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A Beginners Guide To Nemo's Freshwater Friends
Member Name: sandemp
Date: 06/06/05, updated on 12/06/05 (6587 review reads)
Advantages: Rewarding To Watch , Talking Point
Disadvantages: Expensive And Time Consuming To Set Up Properly, Can't Give Them Cuddles
After watching Finding Nemo and Shark's Tale my children just happened to remember that we used to have an fish tank filled to the brim with tropical fish, and started to ask if we could have another one. Now, as we've done this previously, we know just how expensive it is to set up and keep a good home for tropical fish as well as how much pleasure that can be gained from watching our finned friends going about their daily life. So we thought why not, and started preparations ready for the big day when we would go to the aquatic centre to buy a multitude of fishy pets.
And now I'm going to attempt to guide you through the experience of buying and setting up your first, very own fresh water tropical fish community.
The size of tank that you need will depend on how many and what type of fish you want to keep. We'd previously had a four footer, but this worked out very expensive to keep, so this time we bought a two foot tank that actually came supplied in a cabinet, with the lighting, heater and filter included. Personally, I can't recommend this route enough, as nearly everything is already in place, all we needed to buy was the water conditioner, gravel, ornaments, food and of course fish.
If you don't go for the complete route you will need to not only buy the tank, but will also need a hood (preferably with a light), a heater, temperature strip, filter and a sturdy stand (a full tank is very heavy) as well as the items mentioned above.
---Setting The Tank Up---
Once you've got your tank home, you will need to start preparing it for your fish and this is done in stages the first of which is to give the interior of the tank a good clean with plain water (don't use any chemicals as most of them are dangerous to fish) then you can start preparing the various items that you will be putting in the tank starting with :
There are lots of different types of gravel to choose from, including plain white stones, multi-coloured ones or even glass pebbles. I personally used multi-coloured gravel with a few of the coloured glass pebbles added to give a more interesting look.
The first thing you need to do with the gravel is rinse it in plain water, and you'll notice the water going cloudy as the dust is washed off, so you'll need to empty the water away and re-rinse until the water is clear. You can then arrange the gravel at the bottom of your tank, I like to arrange the gravel in little hillocks and valleys rather than just flat as it looks far more interesting.
--Half Fill The Tank--
You can now fill the tank half-way with tap water, I find it's actually better to fill a clean bucket with water and leave it overnight as this gives some time for at least some of the chlorine to dissipate. I then use a jug to gently pour the water into the tank, keeping a note of how much water I've actually added (ready for conditioning). Once the tank is half full then you can start adding the…
After you've arranged your gravel, it's a good idea to think about whether you want to add real plants or their plastic counterparts. I must admit I took the easy option here and chose plastic (which again need to be washed prior to placing in the tank) but you can buy plenty of different plants that can be planted in a tank. Either way, it's pretty essential to add one sort or the other as they not only add interest, but also provide places for fish to hide (as well as food if they're of the real variety).
There are a number of different items you can also add at this stage to add to the interest level and provide more places for the fish to hide. We have one of those corny bridges along with a piece of driftwood. No matter what you buy again they will need to be thoroughly cleaned before being introduced to the tank, especially driftwood (which needs to be soaked to get rid of any salt, unless you buy it ready prepared). My personal preference is to use boiling water, to get rid of any bacteria.
--Fill The Tank--
Once you have everything arranged as you like it then it's time to finally fill the tank completely. Well maybe not completely, in fact I would make sure there's just enough room for you to be able to put your hand to the bottom without the tank actually overflowing. As before keep a record of how much water you've added, because now it's time to add the conditioner. Different conditioners have different instructions for use, but most will say to add a certain amount per litre of water, so follow the instructions on the bottle you've bought.
* Chlorine such as is present in tap water is poisonous to fish and the conditioner will help remove it.
Once the tank is filled and the water conditioned it's time to turn on your lighting, heating and filtration system and then I'm afraid you need to wait for about a week before you can start adding any fish. This gives time for the water to warm, settle and balance before you start introducing such things as fish poo to the mix, as well as providing ample chance to make sure everything works properly.
---Choosing Your Fish---
Once your tank is prepared it's time to go to the "fish shop" to choose which species you want to start adding to the tank. Now I personally prefer to go to a specialist aquatic centre to buy my fish, as there's always staff on hand to give me expert advice, but you can also buy them from many pet shops. Either way, before you even think of buying any fish, have a close look at all the different tanks. Are there any dead fish floating about on the surface? And do the fish look in good condition? If the answer to the first question is yes or the second no, then I would suggest buying your fish elsewhere.
Once you've found a shop that appears to be selling healthy fish it's time to look at which ones you want to buy, so I'll talk you through some of the different species I've personally bought :
There are lots of different types of Tetras and they are one of my favourite tropical fish (and one of the easiest to look after). As a shoaling fish you need to buy a number together (I have eight in my tank), but you can buy several different types and they'll be perfectly happy. One of the most common is the neon tetra, which is mainly red, with a blue flash that catches the light impressively, as well as these I have lemon tetras which are very pale yellow. All of these are fun fish that will even follow your finger if you move it backwards and forwards across the length of the tank.
