Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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Inga 06-08-2010 03:55 PM

New to the fish world
Hi everyone, My name is Inga and I am a newbie to the world of fish. I have had only 2 tanks in my lifetime and one was a small 20 gallon tank with 3 goldfish that I had as a child. I then had a 50 gallon tank (sort of) with a few Banded Convicts and Bala sharks but they went with the room mate when she left.

Now, Years later, I have a 60 gallon tank and am looking to set it up with some nice fresh water fish. It is something I have been thinking about for some time as I find watching fish very peaceful. You wouldn't believe what finally gave me the nudge to set up a tank again... Fishville, on Facebook. Sad, I know but I know it is time. ha ha

Anyway, I am here to learn from all of you that have had fish for years and can guide me in the ways of proper care, tank set up and setting up a community. I really want to avoid the whole..."My fish ate all my other fish" thing. It sort of breaks my heart. I guess I am a softy.

The fish I was told by the fishstore lady to get, since I want color is a Blue Dempsey pair. She said, even though they are ciclids they are relatively easy to keep in a community. True? I am thinking I would like maybe 7-10 fish in the tank and a few bigger ones. I like color and I find the Ciclids very interesting. I prefer fish that don't hide in the rocks for their whole lives. Anyway, thanks so much for all your help. I can't wait to learn from you all. :-D

bettababy 06-08-2010 06:55 PM


Originally Posted by Inga (Post 399976)
The fish I was told by the fishstore lady to get, since I want color is a Blue Dempsey pair. She said, even though they are ciclids they are relatively easy to keep in a community. True? I am thinking I would like maybe 7-10 fish in the tank and a few bigger ones. I like color and I find the Ciclids very interesting. I prefer fish that don't hide in the rocks for their whole lives. Anyway, thanks so much for all your help. I can't wait to learn from you all. :-D

Hi Inga, and welcome to FF!
Based on the quote I included from your post, I can already tell you that the lady at your lfs doesn't know squat about fish. A pair of jack dempseys would need at least 90 gallons (unless you want to do daily water changes and watch them fight). Adult jack dempseys average 8 - 10 inches each, are quite aggressive and territorial and will see smaller fish as food. 60 gallons isn't enough for even 1 of those fish.

The first step in selecting the best fish for your tank is to figure out what your water chemistry will allow you to keep. Have you tested your pH from your tap water yet? That will give an indication of what you can provide without extras such as RO/DI water, additives to adjust pH, etc.

As for the size of the fish you wish to keep, please know that large fish (anything that grows to over 5 - 6 inches) are not going to be suitable to that size of an aquarium long term. Are you expecting to upgrade to a larger tank? If so, how soon and how big of a tank can you accommodate? Most larger species of fish grow to adult size pretty quick (within the first yr or 2) if they are healthy, and many of those will eat smaller fish.

There are lots of options to work with for color, activity level, and compatibility, so once we know what pH range to target, I and a number of others here on the forum can offer you a wide range of ideas.

Another thing to consider is the decor of your tank... do you intend to work with live plants? Many species of cichlids, especially the larger ones, spend a lot of time digging. This uproots live plants quickly, and makes it near impossible to keep most of the common live plants regardless of lighting and nutrient levels, etc. Dwarf cichlids, if your water chemistry allows for them, would be great in a planted tank, offer a lot of color and activity level, and still keep a pretty peaceful environment as long as they are not overcrowded and have plenty of territory. As mentioned, there are a lot of options.

The more we know about what you desire, what you can accommodate, and what kind of expense you are capable of investing in this tank, we can then offer you lots of options that can work for you.

Welcome back to fish keeping! This should be a fun experience for you, but always remember that patience is key to success in this hobby. Snap decisions and impulse buying are the easiest way to create a mess. And be careful who you trust when you walk into any lfs. Their #1 priority is to make money, and the majority of them will waste your money on things you don't need and/or create messes in your tank that bring you back to buy endless amounts of products to fix it. Jack dempseys in a 60 gallon tank is a good example of that.

