How Long Can Fish Live For?

Well, that depends on the fish! 

The longest living fish is a Greenland shark which has lived for 272 years! 

Greenland sharks are generally a bit too big for home aquariums. I’m going to presume that you are here looking for the lifespan of pet fish. 

Depending on the breed and the level of care, pet fish can have a lifespan of between 3 and 20 years. 

To give your fish the best chance of a long and happy life, they need a balanced and varied diet, a clean environment, and careful handling. 

The dietary and environmental needs of each breed are as varied and different as the fish. We won’t be covering the needs of each type of fish here, but you can check out our articles on specific breeds for more information. 

Right, let’s dive in! 


Goldfish are the classic aquatic pet. There’s a lot of conversation about how long this bright little fish can live. 

It’s a common myth that goldfish die pretty quickly after you win them at the fair. This can be the case, depending on how the fish are treated at the fair. However, goldfish actually have a lifespan of around 20 years in captivity. 

The reason fairground goldfish tend to have a shorter lifespan is because of the way they are kept while they wait to be won. 

The fish are often kept in bags of freshwater. The still bags do not filter out their waste which leads to an ammonia build up. The ammonia poisons the fish if it gets too concentrated. This means the longer the fish is in its bag, the more likely it is to die. 

The lack of space and the noise of the fair also stresses the fish. The stress on top of the ammonia poisoning can really shorten a goldfish’s lifespan.

With the right care and environment, goldfish can live for decades. In fact, the oldest living goldfish lasted an incredible 43 years after being won at a fair! 


Mollies are another favorite aquarium fish. They are live-bearing fish which means that they give birth to live young rather than eggs. 

Depending on the specific type of molly fish they can live up to 5 years. 

Balloon mollies have the shortest lifespan of all mollies. They generally only live for a year or so.

Common mollies and common black mollies live anywhere between 3-5 years. 

Sailfin mollies have a lifespan of around 2-3 years. The males tend to die about a year after becoming sexually mature. This usually happens at around 1 so they only tend to live about 2 years. 


Guppies are beautiful fish. Their distinctive, flowing orange tails and fins make them instantly recognizable. 

Guppies, like most tropical fish, have a lifespan of about 2-3 years in captivity. To be honest their lifespan isn’t much longer in the wild due to the fact that they are prey fish. 

The great thing about guppies is that they are pretty hardy. They can cope with different levels of water quality and can survive without food for a week or two. 


Oscars are considered the most intelligent species of aquarium fish. In fact, they are so intelligent you can teach them tricks! 

They are also carnivorous which means they can significantly shorten the lifespan of any smaller fish kept in the tank with them! 

Because of their less than friendly disposition, oscar fish should be kept in single species tanks. 

Oscars have a much longer lifespan than most aquarium fish. In captivity, they tend to live around 8-12 years. However, in the wild, they can live up to 20 years. With the right tank conditions and a bit of luck, you could get closer to 20 years than 12. 

Zebra Danios

These are peaceful, social little fish who are capable of jumping out of the tank if there’s no lid on top. 

On average, these fish tend to live up to five years. They are pretty hardy and easy to care for. You generally don’t need to worry about them dying of disease or due to changes in water quality. 

The only thing you need to keep an eye on is the size of the school Zebra Danios are schooling fish and they can become quite stressed if their numbers drop too low.


Also known as Siamese fighting fish, bettas are a highly territorial fish. Males will get very aggressive with each other if they are housed together. This will usually end up with one or both of them dead. 

To give them the best possible survival chance, males should be housed separately. Females can be kept in groups of about 5. These groups are called sororities. 

Bettas tend to live about 3-5 years. The males are generally on the shorter end of the range. This is because they aren’t usually sold until they’re about 1 year old and their fins and colors have fully developed. 

Females are sold earlier so they live for longer when you bring them home. 

Cherry Barbs

I love cherry barbs, they are adorable, beautifully colored, and personable fish. They like to live in schools but are otherwise fairly easy to care for. 

Cherry barbs love a planted tank. The females like to hide in the plant life during mating seasons as the males are a bit pushy. 

The males harass the females so much during mating, that it’s best to have a ratio of 1 male for every 2 females. This gives the ladies a break from being chased and will reduce their stress levels. 

In a tank, cherry barbs can live for 5-7 years. They are pretty hardy and don’t tend to suffer from diseases.

Final Thoughts

We haven’t been able to go through every fishy lifespan. That would take forever! 

We’ve chosen the most popular aquarium fish in this article. If you want some more information on different species of fish let us know!