Quicklist: Popular Fish For Aquariums
- Neon Tetra
- Cherry Barb
- Pearl Gourami
- Kuhli Loach
- Firemouth Cichlid
- Black Molly
- Lionhead Cichlid
- Royal Pleco
- Tiger Barb
- Red-Tailed Shark
- Cory Catfish
- Harlequin Rasboras
- Marble Hatchetfish
- Upside-Down Catfish
- White Cloud Mountain Minnow
- German Blue Ram
Rearing fish in an aquarium, set up in your home, can be an adventurous and fun-filled hobby as you create your own aquatic world. Having your own fish tank provides a serene and relaxing activity as you watch the colorful charmers swim around and play with each other, bringing life to the room.
Fish are the perfect house guests. They don’t make a mess, stay in one corner and only need to be fed once or twice a day. You might have selected a fish tank and done your research on how to set up an aquarium, but with literally hundreds of species available, choosing the best ones can become a daunting task.
Here we discuss the various types of aquarium fish based on their size, appearance, dietary needs, maintenance requirements, and friendliness level. Whether you are a first-time fish owner or a serious aquarist, these are the top varieties of fish for entertainment and decorative purposes.
Related: Fish Tank Sizes (Charts & Tables) | Different Types of Fish Tanks (Buying Guide) | Different Types of Aquarium Filters for Your Fish Tank | Fish Tank Cleaning Tools for Maintaining a Clean Aquarium in Your Home or Office
Chart for the Most Popular Aquarium Fish
The following chart illustrates the most common types of aquarium fish that are a popular choice among many aquarists.
Easy Care Level – The Best Home Aquarium Fish for Beginners
As is evident by the name, freshwater fish live in a freshwater (not saltwater) environment. The smaller and colorful fish in this category are the go-to option for all levels of aquarists. This is because freshwater fish easily fit in most tanks, get along peacefully with other fish and are generally low-maintenance.
Whether you are a first-time fish owner or an expert aquarist, the following freshwater aquarium fish are the ideal buddies to go for.
There’s no denying that goldfish are the most renowned among aquarists when it comes to tank fish. In fact, they set the stage for fish-keeping from an ornamental viewpoint. While the first record of a goldfish dates as far back as the Jin Dynasty in China (265 – 420 A.D.), today there are over 200 breeds of goldfish that are recognized worldwide. The most celebrated among them includes the common goldfish, the lionhead goldfish (with a fancy hood), the telescope goldfish (with large protruding eyes), the veitail (with an elaborate tail like a flowing veil) and the pompom (short round body with fleshy fins).
Goldfish are generally low-maintenance and easy to keep. They thrive on their own without the need for adding more variety and still make an impressive fish tank due to their colorful appearance.
Also called millionfish or rainbow fish, the guppy is another freshwater fish perfect for aquariums. First found in the natural range in northeast South America, guppies can survive for over a week without being fed at all. They are not very selective in terms of diet and are happy with various fish feeds, such as blood worms, brine shrimp (frozen or live), Daphnia (small aquatic crustaceans called water fleas) or even just regular fish flakes. They come in a wide variety of beautiful color combinations so you can easily choose one that suits your style.
One disadvantage for the amateur aquarist is that guppies love to reproduce. It’s best to stick to either all male or all female guppies in your tank.
Growing up to a length of three centimeters (approximately 1.5 inches) in total, Neon Tetra is a small, attractive fish. Native to the natural water channels of South America, this fine fish features bright colors such an iridescent orange stripe over a shiny silver body. This makes them easy to spot even in blackwater streams despite their miniature size. They have a simple diet and will stay healthy even if fed on basic fish flakes.
Neon Tetra are social creatures that prefer to stay in groups. Buy as many of this species as you want because the larger their group, the happier they will be.
