Introduction to Fishkeeping
Throughout the world, one of the most popular hobbies is setting up aquariums to hold tropical fish. Unlike snakes and lizards that have a negative stigmas associated with them, fish have always been viewed as things of beauty. Perhaps the best thing about keeping fish is that they are relatively easy pets to keep, they are considerably cheaper than most pets, and there is an enormous quantity of different fish to choose from. Not only is there an endless supply of species, there are also many different fish from different types of bodies of water around the world. This article will touch on the most available and popular fish found in homes, that being fresh water fish from around the world, but we also have to talk a little bit about salt water fish as well. With such a large array of fish in the world, it is easy to run into problems by mixing various species of fish together with often disastrous results. The key to success with tropical fish, a lesson that is transferable to all pets, is that you can never do enough research about an animal. The more you know about something, the happier you and your new pet will be. What you will find truly interesting, is that the hobby has been around for centuries, and a little trip through history can teach us a great deal.
Setting up your Aquarium
The first thing you must have is an actual aquarium. Any pet store in North America will typically have a large supply of different shapes and sizes of aquariums. With so many to choose from, I always revert to the golden rule of purchasing an aquarium. Always choose the largest aquarium that you can physically fit in your home and that you can financially afford. There is no sense blowing your budget on a fancy 100 gallon bowed front aquarium that you can’t fit into your apartment, but the rule is to purchase a big tank because there is a higher level of error that is allowed in bigger fish tanks. For example, an ammonia spike in a 10 gallon fish aquarium will instantly kill everything, whereas the same spike in a 100 gallon tank won’t be notices at all. The size I generally prefer on a personal level is the 29 gallon tank because it is a decent size but not too big. Shape generally is not a bog concern, but you have to understand that most fish swim in the mid to low range of an aquarium, so tall tanks will generally be empty on the top half and lower tanks will look nice and full. The one thing that is often forgotten about fish is that they too have day and night cycles that require a light to be present on top of the aquarium. It’s something so simple, but if forgotten, can stress your fish out to the point of getting sick of actually dying. There are various lights that tend to mimic certain types of light. For the most part it is irrelevant to the fish as long as they have light, but if you plan of having live plants, then you will need to purchase a bright fluorescent that will aid in the plants’ growth.
If there is anything more important than the aquarium itself, it would be the aquarium filter. There are numerous filters on the market right at any given time. There are many great filters, and there are probably twice as many terrible filters. People generally buy the terrible ones because they are dirt cheap, both financially and constructed cheap. There are two types of filters which are equally great for aquariums. Canister filters are the best by far because they circulate the aquarium water the most, hold the most filter media, and sit below the aquarium out of sight. The only issue with this kind is that they are more expensive, but they are generally used for larger aquariums. My favorite type of filter is the Hang on the Back filter that literally hangs on the back of your aquarium in order to filter the water. To ensure you have a good quality filter, you should always use filters that have separate filter media instead of the cheap models that have an all in one filter media. This will become more apparent when we talk about the nitrogen cycle and maintaining your aquarium. The different type of filter media are the sponge, which is a dense foam material that collects solid waste, charcoal, same thing that is in your Brita filter that removes odors and color, and Zeolite, which removes ammonia from the water. Other media can be used such as peat, which softens the water for some species of fish, and Biomax, which is a brand name porous material that grows beneficial bacteria.
The last thing you have to do before you can set up your aquarium is decide what type of fish you are going to keep. For anything other than cold water fish, basically goldfish, you will have to purchase a heater. Since fish in pet stores are tropical, they require their water to be heated to approximately 75 to 80 Fahrenheit in order for the fish to have a proper metabolism and to ensure a stress free life. Just like filters, there are numerous good quality and cheap models available from pet stores and online that will do the job. I shouldn’t have to say it again, but never buy the cheap models. Always buy fully submersible filters because you can then mount them horizontally across the back of your aquarium to insure the tank gets heated evenly. The cheap model hangs on the back of your aquarium, and works fin, but it has a water level on it that must always stay in the water. Problems arise when water evaporated leaving the heated part of the heater exposed, which usually causes the heater to break and possibly electrocute you and the fish. Never cheap out when it comes to your pets!
The Nitrogen Cycle
The nitrogen cycle is a necessity to know if you plan on having success with the hobby of tropical water fish keeping. What it basically does, is show you how and why you have to do regular maintenance on you aquarium to ensure you always have top notch water quality. The basic idea is this:
The second you add fish to the water, they eat and poop. Fish poop and uneaten food breaks down to cause ammonia to build up in your aquarium. To prevent the ammonia from killing your fish, nitrifying bacteria breaks the ammonia down into the less harmful nitrites. Since they too are dangerous if left unchecked, they too are broken down by nitrifying bacteria into the far less harmful nitrates. These of course are removes when you perform your 20% weekly water change.
