Walking into a fish store can be overwhelming. There are sometimes hundreds of fish to choose from. So where do you start? If you’re looking for a fish that’s easy to care for and maintain, we can help you narrow it down.
As a fish owner, I can tell you there’s a lot more that goes into the care of fish than you might think. Life happens, you get busy and those fun little fish tend to take the back burner. If you’re looking for a low-maintenance fish, choose one that’s hardy. Look for a fish that can handle a little overfeeding (because how much is a "pinch," really?) or a little underfeeding (oops). You’ll also want a fish that can stand less-than-frequent water changes, because who has time for that? Finally, you’re going to want a fish that’s peaceful. Take my word on that one — after spending all day keeping my children from killing each other, the last thing I want to do is break up a fish fight.
Not to worry — we won’t leave you high and dry in the fish aisle. We went straight to the experts to find out which fish are the most no-fuss.
According to Nick Saint-Erne, D.V.M., Certified Aquatic Veterinarian, resident PetSmart veterinarian, the easiest and most popular starter fish is the Betta. They’re the only fish that don’t require a filter or heater and can be kept in small bowls. The only real maintenance you’ll face with these guys is a 25 percent water change once a week.
Bettas have gotten a bad rep, as their nickname, "the fighting fish" suggests. While it’s true you can’t house more than one male betta in the same tank, that doesn’t mean they have to live solitary lives. "They can be kept with other similar-sized fish of different species in a larger aquarium," says Saint-Erne.
Tetras are the perfect beginner fish. They are bright, colorful and very active, so they’re a lot of fun to watch. They’re also small, which means you can have several, even if you have a smaller tank. This is good, because tetras do well in schools of at least three to five fish. Fish Tank Kings star and Aquatic Development Manager at Rolf C. Hagen, Francis Yupangco, says tetras can live peacefully with various types of tetras, as well as other community fish. They do require a full tank setup, including a heater and filter, but that’s something you’ll encounter with any tropical fish. Tetras also love heavily-planted tanks, which means you get to have fun picking out lots of those pretty, colorful aquarium plants.
Guppies are gorgeous fish that brighten any tank. "These fish have large, brilliantly colored dorsal fins and are easy to keep," said Yupangco. The male fish have brighter colors and bigger fins, making it easy to tell the males and females apart. It’s a good thing, too. Guppies are prolific breeders, so if you don’t want a huge family of fish on your hands, only choose guppies of the same sex.
"The popular angelfish is not as delicate or difficult to keep as many people think," says Yupangco. They are community fish, and can live with other tropical community fish quite peacefully. They do grow up to 6 inches in length, though, so they shouldn’t be kept in a tank that’s less than 20 gallons. Adult angelfish can sometimes be aggressive, so don’t introduce young, small fish into a tank with a full-grown angelfish.
Goldfish are another easy choice of fish because, unlike most tropical fish, they don’t require heaters. Yupangco warns, though, that once you start a goldfish tank, you’re limiting yourself to only that species. "You should not mix tropical fish like tetras, angelfish or guppies with goldfish. Tropical fish require warm water and an aquarium heater whereas goldfish do not," he says.
Yupangco also cautions that, contrary to popular belief, goldfish do need to be in filtered aquariums. "Goldfish are messy and grow quite large, so having a good filter and a large tank (at least 20 gallons) is essential."
Plecos are far from pretty. In fact, they’re downright ugly. They’re helpful fish to have, though, because they feed on the algae on the sides and bottom of your tank. That’s right, you read that correctly. Plecos help you clean your tank. You’re welcome.
They’re peaceful fish that keep to themselves, but they do feel more comfortable if they have a cave or heavily-planted area where they can hide out. Although they tend to fill up on the fish’s leftovers, you may need to drop in an algae wafer every now and then to supplement their diet.
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