8 Most Popular Tropical Fish For Beginners & Some unusual ones!

There’s an overwhelming array of tropical fish to choose from when you’re ready to stock your new aquarium. Many are very common species found all over the world in pet stores and aquarium shops. However, so are very unusual and different from all the common species you often see.

In this article we’ll show you a small selection of common and unusual freshwater tropical fish. Many of which are perfect for a home aquarium.

So, what makes a tropical fish good for a beginner?

Well, predominantly just four things.

  1. They should be hardy and able to endure less than perfect conditions.
  2. They should be relatively easy to care for.
  3. They should be peaceful and make good tank mates. (Unless they will be kept solitary)
  4. They should be of a size compatible with your tank.

There are actually many species of fish out there that tick all these boxes, some more well known and popular than others. To help you decide which you may like to keep here is a list of the:

8 Most Common and Uncommon tropical fish for beginners

  • Bristlenose Ancistrus
  • Neon Tetras
  • Firemouth Cichlids
  • Guppies
  • Betta Splenden
  • Danio
  • Cherry Barbs
  • Tiger Oscars

1. Bristlenose Ancistrus

Bristlenose Pleco

Species Profile and Data

Common NamesBristlenose pleco, Bushy Nosed Pleco
Scientific nameAncistrus sp.
OriginsSouth American river beds
Care levelEasy
Beginners FishYes
Ideal FoodVeggie Tables, Flake foods, Algae Strips, Pellets
Water Conditions74-79° F, KH 6-10, pH 6.5-7.4
Max size5"
Ideal purchase size2"
ColorsTan, Orange, White, Brown
Tank Size20 Gallons plus
Idea first fishYes
Jumper No
Tank levelBottom Dweller

Growing up to approximately 5 to 6 inches in length the Bristlenose Ancistrus is not commonly found on lists of great beginner fish. This is not, however, due to difficulty in keeping, but rather aquarium size. Bristlenose Ancistrus, you see, are unsuitable for tanks under 20 to 25 gallons which are the usual beginner’s size.

A bony fish with a wide head and flat body, the Bristlenose Ancistrus is usually brown, black, or grey in color. They are distinctive and easy to recognize due to their tentacle-like branches which sprout from around their faces. They blend in well with most environments and will sit motionless for hours.

Bristlenose Ancistrus make a great beginner fish due to their ease of care. Their only requirements are a balanced and healthy diet including a steady supply of algae, and an aquarium suitable for their size.

Read all about their bigger brothers: Plecostomus Care Guide

2. Neon Tetra

neon tetra names
One of be most loved tropical community fish

Species Profile and Data

Scientific name Paracheirodon innesi
OriginSouth America
Care LevelEasy
Max size1.5"
Tank size 10 Gallons plus
Schooling size 20+ fish
Tank LevelAll levels
Ideal First Fish?Yes, hardy, inexpensive and easy to feed
Jumpers?Yes, buy only when first introduced to the aquarium
Easy to breed?No, not often bred in the home aquarium. Easier to breed in a separate breeding tank
Aquarium DecorWell planted, Bogwood, Rocks and Ornaments.

With over 1.5 million being exported into the US every month the Neon Tetra is one of the most popular species in the hobby. This is not just with beginner fish keepers, although they are ideal, but also with experienced hobbyists.

Small, but incredibly beautiful with their iridescent blue and red horizontal stripes, the Neon Tetra is active and exciting to watch. They should be kept in as large a shoal as possible to avoid them becoming stressed.

Care wise, Neon Tetras require an aquarium of at least 20 gallons for 15 specimens. They have simple dietary needs including a good quality fish flake and treats such as bloodworm and brine shrimp.

Read our fun guide article: 35 Unforgettable Neon Tetras Names

3. Firemouth Cichlid

Firemouth Cichlids are hardy species and perfect for an entry level cichlid

Species Profile and Data

Common NameFiremouth Cichlid
Scientific NameThorichthys meeki
Family Cichlidae
Care level easy-moderate
Ideal FoodsCichlid pellets, Flakes and live foods
Water Conditions72-81° F, KH 4-10, pH 6.0-7.5
Tank size50 Gallons+
Max Size 7-8"
Aquarium DecorWell planted, rocks,caves and driftwood
Jumpers?Only when first introduced to the aquarium or if being bullied by larger fish
BreedingEasy, mouthbrooders

The second of our more unusual choices, the Firemouth Cichlid is a hardy option that is best kept on its own by novices. They are grey to blue in body coloration with red/orange tinges near the gills. It is for this red/orange appearance that the Firemouth Cichlid is named rather than any high aggression.

