If you're a first-time fishkeeper, we recommend fish who live in cold water, because they're easiest to care for. Here's our top choice:
Size: Some varieties can grow to more than a foot—and Japanese koi can grow to more than two feet long!
Lifespan: If properly cared for, the common goldfish can live 10 to 20 years.
Varieties: You're probably familiar with common goldfish, but some other types are:
- Comets—These guys are a bit slimmer in the body, and have longer tail fins.
- Shubunkins—These fish look like comets, but have a cool splotchy orange-and-white pattern.
- Fantails—This goldfish has a rounded body and two tail fins.
- Veiltails—Just like the name implies, this fish has super long, flowy fins.
- Moors—Just like the veiltail, but black. Moors have big bug eyes.
- Bubble-eyes—These goldfish have a bulging, buggy water sack under each eye.
Another hardy coldwater aquarium fish is the weather loach. This long, snakelike fish is brown or bronze with brown markings, and will grow to be three to four inches.
More experienced caretakers can select fish who live in warm water. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of warmwater tropical fish sold as aquarium pets. The hardest, and most important, part is selecting fish who will do well in the same type of water conditions and will get along with each other. Check out the following list of recommended fish:
Tetras: One- to two-inch tetras are quick movers. They like to form groups, or schools, so be sure to get four to eight of the same type. It's fun to watch them do some synchronized swimming back and forth across your aquarium, as they flash their colors.
Danios: Quick-moving danios like to hang out in schools, too. They are one to two inches long.
Barbs: There are many different colorful barbs, including the orange-and-black tiger barb. The larger, two- to four-inch varieties may nip the fins of slower aquarium residents with long tails.
Angelfish: If housed in a large environment, elegent angelfish will grow to six inches or more. They're shaped like flat triangles. Although their original coloring is silver with black stripes, other varieties of angelfish, such as black, marbled and pink, are available. Their fins may be nipped by more aggressive fish, but larger angels have been known to eat their smaller tankmates—so please pay attention to size when fish shopping.
Catfish: Tropical catish are a good choice, too—there's lots of variety in size, from the small, one- to two-inch varieties to the larger six-inch kinds. Those from Corydorus group make a great clean-up crew, and are good at eating up food that's fallen to the bottom of the tank. (And P.S., they can look superfunny when using their whiskered moustaches to find food.)
Platys: Hardy platys can be up to two inches long, and are good additions to an aquarium community. They're available in sunny oranges and yellows and other colors.
Swordtail: If you like red and orange fish, consider the swordtail. But if you do keep these champion jumpers, make sure your aquarium has a secure cover or they'll leap out. Only the males have long, swordlike tails.
There are lots of good fish foods available at the pet supply store. Make sure you buy a food that's appropriate for the kind of fish you have. Ask someone at the aquarium store if you are not sure. Dried flakes provide balanced nutrition for your fish, and fresh foods such as live brine shrimp, bloodworms and tubifex worms provide variety. There are dried bloodworms and tubifex worms, too.
Number one rule: DO NOT OVERFEED! Excess food will fall to the bottom of the tank and spoil, messing up the water quality. Feed several small meals a day, just enough so your fish gobble up everything before it hits bottom.
If you're going on vacation, you can have someone feed your fish or get an automatic feeding tube that will drop small amounts of food into the tank at different times.
Home, Sweet Home
Size: Start with a 10- or 20-gallon aquarium, which is large enough for a selection of fish.
Location: Set the tank in a place that's convenient to a sink or water source. This will make it easier for you to fill and clean the tank. Do not put the tank in direct sunlight, since this makes it harder to control the temperature and may cause too much algae to grow in the tank. Be absolutely, completely, positively positive: A 20-gallon aquarim filled with water and gravel weighs more than 200 pounds, so you won't be able to move it once you've set it up. Take time choosing the location, and set it on a super sturdy table or counter.
Just Add Water (Not!) When you fill your aquarium, use clean tap water. Let it stand for several days to "age" so some of the chemicals found in tap water can evaporate. You can also buy a chemical neutralizer at the pet supply store.