Inga 06-08-2010 09:29 PM

Thanks for the info Bettababy. I went to another store tonight and this was just a chain pet store that sold fish. I am in no rush to get fish for my tank, I am just doing research at this point. I was annoyed to see a kid walk out with a few different Cichlids and sharks. I asked him how big his tank was and he said he had a 30 gallon tank. I asked him if he knew that the fish would be 10 inches long when adults and he said yes. He said he had a 1/2 dozen Tetras in there now. When I asked him if he knew the fish he was buying were going to eat the Tetras he just gave me a funny look. I think it is hard to find people that will be honest.

It breaks my heart to think how many fish die horrid deaths because people do not do their homework. I am glad I found this site. I am also reading books, searching on line and talking to a lot of people.

Time frame is a non issue. I do NOT want to spend a ton of money at this point but I also know myself and one thing will, no doubt, lead to another until I have much more then originally thought. I THOUGHT I was going to just get a 30 gallon tank. ha ha Maybe I will go with my original plan and just save a few feeder fish from an untimely death as a snack. Honestly though, they can outgrow my tank as well, can't they?

bettababy 06-08-2010 11:54 PM

Yep. Feeder goldfish, aka comet goldfish, grow to 14 inches long and they can be aggressive as they get larger. They also grow very rapidly. Just an example for you... the one I put into my pond last spring was about 2 inches long when it went in. Today it is approaching 7+ inches and that's still only 1/2 grown. Goldfish are also one of the dirtiest fish there are, as in habit and amount of waste they pass. Goldfish also need higher oxygen levels than the average aquarium fish. Long known as an "easy" fish, they are one of the harder species to care for and raise to full grown.

As for the fancy/fantail goldfish... never mix them with comets and expect the same size issues. My Freddy, a ryukin/oranda mix is almost 9 inches long, and as big around as a standard softball. He's about 5 yrs old or so now and has been this size for about 2 yrs. He is currently in a 120 gallon tank and it is way too small for him, so requires multiple water changes each week and 2 very large filters to keep him clean. The filter media is mucked up within about 3 days, so that also must be cleaned a few times/wk.

A lot of people believe that for this to all be true must mean I over feed him, but he only gets about 10 - 12 goldfish pellets each day. To feed him much less than that would ensure he'd be sick.

Goldfish are awesome pets, but not so easy to take care of and definitely not appropriate for tanks under 90 - 125 gallons for just a single fish.

I applaud you for saying something to that kid at the lfs. It is very likely nobody else did or would have. You may think what you said to him made no difference because he bought the fish anyways, but you'd be surprised how quickly the kids will go home and do some research on their own, ask more questions, and eventually do the right thing for their new pets. The other thing is that parents are often nearby... and when they hear someone mention that their kids new fish is going to grow over a foot long, it makes parents ask questions and raise eyebrows too. That is the only way to spread the word, so thank you for contributing to a healthy and easy solution to the biggest problem in the fish keeping hobby and industry. I do the same sort of thing when I go into a store that sells fish. Another effective method I've found is to ask the person at the lfs some very pointed questions while they're dealing with a customer... such as "did you warn them that the fish in the bag is going to outgrow that tank in their cart... in a few months??" or "did you warn them that those fish will get huge and be quite expensive to house and feed, not to mention the amount of work involved in caring for them?"

Those sorts of questions make a huge difference, and they hold the lfs employees accountable for giving misinformation in the first place, or neglecting to inform people until its too late and they have a problem. There are no real requirements to work in a lfs, sad as that is, so most of them don't know anymore about the fish than the kids walking in the door... sometimes the lfs staff know even less. The things that happen in fish stores is getting to an all time disgusting level, and its such an easy problem to resolve and avoid if people just did their homework before they bought anything.

Thank you for taking the right approach. I will do all I can to help guide you through to a healthy tank.

Inga 06-09-2010 12:10 AM

I appreciate it so much Bettababy. :) What do you think of Angels? I do see a lot of people that have 50 gallon and even 30 gallon that say they have Cichlids. Maybe a smaller variety though.

I saw the saddest thing the other day. I saw a goldfish that was almost a foot long in a 25 gallon tank. I was shocked and asked if they just had it in their while they cleaned the fishes regular tank and they said "no, he just got bigger then we thought" They were basically waiting for him/her to die. I don't want to get into that situation. I tend to keep my pets until death do we part and I do not wish to be hoping for their death to come.

