Starting a fish tank for beginners

beginners aquarium set up

Starting a fish tank for beginners that have never had a fish tank before. Everything that you need to know, do and buy is explained here.

Which type of aquarium setup do you want?

There are 3 basic aquarium setups

beginners aquarium set up
beginners aquarium set up with plants

1. The tropical freshwater tank. This is the most common. This is an aquarium that uses tap water or other freshwater source and a heater to maintain the tropical temperatures needed. There are a wide variety of colourful fish and plants available to populate this type of aquarium.
2. The cold-water tank. This is less common put still popular. By far the most common fish for this aquarium is the goldfish. With the growth of fish keeping there has been a wider availability of other cold-water/temperate fish (besides goldfish) that do not require warm water or a heater. Some of these fish are quite colourful.
3. The marine tank. This is a heated aquarium that uses seawater instead of tap water. You don’t need to take trips to the sea to obtain seawater. You can actually buy a sea salt mix and add it to tap water to make your own seawater. Most marine fish in the hobby are reef fish. Reef fish are the most colourful fish available. Maintaining a marine tank is much more difficult than the other two and is not recommended for beginners.

beginners aquarium
Setting up a beginners aquarium

Beginners should choose either the cold-water aquarium setup or the tropical aquarium. Both are as easy as each other. The tropical aquarium is more colourful and allows you to have more fish in the tank but does require a heater.

Where to place your aquarium

Where not to place an aquarium

1. Do not place near any heat source such as a fire or a radiator.
2. Do not place near a window that has any sunlight.
3. Do not place near a draughty location.
4. Do not place in a location that has a lot of disturbances such as people walking by or banging doors.
You need to place the aquarium near a double electric socket. Place the aquarium in a location where you can observe it comfortably and you have easy access to the top of the aquarium for maintenance.

beginners fish tank cabinet and hood
beginners fish tank cabinet and hood

Essential equipment for the beginner’s fish tank

Glass aquariums are recommended for best viewing. Plastic tanks are available but scratch easily
Buy a as large a tank as you can reasonably afford. A 2ft/60cm tank is the recommended minimum size.

You need a heater for a tropical aquarium. But no heater is required for goldfish or temperate fish.

Lighting is needed so that the plants can grow and you can see the fish clearly. Good lighting can bring out the colours of your fish.

aquarium water test kit
aquarium water test kit

Ammonia and nitrite test kit is essential for a new aquarium to test for fish waste build-up.
 
Filter – a canister or even a sponge filter is necessary for biological filtration to break down fish waste. A sponge filter will need an air pump to power it.
 
Fish food. A good quality fish food that is made for the type of fish you keep. Remember some fish are carnivorous, some are mainly herbivores, while most are omnivores.
 
A syphon and bucket to remove water easily from an aquarium is a necessity. You can also use the syphon and bucket to return fresh water to the aquarium in a way that does not scare the fish.

beginners coldwater fish tank
beginners coldwater fish tank

Plants. Plants help remove fish waste(manure) from the water and provide a healthier more natural looking environment for the fish. You can choose from floating plants, rooted plants and non-rooted plants such as moss balls.

It is not essential to have gravel or sand but most people prefer it because it gives a grounding to the aquatic scene. Plants can be potted in pots with soil topped with gravel for better growth.

A thermometer is essential for a tropical aquarium to check if the heater is heating the water to the ideal temperature for your fish. This varies depending on which species you have. However, there is a range of temperatures that fish tolerate.

A hood. This prevents excess evaporation, heat loss and stops fish jumping out of the aquarium.

equipment for beginners aquarium
equipment for beginners aquarium

How to set up your fish tank

A fish tank when filled with water can get heavy so it needs a floor that can support it. Most floors in modern houses do this with ease. You can place an aquarium on a fish tank stand or a cabinet. A fish tank cabinet is preferred because it has been designed to support the weight of a tank of water. Home furniture can be used as long as the top surface is straight and has vertical support in the middle which will prevent the cabinet from bowing. If you buy a larger tank then a proper fish tank cabinet or stand is a must.

The stand or cabinet has to be level under load. The floor might not be level so use a spirit level on top of the aquarium and adjust things until the aquarium is sitting level. Before filling the aquarium use a cushioning material underneath the tank, ie between the tank base and the top of the cabinet. Polystyrene foam is ideal and helps distribute out any unevenness.

Basic aquascaping for your beginner’s aquarium

Find a picture of an aquarium that you like online and try to replicate it. When you place the gravel in the aquarium slope it from the back to the front. Place tall or bushy plants at the back and sides of the aquarium. Leave the front and middle of the aquarium plant free except for the occasional specimen plant. Place heaters, filters and other equipment behind bushy plants.

Setting up sequence for a beginner’s aquarium

Once the tank has been properly located and set up level, you are ready to start putting it together. A suggested sequence is as follows.
1. Wash your gravel or sand by placing some in a bucket then running water from a tap into it. Dust will come out with the water flow. Swirl it with your hand until all the dust has gone. Then place the cleaned gravel/sand in the aquarium. Then put the next batch of gravel/sand in the bucket and repeat until all the gravel/sand that you need is in the aquarium.
2. Half fill your aquarium with water. Smooth out the gravel/sand again. It usually gets disturbed when you add water to the aquarium.
3. Place your potted aquarium plants in the aquarium. Add fertiliser to the roots of the plants.
4. Place all the equipment and any decorations in the tank.
5. Fill the tank to the top.
6. Switch on all the equipment.
7. Place on the lid and turn on the light.
8. Add dechlorinator to the water.
9. Check the temperature and adjust the heater to get the required temperature
10. After 24/48 hours add a couple of fish.
Do a 10% water change every day. The new water needs to be dechlorinated and at the same temperature as the tank water.
11. Daily check the ammonia and nitrites. They will rise as the fish keep pooping and urinating. If the ammonia/nitrite levels go too high, do an extra water change.
12. When the ammonia/nitrite levels start to drop add another 2 fish.
13. Check the levels again and keep doing the water changes.
14. As the levels drop again and again add more fish. Only add more fish when your aquarium can cope.
15. After 6 weeks the aquarium should be stabilised.

starter fish for beginners
starter fish for beginners

Choosing the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

You need to research to find which fish is tough and won’t die easily. You need to avoid fish that are aggressive to other fish. And make sure you don’t buy fish that grow very big. Make sure you have a few alternative choices, because the particular fish you want might not be available. Do an internet search for fish that you like the look of that fits the previous choices.

