Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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buglacrosse 10-04-2008 11:25 PM

Goldfish Question
I am a college student so I can't afford expensive fish, so I get the 24 cent feeder goldfish (I feel like I am also doing a good deed) I had this one fish Quincy for 2 years in a small bowl, when I was going back so school I thought he would like some pals so I got a couple more goldfish. They were fine and didn't seem to have any problems, I didn't like having an odd number so I got one more. As soon as I put him in the tank he went straight to the bottom and stayed there, a day or two after I got the new fish he died. The next day another one died, the next day the third. Until the only fish was Quincy, I didn't know what was going on I feared that Quincy would soon go so I replaced the water. But I guess I didn't do enough because that weekend I found him dead with a clear goo type substance around him. I don't know what happened????? I feel awful. I am going to get some new (not feeder) fish and I don't want the same problem to happen. Any suggestions?

iamntbatman 10-05-2008 12:02 AM

I'm sorry for your loss; it's rough losing a pet, especially after caring for it for so long.

However, take this opportunity to learn a bit about fishkeeping:

The number one thing you'll learn about this hobby is that the price of the fish has very little to do with the cost of caring for it. Goldfish, especially feeders, are mass produced and thus can be sold for very little money. The common feeder goldfish is the same fish as the comet goldfish, a species that will grow up to 18" in length. They also produce a massive amount of waste so strong filtration is needed. In the case of Quincy, he was likely quite stunted due to the cramped conditions of living in a small bowl. I can't imagine how quickly nitrate builds up in a bowl that size, so it's also very likely that he had been suffering nitrate poisoning his whole life. Comet goldfish should be in a 10g tank for starters, but will eventually need a much larger tank (I would say at least 75g, as that's the smallest tank volume-wise that's as wide as the fish is long). In cramped quarters, a fish will get stunted and suffer all sorts of health problems which likely compromised your fish's immune system.

The feeders you buy at pet stores are often kept in extremely cramped, disease-ridden tanks, so it's likely the fish you got were diseased when you bought them. Also, adding that many goldfish to a small bowl in such a short amount of time likely made your ammonia shoot through the roof, which resulted in the death of your fish either directly or by reducing their immune systems capability to deal with disease.

So, here are my suggestions for the future:

If you're hooked on goldfish, realize that for them to be healthy and happy, they do need very large tanks. A single fancy goldfish would need at least a 29g tank, preferably a 55g, in order to thrive. A comet goldfish, as I mentioned, needs at least a 75g tank. Goldfish need massive amounts of filtration and frequent water changes to deal with the amount of waste they produce. If you cannot afford these accommodations or don't have the room, you should consider some fish that stay much smaller.

There are many species of tropical fish that will fit well into a 10g or smaller tank, with the smallest recommended tank size for just about any fish being about 2.5 gallons. A complete setup for any tank in the 2.5 to 10 gallon range will run you about $50 total, including the tank, canopy, lighting, decorations, filtration and a heater. However, beyond this initial expense there's not much in the way of maintenance costs, other than food. I suggest looking at lists of tropical fish on the internet or looking at the fish in person at a LFS (local fish store) and making a list of ones you like. Then, you can ask here about stocking plans.

Before you purchase any fish and before you even purchase a tank, I strongly recommend that you research the "aquarium cycle," which is essentially just the part of the nitrogen cycle that happens in your fishtank and has a huge impact on the health of your fish, as you witnessed when overstocking a small fish bowl.

Here's a link to an article about the aquarium cycle:

Hope that helped!

buglacrosse 10-05-2008 01:47 AM

Thank you. I hadn't heard of the ammonia poisoning. I just wanted to say that I did increase the size of his tank to the 10g (I didn't want you to think I had 4 fish in a small fish bowl) but from the sound of the reply that was too small for him.
Is ammonia poisoning as common in other fish? And how do I prevent it?

iamntbatman 10-05-2008 02:27 AM

Fish waste (urine and feces) contains significant amounts of ammonia, which is highly toxic to all fish. In order for a fish to live in an aquarium, there are two options:

1) Do large enough water changes on a regular basis to keep ammonia levels as low as possible.

2) Allow the aquarium to properly cycle before adding fish.

The first option will subject your fish to low levels of ammonia that gradually build up until water changes are performed. In the second option, the tank is set up before the fish are added, and an ammonia source is readily supplied to the tank. A fishless cycle usually uses pure ammonia, fish food or a frozen shrimp (the kind you'd eat) to provide a steady ammonia source to the tank. Bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite then begin to populate the tank, growing on all of your tank surfaces and especially in your substrate (gravel or sand) and filter. Unfortunately, nitrite is just as harmful to fish as ammonia, but luckily there is a second type of bacteria that processes nitrite and turns it into nitrate. Nitrate is also harmful to fish but only in much larger doses, so it is acceptable (expected, really) to have moderate levels (10-20 ppm or so) of nitrate in your aquarium. When you introduce the ammonia source, the first type of bacteria grow in number until there are enough of them to keep your ammonia levels locked at zero even if you've got a constant ammonia source. Then, the second type of bacteria grow in number until the same thing happens with your nitrite. Only at this point is it safe to add fish and avoid ammonia and nitrite poisoning altogether.

If you add fish before you cycle an aquarium, there won't be enough bacteria to process waste as fast as the fish can produce it, and ammonia levels will quickly rise up to lethal levels. That's likely what happened in your tank, since you introduced four very messy fish to an uncycled tank.

There *are* some fish that are hardier than others and can sometimes survive the stress of an aquarium cycle, but generally it's viewed as more humane to cycle your tank without fish. This also allows you to stock the tank with the fish of your choosing after the cycle is complete and the aquarium is established.

So, to sum it up, the best way to prevent ammonia poisoning is to cycle the tank before you put your fish in it, and then only adding as many fish as the bacteria established in the tank can handle. In order to monitor your water levels (i.e. pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate) you should invest in a liquid test kit. A lot of people on this forum, myself included, use the API Freshwater Master Test Kit. It runs about $30 at most fish stores but sells for half that much (or less) online at places like Big Al's, Drs. Foster and Smith, Aquariumguys or even eBay. The test will let you monitor the progress of your cycle and allow you to keep a constant eye on the quality of your water. The liquid kits are *much* more accurate than the paper test strips and save you a lot of money in the long run because they provide many more individual tests.

Some people say that a general rule of thumb is "an inch of fish per gallon" but it's really a pretty terrible rule. Some sort of volume of fish per gallon would be a little better, but it still doesn't factor in swimming space requirements, aggression, swimming area preference (i.e. top, middle, bottom levels of the tank) and general levels of waste produced. To get an idea as to what appropriate stocking levels would be, read up on the many threads on this forum asking about stocking options, as they'll give you a better feel for how many fish and what types you can have in your tank. There are a lot of threads about stocking ideas for a 10g tank.

I know all of this sounds intimidating, but you'll come to realize that fishkeeping can be a really rewarding hobby when you really take good care of your fish, and a lot of the frustrations that can sometimes prevent newcomers to the hobby from succeeding or getting more interested can be bypassed by doing some research before making the plunge.

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