What Is the Best Fish to Keep in a Fish Bowl?

Updated on November 27, 2018

In general most fish bowls do not provide an adequate habitat for most aquarium fish.

Many people consider putting fish in small bowls to be animal cruelty that should be avoided at all costs since there are many challenges that come with a bowl's living environment.

There are, however, several fish that do quite well in a bowl as long they are properly cared for.

Goldfish, one of the more common fish found in fish bowls are not appropriate fish to have in a fishbowl due to their size and the amount of waste they produce.

Bettas do much better in a fishbowl than do Goldfish however they require warmer water which can be difficult to consistently provide in a fishbowl.

Animals I recommend for a smaller tank (more info on this below):

  1. Paradise Fish
  2. Guppies
  3. Endler's Livebearers
  4. Zebra Danios
  5. White Cloud Minnows

Below, I go into detail on:

  • Two common fish that should not be kept in a bowl (the betta and the goldfish)
  • The challenges of keeping fish in a bowl
  • Fish that do well in bowl environments
  • Keeping a healthy aquarium environment

Goldfish: A Poor Choice for a Bowl

What do you feel the minimum size tank or bowl is for one or more goldfish?

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A goldfish kept in a bowl like this is doomed!
A goldfish kept in a bowl like this is doomed! | Source

1. Goldfish

Goldfish have long been considered one of the first choices for fish bowls. In reality, however, it is not a good environment for them.

While goldfish will do well in an unheated tank and are quite hardy, they produce far too much waste for the bio-filtration process to handle in such a small space.

They also grow to be too big for most bowls. Although the size of the tank can stunt the size of the goldfish, this is generally not due to the tank size but rather it is a sign of ill health and of the poor water quality in the bowl.

Most goldfish shouldn't be kept in tanks that are under 20 gallons, and they may even be better suited to small ponds once they reach maturity.

2. Betta

Betta fish
Betta fish

Bettas, sometimes called Siamese fighting fish, are one of the most common tropical fish kept in bowls. Although they can survive in them, a bowl is not ideal for their health.

They get their nickname because males will fight to the death if they are left in a tank together. Females may also suffer the same fate if placed in a tank with a male betta.

Why Bowls Aren't Good for Them

Even though bettas are often seen in very small tanks or containers, they are poor homes for these beautiful fish. Small containers can quickly spike in ammonia and nitrite levels which are toxic to the fish. In the wild when bettas get trapped in small pools they are assisted by tropical rains and natural vegetation which help reduce the amount of toxins found in their water.

Temperature Problems

It is also difficult to maintain a stable temperature for bettas when they are kept in small containers. In the wild, the soil and mild climate of the tropics keep the fish at very stable temperatures both day and night. When kept in captivity, temperatures can change rapidly due to cooling and heating in a home or office.

If a betta is kept in optimal living conditions, it can live a life span of five to seven years and sometimes longer.

Recommended Habitat:

  • 2.5 gallon minimum tank size
  • Aquarium heater (least at 78 degrees F)
  • Places to hide, like plants, rocks, etc.
  • Aquarium light
  • Access to air, since bettas get oxygen from gulping air from the surface of the water
  • A filtration system

More on Bettas

Their Habitat in the Wild

Bettas come from tropical regions of Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia where they inhabit thickly vegetated marshes, slow-moving streams, rice paddies and drainage ditches. These habitats often dry up to some degree in the dry season, leaving the fish temporarily in smaller pools and bodies of water.

Specialized Abilities

Bettas have developed the ability to jump from pool to pool, enabling them to seek larger bodies of water and helping them survive during these drier periods. They also have what is known as a labyrinth organ. This specialized organ helps fish breath air from the surface of the water when water conditions become poorly oxygenated.

Although bettas can survive in these poor conditions, it is not ideal. Bettas prefer large pools or slow-moving rivers with lots of vegetation to hide in. Male bettas are believed to have a territory of at least three square feet in the wild.

Many bettas seem to enjoy small artificial single leaf decorations commonly known as betta hammocks or betta beds.

