Tropical Fish for Beginners
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!
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:-
- Are they aggressive, if they are a shoaling species it is a good sign that they are not aggressive to tank mates.
- If you are setting up a community tank some species are fine with their own kind but may be aggressive to other species, always check before you add them to the tank.
- Have the fish you want any special dietary needs? If adding several species of fish try to get species that will thrive on the same food that is added to the tank.
- Are they tolerant of the water parameters that you are keeping them in? Most of the hardy fish that are ideal for beginners are fine with pH levels from most areas and will tolerate a slight difference to the recommended levels.
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 aqua-fish.net have asked previously. Originally they were published at aqua-fish.net/answers, 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.
- How long should fish be floated for before introducing them to the tank?Answer: When you first bring your fish home in their bags, float the bags for 20 minutes to allow the water temperatures to equalize before mixing the tank water into the bag slowly.
- Where do you buy freshwater fish?Answer: Fresh water fish can be purchased at most pet stores, online, and with the proper licenses, knowledge and equipment they can be collected from local water sources.
- Why do fish try to eat the air bubbles in the aquarium?Answer: This is just a sign of playfulness in fish that are happy in the aquarium. Often Corydoras can be seen playing in and out of the air bubbles. It is just playtime for the fish.
- What fish to put in your aquarium?Answer: This completely depends on your experiences. Are you a beginner? Then start with Guppies and Bristlenose catfish. Are you an averagely experienced aquarist? Then keep Angelfish or Discus fish and some bottom-dwellers. Are you an expert? Keep Puffer fish, big cichlids or rare fish. Bear in mind that every species requires proper care!
- What do fish need?Answer: Water, food, suitable water conditions (pH, hardness; both overall and carbon, low ammonia and NO2 levels, acceptable temperature), usually lighting - but this is more important for plants than for fish, hiding places (it depends on species). Use our fish database when searching for fish that would accept conditions in your aquarium.
- How can I feed my fish when I go away for a weekend?Answer: Most fish will be perfectly OK if not fed for a couple of days but if you do need to feed them either fix an automatic feeder to the tank or get a friend/relative to pop round and help out.
- What are some good fish to get for a aquarium in a community living environment?Answer: A community aquarium always adds flare to a common living space. What to add depends on the environment that you are setting up the aquarium in. Calm fish may suit some environments such as hospitals; and vibrant colorful fish may suite another. A good way to decide is to show some pictures to members of the community and ask what they would prefer.
- What kind of fish can live in freshwater?Answer: There are basically three types of fish – saltwater, brackish and freshwater. Always research the species of fish you intend to purchase to ensure that they will be put in a tank with the correct water conditions. Feel free to use our freshwater fish search and saltwater fish search to find out fish which live in freshwater and saltwater environments.
- What do aquarium fish look like when they are born?Answer: Live bearing fish produce free swimming fry that resemble tadpoles in shape. Egg bearer’s fry look the same but will often stick to the tank glass while eating their egg yolks.
- When to feed fish?Answer: In the morning and in the evening. This applies to adult specimens. Juveniles and newborns should be fed more often (up to 7 times a day). Make sure that all food is eaten in a timely manner.
- Why are plants good for fish?Answer: Plants in an aquarium are not just there to look pretty. They provide hiding places for the fish as well as removing nitrates from the water.
- Do fish get lonely when some of the fish are removed from the tank?Answer: Bit of a controversial question, when some fish are removed then a new pecking order is established in the tank. I have known fish pine for their mating partners when one has been removed or passed away.
- Why are some fish scared of aquarium lighting?Answer: Some species of fish are not used to being in bright habitats, this can cause panic in the fish so it is always advisable to research the fish you are adding to the aquarium to make sure that they do not react to bright lighting. If you need to use strong lighting for the plants etc. provide some shady areas where the fish can rest.
- Why do fish tanks go cloudy?Answer: This is caused by a bacterial bloom. The filtration is not coping with the fish waste produced so it will need upgrading to prevent further clouding.
- Why do my fish float at the surface of the aquarium?Answer: This is normally the first sign of low oxygen levels in the tank and the fish are starting to “gasp”.
- What do I do when my fish get too big for my aquarium?Answer: Before buying any fish we should always research what their adult size will be. This will then prepare us for buying a larger tank if required or deciding against purchasing a fish that we cannot give enough room to. So you will need to get a larger tank, or find a new home for them.
- What type of fish can I keep with crayfish? Answer: You can keep non-aggressive fish with these critters, however, the crayfish will often prey on non-threatening fish such as goldfish, killing and eating them. They are usually kept in tanks alone for this reason.
- What do I do if my tank is overstocked?Answer: An aquarium should never be overstocked; it will result in fatalities as your filtration system will not be able to cope. Try to take some of the fish back to the pet store.
