After deciding which species of fish interest you and you wish to keep as your getting started, a community aquarium of common and inexpensive tropical fish is recommended, you need to then consider the following:
Tank (as large as you can afford, with the largest possible surface area)
Tank hood and lights (plants need light and fish take the "Dramatic Darwin Leap"
Tank stand (sturdy as water weighs 8.3 pounds/gallon)
Gravel (plan for about 1 pound of gravel per gallon of water)
Heater & thermometer (certainly if you are going to be bree
ding tropical fish or if the room temperature of your aquarium goes below 74°F.)
Live or plastic plants (a mixture is best for new aquariums)
Water treatment and test kits (notably pH, Ammonia, & Nitrates)
A few medications on hand (for Ich, Parasite, Bacterial, & Fungus Infections)
Basic maintenance equipment (i.e. algae scraper, gravel vacuum, nets, etc.)
A few books in a general library (although we provide much of what you need here at Tropical-Fish.Net for free, still, having a book or two does help)
You can obtain all of these supplies on-line and at great discounts through us in our Supplies section and throughout Aquarium-Club generally, or if you need them today in an emergency (or if shipping is impractical), at your local fish shop.
We have pre-screened several books that are excellent reference resources for those just beginning in the hobby and those who are more experienced breeders. You can find and purchase these on-line in our bookstore or on some of the pages we have created for the most commonly available species of tropical fish.
Add Water, add fish, and add disappointment
RECOMMENDATION FOR BEGINNERS: Set up your aquarium and add some live plants. Leave the aquarium running like this for about one (1) week. Then add just a couple of small and inexpensive fish, something like guppies, platys, swordtails, zebra danios and/or other similar fish as the first "cycler" fish to the aquarium. Do not be discouraged or disappointed if a fish dies. If they live, then slowly add a few fish, until you reach the point of having one inch of fish for every gallon of water per the size of your aquarium. Thus, 10 inches of fish for a 10 gallon aquarium.
There is a profound temptation in setting up an aquarium (certainly your first aquarium) to add water and throw fish in it to watch them swim, which we all know of tales where they did so very well for a while, but not long. However by doing so, you set yourself up for the risks of failure. Here's why.
You have to remember that your aquarium is the total world for your fish. Your role in all of this is to provide them with what they can't get themselves by swimming away.
This means water chemistry and organic cycles must be established, certainly when there is a chance that the fish you buy at the pet shop (far better choice than department stores not specializing in tropical fish & pets) have probably just been through the shock of shipping.
Likewise even with high quality local pet shops, the fish may have been only recently acclimated into even in these more carefully controlled new water conditions, which are given far more attention than those fish and aquariums found in chain stores. This is why Test kits, which can be obtained on-line through us, or at a local pet shop, ultimately prove cheaper than fish.
Another common 'new tank' experiences is that once fish start dying, anaerobic bacteria (the type that make the tank stink) rise as there are not sufficient population of aerobic (air breathing) bacteria to keep the anaerobe populations down. This is another reason you wish to put live plants in your aquarium a week or so, before you add fish. We suggest you let your new aquarium (pump & filter) to run for about a week with nothing but the gravel, water and live plants in it. You'll be glad you did.
Water is water? (Not if you're a fish!)
We suggest that you set up your aquarium and if at all possible, to use well or spring water rather than city water. You can use city water, but you really must let the tank run for 2-3 days, before adding any plants, much less fish. There are commercial products which help condition the water and reduce stress, but caveat emptor (buyer beware) you need to research your water and the available products.
In addition to all of the free and public information we provide to general visitors, a small pet shop owner in your area (or most certainly one of our member pet shops) is usually a helpful person. Certainly if they talk enthusiastically about raising and breeding fish and they sense that you plan to have 2-3 tanks if you are successful with your first.
