How to Purchase Freshwater Aquarium Fish

Three Spot Gourami
Three Spot Gourami | Source

Preparing for Your Fish Purchase

Spotting that perfect fish and bringing it home without any preparation is the surest way to make sure the fish doesn't live through the experience.

It is important that you only purchase one or two fish at first, depending on the size, before adding more fish. This will help the nitrogen cycle start to develop.

After a couple of weeks, you can then add another fish and wait for the aquarium to adjust before adding more fish.

Never add more than a couple of fish at a time. This can disrupt the nitrogen cycle creating a deadly environment for your fish.

As a general rule, you should be able to keep 1 inch of fish for every gallon of water if it is properly filtered and aerated. Don't forget to take into consideration the ultimate size your fish will grow to as it matures.

Your fish tank should already have been set up for at least 24 hours (much longer for saltwater) and should have been properly prepared for the type of fish you intend to purchase.

Great starter kits can be found at your local pet supply store. These kits are usually much less expensive than buying the individual parts separately.

At a minimum you will need the following equipment before purchasing your fish:

  • Tank
  • Hood & Light
  • Heater
  • Filter
  • Gravel
  • Fish Food
  • Decorations & Plants
  • Net

Example of a basic aquarium starter kit
Example of a basic aquarium starter kit | Source

Buy Good Healthy Fish

Buy only good strong, healthy fish for your aquarium. Introducing weak or injured fish to your tank can also introduce deadly diseases killing everything in the tank.

Watch for any signs of disease in the tank where you purchase your fish. Any signs of dead fish, white spots (ick), torn fins or patches that look like cotton are all signs of disease that you could be taking home to your own tank.

Compatibility of Aquarium Fish

To ensure the health and well being of your freshwater tropical fish, it is important that you select species that are compatible with each other. Many varieties such as the African Ciclid is known for their aggressiveness and will not get along with other types of fish.

Community Tanks

One of the best ways to ensure compatibility of the fish in your aquarium is to create a community tank. Community tanks are collections of fish that are known to get along and have similar environmental and dietary needs.

The following are some examples of different types of community tanks you may wish to try:

Calico Goldfish
Calico Goldfish | Source

Goldfish Community Tank

One of the easiest community fish tanks you can have is a goldfish community tank. Goldfish can grow to considerable sizes so be sure to take this into considerations when creating a goldfish community tank.

Goldfish should only be kept with other Goldfish or Koi. While you may be able to find fish that can handle the cold water environment that Goldfish enjoy, Goldfish have different dietary needs and my rapidly outgrow other tank mates.

Livebearer Community Tank

A livebearer aquarium can be one of the easiest tanks to set up. Livebearers are usually quite hardy and come in a wide variety of colors.

Your livebearer fish are bred very easily. If you do choose to try to breed your livebearer fish be sure to provide plenty of hiding places for the fry so they don't get eaten and move them to a different tank as soon a possible.

Guppy | Source


Guppies come in a wide variety of colors and have been bred to produce several different types of exotic fin shapes.

Breeding guppies are very easy producing a brood every four to six weeks. Each brood may have several dozen baby fish or fry.

Guppies enjoy eating decaying pieces of aquatic plants so live plants provide an important part of the guppy diet.

Male (top) and female (bottom) Mollies
Male (top) and female (bottom) Mollies | Source


Mollies are very easy to take care of and will do well in a community aquarium with Livebearer fish. Although mollies can live their entire lives with other Livebearer fish, they do best if kept in brackish water.

The additional salt in brackish water helps them maintain a healthier slime coating and lowers stress levels.

Platy | Source


Platies are very easy to take care of and comes in a wide variety of colors. There are even been some unique shaped Platies. Platies, like Molies and Guppies, are very easy to breed.

Under certain circumstances, female Swordtail can change into a fully functioning male.
Under certain circumstances, female Swordtail can change into a fully functioning male. | Source


Swordtails can provide additional interest for your aquarium. Most Swordtails are quite peaceful however they may be aggressive at times. Be sure to have a good lid on your aquarium to prevent them from jumping out.

Male Swordtails have a sword and the females generally don't.

In an aquarium of only female Swordtails, a female Swordtail can actually turn into a fully functional male. Often older female Swordtails will grow a gonopodium (male productive organ) and a sword on its tail.

Bleeding Heart Tetra
Bleeding Heart Tetra | Source

Danio and Tetra Community Aquarium

Danios and Tetras are schooling fish and should have at least three of each species in the aquarium. Both Danios and Tetras are very easy to take care of and usually provide lots of activity for your aquarium.

If given the proper environmental conditions and diet, some Tetras and Danios are fairly easy to breed. Danios and Tetras are egg layers.

Oscar Tank

These cute little guys in the image below can grow to huge sizes. Be prepared to have a huge thank for these hungry Oscars.

Albino Oscar
Albino Oscar | Source

Huge Oscar Gets Aggressive with Owner

Auratus African Cichlid
Auratus African Cichlid | Source
African Cichlid
African Cichlid | Source
African Cichlid
African Cichlid | Source

African Cichlid Tank

If you don't want the cost of a saltwater tank but like the bright colors of saltwater fish, African Cichlids may be the perfect choice for you.