How to buy the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

Child choosing fish in aquarium storeNow, you know what fish you are after and they are available. Do you just hand over your money? No! You must go to the fish shop’s tanks and have a good look at the fish in the tank. A tank with dead or sick fish is a big no no. You need to observe the fish. Are they active? Do they have fins extended. Are the colours bright and clear? Make sure there are no missing scales, no spots and no bits of fungus growing on them. Don’t buy a fish with split fins or cloudy eyes. When you approach the tank and pretend to feed them at the top of the aquarium, the fish should all rush to where you put your hand.

Select one fish at a time and ask the shop keeper to net the particular fish that looks good to you. Remember to not get excited and buy just a couple of fish at a time.

When to add the fish to your aquarium

Add the first 2 fish 24 to 48 hours after the tank has been filled up. To add fish to the tank from the bag. Do not just throw them in, but put the closed bag in the water and wait 15 minutes for the bag’s water to match the tank’s temperature. Then you just plop the fish in.

Then do daily ammonia/nitrite tests and daily water changes. As the fish eat they poop and urinate into the water. This pollution is cleaned up by bacteria in the filter. But, it takes time to build up enough bacteria. That is why you need to test the ammonia/nitrite levels. When the levels start to fall, add a couple more fish. If the ammonia/nitrite becomes too high then do an immediate water change of 25% and add dechlorinated water at the same temperature.

Cycling the beginner’s aquarium

This is critical to keeping your fish alive for any length of time. Fish waste builds up in water which slowly poisons the fish. Luckily when fish waste appears in water, bacteria start to grow that feed off this waste and neutralise it. However there is a time lag of several weeks before the bacteria can grow enough to cope with all of the fish waste. Most cycling bacteria grows inside a filter on the sponge material. The filter needs a good flow of water to feed the bacteria, which means you occasionally have to squeeze off the excess mud off the filter to stop it becoming clogged.

Cycling your aquarium

Setting up a maintenance routine

Once the tank has cycled, perhaps after 6-8 weeks then you can start to relax and reduce the water changes to 10% every week. Water changes help reduce the level of nitrate that is produced by the cycling bacteria. In nature, fast growing plants and algae would normally utilise nitrate, which is a fertiliser. In the aquarium we need to dilute the nitrate because we normally have too many fish compared to nature.

beginners tank fish feeding
beginners tank fish feeding

Every day
Feed the fish and do a fish count every feeding time. If any fish are missing then search the tank and remove the dead fish otherwise it could rot and pollute the tank. At the same time, check that all fish are healthy, active and with fins spread. Check for any parasites, any spots or any fungus and treat the fish when they are sick. At the same time check the temperature is right.

Once a week
1.Do an algae scrape of the front of the aquarium. It is better for the health of the aquarium if you do not scrape the side and back panes of the tank. If you are a meticulous person then you can also scrape the side panes as well but leave the back pane alone. Syphon 10-20% of the water into a bucket and sift the syphon through the sand/gravel to disturb any food or fish droppings that are trapped in the gravel. Pour away the bucket of water but be careful not to pour away any accidentally syphoned gravel. Wash this gravel and put it back into the aquarium.

2. Next, mix up a bucket of water with hot and cold tap water until it is the same temperature as your aquarium. Add your dechlorinator to the bucket of water. Then add this water to your tank. Top up your tank until full again.

3. Check there is a good flow from the filter. If the flow is slow then squeeze the excess mud from the filter and throw the mud away. Do not wash the sponge with tap water because that will kill the nitrifying bacteria on the sponge. Just squeeze the sponge by hand and then wash your hands.

4. Check your plants. Prune any dead bits and remove any dead plants.
5. Sit back and relax and enjoy your aquarium. You have passed the hardest stage of fish keeping. Now everything becomes easy and should be a more relaxed routine.

How to buy livebearers

blue lace leopard skin guppy male

Where and how to buy livebearers

Here are the main sources of livebearers

Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish
Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish

You can of course go to one of the large pet chain stores where you will be able to buy some off the shelf guppies, platies or mollies and sometimes swordtails. However don’t expect any fancy variety or high pedigree fish. If you are a beginner just starting out then this is not a bad place to start out. You will however have to be more careful with the health of the fish you buy here because these are not cared for by experts in fish keeping but by shop staff who may not have experience in looking after fish at all.

There are smaller specialised aquarium shops that will carry a greater variety of livebearer and occasionally will stock the excess brood of a professional breeder. You might be able to pick up some near pedigree stock.

Aquarium clubs are a much better place to buy more specialised forms and rare species of livebearer. You will also be able to buy wild strains of newly imported fish that are not available anywhere else. The American livebearer association or the British livebearer association are the obvious clubs to join. Other local clubs are less likely to have livebearers that you might particularly want.

internet classified adverts is a good source for fish
internet classified adverts is a good source for fish

You can also browse aquarist magazines in the classified section to see if the livebearer you are after has come up for sale.

Before buying your fish, it is best to inspect it first. Be prepared by taking with you several plastic bags and a polystyrene carrier box to take your fish home comfortably without much heat loss. Before you set off to buy you must have your home aquarium all set up.

Now, with the spread of the internet you can also buy fish from an online source. There are several good options available to you. Ebay, craigslist, gumtree, and others have a good fish for sale section. Aquarist classifieds has several specialised fish for sale sections that are also sorted by area.