The reason you need to let city water sit longer is that it has chlorine and chloramine and usually takes about 24-48 hours to dissipate as a gas. Although there are products to address this problem, we believe you will find the less chemicals and medicines you add to your tank the more natural . . the more better. We have found that most city water to have a pH of 7.8 and to be pretty hard per dH, so test your water first, try to get your pH, and dH more neutral (pH 7.0) or close to the requirements of your fish, make sure the nitrates, nitrites and ammonia levels are low and then acclimate new fish into the aquarium.
We strongly urge you to add sea salt to your aquarium, even though you may be looking to raise freshwater fish. All fish need the minerals in sea salt. Even though the salinity may not be as much as that of a marine aquarium, it is none the less vital. Directions for adding salt to freshwater aquariums is almost always found on the package.
If you already have seasoned water from an existing tank, unless it is diseased, I would add a few gallons of this water (from your weekly water change) to help start the new tank. A small scoop of gravel from a seasoned aquarium is also a pretty good way to get your organics started. A good filtration system is vital, as you need to remove the ammonia that builds up from the waste of the fish. Here again a visit to the pet shop, or look what we offer on-line, and after some web research should help you decide on which may be the most appropriate filtration system. You can also add a few handfuls of gravel from your pre-existing tank to help the organic cycles to get started. I like to have the gravel about two inches deep, certainly with under gravel filter systems, and this is generally a good idea. For more information, please visit our water chemistrypage.
At this point, you should have had your aquarium set up and running for a few days. After a few days to a week, add some live plants to the aquarium, wait another 5-7 days, and then it is about time for some fish. Remember, even when God created the earth and the oceans, he waited a few days before putting in the fish!
Choosing your first fish
You probably want to start with common and inexpensive community fish such as guppies, platy, swordtails, and the others I've reference above, if you are starting out with your first aquarium. Certainly if this is your first aquarium, or you've not had an aquarium in quite a few years. Your water pH. should be about 7.0 (neutral) in a mixed community tank, as egg layers (like tetras) like a little acidic (6.6 - 6.8), while the live bearers tend to like alkaline (7.6 - 7.8). In addition to being hardy, this is why I recommend the livebearers (guppies, platy, swordtails) for those who are starting an aquarium for the first time.
Even when buying the first fish, look for diseases, parasites, and signs of stress. If there are any sick or disease fish in the tank at the store, don't buy any fish from that tank, because chances are all of the fish are sick, just some are at more advanced stages of disease. A very good assumption is, if one fish is sick with disease, all of the fish and the whole tank is no doubt infected. Likewise, if you introduce a sick or diseased fish, you will infect every fish in your tank and the whole tank. Get the healthiest and youngest fish available.
NOTE on Mollies!!!! Mollies come from brackish (more salty) water, so you may find it wise to increase the sea salt in the water if you wish to keep these. If you ever had mollies before, then you may have seen perfectly healthy mollies end up with white spots (Ich) to develop into a wool sweater on a dead fish. The lower salinity drains the salt from the fish, through osmosis, their resistance drops and they become very vulnerable to disease and the next thing you know your pretty solid black fish has white fuzz all over him. Then guess what happens to the rest of the fish, with emphasis to other new fish, who are bombarded with a fungus attack?
Adding your first fish
Once your new aquarium has been running for about a week or so and it is ready for fish, buy just a few (2-4) inexpensive and generally hardy fish first. DO NOT buy a lot of fish, expensive fish, or fragile fish as the first cycling species in a new aquarium. Certainly if this is your first aquarium, or you've not raised fish in a few years. Guppies, platy, swordtails, danios, and whiteclouds are very good species for a new aquarium, and certainly for a new beginner aquarium hobbyist. They're colorful, they're interesting, they have some variety to them, and most importantly, they're very hardy. You can also try one (1) male betta, but do not buy a very expensive betta.
There is no disgrace or diminishment of your aquarium hobbyist skills, by using 2-4 cheap fish (cyclers) to start up a new aquarium. .I start up every new tank the same way I advise here, including starting with some water and gravel from a seasoned tank, adding aquarium salt, leave the tank run a few days, add live plants, and then after about a week, slowly acclimate for about an hour to add some cyclers, and then after another week (if everybody is happy and healthy) add my new species of fish.
