For newcomers to the aquarium hobby it can be frustrating to read up on what you need to do to take care of your fish, only to watch them decline in health and die shortly after bringing them home. So, in this article I want to go straight into a list of the easiest fish to keep alive in your fish tank.
Controversial one. This is controversial because serious goldfish enthusiasts resent the idea that their favorite fish are presented as “easy to keep” because this means, inevitably, they suffer in poor conditions.
However, the truth is that goldfish are very hardy fish. Contrary to that though is the reality that most goldfish available at big box stores are in extremely poor health by the time you find them. But, if you can find a nice, healthy goldfish or two then you’ll find them to be tolerant of slight imperfections in your husbandry while you learn best practices as a fishkeeper.
Be aware though, that goldfish live a long time and grow quite large. So, the bigger the aquarium, the better. I’m not a fan of saying X fish needs Y aquarium size because that oversimplifies the truth. I have an article on overstocking aquariums that explains this in depth—check it out here.
One last pointer: as a beginner you should avoid fancy goldfish. Fancy goldfish are goldfish that typically have a twin tail mutation, along with an arched back and egg-shaped body. These are deformities that many find aesthetically appealing and as such have been bred for. However, whether you like the look of them or not, they are not ideal for newcomers. Their egg-shaped bodies make them prone to swim bladder issues, and they also cannot compete as easily for food with their more naturally-shaped peers.
So my advice: go for a shubunkin, a comet, or a common goldfish! They make great pets.
The bronze cory is a grand fish! Whenever a newcomer to the hobby asks me what kind of fish they should put in their community tank I always say “get some cories!” and when they ask what to kind to go for I gush to recommend the bronze variety.
While they might not be as visually striking as panda cories or skunk cories, they more than make up for it in hardiness and vigor. They tend to reach a slightly larger size than many other corydoras species, and generally speaking a larger fish is a hardier fish. Furthermore, they have been in the hobby so long that they have been bred in captivity for generations and as such are well-adjusted to a range of pH and hardness values.
And speaking of breeding in captivity—your bronze cories will breed for you! To induce them to breed, provide a good diet and then every now and then do a large water change (over 50%) with cooler water than is in the tank. The corydoras will think it’s the rainy season and get busy laying sticky eggs on your aquarium glass.
Zebra Danios (Zebra Fish)
Zebra danios, also known as zebra fish, are one heck of an aquarium fish.
They might be overlooked because they’re common or “boring” (as if). But, they’re common for a reason: they’re awesome! Zebra danios are fast, lively, bright, interactive and extremely hardy.
They’re so hardy, in fact, that they were the first fish used for genetic modification to become glow fish. But, that wasn’t their first foray into a lab, because they have been used in university laboratories for years!
Zebra danios will make a good mid-upper water schooling fish for your computer tank.
Bristlenose Plecos (Bushynose Plecos)
I just adore bristlenose plecos. They’re tough as nails, breed like crazy, and (especially when young) will keep algae off your aquarium glass.
It’s quite a shame that many pet stores (both big box and independent) sell fish like chinese algae eaters and common plecos as a good option for an algae eater. Because, frankly, the bristlenose pleco is a much better candidate and is very readily available.
Like the bronze cory, if you have a male and female bristlenose and take decent care of them, then they will definitely breed. Well, if they have a cave that is. Some fish can be challenging to breed because of the care the fry require. Whereas, bristlenose pleco breeding is total breeze and buckets of fun to boot. The male guards the eggs and young in a cave, and once the young start to emerge they’re ready to start grazing on the same food as your adults.
I have an article on what to feed bristlenose plecos here, check it out (spoiler: broccoli).
Fish To Avoid!
I’m reluctant to say which fish to avoid as a newcomer, because I’m speaking generally when I point out issues with these fish. So, keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules. Rather, it’s just something I’ve noticed with these fish.
Betta fish (Betta splendens) is one I don’t recommend for newcomers. This is because they’re quite delicate at times. They’re prone to dropsy, torn fins, overeating, poor genetics, and can often come into the fish store in bad shape due to having been shipped from overseas.
Having said that, there are tons of good betta breeders out there who produce extremely healthy fish. Therefore, I recommend going directly to a local breeder.
In times gone by, guppies were known as some of the hardiest fish out there! Unfortunately, in recent years they’ve not been quite as easy to keep. This is typically more common in imported guppies in my experience. This is because many overseas fish farms have taken to breeding and raising guppies in brackish water. Then when we try to keep them in freshwater, naturally, they suffer. Keep in mind, fish stores (local and big box) could be getting their guppies either abroad, nationally, or locally—the only way to be sure is to ask.
How To Pick Out A Healthy Fish
Picking out a healthy fish is easier than you might think. Just look for the “bright” ones. Specifically, look for individuals that are very active and moving around the tank in a natural fashion. Furthermore, look at the fins—are they clamped, are they torn, do they have fungus? If so, avoid! Look for other signs of ill health like are the eyes clear, is the fish too skinny, or does it look bloated compared to its peers?
Even Easy To Keep Fish Take Work
When we talk about “easy fish to keep alive” it’s almost as if we’re implying “hey, you can abuse these fish and they’ll tolerate it.”
Well, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Any fish must be taken care of properly for it to thrive. You must have a healthy colony of beneficial bacteria in your aquarium filter to successfully process the ammonia your fish introduce into nitrite, and then nitrate. You must also do periodic water changes to reduce the concentration of nitrates.
However, life happens and you might miss a water change because of an emergency. Or maybe one day you feed the fish and then, unknowingly, your spouse fed the fish again thereby overfeeding them. These things happen to the best of us. With more delicate fish, it could spell the end, but with hardy fish they’ll probably be okay.