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Perhaps the most exciting part of setting up a new aquarium is reflecting on all the beautiful fish that you can keep in it. While it is easy to get caught up in colorful and unusual tropical fish like the Chili Rasbora, first-time fishkeepers usually want to start with something less flashy, but hardier and more reliable. Even as you scroll through glamour shots of brightly-colored fins and shimmering tails, prospective aquarists also need to keep one eye on the business side of things, looking at details like ideal water conditions, tank size, diet, environment, and co-habitation needs. To spare you the heartbreak of falling in love with an eye-catching, but fragile, hothouse flower of a fish, this list includes seven breeds that are beautiful, but also easy to care for, even for first-time aquarists.
Sometimes, the conventional wisdom is correct. This is certainly the case with the goldfish, which is in many ways an ideal fish for a first-timer. They thrive in room temperature water and are usually calm community members that do well amongst other fish. Goldfish are also happy with almost any kind of food and a fairly minimalist tank set-up. A goldfish should have a 20-gallon tank with an air filter, pump, and some plants. The primary reason to recommend goldfish to beginners, though, is their general resilience; a well-looked-after goldfish can live as long as 15 years.
Despite their somewhat lackluster reputation, guppies are actually both useful and gorgeous. In the wild, they’re avid devourers of mosquitoes and their larvae and, as pets, they’re available in a wide variety of bright colors and patterns. Because of their small size (usually around two inches in length), they should never be housed with large, predatory, or nippy fish, but they are generally friendly animals who get along well with other fish of their own size. An advantage of their tininess is that they can thrive even in a small five-gallon tank. They are also a relatively hardy fish that can live up to five years with good care.
The term “mollies” actually refers to a number of varieties of the same species, in an array of different colors and sizes. Black mollies are the sturdiest and probably the best bet for a first-timer. While mollies can do well in 10-gallon tanks, they tend to be happier the more space they have. They get along well with other fish, including other mollies, but they are live breeders. This means anyone housing male and female mollies together can expect to get more mollies. For this reason, the number of males living with the females should be limited to reduce stress on the females.
Harlequin rasboras are small (usually less than two inches in length), but they make a big impression with their bright, red bodies. Importantly, harlequin rasboras are a schooling fish, so they should never be kept alone, but instead in groups of about eight to 10. They tend to get along well with other similarly-sized fish, but are small enough that they are likely to get eaten if housed with any large predators. Harlequin rasboras are also unfussy eaters who will go for almost any type of food. Keep in mind that they do need a varied diet to help prevent disease.
A beginner aquarium does not have to be all business and no flash. Angelfish are famous for their striking triangular fin and body shape. They also come in a wide range of beautiful colors, including gold and silver varieties. Angelfish are resilient fish that can survive in a range of water temperatures and are not picky about their food. They are a bit territorial though and can become aggressive when being fed or housed too closely to other fish, especially smaller or nippy species. Additionally, their tall fins require more vertical space in a tank than typically needed for fish of a similar length (about six inches).
Swordtails win the prize not only for the most evocative name, but also most interesting tail (a long-bottom fin). Swordtails are also celebrated for their hardiness. This ability to thrive in any number of environments makes them an excellent beginner fish. They are also a social fish, who will be happiest in groups of four or five, but owners should watch out for males getting aggressive with one another. Swordtails are also very active and love living in larger tanks, though they can make do in a 20-gallon tank, so long as it is covered to prevent any jumping.
Bettas are popular with beginners looking to add a splash of flash to their tanks, and with good reason. The males, especially, are known for their brightly colored and spectacularly flowing fins. They are also relatively hardy, so long as they are kept in warm water, and do well on a diet regularly supplemented with live food. The main concern with bettas, though, is their aggression, especially from males toward other male bettas. For this reason, they are best kept alone, or in groups of females with only one male. They are also decidedly unfriendly toward other species of fish, though some bettas may get along with smaller fish.
Starting a first aquarium is fun, creative, and occasionally exhausting. Choosing which species of fish to populate it with can be perhaps the most overwhelming part of the whole complex process (except maybe for paying the bills). Fortunately, having such a wide variety of fish out there to choose from means everyone can find something that meets their needs, even if their only need is a fish that will survive a few beginner’s mistakes.