The Best Tropical Aquarium Fish for Beginners

If you’re like me, you love looking into the cool glass of a zoo exhibit, ant farm, fish tank, or any other animal cage. There’s something almost psychological about the glass, like peering into another world.

Unfortunately, for people like us, finding the right pet can be difficult, partly because it’s easy to fall in love with every animal, and because a lot of work goes into owning certain pets.

So, how about tropical aquarium fish? Fish seem pretty easy to take care of, and what’s cooler than watching animals underwater?

Well, it turns out the truth is more complex than that, especially when it comes to tropical aquarium fish. That’s not to say there aren’t any tropical fish that are easy to care for, but you might want to do your research. May I suggest starting below, where we have arranged a list of ten different tropical aquarium fish that don’t require too much care.

Bettas

Betta fish, formerly called “Siamese Fighting Fish,” (For those interested in random facts, like me, the country once called Siam by Europeans is now known as Thailand,) is a warm water fish from Southeast Asia.

Bettas get kind of a bad rap for being overly aggressive, the junkyard dog of tropical aquarium fish, but this isn’t totally true. Betta aggression is more common in males and is primarily sexual. Basically, if it’s not another male Betta who might compete against it for mates, they’ll probably leave it alone.

The only real exception to this rule is any fish that tries to bite at its long, colorful fins, which some fish do, so be careful who you house a Betta with.

Kuhli Loach

Also from the warm waters of Southeast Asia is the Kuhli Loach, a striped eel-like tropical aquarium fish that is primarily thought of as a bottom-feeder. Despite the negative ideas associated with the word ‘bottom-feeder,’ they are actually very useful to have in a fish tank.

With them eating all the grime and discarded food left by the other fish, the tank needs to be cleaned less often. These tropical aquarium fish tend to be active at night, though, so give them plenty of places to hide during the day, most preferably plants.

Danios

Danios are docile fish known to keep near the surface. They prefer to live in small schools and are a great way to start off an aquarium.

While all of the tropical aquarium fish on this list are tough enough to withstand a small range of environmental conditions, these may be among the toughest. This is a huge advantage and the reason why Danios should be the first tropical aquarium fish in your tank.

Most of the natural waters of the world are not sterilized, and your tank shouldn’t be either. Most fish are comfortable in more natural environments, and many species can’t survive in purer water.

Danios can tolerate these conditions long enough to help certain algae and bacteria breed so that the water becomes a more stable ecosystem for the fish.

As an added plus, they’ll eat pretty much anything, so most fish foods will be fine.

Tetras

Tetras are a favorite among pet-owners for various reasons, one being that they tend to be very docile.

They’re also quite colorful and known to live in schools, which will definitely make your tank more beautiful.

Tetras are known for their habit of eating just about anything, so feeding is a breeze.

Ideally, tetras should be kept in a tank with a lot of plants, rocks, and other useful hiding places. Because of this, they might make a good tank mate for other ‘shy’ species of tropical aquarium fish.

Swordtails

Another tropical aquarium fish known for traveling in schools, swordtails are largely plant-eaters, though they are capable of eating meat.

Swordtails are known by the long, pointed, silver streak at the bottom of their tail. They have also been known to eat algae, although you should definitely still feed them.

swordtails are also fairly adaptable, being able to survive in cooler or warmer water, although the best temperature for them is mid-seventies to low eighties Fahrenheit.

Guppies

Guppies are a school fish, known for their colorful tails.

They can eat a variety of different fish foods, and can even survive for a week without food.

In guppies, the males can be distinguished from the females by the size and color of the tail. Males generally have much larger, more colorful tails, but are smaller than females.

It’s important to know the difference because guppies breed a lot. In just one litter, a female guppy can have up to 60 babies, and they’re born alive. In fish, giving birth to live young is known as free-swimming.

Most baby guppies won’t survive long if you don’t take special care of them. They’re really tiny, so a lot of other tropical aquarium fish tend to eat them.

Platies

Aside from having one of the most adorable names ever, platies are also very easy to take care of. Not only will they eat most kinds of fish food, but also any algae they find in the tank.

Platies have a history of human interaction, mainly special breeding, which means they come in a wide variety of colors, so a small school of platies can turn your fish tank into a veritable disco.

That being said, platies are also free-swimmers, so you may want to keep only males or females.

White Cloud Mountain Minnows

Native to China and Southeast Asia, the White Cloud Mountain Minnow is a species that is nearly extinct in the wild, though efforts are being made to reintroduce captive minnows to their natural habitat.

This species will eat just about any kind of fish food, and get along with most smaller fish. Some may try to sway you to put them with goldfish, but goldfish have been known to eat them.

White Cloud Mountain Minnows differ from most of the other species on this list in that they are cold-water fish, preferring temperatures no higher than 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

In theory, you could mix warm and cold water fish at a temperature that falls somewhere in the range of both fish’s ideal temperatures, and this would indeed be interesting, but it would probably require a lot of maintenance and might not be worth it overall.

Catfish/Corys/Plecos

Okay, so I technically included three different groups here, but not because it’s a tie. These three species are all bottom-feeders and generally can be relied upon to keep the tank clean.

These species do have some differences, but they all tend to be within the same larger family.

The big difference, mainly between, corys, plecos, and what we would typically think of as catfish mostly have to do with size. Corys are avid cleaners but generally remain the same size. Plecos, on the other hand, may start small, but by the end of their lives, be the size of your forearm.

I know this about plecos from personal experience. I had one that grew from about the size of my pinkie to at least as long as my whole hand. He also managed to jump clear out of the tank once, so make sure to put a sturdy like on your fish tank.

Goldfish

Naturally, we had to include the classic first-time fish on this list.

Goldfish are cold water fish, ultimately preferring temperatures between low 60’s to mid-70’s Fahrenheit.

The biggest tips for keeping these fish is to regularly replace about a tenth of the water, and try to make sure there’s no chlorine in it.

Also, keep them in a bigger tank. Tank size counts a lot for fish, and most of the fish on this list fall between twenty and 50-gallon tanks, though plecos can require 200-gallon tanks.

The reason I mention this for goldfish specifically is that between kids’ shows and county fairs, we’re often presented with the idea of goldfish being fine in a smile space. This is not ideal. Goldfish need a decently large tank so that the water does not get overly dirty.

The Quick Guide to Tropical Aquarium Fish

Starting an aquarium can be pretty taxing, especially if you don’t know what fish to put in. Some fish are a lot harder to take care of than others, so this is an important choice.

The ideal fish is easy to feed and easy for other fish to get along with. It also adapts fairly well to a range of environments.

Some of the best fish that meet these conditions are bettas, kuhli loaches, danios, tetras, sword tails, guppies, platies, white cloud mountain minnows, various types of catfish and goldfish.

A lot of the details of your first tank come down to what you want out of it. Is beauty its primary purpose? Education? Entertainment?

Do you get joy out of watching your tropical aquarium fish just be fish? Don’t worry, it’s not weird. Plan according to your purpose.

If you want any more advice on tropical aquarium fish and aquariums in general, such as design ideas, or just advice on what plants to put in the tank, we’re happy to help. Perhaps you want to go a little more exotic and set up a saltwater aquarium. Whatever your aquarium needs, you can find it on our website.