I can understand that when someone is considering purchasing new aquarium fish, they might be interested in how long the fish will survive in captivity – at least they should be. I know some people don’t consider the lifespan of fish like they would if they were buying a new puppy. For good reason as a dog can live up to 20 years. A pet fish, on the other hand, is another story.
Different freshwater fish can be expected to live between 2 to 25 years with koi fish topping the list. Different saltwater fish can live between 2 and 12 years in captivity. The lifespan of aquarium fish is dependent upon the condition of the environment they’re kept in. Water parameters and fish safety should be at the top of any priority list.
There are literally thousands of types of fish people have for pets so listing all of them would be nearly impossible. In this article, I’ll give you a list of both freshwater and saltwater fish often found at your local fish store and how long I’d expect them to live when kept in optimal conditions.
I’ll also go over the things you can do to ensure your pet fish live as long as possible.
What Freshwater Pet Fish Live the Longest?
If you read other articles online about this topic, you’re going to be told that goldfish live the longest. Now, if we’re talking about any pet fish kept in tanks and or ponds, then the koi fish will blow the goldfish out of the water (pun intended)!
Koi fish live 25 years on average. I have read that some will live as long as 35 years. As great as this is, I believe that’s more of an anomaly than anything. I’d say that because who honestly has a pet for 35 years?
If the koi is lucky enough to live in a region where it can stay outdoors in a pond for 35 years without being disturbed, then sure. Chances are however, you live in North America and have a pond that freezes over every year or you’re bringing the koi indoors over the winter to be kept in tanks. In my opinion, this will shorten the fish’s lifespan.
We mentioned goldfish earlier and truth be told, goldfish can live a very long time. 10 to 15 years seems to be the average lifespan however, in my experience, you can expect about 5 years. I don’t know why but I just can’t seem to get goldfish to live longer than that.
Next up, I’ll give you a list of what I feel are the more common freshwater aquarium fish and how long you can expect them to live, assuming they’re kept in the best aquatic environment possible. Here we go…
Neon tetras have a lifespan of 10 years. These are one of my go-to schooling fish and I have yet to see any live longer than 5 years. Maybe 10 years is possible in the wild.
Betta fish live somewhere between 2 and 5 years.
Guppies can live up to 2 years. I haven’t had any live that long. Good thing they reproduce easily.
Mollies live 3 to 5 years.
Tiger barbs live 5 to 7 years.
Angelfish live up to 10 years.
Cory catfish live about 3 to 5 years.
Glofish live 1 to 3 years.
Clown loaches are very hardy and will live 10 years easily.
Platies live 3+ years.
Danios live between 2 and 5 years.
Rasbora’s live approximately 5 years.
Pea puffers live 3 to 5 years.
Swordtails live around 3 to 4 years.
German rams live 2 to 4 years.
Plecostomus can live up to 15 years. It’ll depend on which species you have as a pet. You can expect any species to live a very long time.
Gouramis will live about 5 years.
Congo tetras will live 3 to 5 years.
White cloud minnows will live on average 5 years.
That’s 20 freshwater species for you. There are obviously hundreds (if not thousands) more to add to the list however, this should help you decide on a new pet.
What Saltwater Pet Fish Live the Longest?
Saltwater tanks are becoming more and more popular as access to different marine fish species is becoming easier thanks in part to the internet and, of course, the surge in interest in nano tanks – especially the saltwater variety.
There are some very large aquarium fish that can survive for decades in the wild. When you take saltwater fish and place them in tanks, they just don’t seem to last as long. That’s my experience. That said, I don’t want to deter you from owning marine fish because they’ll live a long time when properly cared for.
For the sake of this article, I’ll cover some of the more common saltwater fish you can probably find down at your local fish store. Let’s begin…
Clownfish 3 to 5 years in captivity and up to 10 in the wild.
Damselfish live up to 5 years.
Mandarin gobies up to 10 years. I have yet to keep one live more than 2 years, though.
