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The Best Fish You Can Raise In A Bowl – Yes, Even Without A Filter!

Are you thinking about raising some fish for the first time? If so, you may have found yourself frustrated by how expensive it can be. From large, space-consuming tanks with hefty price tags to high-tech filters that seem to take an electrician to set up, it can be quite expensive to start a new fish community in your home.

Many fishkeeping experts recommend against raising fish in bowls, particularly those without filters. However, there are several species of fish you can easily raise in bowls with no ill effects. In fact, many of the species we will tell you about are even able to breed in this setting – a sure sign that they are doing well when living in a bowl.

Ready to learn more about how to raise fish in a bowl – as well as which ones might work best? Continue reading to learn more about the best fish you can raise in a bowl – even if you don’t have a filter or heater!

The Best Fish You Can Raise In A Bowl

What Are The Challenges Of Raising Fish In A Bowl?

Most bowls are so small that you will not only need to avoid keeping a filter in the tank, but you will also need to eschew common fish tank accessories like filters, bubblers, lights, and decorations. You will need a small substrate that won’t take up a lot of space, too.

In addition, you should only raise fish that are very hardy and small, as you won’t be able to grow any monsters in your fish tank! A hardy fish is necessary because bowls can become filled with toxins, like nitrates and nitrites, very quickly. If you are late on even a single water change, it could kill a sensitive fish.

A hardy fish, on the other hand, will be able to tolerate a fluctuation in water quality or parameters. Depending on the size and type of fish you decide to keep, you could be required to conduct daily water changes – a hardy fish will eliminate this need.

You might also want to consider a cold-water fish. This is because small bowls will make it next to impossible to keep the water temperature in your tank higher than room temperature. If you don’t have a bowl heater – or don’t have room for one – consider raising a cold-tolerant fish like a Betta fish.

Besides that, there’s not much that you need to consider in order to raise fish in a bowl. You should start with a basic bowl that is large enough to accommodate the needs of your fish – larger bowls will be around 10 gallons or so. This is plenty of space for most of the species we will tell you about below.

You may also need to add a small heater, a filtration device (although this is usually not recommended or required), some light, and some live plants. A small sponge filter could get the job done, as could some live plants. This will allow minimal amounts of beneficial bacteria to develop, and also let the water move around the live plants. The live plants can help filter toxins, too.

What Are The Best Fish To Raise In A Bowl?

Depending on the size and setup of your bowl, there are dozens of fish you could raise in it. You don’t need a large tanker with a high-powered filter in order to enjoy raising fish! Here are some of the best alternatives for raising in a large (or even small) bowl:

1 Betta Fish

How Long Do Betta Fish Live 4

Betta fish can be kept in bowls, but you need to make some accommodations in order to house them. Also known as Siamese fighting fish, these common tropical fish are often kept in bowls. Males should never be kept together, as they will fight to the death. In fact, sometimes males may even attack females! Therefore, you should only keep one betta (or two females) if you are keeping them in a bowl.

Betta fish are also sensitive to fluctuations in water quality, particularly of ammonia and nitrite levels. Therefore, if you choose to keep a Betta in a bowl, you will not only need to clean the tank regularly, but you will also need to add live plants to filter out toxins. You may also need to provide a heater to help stabilize temperature in the bowl.

2 White Cloud Minnows

White Cloud Mountain Minnows
Photo by Daniel Piglesan

White cloud minnows are a great option for small bowls. These fish may be tiny, but they are incredibly active, spending much of their day schooling in the tank. They have tiny red fish and are exceptionally hardy fish. They can handle drastic swings in water quality, meaning you won’t need to clean the bowl as often.

These fish also thrive in cold water, meaning you don’t need to worry about installing a heater in your small bowl. However, if you already have a heater, they will do well in warmer waters, too. These fish are extremely friendly, rarely engaging in aggressive behaviors, and will get along well with shrimp or snails. You can usually keep up to five minnows in a 4-gallon bowl, even if you have some live plants or other small decorations.

3 Paradise Fish

Paradise Fish
Photo by Daniella Vereeken

Paradise fish are good alternatives to bettas if you find you don’t have the time or energy to constantly be cleaning your tank. These colorful fish are in the gourami family and are also closely related to bettas. Male fish can change their colors when they defend their territory. They can also do this when courting females. Interestingly, male paradise fish often show their fins while courting or fighting, just like bettas.

Unlike bettas, however, these fish can tolerate a wide range of conditions. They do well in unheated fish bowls and will eat any type of food.

4 Golden China Barbs

These fish, closely related to cherry barbs, do quite well as long as they have about two gallons in their bowls. These fish are native to China, particularly north of the Tropic of Cancer in non-tropical areas.

