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Tropical fish keeping is a great choice of both hobby and first pet for kids. Fishkeeping can help teach children more about the world around us as well as introduce them to having responsibilities.
I myself first fell in love with tropical fish as a young child, although I did not get my first tank until I was in my teenage years. Tropical fishkeeping has been a hobby that has sustained my interest for well over 30 years and has also proved in the long run to be very profitable as well as I breed many of my tropical fish for profit.
In this article I have listed the 22 fish I believe are the best first choice for a children’s aquarium. Some of them can live together, others can not. This article is only intended as an introduction so further reading and research can be carried out.
22 Best Tropical Fish For Children
- Neon Tetras
- Black Mollies
- Bristlenose Plecos
- Fancy Goldfish
- Dwarf Gouramis
- Kuhli Loach
- Tiger Barbs
- Black Neon Tetras
- Harlequin Rasboras
- Albino Corydoras
- Cherry Barbs
- Pearl Gourami
- Silver Tip Tetras
- White Cloud Mountain Minnow
- Endlers Livebearer
- Red Eye Tetra
- Ember Tetras
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, my number one choice of fish for a kid who was just getting into the hobby would be guppies.
Kids love color and if there is one thing guppies have in abundance it is color! Guppies are super colorful, and for that matter available in an almost endless array of colors, they are very hardy and they very easy to breed.
Guppies are also extremely forgiving of new fishkeeper mistakes. If they are overfed, they will probably survive. If a child keeps banging on the glass, they will probably survive. If the water temperature or parameters are not perfect, they will probably survive.
Guppies do not grow very large, making them a good choice for a smaller tank. Male guppies typically reach 0.6″ – 1.4″ (1.5 – 3.5 cm) whereas females normally grow to around 1.2″ – 2.4″ (3.0 – 6.0cm). It is very easy to tell which are the male and which are the female guppies, usually just be looking at how colorful they are (the males usually have more color)
To be successful with guppies you need to feed them a good quality diet, keep their water clean, and treat them quickly if they show any signs of illness or disease.
Platies, like guppies, are peaceful, friendly, and colorful. They also stay small, making them an ideal choice for smaller tanks. Half a dozen Platies in a 5-gallon (19 liters) tank will work really well.
Platies are available in a wide variety of colors including orange, red, blue, yellow, and even ones with markings that look just like Mickey Mouse.
Platies are a livebearing species of fish, which means the females give birth to live, free-swimming baby fish. Having baby fish can be a real eye-opener for kids and introduce them to the world of science and reproduction.
In my experience, there is no better way to get kids interested in fish than introduce them to babies!
Keeping Platies healthy and thriving is simply a case of providing them with good clean water (a small filter like this one from Amazon will be ideal), lots of good quality food, and making sure they don’t produce so many babies they overrun your tank!
3. Neon Tetras
Neon Tetras have been popular in the freshwater fishkeeping hobby ever since they were introduced. Neon Tetras remain small, only growing to around 1.5″ (4.0cm), making them the perfect choice for a small child aquarium.
Neon Tetras boast the most vivid neon blue stripe (hence their common name) which looks stunning in any tank, but especially one with green plants, even if they are fake plants, like these ones!
Because they are so hardy, Neon Tetras are probably the perfect choice for anyone new to fishkeeping, but especially for children. They are very forgiving of new fishkeeper mistakes. Neon Tetras are also very cheap, you will probably only end up spending $10 to $15 dollars for a group of 5 Neon Tetras.
Neon Tetras are active swimmers that spend the majority of their time in the middle section of the aquarium, meaning there is always something for children to look at when they want to see their fish.
4. Black Mollies
Black Mollies are striking fish! I always find it amazing how a fish that is pure black, can seem so colorful when in an aquarium.
Black Mollies are another hardy species of fish, which like so many others on this list, make them ideal for both children and their parents who also might be first-time fishkeepers. Black Mollies are also another species of livebearing fish, but they are not as prolific as others, so there is little danger your tank will become overrun with babies.
A small group of 5 or 6 Black Mollies works really well in a 10-gallon aquarium, and as Black Mollies are so peaceful, they work well with many other species of fish, making them the start of an impressive community set-up.
Black Mollies do not grow very large, which makes them the ideal choice for a small tank. Male Black Mollies grow to about 3.2″ (8 cm) while females reach around 4.8″ (12 cm).
There are also other members of the Molly family that didn’t make this list but would work equally well in a child’s aquarium. These include the Sailfin Mollies, Gold Mollies, and Salt & Pepper Mollies.