I do this if my new species is a $5/pair fish or a $500+/pair fish. I use cheap guppies as cyclers (except if my new fish is a strain of guppies, then I use some tetras to reduce the risk of inbreeding), because the guppies and their babies are excellent live foods for my new fish. I've been keeping, raising and breeding exotic and rare tropical fish for almost 39 years and in doing what I suggest here, the biggest reason I lose fish is "OLD AGE"
When you bring your first fish home, place the bag in your aquarium for about 20-30 minutes to equalize the temperature. However, temperature is only one variable in the acclimation of the fish to your aquarium's water. Open the bag and let a little water from your aquarium mix with the water in the bag. Do this slowly over another 20-30 minute period and you will reduce the acclimation stress on your fish. Remember, the water in the bag is most likely different than the water chemistry of your aquarium, with variables such as salinity, pH, dH, nitrates, and ammonia. When the water is mixed and equal between the bad and the other water in your aquarium, then let the fish swim out on their own.
If you add the transport home and new water conditions, to the trip from the breeder to the distributor to the pet shop, you can see how and why this will reduce the immunological reserves of the fish. If they are too weak to fight off any pathogens (diseases) the results are predictable. You do need to have aerobic (air breathing) bacteria in your aquarium to break down waste, while also diminishing the environmental conditions to host anaerobic (non air breathing) bacteria and populations of fungi, which infect and kill fish and gives off a very bad smell. Almost all pet shops carry this bacteria starter and only requires a booster pinch. One small container treats 5,000 gallons for a few dollars. (More than Shamu would ever need, in proportion to what the average hobbyist's could use). I found that adding this aerobic bacteria culture starter to a new tank (when you add the live plants), along with a little aquarium salt in the water (1/2 tsp./gal. - a little more for sick or injured fish) to be very good prevention and I rarely lose a new fish.
Feeding your fish
Feeding your fish and not overfeeding is another area of concern. Most of the commercial staple flake do well to maintain most community aquariums. However, you may find that feeding frozen brine shrimp (thawed first naturally) will prove most beneficial. Different types of fish and young fish eat different types of food. Check the type of food for your fish and also check out our fish food page, for general information, including more about newly hatched brine shrimp nauplii.
You can also hatch your own brine shrimp, by getting eggs at the pet shop and putting about 1/8 tsp. of eggs into a half of a gallon solution of water and 4 TBS. of sea salt. Add an airstone and in about 24 hours or so, you have "sea monkeys". Filter them out by syphoning through a coffee filter, add the orange mass to a small cup of fresh water and with an eye-dropper, feed the fish and see how well they remember you tomorrow when you look into the tank. Hatching baby brine shrimp (nauplii) is important if you wish to breed fish and feed the fry, which in egglayers (like killifish) can be pretty tiny.
Adding a catfish or other scavenger
In a new start up aquarium, you may want to wait about 6-8 weeks, depending on the number of fish in the aquarium (1 gallon of water/inch of fish), before introducing a scavenger. This because you need to wait until there is a sufficient amount of food at the bottom and as ammonia & nitrogen levels from new tank syndrome will rapidly raise and since these chemicals are heavier than water, their concentrations tend to accumulate at the bottom strata of the aquarium.
We recommend you try the Corydoras type of catfish as a first scavenger. These are very hardy, inexpensive, docile and mind their own business, so they are usually a good choice for a community aquarium, whereas if you decide on a shark as a scavenger, you may find them an incredible source of swimming exercise for the other fish. Then again, you chose the shark, so how else did you expect him to behave? If they are in a tank with plenty of cover (live plants, caves), with some more larger fish (even dwarf cichlids) who can hold their own, we've enjoyed the red-tailed and other species of freshwater sharks, so we're not knocking sharks, just suggesting under what conditions to establish, so you can get them to behave themselves.