Originating from the east coast of Central America and southern Mexico, Platy is a freshwater fish that is a good choice for an aquarium. They are friendly in nature and will fit in well with other species in the tank so long as they are non-aggressive. Platies are not very demanding when it comes to feeding and will eat most of the different types of flakes or even frozen live foods that can be given every now and then.
Due to selective breeding over the years, Platies are now available in a wide variety of colors and sizes. The most striking ones include the Rainbow Platy which has a splash of glittery indigo and silver scales and deep cobalt blue fins and tail; and the Mickey Mouse Platy that features a black tail on a creamy, golden-white body.
Perfect for beginners, Danios are a hardy aquarium fish that will do well in various environments and be content with plain fish food. These fish are native to the Himalayan region and can grow up to 6.4 centimeters (or 2.5 inches) in length. However, their average size is only 4 centimeters (about 1.5 inches), and they have a lifespan of almost three years if kept under proper conditions. Danios can come in different color combinations, such as light orange horizontal stripes on a sky-blue body. The most popular Danios include the Giant Danios and the Zebra Danios, which gets its name from the black and silver-white lines that resemble the pattern on a zebra.
Danios are active fish so you will love to watch them zap from one corner of the tank to another at a fast speed.
Betta (or the Siamese Fighting Fish) is an exquisite aquarium specimen that shouldn’t be overlooked. In close competition with the common goldfish, the betta is the second most popular fish variety that is an all-time favorite amongst beginner and expert aquarists alike.
Bettas come in an array of different vibrant colors such as intense orange, rich blue, shocking pink and so on. It has become a common practice to sell bettas in small ‘betta bowls’ often in the form of a planter or a centerpiece for tables. However, such vases are not the best fit for these dazzling beauties. Bettas should be housed in a tank with a capacity of at least two gallons of water and have sufficient space to swim around. These creatures prefer live foods but can also be raised on flakes or frozen fish foods. Bettas grow up to three inches long and have a lifespan of approximately three years.
Reaching up to two inches when mature, the Cherry Barb is another low-maintenance fish although they might take a bit longer to settle than most of the other species listed above. This fish got its name due to the fact that it is drenched in a deep, vivid red color from head to tail. Their striking appearance, coupled with their highly energetic nature, gives them a prominent place among the best types of fish for entertainment purposes.
Because they take some time to adapt to new surroundings, it is recommended that you place lots of lively plants and similar items in the tank before placing Cherry Barb in their new home. This gives them plenty of hideouts and provides a good environment where they can adjust at their own pace. This type of aquarium fish can thrive on normal fish food but note that they might not eat at all, initially, in a new place.
Barbs like to stay in schools so you should house at least five together at any given time. Although well liked by aquarists, the Cherry Barb is an endangered fish species and may not be easily found.
Pearl Gourami is a type of fish that belongs to the Anabantoidei or the Gourami family. The family includes various species such as the Mosaic Gourami, Lace Gourami, Diamond Gourami, and the Leeri Gourami. However, out of all the different species, the Pearl Gourami is surely the most attractive of all. Originating from Thailand and Malaysia, this species is hardy and very easy to care for. It can grow up to four or five inches long and has an average lifespan of about four years.
Pearl Gourami is a Labyrinth fish which means that unlike most of the other fish who obtain oxygen from the water, it has a special organ that allows it to breathe air directly. Therefore, no matter what type of aquarium you house them in, the tank must have empty space at the top so that the Gouramis can breathe air. They prefer an algae-based diet but are omnivorous and can also be given worms, brine shrimp and other fish feed. Besides their wonderful colors, you will also love to add Pearl Gouramis to your tank because they can ‘talk’ by making low growling noises, especially during the breeding season.
This type of aquarium fish is truly unique in every sense. Originating from Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, the Kohli Loach is a snake-like fish that closely resembles an eel. It has the ability to adapt to different water conditions as well as mix well with others in the tank. When matured, Kohli Loach can reach a length of about seven to 10 centimeters and live for as long as a decade.
