. They're fascinating to watch, displaying their brilliant colors as they swim in the water. But in addition to their aesthetic qualities, they have practical benefits too.

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They were initially bred to turn fluorescent in contaminated water to reveal pollutants. These fish were created with an injection of the gene that allows jellyfish to light up into a zebra danio fish. Since the easy-to-care-for zebra danio is the ancestor of the GloFish, these colorful creatures also make great pets for beginners.

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We're aware that the name of this fish hardly paints it in a good light, but it's actually becoming more and more popular among aquarium beginners. The stunning colors and patterns of the killifish make it a fascinating pet to have swimming around an aquarium in any home.

Killifish pet beginners guideKillifish pet beginners guide
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There are approximately 1,270 different types of killifish around the world. A common freshwater species, the killifish can be found in bodies of water across the world. Its diet mainly consists of insect larvae, small crustaceans, and other aquatic animals.

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Five-Banded Barb

Native to the Indonesian island of Borneo, the five-banded barb is usually found swimming in swamps and slow-moving bodies of water that hosts decaying vegetation. But it's also become more common to spot this species swimming in aquariums as pets.

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However, since these fish are accustomed to specific living environments, any owners who would like to keep them as pets must make sure that their tanks mimic their natural habitats. Relatively peaceful and unlikely to engage in aggressive behavior, these social fish do best in groups larger than six.

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Zebra Danio

The silver-and-black-striped zebra danio - which we've already introduced as the "ancestor" of the GloFish - is another species that is easy to take care of. Their social nature makes them a popular choice to add to aquariums filled with other freshwater species.

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Not only do they make great pets, but these fish also have greatly benefitted scientific research. Zebra danios are valuable for studies in the fields of toxicology, oncology, genetics, and biology. But as pets, these community-loving fish spend most of their time chasing one another in tanks.

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Like their cousins - guppies, mollies, and platies - swordfish are a popular type of fish among new aquarium owners. They have an appearance similar to that of their family members, with the exception of their long, majestic tail that resembles a pointy sword.

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In their native habitats of Central and North America, swordtails are usually dark green with a red stripe. But selective breeding has given these swimmers a variety of other colors. One thing that makes them great pets is their ability to withstand changing water conditions better than other species.

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Dwarf Gouramis

With their vivid colors, dwarf gouramis are becoming a favorite among many fish owners. Like their relatives - the betta fish - they're pretty common in the freshwater fish industry. In their natural habitats, they dominate the same types of waters as bettas, mainly densely vegetated bodies of water in Southeast Asia.

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The dwarf gourami is another one of those fish with a labyrinth organ that enables them to take in oxygen from the surface. Their flexible nature makes these fish wonderful pets. Not only are they very social, getting along with others in the tank, but they also adapt well to different water conditions.

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Jack Dempsey Cichlids

Although cichlids are usually known for their aggressive tendencies, the Jack Dempsey generally does well in community tanks. That is, despite their assertiveness when it comes to defending themselves. In fact, this species was named after the famous boxer Jack Dempsey from the 1920s.

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Normally found in warm waters around Central America, the Jack Dempsey spends most of its day hiding in caves or feeding on crustaceans and other small animals. In addition to its ability to adjust to changing waters, this fish is popular due to its color-changing powers.

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Tiger Barb

Tiger barbs are commonly found in freshwater aquariums today. These striped swimmers create illusions of orange-and-black flashes as they dart rapidly across aquariums. However, before they were introduced as pets, tiger barbs used to swim in the wild in the warm waters of Malaysia.

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If placed together in small numbers, these fish can become a bit aggressive. Instead, tiger barbs like to live in aquariums with other fish of the same size and temperament. They're rather playful and enjoy chasing one another across tanks to keep themselves - and their owners - entertained.

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Rainbow Fish

The diamond-shaped rainbow fish, which comes in a variety of different colors, can be seen shimmering in fish tanks and aquariums across the world. But before becoming popular pets, this species was found in Australia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

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These glittering gems are rather social swimmers and thrive in spacious tanks in groups of at least eight rainbow fish. They're not picky about their food and will eat anything thrown to them in the tank, which makes them easy to take care of. Not only that, but they adapt well to changes in water conditions.

