5 Best Freshwater Fish for Your Starter Aquarium

Aside from cats and dogs, fish are considered one of the most popular pets around the world. Along with birds, these unassuming underwater creatures are a crowd favourite.

Dogs are known for being man’s best friend, while cats are considered cuddle buddies. What about fish?

For one, they are excellent starter pets that even children can take care of (with adult supervision, of course). Plus, watching fish swim around in their aquarium offers tranquillity and calm to anyone who sees them.

But regardless of why you chose to get fish as pets, you still need to select the right species of fish that is most suited to your level of experience in caring for them.

Here are the five best freshwater fish you should consider for your starter aquarium and some information about their care requirements:

1. White Cloud Minnow

white cloud mountain minnow in planted aquarium

The white cloud minnow is a tiny, colourful fish that is among the most forgiving when it comes to their water quality and temperature needs. They are very hardy and they don’t grow too big, with an average size of about 3.81 centimetres.

Take note that these are shoaling fish species, which means they like to be in groups of six or more. If you keep just one in one tank, it can become timid and end up losing its vibrant hue.

A 10-gallon tank should be enough for them, depending on the number of fish you wish to keep. Take note that white cloud minnows love cold water, so make sure that their aquarium doesn’t get too warm. Keep it between 18 and 22 degrees Celsius.

You shouldn’t have trouble choosing pet products for fish of this species as they are not very picky. Live, flaked, or even frozen, they’ll eat any kind of food they are served.

2. Goldfish

comet goldfish in aquarium

If there’s a fish that’s considered the superstar of fishkeeping, it’s probably goldfish. These are relatively beginner-friendly, though first-time fishkeepers need to be careful when choosing the type of goldfish that they bring home. Some varieties might be more than they can handle.

Good starter goldfish are those with long bodies, like Sarasa, comet, and shubunkin. Fancy goldfish should be left to intermediate to expert fishkeepers.

You can easily spot comet goldfish, thanks to their white, gold, orange, or black colour. They can be quite small in the beginning, but they will eventually grow to as long as 35.56 centimetres or the size of an entire dinner plate.

If you want something smaller, shubunkin and Sarasa are ideal as they only get as long as 20 to 25.4 centimetres maximum.

Whichever you choose, you will need at least a 20-gallon tank (for each fish) – and that’s just to start. You’ll need to get a bigger tank as they get bigger.

Also, take note that goldfish don’t do well when converting to feeds, which explains why they produce more waste than other species. Make sure that you switch them gradually to a pelleted diet as soon as they are big enough.

3. Zebra Danios

zebra danio in aquarium with white gravel

Zebra danios are popular starter fish not only because of their hardiness but also thanks to their attractive appearance. They have a distinctive striped zebra pattern, which gave them their name. They are also known for their peaceful personality and tons of energy that any beginner fishkeeper would love.

These species tend to stay closer to the water surface in the tank.

They are also omnivorous, which means you won’t have to be too selective with what you feed them. Just remember that these fish tend to enjoy fresh vegetable matter and small live or frozen invertebrates.

The best thing about zebra danios is that they’re most comfortable in a school of six or more. You can get as many as your aquarium can accommodate. Just remember that one zebra danio that grows up to five centimetres long will need at least a 10-gallon tank.

This fish is fairly easy to care for, is captive bred, and has fascinating color patterns. This fish is ideal for beginners.

4. Neon Tetras

2 Neon Tetras (Paracheirodon innesi) in aquarium with white gravel

They may be small, but neon tetras – when cared for in groups – are wonderful to look at in your starter aquarium. This is all thanks to their bright hues and vibrant streaks of red and blue.

Like most beginner fishes, neon tetras are easygoing. Because they are tiny, they have minimal impact on the quality of your fish tank water.

These fish start at a length of one centimetre and grow to almost 4 centimetres. They like being in big schools, but you can start with about three to five individual tetras on a planted tank.

Neon tetras can also be bred in captivity. Just watch out for signs of inbreeding, like asymmetrical mouths, misshapen fins, and missing gill covers.

As for their sustenance, your trusted pet food delivery service should have small enough pelleted fish food for these fishes. For those that are very small, you can always substitute with flakes.


male and female guppies in planted aquarium

Another freshwater fish that’s a crowd favourite for beginners is the guppy.

The characteristics and behaviours vary from one fish to another. Guppies come in a wide variety of colours. They are also very hardy and like to eat regular fish flakes, blood worms, and brine shrimp (frozen or live).

When keeping guppies in your tank, one thing you need to learn is how to distinguish genders because they tend to breed a lot. If you plan to keep the males and females in the same tanks, be ready for a lot of guppy babies which are live-born and can live on their own right away.

But if you’re not ready for this, you can just adopt all males or all females, or keep them in separate thanks.

While they may vary in size, most males are smaller (between 1.5 and 3.5 centimetres) than the females (3 to 6 centimetres). Males can also be easily identified because of their colourful stripes, spots, or other markings due to selective breeding, while females have a dull grey hue.

Fishkeeping for Beginners

Fishkeeping is an excellent way to introduce children (and even adults) to the world of pet ownership. But while fish are generally easy to care for, you still need to pick the right species as you begin your fishkeeping journey.


Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet's Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.