First Fish for a Child
Hi! My nephew is fascinated by fish. When we visit zoos or aquariums he just stands and stares at the different fish tanks. So for his birthday, I thought I'd get him his first fish and tank. I need help, though, as I'm not a fish expert.
What size tank is appropriate for a little guy? (He's eight.) What fish is suitable for a younger pet lover?
Thanks for your help!
Designer Checks Inc
Welcome to FF!
You have a lot of options here. You could do something simple like a betta, or you could go with a full blown aquarium. A few things to consider when thinking about size... first, get a feel for the fish he likes. Take him "window shopping" at a pet store, see what he seems most interested in. Spend some time browsing, ask him what he likes and why he likes it. This is how I get the kids started when they come to me. Tank size will determine the animals you can keep, and the bigger the tank, the more options you have for population.
Next take into consideration who is going to be caring for this tank? What are the limitations and abilities of that person? Will that person have help? Willing help? What kind of life schedule does he have for caring for a tank? Different animals have different care needs, and this includes fish!
The next step is to figure out where there is room for a tank. Space can limit your options by a lot. Take a tape measure and write down measurements of possible locations for the tank. If you post some measurements, (length, width, and height) we can then help you to pick a tank that will fit where you want it/need it!
A betta can make for a great beginner fish for any child. They are easy to care for and very pretty, plus they're very social and you can "play" with them. They also don't require a large aquarium. 2 - 5 gallons is a good size. The drawbacks is that a healthy and well cared for betta only has a 3 - 5 yr life span, and they are prone to fungal and bacterial infections, so keeping certain meds on hand is important. The other drawback is that bettas are not good community fish, and mixing 2 or more bettas is not an option, even if male/female combinations. They are extremely aggressive towards their own kind and most other fish, and the ones they don't bother will usually chew them to shreds quickly.
Now, if you wish to go larger with tank size, there are tetras, barbs, even cichlids that can make wonderful pets! Livebearers can be challenging unless you keep all males, so I won't suggest them for a child. They are prone to illness due to the amount of inbreeding that goes on, and this can be a lot for an 8 yr old. Another one to stay away from is goldfish. They are a lot of work and require at least 90 gallons for 2 of them, as they grow extremely large. Goldfish are about the dirtiest fish out there, so need a lot of water changes and cool temps.
You also have rainbow fishes, killie fish, gouramis... the list of possibilities is endless.
I hope this helps, and as you bring back information we can then help you to better select what is needed, and get things set up and running safely.
Wonderful that your nephew is so intrigued!! I am going through the same process with my 7-year old granddaughter. You are in for an interesting experience. I hope you are ready for it.
The first thing I must make clear here, I hope that you are going to be able to mentor the young fella in his trek into the hobby. Teach him to be a keeper and not a haver. He is at the age where he will be very receptive to learning the proper care of any fish. But make sure to let him know during the process as to why certain things should be done and why others shouldn't. Reasons for some things are sometimes the most important part of the lesson. Giving the reason for things allows the youngster to understand the "why's" of the hobby. Very important at that age.
You will need to help him with water changes. It is best to make it a regular scheduled event, like every Tuesday evening. Explain why water changes are important. Teach about feeding and not to overfeed. The lesson of monitoring water conditions may be a little too complicated for the youngster to understand, but he will learn by watching you do them for him over time.
You must emphasize that the aquarium is the fishes' home. It must be cleaned just as his house needs to be cleaned. One of the most critical parts of keeping any aquarium, or pet for that matter, is maintenance. Water conditions and fish compatibility are the others. Express to him that he is taking on a big responsibility and that the fish are living things that will depend on him to take care of them, just like he depends on his mom and dad to take care of him.
As for fish for the beginners, I almost always suggest livebearers. The reason is, the beginner will be exposed to the miracle of life very easily. Many livebearers are easy, and sometimes prolific, breeders. Fish such a mollies, swordtails, guppies, platys, endlers, and least killiefish to name a few. Of course you will also need to add "janitors" to the tank to aid in cleanup. Here I would suggest a corie species. Of the livebearers I named, I would probably lean toward the endlers or least killiefish. The endlers and least killiefish may be hard to find in some local stores. (But if you wish to go that route, I can give you contacts to get them over the web. This will also buy you some time to get the tank cycled) Of those two fish, the least killies are a less prolific breeder and will not overrun the capacity of a small tank as easily.
You didn't mention tank size. A word of advice here. The smaller the tank the more maintenance needed. 10g tanks mean more work and are less forgiving than a 29g. Keep that in mind. My favorite beginner tank is the venerable 29g, if you haven't guessed. It may seem a little large, but as I said before, it is much more forgiving to any errors. And it is much more flexible as to the design and layout of any aquascape the two of you may decide upon.
Any more help needed, we are here. Feel free to post any questions. Heck, let your nephew ask the question and you type it in. He'd surely get a kick out of seeing his question answered on the forum, I'm sure.
Here is some more important info about the livebearers.
Things like: Every female coming from a pet store is likely to be pregnant. The ratio of livebearing fishes is 2 females for each male. Livebearers can have 30+ fry at a time, and they do that about every 30 days (for each female). And most importantly... if working with livebearing fishes, no matter how big or small the tank is, another tank will be needed soon enough, as well as an outlet for the fry.
I am very familar with breeding livebearers, I still have swordtails going here, and just seperated my mollys. In 6 months time (after 3 deliveries to the pet store), with 5 female mollys in a 90 gallon tank with 2 males, I had about 200 fry. That required daily water changes, and the fry lived with the adults without being eaten. The fry also grow very quick. My molly fry were adult size by 13 - 14 wks.
I still say that's a lot to put on an 8 yr old, especially when there are so many other, easier options... and unless the aunt is living with the nephew... it will fall on the parents to help care for that kind of tank set up.
One other important point to make here. If the water changes are not kept up with, if the water quality becomes poor/polluted, the fish will die.
My 12 yr old daughter started out by taking care of her first tank alone, at age 9. I started her with a 5 gallon mini bow and taught her how to do the water changes herself. Other than the reminders to do the water changes sometimes, she did really well with it. I would not, on the other hand, have put her in charge of any of the livebearing tanks, as it was more work than she was interested in doing, or capable of doing alone. 8 and 9 yr olds seldom want to give up play time with friends to be slaving over a fish tank.
It really comes down to your nephews maturity. Also, if he is willing to learn to clean the tank and care for the fish properly (a love of looking at them is not the same thing).
By the time I was 8, I had a 20 gallon in my bedroom I used my own allowance to buy fish, food, dechlor (I didn't understand the nitrate cycle fully, but I knew to vacuum the rocks until 25% of the water was out and replace with dechlor water every Saturday). I kept mollys, tetras, bala shark, etc. A $5 fish was a luxury to me. Not to mention my pet hamsters, corn snake and duck I was the sole caretaker for. Dogs and cats, my parents paid for.
I just bought a beta as a Christmas present to my 3 year old nephew. Mom and Dad have to do water changes, but he knows he should never touch the water and only look at the fish, and every morning to ask Mom for two pieces of food to feed "Brian". He puts the pellets on the water surface very carefully and tells Brian to eat...when the fish takes it, he laughs like it's the coolest thing. He will either tire of it someday, in which case Mom has already adopted Brian for herself, or he will let the love of fishkeeping grow. When the beta dies, he will get another, then maybe a 10 gallon with UG filter....
In the end, I like the idea of taking him to the store to look at fish and talk to him about the cleaning, etc. If he seems interested, you can start a bit bigger, if you sense some doubt about it, a beta is a good start, or goldfish.[/i]
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