5. Bristlenose Plecos
I genuinely believe almost every tropical fish tank on the planet should have a Bristlenose Pleco living in it.
Bristlenose Plecos are hardy, making them an ideal choice for kids, and they are friendly. They also spend much of their day eating algae off the aquarium glass and decorations, reducing the amount of maintenance required to keep the fish tank looking good.
To keep a Bristlnose Pleco happy, you simply need to provide them with a cave to hide in, which is where they will spend a lot of their day, and give them some dedicated food, such as Repashy Community Blend.
Bristlnose Plecos grow to around 5″ (12.5cm) long. They are peaceful fish that mainly keep themselves to themselves. They spend the vast majority of their day either in their cave or stuck to the front of the glass eating algae, which will provide endless entertainment for any child. Britslenose Plecos are one of the best algae eaters in the hobby!
Bristlenose Plecos also come in a range of colors including albino, red, super red, and even green.
Angelfish are probably one of the most instantly recognizable fish, even by those who have never kept them.
Whilst Angelfish do require a slightly larger tank than some of the other suggestions on this list, that extra investment upfront will pay you back dividends over the years as you and your child watch these graceful fish swim back and forth across your tank.
Angelfish are available in a wide range of colors and patterns. They provide the most wonderful movement across a tank, and although you wouldn’t want to put them with very small tank mates, a single Angelfish as a centerpiece fish with a group of tanks mates such as Cardinal Tetras makes a stunning display aquarium.
Angelfish can grow as large as 6″ (15cm), hence the need for a slightly larger tank. They are voracious eaters, so good quality food will be required. The addition of some live or frozen foods will only help enhance their natural colors.
Angelfish are hardy and can be an ideal first fish. They are tricky, although not impossible to breed, meaning it is unlikely your numbers will swell and you are very unlikely to be overrun with baby Angelfish.
Angelfish look stunning when kept with a green background of plants. I have had great success using plants I ordered from WetPlants.com which has a wide selection of aquarium plants for those who might be new to both fish and plant keeping.
7. Fancy Goldfish
OK, so before you say, I thought this was a list of tropical fish, many people do not realize that fancy goldfish actually do better when kept at a slightly warmer temperature than regular goldfish. I currently keep my 2 large Fantails at around 74°F (23.5°C).
Fancy Goldfish have historically been the first fish kept by many people, and when given the correct setup, they are extremely hardy and can live for many, many years.
Fancy Goldfish come in a wide selection of different colors and fin types. From Fantails to Ranchu’s to Lionheads, there is a fancy goldfish to suit every taste.
They do require a slightly larger tank, so a 20-gallon tank should be considered the absolute minimum size, but providing they are given enough space, a good filter, and a proper diet, they make an ideal first fish for a child.
Because Fancy Goldfish are such slow swimmers, unlike common goldfish, they can be kept with some tanks which can tolerate slightly colder temperatures. White Cloud Mountain Minnows, Variatus Platies, and even Guppies can make suitable tank mates.
Betta Fish are extremely popular, both in the USA and around the world. They are well known for their incredible flowing fins and wide range of colors. The Betta Fish is ubiquitous in the hobby.
Bettas are well known for their ability to live in smaller aquariums. Whilst they shouldn’t be kept in anything smaller than a 5-gallon (19 liters) tank, a single specimen in a small desktop aquarium will provide plenty of color and movement.
Bettas make a great choice of first fish for children thanks to their bright colors, constant movement, and inquisitive nature. Bettas will sometimes even follow the point of a laser pointer pen, making them interactive for your child.
Providing you give your Betta a tank with clean water, feed them quality foods and make sure they have a filter that isn’t too powerful, they can make an excellent choice of first fish.
9. Dwarf Gouramis
Dwarf Gouramis aren’t often considered ideal fish for a child’s tank, but in fact, they are a perfect choice. Dwarf Gouramis are colorful and hardy. They are also extremely peaceful.
Dwarf Gouramis are members of the Anabantoidei family, which means, thanks to a special organ, they can breathe air from the surface of their tank. This not only adds a fascinating new dimension to keeping them but also allows them to be more forgiving of poor water quality.
Because Dwarf Gouramis are so peaceful, they make an excellent centerpiece fish for a smaller aquarium. 1 Dwarf Gourami with 10 Neon Tetras is a tank any child will be interested in watching thanks to its bright colors and constant movement.
Other tank mates that work well with a single or pair of Dwarf Gouramis include Guppies, Black Mollies, or Harlequin Rasboras.
