What Kind of Fish Can Live in a Bowl?

By Lee Parker

The iconic image of the goldfish is almost never complete without its classic glass bowl. From Cat in the Hat to Disney Pinnochio's Cleo, the concept is so common that fish bowls are often sold as "goldfish bowls," a misnomer because contrary to their title, goldfish bowls aren't only for goldfish!

The benefits of a fish bowl as opposed to an aquarium tank include low start-up costs as well as simplicity in set-up, spatial needs and maintenance. Not every fish can thrive happily in a bowl, however, and in some cases simplicity might need to be sacrificed for convenience. For example, the rule of thumb is that any bowl-dwelling fish should have at least one gallon of water per inch of fish. When you add in fish and snail friends, the size needs also increase. Traditional glass fish bowls are usually around one gallon: This means one fish that is one inch in length. Aeration and filtration can double the amount of fish to space, but accessory options are slim due to the fish bowl design and size.

For optimum health results, change the water in your fish bowl at least once a week.

Selecting the newest member of your fish bowl is an exercise in little fish education! Sure, you can house the tiny goldfish brought home from the carnival, but plenty of other small swimmers do just fine in a one-gallon to five-gallon bowl. Some options:

  • Bettas
  • Gourami
  • Goldfish
  • Paradise Fish
  • White Cloud Fish

Bettas

Also known as Siamese fighting fish, these fish certainly live up to their confrontational reputation. It's important to keep these fish alone in their bowls, as they will attack and potentially kill other fish--even their own species! Bettas need plenty of clean, warm water.

Gourami

Unlike the testy bettas, gourami are "shoaling fish," which means that they thrive in groups. To avoid territorial fighting, however, choose either all female gourami, or include only one male in the group. Gourami also appreciate places to hide, so plan on a larger bowl with plenty of shells or rocks.

Goldfish

The quintessential fish bowl fish, goldfish are hardy and adaptable, great for the first-time fish owner. Keep in mind that goldfish do grow, and will grow out of their fishbowl at some point. They are also incredibly messy fish, so frequent water changes are a must -- especially in bowls! To help, only feed your goldfish once a day, and only what they can consume in one minute or less.

Paradise Fish

Similar to bettas, paradise fish are also aggressive and should not share a bowl. Unlike bettas, however, paradise fish can withstand cooler temperatures and prefer the slow-moving or still water of a fish bowl to that of larger tanks. These fish are hardy and adaptable, and offer the option of a unique and colorful species to those who don't wish to go the traditional goldfish or guppy route.

White Cloud Fish

Native to cold freshwater streams, white cloud fish are a type of minnow, and would be a great choice for the fish owner who appreciates taking care of live plants. White cloud fish are even-tempered and compatible with other white clouds, or other fish.

For bowl fish, surface size is more important than water depth. Fill your bowl half-way, or to the widest part of the bowl, ensuring the most breathing room for your fish.

For the pet owner who wishes to delve into the exciting world of aquatic pets, beginning with a simple fish bowl is a great start. With these options, you can find a fish to suit any personality, living situation, or experience level--from the impressive and showy bettas to the emblematic and plucky goldfish.