To add variety to the shoal you can add some danios, we have a couple of different varieties in our tank including, zebra danios which are perhaps the easiest to find and have dark blue stripes on a silver body.
--Red Tailed Shark--
It always impresses when you tell people you've got a shark in your aquarium, even if it is only a couple of inches long. These black fish with striking red tails can be aggressive, and I would only really buy one for a tank and even then would never mix them with long finned fish such as guppies.
While guppies are beautiful fish with (in the case of the males) long flowing tails, I personally wouldn't recommend keeping any females, for the simple reason that they breed like nobodies business. When we kept these we ended up with literally hundreds of babies, and in the end decided that we could no longer have females. The trouble is that if you keep the males on their on they tend to fight and attack each others tail.
These are bottom dwellers and look as if they are Nemo's cousins. Being orange with black stripes they look very beautiful and a pair is a good addition to any tank, not only because of their looks, but also because they will actually help clean any waste food from the bottom of the tank.
As well as loaches to help clean the tank, a catfish of any kind is a good idea. I personally have a leopard catfish, which not only looks nice with it's black spots on a greyish brown body, but it also does an excellent job of cleaning any algae that forms on the sides of the tank.
There are of course many other varieties of fish available, but as this is intended to be a beginners guide to setting up (and running) an aquarium, it would not be very wise to start recommending fish that take a greater amount of care, and to be honest you can create an interesting and healthy aquarium with just these varieties.
I suppose this would be a good point to warn you not to buy all your fish in one go, it's far better to introduce just one or two varieties at a time, and certainly no more than six fish at once. This is because it will take your tank time to balance out after each group are introduced, as they will add chemicals just because they poo.
---Introducing Your Fish---
Once you've got your fish home, it's so tempting to just open the bag and dump them in the tank, but don't. If you do this you're likely to end up with some very dead fish, a far better plan is to lift the hood and then place the sealed bag(s) on the top of the water. Now go and have a well earned cup of tea and watch the TV for quarter of an hour or so, before going back opening the bags and adding a little of the aquarium water before re-sealing the bags. Then wait another quarter of an hour before finally releasing the fish into the aquarium.
---Caring For Your Fish---
Once your fish are settled in their new home it's time to start caring for them. They are very undemanding pets, and only ask for a clean, warm home with just the right amount of food.
The heater in my tank is controlled by a thermostat, which means I don't have to worry about turning it on and off, but just to make sure it's not too hot or cold I have a temperature strip attached to the side of the tank (you can buy these in most pet/aquatic shops). We only have the light on during the day, and the clever little fish have learnt that when the light goes on it's time for their first feed.
I feed my fish tropical fish food that can be bought in lots of places (including Wilkinsons) very cheaply and feed them twice a day, making sure I only add as much food as they will eat within a couple of minutes. (If you over-feed them you will end up poisoning the water).
To keep the tank clean, I simply remove about 10% of the water and slowly replace it with water that has been treated and left to warm overnight. If you try adding the water too quickly you'll end up with cold spots that could cause the fish to go into shock. I find I don't need to do anything else to keep the clean, due to the fact that I have the loaches and catfish.
As with all organisms, fish can catch various nasty diseases, including white spot (mine caught this) and for this reason it's a good idea to actually buy a book on the subject so that you know what to look for. Although you can buy some remedies that you add to the water, it's advisable to remove any fish that look diseased as soon as you notice them. You'll need a small separate tank for this I'm afraid, but unless you want to loose your whole colony then it's a must. Any dead fish should also be removed from the tank as soon as possible and examined for signs of disease, a yucky job I know, but it has to be done.
I thought I'd add this to the health part, it's very easy to stress fish, they really don't like vibrations through the water. So it's not a good idea to place the tank near to your stereo speakers, or allow people to tap on the glass.
I thought I'd a little word here about how much it cost to set up my aquarium, and it wasn't cheap (although there are probably cheaper alternatives).
The two foot tank on a stand, with heater, filter and light included cost a tad under £150. There are other models that go up to a size of six foot and cost over £1000, so how much you spend really does depend on how big you want your tank. Gravel, plastic plants and ornaments added another £20, and then the fish started at about £1 each up to just under £5 (depending on where you buy them). Other species of fish can cost considerably more, this is not a cheap hobby.
While you can't cuddle fish, or take them for walks they can still be rewarding pets, just in a different way. For a start they make an impressive display, and become a talking piece in any house. The amount of time people have commented on them is reward enough. And then watching the fish as they go about their daily lives is very therapeutic, it's very calming and something that's enjoyed by young and old alike. Even toddlers seem to be drawn to the tank, and it's a great way to discuss colours and sizes with them. Finally, although there is no physical contact, there is still the interaction, from the way the fish all swarm to the surface as the lid is opened and they think it's time to eat, to the way that the shoal will follow your hand as you move it backwards and forwards.
So there you have it, a beginners guide to setting up your very first tropical aquarium. I can't tell you how rewarding it is when you've sat and watched the fish for an hour and let all your troubles wash away. So if you have the money, space and inclination why not give it a try.
I am not an expert, and this is only based on my own experience of successfully setting up an aquarium that holds freshwater tropical fish.
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