Most kids these days would rather look at an Xbox than a 10-gallon fish tank, but all is not lost. Introducing youngsters to fish-keeping can end well if you set things up for success. Because the first step is choosing species that are survivors, here are five candidates for the newbie's fish tank.
Siamese Fighting Fish
Also called bettas, these often iridescent beauties are the poster fish for low maintenance, says Gene Sanchez, owner of Tropical Showcase in Hicksville, N.Y. “They don't need a filter, and they can live in a jelly jar.”
Although bettas get along with many fish, they are less gregarious with their own kind – even males and females. They often fight one another, he says.
Buyer beware: “Make sure the betta's fins are not clamped, or tied together – they should be spread out, flowing and beautiful,” Sanchez notes.
Don't dismiss these as too “everyday,” says Dominick Caserma, owner of A Lot of Fish in Babylon, N.Y. Goldfish come in dozens of colors and varieties, from lionheads, with their spongy head growth, to fantails, which have forked tails. Then there are celestials, which “have eyes that are bulgy and look up,” Caserma explains. “In the Far East, if there is a special occasion, they are displayed in ceramic bowls on the floor, and the fish look up at the guests.”
The heat is off: Because goldfish are not temperamental about temperature, owners can save the expense of an aquarium heater.
Anthony Mansueto, proprietor of South Shore Tropicals in Lindenhurst, N.Y., votes for these hardy Asian natives. Male gouramis can be fin nippers, and so are not a good choice with bettas or guppies. However, many of the other fish on this list – including tetras and danios – are compatible with them.
If you're looking for kinder and gentler (and, at 2 inches, smaller), “dwarf gouramis have a tendency to be more timid, and they are better in a community tank,” Mansueto notes.
Color me beautiful: An eye-catching variety is the flame dwarf gourami, which has an orange body and neon-blue dorsal fin.
This torpedo-shaped member of the minnow family is hardy and, like the betta, needs no water filtration, just a water change once or twice a week.
“It's practically bulletproof,” concludes Joe Vivirito, owner of Suffolk County Fish & Reef in Ronkonkoma, N.Y.
Vivirito favors the glowlight danio, a recently discovered species that is not dyed but rather naturally vibrant. (This is not to be confused with the GloFish, which is a genetically modified form of zebra danio.)
Charge it: To make your glowlight danios more luminous, Vivirito recommends putting them under a black light or true blue actinic light. “The colors just absolutely glow – they're dazzling.”
Many aquarists don't check the pH of their water, and without intervention a tank will become acidic – an environment the tetra thrives in.
“It's a schooling fish, so it likes to be in groups,” adds Marc Morrone of Parrots of the World in Rockville Centre, N.Y. Silver dollars, which can grow relatively large, also are part of this family.
Best bet for impact: The neon tetra. These darting specimens are small, but “in a 10-gallon tank,” Morrone notes, “anything looks big.”