Best newbie fish for a ten gallon aquarium?
October 8, 2013 4:45 PM   Subscribe

I have a ten gallon aquarium I am soon going to stock with fish and I am looking for advice on what to get.

I have done a lot of reading so I understand the basics of how to maintain an aquarium of this size. I don't need advice on that unless it is specific to the fish you suggest. I have proper heaters, filter, etc and will have the tank cycled before I stock anything. (And yes, I read the advice that says newbies should not go with a ten gallon, but long story there)

I want to have a couple different species for variety but I'm not married to that if you think it is a bad idea for a newb. A single betta is definitely appealing to me too. A lot of the sites I read suggested Pygmy Corys but I have gravel in the tank and the same sites say they seriously prefer sand. I don't want any fish that are likely to cause trouble for each other or breed because I feel like dealing with any of that is beyond my ability to handle at the moment.
posted by Drinky Die to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I can tell you what NOT to get: a goldfish. They are actually a lot higher maintenance than many people think, and a single Goldie will outgrow a 10 gallon tank before you know it.
posted by aecorwin at 4:47 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do not get goldfish, as I learned the hard way.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 4:48 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've always understood that Zebra danios are good fish for beginners, and that's what I've started with when I've had tanks. They're hardy and will help condition your tank, easy to care for, and not usually aggressive. Keep a pair for a few weeks and then gradually add other fish up to what's appropriate for your tank.
posted by sevenless at 4:54 PM on October 8, 2013

Really? Gold fish are high maintenance? Ours lived to be 10+ years old and we fed it daily but that was about it. The tank was full of algae though, because he ate the algae eater. It even survived a suicide attempt, requiring my mom had to leap off the toilet to throw it back into the tank.
posted by carolr at 4:58 PM on October 8, 2013

Response by poster: I can tell you what NOT to get: a goldfish.

Yeah, part of the long story includes polish beer, a ping pong ball tossing game, and a facepalm when coming to terms with my inability to properly care for goldfish long term.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:06 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I'm not sure why people think that Goldfish aren't a good fish for aquarium newbies. Unless you are talking about Feeders I guess, since they just aren't meant to live long. As a kid I had no choice but to become something of an aquarium expert since none of the rental homes we lived in allowed uncaged pets and I remember starting out with Bubble Eyes, Black Moors, and the inevitable Betta-in-a-cup before working my way up to exotics like the Ram Cichlid. Did move on to saltwater fish eventually, but by that time I was creeping up on my teenage years and was much more interested in hanging out on the internet or coffee shops then keeping my aquarium perfect.
posted by mediocre at 5:08 PM on October 8, 2013

White Cloud Mountain Minnows are small and generally forgiving, as are guppies (bonus: they can outbreed mortality rates if they are happy).

Labrynth Fish are probably the hardiest recreational fish out there, though for a 10 gallon tank that probably limits you to a Siamese Fighter (warning: they do not tend to play nice with others of any species).

I would avoid cories, they can be fragile, and they do prefer sand.
posted by smoke at 5:09 PM on October 8, 2013

Goldfish create a lot of ammonia, I had 10 fish in a 10 gallon tank, they all died, I was later told I needed to change the water every other day. Catfish are almost un-killable and easy to catch for free.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2013

I really like neon tetras and cardinal tetras (basically the same) and you can get a small school in a 10 gallon tank and they are easy to take care of as long as you acclimate them slowly (and don't get them from PetCo).

Mollies and guppies are easier. Guppies, especially, but I don't really like them since they breed so quickly and then you're always trying to give them away.

You can also have a single betta fish. It would be very happy in a 10 gallon, with some real or fake plants and a low flow or possibly no filter.

For those who are wondering why goldfish are a bad choice in a 10 gallon: They eat and they poop a lot. It's very easy to make the water conditions unstable if you have goldfish. They also grow very quickly in good conditions. Both fancy and feeder goldfish are bred to be unhealthy, for different reasons. Tanks with algae (depending on algae) are actually *better* because that means your tank is cycled and the nitrates and nitrites are being dealt with, but of course they're not as attractive for the tank.
posted by ethidda at 5:13 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (no more goldfish discussion, plz)
posted by Drinky Die at 5:14 PM on October 8, 2013

Oooh, this is timely, kiddo just asked for fish for his birthday. We were thinking guppies.

From my long-ago childhood, I remember getting neon-colored ones, I think? We also had some kissing fish and those black bug-eyed ones (Mollies?).
posted by emjaybee at 5:14 PM on October 8, 2013

I really like neon tetras and cardinal tetras (basically the same)

My experience has been that cardinals are generally hardier and longer-lived (and they don't succumb to frigging Neon Tetra Disease, grar). They are also a little more expensive, ever so slightly larger.

OP, you can tell the difference between the two because the red on the bottom of a Cardinal covers their whole bottom side, but in a neon tetra it only covers half.
posted by smoke at 5:18 PM on October 8, 2013

Addendum: I just did the metric conversion for 10 gallon; you could probably get 2 dwarf gouramis of some description with that much water. No more than that though. They are beautiful fish, though a little delicate.
posted by smoke at 5:19 PM on October 8, 2013

The happiest, healthiest 10 gallon tank I've ever had was stocked thusly: three female mollies, a snail, and a revolving cast of ghost shrimp. I changed 3 gallons of water every week, cleaned the gravel twice a month, and all was well!
posted by d13t_p3ps1 at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, shrimp are great, red cherries or what have you, and the breed like the dickens, too.
posted by smoke at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's too bad you're not up for a sand substrate. It looks nice (IMO) and I really like my panda corydoras (but they aren't exactly midlevel eyecatching swimmers). I also really liked shrimp, but bettas tend to exterminate these.