There are also online firms that do mail order tropical fish. They deliver tropical fish to your door overnight no matter where you live in the country. But sometimes when the weather is particularly cold they might not deliver. Another drawback to this is that you cannot inspect the fish before hand. Home delivery of fish relies on mutual trust from the buyer and seller. The advantages are that you can pick exactly the fish you want with you having a wide choice. Also you do not have to make wasted journeys looking for your fish. The cost of delivery can be reduced by buying several fish at the same time.

In the winter some firms will deliver fish but will include special heat packs that maintain the temperature of the water for 24 hours until they can safely reach you. These are expensive and you the purchaser will have to pay extra for this delivery method.

Always buy healthy livebearers

How do you recognise a healthy livebearer? Once you have picked out the fish you are interested in, take a good long look at it in the aquarium. Also, look at other tankmates that share the same tank as well. Examine the body for any white or grey fuzzy patches. Examine the fins for any splits or frayed edges. Check for any abnormal swelling of the eyes or swelling of the abdomen. Check for any scales that stick out pine cone like. Look at the gills they should not be red in colour. check the belly of the fish. If it is concave or the head of the fish looks too big for the body. This is a sign of a poor upbringing. If any of the previous symptoms are present in the fish you are considering then do not buy the fish.

Your ideal fish should have scales and skin with bright colours and have no white grey,brown spots on the skin. The skin should not have a cloudy mucous or fluffy patch anywhere. The fins should be held proud and erect, held away from the body. Clamped fins are a bad sign. Frayed fins are a sign of ill health.

Examine the mouth of the fish. The fish should not have white/grey patches around the lips. The mouth should be sharp and clear.

Next observe the fish swimming. The fish should be active not skulking in a corner. It should show signs of wanting to feed when you come near the aquarium. The fish should not be stuck to the floor of the aquarium nor should it be stuck floating at the surface. This is a sign of swim bladder problems. If you see any of the fish in the aquarium with their mouths near the surface gasping for air and gills opening and closing then this is a sign of poor water conditions(but don’t confuse this with fish trying to feed).

Can I buy just a single livebearer?

It is best to buy a group of fish together because livebearers are social animals and develop inter-fish relationships such as dominance and recognise familiar individuals. You can buy a single fish to add to an existing aquarium but be careful of bullying of the newcomer. Swordtail males will fight each other so it is best to buy only 1 male for any individual aquarium.

How many male and female livebearers should I buy?

If you are buying young fish then to guarantee a reasonable group of males and females you should buy 6 or more because there is no way of telling the sexes apart at a young age.

If you buy adult fish then you can distinguish the males from the females.

  1. Males are more colourful than females. Females are dull in colour but may have some colours in the fins.
  2. Males are usually smaller than females of the same age.
  3. Males have a stick like ventral fin, where the females have a normal triangular shaped fin. The males use this fin to fertilise the females. This fin is located near the fish’s vent.
  4. The males have larger dorsal fins than the females.
  5. Males are slim built while females are plump in shape.

Once you learn to tell apart males from females then you are ready to buy a breeding group. Try to buy 2 females for every male.

Best time of the year to buy livebearers

There is a greater abundance of fish for sale during the spring, autumn and christmas time. So these are the best times to buy your fish. When you buy your fish make sure you don’t have a holiday or business trip planned in the weeks after purchase. It is best to be there for the first few weeks while your fish settle in to oversee if there are any problems.

How to bring your newly bought livebearers home

Set up your home aquarium before you start looking for fish. It should ideally be cycled with a mature filter. After you have purchased your prized specimens always head straight home. When you arrive home, immediately place the unopened bags in the aquarium water.

Leave the fish in the bag for at least 15 minutes to give a chance for the water temperature to equalise with that in the tank. After that you can slowly top up the bag with some water from the tank. Wait 5 minutes then top up again with some more water. Keep repeating until the bag is full. Then release the fish into the tank.

If you have bought small fish or baby fish less than an inch long then you can bag them together in large bags, 4 to a bag. You should put adult fish or fish an inch or bigger in size, singly into separate bags. The bags should be filled with 3/4 air and 1/4 water by the person selling you the fish. They should use the water from the aquarium the fish came from.

Quarantining your newly bought livebearers

When you become serious at the hobby and have prized specimens at home that would be a great loss if they died then you must use a quarantine tank to keep your new arrivals away from your established fish. This gives you a chance to see if your new fish have any hidden illnesses or not. Keep your new fish in quarantine for at least 2 weeks, but better still for 4 weeks to be absolutely safe. If the new fish appears well after this time then they can be transferred to the main aquarium.

Have the right livebearer aquarium set up

Most livebearers can live quite well in a community tank. Your community tank can consist of a variety of livebearer species, a single livebearer species or even include some other community fish alongside. The choice is yours.

Use a single species tank if you are line breeding pedigree livebearers. Note that some closely related livebearer species can interbreed and you will end up with unwanted mongrel fish.

When having a community tank you should try to make sure all the fish are of a similar size and similar activity level. This will help to reduce bullying of small fish by bigger fish and active fish stressing out more placid fish. Also the more active fish will always get to the fish effectively starving the less active fish.

You should always include more females than males for all species. A ratio of 2 females to every male is a good starting point. This is because most males will be continually trying to mate with the females. Too much male attention stresses the females.

Livebearers generally prefer hard alkaline water of ph higher than 7.5. Some species even benefit with some sea salt added to the water. The main species of livebearers prefer temperatures between 74-80f. However the sunset platy a close relative of the common platy prefers lower temperatures between 70f and 75f. Goodeids also prefer lower temperatures similar to sunset platies.

Compatible fish for a livebearer community tank

Most small tetras are compatible with guppies, mollies and platies or other similar livebearer species.