These fish are known for their aggressiveness and won't get along with any other types of fish. They are also known to destroy just about anything in their tank so live plants are not a good choice in African Cichlid tanks.

Jack Dempsey
Jack Dempsey | Source

The Beautifully Colored Jack Dempsey

Named after the 1920s heavy-weight boxer for its love of beating up other tank mates, this South American Cichlid is quite aggressive and is best kept with fish that are similar in size and temperament.

Jack Dempseys can grow to over 12 inches long and require lots of swimming room. Jack Dempseys become much more aggressive if kept in cramped quarters. Provide them with lots of hiding places and don't be surprised if it rearranges the tank d├ęcor from time to time.

If you happen to get a pair, you have a good chance of breading the Jack Dempsey if they are given the proper environmental and dietary considerations.

A Mixed Fish Variety Community Tank

To have a more interesting aquarium, you may wish to mix different species of fish together. Special care must be taken to make sure that all of your fish will get along and that they all have similar dietary and environmental needs.

You should also keep in mind the zone that the fish usually inhabits. Does it like to swim at the top, bottom or in the middle of the aquarium? An ideal aquarium will have all three zones occupied.

Here is an example of some of the fish that you could add to the same tank to get a nice community aquarium if desired:

  • Most Barbs
  • Cory Cat
  • Most Danios
  • Loaches
  • Sharks
  • Swordtails
  • Tetras
  • Rainbow Fish
  • Plecostomus
  • Platies
  • Mollies
  • Most Gouramis

The Boesemani Rainbow is an active schooling fish.
The Boesemani Rainbow is an active schooling fish. | Source

Learn About Your Fish Before You Buy

In any case, learn about the fish you intend to buy before you purchase it. Fish like the Kissing Gourami below look friendly enough in the pet shop but can raise havoc in your tank if placed with the wrong tank mates.

Kissing Gourami
Kissing Gourami | Source
Plecostomus | Source
Chinese Algae Eater
Chinese Algae Eater | Source
Green Cory Cat
Green Cory Cat | Source

Fish That Provide Special Services

Some fish help to keep your aquarium free from algae and excess food such as the Plecostomus and Chinese Algae Eater.

Use caution when purchasing a Chinese Algae Eater, aka Sucker Fish, they can get quite aggressive as they get older. The name Chinese Algae Eater is kind of a misnomer because they don't do that much to clean algae from the tank. They are best for cleaning excess food from the bottom of the tank.

Plecostomus are great at getting rid of algae however they grow rapidly and can soon become unmanageable in a small aquarium.

The Cory Cat does a great job of cleaning the bottom of the tank and will get along with most peaceful fish. The Cory Cat makes a great addition to a peaceful community aquarium.

Ghost Shrimp
Ghost Shrimp | Source

Crabs, Frogs & Shrimp, Oh My!

You may be tempted to get a specialty creature for your aquarium such as a crab, frog or shrimp. Most of these creatures do best in a tank with its own kind.

In the case of the Fiddler Crab (shown below), it will eat just about anything including any fish you try to put in with it.

Ghost Shrimp make good additions to a tank with very small peaceful fish.

Freshwater Fiddler Crab
Freshwater Fiddler Crab | Source

Live or Plastic Aquarium Plants

Plants not only add to the beauty of an aquarium but also gives the fish a place to hide. Some fish like Goldfish will benefit from eating some of the plants you place in your tank.

It is important to know if your fish will be peaceful not only to other fish but also to any plants that you may add to your aquarium.

Some species of fish, like Cichlids, will tear up your plants soon after you place them in the tank. Plastic plants may be a better option in cases where your fish will destroy them too quickly.

Freshwater Aquatic Plants
Freshwater Aquatic Plants | Source

Salt Water Tanks

A great looking saltwater aquarium is a wonder to behold.

As with freshwater aquariums, saltwater tanks require that suitable tank mates be found. This goes not only for the fish but also the other creatures that frequently inhabit a saltwater aquarium.

A great looking saltwater aquarium with Blue Green Chromis.  Blue Green Chromis is an excellent saltwater fish for a beginner.
A great looking saltwater aquarium with Blue Green Chromis. Blue Green Chromis is an excellent saltwater fish for a beginner. | Source

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Comments 14 comments

Emma Harvey profile image

Emma Harvey 3 years ago from Berkshire, UK

Very useful hub. I had goldfish in the past but found they polluted the tank very quickly, meaning cleaning it out all the time.

We were recently given a tank and were advised to get aquarium fish which could live in cooler temperatures and were easy to maintain. We also had to get the tank set up with the right PH level for our area - which was easy but I didn't know! We now have a selection of danios (put in first to establish their new environment) and rosy barbs - as well as 2 sucking loaches to clean the tank!

Your article is full of really useful information and I've learned a lot about keeping fish. Thanks!