I second the dwarf gouramis. They are SO PRETTY. Gosh. Maybe a bit trickier, but bottom-dwellers can be a bit dull.

Please use fishless cycling. No need to use live fish in subpar conditions to cycle a tank these days.
posted by Nyx at 5:33 PM on October 8, 2013

Zebra danios or any sort of tetra are super easy fish. Get at least 5 or 6 so they can school.

Platys are also easy, but they produce shockingly large poops which kinda grossed me out.
posted by gnutron at 5:35 PM on October 8, 2013

Swordtails are well studied and easy to keep alive. They are livebearers so just get ones with the swords (males) if you want no babies.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 5:54 PM on October 8, 2013

I had several "White clouds" and tetras in a tank that size. They were cheerful to watch, easy to maintain, and long lived (nine years on the part of a couple of the tetras.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:05 PM on October 8, 2013

I'm definitely no expert, but every aquarium I ever owned had a single plecostomus. They really help with keeping the tank clean, especially if it gets some sunlight and/or is prone to algae growth. The article says they can get a little aggressive when older, but I've never seen any of my plecos get aggressive with the other fish. Most of my tanks have been a bit larger - 20 or 40 gal - so YMMV, maybe someone can comment on how suitable plecos are for a smaller tank.

I've had good luck with Tetras, Guppies, and the Swordtails I've always enjoyed to give that extra splash of color. I'll second the breeding rates of guppies - you'll usually end up with more than you started if you get a mix of genders. I would also get a few angelfish now and then, and they were pretty but seemed a little more sensitive to their environment than the others - they like it very warm. I wouldn't pair larger angels with small varieties of Tetras (like the cardinals) though.

For a year or two we even had a freshwater lobster. Didn't bother the other fish too much, and being that they were mostly guppies, as morbid as it sounds, it actually helped control the population growth since we had a couple dozen guppies in there. Kept the gravel pretty clean too. The only thing special it required was food - we fed it frozen krill, IIRC.
posted by SquidLips at 7:01 PM on October 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm definitely no expert, but every aquarium I ever owned had a single plecostomus.

Do not get a pleco, they grow to well over 30cm in length and are absolutely unsuitable for anything under six feet long in my opinion - it's not fair to the fish.

People frequently (including pet shops) misname Bristle nose cats as plecos. They are much smaller and one would be suitable for a tank this size (though personally get you get more shrimp for the same biomass).
posted by smoke at 7:24 PM on October 8, 2013

I had 3 female platys (a less showy cousin of swordtails) in different colors and some ghost shrimp for a while. they were pretty easy to take care of. They did not survive a move though :(
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:27 PM on October 8, 2013

My favorite 10 gallon tank recipe is
1 male platy
2 female platys
2 cory catfish
Live plants

Platies are livebearers and will reproduce. Baby fish are cute.

You could also have a betta and gentle fish (no fin-nippers). Platys, white cloud mountain minnows, cardinal tetras, cory cats). You don't want to combine a betta with a gourami or with a fin nipper like a tiger barb. Obviously, you only want one betta in your tank.

10 is a little small for mollies. They will live but they will not reach their full glorious potential.
posted by Ostara at 9:03 PM on October 8, 2013

Seconding the harlequin rasboras. They're a charming and hardy bunch. My experience with gouramis was that they are pretty aggressive, and sort of bastards. One of them ("SpotTheBastard") ate a moon snail and the other fish in the tank... Weirdly I've had good luck with a single betta in with rasboras and neons, as long as no one has a flowing tail or anything the betta might mistake for his own kind, they're pretty laid back. Gouramis are from the same family, and when I had two aquariums next to each other, the betta and the gourami would have stare downs until I realized what was going on and put a paper barrier on the outside of one tank so they couldn't see each other... Love having the shrimp too. They're fun.

As for alge, otocinclus are adorable little catfish. They like a clean tank (in terms of water quality), and it's hard to tell what kind of conditions they're coming in from, sort of fragile initially, but once established they are adorable. I'm really quite fond of otos.

I've got two ten gallons in different rooms, and there's something really nice about having a sort of smallish tank. They're sort of my version of a zen garden...
posted by susanbeeswax at 1:15 AM on October 9, 2013

We had platys and serpae and neons. All the neons died immediately. They others did great, until last week's unfortunate incident. Tip: no matter how much green stuff grows on the tank decorations, don't bleach them.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:10 AM on October 9, 2013

We have several tanks. Our first one was a 30, then a 50 and well, you get the idea...

The hardiest fish and the toughest to kill are guppies. I think that they are probably the most forgiving too.

Male guppies have large colorful tails and look good in the tank. They are calm docile fish. Get a bunch of those, one or two plecos to keep the glass clean and a corycat or two for the bottom. You may be out 10 or 15 dollars for a starter collection of fish.

Once you get your feet wet (lol) and get some experience, you can try some other species.

We moved from those into tetras, rasboras, swordtails, mollies, platy's, bettas, etc. We starting breeding fish that we sell to three local fish stores. Our fish pay for themselves.
posted by Leenie at 9:57 AM on October 9, 2013

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