Swordtails are a truly amazing species of fish. They are colorful, relatively peaceful, and are easy to keep and breed.
One of the most distinctive features of the Swordtail fish is the extended fin that male Swordtails grow which gives them their common name. In fact, in a group of males growing up together, it is only the most dominant male that will develop the sword-like appendage, giving rise to the common misconception that Swordtails can change gender.
Swordtails are a livebearing species of fish, meaning the females give birth to live, free-swimming baby fish. They are closely related to Mollies, and much of their care requirements are the same as those of Mollies and Platies.
A small group of 4 or 5 Swordtails in a 10 or 15-gallon aquarium will be full of both color and constant movement, making them an ideal choice to keep a young child interested. As a livebearer, your Swordtail population can quickly grow, which adds another dimension to your child’s new hobby.
11. Kuhli Loach
Kuhli Loach are never going to be the star attraction of any fish tank, but they do make a fascinating addition to any small aquarium.
Kuhli Loach have a stripy, eel-like appearance that gives them a very unique appearance. They spend much of the day either tucked away in a hiding place or rooting around in the substrate looking for tasty morsels to eat.
Khuli Loach, are a great addition to a child’s tank due to their incredibly peaceful nature and their ability to ‘clean-up’ uneaten food before it has a chance to spoil the aquarium water.
Kuhli Loach live almost exclusively at the bottom of the tank, meaning they will most probably be occupying a part of the tank where no other fish live. Whilst Kuhli Loach are happy enough living as a solo specimen with other fish, they show their true personality when kept in groups, and the more you keep, the more social they become. I suggest a group of 6 or more if you can.
12. Tiger Barbs
Tiger Barbs are another one of those fish that are instantly recognizable, even by non-fishkeepers. Tiger Barbs have a reputation for being aggressive and fin nippers, but the truth is they are actually very hardy fish that show little to no aggression when kept in large enough groups.
6 to 10 Tiger Barbs in a 20-gallon (75 liters) make a stunning display that will be full of both color and movement, exactly what a child needs to keep their interest.
Tiger Barbs are very hardy fish that will live for many years and can handle the odd mistake a child-fishkeeper might make. Choosing Tiger Barb tank mates wisely also helps prevent any aggression. Neon Tetras, Platies, and Black Mollies all make good tank mates, whereas Angelfish, Dwarf Gouramis, and Guppies should probably all be avoided due to their long-flowing fins.
Tiger Barbs have been selectively bred into a number of different color morphs over the years including Albino Tiger Barbs, Green Tiger Barbs, and even Neon Tiger Barbs.
13. Black Neon Tetras
Although Black Neon Tetras look very similar to regular Neon Tetras, they are actually two separate species.
Black Neon Tetras are almost bulletproof. They are probably one of the hardiest fish in the hobby and can withstand all but the worst fishkeeping blunders. Black Neon Tetras are very peaceful fish that, providing they are kept in a group of 6 or more, will live happily in a small aquarium (10-gallons or more).
The list of suitable tank mates for Black Neon Tetras is almost endless. Guppies, Angelfish, Dwarf Gouramis, Platies, the list goes on. I would suggest any of the fish on this list can safely live in a community tank with Black Neon Tetras.
Black Neon Tetras are omnivores and will eat any good quality flake or small pellet food you offer them. They will also appreciate the addition of live or frozen Bloodworms and Daphnia, both of which will help enhance their natural color.
14. Harlequin Rasboras
Harlequin Rasboras are currently seriously underappreciated in the fishkeeping hobby. I have a large school of them in my 155-gallon (580 liters) aquarium and they spend all day long schooling from one side of the tank and back to the other. The same effect can easily be achieved in a smaller tank.
Harlequin Rasboras are another hardy species of fish that work well in a small tank. I have had success keeping a small group in a 5-gallon tank, but a 10-gallon would be more forgiving.
Harlequin Rasboras are hardy and peaceful. They work well with every other fish in this list and they make an ideal choice for a child fish tank.
15. Albino Corydoras
The Albino Corydoras is an albino form of the ever popular Bronze Corydoras. Corydoras Catfish are famed for their ease of care. Add this to the Albino Corydoras’s unusual color and you have a fish that is ideal for a child’s fish tank.
Albino corydoras are very peaceful and spend almost their entire lives swimming along the bottom of the tank looking for food.
Albino Corydoras like to live in groups with their own kind, so a group of 4 to 6 should be purchased as a minimum. A 10-gallon (38 liters) tank is a minimum size required for a group of Albino Corydoras, but bigger is always better.