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The next species on our list can easily be mistaken for fake vegetation or debris in an aquarium. The plecostomus has a greenish-brown, bumpy exterior and is nicknamed the "armored catfish" because of the rigid plates that protect their bodies. They have round mouths, which they use to suck up algae and other foods.

Pleco pet fish guidePleco pet fish guide
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These fish sleep throughout most of the day and are mostly active at night. They can grow to 24 inches long and are useful to fish owners in their ability to clear the water in tanks of contaminants. Their helpful diet, as well as their strong nature, make them a great option for aquarium owners.

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Perhaps one of the most famous pet fish species is the goldfish. These orange swimmers are native to Eastern Asia, and it's believed that they were first brought in from the wild in China nearly 1,000 years ago. Since then, they've become favorites among pet fish owners.

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Goldfish differ slightly from their relatives, the common carp and koi, in that they don't have "whiskers" around their mouths. Though it's easy to take care of these swimmers, owners should keep in mind that they can grow to be about 18 inches long. But perhaps their best quality is that they can be trained to learn tricks!

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Clown Loach

This black-and-yellow fish is one of the most interactive species that thrive in freshwater aquariums. Pet enthusiasts love them not only for their humorous behavior but also because of the "personality" traits they exhibit. They are quite talented at mimicking and even playing dead!

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Native to the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo, clown loaches are very social fish, and they enjoy being around others in the same tank, regardless of species. They're relatively easy to take care of but can grow to be up to 15 inches long, which means they need to be placed in rather large tanks.

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White Cloud Mountain Minnow

When it comes to small fish, the White Cloud Mountain minnow is a great option for those looking for easy pets to look after. These small community fish don't need tropical temperatures to survive and do well in tanks, especially with zebrafish and goldfish.

White Cloud Mountain MinnowWhite Cloud Mountain Minnow
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Originally from the rivers of China, the White Cloud Mountain minnow comes in a beautiful range of bright colors, with its trademark horizontal stripe across its body. In nature, its diet consists of plankton and insect larvae, which give it all the nutrients its small body needs.

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Buenos Aires Tetra

The Buenos Aires Tetra is a very popular species for new fishkeeping enthusiasts, thanks to its hardiness. Originally found in Argentina, southeastern Brazil, and Paraguay, this swimmer is a member of the Characidae family and is a rather peaceful and shoaling fish.

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Although the species is pretty easy to take care of, it may not be suitable for all aquariums. The Buenos Aires Tetra has a tendency to eat live tank vegetation, which could cause health problems for the fish if consumed in large amounts. But in tanks with at least 30 gallons of water, these fish can grow to 2.75 inches in size.

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Black Ruby Barb

This peaceful and gorgeous swimmer, native to the forested streams of Sri Lanka, has been put on the list of endangered species due to deforestation and over-collection. However, many of its kind have found homes as pets in aquariums, where they are generally friendly to their tank mates.

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Ruby barbs are bottom feeders, meaning that they search for bits of organic material and algae to feed on. This is why their diet should consist of large amounts of healthy vegetation, including shelled peas and blanched lettuce or spinach. Ideally, this species should be kept in groups of at least eight.

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Otocinclus Catfish

The Otocinclus Catfish comes in a variety of different colors, and most fish of this kind have a brown stripe that goes down their bodies. They are best known for their herbivorous diet, feeding mainly on algae. But their diet isn't the only thing that makes them easy pets for beginners.

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These swimmers are quite peaceful and thrive in freshwater community aquariums with 10 gallons of water. They have a lifespan of approximately 3-5 years and grow to only about 1-2 inches in size. Caring for the Otocinclus doesn't require too much time. In fact, their habits of cleaning up algae may actually be beneficial!

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Kuhli Loaches

This tropical fish is a rather unique one that many aquarium enthusiasts would love to add to their tanks. Their slender bodies are multi-colored and come in a variety of different options. But on top of their unique appearance, these fish get along quite well with their tank mates.

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These mellow creatures are rather peaceful and mostly keep to themselves. They're not picky eaters and will consume anything they find around the tank, but should also be given protein-based fish foods to make sure they get all the right nutrients. They should be kept in warmer waters that mimic their natural tropical habitats.

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