Small corydoras catfish are ideal for most livebearer tanks because the corys stay along the bottom avoiding the livebearers who mostly live along the top of the aquarium.

Most dwarf cichlids make ideal companions because they also occupy the bottom of the aquarium and are not overly aggressive. The presence of livebearers in a dwarf cichlid tank actually gives the dwarf cichlids more confidence to come out more rather than hiding in plants and caves.

Barbs, rasboras and danios are a little more active and occupy the same space as livebearers but can still make good companions for medium to large livebearers such as swordtails and sailfin mollies.

Even for a livebearer single species tank, the addition of a few corydoras catfish can liven your aquarium by having some activity in the lower half of the tank which is usually deserted in a livebearer aquarium set up.

Setting up a Community tank here

Suggested starter groups here

Essential facts about Livebearers here.

Maintain a healthy Livebearer aquarium here.

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers make and how to avoid them

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank
Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

New aquarium hobbyists are generally an excitable bunch—they are quick to purchase all the tools necessary and eager to begin their first foray into the colorful and rewarding world of fish keeping. That excitement, however, can lead to some important oversights when it comes to maintaining a successful tank. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and would like to ensure success, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls:

Number one: lack of patience

In order to ensure the success of your aquarium, you must be able to provide your fish with a stable environment that is carefully and patiently attended to. The desire to get everything done right now and enjoy a colorful display of fish may be overwhelming, but if you do not take the time to address the water conditions of your tank first, you run the risk of killing fish.

Examples of impatient behavior that threatens fish include placing fish into your tank before it is cycled, placing multiple fish in your tank on the same day, and overfeeding. It is important that each of these steps is taken carefully and with respect towards appropriate timing.

Make sure you treat tap water to remove chlorine or allow a bucket of tap water to rest for 36 hours before adding to the aquarium.
When adding new fish they should ideally be quarantined first and when putting a fish into an aquarium put the bag into the aquarium first for 15 minutes before emptying the fish into the aquarium.

Don’t overfeed your fish. Any uneaten food should be removed within five minutes. Use a siphon to hover out uneaten food. The amount of food a fish can eat is minute. Most beginners overestimate what their fish can eat.

Don’t feed just for entertainment, to get the fish to actively swim for food is not a good idea.

Don’t buy sick or unhealthy fish. Keep your money in your pocket and find a shop where they sell healthy fish.

Wait until your fish tank is ready before buying fish.

Number two: not understanding the nitrogen cycle

All about cycling here

Make sure you have a good filter. The more powerful, the better. Not buying a filter is the surest way to fish death.

This mistake links heavily with mistake number one, since an unsuccessful tank cycling is often the result of impatience. Getting bacteria in your tank to reliably convert toxic ammonia into nitrite and nitrate is of critical importance to the health of your fish, and it takes time. If you rush this important step, your fish will have a very hard time surviving.

Thankfully, there are numerous guides on this website and others dedicated to helping newcomers understand the nitrogen cycle. By following those guidelines to the letter and giving your tank time to become the ideal environment in which the necessary bacteria can grow on your filter medium, you will ensure that your first fish thrive.

Buy a filter with a lot of surface area such as a sponge and make sure it is well powered. The bigger the aquarium the more powerful a filter you need. The filter is not there to just filter ‘bits’ out of the water but more importantly it is there to allow bacteria to break down fish waste into harmless substances.

Do not clean everything in the tank. You will remove the healthy bacteria. Washing the gravel is a big no-no. But you should hover the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

Do not wash the filter’s sponge in tap water as you will kill the healthy bacteria.

Also do not use soap or detergents or any other chemicals to clean the aquarium or any equipment. Most are poisonous to fish.

Number three: buying a small tank

Often, newcomers to the aquarium hobby will look at large tanks and think they require expert-level care due to their size when in fact, the opposite is true. Large tanks offer a far more forgiving environment for your fish when it comes to water quality—one of the most challenging areas for newcomers.

If you choose a small tank, you run the risk of upsetting the balance of water acidity, hardness, or ammonia levels very easily. In a large tank, even significant mistakes can be remedied with relative simplicity, owing to the greater volume of water present. You are much less likely to accidentally kill your fish in a large tank, so it is worth it to invest in the biggest one you can afford!

Goldfish bowl – this is a big no-no.

Number four: overstocking your tank

If you succeed in properly cycling your tank and setting up the right conditions for your fish to thrive in, you still run the risk of overstocking your tank with fish. Experienced aquarists can run highly populated tanks, but a newcomer would invite disaster by the attempt.

There are many rules to combining the ratio of fish to tank volume, but one of the most common is through measuring the total length of your fish and comparing that to the volume of tank. One safe option is to measure 1 cm of fish for every 2 liters of water. Thus, a 60 liter tank (16 gallons) could reliably support 30 cm (12 inches) of fish.

Stop buying every fish that takes your fancy. If you buy more fish, you must first buy another aquarium.
Also check the adult size of the young fish you buy. When your fish start to grow they can become overcrowded.

Number five: choosing incompatible fish

Suggested compatible fish

Appropriate research into the needs and behaviors of your fish is key to maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for them. Certain species require very different water conditions, and others will behave aggressively. It helps to have the advice of an experienced aquarist on hand when choosing your fish so that you can enjoy a colorful, rewarding selection of fish.

While there are numerous guides available for choosing your first group of fish, and many helpful suggestions can be found online, even the most studied of newcomers can make mistakes. Taking fish behavior, ideal water conditions, and favorite position in the tank (bottom-dwellers, surface feeders, etc.) into consideration is best done with the help of a mentor.

Number six: overfeeding

Easily the most common mistake made by new fish owners, overfeeding can have disastrous consequences on the condition of your tank. Fish are opportunistic eaters that will generally consume whatever food is present—just because they eat does not mean they needed to be fed.

When starting out, feed your fish once per day, taking care to test the water before feeding and, if necessary, withhold their food for a day or two. You are not starving your fish, but making sure that their waste is effectively processed before you introduce more food. Give them only enough food for them to finish in five minutes, and they should be fine.

