About Freshwater Fish
Freshwater fish are a popular choice among novice and veteran aquarists alike.
The latter often fall in love with them for their breathtaking patterns and a wide selection of breeds while the former choose them for their resilience and adaptability when compared to their saltwater counterparts.
Because there are so many breeds to choose from, the budding freshwater aquarist may have a hard time finding the fish that is right for their aquarium.
That’s where we come in.
In this article, we’re going to be discussing the most popular freshwater aquarium fish and the benefits of each to guide you towards the one that is most suited to your budget, time, and tank.
- About Freshwater Fish
Here Are Some Of The Most Popular Freshwater Fish
The go-to pet of parents hoping to teach their children some responsibility before introducing a larger pet to the picture, the goldfish is often chosen for its hardiness, but it can be so much more than a starter pet.
If housed in an adequately sized tank – a 20-gallon model is generally suggested – you can expect your goldfish to grow up to 14 inches in length and live for upwards of a decade (the oldest recorded goldfish made it to a staggering 43 years).
Available for only a couple of dollars from most pet stores, goldfish should be high on your list if you’re hoping to stock your tank on a budget.
Because of how easy they are to care for, guppies are almost as popular among novice fishkeepers as goldfish. Their popularity can also be traced back to their vibrant colors and hypnotic tails, which are most commonly seen in males.
It is important to note that guppies, unlike goldfish, are sociable creatures and so should be kept in groups, which may be a problem if you would like to avoid the stress of caring for multiple fish.
If you are happy to proceed, it is recommended that you keep guppies in sets of threes, with one gallon of water per fish.
3. Cory Catfish
If you’re hoping to build a community aquarium as opposed to simply housing a single species in your tank, you should consider purchasing a Cory catfish or two.
Though quite a sociable bunch, Cory catfish are calm and non-confrontational, which makes them the ideal freshwater community fish.
Cory catfish are primarily bottom feeders and so should be fed using sinking pellets. Go with traditional flakes instead and your Cory catfish will likely grow weak, losing each meal to faster and more active fish.
With little goal beyond enjoying its own existence, the killifish is unlikely to start any battles with other fish in your aquarium, so you can be certain of a peaceful tank as long as you keep just one male killifish (they can get quite aggressive when mating season rolls around).
Speaking of mating, the killifish is one of the easiest aquarium fish to breed and requires far less specific conditions than some other species of fish.
Aside from its resilience and the ease with which it can be bred, the great allure of the killifish is its colorfulness. With patterns and colors galore across its 700 species, even the most pedantic of aquarists won’t have trouble finding a killifish to match the color scheme of their tank.
5. Betta Fish (Siamese Fighting Fish)
We know what you’re thinking, but don’t let the name fool you. While male Siamese fighting fish are indeed aggressive towards each other, it is actually quite an agreeable fish when just one male is housed in a tank.
Aquarists hoping to maintain a peaceful tank can add a Siamese fighting fish to their aquarium safe in the knowledge that it will coexist with all other peaceful breeds.
Perhaps because of the negative connotations its name arouses, the Siamese fighting fish is more commonly known as the “betta” in fishkeeping circles.
Many bettas boast flared opercula, which give them a unique appearance regardless of their pattern and makes them impossible to miss in an aquarium. While bettas do enjoy plant food, they are omnivorous and also require animal protein
If you’re up for a challenge, you should consider adding an angelfish or two to your aquarium. Although the angelfish can be difficult to raise and keep, many aquarists argue that its unique body and many color variations make the experience more than worth it.
Much like Siamese fighting fish, angelfish are omnivorous and require a balanced diet of plant and animal food, which can be a challenge to get right if you have no prior experience keeping aquarium fish.
Furthermore, angelfish require a large tank and should have no less than 20 gallons of water to move around in. As it matures, your angelfish may reach up to 6 inches in length, which will be a problem if you have smaller fish in your aquarium as it will be eager to assert its dominance.
7. Neon Tetra
Named for the incandescent blue stripe that runs across its body and renders it visible even in darkness, the neon tetra is a staple of freshwater aquariums and has long been a popular choice among beginners.
Close to 1.5 million neon tetras are imported to the US every month, which is good news for American aquarists as this is a particularly sociable fish. It is suggested that you keep at least five neon tetras in your tank at a time, as smaller groups may feel threatened despite their own peaceful nature.
You won’t have to worry about a group of neon tetras taking up all the space in your aquarium as even when fully grown they rarely exceed 2 centimeters.
8. Cherry Barb
The cherry barb is a relatively easy fish to care for as long as you have an appropriately sized tank. When grown, the typical cherry barb will reach 2 inches in length and will require at least 25 gallons of water.
You should also add some plant displays to your aquarium if you’re considering going with a cherry barb, as it is one of many fish breeds that like to hide themselves away even when not in danger.
If you google a picture of the cherry barb, you’ll find several dozen images of a bright red fish, which, of course, gives the creature its name. It is important to note, however, that the cherry barb is primarily silver in color, with male fish turning cherry red only when spawning.
Although remarkably unfriendly when it comes to its interactions with other species of fish, the oscar can build up quite a positive relationship with humans, with its capacity for what appears to be love being traced back to its superior intelligence when compared to other freshwater tropical fish.
