If you ask a typical Indian ten-year-old which fish he wants for his first home aquarium, the answer will come immediately as – “A goldfish!” But a goldfish is not a fish that could be kept in a 2-gallon glass jar or a 4-gallon aquarium. A goldfish, for a fact, is a medium-level fishkeeper’s fish; that is for a person who understands that goldfish are best kept in outdoor ponds of at least 500 gallons in a group of at least 5-6 fish. Anything other than that would stress out the poor goldies, and it, for a fact, is indeed “fish abuse.”

What are the fishes you can buy your child or for yourself as a beginner-level fishkeeper in India? Here are the top 5 choices:

Betta fish, commonly called “fighter fish,” is one of the most beautiful aquarium fishes and is most comfortable to keep. The males with their vibrant colors and luscious fins that they flare up when they see a rival male is a feast for the eyes. As beautiful as they are, bettas are pretty hardy fish themselves. Bettas are labyrinth fishes, that is, they have specialized organs to absorb atmospheric oxygen rather than from water alone. So they do not need an aerator, but an aerator powered sponge filter is preferable to remove the chemical wastes. They are highly tolerant of water pH changes and could be bred easily. A male betta kept alone in a well scaped 4-gallon fish tank is itself so pro looking. A bowl is not a very comfortable place for a fish to be in. Bettas are not much of a community fish among themselves, though female bettas can be kept as groups, and males can be maintained with similar-sized fishes such as danios and tetras. Male bettas can range from prices of Rs.50 to Rs.500, and females can range from Rs.30 to Rs.200.

2. Guppies

Now here comes a very marketable fish. Guppies are small fishes that can grow up to an inch long. Ranging in price from Rs.10 per pair to over Rs.800 per pair, these livebearer fish are readily marketable. As beautiful as they are, guppies are pretty hardy fish, immune to high ammonia levels in the water, parasites, and fungal diseases. Guppies are livebearers, that is, the females give birth to live young ones, typically an average of 20-30 per brood. Guppies are sexually mature at three months and give birth every month or so. Anyone who starts with five pairs can end up with at least 500 pairs by the next year. The demand for fancy and local breeds of guppies is quite high. Guppies can be kept in outdoor ponds, tubs, plastic-sheet pools, aquariums, and so on.

3. Mollies and Platys

Here is another family of livebearers that can be a potential source of income. Mollies and platys belong to the same family of fishes and have similar features. These hardy fish do particularly well in slightly brackish water, and they come in a wide range of colors such as black, white, orange, chocolate, dalmatian, sun-red, etc. They can give birth to up to 50 young ones every 30 days. Mollies can range from Rs. 20 upwards per pair. They grow up to 1.5 inches long and are much much more colorful than guppies. A mini pond added with 3 or 4 breeding pairs will be teeming with colorful fish in a few months. However, it should be noted that new breeding pairs should be added to the existing stock every once in a while; else they may inbreed and result in less colorful fish.

4. Gouramis

Here comes the betta fish’s bigger cousin, the gourami! Belonging to the same family of labyrinth fishes as the betta, gouramis are among the best choices for the aquarium of a beginner fishkeeper. These beautiful and calm fish move with a serene grace amidst the water column, taking gulps of air in between their movements. Gouramis have two ‘feelers’ at the tips of their pelvic fin that they move with grace, feeling the objects in the tank as well as its tankmates. Gouramis range from the common opaline gourami that comes in bluish-grey and yellow morphs, to the giant gourami, that can grow up to two feet wide. Gouramis are best kept in medium-sized aquariums with a male and two or three games. Multiple males can trigger aggressive behavior in the tank. They are good community fish and can be kept with much smaller fish such as tetras and danios. Gouramis are also easy to breed, and the fry can come in the number of hundreds.

5. Rosy Barbs

There are many beautiful community fish, such as the neon teras. But for a beginner to keep them would be disastrous. That is where the rosy barb comes in. 6-8 fish can be kept in a ten-gallon tank that is well aerated and filtered with enough plants or wood structure. These bright orange fish that grow over an inch are very active, and their colors are highlighted with a black substrate. Rosy barbs are not very good community fish and can be quite nippy when housed with fish having long fins such as guppies, gouramis, and goldfish. They are very tolerant of varying water parameters and are best for a beginner fishkeeper who prefers a very live aquarium. The breeding of rosy barbs is not very easy, but they are particularly cheap for a lovely fish, pricing at only Rs.20 per pair in most shops.

These are the top 5 beginner-level fish, but honorable mentions are swordtails, zebra danios, and loaches.

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