Types of Aquarium Fish
Of the perhaps hundreds of thousands of fish throughout the world, there are thousands available for you own personal aquarium. There are many ways to break the thousands into groups, but without writing a series of encyclopedias, there is no way one can write about all the different types of freshwater, cold water, and marine fish available to the hobbyist. The main groups of fish that you may find in a pet store are the live bearers, which are a hearty fish that as the name implies gives birth to live young, schooling fish, basically the minnows of tropical fish species that always stick together in large groups, and cichlids, which are a large group of aggressive fish spanning multiple lakes throughout the world. Of course Marine Fish are more popular than they have ever been featuring brilliant colors and unique shapes and sizes. An unusual type of fish from fresh water lakes near the ocean is the Brackish water fish, which prefers about 50% of the salt as Marine aquariums. And of course no pet store would ever think of not selling the forever popular Cold water fish, the gold fish.
Purchasing Your First Fish
The first rule about purchasing your first fish is to buy a species that is interesting to you. Never be persuaded to purchase fish that you don’t want because you are told it is an easier fish species meant for a beginner. If it is a tropical fish that you don’t really want, then it is a pet that you will grow tired of in the future. Regardless of what type it is that you want, you have to ensure you do all the research about it prior to purchasing it so that you take proper care of the fish from day one. There is simply no sense in getting a freshwater fish that will grow to be 4 feet long that requires a swimming pool to live in. The idea that a fish will grow to the size of its enclosure is a myth, and the fact is that if they live in an enclosure too small their growth will be stunted and they will suffer from health issues.
One of the most debated issues in fish keeping is whether to purchase from a private breeder or from a pet store. Here is an argument that is based on a few too many bad apples spoiling it for the bunch. Without pet stores, there simply would not be reptiles, snake, and fish in captivity as pets because it was various pet stores that sparked the interest in fish in the first place. But over the past twenty years, there have been numerous cases of poor quality fish being sold by people thinking only of profit as their fish suffer from neglect. Thankfully, there has been numerous enthusiasts stepping forward to challenge pet stores to live up to the higher standards people expect from pet stores, and there have also been numerous pet stores in North America that have been promoting proper care of fish species. Unlike reptiles where there is a downside to purchasing from a pet store because the pet store purchases from breeders and then mark up the prices to make a profit, the prices are generally so low that price is of no concern. Sometimes you will find unique fish in pet stores, but if you purchase from a breeder, you may be able to get a more unique morph that most people have never seen before plus the benefit of talking to someone with years of experience in the same hobby as you.
As a general rule of thumb, always try to purchase the healthiest fish available. This is easily done by purchasing the largest in a group that has bright eyes and is active. Larger animals typically mean that they are being well fed and cared for. If a fish is skinny and not active, then it is best to leave it be. You also have to be concerned with fish diseases when purchasing fish. The most common are fish lice, which is a parasite that attaches itself to the fish similar to the way a tick attaches itself to other living things, fish fungus is a disease of the fins that has a fungus that eats away at the fish’s fins, and the most common of all is ich. Ich is a microscopic parasite that is always in water, but only attaches itself to a fish if they get stressed out and drops its protecting slime coat. This is easy to see because after ich is attached to the fish it has a protective white shell, so your fish basically gets tons of white spots. A healthy animal can live many years, and if you put in the time that is necessary, you will be rewarded in the long run.
The other thing that is crucial to success in the hobby is ensuring you do not over stock your aquarium. As a general rule of thumb, you should only put one inch of fish in an aquarium for every gallon of water. So in theory, if you have a 10 gallon tank, you are able to stock it safely with 10 inches of fish. To add to this, you also have to think about the adult size of your fish. It may just be a one inch Oscar South American Cichlid now, but in awhile it is going to be a 10 inch Oscar South American Cichlid. If that is the case, you are allowed to have one Oscar in a ten gallon tank. Should you overstock your tank, you will eventually have a very high level of ammonia and nitrate that can cause all your fish to die. That is of course unless you want to do a water change every single day.
Setting up an aquarium to keep different species of fish is one of the easiest and most rewarding experiences you will ever do. Although the equipment to start can be on the pricey side when you factor in an aquarium, filtration, heating, lighting, and decorations, the fish themselves can be fairly inexpensive if you are planning on purchasing freshwater fish. Even Marine fish are considerably more inexpensive compared to ten years ago, but with marine fish, it is almost guaranteed that you will be getting a wild caught fish, where as freshwater fish are typically captive bred in aquariums. The only problem with keeping fish as a hobby is that it is very addicting because you can only have so many fish in your aquarium, but there are numerous amazing fish available at any given time. For this reason, it is not unusual for people to set up multiple aquariums to have the different types of fish that is of interest to them. It is just such a great hobby because it is just so accessible for people of all ages. But like all hobbies, it takes a lot of time, patience, and research, but eventually all your hard work will pay off.