So far, I still really love the Convicts, some of the colorful cichlidss the best. Seeing what I have so far today, I would guess that maybe 1 % of all fish purchased from fish stores actually get into good situations. I feel sad about that and I had really thought this whole thing could be a happy experience.

Hopefully tomorrow I can get to a few other stores. It looks like we have 2 other stores in this area that I wasn't aware of. Have you ever purchased fish on-line? Which stores do you purchase from? What type of water test kit would you recommend? Is sand better then rocks? or the other way around? I think I want rocks but honestly, right now I can't even think about it. It seems each time I think I have my plan, I find contrary info that confuses me all over. ha ha Thanks again, I will appreciate your patience.

bettababy 06-09-2010 02:08 AM

As sad as that story is about the goldfish, that is pretty common if they live long enough to get to full grown. I have had many visitors who see Freddy and ask "what's that?" just because of his size. A lot of those people have seen fancy goldfish before... just never one that has made it to adult size. The whole situation out there is very sad.

Understanding that most fish have long lifespans is often something people don't think about. My albino oscar lived for 12 1/2 yrs. I have a red tail shark that is about 9 yrs old now, and my rubber pleco is going on 5 yrs this coming fall. The koi in our pond are now about 10 - 11 yrs old. The kuhli loach that just died recently was 13 yrs old, and the 2 that are still thriving in the 180 gallon tank will be 14 this next winter. That is a long commitment to make. Waiting for them to die... if they're healthy and well cared for, would be a very long wait. When doing research on the fish you decide to keep, remember to search out average life span and try to match that up to how long you are prepared to keep them. Some fish such as some of the tetras and barbs, average only 4 - 6 yrs, and others, such as mollys, swordtails, platys, etc. average 3 - 4 yrs. (though any can live longer than average... my current swordtails are about 5 yrs old now, the last of my fry that I kept when I last bred them. Comet goldfish can live 35+ yrs, and fancy goldfish average about 25 - 30 yrs.

Now... about the convicts you mention. Be prepared for just 2 fish in that size of a tank. A female convict will get larger than a male, and will average about 6 inches, though I have had a few get as large as 7+. Males generally stay about 4 - 5. Convicts got their name for a reason, and it is very difficult to find compatible tank mates for them even in a very large tank, 125 gallons or more. These fish are extremely territorial and will kill anything that gets in their way. If you end up with a pair that spawns (they spawn easy and have lots of fry) they will quickly claim the entire tank for themselves. They tend to be very good parents, so they end up with 50 - 100 fry out of an average spawn, and the fry grow quickly and are aggressive from a young age (about 1 inch long they start showing aggression). You would need a much larger tank to keep them all in, and many lfs's won't take them anymore because they are hard to sell due to their size and aggression levels. Be careful if you go the way of convicts. To avoid all of the potential problems with them will take a lot of careful planning and preparation.

Test kits... API brand liquid kits are probably the best buy I could suggest. They rate 2nd in line to Sera kits for accuracy, but at less than 1/2 the price if you work with the master kit. The tests you will want to keep on hand are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH. The API freshwater master kit includes all of those. Its easy to find online. Fosters & Smith sells it, as do most of the larger, well known pet stores. If you need a link let me know and I can post one for you.

Purchasing fish online... for a beginner that's a risky thing to do. I have done it, sometimes with wonderful success, other times with horrible outcomes. When it comes to purchasing fish online, the best places to go are not the stores as much as the auctions. With the auctions you can find breeders, people who care about the animals as much as the money. You are more likely to get healthy fish that way. When fish go through stores they are more exposed to disease, illness, parasites, and mishandling... not to mention very bad water conditions and high stress levels. When you deal with a breeder, you know you are getting captive bred fish, ensuring they are not endangering the wild populations or their habitats to provide you with fish, and they tend to be packed better, too. Now... the risk in ordering from an online breeder is that there are bad breeders just as there are bad pet stores. Sight unseen when you spend your money.. you never know for sure what you're getting until it gets there. Sick, injured, even wrong species... all things I have dealt with ordering fish online. If you go this route I suggest extreme caution. I, personally, still prefer to buy anything live from a store tank where I can see it first. It is also easier to deal with a lfs if there is a problem, vs someone in another part of the world that may or may not even respond back.