Most fish are happiest in water that has a near-neutral pH level of around 7. Test your water with a kit from the pet supply store. Some fish require water that's more or less acidic or alkaline, so ALWAYS ask someone at the aquarium shop if you are not sure. They'll tell you how to adjust the water in your aquarium.
Once your aquarium is set up and running, you'll need to remove several gallons of water every week or two and replace it with clean, aged water. This helps to remove any chemicals that have built up.
To keep the water at 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit for your tropical fish, you'll need an aquarium heater (make sure it's the right size) and a thermometer for the tank. Once the tank is filled with water—but BEFORE you put the fish in—put the heater in the tank and plug it in. Start at a low temperature and gradually increase the setting over a couple of days. When the heater keeps the water at the correct temperature, you're set.
About a week after the tank has been set up, start your underwater community with a few hardy fish, such as platys. These fish will provide the bacteria needed for a healthy tank. Once they've settled in after a week, add a couple of fish every week or so.
An old rule of thumb is to have one inch of fish per gallon of water. That means, for example, you could have 10 one-inch fish in 10-gallon aquarium, or five two-inch fish in the same size tank.
When you bring fish home from the store, they'll be in plastic bags. Float the bags in the tank for at least 15 to 30 minutes to make sure the temperature in the bag is the same as the temperature in the tank. Open the bags carefully and let your new fish swim out on their own.
To maintain the quality of the water in your aquarium, you'll need one or more filters to remove waste and chemicals. No matter what kind you get, remember to rinse activated charcoal to remove any dust before placing it in the filter. Here are the most common kinds of filters:
- Box Filter: Shaped like a box, this filter is filled with activated charcoal and a special fiber. Place it in the corner of the aquarium or attach it to the inside wall. The box filter is good for a 10-gallon aquarium, temporary aquarium setup, nursery tank for baby fish or isolation tank for sick fish. On the plus side, it's easy to remove and clean, but doesn't get many points in the looks department.
- Undergravel Filter: This flat plastic "platform" is placed on the bottom of the aquarium and covered with gravel. Water is filtered through the gravel, under the platform and up through tubes; bacteria cultures in the gravel then go to work to break down fish poop. This kind of filter is good for 10- to 20-gallon tanks if there's adequate water flow. Since the filter is hidden, it won't take away from how good your tank looks, and the waste that gets trapped in the gravel makes a yummy snack for any plants rooted there. On the minus side, you'll need to break down the aquarium to clean under the platform.
- Outside Filter: This filter hangs on the side or back of the tank. Water is drawn through a tube into a box containing filter medium and activated charcoal. It works great and is easy to clean—just make sure you get the right size for your tank.
- Gravel Unravelled
The gravel in your aquarium has a lot of important jobs. It provides a place to live for the helpful bacteria that treat impurities in the water. It also offers a place for plants to root. And if you get a cool color, it will look really great, too.
- Pretreatment: Before placing gravel in your aquarium, rinse it with running water to remove dust and small particles.
- Texture: Use a coarser gravel if you have an underground filter. Finer gravel is good if you're using an outside filter. If there are plants in your aquarium, avoid very fine gravel, which may pack too tightly for roots to grow and spread.
- How Much: You'll need about one pound of gravel for every gallon of water. If your aquarium holds 10 gallons, you'll need 10 pounds of gravel.
Let there be light! You'll need an aquarium cover and light fixture to limit water evaporation, prevent things from falling into the tank and keep your fish from jumping out. A flourescent fixture that provides full-spectrum lighting will show off the colors of your fish and help plants grow. Incandescent light fixtures give off heat, which makes it harder to keep the temperature constant. For this reason, an incandescent light should be on a schedule of 12 hours on and 12 hours off.
Fun and Games
It's really relaxing to watch fish. To make sure you always have a good view, be sure to scrape off any algae from the front glass of your tank so you can have a good view of them. But it's okay to let the algae grow on one end or corner of the tank—your fish will enjoy some lip-smacking algae snacking!
To make your tank look extra terrific, add some plants. They'll make great hiding places for your fish, and they also play an important role in the biological cycle of the tank. Choose plants that look healthy and green, but be sure to wash them (roots, too!) to remove any snails or snail eggs.
Get out those waterproof markers! If you're feeling creative, you can draw an underwater scene and attach it to the outer back of your tank.