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5 Cool Beginner Fish for Freshwater Aquariums

Updated on January 20, 2013

What's Your Fish Personality

If you've found this article, you are likely shopping around for interesting fish for your home aquarium. As an experienced aquarium keeper, I have enjoyed getting to know the different personalities of each new breed that I've owned. As you ponder your fish choices, consider what you personally enjoy. Do you like a lot of movement in the tank? Do you prefer brightly colored fish? Do you like oddball types of fish that are conversation starters? Stocking fish that are genuinely interesting to you will make fish keeping a rewarding hobby. In my experience, here are some cool fish that are easily kept by beginner aquarist:

Zebrafish a.k.a Zebra Danio

One of the first fish I ever bought was a small school of zebra danios. I had read that danios were hardy and kinda hard for even a beginner to kill. To this day, I consider this to be solid information. I personally have used danio fish to cycle every tank that I've started, only losing one during my very first tank's cycling process. Danio belong to the minnow family and as their name suggests, danio have a striped appearance. They are very active top-level swimmers and do best in groups. I have found that they fight less among themselves when they are in a school with an odd number of fish (buy five instead of four, etc). There are different varieties of zebra danio, including long-fin, GloFish (flourescent/neon colored) and giant. My personal preference is for the giant danio (growing up for 4 inches vs. 1.5''-2'' max size of a regular danio).

Cory Catfish a.k.a. Corydoras

Cory cats are bottom-dwelling, peaceful, hardy fish. At max, they will grow no bigger than about four inches long. Looking at them, they look like little tanks...kinda short and stumpy with armored scales covering their bodies. They are not the most athletic looking fish, but their down-turned mouths are constantly working to keep the bottom of your tank clean. If you have a decent sized tank keep at least 6 to really see their personalities come out. Corys come in a variety of looks...panda, albino, peppered, bronze, Schwartz, skunk and bandit (and that's only naming a few!) Cory cats are super easy going and can be timid when kept singly. Sinking food is a requirement for cory cats when more aggressive tankmates are intercepting all the floating food at the top of the tank.

Senegalus Bichir a.k.a. Polypterus or Dinosaur Eel

Bichirs are often called odd-ball fish because of their elongated look. Their head and body shape reminds one of a snake. However this "snake" has a serrated dorsal fins that covers almost the length of its' back. A pair of small pectoral fins are located just behind its' gills, which the bichir uses for cruising slowly around the tank. Its' eyes always reminds me of the glue on googly eyes we used to use during craft time as a kid. Although their eyes are prominent, their sight is almost non-existent. Since their eyesight is so poor, they find food by smell. This fish is a meat eater so anything it can fit in its' mouth is considered food by them...dead fish, live fish...if it is slow enough to be caught it will be eaten.

These fish gulp air so you will sometimes see them at the surface doing so. This contributes to their escape artist reputation...a tight fitting lid is required since they can survive out of the water by breathing air (at least until they dry out). Senegalus bichir growth varies in captivity and with different varieties, but you should plan for a bottom dweller that can grow to be anywhere from 12 to 20 inches long. Floor space in the tank is a must!

Pictus Catfish

The pictus cat is one sexy catfish! It has a silver and white body with contrasting black, spotted markings. The most interesting feature, however, is its' "whiskers". The pictus' antennae are usually just as long as its' body. They are a peaceful fish but have the typically big mouth of most catfish, so small fish will often become dinner. Whatever it can fit in its' mouth is fair game.

In captivity, these fish grow to about 5-6 inches. They are fast swimmers when they choose to be and prefer a dim tank. Provide these fish with a cave to hang out in or floating plants that will cast shadows when the tank lights are on. The pictus is considered a "scaleless" fish so it can be more susceptible to disease and ammonia only add a pictus to a cycled, well-maintained tank. In a nice, clean tank with stable water chemistry the fish are considered to be pretty hardy. Because of its' long whiskers and serrated fins, it is recommended that you never catch a pictus with a net since it will more than likely become entangled and injured (use a cup or bowl instead).

Dwarf Gouramis

Dwarf gouramis are a peaceful fish with brightly colored striped patterns covering their bodies. They come in a variety of iridescent colors, including blue and red, flame-colored or blue. Their max size is about 2 inches long. Dwarf gourami are labryrinth fish which means that they breath directly from the air, so leave some airspace between the water line and your tank lid. Because of this innovation, the dwarf gourami can also survive in a wider variety of water conditions. They are a docile fish, so do not house them with aggressive fish like cichlids. They do best in heavily planted, peaceful community tanks and prefer to eat flake food and blood worms.

Adding Fish to Your Tank

No matter what fish you choose for your tank, remember these four simple rules:

  • Cycle Your Tank. Allow beneficial bacteria to grow in your tank before fully stocking it. These good bacteria will help keep your future livestock happy and healthy. If you cycle with live fish, remember to do partial water changes every few days to keep your water chemistry in check.
  • Add only 1-2 fish at a time. Don't overwhelm your tanks biological filtration! Adding too many fish at once can increase the bio-load of the tank too fast, leaving the good bacteria that usually eats it away overwhelmed and insufficient.
  • Quarantine your new fish. When adding new fish to your aquarium make sure to first quarantine your new purchases for 1-2 weeks in a separate tank. While the fish are in quarantine, look for symptoms of disease such as ich, etc. If a disease mainfests itself, do not add the new fish to your established tank.
  • Acclimate your purchases. When adding newly purchased fish to your aquarium, be sure to first acclimate it to your tanks conditions. This is often done by floating the new fish in a bag inside your established aquarium. Your aquarium water is added to the bag little by little until the new fish is accustomed to your tank's water temp, nitrate levels, etc (usually a 15-20 minute process).

Following these simple guidelines, you are sure to have a satisfying hobby for years to come.


Submit a Comment
  • philli profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Madison, Alabama

    Thanks a lot for the feedback and thanks for stopping by. I wish you luck with your future fish tank!

  • BkCreative profile image


    6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

    I keep saying I am going to do this. Well your hub has inspired me quite a bit. Hmmmmm. I am seriously thinking about it again. Great list of fish. Love a good list!


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