- Which tropical sharks make good community fish?Answer: The only shark I could recommend for a community tank is the Bala shark, Red tailed sharks will become territorial. Bala sharks do grow quite large so they must be provided with a larger tank as they grow.
- What should you feed fish in the aquarium?Answer: The answer to this depends on whether the fish are carnivore, omnivore or herbivore. If carnivore, the fish will need meaty foods like blood worms, chopped earthworms, brine shrimp etc.If omnivore, the fish will require quality flake or pellet foods along with treats of meaty foods like blood worms.If herbivore, the fish will need a high vegetable matter diet, spirulina flake are also good for these fish.
- Why do fish tanks need filters?Answer: Streams and rivers have currents which will wash away toxins in the water produced by the fish but an aquarium is a closed environment so the only way of removing these toxins is to use filtration.
- Why do fish bite the fins of other fish?Answer: Some species of fish are known as fin nippers. This is the fish’s way of showing aggression to other fish in the aquarium, fin nippers should not be housed with timid fish.
- Why do my fish swim really close and then back away fighting?Answer: This is perfectly natural in fish. They will swim together but in a flash they will turn on each other, especially if one has swam into another fish’s territory.
- Which fish only grow to one inch long?Answer: There are many small species of fish that remain small, neon tetras being the obvious one. Guppies and some of the Danio species also remain very small.
- What are some good community aquarium fish?Answer: Most live bearers are good community tank fish (some would argue that sword tails can be a bit to aggressive), as well as gouramis, neons, minnows, and when well matched angel fish. Other fish may be kept in a community environment. Fish such as those found in Africa, more specifically Mbuna, can be kept in an aquarium together IF they are given enough places to hide thus limiting the need to be aggressive or are stocked in large enough numbers that aggression simply is not feasible for the fish.
- What are some examples of fish that hide?Answer: Ghost knifes, Mbuna, some other species of cichlids are examples of fish that hide by nature. Also YoYo loaches do hide during daytime.
- What is meant by kissing fish?Answer: The most common type of kissing fish called a Kissing Gouramis. Another reference to an action that looks like "kissing" is jaw locking; a very common form of cichlid aggression.
- What can I keep with a giant Gourami?Answer: Giant Gourami should be completely compatible with Angelfish, Bala Sharks, Clown loaches, Danios, and Rainbow fish.
- Why isn’t my fish eating?Answer: When a fish is first introduced into the tank it will go through a settling in period where it may decide not to eat. If the fish has been in the tank for a while And refuses top eat this may show that it is either being bullied or the water conditions are poor.
- What fish belong in a central American stream aquarium?Answer: Some examples of fish that would be appropriate for this type of biotope aquarium are: convicts, pastel cichlids, longfin cichlids, river goby's and ariidae catfish. Some plants that are indigenous to this location are sword plants, heteranthera, vallisneria.
- Why do I get an electric shock from my aquarium?Answer: If this is the case then turn off all the electrics to the aquarium immediately. There is a loose connection somewhere and some of the electrical tank equipment is not earthed properly. Check all of the wiring or replace any faulty equipment.
- My aquarium is over a radiator, why did my fish die?Answer: Placing an aquarium over a radiator is not a good idea. Water temperature needs to be set at a level the fish are happy with, the radiator will overheat the water, which in turn will stress the fish leading to their death.
- Which aquarium should I choose?Answer: Proper oxygenation of the water has a lot to do with the amount of water surface area. Having a shallow, wide aquarium is a lot more practical than having a tall aquarium with less surface area. When choosing an aquarium it is wiser to purchase one that is rectangular shaped instead of hexagonal. Purchase the largest one you can afford because it is far easier to maintain quality water when you are working with larger qualities. Glass aquariums maintain a cleaner look over longer periods of time so it is the best choice unless you are looking to hold a very large volume of water.
- What do danios need to survive and thrive in an aquarium?Answer: Danios do well in a pH between 6.5 and 7.2, and a water temperature between 64 and 79 degrees Fahrenheit. They enjoy live foods like small insects and worms. They should also be fed algae flakes to help in digestion.
- When do gouramis start building bubble nests?Answer: Gouramis will start to build bubble nests when they reach a size of 2-2.5 inches; this is when they are sexually mature. Bear in mind that this depends on species; Dwarf gouramis grow smaller for example. The answer is valid for Blue/Gold gouramis.
- What fish species are easy to breed?Answer: Live bearers (Guppies, Swordtails, and so on) are the easiest fish to breed. However, most common aquarium fish will breed if and when their ideal water conditions are achieved. Others will if ideal water conditions are achieved and a water change is done.
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.