Pet peeve rant time!
I thought I'd post some of the most common misconceptions people get when visiting a pet store that sells fish. I'm sure most of you already know all of this, and those who don't may not even read this until they experience the problems this misconceptions create (and are here looking for help). But who knows, maybe it will help someone BEFORE they get into that boat. 1) Since the pet stores have their tanks with 30-50+ fish in them, I can obtain similar results at home in an equal sized tank.
False. The only reason stores get away with this is by using very expensive filtration systems that do more than just pass water through a pad and carbon, or even the canister filters used on larger tanks. It's not uncommon for the stores filtration system to be doing CONSTANT water changes, as in draining water all day, all night, and automatically replacing with fresh (conditioned) water. Smaller stores that can't afford a system like that likely do daily water changes.
In addition, the turnover rate for stores is quite high, which means most fish do not spend long in the store before leaving for their new home. 2) Betas are fine to place in a small vase/bowl with a plant in a lid whose roots dangle in the water, the betas eat the roots for their food.
False, on so many levels.
First of all, Betas are tropical fish, and just like the other tropical fish they really need heated water. They can do okay if you keep your house relatively warm (74 deg F minimum) year round, but most people especially in winter have their houses colder than that.
Secondly, betas need real fish food. Yes, they'll nibble on the roots. So would you if you were starving to death. For the sake of your betas please give them real fish foods (you can find prepared foods tailored specifically for betas).
Third, like all other fish, they need filtration and water changes. If you have them in a small bowl/vase they'll need consistent water changes. After all, they have the same bodily functions as other fish... the toxins do not remove themselves. 3) Goldfish
The main problems with these guys is how messy they are, you really, really can't have that many in a fish tank. They may physically fit... but they make so much waste the water becomes quite toxic quite fast. Do yourself (and them) a favor and save them for a pond or LARGE aquarium (in small numbers with heavy filtration).
I think the small 1 gallon fish bowl with a gold fish in it is ingrained in everyone's mind since you see it depicted everywhere. I'm not sure where or why this started in the first place, but goldfish generally do NOT do well in that kind of situation. 4) Schooling Fish
Often times stores either won't say anything if you ask for just one, or they'll suggest you get 3 if they do say something. But quite often, schooling fish want more than just 3. In a lot of cases 6 is the minimum number, and sometimes 10 or more. That's a significant number of fish, and folks who buy a small 10g aquarium to start out don't realize that single species of fish will completely stock their tank.
Most people will naturally want variety, and thus get 1 of this 2 of that, etc etc. I've fallen for this several times before I learned (online of course, not in the store) the realities of keeping fish.
If you want variety in a small tank, best to use non-schooling fish. 5) Stock your tank by 1 inch of fish per gallon.
That's a decent ballpark, but it is only a ballpark. Some fish create enormous amounts of waste to their size (yeah I'm looking at you goldfish). Another example are plecos.
In addition, the capacity of tanks is usually calculated for the outside dimensions of the tank. So the glass thickness, substrate (gravel), decorations and the fact that you don't fill it to the brim all make your REAL gallons of water something less than the 'size' of the tank.
The advice here is just to take the side of caution, go a little under, and make sure you know if any are heavy waste producers before buying. If after a while your water parameters are perfect, and your nitrates don't climb quickly at all ... you can consider getting a few more. Just be prepared that if it tips the scale, you'll be doing more frequent water changes to keep those nitrates in check.
This leads right into... 6) Cycling the new tank
There are already guides here explaining all about the cycling process so I won't go into it here. I'll just re-iterate that it takes 2-8 WEEKS to complete. Again WEEKS, not days, WEEKS. Patience =) 7) If it's on the info card, it has to be true.
Oh boy is that false... I'll use a particular one at PetSmart that makes my blood boil because it tricked me. They sell Angelfish that are only about 1" in size, I really love angel fish, and that info card says nothing about schooling and says they are good for 29+ gallon aquariums.
Ugh... well, they can get up to about 6" in size (at least the card says that) but what it doesn't tell you is you really need at least 5 of these guys. They are not happy if they are alone and can become aggressive. If you only have a couple, they can be quite aggressive to each other, too aggressive. In a larger group, the aggression is spread out, so no one fish is likely to get bullied to death.
There can of course be exceptions, you very well could get lucky and get two or three that live perfectly happy together. But the keyword there is lucky, which means not probable. If you really want them in a smaller tank (like a 29 gallon) find someone selling a mated pair. They'll get along with each other and be happy, but know that when spawning they'll be aggressive to other fish who go near their eggs. 8) A small tank is easier than a large tank.
This one is also false (generally speaking). It's easier to keep 5 fish alive in a 29 gallon tank than a 10 gallon. Why? The larger volume of water will be more forgiving to mistakes than a smaller tank. However, that said, overfill the 29 gallon and you'll still have a difficult time keeping everything happy and healthy. So what I'm saying is, if you are just starting out consider getting a larger tank than you had in mind, and under stock it as if you really did buy the smaller tank.
Consumers when they hear this from a pet store that actually mentions it will automatically assume "Yeah right, you just want me to spend more." But really, it's true, larger tanks are more forgiving and easier to keep good water quality.
Okay, I'm done, rant over, I feel better
Hopefully you learned something if you actually read all that.