The betta bed is placed an inch or two below the surface of the water to give the fish a place to rest where it can watch for food and guard its territory.

A Betta Fish in a Well-Planted Fishbowl Alternative

Some Good Choices for Your Bowl

The following is a list of some possible fish bowl pets and how you can keep them healthy.

1. Paradise Fish: An Alternative to Bettas

A beautiful paradise fish displaying nice coloration.
A beautiful paradise fish displaying nice coloration. | Source

If you want a fish similar to a betta for your fishbowl, the paradise fish may be a good alternative.

This fish (macropodus opercularis) is a species of gourami and a close relative of the betta. Male paradise fish can change their coloration as they defend their territory from other males or court females. When these displays occur, the males will often display their finnage in a similar manner as the betta.

Habitat and Food Details

Paradise fish can tolerate a wide range of water conditions. Compared to the betta, they also come from cooler climates, so they can tolerate unheated fish bowls much better than them.

This kind of fish is easy to care for and will accept just about any type of fish food. For best health, they should be served high-protein food.

Example of a pair of Blue Paradise Fish.
Example of a pair of Blue Paradise Fish. | Source

2. Guppies

Guppies are one of the easiest tropical fish available for beginner hobbyists. These beautiful fish come in some amazing color varieties and are quite hardy.

Behavior and Habitat

For best results in a fish bowl, the wild-type feeder guppies are a good choice. These guppies should do well in smaller bowls, adapting to the small living quarters and changing temperatures.

Guppies are a schooling fish and should be kept in small groups. If you don't want any baby fish (fry) you may wish to keep a small group of 3 - 5 males depending on the size of the bowl.

On Breeding

If you wish to breed the guppies, it is helpful to have trios as small as one male and two females. Too few females will result in the females being over courted by the males.

Guppies are not recommended for a fish bowl if you are breeding them. Uncontrolled breeding can quickly lead to overcrowding, leaving them susceptible to disease and sickness.

Albino Yellow Galaxy Guppy
Albino Yellow Galaxy Guppy

Recommended Requirements for Your Guppy Habitat

  • 5-gallon tank (ideal minimum size)
  • Aquarium heater to keep the temperature between 72 and 83 degrees F
  • Aquarium light and hood (provides lighting for viewing the fish and prevents them from jumping out of the tank)
  • A filtration system of appropriate size, depending on the number of fish and size of the tank

A Guppy Giving Birth

3. Endler's Livebearers

Closely related to the guppy, many of the pure Endler's livebearer strains are thought to be extinct in the wild.


These little guys are prolific breeders and have a "wild" and active behavior. Be sure to purchase your Endlers from a reputable dealer if you wish to get pure N Class Endlers.

If you're want a fish that is unique, active and easy to care for, this might be just what you're looking for.


First discovered in Venezuela by Franklyn F. Bond in 1937, most varieties of this fish have somewhat metallic colors. It was the bright green metallic color of the fish that first caught the attention of Dr. John Endler in 1975, the person that they were named after when they were rediscovered.


Care should be taken if you wish to have pure strain Endler's livebearers because they will readily crossbreed with guppies.

Orchid Endler's Livebearer
Orchid Endler's Livebearer | Source

Caring for Endler's Livebearers

Care for Endler's is very similar to guppies. These fish are very active and enjoy schooling in small groups.

Unfortunately, Endler's prefer warmer temperatures than many other small fish, making them a poor choice for unheated fish bowls. Temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit will kill them.

Recommended Minimum Requirements

  • 5-gallon tank (minimum)
  • Aquarium heater (keep the temperature between 72 and 83 degrees)
  • Aquarium light & hood (provides lighting for viewing and prevents fish from jumping out of the tank)
  • A filtration system of appropriate size depending on the number of fish and size of tank

N Class Orchid Endler's Livebearers

4. Zebra Danios

If you're looking for a small, active fish that is easy to take care of, the Zebra Danio is a good choice. They will do quite well in a larger fish bowl even without a heater.