Number seven: infrequent water changes

Many new aquarium owners, having learned about the nitrogen cycle and taken the time to set up their tank properly, make the mistake of believing that this chemical cycle will take care of all waste in the tank. While it does convert harmful ammonia into nitrate, it does not protect against high levels of nitrate which can irritate fish—you still need to perform water changes and hover your substrate every week.

Also do not change more than 25% of the water at any one time.

Number eight: insufficient filtration

Your filter could be the single most important piece of equipment in your tank. Not only does it separate debris from your water, but most of the beneficial bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle inhabit the filter medium. For this reason, you should err on the side of over-sizing your filter.

For the best results, purchase a filter that can turn the volume of your aquarium 4 or 5 times per hour. This is slightly more than commonly recommended, and ensures that you have enough power to keep your water in prime condition. Remember, too much filtration is never a problem, but insufficient filtration is a constant frustration.

Number nine: not adhering to a maintenance schedule

Suggested maintenance schedule

This mistake is often the root cause of mistake number seven. Fish keeping is not a set-and-forget hobby—you need to apply yourself to keeping your fish healthy on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will need to dedicate between one and three hours per week to cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing your water changes.

Doing this effectively requires that you introduce this into your weekly schedule. Newcomers to the hobby who attempt to rely on their intuition will suffer disastrous consequences eventually. Keeping track of your maintenance schedule is key to success, and easy to organize: simply set up a reminder program in a calendar application on your computer or smart phone for reliable reminders.

Change 10% of the water every week should be fine for most fish. Rinse the filter out in aquarium water when the flow starts to slow down.

Number ten: not including live plants

Suggested beginners plants

While newcomers to the aquarium hobby often like the look of live plants, they frequently omit these important and helpful aquarium guests, thinking that they require too much maintenance. In reality, live plants reduce maintenance needs by passively out-competing algae for nutrients in the tank and oxygenating the water efficiently.

If you want to ensure the greatest conditions possible for your first aquarium, invest in some hardy live plants and let them perform some of the work for you. You will be glad you did!

Even if you have a good filter removing the fishes waste products. Over time nitrates will build up. When you do water changes you dilute the nitrate however you do not remove it entirely. Plants remove nitrate so helping to remove the low level waste of nitrates.

Plants also help to remove some toxins from the water. Plants help prevent algae by absorbing fertiliser from the water before algae can absorb it.

Don’t buy snails to clean algae, they will just eat your plants and poop everywhere.
Also, don’t leave your aquarium by a sunny window. You will just get a tank full of green water, even with plants. And don’t leave your aquarium light on all the time. 8-10 hours a day is sufficient.

Conclusion

The decision to keep your first aquarium can be an exciting one, and it is easy to rush into things, but the best results come to the aquarists who focus patiently on providing the best environment for their fish. Address these ten common mistakes to enjoy the best chance of success for your first fish tank.

 

Why do my fish keep dying?

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

Why do my fish keep dying?

Mistakes beginner fishkeepers make

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium
two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

There can be several reasons for the death of your fish; however for beginners the main reason is new tank syndrome. This is a situation where you have bought new fish and placed them in a newly set up aquarium. Your fish start dying and you are unable to explain the cause. This syndrome is usually experienced by new fish owners who have yet to master keeping fish safe, healthy and alive. Here are some things that you should look out for and avoid to explain and prevent new tank deaths

  • Uncycled aquarium & filter
  • Water chemistry problems
  • Diseases
  • Poor diet and overfeeding
  • Over population
  • Wrong type of fish
  • Buying sick fish

Uncycled aquarium & filter

dead catfish on the tank floor
dead catfish on the tank floor

 
Most fish owners will be buying their new pets along with new equipment, such as an aquarium and a filter. They will fill the aquarium with water and then put in the fish and they will think that the work is done. This is a common error by most new fish owners. Even before you introduce your desired fish population, you need to create a nitrifying bacteria bed in your aquarium and filter.

Take note that the same way human bodies have good bacteria that can protect them from harm, so does the aquarium. An aquarium and especially the filter must have good bacteria that can protect them from risks to their health. The bacteria work by neutralizing or converting toxins that are produced by the fish’s droppings and urine such as ammonia and nitrites.

Without good bacteria, these toxins build up in the aquarium. When they reach dangerous levels, the fish will absorb these toxins and cause them to become ill. Since it is often difficult to detect if a fish is sick, new fish owners will only discover it when it is too late and the fish are dead or about to die.

It takes time for the healthy bacteria in the filter to build up, between 4-6 weeks before a healthy population of bacteria develops in the filter capable of fully removing fish waste products. So, what do you do in the mean time? You have to do daily partial water changes to dilute these toxins. Perhaps, remove 5% of the water and top up with (chlorine free) fresh water.

dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap
dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap

This explains a common pattern to newly bought fish that will be fine for up to a week or longer. Then something seems to change and the fish start getting ill. Finally they start to die. And, the few fish that survive start to get better and if all is well the survivors live a long time.

This is all explained by the cycling of the filter and the fish waste product. When the fish first enter a new aquarium with fresh water there is no waste matter in the water. As the fish start to poop and urinate in the water this waste starts to build up. This poisons the fish. Slowly the bacteria in the filter build up and digest this waste cleaning the water, but this takes weeks to establish.

Water chemistry problems

Fish require a delicate balance in the chemicals in the water. Clear water does not necessarily mean an ideal environment for the fish. Ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are some of the chemicals, which when uncontrolled, can cause significant harm to your fish that will eventually lead to death. These toxins are from the waste your fish produce. These are harmful toxins that should be neutralized or kept at a minimum during the course of your taking care of the fish.