These fish have a sleek and slender body that features deep brown or black vertical segments that alternate with light pink to yellow parts in between. Kohli Loach love to eat fish pellets but are also happy living off the extra feed such as shrimp and worms that have sunken to the bottom of the tank. When keeping Kohli Loach in a community tank, it is important not to keep them with any large species that might mistake them for food. Also, these fish want company, so it’s best to buy them pairs or better yet, in groups of at least three members.
Native to Central America, the Firemouth Cichlid is a freshwater fish that is best suited to large home aquariums. Firemouth got its name from the streaks of intense red color that appear near its mouth and the lower body during breeding season. These fish are an excellent choice for homeowners with a relatively big fish tank as Firemouth can grow to an average length of six inches and prefer to stay in groups. They are not very selective about their diet and can be easily found at various pet stores.
Firemouth are generally easy to look after and mix well with other fish in the tank except during breeding season when they can become quite territorial. It is better to keep them isolated from other species but if you prefer a community tank instead, then make sure that you provide several private places such as upturned plant pots, large rocks or similar items where they can hide whenever they want.
Black Molly is one of the hardiest aquarium fish in the sense that it can thrive in fresh as well as saltwater fish tanks provided that the pH level is adjusted gradually. As the name suggests, this variety of ornamental fish comprises of jet black aquatic vertebrates that usually grow to a standard size of three to four inches long. Black Molly is a passive fish and can live peacefully in a community tank. Its ability to thrive in neutral, brackish as well as salty water is what makes it a popular choice for new fish-keeping hobbyists because it gives them flexibility in setting up a new tank.
Buy Black Mollies of the same gender if you don’t want them to multiply in numbers. Otherwise, it is recommended that you buy them in a ratio of three female for every male molly. Also, note that adult mollies can sometimes prey on the younger ones. Therefore you need to make sure there is sufficient vegetation in the tank where the babies can hide.
The Lionhead Cichlid, which is native to Africa, was so named because of the large hump on the forehead of the male species. These fish can grow to a size of four to five inches, require a minimum tank size of 30 gallons and thrive in moderate temperatures. They have an average lifespan of about seven years. Although Lionheads prefer to stay in pairs, there are usually so loyal that they will remain solitary in case their mate dies. This variety of fish is omnivorous and can handle flake food as well as live foods such as shrimp and worms. They prefer burrowing so make sure there are sufficient hideouts as well as an appropriate substrate in the tank.
Also known as Royal Black, Broken Line Royal Pleco or Royal Panaque, the Royal Pleco is a truly exotic freshwater armored catfish from the Orinoco and Amazon basins of South America. It is a popular choice among aquarists due to its fascinating striped pattern and coloration. Royal Pleco is an herbivorous fish and loves to live off decaying wood and algae growth. If you opt for this fish for your aquarium, then also buy plentiful algae wafers, flakes and pellets as well.
The Cory Catfish is a freshwater species that is found in South America. The Cory Catfish displays a wide variety of body types/colors and range from one to nearly five inches. Its natural body armor (which includes venomous and sharp spines) protects them from predators.
The Cory Catfish is typically found in streams, ponds, marshes, and within larger rivers but prefers a shallow, murky, slow-moving stream. These bottom-dwelling fish are popular aquarium species that require at least a 10-gallon tank. They are non-aggressive, long-living, and adapt well to community tanks.
The Cory Catfish is an active, entertaining, and relatively easy-to-maintain fish for your aquarium.
The Swordtail Fish is found in Mexico and Central America. This species of freshwater fish is recognized among the trendiest fish for an aquarium. The Swordtail Fish has reached the heights of popularity because it is a peaceful swimmer and is quite a hardy fish and, therefore, easy to care for in a minimum 20-gallon tank.
These social omnivores grow to about six inches and can live up to five years. Its unique fin resembles a sword, so hence, the name. However, this caudal fin is only visible in male Swordtail Fish. Most Swordtails are olive green, although diverse breeding across the globe has shown orange, black, and red variations.