Sand vs rocks... if you are really stuck on cichlids, for sure work with gravel and not sand. Cichlids like to dig, even the dwarfs. Sand is not as easy for them to move as gravel is. Other downfalls to sand... most live plants can't grow in it because it is too dense for their root structures, you lose the biological function of filtration that gravel will offer, again because of its density, and if it gets into your filter, it will ruin a motor quickly. There is no such thing as an easy gravel vac with sand, so its also much harder to keep clean. If you get sand in your house drains/pipes, the plumbing bill gets expensive. Sand will collect in pipes until it causes blockage. It doesn't take much to cause a problem. With gravel you eliminate all of those issues and its perfectly safe for the fish. The only exception would be if you are keeping a species of freshwater eel that needs to bury in the sand, and then it is often easier to put a dish or 2 of sand in areas away from the filter and surround it with gravel for your main substrate.

I understand about the conflicting info, especially online. There are a great many self proclaimed experts out there. I have met a few that are under the age of 16 and tried hard to convince me they knew more than I do, even in spite of the fact that I've worked in this industry for 20 yrs and have been keeping, breeding, etc. fish for longer than they've been alive. Don't be afraid to ask questions about someone's experience level, how they came by their information, and how much personal experience they've had with the fish species you are discussing. What out for sales gimmicks, online and off. When someone is trying hard to sell you something, chances are most likely its your money they want, not a good fish keeping experience.

Some tips I can offer you to getting started:

1. Learn the science behind the hobby. Learn about the nitrogen cycle, how if functions, learn about water chemistry besides the cycle, how it changes, why it changes, how the fish rely on it for health and survival. Once you know and understand the science behind the hobby, it gets a whole lot easier to sort good info from bad.

2. Natural is not only healthier but easier and less expensive if its done right. Relying on the science, working with a biologically based system means a lot less work for you in the long term and the best environment for the animals. Most of my tanks are set up using the natural methods and they almost take care of themselves. This leaves me a lot more time to enjoy them and a lot less worry of problems. It is possible to balance a system in such a way, keep it pretty, interesting, and can even make it profitable when plants outgrow the tank and can be traded at lfs's for supplies or sold online to help cover other tank expenses.

3. Don't forget quarantine. This is extremely important if you wish to keep more than 1 fish. Fish get sick, even with the best of care. Fish illnesses are highly contagious and most medications can devastate a main tank. Not all fish can handle a med that another may need, plants are sensitive to most meds, and the list goes on and on. Once you have an idea of what fish you wish to keep I can help you to decide the appropriate size quarantine tank. There are some instances where the sensitive, healthy fish can be moved to quarantine while the main tank is under treatment... so it should never have to accommodate your entire population. A heater, a sponge filter, the tank, and a standard aquarium light are all that is needed and the expense of the set up pays for itself the first few times you find you need it. Beyond the first fish you bring home, every new fish should spent at least 2 wks in quarantine before going into the main tank. This will help to avoid the disease issues from ever getting into your main tank in the first place. And, finally, medicating a smaller quarantine tank is much cheaper than medicating a large main tank. The amount of medication you need is drastically reduced, which also makes up for the expense of the quarantine set up.

4. The more decor, plants, rocks, etc. you have in your tank the healthier and more peaceful your fish will be. Fish need territory, but they also need security. The more places a fish has to "hide", even if you can still see them, the less stress that fish will suffer from and the more willing it will be to swim around and not hide in secluded places all the time. When enough territory exists in a tank so that every fish has multiple areas to call its own without conflict, the easier it is for less compatible fish to get along and live peacefully together.

bettababy 06-09-2010 02:09 AM

5. When you first set up the tank, before you fill it and again after filling it... check it with a level to be sure it doesn't shift position or lean to one side more than another. This is something a lot of people forget to do and it can mean the difference between a long term happy experience or a cracked tank nightmare. This is especially important if the tank is sitting on carpeting because the weight of the tank will compress the carpeting and padding underneath over time. A tank that is level when you first fill it, may not be level a week, a month, a year.. after its been filled. Should this happen, the tank should be drained at least 3/4 of the way (fish moved to buckets or quarantine, or both) and shims can be used under the stand... never between tank and stand. Be sure to use a stand made specifically for an aquarium, not things such as end tables or dressers. If the table is not braced properly, either it can break or the tank glass can break from the pressure of the water. Water is very heavy, and 60 gallons of it will weigh over 400 lbs. (not including 60 lbs of gravel, tank itself, etc)

6. If possible, invest in a python hose for maintenance. For a tank that size, the bucket method gets old and cumbersome quickly when it comes time to doing water changes. Once you get beyond cycling, expect to do 30% weekly water changes for regular maintenance.

