If you are interested in starting an aquarium, or expanding an old one, the number of choices of fish can be overwhelming. This guide profiles the 20 most popular freshwater fish. The life expectancy listed is the common life span of these fish in captivity. With diligence and good care, life spans can be greatly prolonged and your fish may readily exceed these life expectancies. Use this guide as a summary, then head to your local aquarium store.
Neon Tetra. Native to Peru, this little tetra is the most popular aquarium fish. They are a peaceful community fish that does best when kept in small schools of 3 to 5 members. They are easy to feed and will eat most flake foods. Size: approx. 1 inch – life span: up to 10 years.
Angelfish. Native to Central America, these stunning fish are easily identified by their long graceful fins and round bodies. They are a peaceful fish but will maintain a territory. They eat flake and live food and are not difficult to feed. Size: up to 6 inches – life span: up to 10 years.
Bettas. Native to Southeast Asia, these fish are kept for their spectacular display and color of fins in the male. Females are dark and drab by comparison. Males must be kept as solitary fish. However, several females can be kept in one tank. The small jars these fish typically occupy in stores are not adequate permanent housing and they do best in a larger community tank. Bettas eat live and flake foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: up to 5 years.
Kissing Gourami. Native to Thailand and Java, this fish is regarded as mostly peaceful. Their name is derived from the territorial disputes by the males who will lock mouths and give the appearance of kissing. This fish prefers a big tank with stones. This fish readily accepts flake and live foods. Size: 6-8 inches – life span: up to 5 years.
Fantail Guppy. Native to Central America, male guppies are known for their flashy, colorful tails. Females are plain by comparison. This fish tolerates almost any water condition and eats flake and live foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: up to 3 years.
Oscar. Native to South America, the Oscar is generally peaceful but has been known to eat tank mates of smaller size. Oscars can have quite a personality and can quickly recognize strangers. They prefer a tank constructed with rock ledges. This fish likes to dig so live plants will not last. Oscars prefer live food but will eat flakes if started when they’re young. Size: up to 12 inches – life span: up to 10 years.
Mollies. Native to Central America, mollies are a peaceful community fish. Males are larger and have more prominent fins. Mollies are good algae eaters and prefer a tank with live plants. Mollies benefit from the addition of a little aquarium salt to the water, about 1 tablespoon/10 gallons of water and will eat flake and live foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: 1-2 years.
Zebra Danios. Native to Eastern India, danios are active swimmers and can bully other peaceful fish. Females are larger than the males and less colorful. Males have striking blue and silver stripes. These fish are easy to keep and tolerate a wide range of water conditions. They will eat flake and live foods. Size: up to 2 inches – life span: up to 5 years.
Jack Dempsey. Native to Guatemala and Honduras, the Jack Dempsey is an aggressive and territorial fish that is destructive in the aquarium. This fish prefers to have a hiding place and a clay pot on its side works well. Hearty eaters, they will accept a wide variety of live, flake and vegetable food. Size: up to 8 inches – life span: 5-7 years.
Swordtail Platy. Native to Mexico and Guatemala, this fish is probably the most peaceful community fish, often added for their bright red coloration. Males have an extended tail fin or “sword” that distinguishes it from the female. Platys tolerate a wide range of tank conditions and eat flake and vegetable foods. Size: up to 2 inches – life span: 1-2 years.
Plecostomus. Native to Brazil, plecostomus is one of a number of armor-plated catfish. Plecostomus are placid fish content to live alone. They will not harm other fish and are seldom bothered by others. These fish are active at night and prefer a dark place to hide during the day. They are vegetarians, kept commonly because they will eat algae. Size: up to 12 inches – life span: up to 10 years.
Rainbow Fish. Native to Australia and New Guinea, this is an active peaceful schooling fish best kept in numbers from 3 to 5. The males are distinguished from the female by their more intense coloration. They tolerate a wide variety of tank conditions and eat flake and live foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: 1-3 years.
Hatchet Fish. Native to Central and South America, this is a peaceful schooling fish that does best when kept in numbers of 5 to 10. These fish do not do well when kept as individuals. They are a shy species and startle easily, so sudden movements close to the tank may cause them to panic momentarily. They eat flake and live foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: 1-2 years.
Corydoras Catfish. Native to South America, this catfish is unlike some of their solitary cousins. The corydoras catfish swim in schools and like to perch in fast flowing water. They are active during the day and are efficient bottom feeders, keeping debris off the tank floor. They will eat anything that ends up on the floor of the tank. Size: 1.5-2 inches – life span: 1-3 years.
Cichlids. Represented by more than 950 species, cichlids are one of the largest families of fish. Native to Central America, South America and Africa, these fish can be found in many places and habitats, defying a single description of size and tank habit. Common types found in aquarium stores would include Jack Dempseys, Oscars, Firemouths, Acaras and Green Terrors. Depending on the species that appeals to you, tank requirements will vary.
Rasboras. Native to Southeast Asia and Thailand, this is a peaceful, easy-to-keep schooling fish best kept in numbers of 5 to 10. Keep rasboras with other gentle tank mates. They prefer both planted areas for cover and open areas for swimming. They eat flake and live food. Size: 2-7 inches – life span: 1-3 years.
Goldfish. The goldfish is native to China. In contrast to the tropical species, goldfish prefer cooler water so a mix of goldfish and tropical fish often causes problems. Either the goldfish are too warm or the tropicals are too cold. Goldfish are active diggers, so they can be destructive to plants. They will eat most anything offered. Size: 2-14 inches – life span: up to 15 years.
Tiger Barbs. Native to Indonesia, barbs are active schooling fish best kept in numbers from 3 to 5. This fish may harass other members of the tank and each other. Fin-nipping is common. Other barb species are more peaceful but the bright black tiger stripes of this species make it a colorful addition. Barbs eat flake and live foods. Size: up to 3 inches – life span: 1-3 years.
Clown Loach. Native to Indonesia and Borneo, the unusual appearance of the clown loach is one of its appealing features. Gold and black stripes with bright red tails add a lot of color to the aquarium. Loaches are active during the day and can be kept singly or in small groups. They will eat flake or live foods. Size: up to 6 inches – life span: 1-3 years.