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Best Killifish for Beginners

Killifish are a type of freshwater cichlid that are brightly colored and active in nature. They’re smaller size and vibrant hues make them a welcome addition to any community tank environment. If you’re thinking of keeping this diverse and widespread group of fish, you may be wondering which species is best for beginners?

The red stripe or aphyosemion striatum is a great starter fish for aquarium hobbyists interested in killifish. They have a peaceful demeanor and grow to only 2-inches in length. Since they don’t take up much space, they can breed and survive in a smaller tank. They’re relatively easy to feed and care for, yet not overly expensive to purchase.

Now that you know the aphyosemion striatum or red stripe killifish is best for beginners, let’s explore this species in more detail. I’ll explain what size aquarium and water conditions they require, the type of food they eat, and which creatures make the best tankmates. I’ll also discuss their social behaviors, breeding habits, and daily care needs in captivity.

So, if you’re ready to dive deeper into the aquatic world of the fascinating and fabulous killifish – in particular the red stripe species – then let’s begin!

Are Killifish Easy to Keep?

Killifish range from easy to difficult in terms of maintenance, depending on the species you keep. The red striped killifish is a good one for beginners. They’re small in size and relatively long-lived. They have a docile temperament, are easy to breed and suitable for most community tank environments, though a species-only is often recommended.

Killifish, in particular the red stripes, don’t require much ‘extra’ in terms of daily care or maintenance. The have few demands apart from a clean aquarium and adequate food. Performing bi-weekly partial water changes as well as testing the aquatic parameters every other day is necessary. If their tank needs are met, killifish can live up to 5 years in captivity.

How Many Killifish Can You Have in a 5-Gallon Tank?

If you’re setting up a species-only tank, then you can keep a trio (one male and two females) of red striped killifish in a 5- to 10-gallon tank. They stay relatively small and don’t require much in the way of care or maintenance.

If a community tank is what you’re after, then a 20-gallon aquarium or larger is required. A planted tank with a soft sand or fine gravel bottom works best. Adding some floating plants is also recommended as this helps diffuse the light to minimize jumping.

How Many Killifish Should be Kept Together?

It’s best to keep killifish in groups of three – one male with two females. As most species of killifish get along well together in a community tank environment, males can become aggressive towards each other in there aren’t enough females to go around!

If you’re a beginner hobbyist and interested in keeping killifish, then I recommend you start with a pair in a species-only tank. This will help reduce stress and keep aggression levels at bay, especially if you intend to breed them in captivity.

lyretail killifish

What Fish are Compatible with Killifish?

It’s recommended that you keep killifish with those of like size and temperament. When it comes to red stripe killifish, the best tankmates include other types of dwarf cichlids, rasboras, larger tetras, and cory catfish. Snails and larger, peaceful crustaceans are also compatible with red strip killifish. My personal suggestion would be to start with a species-only tank as they may eat smaller fish or fry.

Are Killifish Aggressive?

Some killifish are more aggressive than others. Tension and hostility often arise when there are more males than females in captivity. As well, if the aquarium is over-crowded, killifish may become territorial and chase after other fish in a community tank environment.

Keeping killifish in pairs in a species-only tank is best, in particular if you’re a beginner hobbyist. Red-stripe killifish are likely the most peaceful species, considering they’re a type of cichlid. Many cichlids, especially those of the African variety are notoriously aggressive and often difficult to maintain.

What Water Conditions do Killifish Prefer?

Depending on the species, killifish usually prefer slightly warmer water conditions as many are found in shallow subtropical streams around the world. For beginner aquarium hobbysists interested in keeping the red stripe killifish, a temperature range between 70 and 75 degrees as well as a pH level of 6.5 to 7.0 with a relative hardness around 120 ppm to 160 ppm is recommended.

Since the red stipe killifish stays relatively small (around 2 inches in length), they don’t require a very large tank. A trio can do quite well in a 10-gallon aquarium that’s about 80% full or with a tightly fitted lid to prevent them from jumping out! A heated, planted tank with a bare floor or soft sand bottom, minimal light, and sponge filter are ideal.

What Types of Food do Killifish Eat?

Killifish – no matter the species – are carnivores and prefer meat-based foods. Depending on the size, killifish will usually eat frozen foods such as brine shrimp and mysis shrimp as well as newly hatched brine shrimp, bloodworms, and mosquito larvae. While they may accept some flake foods, they often reject dried edibles in favor of the live variety.

Why are Killifish Called Killifish?

How killifish got their name is a mystery. Some believe it’s derived from the Dutch word ‘kil’ which means ‘a small stream’ since many originate in subtropical, shallow, slow-moving waters. As most species are peaceful in nature, the ‘kill’ in killifish in no way implies aggression or a tendency to cause harm/death to other fish.

striped panchax killifish

Are Killifish Easy to Breed in Captivity?

While some killifish are reluctant (and therefore challenging) to breed in captivity, the red stripe species isn’t one of them! In fact, they’ll spawn quite easily with minimal effort under the right aquatic conditions. To successfully breed red stripe killifish, which are ‘non-annuals’ and grow faster with a shorter incubation time for eggs, simply follow the 5 steps listed below:

  1. Begin with a small 5-gallon breeder tank and place peat moss and/or almond or oak leaves along the bottom.
  2. Place a pair of killifish in the tank – watch for eggs being lain and then buried completely under the substrate.
  3. After the eggs are laid, remove the parents from the breeder tank and put them back into their original or community tank.
  4. Observe the eggs frequently and once the fry hatch, begin feeding them sparingly with newly hatched brine shrimp.
  5. In 4 to 6 weeks (or once fry reach approximately ½ inch in length), consider moving them to the larger tank with their parents.

Alternatively, you can breed red stripe killifish in the original tank with their parents if you want the hatchlings to grow quickly. Some of the eggs and/or fry, however, will likely be eaten when raised in a community tank.  A heavily planted aquarium with a dark sandy bottom is your best bet for maximum offspring survival.


To summarize, the aphyosemion striatumor or red stripe killifish is a type of dwarf cichlid and a good choice for those just starting out in the aquarium world. They have a peaceful demeanor and don’t require much ‘extra’ in the way of general care or daily maintenance. They’re also reasonably priced and easy to acquire.

I trust this article has answered your questions regarding killifish and what species in best for beginner hobbyists. Thanks for reading and good luck!

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