Questions & Answers

Q. What size aquarium should I choose?

A. Within reasonable limits it is best to go for the largest size you can accommodate. The larger the water capacity the easier and better the water chemistry management will be. A small body of water can foul quickly and probably by the time a beginner fishkeeper notices there is a problem it will already be out of control. A larger body of water will generally be much slower to deteriorate, allowing remedial action to be taken before losses occur. A larger tank also affords the opportunity to create an impressive “aquascape”. But be sure that you are able to manage the maintenance of anything exceptionally large.

Q. Where should I position the aquarium?

A. Wherever possible select a position where the aquarium will not receive prolonged sunlight. Ensure the floor is perfectly sound and will not cause the aquarium to move – even slightly – when it is walked past. Avoid a position close to a door that might be slammed or closed quite firmly from time to time. Do not position the aquarium on a windowsill. The aim should be to have the aquarium where it can be controlled, so the lighting is able to be set at a level suited to the aquarium, and the room is not subjected to widely varied temperature levels. Your heater/thermostat should not have to cope with marked ups and downs of water temperature.

Q. What kind of gravel should I use?

A. Much depends on what fish you intend to keep, but in general you will probably be using water worn beach gravel of about one-eighth grade. If you have large fish and plants with sturdy rooting systems you might be better advised to use a larger grade gravel, say one-quarter inch. Certain kinds of specialised fish may require another particular kind of gravel (lime-free for discus, for example).

Q. Does the aquarium need a filter?

A. This is debatable, but in essence it is true to say that a filter might be considered to be essential. The water clarity and movement created by the filter are just two visible benefits, but the efficient control of the water chemistry is a far more important factor.

Q. Does the aquarium need to have a heater?

A. If it is going to be a tropical aquarium then a heater is an obvious essential item. But even coldwater aquariums can benefit from having a stable temperature level that a heater/stat can provide.

Q. There is a very large choice of lighting, so what type should I choose?

A. Some of that large selection of lighting options will be designed for specialised purposes. Assuming you are looking at something for a general basic aquarium you should consider a good, clean, strong light to show the fish in their best colour, and maybe a second light which will enhance the plant growth. Fluorescent tubes will be the usual type of lighting to choose from, and you will be best advised by a knowledgeable dealer as to which spectrum type tubes will suit your particular requirement best. (A favourite combination might be exampled by Triton and Grolux).

Q. If I do need to have a light how long should I leave it on for?

A. This very much depends on the situation of the aquarium and whether or not you have natural plants in it. If the aquarium is situated where it will receive strong natural light, you might need to reduce the overall length of time the lighting is switched on. But given that in most cases the aquarium is ideally situated where you can have complete control over the light it receives, try to devise a programme where the length of simulated daylight it receives is something like the 12 hours typical of tropical areas of the world. You might need to modify the length of time and reduce the lighting should algae growth become an associated problem.

Q. How long should I wait before putting my first fish into the aquarium?

A. Much depends on how you go about maturing and stabilising the water chemistry. But in general terms you should allow the water to become completely crystal clear, and allow the filter to have operated for at least a few days, before you consider introducing any fish. Go SLOWLY about putting more fish in the aquarium, choosing just a VERY few of the hardier ones to start with, and allow them to settle down and behave normally before even thinking about bringing more fish in. During the time those first few fish will have been in the aquarium their life processes will be contributing to the maturing of the system. An overload of fish before the system is matured will bring about toxic elements in the aquarium water with potentially disastrous results! Take you time and build up the collection slowly.

Q. Why am I told not to put the fancy guppies and neon tetras I like in the aquarium as my first fish?

A. Both of these species of fish are unable to cope with the volatile nature of the water chemistry a new aquarium is likely to experience. The platies, swordtails, and danios you have been advised to consider as your starter fish are very much better able to live through such conditions without any ill effects. Add you neon tetras and guppies later when the system and its water chemistry has matured and settled down.

Q. Is it a good idea to test my water?

A. Yes, you really need to know what is going on with the water chemistry, during the earlier days of the aquarium in particular, but also occasional tests later will allow a monitoring system to be easily devised and forestall brewing problems.

Q. What can I do if the tests show something is not right?

A. Consult your dealer to see what remedies there are to tackle the problem, or receive advice on how to manage the problem through until it is resolved. Do not just leave it and hope for the best!

Q. How many fish can I keep in my aquarium?

A. This is a bit like asking “how long is a piece of string?” Every aquarium is likely to be different, depending on whether or not filtration is in use, or if aeration is supplied, what kind of fish are being accommodated, and so on. The faster moving fish will require more oxygen that other species that are slow moving. Territorial fish will require more space in the aquarium than the more gregarious types. But generally it is something you will assess as you build the collection, noting the point at which the aquarium looks adequately populated, and realising that introducing more will give a crowded appearance that is to be avoided. Remember, that when you buy the fish they are most likely still immature and have more growth to make. Make allowance for this factor.

Q. Should I plant the aquarium with natural plants or use replica ones made from silk or plastic?

A. Natural plants contribute much to the stability of the water chemistry, and if successful add to the beauty of the aquascene. However, some fish will avidly eat any natural plant they can reach, and so they are quite unsuitable for anything other than inedible replicas. Somewhere between there are species that only tear into the finer and more delicately leafed plants, and suitably tough plants might be selected for their aquarium.