Because of its hostility, the oscar is not suitable for housing in a community aquarium and should be kept only with other Oscars. It is this aggressiveness, combined with its enhanced waste production and frustratingly specific diet, that turns many fishkeepers off the oscar.
Of course, the oscar is not without its charm. Because of its intelligence, the average oscar can be taught to respond to its name and may even learn a few tricks over the course of its two-decade estimated lifespan.
10. Bristlenose Pleco
If you’re considering breeding your fish, you should cross the Bristlenose off your list because it is definitely not what you are looking for.
A species of catfish, the Bristlenose pleco is notoriously challenging to breed, with even the most experienced and dedicated aquarists failing in their attempts to do so.
Read our care guide for the: Bristlenose Pleco
This fish requires little traditional fish food and prefers to feast on the algae that typically develops in a tank, so it can be relied upon to clean the aquarium in which it is housed.
Despite being a bottom feeder, the Bristlenose can actually be quite amusing to observe, owing to its tendency to launch itself through the water (incidentally, do not house a Bristlenose in an open tank).
11. Zebra Danio
Much like the Bristlenose pleco, the zebra danio is known to jump and so should not be kept in an open tank. Thankfully, that’s where the specific requirements end with this species of fish.
The zebra danio is one of the easiest breeds of freshwater fish to care for and can flourish in a number of water conditions. Rarely exceeding 7 centimeters in length, a zebra danio requires only 10 gallons of water and can be sustained on generic flakes.
It should be pointed out, however, that zebra danios like to travel in groups and can become stressed to the point of ill-health if kept alone.
Much like the zebra danio, the platy is a community fish and prefers to travel in groups of five, although it feels safer in larger groups. But despite the fact it calls for a large group, the platy can live a happy life in just 10 gallons of water.
Furthering its similarities to the zebra danio, the platy is visually pleasing, with some arguing it is more interesting to look at than its predecessor and, indeed, the vast majority of aquarium fish.
This is because platies are not limited to a single color or pattern. Platies are a peaceful bunch and get on particularly well with other small breeds of fish. They can be fed both plant and animal foods, although they generally prefer the former.
Mollies are a community fish and actually get on quite well with platies. Mollies can grow quite large and often end up pushing 5 inches in adulthood, so you should house yours in a tank of over 20 gallons (although 20 gallons alone should be enough if you’re keeping only a small group).
If you’re considering breeding, mollies are worth looking at as they are arguably the best fish for doing so in fresh water. That being said, mollies may be a little too eager to breed, so if you aren’t ready to commit to raising several you should only choose one for your tank.
The discus is a breathtaking fish but has very specific needs which can rarely be met by the beginner aquarist. You should only consider adding one to your tank if you have at least a year of experience under your belt.
The discus requires a premium-grade tank of at least 25 gallons and can grow up to 20 centimeters when properly housed and fed an adequate diet.
That adequate diet is primarily composed of beef heart and blood worms (yum), but you should also throw some flakes in there for additional nutrients.
15. Pearl Gourami
Hydra is a freshwater polyp that enters aquariums with little goal beyond killing fry and smaller fish. In order to combat hydra, many aquarists stock their tanks with a pearl gourami.
Pearl gourami feast on hydra and are unaffected by its venom, which allows them to protect the fish with which they share their tank. When not doing battle with the pest, pearl gourami is quite peaceful and can be safely housed in community aquariums.
It is important to note, however, that this fish can get pretty big and requires a tank of at least 30 gallons, along with low lighting and plenty of space for hiding.
Photo Credit: Greyloch
Despite its vibrant colors and relative hardiness, the rainbowfish rarely pops up in aquariums and should only be expected to be seen in the tank of particularly dedicated aquarists.
Despite its lack of popularity, the rainbowfish is quite a sociable creature and gets on well with other peaceful fish, so it can be safely housed in a community aquarium.
Should you decide to purchase a rainbow fish, you should be mindful of the fact that they only begin to show their colors as they enter adulthood, so you have more to gain in the long run from going with a pale rainbowfish than you do from choosing the most beautiful one you can find.
17. Green Swordtail
Despite their name, green swordtails are peaceful fish and avoid confrontation whenever possible. In fact, they seem to actively participate in friendships with other breeds of fish and so can be expected to adapt to and thrive in your community aquarium.
Green swordtails get on particularly well with platies and the two species are so closely related that they can crossbreed.
The green swordtail is a good choice if you are new to fishkeeping as they can survive in a variety of conditions and can easily withstand the most common mistakes made by inexperienced hobbyists.
Final Thoughts About Freshwater Fish
It is impossible to name any of the above freshwater fish as the absolute best as each comes with its own unique set of pros and cons. Instead, your concern should be establishing which of the aforementioned species is best-suited to your needs and preferences.
It is important that you choose a fish that matches your level of experience. Although a novice fishkeeper may wish to stock their tank with a discus, doing so would be irresponsible.
If you’re a beginner fishkeeper, our advice is to start out with a fish that is less demanding – perhaps a neon tetra or a guppy – and work your way up to the more challenging breeds.