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Tropical Fish for Beginners

Blue gourami resized image Bristlenose catfish resized image Guppy resized image Zebra danio resized image Platy resized image Clown loach resized image Betta fish resized image

Brief description

This article lists fish that are easy to keep, however it also contains a list of answered questions that newbies ask the most. You're welcome to share ideas, experiences or ask questions at the bottom of this page!

In all of my years of fish keeping there is always one question that I am repeatedly asked, “I am new to fish keeping, which fish should I start with?”

This question can be answered easily and if the initial stocking of the tank is correct it will make the hobby enjoyable from the start and a lot of the initial stress can be avoided, it is often the initial tank set up that goes horribly wrong and makes a lot of people leave the hobby before they have really gotten into it.

Before we can even consider buying fish we must make sure that we are starting off with a fully cycled tank, even hardy fish will struggle in an tank that hasn’t been cycled. During the cycling period we have time to look at our options of which fish to keep and spend a bit of time going around the aquatic stores looking at the fish and asking advice.

There are several considerations to take into account when selecting your first fish:-

When you plan to stock your tank think of it as being split into three different levels, to, bottom and middle. There are species of fish that will occupy all of these different levels and make your tank more interesting. In this article we will suggest several species of fish ideal for beginners and will explain which levels they will occupy, the species that are listed will be fine with water parameters that most fish keepers have in their tank and are hardy and quite disease resistant, however it is up to you to keep the water quality high and the tank free from disease by regular maintenance.

Bettas and Gouramies:-

There are several species of Gouramies that are available and the Betta splendens ( Siamese fighting fish) is well known by most people. These fish will occupy the middle and top levels of the tank, they do require air to breathe so they will often rise to the surface to take a gulp of air. Always keep these in a tank that has a lid as they are capable of jumping out of the tank if stressed.

One of the hardiest species of Gourami is the Pearl Gourami (Trichogaster leerii), this beautiful fish is covered with lace-like markings and will display an orangey, red belly. They are extremely peaceful and never bother the other tank mates. One important point with Gouramies and the Betta splendens is never add two males to the tank, they will fight, the Betta splendens is perfectly happy if kept as a single specimen and female Gouramies can be kept with male Gouramies without any problems.

Honey Gourami (Trichogaster chuna) are another example of peaceful Gourami, they will only grow to 3” adult size and have a great reputation as a community fish. Their body has a yellowy, brown colouration which really stands out in the tank.


There are thousands of species of Cyprinids and several of these species are available at a vast majority of aquatic stores. They are bred comparatively easy compared to some of the other fish species, the result of this is that they are generally for sale at very reasonable prices. There are far too many to mention in this article but I will try to list some of the more common species kept by quite a few keepers.

Danios have always been popular and readily available, there are a few species of these that seem to have been around in the aquarium hobby for ever. Zebra Danio are a very active fish that prefer to be kept in small groups of at least 6 specimens. They are a very active fish and are always on the go around the tank. Their adult size is only 2” so this makes them ideal for most tank sizes. If you require a bit more colouration from your fish the Pearl Danio has a beautiful light blue colouration, they are as peaceful as the Zebra Danio and also prefer to be kept in small groups. During a 24 hour period, they will probably occupy all water levels in the tank.

Cherry barbs (Puntius tittleya) have proven to be a hardy fish that is full of colouration. These fish will also only grow to 2” adult size and the males will display a bright red colouration especially when trying to impress the females. These prefer to be kept in small groups but will not shoal as tightly as the Danios.

Live bearing species:-

Most live bearing species are hardy and colourful but the unexpected bonus with these fish is that if they are happy you will probably end up with lots of fry as they breed quite abundantly. They can tolerate a wider range of water parameters and will occupy the middle levels of the tank.

Guppies are probably one of the best known fish even to non fish keepers. The males possess larger tails than the females and come in a great variety of colours. They are avid breeders so if you do not want to breed them it is best to keep the males separate from the females. They are always available to purchase at very reasonable prices and they are very easy to keep on top condition.

Platys are also a very popular live bearer species that are easy to get hold of in the aquatic stores. The males will only grow to a maximum size of 3” and they are easy to separate from the females as they have a modified anal fin which has evolved into a tube (gonopodium) which is used for breeding purposes.

Loaches and catfish:-

To occupy the bottom levels of your tank loaches and catfish are ideal but be careful as some species can grow to very large adult sizes. The easiest species of catfish that I have found to keep belong to the Ancistrus family and are commonly known as Bristle-nose catfish. They do not grow too large and are fairly peaceful towards each other and to other tank mates. They get their common name from the bristles that develop on their heads, the males will have more than the females.

Khuli loaches ( sometimes known as the Leopard Eel) are very peaceful and do not harass their tank mates. Other common loaches include the Yo-Yo loach, Hill-stream loach and Clown loaches. The species in this group tend to be nocturnal so may hide away in the daytime for a while until they get used to their surroundings, this is perfectly normal but they will trust you in time and emerge in daylight hours.

Questions and answers

On March 22th 2011 we added the following questions here; Questions usually asked by beginners, and questions that visitors of have asked previously. Originally they were published at, but due to merging the answers section with articles, the following questions and answers are listed below. You're welcome to ask own questions, but make sure that they're unique and not yet answered on this page, please. We feel that all of the below-listed questions are related to the topic "Fish for beginners"; While some are purely "beginners questions", some of them may be less related to this topic - However, listing them in one place makes the questions easy to find.

Did you know?

The first public aquarium was opened at London zoo in 1853. The first public aquarium to be opened was in 1856 by showman PT Barnum in New York.

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