Yellow tangs 5 to 10 years if you do everything right. In the ocean, yellow tangs can easily live 20+ years.
Seahorses live up to 1 year, if you’re lucky. Honestly, I wish suppliers would stop bringing seahorses in to sell. They’re extremely hard to keep alive even for seasoned hobbyists.
Blue tangs will surprisingly live 8 to 20 years. These fish are not for beginners, however.
Cowfish is one of my favorite saltwater fish and will live somewhere between 2 to 8 years.
Pajama Cardinal fish can live between 2 and 5 years.
Hawkfish will live approximately 5 years in a tank.
Green chromis live 5 to 7 years
Bicolor blennies live on average about 4 to 5 years.
Royal gramma about 5 years however, I have never had one longer than a couple years.
Firefish gobies live up to 3 years.
Lawnmower blenny live 2+ years in captivity.
Six-line wrasse live about 5 years.
Coral beauty angelfish have long lives. You can get 10 or more years when properly cared for.
Bicolor angelfish live on average 5 to 10 years, but can live longer.
Flame angelfish live 5 to 7 years
This list of saltwater fish should cover the majority of the marine fish that your local fish store stocks.
Out of this list, I’ve had the best luck with clownfish. Aside from being fun to watch, they’re a hardy fish and if shown some love by taking care of their tank properly, you can expect to see them live 5 or more years. I highly recommend them.
How to Ensure Your Pet Fish Live as Long as Possible
Regular maintenance is key to a healthy tank. This doesn’t mean you need to do a water change every week because unless your water parameters are way out of whack, you shouldn’t perform water changes that often.
When you first get into the fish keeping hobby, you hear a lot of people saying it’s important to do a water change and vacuum substrate every two weeks at minimum. This is true only if you have a heavily stocked tank and the water you use is of poor quality.
A more realistic time frame for cleaning your tank and checking water parameters (in my opinion) is every 3 to 4 weeks.
Aside from cleaning the fish tank, here are a few things you can do to ensure your pet fish will live as long as possible.
- Providing less food is something a very high percentage of hobbyists should be doing. I do it as well but am much better now than I was years ago. Fish don’t require as much food as we usually feed them.
- A ‘rule of thumb’ is to feed the fish and watch to ensure all fish eat as well to see how much food floats to the substrate. Your goal would be to provide a bit less food each feeding to see if you can minimize how much excess food makes it to the substrate. This is wasted and will decay, increasing nitrates in the tank.
- Add air to the tank via an air pump and air stone which will help provide some surface agitation. One of the best ways to have oxygen enter the water is to agitate the surface. When you do this, CO2 leaves the water at the surface as oxygen takes its place.
- Keeping your fish safe from nippy fish and predators should be a priority. This means that having the appropriate tank mates is imperative. Doing this obviously keeps the fish safe from aggressive fish as well it keeps stress away from your fish, which is another reason fish die young.
- Proper water temperature is important. This means having fish that live well in a similar water temperature is vital. Water temperatures are also signals for fish on when it’s breeding season if that’s something you want to learn how to do.
- Providing the proper water type is so important yet seems to be something we don’t talk about enough. At a high level, here is what you need to know.
- Treated tap water should be used in freshwater tanks, especially if you plan on growing live plants. The minerals in the tap water will help feed the plants. If you find your freshwater tank is full of algae, snails, and other critters, go ahead and use RO water occasionally to help manage those things.
- Reverse osmosis water should be used exclusively in saltwater tanks. To get any essential minerals, use a marine tank supplement.
To conclude this article, I want to point out which pet fish typically live the longest. For freshwater fish, it appears that koi are the winners here living an estimated 25 years on average. For saltwater fish, it appears tangs and angelfish are the winners living approximately 10 years.
Of course, there are many other freshwater and saltwater aquarium fish to choose from. Remember, that as much as genetics play a role in your pet fish’s life, keeping a well-maintained tank is the most important thing you can do to keep them alive.