Weekend Hobbyist profile image

Weekend Hobbyist 3 years ago

Great hub! I have an african cichlid tank myself. I made the mistake of adding a blue lobster in the tank. I just realized how aggressive these fish can be. I have a nice rock wall so I thought the lobster would be able to hide from them but I was wrong. "Know your fish" before buying! I enjoyed reading - keep up the hobby! Thanks!

christin53 profile image

christin53 3 years ago from UK

This is a really nice and informative hub for beginners. I started out with 3 Platy fish just over a year ago I now have over 20 they are definitely easy to breed.

DzyMsLizzy profile image

DzyMsLizzy 3 years ago from Oakley, CA

When my kids were in school, we tried an aquarium. We had it set up in advance, got the full-on kit--under-gravel filter, light, hood, etc...

It was a disaster from the get-go. The algae-eaters did not do their job, and I was constantly scraping the sides so we could see in; the filter system did not work well, and I had to do the old-fashioned kind in the end, and manually empty and clean the tank from time to time.

The end came when my then-8-year-old daughter decided she was going to "help" and feed the, she pulled out the drawers in the chest the tank was sitting on, to use as a ladder...with 10 gallons of water, the gravel, the aquarium itself, and her added weight on the front of the dresser--over it all went! CRASH! No more fish; ruined wool rug; gravel everywhere, and permanent water stain on the hardwood floor under the rug.

Congratulations on Hub of the Day--this was a very well done article with great photos and clear explanations. (However, that experience finished me on aquaria. I'll stick with my cats from here on out.) ;-)

Voted up, interesting and useful.

flash167 profile image

flash167 3 years ago from Richfield, Utah Author

It's interesting you should mention that. Many years ago we had a pet hamster that we kept in a ten gallon tank.

We had identical twin boys that were very curious so we had to keep the tank up high where they couldn't get to it.

If I recall they were 5 or 6 at the time.

One day they decided they would get a chair and stack other things on it so they could get to the tank. As they tried to get the tank down, one of the twins dropped the tank on the head of the other.

The result was 99 stitches and a nearly sliced off ear.

Fortunately we were able to get good medical attention and there are no signs of any scars at this point.

A fish tank can be dangerous if use for a cage or an aquarium. It didn't finish us with aquariums or using tanks for our pet rodents however we don't keep them up high anymore.

ComfortB profile image

ComfortB 3 years ago from Bonaire, GA, USA

This is a very useful hub. Very well written too. I learned a lot more about fish/aquarium than I ever knew.

Voted up and useful. Will share

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

An interesting look at what fish to purchase for an aquarium that people will find helpful. Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for a well-done hub!

Knightheart profile image

Knightheart 3 years ago from MIssouri, USA

Nice and informative hub. I have had aquariums for many years, mostly community fresh water. I used to have great luck with marble angel fish..actually getting them to lay eggs and breed. But, I have to make a warning about have a plecostomus. Usually they are very small when you get them but the can grow to huge sizes. I had one in my 29 gallon and it when startled, like a light coming on, it went nuts. It broke several submerged heaters and snapped the plastic tubes to my Mag 300 canister filter and outside Whisper Filter. I had to get rid of it since it did so much damage. Glow fish are really nice have and always had a special fondness for cardinal and neon tetras. Oh, another caution is to not use snails. They breed like mad and your glass seems to be covered with eggs all the time. Great hub and SUPER photos of the fish!

flash167 profile image

flash167 3 years ago from Richfield, Utah Author

Your absolutely right Plecostomus do get HUGE! For community tanks I prefer Cory Cats.

I forgot to mention snails, I'll have to edit the Hub to cover snails because they do become a big problem due to the number of eggs they lay.

Good job on getting your Angel Fish to breed! I was fortunately enough to have some Paradise Fish breed. They build a bubble nest like Betas do.

Thanks for the comment, I'm definitely going to add information on snails.

Abbyfitz profile image

Abbyfitz 3 years ago from Florida

Great hub! I'm not an aquarium owner (I'm lazy lol) but I love to watch all the colorful fish. You gave clear instructions that a novice like me could have a great tank in no time!

Weekend Hobbyist profile image

Weekend Hobbyist 3 years ago

I had a problem with keeping snails in my planted tank and the eggs do look terrible. I followed a suggestion of a friend and used assassin snails - well lets just say I had no problem with snails anymore. Rather I had no problem with snails entirely because the assassin snails wiped out the snail population and disappeared as well.

Knightheart profile image

Knightheart 3 years ago from MIssouri, USA

Hey Weekend,

Never heard of assassin snails...sounds like we could use some of those in Congress! The problem politicians would be gone and the others as well, leaving the country in the hands of the people where it should be! LOL

Weekend Hobbyist profile image

Weekend Hobbyist 3 years ago

Hey Knight,

Lol at Congress but think about it, all throughout history there have been people who do that but everything is exactly the same so not a feasible solution.

However here's a link to details about assassin snails if you want to use some in your planted tank:

They have a nice design on their shell so aesthetically they are still a sight to see. Enjoy! - Btw if you're keeping shrimps like red cherrys they are ok to use too. In my experience PH and Nitrates are a bigger killer than these slow little guys.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 3 years ago from malang-indonesia

Very inspiring hub. I love fish and all your tips here. Including all beautiful pictures and the video as well. Thanks for writing and share with us. Voted up!


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