Whilst Albino Corydoras are often described as being a clean-up crew, they do still require good water quality, so consider adding a good quality filter to their tank.
16. Cherry Barbs
Cherry Barbs are small, brightly colored members of the Barb family. Cherry Barbs are peaceful fish that are constantly active, swimming round and round the tank all day long.
The Cherry Barbs’ high activity levels mixed with their active nature and hardy disposition make an excellent choice of first fish for a child fish tank.
Cherry Barbs grow to a maximum size of just 2″ (5cm), making them ideal for a smaller aquarium. I recently kept 5 Cherry Barbs in a 5-gallon tank on my desk, and it never failed to catch my attention. Children love both color and movement, and the Cherry Barbs brings both to the table.
17. Pearl Gourami
Much like the Dwarf Gourami mentioned above, Pearl Gouramis are friendly and easy to care for. Their colors are a little more subtle than the Dwarf Gouramis, but when the light catches them at just the right angle, their colors can rival any other fish in the hobby.
In my fish room, I currently keep a large school of Pearl Gouramis, but they work just as well as a solo, centerpiece specimen in a smaller tank.
Pearl Gouramis get along with just about every other fish in this list, and a 10-gallon tank with a single Pearl Gourami as the centerpiece, a dozen Neon Tetras, and a single Bristlenose Pleco will make a stunning setup that is easy for a child to care for and has enough color and movement to hold their attention.
18. Silver Tip Tetras
Silver Tip Tetras are another one of those fish that don’t seem to get the attention they deserve. They are active fish, that require a little more space, so a 20-gallon (76 liters) tank will make an ideal home for them.
Children will love the continuous movement that Silver Tip Tetras bring to a tank. When kept in large enough groups these fish cause a shimmer as they dart from one side of the tank to another in unison.
Silver Tip Tetras are very easy to take care of and their hardy nature means they are very forgiving of those new to the hobby. Feed them well, keep their water clean and Silver Tip Tetras will reward you with a constant show of movement and life!
19. White Cloud Mountain Minnows
Whether you choose regular White Cloud Mountain Minnows, the long-finned version, or even the gold ones, these fish are practically bulletproof and can survive an onslaught of mistakes, especially those made by younger fish keepers.
White Cloud Moiuntain Minnows are equally at home in small tanks as they are in larger ones, and a small group in a 5-gallon (19 liters) tank will work really well.
White Cloud Mountain Minnows are not fussy on food, not fussy about water temperature, and can stand a wide range of water parameters.
Essentially, providing you feed your White Cloud Mountain Minnows and keep them wet, they will thrive for you.
20. Endlers Liverbearer
Endlers Livebearers have always been seen as a poor man’s Guppy. However, these small, brightly colored fish make a wonderful addition to a tank, especially a small one.
Much like the ever-popular Guppy, the males of this species are far more colorful than the females. As their name suggests they are also a livebearing species, meaning the females give birth to live, free-swimming baby fish.
Male Endlers Livebearers come in an astonishing range of colors. Always bright and always friendly, these little fish are extremely easy to care for. They will eat just about any fish food you give them and they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures and water parameters.
Adding some Endlers Livebearers to a child’s tank will bring a whole new world of color, movement, and life to the aquarium.
21. Redeye Tetra
Redeye Tetras are a slightly larger Tetra that originates from the rivers and streams of South America.
These hardy fish do best when kept in a small group, so if you are thinking of setting up a 20-gallon (78 liters) tank or larger, these beautiful fish are worth considering.
The Redeye Tetra is primarily silver in color with black fins and a distinctive red eye which gives them their common name.
22. Ember Tetras
Ember Tetras are true nano fish, which makes them the perfect choice for the smaller tank. A group of 5 or 6 Ember Tetras will be perfectly happy living in a tank as small as just 5-gallon.
These peaceful little fish will eat any good quality flake food or micro pellets (like Fluval Bug Bites). They will happily cohabitate with many other smaller fish, although they may prove a snack for larger fish like a full-grown Angelfish.
Ember Tetras have a bright, orange coloration that gives them their common name. For such small fish, they are hardy and long-lived. I myself have a group that is pushing 4 years old and still going strong.
In my opinion, introducing children to both pet ownership and the realities of life and death is an important part of growing up.
A small fish tank that a child gets to feed and clean and take care of can lead them to a lifelong passion for fish keeping or animal care in general. I can’t recommend it enough