Cycling explained in full here

When looking after fish as pets you are not necessarily taking care of the actual fish themselves but rather of the water quality instead. Measuring devices and kits are available to keep a check on the various chemical parameters of the water of your fish tank. You must also have keen observation, noting changes such as the tinge of the water, any discoloration of the gravel in the aquarium or the behaviour of your fish. However, as a beginner, if you rely solely on observation, the toxic levels will already be too high to before you understand that something is wrong. At this point any chance for survival of your fish is slim.

Tap water usually contains chlorine which is lethal to your fish. To remove it leave the water standing for 1-2 days before adding to your aquarium. Alternatively, use dechlorinating medication that removes chlorine immediately from tap water.
Check the ph and hardness. Ph between 6.6 – 7.6 is okay for most fish. Test the hardness level. A moderate level of hardness is ideal for most beginner fish.
Diseases

Don’t buy sick fish! Beginners often buy fish that have illnesses from the pet shop. This is easier said than done. Check the pet shop aquarium if there are any sick or dead fish in there. Check if there are any spots on the fish or markings or fungus like patches. Make sure the fish are active and swim towards food. Don’t buy fish that are sulking or have clamped fins (ie fins held close to the body). Check the fish has bright colouration.

Another cause for fish death is because of disease. As the water quality becomes poorer from elevated levels of toxins, the fish health also becomes poorer with it. When the fish become weaker, they are more vulnerable to disease. A healthy fish will normally be able to resist these illnesses but a weakened fish will succumb to them.

Some examples of these diseases are bacterial infections, fungal infections, internal parasites in the fish’s body, dropsy and other opportunistic diseases. Most new fish owners will attempt to cure these diseases by adding antibiotics, anti-parasitic or anti-bacterial medicine into the water. However, without treating the underlying cause of the disease, which is the toxicity from waste matter, there will still be fatalities, despite the medication. Experienced fish owners are able to nurse a fish back to health where a beginner may or may not succeed.

Poor diet and overfeeding

Most new owners will enjoy feeding their fish. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing their fish swim towards the food and follow the trail wherever you sprinkle the food? It is also fun to see some fish diving towards a food pellet that sinks towards the bottom of the aquarium. Ironically, feeding your fish or rather overfeeding is also one of the main causes of fish death.

Fish should be fed once a or twice day, with the fish eating everything within 5 minutes. But most new owners will feed their fish every chance they get. On top of this over feeding, other members of the family may also be feeding the fish on their own without the owner’s knowledge. Fish food that is uneaten, such as food left floating on the surface of the water or sitting on the aquarium bed will rot and pollute your aquarium, leading to the same problems as fish waste. Rotting food in the aquarium is the second biggest cause of fish deaths after new tank syndrome.

Over population

Another cause of death for fish is the population itself. Despite the care you make on making a balance in the water chemistry, proper feeding schedule and best equipment you can provide, your fish may still die because there are just too many fish in too small an aquarium. But problems may also arise if you have the wrong combination of fish species.

There isn’t a strict rule on the ideal number of fish for a certain size of aquarium. More experienced fish owners recommend a ratio of 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water. Take note that the 1 inch is meant to be measured on each fish’s eventual adult size. The more fish there are, the greater the chance for oxygen deficiency, self pollution and diseases to spread.

The wrong combination of fish can also lead to stress and deaths. If you put together an aggressive fish with a more passive or smaller fish, the passive fish may be bullied. In their natural environment, a passive fish would be able to escape the aggressive fish, but in an aquarium they have no chance for escape. The constant stress will cause death.

Wrong type of fish

Finally, the beginner may have bought a difficult to care for species of fish. Difficult fish may need special water requirements, special dietary needs or some other type of specialised care. You must always ask the pet shop owner if the fish you are buying are beginner community fish to avoid such problems. Only buy more difficult fish when you have more experience.

You should buy popular starter fish such as gold fish, tetras, platies, swordtails and bettas. These are colorful, active and most importantly easy to care for. Avoid buying difficult fish such as saltwater fish.

Recommended compatible fish groups here

Conclusion

Once you have mastered the two main causes of fish death which is new tank syndrome and rotting uneaten food in the aquarium you will have a good chance of keeping your fish alive long term. And, if you follow all the above advice you should hardly ever see a fish death in your tanks. If you follow all this advice, not only will your fish stop dying but you will see your fish in full glowing health.

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

While aquarists far and wide agree that fishkeeping is a fascinating hobby and trade, it can easily become an expensive one as well. The staggering number of new products always being released is enough to make anyone believe that an aquarium is a major investment. However, if you keep things simple and aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY work, you can enjoy an amazing fish tank without breaking the bank in the process.

There are two major elements to keeping a tropical tank on a budget: reducing your start-up costs and keeping your tank maintenance low-cost. Making the correct choices in both aspects will ensure that you end up saving significant sums of money in the long run.

Reducing start-up costs

The first opportunities to save money come when you begin collecting supplies to set up your fish tank. Depending on what products you buy and the sources from which you buy them, you can end up earning yourself substantial savings, or spending an unnecessary fortune.

Naturally, getting a smaller tank will decrease all of the associated costs that you will have to deal with afterwards. However, small tanks can be difficult to properly take care of, so you are encouraged to choose a small tank only if you feel like you have enough experience to make it a success, especially if you are on a budget.

Some of the best deals for aquarium equipment can be found through second-hand sources such as classifieds sections and fishkeeping forums. Buying second-hand equipment can vastly reduce your start-up costs, but must be done carefully. Everything has a shelf life, and you can expect to replace used equipment more frequently than you would if it was new.

Creatively sourcing your aquarium supplies can help you save in many ways. For example, you could forego using expensive substrates like black Tahitian moon sand and instead opt for pool filter sand that, while not specifically made for aquarium use, is cheap, clean, and natural enough to use on a budget without risking the health of your fish or affecting your filtration.