Minimum Requirements for Danio Care

  • The minimum tank size depends on the variety of Danio, however, small varieties can thrive in tanks as small as 2.5 gallons with appropriate filtration
  • A heater is not required, though it is recommended to eliminate fluctuations in water temperature
  • You'll need an appropriate filtration system depending on the number and variety of Danio
  • Tank lighting

They will do quite well in a larger fish bowl even without a heater.

Zebra Danios
Zebra Danios

5. White Cloud Minnows

The White Cloud minnow comes from the streams of the White Cloud Mountains in Southern China.

Once believed to be extinct in the wild, this tiny fish has been rediscovered both in China and Vietnam. Still quite rare in the wild, the White Cloud is considered an endangered species.

This active little fish may be one of the best choices for small tanks because it does best in unheated tanks at temperatures between 64-72 degrees F and is quite hardy.

Recommended Minimum Requirements

  • 10-gallon tank (does best in large schools)
  • Plants and places to hide as well as open spaces to swim
  • Appropriate filtration system
  • Subdued lighting for best color

White Cloud Mountain Minnow
White Cloud Mountain Minnow | Source

6. Other Good Choices

African Dwarf Frog
African Dwarf Frog | Source

There are many other varieties of fish that could be good candidates for smaller tanks such as some types of tetras, platies, pygmy cories, and killies as well as African Dwarf Frogs and some types of shrimp.

Things to Consider for Your Fish Bowl

1. Fish Size

Your fish needs to have enough room to be comfortable in its environment, so you should think about the size of your dream fish in relation to the fish bowl.

In general, the larger the fish, the larger the living space needs to be, and having more than one fish creates a need for even more space.

Large fish such as goldfish can create too much waste for the bowl to handle, causing a problem with ammonia and bacteria.

While size is a huge consideration (no pun intended) there are several other factors that need to be considered before purchasing a fish or deciding on the size of a tank or bowl.


2. The One-Inch-Per-Gallon Rule

The one-inch-per-gallon rule is often misunderstood. It actually applies to the square inches of a fish and not to the length of the fish.

In order for the formula to work properly, the tank must be well-maintained with a good filtration system. In most cases, it should get partial water changes (1/4 - 1/3 of the total volume) every 2 - 4 weeks.

Take guppies, for example. Guppy dimensions are typically 1-1/2" x 1/2" x 1/4", which works out to around 1/5th gallon per fish. Using this rule you would be able to keep approximately 4 - 5 fish per gallon.

This rule does not apply to all fish. For example, a four-inch long goldfish would be approximately 4" x 1-1/2" x 1" or approximately 6 square inches. That would make a 6-gallon tank seem quite reasonable until you consider the amount of waste a typical goldfish produces and how quickly a goldfish can grow.

Have you ever tried to keep Goldfish in a bowl only to have the water go cloudy and have the Goldfish die?

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Monitor the temperature of your tank.
Monitor the temperature of your tank.

3. Temperature

Most fish that you might want to put in a bowl fall in the category of "tropical fish."

Although not all fish that are considered tropical are from the tropics, the majority of tropical fish need to be kept in an environment that stays within a specific temperature range, typically between 70 and 78 F.

This is not true for all tropical species as some require higher temperatures and others require lower ones for the fish to thrive.

While the range is very important, it's also important that the temperature stay consistent. The smaller the tank or bowl, the faster the water temperature changes due to conditions in the room.

Rapid temperature changes can stress fish and make them more susceptible to disease and parasites.

4. Ammonia and Waste: The Danger of Overfeeding

If you keep your fish in an office, avoid the temptation to feed your fish extra food for the weekend.

Healthy fish in a good environment will do much better with no food for two days than they will if you overfeed them.

Overfeeding can result in excessive waste and any leftover food that remains in the tank will cause bacteria to multiply quickly. This may result in the water becoming unsuitable for your fish and you might come into the office on Monday and find cloudy water and a dead fish.

Earlier in this article we asked the question "Have you ever tried to keep Goldfish in a bowl only to have the water go cloudy and have the Goldfish die?".

