Watching freshwater fish darting about or slowly gliding through their watery world is both relaxing and entertaining. A fish tank not only adds a fascinating touch of natural decor to your home, it is also an enjoyable hobby.
While setting up and maintaining a freshwater tank is not difficult, it does take a bit of time and attention initially to get your tank established. Once this is accomplished, daily care is minimal and you will receive much enjoyment from your aquarium.
Setting Up the Tank
Take the time to establish a new tank properly, and you will be rewarded with healthy, colorful fish.
- Choose the largest tank your budget and the space allotted for it allows. Be sure the tank sits on a sturdy surface; a filled fish tank is very heavy.
You can find complete aquarium set-ups at most large pet stores. You will need:
- Tank filter
- Gravel and decorations
- Hood with light
- A quiet Air pump with power source
- Fish food
- Aquarium water test kit
- Fish tank vacuum and bucket
Set up your tank on its stand. Spread gravel across the bottom of the tank, place decorations, filter and heater in place, and slowly fill the tank with water. Plug in the filter and heater, and let the tank run for a couple of days.
Add just three or four fish to your tank. Choose hardy fish such as tiger barbs, zebra danio or White Cloud Mountain fish. These fish will establish the nitrogen cycle in your tank. It generally takes around six weeks for enough beneficial bacteria to develop in a new tank to control harmful waste byproducts such as ammonia and nitrite.
Feed carefully, just a pinch or two of food each day. Twice per week, suction out approximately 10% of the water, and replace with water that has been allowed to sit for 24 hours.
Use your fish tank testing kit to test the water every few days. You will see the level of ammonia rise. Continue replacing water and testing every few days. Soon the ammonia level will drop, and you will see an increase in nitrite. Between weeks three and six, the nitrites will drop and instead you will see ammonia increasing.
When testing no longer shows ammonia and nitrite in your tank, you are ready to add more fish. Nitrate is not harmful to fish, and will be kept under control through periodic water changes.
Picking out your fish is one of the best parts of having a fish tank. The first thing you need to know is how many fish you can keep in your tank. The general rule of thumb is “One inch of fish per gallon of water”. For example, if you have a 29-gallon tank, you can keep fish equaling a total of 29 inches in length.
- While it is tempting to go out and buy a dozen new fish all at once, your chances of success are greater if you only add three to five fish at a time, waiting at least a week before adding more. This gives the tank time to balance the increase in waste and bacteria.
Any large pet shop will have multiple tanks of fish, and it can be overwhelming to decide on your tank occupants. For the new fish owner, sticking with hardy, community freshwater fish will be best, and will give you many species to choose from.
Some excellent choices that are best kept in groups of at least four to six fish:
- Buenos Aires tetra
- Rummy nose tetra
- Neon tetra
- Zebra danio
- Cherry barb
- Harlequin rasbora
- Golden barb
- Corydoras catfish
- Pearl danio
- Rosy barb
Your fish will do best if you have fewer species in larger groups, rather than just one or two fish from many different species.
- When bringing home new fish, set the plastic bag containing the fish to float in your tank, allowing the water temperature to stabilize. When releasing your new fish from their bag, use a net to scoop them out and gently deposit them in your tank. Never pour the water from the pet store into your tank, as you may introduce disease.
Once your tank is established, and your fish settled in their new home, daily maintenance is quite simple.
Feed your fish twice per day, giving just a few pinches of food each time. Never feed more than the fish can consume in a few minutes.
- Your fish will do well with variety, so rotate between a general tropical fish food, a vegetable-based flake food, and occasional offerings of freeze-dried or frozen tubifex worms, daphnia, or brine shrimp.
Observe your pets daily, looking for any sign of disease or injury. Your fish should swim freely, eat when offered food, and be free of sores or reddened patches on their fins or skin.
- Signs of distress or illness include:
- Gasping near surface of tank
- Fins clamped tightly against the body
- Shimmying or turning in circles
- White, cottony patches on the body or fins
- Ulcers on the head
- Gills opening and closing more rapidly than normal
- Erratic swimming patterns
If you see signs of illness in your fish, isolate that fish in a bowl with water from the tank. Take the fish to your local pet store, where they can recommend appropriate treatment.
Your tank will require regular care, but will not be time consuming.
- Check water temperature daily, and observe to be sure all equipment is operating properly.
- Every other week, test the tank water, and change 10-15%.
- When changing water, vacuum debris from the gravel.
- Keep your fish tank clean and wipe down any algae off the walls with a scrub sponge.
- Wipe mineral deposits off the aquarium edges, top and lid.
- Check filter inserts or cartridges and replace as needed.
A fish tank is a wonderful addition to your home, providing interest, color and a connection with nature. The initial investment of time and money will pay off with enjoyment each day as you observe your aquarium inhabitants thrive.