Sometimes people will give away a leaky aquarium that is otherwise sound. Such an aquarium can be repaired for just the price of a tube of silicone and a bottle of nail varnish remover. Use a blade to remove the old silicone from the inside of the aquarium. Thoroughly clean the joints. Then spread a thin bead of silicone and reseal the tank. Use a finger along the seam to smooth the silicone and voila a new tank. You can also re-seal any tank that springs a leak.

Another great way to save money on your start-up costs is by making your aquarium setup a DIY project. Many common aquarium appliances can be made using various household and workshop items:

  • Sponge Filters – If you buy a simple power head and a brick of filter sponge, you can use a plastic tube to connect the inlet of a power head with the other end of the tube inserted into the sponge. Point the outlet towards the surface of the water and you have a surprisingly good filter at a fraction of the cost.
  • Sumps and refugiums – Ambitious DIY aquarists can build their own sump with relative ease. If you have spare tank handy and don’t mind doing a small bit of plumbing work, you can enjoy the benefits of a sump without having to pay for one! This is a great option for tanks that are damaged or scratched.
  • Aquarium stands – You can use a solid piece of furniture to place your aquarium on. A table of exactly the right size can be purchased and used. These can be bought second hand and used. Make sure that they are sturdy and level and support the whole of the aquarium base. If needs be place a solid sheet of wood on the base to support the aquarium.
  • home made aquarium lid
    home made aquarium lid

    Aquarium lids – This is an ideal DIY project. If you have some DIY ability this is an ideal first project that will not be costly if you make a mistake. Materials can be bought from your local DIY store. You can also improve your design over time.

Collecting your aquascape decorations locally is another way to save some cash on your setup. Why pay for exotic Amazon driftwood to be delivered to your door if you have a river or a forest nearby? With a little bit of time, some careful selection, and a thorough cleaning and soaking, you can get your entire tank’s decoration done for free. Rocks and stones can be collected in the same way.

Making choices that save money over time

There are lots of ways that you can enjoy tropical fishkeeping on a budget, and a great deal of them rely on reducing the long-term costs of keeping a tank. Putting any of these cost-saving measures into practice with your tropical fish tank will ensure that you keep your expenses low.

  • Make your tank plantless—Live plants are wonderful additions to tropical tanks, but they need lots of light and those lights need lots of energy to run. If you want to save money in the long run, you might want to leave the plants behind.

Plantless aquarium here

  • Use low-maintenance, low light plant varieties and keep them nourished with inexpensive LED lights whenever possible. Incandescent and halide lamps can get costly over time. Buy a few easy varieties that grow fast.
  • Do your own repairs. Most filters have repair kits that are used to replace parts that wear out. The kits are a fraction of the price of a new filter.
  • Condition your water slowly—If you want to avoid conditioning your local tap water with expensive chemical products, let the chlorine naturally evaporate before using it in your tank. You can even try collecting rainwater if your tap water is too hard.
  • Grow your own live food—Fish food is a constant cost that continually adds up over time. If you choose instead to invest some energy in cultivating brine shrimp or daphnia or digging worms from the garden, you can enjoy an effectively unlimited supply of high quality live fish food.

Live food rearing here

  • Make your own dried fish food – There are many fish food recipes based on prawns, spirulina or spinach, flour, eggs, fish and other ingredients mixed in with multivitamins. The recipe is blended together then baked on a low heat to dry. The result can be broken into small pieces and frozen.
  • Insulate your aquarium – Heat loss can result in additional energy costs and make your heater work harder, wearing it down faster in the process. Insulating your aquarium to minimize heat loss will save you money over time—even if it is only partial insulation.
  • Set up a low maintenance Walsted aquarium.
  • Set up a temperate aquarium without a heater.
  • Stock your aquarium by breeding your own fish. To obtain different species just advertise and swap your excess brood. It may take some time, but you will obtain the variety of fish that you want for just the price of the initial adults.
  • Buy young fish and grow them to the size you want. Adults are more expensive to buy and won’t adapt to your aquarium as well as young fish.

Common cost-saving mistakes

Some beginning aquarists, in an attempt to save cut corners and save money, make a number of grave mistakes that can end up costing them the entire aquarium if left unchecked. A few examples of these are listed below:

  • Buying cheap low quality equipment such as heaters, filters and lighting is a bad mistake. A heater that fails can chill your fish or even get stuck and cook them! A filter that fails will pollute your water.
  • Using sunlight to light your aquarium—A tropical aquarium needs both heat and light, so placing your aquarium in direct sunlight seems like the perfect cost-saving solution right? Not quite! Rather than killing two birds with one stone, this will probably kill your aquarium population by causing an uncontrollable algae bloom.
  • If you don’t buy a heater, tropical fish will slowly die of cold at night or in winter.
  • Insufficient Filtration – Yes, larger filters tend to cost more, but it is always better to err on the safe side and go for a larger filter than to find yourself suffering from insufficient filtration.
  • Not testing the water—Water testing kits are not the kind of product that you want to skip out on in order to save some cash, even if you are an experienced aquarist. Be sure you know your water’s ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels, as well as its hardness and pH before you start adding fish.
  • Do not try to repair a tank with a cracked glass. Finding and fitting a new pane of glass is as difficult and costly as buying a new or second aquarium.
  • Buying cheap fish that are unhealthy. By all means shop around and see if someone is giving away fish or selling at a low price. But always make sure that the fish you are buying are healthy and the other seller’s fish are also healthy. Sick fish don’t just die they also pass illnesses to your other fish.

If you avoid these three common pitfalls and follow the guidelines set out above, you should be able to enjoy significant savings on your tropical fish tank. If you get lucky enough to find good deals on your tank’s necessities, you can end up with a beautiful aquarium at a fraction of the price it looks like it cost!

How and where to buy fish

buying new fish from an aquarium can be a fascinating experience

How and where to buy fish

buying new fish from an aquarium can be a fascinating experience
buying fish from an aquatic store is a fascinating experience

When it comes to stocking your aquarium with colourful and fascinating fish, there are lots of options available to the enterprising aquarist. It should be clear, however, that some options are better than others. Experienced fish keeping enthusiasts learn where the best sources of buying fish are.