The likely reason for the water getting cloudy and having the fish die is due to an improperly cycled tank. The video below explains the nitrogen cycle quite well.

Learn About Water and Waste in Fish Tanks

Making sure your tank is properly cycled should help to help prevent the death of your pet fish in the future.

5. Lighting

Lighting is another challenge you may face when using a fish bowl. Improper lighting can result in high water temperatures or unsightly algae blooms.

Here are some tips:

  • Incandescent bulbs produce quite a bit of heat and can make it difficult to control the water temperature.
  • Avoid putting your fish bowl directly in front of a window. Not only will it make it difficult to control the amount of light going into the bowl, but it can also cause fluctuating temperatures that make a poor environment for most tropical fish.
  • There are very few lids with lights available ready-made for fish bowls. The most affordable option is to purchase a bowl that comes with a lid that already has a light. Preferably the lights should be LED. You should also place the bowl where it will get a small amount of outdoor lighting if possible.
  • Remember that too much lighting will create algae issues.

6. Plants

Plastic plants give your tank or bowl a better look and help give your fish places to hide and feel protected.

Live plants, on the other hand, have many more benefits such as helping control the amount of ammonia in the water and providing small amounts of oxygen.

If you choose to use live plants, make sure to get good lighting for them. Too little light and your plants may wither and die. Too much light, however, will cause algae to grow and compete with the plants. It can even promote algae blooms which can cause your water to turn green (though Endler's actually don't mind algae blooms).

Little Turtles, Big Problems

Red-eared Slider
Red-eared Slider | Source

Small water turtles such as red-eared sliders may seem like the perfect pet to keep in your fishbowl. However, these small turtles produce huge amounts of waste very quickly, producing a toxic environment for anything living in the bowl.

Even if you were to be able to keep the bowl clean and prevent problems caused by disease and microorganisms such as bacteria, these little turtles grow large very rapidly. They soon require a much larger home such as an outdoor pond.

A Health Concern for Humans

Water turtles are known to carry salmonella which is potentially dangerous to humans, especially to those who are very young or very old. Even if your water turtle carries salmonella, it may not get sick from this very dangerous form of bacteria. It's a good practice to always wash your hands well with soap and water after handling turtles.

A Danger to the Environment

You may be surprised at how quickly little baby turtles grow up and how big they get. Often people that own water turtles find themselves in a situation where they can no longer care for them. Many of these people are tempted to release their turtles into local ponds or waterways.

However, releasing pet turtles into the wild not only exposes wild animals to dangers such as disease and predation, it is also illegal in most states.

Please consider the long-term consequences of owning one of these cute little guys.

A Well-Planned and Maintained Aquarium

Proper planning prior to buying fish or a tank is one of the first steps to having an easy-to-maintain aquarium with fish that are happy and healthy.

If you've had trouble keeping fish in the past, don't be afraid to try again. Study everything you can about the type or types of fish you are considering purchasing and get the appropriate equipment to help them thrive.

With proper preparation, you may find it's much easier to keep fish than you thought.

Questions & Answers

  • Can shrimp live without plants?

    While shrimp can be kept without plants, it can be more difficult to maintain proper water quality.

    I would recommend trying to maintain the best environment possible to keep the shrimp as healthy as possible.

  • Can Parrot Fish live without an air pump?

    I'm assuming you are talking about a freshwater Parrot Fish or Parrot Cichlid.

    Just about any freshwater fish can live without an air pump. It all depends on how the tank is set up.

    Dry air is mostly nitrogen and contains just over 20% oxygen. The air stones help to increase the oxygen levels in the water. This can help reduce stress and help prevent fish from becoming sick if they become weak due to stress.

    As with all fish providing the proper environment is the key to keeping them healthy. Each species of fish has their own unique needs and preferences.

    Proper tank mates, aquarium size, filtration, temperature, food, water conditions and lighting are all important considerations when selecting any fish.

    Before purchasing any fish proper research should be done so that you are able to give it a proper environment and care. Once the selection is made the tank should be set up long before the fish is purchased so that the aquarium has time to properly cycle and the environment can be optimized for the fish.


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