In terms of visual appeal, nothing matches the aesthetic of an old-school fishbowl. Aquariums are beautiful ecosystems and can hold a wide variety of aquatic life, but, they are large, blocky, and usually require being up near a wall to hide the filter mechanisms. A bowl looks good from any angle and can be the centerpiece of a dining table if you so choose. So, what fish can live in a bowl to give life to this decor?

Hardy fish are required to fill a bowl habitat. The small space and low water volume mean that the tank PH balance and low ammonia level are harder to maintain. Fish like the guppy, goldfish, and the White Cloud minnow are all suited to unstable environments and make good choices as bowl occupants.

Types of Fish:


The original indoor pet fish, and the first fish of many of us. The goldfish is capable of living in austere conditions that would kill other fish. However, they are also one of the messiest aquarium fish and produce waste in quantity requiring frequent tank maintenance. They can also grow large and are more suited to ponds. 


These beautiful fish are often found in very tiny habitats, which is not where they will thrive. Bettas can breathe air from the surface, allowing them to handle dirty water, but they will be prone to disease in an uncleaned tank. Bettas also prefer 78-degree water, so a heated tank is a better option than a bowl if your house gets cold.


These low-maintenance fish can go a week without food, helping to keep the tank clean and prevent the desire to overfeed to compensate for the owner’s absence for a few days. Guppies also handle minor swings in temperature, making them ideal bowl dwellers.

White Cloud Minnows

These small fish have bright red fins and can handle large swings in temperature and PH. They prefer small groups and are friendly, so plan for enough bowl volume to have several.

Cons of Keeping Fish in a Bowl

Fishbowls are beautiful, but they are not the easiest ecosystem to maintain. There is no external filtration system or bubbler, and the low water volume means that ammonia and PH can quickly rise to fatal levels. Heaters are hard to use in most bowls, so the water temp is dependent on your home’s ambient air temperature. The recommended volume of water per fish is one gallon per inch of fish, so the required bowl size can escalate rapidly depending on the type and number of fish desired.

Bowl Maintenance

To help preserve the delicate balance of your bowl, frequent water changes and cleanings are a necessity. Fish waste builds up quickly in small bowls and can lead to cloudy water. Change out at least twenty percent of the water twice weekly. Every couple of weeks, scoop some water out of the bowl, put the fish in it, and clean the bowl. Mineral stains like calcium can be cleaned with vinegar, not soap (never soap the bowl), and the gravel should be rinsed before refilling the bowl.  

When refilling the bowl, do not fill completely with water. A water level between one-half and three-quarters full is best. This allows the maximum surface area for the exchange of oxygen and other gases.

The addition of a sponge filter can help maintain water quality. These filters work by forcing air through the hollow center of a tube sponge, causing a mild vacuum that pulls waste into the sponge. The sponge provides a place for beneficial bacterial to grow and puts oxygen in the water. The downside to this is that you will have an airline running into the top of your tank. 

Types of bowls 

The most common styles of fishbowl are round, drum, and bio-orb. The round bowl is the one seen in Lady and the Tramp. These offer the most water volume and water surface of the traditional bowls, and in my opinion, are the best looking.

The drum fishbowl has flat sides and works well for narrow shelves, but volume and water surface suffer. The bio-orb is a newer style of bowl that is really a giant round aquarium with filter systems. These are great for those who desire the round look and want to keep less than hardy fish.


Fishbowls are inexpensive, pretty, and simple options for housing a fish, though they are not necessarily the best option. But by choosing a hardy fish, and being vigilant and diligent in its care, a fish in a bowl will provide much joy and bring beauty to your home.

Brandon Tanis