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Your Guide to Beginner Freshwater Aquarium Fish

If you’re just getting started in the aquarium hobby, the sheer number of different fish species you’ll encounter even in a small aquarium store can get pretty overwhelming. Not all of them are going to be easy to keep, but how do you prevent buying a fish that’s a little too challenging for a beginner?

We’ve rounded up five of the best beginner aquarium fish, all of them available in most local aquarium stores.

Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii)

Swordtail aquarium fish

Swordtails are livebearers, cousins of other well-known species like guppies, platies and mollies. You’ll love these lively creatures for your aquarium whether you’re a beginner or not. Their bright oranges, yellows and whites as well as their activity level will really brighten up your aquarium.

Swordtails don’t need much to thrive. They grow to a maximum size of 3” or so. This, combined with their need for plenty of swimming room, means you’ll have to provide an aquarium of at least around 30 gallons. Although these fish are very adaptable they provide relatively hard and basic water.

You can read more about keeping swordtails on our website here.

Panda Corydoras (Corydoras panda)

Panda Corydoras aquarium fish

In order to keep your aquarium looking balanced, it’s a good idea to avoid keeping multiple species in the same water layer. A good option for the lowest water layer would be Corydoras panda, a small armored catfish that spends nearly all of its time on the bottom of the aquarium.

Like swordtails, panda Cories are appreciated by aquarists for their lively behavior. You’ll constantly see these little catfish zooming across the substrate, looking for any leftover tasty morsels or just following the group. Provide them with a sandy substrate to dig around in and make sure you get a group of at least 6 of these fish for maximum enjoyment.

Zebra Danio (Danio rerio)

Zebra Danio aquarium fish

Zebra Danios are a true classic in the aquarium hobby. They’ve been around since the beginning and have never really gone out of vogue since. Not surprising, because they are the perfect combination of beautiful, fun to see and easy to keep happy. Their shimmering zebra stripes (or, in the case of the “Leopard variety”, spots) make for an amazing display.

This coldwater species is a shoaling fish that inhabits the middle water layer. It’ll appreciate being kept in groups of at least 6 specimens. Provide an aquarium of at least 20 gallons in order for the fish to have plenty of swimming room, making sure there’s at least some cover in the form of live plants and other décor.

Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus sp.)

Bristlenose Pleco aquarium fish

A true staple in the aquarium hobby, this “sucker fish” is most likely one you’ve seen in other people’s aquariums. They spend much of their time hanging off the glass, occasionally moving around to eat some tasty algae or biofilm. Fascinating to see, and the species even comes in “fancy” varieties like albino and long-fin.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of fish out there that are quite similar to bristlenose Plecos, but entirely different. Some grow to over a foot in size, so make sure the fish you’re getting is an Ancistrus and not another Pleco species! Also remember that unlike what many people tend to think, this species is not exclusively an algae eater. It’s an omnivore that also needs meaty matter in its diet to stay healthy.

Betta fish (Betta splendens)

Betta splendens aquarium fish

If there’s one fish on this list you’ve most likely already heard of it’s the ever-popular Betta splendens. This little fish is big on both personality and color, making it a great option if you’re looking for a fish you can really bond with. Care requirements shouldn’t be much of a problem with this species. Although they can’t live in little bowls or vases like some sources still like to suggest, setting up an aquarium for them is still not too much of a challenge.

Bettas should always be kept alone, as they’re aggressive towards their own species. A 5 gallon aquarium with a filter and heater is enough for a single specimen. The species isn’t used to open spaces, so provide plenty of hides and resting places in the form of décor and live plants.

Want to know how to get started? Read more about setting up your own Betta fish tank.

Aquarium set-up made easy

With the list above stocking your aquarium shouldn’t be a problem, but how about set-up? If you’re a little weary of going about setting up your tank yourself, don’t worry. We’re a team of aquatic experts always looking to help set up and even maintain some amazing aquariums. Ready for your custom made tank? You can contact us here and we’ll get back to you ASAP

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Marijke Puts

Hey! I'm Marijke, FantaSEA's resident blog writer. I'm a full-time pop science author, part-time PADI diver and snorkeler, and have been keeping fish since I was a kid. When I'm not writing fish care guides, you can usually find me underwater or trying to figure out how to fit more tanks into my house.

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