Deciding what fish to get for your new tank can be difficult. There are more species of fish than there are mammals, reptiles and amphibians put together – around 25,000 in fact. A typical shop might have several hundred different species and large shops can have many more. Fish suitable for a beginner should be affordable, hardy, easy to keep with other fish and available in most shops. So here are my top ten.
White Cloud Mountain minnow (Tanichthys albonubes)
These little minnows are ideal as a first fish. Pretty and active – keep them in a small shoal. They don’t get too big and will thrive on flake food. They live in Chinese mountain streams and so can live happily in a tank without a heater.
Platy (Xiphophorous species)
Platies come in a variety of colours and patterns so there’s something for every taste. Platies will nibble on algae when they are hungry, which is all the time. Platies don’t lay eggs like most fish, instead they give birth to little fry, 20 or 30 at a time. Males can sometime harass the females but as females are just as colourful as males you can keep two or three females for every male. Ask the shop to give you the correct mix.
Zebra danio (Danio rerio)
The fish are real live wires and never stop dashing round the surface looking for food. Their horizontal stripes of dark blue and gold make them highly attractive and, because they come from Himalayan streams and rivers, they don’t need a heater.
Cory cats (Corydoras species)
The dwarf armoured catfish of South America make excellent pets for most aquaria. They spend their time grubbing around in the sand looking for food and will eat catfish pellets and any pieces of flake that make it to the bottom. Once a week or so they enjoy a treat of frozen worms (available from most pet shops). There are many species and you should keep 3 or 4 of the same type together.
Dwarf gourami (Trichogaster lalius)
The dwarf gourami (pronounced goo-RAH-may) is one the most colourful of freshwater tropical fish. They live in small pools and ditches in India and Bangladesh. The male has bright blue and red vertical stripes and a pair of feelers which he uses to feel his way round the tank. Females are plainer and are less often sold. It’s fine to keep a single male though.
Recently there have been problems with the quality of fish being sold. Many appear to be prone to ill-health and the preponderance of artificial colour varieties over the natural fish is to be lamented. Make sure your fish are healthy before buying and whenever possible choose the naturally coloured fish.
X-Ray tetra (Pristella maxillaris)
The x-ray tetra comes from the rivers of South America and its red tail and black, white and yellow fins contrasts beautifully with its silver body. A small shoal of these hardy little fish is ideal for a first aquarium.
Checkered barb (Puntius oligolepis)
There are several different species of barbs and one of the best is the little checkered barb. Originally from Sumatra, a small group of these barbs is a delight. Some barbs can nip the fins of tank mates but not these little fellows.
Golden pencilfish (Nannostomus beckfordi)
Another little fish from South America. Golden pencilfish are peaceful and although the males will display to each other they never fight. Keep half a dozen to see them at their best and crush up the flakes into little pieces as they have very small mouths.
Harlequin (Trigonostigma heteromorpha)
A native of South East Asia this is a little cracker. A black wedge on a coppery coloured body set off with red fins makes a small shoal of these a lovely addition to any community aquarium.
Bolivian ram cichlid (Mikrogeophagus altispinosus)
This dwarf cichlid (pronounced SICK-lid) is full of character. It likes to root around in the sand and keeps itself to itself. Keep just one to avoid either fighting (if you have two males) or breeding (when they can become territorial).