They can tolerate some cold and are similar to goldfish. They don’t look dissimilar to their larger relatives, and they only grow to about three inches in length. They are more appropriate for bowls and are good substitutes for goldfish, which should not be raised in bowls – we will tell you more on this in a moment.

5 Black Skirt Tetras

Blackskirt Tetras
Photo by Anne Fearon-Wood


Black skirt tetras can easily be kept in bowls. They tend to do well in the cold, but are more active when the waters are a bit warmer. They should be raised in larger bowls as compared to small, and they should not be housed with other species in those bowls.

6 Salt and Pepper Corydoras

Salt and Pepper Corydoras
Photo by John Zhang

These fish are native to South America and can be found as far south as Argentina. They prefer temperatures in the 60s and will do quite well in cooler bowls. They are easy to breed in this setting, too. A bottom-feeding species, the Corydoras is also quite fun to watch.

These fish should be fed dry food for the most part. They do not like warm water and will produce eggs when the water is cool. Two or three gallons is usually all you need.

7 Guppies

Photo by Geoff Holden

You can easily keep guppies, a hardy tropical fish species, in a bowl. These fish are quite beautiful and can produce some gorgeous displays of color. If you are keeping a fish bowl, then you should select wild-type feeder guppies. These do best in small bowls, adapting easily to small spaces and fluctuating temperatures.

Guppies are schooling fish, meaning you should keep them in small groups. You can even breed them if you’d like, but this is not necessarily recommended for a small fish bowl as it can lead to overcrowding and issues with disease.

8 Platy Fish

Platy Fish
Photo by Kevin

You can raise several types of platy fish in bowls, but you will want to do some research on the best types for your fish bowl. The best species to raise in a bowl is platy variatus, which is from northern regions and does better in cooler temperatures. It can thrive when temperatures are at least 68 degrees Fahrenheit, which is generally room temperature in most homes.

These fish can be hard to find in stores, but can still be raised in a fishbowl nevertheless. They need a minimum of two gallons apiece.

9 Rosy Minnows

Rosy Minnows, also known as Fathead Minnows, are sold as feeder fish in many pet stores. These small fish can easily live in bowls, as they tolerate cold water and are extremely hardy. Although they aren’t terribly interesting to watch or to look at, they are a good low-maintenance species for raising in a bowl. In addition, they are quite calm and relaxed.

10 Endler’s Livebearers

These fish are closely related to the guppy, and are unfortunately thought to be extinct in the wild in most places. Luckily, they are prolific breeders and are incredibly fun to watch. They are super active and easy to care for.

Endler’s Livebearers were first discovered in Venezuela in 1937. Most types of this fish have metallic shades, and their schooling behavior makes them quite beautiful to watch. They prefer warm temperatures, as those below 60 degrees can prove to be fatal. You don’t need a filter for your bowl, but you should add a heater.

11 Balloon Mollies

Balloon Mollies
Photo by Alan Swan

A popular type of molly fish, the Balloon Molly does well in a bowl, rarely getting sick. They prefer to be a little water and will move more slowly when temperatures are cooler. Since they were developed in captivity, they aren’t as hardy as some species of mollies. That being said, you can keep them for quite some time in a bowl.

12 Zebra Danios

Zebra Danio 2
Photo by Ho-Wen Chen

Zebra Danios are tiny, active fish that are easy to care for and are also well-suited to life in a bowl. You don’t need a heater, nor do you need a large bowl. You might want to add a filter, depending on the number of fish you have, and you will also need a lighting system of some sort.

13 Blind Cave Tetras

Blind Cave Tetras
Photo by WabbyTwaxx

Blind cave tetras do quite well in bowls, as long as they have at least two gallons. These fish are native to caves, as the name implies, so they are acclimated to colder temperatures. They usually grow to about three inches, but typically grow to less than that (usually around one or two) when they are raised in bowls.

What About Goldfish?

Goldfish are often selected to be raised in bowls; however, this is a mistake. Not only do goldfish produce too much waste to be housed in a non-filtration system, but they also grow too quickly to be housed in most bowls. Tanks usually won’t stunt a goldfish’s growth, but it can cause the goldfish to be in poor health.

Therefore, even though goldfish do well in colder temperatures, you should never keep them in a bowl. They are better suited to tanks larger than 20 gallons – or even small ponds.

Should I Raise Fish In A Bowl?

There are several considerations you need to make before deciding to raise fish in a bowl. First Of all, how big are the fish you intend to keep in a bowl? The larger the fish, the more living space it needs – and a bowl will probably not be ideal.

Remember, larger fish also produce more waste, which can cause issues with bacteria and ammonia. Generally, remember that for every inch of fish you have, you will need about one gallon of space. You need to make sure your water is well-maintained, and that the temperature of your tank is suited to your fish’s preferences.

Besides that, know that you can raise fish in a bowl as long as you have proper knowledge and know-how. Give it a try, and good luck!

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