Fish For Beginners To Avoid
Unfortunately, there are many fish sold to beginners that really aren’t good beginner fish at all. Some of these fish are difficult for even the most experienced aquarist to care for! In this guide I hope to talk about some of these fish and debunk the myths surrounding them. I’ve included pictures to make identification easier since many pet stores use common names which range from being confusing to completely misleading.
Common Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus)
Other names this fish goes by: Comet Goldfish, Goldfish, Feeder Goldfish
The goldfish is one of the most common species recommended for beginners and ironically is also one of the hardest species to keep properly. Out of all of the goldfish, the one you most want to stay away from is Carassius auratus auratus
. Not only can they grow to be over two feet (try fitting that in a bowl!) long but they are very messy fish and require strong filtration (an undergravel filter or simple hang-on back model isn’t going to cut it). Goldfish are coldwater and can also be surprisingly aggressive…this means that choosing tank mates is difficult. It’s even more difficult when you consider the amount of waste your goldfish will be producing…if you can’t keep up on water changes, all of the fish will suffer. Goldfish (this includes the fancies) need a varied diet including both meat and vegetable matter…goldfish flakes aren’t enough. Then if you take into account the fact that these fish are bred as feeders and tend to have health issues…well, I’m sure you get my point. These beautiful animals are best left out of standard aquariums and should only be housed in very large tanks or ponds.
Red-Tailed Catfish (Phractocephalus hemioliopterus)
Other names this fish goes by: Flat-Nosed Catfish, Antenna Catfish
It still saddens me to see this fish offered for sale. Red-tail Catfish are poor aquarium fish for one big reason…and I mean a REALLY big reason. They can grow to be five feet long! Even the very largest aquariums are usually not going to be enough for this species. Red-Tail Catfish are voracious predators and will happily eat any fish they can fit into their mouths. Leave this one to public aquariums.
Plecostomus (family Loricariidae)
Other names these fish goes by: Pleco, Suckermouth Catfish, Algae Eater
This one might come as a surprise to some people. After all, pet store employees are very quick to recommend plecos to beginners. These fish, however, should be avoided unless you’ve done extensive research. Many of them grow to be really big (including the common pleco or Hypostomus plecostomus
) and shouldn’t be kept in your average, small community aquarium. Plecos are also messy and many have specialized needs such as requiring a low pH or needing to chew on driftwood. The term “algae eater” is usually used to describe a pleco but the truth is they rarely eat algae unless starving. These fish should be supplemented with a variety of foods, including fresh vegetables. All plecos aren’t bad for beginners, though! There are a few smaller species that can make excellent community fish and the bristlenose pleco (Ancistrus triradiatus
) is a good example of that. When it comes to plecos it’s extremely important to research the species in question BEFORE making a purchase.
Bala Shark (Balantiocheilus melanopterus)
Other names this fish goes by: Tricolor Shark, Silver Shark, Shark Minnow
Bala sharks can grow to be over a foot long and are schooling fish, which means they should be reserved for very large aquariums. They have a tendency to jump out of tanks and therefore need a tight-fitting lid.
Chinese Algae Eater (Gyrinocheilus aymonieri
Other names this fish goes by: Algae Eater, Indian Algae Eater. They are sometimes mistakenly labeled as “Siamese Algae Eater” or “Siamese Flying Fox”, which are different species.
If I had a penny for every time someone e-mailed me about a tank with “disappearing” fish that also had a Chinese algae eater, I’d be rich. These guys are usually bought to eat algae, like their name suggests. When young, they actually will eat algae (although they prefer other foods) and are quite peaceful. The problem arises as the fish age…they become large, aggressive, and develop a fondness for meaty foods over algae (this includes your fish!). Avoid them unless you have a plan for the adult fish.
Glass Catfish (Kryptopterus bicirrhis)
Other names this fish goes by: Ghost Fish
Glass catfish are peaceful and stay fairly small (up to six inches). So what’s the problem? Well, for starters they are extremely sensitive to water quality and a new tank is usually too unstable to keep them in. They also are schooling fish and need to be kept in very large groups to feel secure. Glass catfish can also be difficult to feed, as many have to be “trained” to accept non-living food. These are definitely fish for more advanced hobbyists.
(painted Chanda ranga
Other names this fish goes by: Stained Glass Fish
Painted glassfish are what their name suggests…glassfish that have been “painted” with chemical dyes. The color wears off over time but many of these fish don’t survive that long anyway. The methods used vary and include injections and dipping the fish in chemicals to remove the protective slime coat and then coating the fish in the dye.
Recently there have also been tattooed fish showing up in petstores. Painting fish these ways is considered inhumane and that’s reason enough not to purchase them.
Other names this fish goes by: Blueberry Tetra, Strawberry Tetra, Rainbow Tetra
These fish should be avoided for the same reasons given above for painted glassfish.
Other names this fish goes by: Iridescent Shark
These fish should be avoided because they grow to be over three feet long. Even in a large tank they often don’t do well because of how active they are.
Other names this fish goes by: Silver Tipped Shark, White Tip Shark Catfish, Black Fin Shark
Colombian sharks are usually sold as freshwater fish but are actually brackish. This means they require marine salt added to their water and can’t be housed with the usual tropical community fish. While they might survive in pure freshwater when young, these fish will eventually die unless their unique needs are met. Colombian sharks also get pretty large and may even reach two feet in length!
Other names these fish go by: Black Ghost, Banded Knifefish, Glass Knifefish
There are a few different knifefish species available in the pet trade and they should be avoided for the most part. They are nocturnal and will rarely be seen in the aquarium. Knifefish are also predators and will happily eat every other fish in your tank. Many of them also grow quite large. These guys should be passed up unless you’re starting a tank just for them.
Of course, there are many other species of fish that should probably be avoided. Even the “best” beginner fish aren’t going to be appropriate for every aquarium. The lesson of this guide should be to always thoroughly research fish before buying them! I can’t stress how important this is. Never buy on impulse because you’ll almost always regret it.