Q. I am told I should vary the diet of my fish. Is that necessary?

A. The handy tins of the best of the prepared dry foods contain all that the less demanding fish may need nutritionally, but that becomes really boring for the fish to be receiving the same diet every feed every day. Sometimes the fish go off that diet as a result. So by providing an entirely different kind of food occasionally or regularly you might stimulate the fish and give them a far more enjoyable existence. A wide range of frozen foods is available to provide a good variety of tasty alternative foods, and an occasional treat of some live food will be eagerly received. But even within the huge range of the convenience dry foods there are different forms and flavours.

Q. When I go on holiday for a week should I have someone come in to feed the fish?

A. Unless that “somebody” is an experienced fishkeeper in their own right you would be best advised not to have the fish fed in your absence. Well managed fish will have been adequately fed by you, and have excellent body reserves. If that is the case they will not suffer from a short period without food, whereas a temporary keeper without experience so often overfeeds the fish left in their care, fouling the aquarium and killing some or all of the fish.

Q. My aquarium has an unsightly green slime in patches on the gravel and on the inside of the glass. What am I doing wrong?

A. The slime you mention is one form of algae, and can quickly infest the whole aquarium if left unchecked. There are various remedies available from your dealer, and you should be advised as to which might be the best one to use for your particular circumstances. Reducing the artificial light will help to reduce its progress, but if you are also growing natural plants they too will suffer the lack of light. Algae eating fish will usually be a good remedy in the tropical aquarium, and well worth considering as a permanent safeguard against the problem recurring. It is not unusual for a light form of algae to form on the inside glasses of an aquarium, and removal with an algae scraper may become part of the regular maintenance routine

Q. I have found some baby fish in my aquarium. Can I keep them and grow them up in with the other fish?

A. Baby fish are regarded as just another form of food by other fish with a mouth big enough to snap them up – even the parents will cannibalise their young. You can buy a partition to place across a corner of the aquarium to form a nursery area to raise the young away from the bigger fish until they are grown enough to survive. You can also buy a plastic rod and net construction that forms a protective “cage” inside the aquarium where the fish can grow up, secure from the bigger fish outside. The best approach is to have a small rearing aquarium specially for the purpose.

Q. The fins of my fish have developed white spots on them and red streaks are beginning to appear also. What can I do about this distressing condition?

A. White spot disease is a common menace in the aquarium, and should be treated as soon as it is noticed. A good remedy will clear the problem quite quickly, and as long as the parasites have not been allowed to develop overlong there should be no lasting damage done to the affected fish.

Q. One of my fish is swimming upside-down. What can I do to remedy this condition?

A. Swim bladder derangement may have any one of several causes. Poor feeding programmes are often to blame, but sometimes congenital conditions are the root cause. Try changing from feeding dry foods and put the affected fish on a diet of thawed out frozen foods. Avoiding the effects of rehydrating the dried food the fish has consumed can sometimes rectify the condition. During that time try to keep the affected fish in shallow water as a further aid to possible recovery. If this fails to help there is not a lot of hope for a recovery from the condition.

Q. My aquarium water is going cloudy and the fish are gasping at the surface? What do you think could be the cause of this?

A. Almost for certain you are overfeeding the fish, and the uneaten food is going rotten, producing harmful bacteria and dramatically reducing the oxygen content of the water. As a first aid measure change a large proportion of the aquarium water, then as soon as possible after you will need to clean out the whole, aquarium, washing the gravel thoroughly and any filter mediums that might be carrying the rotting food. This is a serious situation because you are having to also wash away the beneficial bacteria you have been culturing during the maturing process for the aquarium. The re-set aquarium will have to be VERY carefully managed regarding feeding to avoid an explosion of ammonia or nitrite. Speak to your dealer to get advice how to best manage this situation.

Q. How do I get rid of snails from my aquarium?

A. There are snail eradicators you can apply to the aquarium water, but this tends to only “stun” the snails so that they may be netted out before regaining their mobility. A preferred method where possible is to use a fish that will kill and even eat them. The clown loach is one such attractive tropical species to do this. Puffer fish are effective snail killers, but are also potentially troublesome fish to have in a community aquarium, and should only be introduced with care and fore-thought.

Q. Why do I need to lower the pH of my aquarium for Discus fish?

A. Discus fish need an acidic soft water for preference, and for sure if you intend to breed them. They may adapt to harder water, even of a slightly alkaline pH, simply to be kept, but they will not do anything like as well in such conditions as when given the preferred water chemistry. These are sensitive fish and need special consideration.

Q. I have seen a Spotted Puffer that I would like to put in my aquarium. Is that possible?

A The Spotted Puffer you have seen is almost certainly Tetraodon fluviatilis, and is a brackish water species. These fish have a sharp beak in place of teeth, and a single bite from them can be fatal to an unsuspecting and less robust companion. So care must be taken before deciding to introduce one of these fish to your aquarium. In general be advised to avoid this species, and only house it in a specially contrived brackish water aquarium.

Q. I have white worms crawling on the bottom of my Piranha aquarium. Any suggestions as to what I should do?

A. These worms are a sure sign that your aquarium hygiene is at fault. Regulate the feeding to be quite sure there is nothing left to waste, and siphon out anything left in residue. Use a gravel cleaner to keep the gravel clean and not impacted. You might be best advised to upgrade your filtration to a better standard.