The Harlequin Rasboras, also known as the Red Rasbora, is a popular choice for a smaller community aquarium. They are found in water-logged streams and other waterways with low mineral content across Southeast Asia in Thailand, Singapore, and Sumatra, among others. These peaceful, easy-to-care-for fish grow to nearly two inches and offer a vibrant and vivid addition to an aquarium with its reddish-copper metallic colors.
The Harlequin Rasboras has a life expectancy of approximately six years and requires a tank at least 10 gallons in size. These omnivores tend to live as middle-to-top dwellers and prefer to live in schools of up to ten fish.
The Marble Hatchetfish from South America is a peaceful freshwater fish that typically grows to about 1.25 inches. These uniquely shaped carnivores (with a deep belly) can be found in orange, green, and red. The marble Hatchetfish requires a moderate level of care and should be kept in at least a 20-gallon aquarium that is heavily planted, so it offers a place to hide.
These fish are active schoolers and surface eaters. The Marble Hatchetfish requires an aquarium hood to keep them safe because these fish tend to jump out of the water and are known as flying fish.
The Upside-Down Catfish, native to Central Africa, is a favorite freshwater species with low maintenance requirements. Like its name, the Upside-Down Catfish displays quirky and unique behavior. These three-to-four-inch tropical fish mostly swim in an upside-down position, having developed this uniqueness while feeding under floating driftwood.
It is not uncommon for the Upside-Down Catfish to live 15 years. Note that the Upside-Down Catfish ideally requires a 30-gallon tank.
White Cloud Mountain Minnow
The White Cloud Mountain Minnow is indigenous to China’s rivers. The White Cloud offers a beautiful tropical fish for those new to fishkeeping. These dart-shaped omnivores are about 1.5 inches and can live up to seven years in a community tank. The minimum tank size for these recently discovered species (in 1932) is 10 to 12 gallons.
“White Clouds are very peaceful outside of mating season.” Their streamlined bodies are hardy and have the ability to tolerate temperature fluctuations. They prefer to swim in schools of at least five fish and tend to occupy the middle levels of the aquarium.
German Blue Ram
The German Blue Ram is a freshwater fish that is native to river basins in Colombia and Venezuela. The German Blue Ram can grow as long as three inches and is relatively friendly, so it does well in a community aquarium. The German Blue Ram should be kept in an aquarium of at least 20 gallons.
These colorful and beautifully-colored fish require moderate care, so they are not recommended for novice fish keepers. The average German Blue Ram lifespan is two to three years, although some live longer in optimal conditions.
Difficult Care Level – The Best Intermediate-Level Fish for Aquariums
Tiger Barb is an easy fish to care for but not the right choice for everyone. Tiger Barbs swim at high speeds and can be mildly aggressive at times. They tend to nip fish that have flowing fins or feathery tails such as Goldfish. Omnivorous Tiger Barbs prefer slightly acidic water conditions.
Freshwater Angelfish are members of the Cichlid family which means they belong to the same group that other common aquarium fish, like Firemouth and Lionhead, belong to. They come in a wide variety of colors and sizes but contain certain features that are common to all. For instance, all Angelfish have quite a defined triangular shape and pointed fins that complement the shape of their body. Compared to most of the species listed, this type of aquarium fish is relatively difficult to care for. Angelfish can grow to six inches long and require spacious tanks to stay happy. They can do well in community tanks as long as smaller fish are not housed along with them.
Angelfish can live up to 15 years and prefer all types of food including live feed, frozen fish food as well as artificial supplements.
Red Tailed Shark
The Red-Tailed Shark or Fire Tail is an ornamental fish that will look impressive in any fish tank. Native to Thailand, this species comprises of deep black fish that have a dazzling bright red tail. This variety of freshwater fish can reach a size of six inches when mature and live up to 6 years on average.
