I often get asked by beginning aquarists which species are best for their aquarium. It always amazes them when I reply that there are none. This is somewhat of a trick answer. The truth of the matter is that you determine the best fish for your aquarium.

Aquariums are a hobby. They are a form of art, and natural beauty. For some, the aquarium is just another object to take up space in their living room. The fact is that aquariums are much more than this, they are a chance for you to create a unique environment. As such, the species that you put in your aquarium are something that you should choose.

Fish come in all different shapes and sizes, not to mention color. Before you go out and select the species of fish you want in your aquarium, take time to look around and see the many different possibilities.

While selecting livestock for your aquarium, there are a few general guidelines that you can follow, so don’t feel that it is a completely “blind” process.

First, obviously freshwater species and saltwater species don’t tend to do well in each other’s aquarium, so make sure that the species you select is able to live in the type of aquarium that you have. This may sound silly, but I have heard of people who get a fish home from the fish store, only to end up finding out the next day that it died because it was a saltwater species that they placed in their freshwater aquarium. Fish store workers are busy trying to sell fish sometimes, and take for granted the simple questions such as fish compatibility.

Second, start with more hardy fish and then move to more challenging species. If all aquarists started with reef aquariums stocked with inverts, the fish stores wouldn’t be able to supply the number of species needed to replace those that died.

I would say start with tiger barbs or something of that nature for freshwater and damsel fishes for salt and reef aquariums. This will increase the likelihood of a good biological start for your new aquarium.

Once the initial cycle is complete, then look into less hardy species which require better water quality, and more attention. Thirdly, make sure that the species you are considering are able to coexist in the same aquarium. You don’t want to put a 4″ grouper in an aquarium with several small damsels. Otherwise, you will soon have a single well-fed grouper. Most fish stores can give you good insight in this category.

So, what would be a good scheme for selecting your first fish?

First, take a few trips to the fish store. Write down the names of the fish that you find interesting. Remember, the aquarium is your own work of art, so select the fish that you find pleasing.

Next, ask the local salesman about his opinion of the compatibility of those species, and come up with a final list of species. Lastly, make a schedule of how you plan to introduce the fish in to your aquarium. The best means is to introduce no more than two every 1 to 2 weeks. This may take a while, but it will help allow the biological cycle of your aquarium to remain stable while it increases its bacterial count to account for the increased biological load.

Larger aquariums will allow for quicker introduction, but remember the phrase the you are “better safe than sorry”. Good luck if you are going through this stage of setting up your aquarium.

If you already have a stable aquarium, but are considering getting different livestock, these guidelines are also a good scheme to follow.