Buying fish may seem like a simple task to the novice aquarist, but selecting and purchasing healthy fish and the right fish is a sophisticated process. It is recommended that you research the species you are interested in, and perhaps select two or three alternative options just in case your first choice is not available. Be sure you know whether your desired fish is hardy or delicate species, and make sure that the fish have been well taken care of before buying and bringing them home.

See also beginners starter fish groups

and common beginner mistakes

and starting a beginners fish tank

Your research should bear fruit in terms of finding great deals on quality fish you want to keep. Choosing your sources carefully can make all of the difference when it comes to ensuring the future health of your fish. In general, aquarists can purchase fish from one or more of the following sources:

Top 8 sources for new fish

fancy species of betta are only obtainable from private breeders
fancy species are only obtainable from private breeders

• Local breeders This is a great option if you have discovered a professional breeder in your area. Often, these breeders are highly specialized and can offer rare or exotic fish that you can not find anywhere else. These breeders may even have access to wild sourced imported fish.

Local hobbyists Hobbyists occasionally have surplus fish for sale, and this can eliminate the risks associated with shipping fish. He may even have some knowledge and advice to give about the fish he is selling to you, since the hobbyist has experience raising them.

• Online mail order delivery The Internet can provide some very attractive deals on hard to find fish. But there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Delivery charges and the company’s dead-on-arrival and returns policies. Make sure that you do not get stuck paying for a dead fish, especially if it is an expensive specimen. They may require you to take photographs of the dead fish in the closed plastic bag within 24 hours for a refund. This can be expensive because of the delivery charges. This can be offset by buying several fish at once.

• Out of town aquarium shops Purchasing fish from an out of town store can be a good idea, although it is recommended that you get a recommendation before jumping in the car and driving for hours. Usually the quality of the fish and information from staff is of a high standard. Ring the store up before you go and enquire about what is in stock.

Pet shops Pet shops only feature common, popular species of common tropical fish. For a beginner aquarist this may be ideal. However, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the pet shop’s aquariums and the health of the fish. Not all of these stores have the same standards or care for the fish they are selling.

Local aquarium shops Being more specifically focused on the aquarium trade and industry, aquarium shops frequently offer better options for their customers. Again, certain stores will have higher standards of quality then others, so make sure to pay attention to their conditions. But most are of a good standard. Being local you can pop back in for a browse and a chat. If the store is a good one then it is worthwhile building a relationship with the staff and owner.

Large chain department stores Generally, these stores are not a recommended source of fish for your aquarium. For them, the aquarium department is just one small part of a corporate culture that places little value on providing quality specimens for enthusiasts.

internet classified adverts is a good source for fish
internet classified adverting is a good source for fish

• Local classifieds Your local classifieds can make an interesting browse if you are looking for bargains or unwanted fish. But if you are looking for a specific species, your chances are low of finding it. If you find a fish for sale that you didn’t think of then do your research before you buy a fish on impulse.

With all of these options, one of the most important factors in your fish purchase is the level of expertise of the seller. A quality online mail order delivery company, for instance, will know that shipping tropical fish in winter is dangerous and likely to result in dead fish. Consequently, they will only offer coldwater fish that they can be sure will not die in-transit during the cold winter months. More recently, though, they have developed heat packs which help keep the fish warm in transit. But there are extra costs for this option.

On the other hand, you could find good, healthy fish at a large chain department store if you are lucky enough to meet a staff member with real experience keeping an aquarium. It is rare, but an individual with expertise will be able to help you find what you are looking for.

Research, pick up the phone and exercising caution in who you choose to deal with is the best way to make the right purchase.

Choosing the right fish to buy

Once you have found a source for your fish, or even two or three that you are considering purchasing from, you need to make sure that your fish can arrive in your tank safely and lead happy lives. This requires some diligence on your part, as you will need to look for fish that are compatible both with each other and with the environment of your aquarium.

When you are looking for new fish to buy, it is important to select healthy fish that have been established in their environment for at least a week before moving again. If you are buying in person, you can ask the seller to give you a specific fish: choose the ones that are brightly coloured, active, have a healthy appetite, with no obvious swelling, discoloration, patches, growths or injuries. Avoid fish with clamped fins that hide or stay at the bottom or top of the tank.

It is also important to look at your fish’s tank and tank mates when buying. If your fish is the only healthy specimen in a dirty tank full of lethargic, diseased, or dying fish, it will only be a matter of time before your fish goes the same way.

If you are purchasing your fish online or in any other situation in which you will not get a chance to personally inspect the fish before purchase, you should ask, at least, for photographs of the individual fish. This can help prevent unwanted surprises when the fish arrives at your door.

Preparing your aquarium for new fish

Transport, whether through the mail or in the safe hands of an experienced aquarist, is always stressful for fish. Your aquarium should be cycled and ready for the introduction of new fish. This means not only having adequate water conditions that are, hopefully, as close as possible to what the fish was used to in his previous home, but also being ready for the increased biological load.

In other words, you should be thinking in the long-term for your fish. Can your aquarium take the addition of another fish without affecting its other residents? Will this fish grow in size, and if it does, will you still be able to maintain it there? A knowledgeable seller can often help with these questions, but you are highly encouraged to do your own independent research.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the level of compatibility between your current fish and the new addition. Males may end up fighting each other, and certain species may exhibit aggressive behaviour if certain conditions are not met, especially when it comes to the presence of female fish in the same habitat.

After all this, it is also a good idea to ask what your new fish has been fed on. In many cases, you can help your new fish adjust to the shock of moving. To get the fish eating as soon as possible by providing the same food, at least initially.

It is always a good idea to keep on eye on the new fish closely for the first few days, until you see the fish settled.