Relatively friendly, the Firemouth Cichlid can become territorial when breeding. It is for this very reason they are recommended to be kept solo. One specimen will require an aquarium of around 30 gallons in size with the decor being minimal. This is because Firemouth Cichlids are prone to moving things around in their tanks.

Care wise, Firemouth Cichlids are omnivores that will eat flake, live, and frozen foods such as bloodworm and brine shrimp. Given this, and good water quality they will live for up to 8 to 10 years.

Read our Complete Guide To keeping Firemouth Cichlids

4. Guppies

Guppy fish
One of the most popular tropical fish for beginners

Species Profile and Data

Common NamesGuppy
Scientific NamePoecilia reticulata
Care LevelEasy
OriginsAsia and Central America
Size2.5” Max
Tank LevelAll Levels
Tank Size10 Gallons Plus
Water Conditions64-82° F, KH 10-30, pH 5.5-8.0
Ideal FoodFlake foods, live foods, Guppy mini pellets
JumpersOnly when first introduced into the aquarium
ColorsAll available
Availability Good

With their tiny little bodies and long flowing fins in all colors, the Guppy is a fabulous addition to any aquarium. They are active, bustling around in their tank all day long making them great fun to watch.

Guppies are also incredibly easy to care for requiring just a high-quality diet and good water parameters. A small group can be kept in an aquarium of around 10-20 gallons but they do come with some warnings.

A good size aquarium for beginners and an easy one to set up is the Fluval Flex 57L aquarium. Perfect for beginners and Children’s Bedrooms.

Guppies breed prolifically so it can be best to keep them in all-female or male groups. They are also prone to developing bent spines due to inbreeding, so you need to take care when you are purchasing them.

Read Why Guppies Make Great Pets

5. Betta Splenden

Betta tail types
Bettas ( Siamese Fighting Fish ) come in lots of different colors

Species Profile and Data

Scientific NameBetta splendens
Family NameBelontiidae
TemperamentPeaceful-Unless 2 males are being kept together
Care LevelEasy
Color Assorted
Water Conditions75-86° F, KH 0-25, pH 6.0-8.0
Tank LevelSwims at all levels but mid-top mostly
Ideal FoodsBetta colour enhancing Flake foods, mini betta pellets, Live foods
Ideal First Fish?Yes, hardy, inexpensive and easy to feed
CostFrom$5 -$60

The Betta Splenden with its bright colors and fancy tail fins is an incredibly popular choice for new fish keepers. They are easy to care for, take up very little space, and are always entertaining.

Though there are many options when it comes to Bettas, it is best that the inexperienced aquarist keeps just one solitary male. This is due to their feisty nature where they may not play well with other species, and definitely not their own!

A Betta tank should be around 5 gallons and have tall plants or resting spots near the surface. Bettas are a labyrinth fish and need to breathe the surface air. They feed on small pellet and treats such as bloodworm, but should be fasted one day a week to avoid constipation.

Read our Complete Guide To Bettas

6. Danio

zebra danio
(image credits @goodfreephotos.com)

Species Profile and Data

Common NamesZebra Danios
Scientific NameDanio rerio
Family Cyprinidae
Care LevelEasy
Ideal foodsFlake Foods, Brine Shrimps, Bloodworms, Mysis Shrmips
Max Size3"
Tank Size10 Gallons Plus
Good Schooling fish?Perfect fish for Aquascaping tanks and large Schools
Water Conditions 64-75° F, KH 8-12, pH 6.5-7.5
OriginSouth Asia
Jumper?Yes, When first introduced to the aquarium
Ideal First FishYes, hardy and easy to feed and inexpensive
Cost $1.50

As an incredibly hardy fish, the Danio is another popular choice for the beginner aquarist. They come in a variety of species such as Zebra and Giant which all have attractive colors and patterns. They range in size but average at 5 to 7 cm making them suitable for all aquariums.