Buying more expensive and rare fish
Although we sell fish at Aquarium-Club.org, Rare-Tropicalfish.com and Aquarium-Fish.biz, through our breeder members, we recommend that your aquarium to be at least 3 months old and that you check to make sure your new fish will be compatible with the existing fish in your aquarium, before you buy more expensive and rare fish. If you are new to the hobby, we suggest you wait for 6 months to a year, before you try more expensive fish and to visit Aquarium-Club often to gain as much information about your new fish and the aquarium hobby generally.
We also urge you to join Aquarium-Club.org and to do as much reading/research as you can on the more expensive new species or strain of fish that you wish to keep, raise and breed. The last thing we want is for you is to lose fish. Our breeder members have been carefully selected for their quality of fish and their quality of customer service. Our breeder members will make sure the fish they ship to you are healthy and hardy, but still there will be some acclimation stress for the fish going into a new tank, although not nearly as much as those fish that go from breeder or fish farm, to distributor, to pet shop, and then to your aquarium.
Buying fish on-line
Buying fish on-line and receiving them in the mail is a lot more common and simpler than most people may think You are also more likely to receive healthier and less stressed fish. This may be the only way to obtain certain species and strains of species of fish. Buying fish on-line may also prove to cost far less, than if you tried to obtain the same strain or species through a local fish shop, if they can obtain these strains/species themselves.. You will never find some of these fish strains/species in the pet departments of chain stores.
If you are new to the aquarium hobby, you probably want to buy your first fish and your inexpensive cyclers from your local fish shop (LFS). Once you have the tank cycled/seasoned and you gain more experience and confidence, you may wish to try more expensive and rare species of exotic tropical fish. Most of these are NOT available at (LFS), but may be if your LFS is a pet shop member of Aquarium-Club.org and they themselves are buying through us and our breeder members. Again, don't expect to find these species and/or strains of species in department store chains.
We strongly urge you to buy directly from the breeder, through Aquarium-Club, for more rare and expensive fish strains and species such as certain African cichlids and the more expensive varieties of angelfish, bettas, discus, guppies and killifish; because of the quality of the fish, the knowledge of the breeder and the fish are shipped/handled through less hands. Please note that not everybody who claims to be a breeder is accepted by us at Aquarium-Club as a breeder member; because we too have attempted to buy fish at auctions and other sites, where we did not receive the fish we ordered, we received dead or diseased fish, or we did not receive any fish at all.
This is why we started our commercial membership for reliable breeders, pet shops, distributors and fish farms with high quality fish and why we have such high standards for those who are accepted by us. Our breeders meet our very high standards for customer service and satisfaction and they will replace any DOA fish, because this can happen and does happen any time fish are shipped, albeit less often from private breeders. Even pet shops receive some dead fish in every shipment. You are by far less likely to receive diseased fish, when you directly order from Aquarium-Club breeder members.
Buying fish on-line and through us and our breeders is even easier and more reliable than buying from most pet shops, and notably the chain stores. Fish purchased on-line and through Aquarium-Club.org, Aquarium-Fish.biz and Rare-Tropicalfish.com are generally higher quality and have been bred and raised under far better conditions and controls, fed better (live foods), etc.. These fish still require the slow acclimation recommended above and you may also wish to visit our Shipping/Receiving fish page.
General maintenance and other practices
Also after the first month after you have introduced your fish into your aquarium, changing 10% of the water per week will lengthen the days of your filter and your fish. However, you should change the filter once a month or so, depending upon the number of fish in your aquarium. We have found that having reference materials (buying books and bookmarking Aquarium-Club.org), weekly water changes of about 10%, monthly changes of your filter medium, and adding a little aquarium salt to the tank are the very simple things that if you do them, to be your best actions to increase your success and enjoyment of the tropical-fish hobby. A membership in Aquarium-Club.org, to get advanced information and help with questions is also a very inexpensive investment, when compared to the costs of replacing fish and dealing with disappointment.
We hope you enjoy your remaining visit to our site, you bookmark us, you visit us often and that you join Aquarium-Club.org. We hope as you browse through here and to the other information sources and sites we've linked, that you enjoy finding how vast and varied the aquarium hobby can be to be as successful and pleasant as we wish your hobby for you.
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