The world is full of many beautiful and fascinating tropical fish. There are hundreds of different species and strains of tropical fish that can invoke a tranquil beauty to the aquarium or appeal to our natural curiosity of nature. Many species also have unusual behaviors that make them worthy additions to our homes. But there are fewer species that make great “pet” fish. It is important to note precisely what is meant by a “pet” fish. The simplest definition is a fish that is worthy of getting its own nickname. We are talking about those fish with names like Mr. Bubbles, Spot, Finny McWhiskers, etc. The fish that have gone from being a piece of living art or curiosity to the same level as that of the family dog or cat; these are truly “pet” fish.
This list is not all encompassing; there are many other honorable mentions and probably some that were missed, but most aquarists who have kept these species will agree that they are all “name worthy”.
10. Freshwater Angelfish (Pterophyllum scalare)
One of the most recognized of all tropical fish, the angelfish with their extended fins and round bodies, convey a stately grace to the aquarium. Often purchased at body sizes around a quarter to a half dollar, these fish can grow to a 3-4” diameter and fins that can make them over a foot tall. While they may not be name-worthy when kept in a large group in a large tank, a pair alone in a smaller aquarium or as part of the community will often get a name. They also have a great personality; they will come to the front of the aquarium to greet their keepers and even interact with each other. Angelfish are members of the cichlid family, more of which will also appear on this list.
9. Fancy Guppies (Poecilia sp.)
Another of the classic aquarium species, the guppy, has been part of the aquarium hobby for over 100 years. Today, there are many different fin and color strains that have been selectively bred for many generations. While an aquarium with dozens of fancy guppies can be beautiful, most people only keep a few at a time in which then they are likely to earn their name. Their constant swimming behavior, gregarious nature, and bright colors will endear them to many hobbyists. Many strains produce uniquely colored individuals which can make for quick recognition of particular fish, a trait that is very important for “naming”. Their active swimming can take up a lot of energy. A good flake food like Aqueon Tropical Flakes can be supplemented with a small pellet like Aqueon Revitanew that contains extra fat, protein, and vitamins to help restore vitality.
8. Mollies (Poecilia sp.)
A member of the same genus as the guppy, the mollies are another good pet species for beginners. One of the first fish many hobbyists have ever kept were black mollies. The males with their sail like dorsal fin and the females that give birth to live young that are miniature versions of the adults, have made this species extremely popular over the years. The young are large for a livebearer and can immediately take finely crushed Aqueon Tropical Flake food after birth. Their active behavior and social activity with each other and their humans make them nameworthy. Mollies are herbivores by nature and will do well on a diet of Aqueon Pro Herbivore pellet and will graze on Aqueon Algae Rounds, as well.
7. Tiger Barbs (Puntigrus tetrazona)
Tiger barbs are another one of those species that often endear themselves to their human keepers. The small but pugnacious little fish are often right at the front glass whenever a person passes by and exhibit just the right blend of active swimming and stately grace. They fall somewhere between the hyperactivity of a danio and the stoic patience of an angelfish. If not for the fact that they do best in small groups and can be hard to pick out an individual from it, they would be higher on the list. Care should be taken with this species that they do not nip the fins of other smaller or more vulnerable fish.
6. Oscars (Astronotus ocellatus)
The second cichlid on the list, the Oscar, is one of the most popular, and intelligent of all aquarium fish. They have been trained to do simple tricks and have shown remarkable amounts of problem solving and behavior that can be interpreted as emotions. Oscars often eagerly greet their humans and have been known to “sulk” when their caregiver is not around. If not for their large size (Oscars can get over 12” long), they would probably be the number one pet fish. Do not even consider acquiring this fish unless you have a minimum of a 75-gallon aquarium (although a 125-gallon is much better). Many hobbyists choose to feed their Oscars feeder goldfish. Besides being very expensive, feeder goldfish can often introduce disease and are not healthy for the Oscar. It is far more economical and better for the Oscar to feed it a balanced diet of pellet and freeze-dried foods like Aqueon Cichlid Pellets and Aqueon Monster Fish Medley.
5. Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
The only marine species on this list, the Ocellaris or Common Clownfish, is an instantly recognizable aquarium species. Often just called “Nemo” after the animated movie character, Clownfish have become the most widely kept marine species. Today, most are captive raised and there are many different color forms available. As a marine species, they require specialized aquaria and more care than the typical freshwater community tank, but it is not difficult. A small marine tank like the Coralife Biocube in a house with small children means it’s almost a must to have a clownfish as part of it. Read this blog to help get started with keeping a saltwater aquarium.
4. Convict Cichlids (Amatitlania nigrofasciata)
Another cichlid is the small but pugnacious Convict Cichlid. Although we listed just one species, any of the species of Amatitlania that come from Central America would fit the bill as good pets. While only a quarter the size of an Oscar, they have all the bluster and attitude of a much bigger fish. They will confidently defend their territory (even against their human) and push and bite to keep them from encroaching . They truly are an interesting fish with a lot of personality, making them fun to watch. They do breed easily but watching them care for their young can also be fascinating to observe. Be warned that finding new homes for the young can be difficult. To keep them in their best health, Aqueon Mini Cichlid Pellets make an ideal diet.
3. Mbuna Cichlids (Various genus and species)
Mbuna (pronounced mmm-boo-na) are a group of cichlids from Lake Malawi in eastern Africa. These cichlids come in a variety of colors and range in size from a couple of inches up to 8” long. They are active swimmers with great personality making them great pets. However, care should be taken that they are not kept with other tropical fish. African cichlids are best kept only with other African cichlids as they prefer a slightly harder and more alkaline water environment than rainforest species and can be extremely aggressive towards each other and non-cichlid tank mates. In communities of Mbuna, it can often be quite easy to pick out the dominant male from the group; it is this one that usually gets the nickname. Herbivores by nature, Aqueon Pro Herbivore formula makes an ideal diet for them.
2. Fancy Goldfish (Carassias auratus)
Few fish have been more deserving of a name than the goldfish. Whether it was won at a fair or purchased in a store, the goldfish is the first fish that many of us kept. They are attractive, easy to care for, and have an endearing personality. But like the Oscar, these fish also can grow quite large and a larger aquarium is required. A few may be kept in a 10-gallon when young, but you should expect to have to move them to a much larger tank or outdoor pond as they grow. Besides the standard “Comet” variety , (the fish you are likely to win at a fair), there are also many other unique body shapes and colors that have been selectively bred over many years. These fish have great personality and will interact with their owners, as well. Aqueon Pro Goldfish formula food was specifically designed for fancy goldfish and designed to be quick sinking so the goldfish will not ingest air at the surface. Gulping a lot of excess air at the surface can lead to buoyancy issues for the goldfish, so it is best to feed a sinking pellet to prevent this.
And #1. The Betta (Betta splendens)
No fish has ever been more named than the Betta. Most of this is because this fish is often kept by itself in a small aquarium. Male bettas are fiercely territorial, and it is quite impossible to keep males together in the same tank. They do not even get along with females most of the time too. Their own natural instincts make them best kept by themselves. This quirky trait of behavior has made them the undisputed king of the desktop aquarium and they are popular home and office pets. Many bettas will have active personalities and will swim eagerly to get some Aqueon Betta Food or Aqueon Betta Treats. And sometimes they can show as much life as a sunken leaf. Although bettas are a tropical fish, they can tolerate cooler water temperatures (down to around 70°F) but they really prefer warmer water around 78-82°F. If your house is kept cooler than that, a properly sized Aqueon Betta or Flat Heater can help raise the water temperature up just a few degrees to keep it sufficiently warm.
We hope you enjoyed this list of “pet” fish. If you have questions or would like more information about these and other wonderful species of aquarium fish, you can read more in our care guides or visit your trusted local aquarium store.