Care wise the Danio can live in a range of temperatures but they do need to be kept in a school. A 10-gallon aquarium with lid should be sufficient for around 5 of these lovely fish. A lid is needed because Danios like to jump. They will be more than happy to love solely on tropical fish flakes but will also enjoy treats such as bloodworm and brine shrimp.

Read our Aquascaping Fish Guide

7. Cherry Barb

These Inexpensive fish look amazing in large groups

Species Profile and Data

Common NamesCherry Barb
Scientific NamePuntius titteya
Care LevelEasy
Diet Omnivores
Ideal FoodsFlake foods, Brine shrimp, Bloodworms, Mysis Shrimps. Daphnia
ColorsRed, Black, White, Grey
Tank Size20 Gallon Plus
Community fish?Yes
Good Schooling fishThese are perfect Aquascaping and Schooling fish
Water Conditions74-79° F, KH 4-10, pH 6.0-7.0
Recommended DecorWell planted aquariums, Rocks and Driftwood
JumpersYes, When first introduced to the aquarium
Cost$2 each

There can be no doubt at all that it is the bright eye-catching color of the Cherry Barb that makes them so popular as a beginner tropical fish. However, this is not their only plus point. Cherry Barbs are also incredibly active making them fun to keep, and can tolerate large changes in their water parameters.

Cherry Barbs require an aquarium of around 25 gallons and need to be kept in schools of 6 plus. They are easy to care for, growing to around 2 inches in size and can live for 5 to 6 years.

8. Tiger Oscars

Tiger Oscar Tank Mates
These baby fish look cute but be warned, they grow fast and big!

Species Profile and Data

Scientific NameAstronotus Ocellatus
Common NamesVelvet Cichlid, Marble Cichlid, Tiger Cichlid
OriginTropical South America
SociabilityMildly Aggressive
GrowthUp to approximately 16 inch (Usually 12 inch)
Best Foods For OscarsLarger Pellets, Live foods, meaty foods.
Minimum Tank Size55 gallon Minimum
Tank LevelMid - Top
Care LevelEasy - Moderate
Water Parameters74 - 81℉ (23 - 27℃), pH 6 - 8, 5 - 20 dH
BreedingBiparental Substrate Spawner. Easy in the right aquarium
Ideal Beginners FishYes, With caution on tanks size
JumpersNo, they rarely jump out of the aquarium
Availability Good. Most stores sell them
CostFrom $8 for a small 3”- $50 for an adult.

The Oscar has to be the most unusual fish to make it on to this list. They are capable of huge growth, up to 12-14 inches, and do not always play well with other fish. However, kept on their own or in pairs in a large enough aquarium they are easy to care for and fun. They are, believe it or not, the water equivalent of keeping a dog!

Intelligent, capable of learning tricks, and friendly enough to hand feed, the Oscar does have some specific requirements. They need an aquarium of at least 60-70 gallons for one specimen and a balanced omnivorous diet. They also require exceptional maintenance since they are a very messy species. An adult pair will need a 100 Gallon plus aquarium.

There are several varieties of Oscar available including the more popular black with orange markings Tiger Oscar, the Lemon Oscar, and the Albino.

Read our Complete Guide On Tiger Oscars

We can’t leave Coldwater fish out!

Most aquarists get into tropical fish keeping from having coldwater fish. The common Goldfish is the most popular fish sold throughout the world and millions are sold each year.

Black Moors Make Great First Pet Fish

Keeping one of these fish is enough to give you the fish keeping bug and once you have it…. You have it for life, trust me!

Popular Coldwater fish range from the common goldfish to Black moors, Oranda fancy Goldfish to the amazing Koi Carp. Some of which are the most valuable fish on the planet. Some even sell for $1.8 Million dollars. I know right, Crazy! Read why they are worth so much here!

If tropical freshwater fish and Coldwater fish are not your thing. Then read all about the most expensive Saltwater fish in the world. You’ll be blown away by some of the prices they can fetch.

Conclusion: 8 Most Popular and Unusual tropical fish for beginners

Whichever of the above beginner tropical fish you choose we are sure you will not be disappointed. They are all wonderful tank inhabitants that you will not regret keeping. Just be sure before you choose to do a little further research. After all, knowing your stuff is the key ingredient to keeping a happy aquarium.

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