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What Kind of Aquarium?

Keeping an aquarium can be very simple; an extremely attractive home that will keep its inhabitants happy for many years is desireable for fish and aquarist alike.

Basic Ingredients

Water, and a container. Thats it. An aquarium can be as simple as that, and in most cases the earliest aquariums were just that. This does make certain assumptions though, about stocking levels and temperature. The simplest aquariums today (Goldfish bowls) are just that, but this is as much a testament to the hardiness of the simple goldfish, as to the desireability of a goldfish bowl. Killifish keepers also regularly keep a pair or more fish in a small unheated, unfiltered tank, though they generally carry out more water changes than the goldfish get!

Most aquariums today use filtration and heating to make water changes less of a chore, and to ensure the occupants get optimal water conditions. Likewise many are planted, and need a gravel or sand substrate to allow good plant growth. Of course plants need light, and therefore flourescent lighting is normally added too.

Deciding What You Need

The first questions you should ask are:

  • What fish do I want?
  • Do I want plants?
  • Do I want to breed my fish?
What fish do I want?

As the answers to these questions directly dictate what equipment to buy, and what tank to start setting up. Most new aquarists (and therefore most people reading this article) will probably want a selection of different species that they have seen in their local fish store, a couple plants, and a few stones and or pieces of driftwood for decoration. This is probably where most of us start, and a very acheivable goal with just a little planning. If this is the kind of tank you want, read our article on community aquariums.

But there are other choices available. Species tanks (particularly cichlids) are a common choice, and there is plenty of information and livestock available to recreate relatively accurate biotope aquariums.

Do I want plants?

Plants are particularly useful in aquariums; in the same way that the Amazon rainforest is said to be the lungs of the earth, plants in an aquarium can do a huge amount to keep the water clean, oxygenated and provide cover for fry and more timid individuals

Plants are particularly useful in aquariums

Unfortunately plants are not always possible; they require lighting, some form of substrate (usually). Furthermore many fish (Cichlids in particular) will dig up plants, and others will quickly eat their leaves.

Luckily there are plants that act as exceptions to all of these rules; Java moss, Java fern and anubias can tolerate very low light levels. Killifish keepers often keep these plants in their banks of unlit tanks. The plants requiring no substrate include the above 3 mentioned species (though they look terrific attached to stones or bogwood) but also hornwort, and all the floating species, such as Riccia, Salvinia and frogbit. When it comes to fish eating leaves, Java fern once again stands out as being particularly the species of choice; fish and snails do not seem to eat this species.

Many people fail with plants. Its note really their fault, and there are a variety of reasons. Firstly many species sold as aquarium plants are actually marsh plants that require some sort of dry period. These will slowly rot and die, if left submerged. The second reason I come across most often is the use of an undergravel filter. These are simply not plant friendly - and least to rooted plants. Undergravel filtration should be left for tanks with no plants or just tough non rooting varieties such as our friend Java Fern!

The third reason is probably insufficient lighting; old or insufficient tubes, and too much surface planting. An aquarist that avoids these pitfalls can soon be in a position where he or she is throwing out bags of plant matter. Forget Co2 injection, undergravel heating and the addition of trace elements. If you have not got the right lighting and filtration, these things will not help you!

Do I want to breed my fish?

Breeding fish is fun, and can be immensly rewarding. It is typically easy to achieve and can also cover the cost of fish sundries, food and the like. Generally, fish can be split into 3 groups when we consider breeding; livebearers, egglayers with no parental care, and egglayers with parental care.

Livebearers give birth to living fish; they do not care for the young, but the fry are already considerably bigger than egglayers fry, and can fend for themselves just fine. Even new aquarists will have no problems breeding guppies, platies and swordtails. These are the standard 'community fish' and if you are considering a fish tank, these may very well be your first species. Breeding requires no special treatment except a LACK of predators.

Species that do not tend their eggs and young will often feed upon them, and therefore breeding is best acheived by removing the parents immediately after spawning. This group includes most tetras, barbs, rainbowfish and killifish. Some of these species can be bred in small numbers in very thickly planted tanks, especially when fed consistently with newly hatched artemai nauplii.

Many species do show parental care for eggs, fry or both, including many cichlids and anabantids. This group of fish can be very aggressive towards tankmates whilst breeding; aquariums must have plenty of hiding places for other individuals, or in some cases no other species present.

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Fishkeeping Facts and Tips

Avoid tankbusters! Too many tropical fish stores sell small fish that will continue growing until too big for any home aquarium. Rehousing can be very difficult indeed. Avoid species such as the shovel-nosed and red tailed catfish

Have a look at some of these related sites

killifish information
paludarium information
cichlids for sale