Red-Tailed Sharks have a moderate care level and are not suitable for first-time fish owners because they require a tank of at least 55 gallons along with an elaborate set-up that must include tropical plants, rocks, caves as well as a well-maintained temperature and water conditions (monitoring pH and oxygen levels).
Discus fish are often called the king of freshwater tanks and for the right reason too. With their intense and spectacular colors they make a magnificent addition to the tank with their rather large size (approximately eight inches when fully grown).
Discus require plenty of attention. They have a lifespan of 15 years but grow at a sluggish pace. They require a planted tank and addition of carbon dioxide from time to time in order to maintain slight acidity as they thrive at a certain pH level (about 6.5). A bare-bottomed tank is often considered as an easy alternative because it is easy to clean and good for Discus babies who otherwise, often get trapped in the gravel.
Koi are best suited for outdoor pools but can be kept indoors if the tank has a capacity of at least 30 gallons. However, the tank must be covered as Koi have a tendency to jump out from the top.
It is believed that Koi have a lifespan of about 50 years and can grow to a massive size of 36 inches – which is obviously rather huge for fish tanks unless you have an enormously large aquarium.
To get the best experience out of the fun and enjoyable hobby that is fish-keeping, narrow down your preferences depending on factors such as the size of the tank, maintenance requirements and so on. Research more about the type of aquarium fish that you like and then dive in.
Frequently Asked Questions
Best Aquarium Fish for Beginners?
Betta, Harlequin Rasbora and Platy are all low-maintenance species perfect for starting an aquarium.
Best Aquarium Fish for Small Tanks?
Neon Tetra, White Cloud Mountain Minnow and Zebra Danio are all ideal candidates to populate miniature worlds.
What is the Most Low-Maintenance Fish?
Many people who want to own a fish also want something that isn’t going to be overly burdensome to them in any way. Here are a few options for those trying to avoid too much pain and strain on their lives:
- Betta Fish
- Fancy Goldfish
Can You Mix Different Fish in a Tank?
Yes, but you need to be EXTREMELY careful about doing so. There are certain types of fish that are very aggressive towards other fish. You don’t want to end up with dead fish in your tank because you didn’t do your research ahead of time.
Likewise, it is a known fact that you shouldn’t put two male Betta fish together because they will fight to the death. If you are uncertain if a type of fish can be mixed with another, ask someone at the pet store for assistance. They will be happy to help you get this sorted out.
How Many Fish Can I Put in a Tank?
This depends on the size of the tank (and the size of the fish). However, a good rule of thumb is that you can have approximately 1 fish for every gallon of water that is in the fish tank. Thus, if you are operating with a 10-gallon tank, you will definitely not want to have more than 8 to 10 fish in the tank at any time. You can get yourself in some serious trouble if you go above and beyond that. They will likely die due to unsanitary conditions and a lack of space.
How do I Choose a Pet Fish?
Most people simply go based on the feelings that they get about one particular fish over another. They choose them based on things such as the color of the fish and similar considerations. There is nothing wrong with looking for a fish based on criteria like this, but you will want to make sure you add your fish to the tank only if you are certain that you can take care of them and that they aren’t going to be harmful to any other fish that you already have in your tank.
Which Fish Don’t Need Filters?
There are several types of fish that don’t require filters. They are able to live in environments that are naturally set up for them without any worries at all. A few examples of fish that do not require a filter include:
- Dwarf Pufferfish
- Guppy Fish
- Betta Fish
If you go with one of these, then you at least won’t have to worry about the filter, and that alone is a big step in the right direction in the minds of a lot of people. They appreciate not having to deal with a filter if it is not absolutely necessary, and these fish just don’t require it.
Which Fish Go Well Together?
You will probably want a mix of different fish to enjoy, and as we covered above, you need to be careful which fish you mix together in a tank. Try mixing guppies, tetras, swordtails, and Danios together if you want to see some fish that can coexist without problems.