7. Choose your filter carefully. The type of filter, the brand, make, model... all should be determined by the waste levels of the animals going into the tank, not the size of the tank.

8. Don't overstock your tank. It sounds like you have a pretty good grasp on this already, but be careful when listing how many fish you desire until you know what species you will be keeping. 7 - 10 tetras that grow to 3 inches each will offer very different results than 7 - 10 convicts that will grow up to 7 inches each. When working with fish that desperately need a school of their own species, such as neons, be sure to get enough of them, even if that means less of something else. To not get enough of their own kind will soon leave you with none.

9. Don't add too many fish at once. Stock the tank slowly, a few fish at a time, with 2 - 4 wks in between additions. This allows the water chemistry to stabilize before you add more waste that it can't handle. Too many at once will usually end up in dead fish.

10. Find out what your fish will need to eat before you purchase them and bring them home. Some are much more expensive to feed than others. Do they need live foods? Is their needed food something your lfs stocks regularly or will it need to be ordered online, or special ordered? If its live food, what must you do to keep it between feedings? Things like live black worms need to be kept in the refrigerator, which some people can't handle doing. Live brine needs to be kept in salt water and then strained before feeding to the fish. Lots to consider when it comes to foods, and that can sometimes determine if you want a certain species or not. I spent about $20/wk to feed my oscar, but my angelfish cost about $20 every few months. I have one tank that requires pellets I can only find in 1 lfs locally, at $20 per jar... and each jar lasts about 3 wks.

Those are the top 10 things that come to mind at the moment. Its late, so I must stop here for the night, but I will add more to that list of tips as this thread progresses. I hope you don't mind my long posts. I try to be as thorough as possible so as to provide you with the most help as quickly as I can get it to you.

If you get the chance to talk to those people with the goldfish in a 25 gallon tank, you might want to suggest they post an ad somewhere like Craigs list or Freecycle, seeking someone with a pond or large enough goldfish tank to take the fish from them so it doesn't have to die.

Til next time...

Inga 06-09-2010 08:03 AM

Heaven's no, I don't mind long posts. I appreciate all the information. I am planning on taking this slow and weeding through all the information as I go. So far the only thing I have decided for today is to get rocks instead of sand and to look for plenty of decorations and plants (probably plastic to start)

As far as filters I have the Emperor 400 Bio- Wheel filter at this time. I did think of maybe adding another filter down the road. I can already see this will end up costing me so much more then I originally intended. Yikes!

As far as keeping in mind how long they live and making that commitment, No worries there. I had a parrot that I saved from someone with the intent to find it a new home ASAP since I am not a bird person. I had that little guy for 18 years because everyone that came to see him left bleeding. He liked me so, I felt he needed to stay. I also had a horse for 24 years and dogs and cats never move out. My pets are my children and as odd as that sounds, my fish will be too.

My preference would be to have 5 larger fish in my tank vs. a lot of small ones but we shall see. I wonder if you could sort of put together a virtual tank in your head and share your thoughts?

The tank measurements are 48 x 12 1/2 x 25 high. In choosing the tank, I went with the longer one thinking if I were a fish, I would like a longer straight to swim. (yup, I was trying to think like a fish) I hope that my thought process there wasn't off too. I also thought in hoping for Cichlids that there would be a bit more space for them to set up their little territories without getting in the way or having others in their way.

I also want to keep in mind that the tank would appear more appealing if I had some that prefer to swim in the middle, some bottom and some top swimmers. I learned that here. :) Something I didn't even consider but am glad I now know it. I think that is what I might have seen as less attractive tanks was people who didn't take that into consideration when choosing their fish.

willow 06-09-2010 10:33 AM

hello and welcome.

aunt kymmie 06-09-2010 11:58 AM

Hi Inga, welcome to TFK! Dawn's got it all covered in her posts and I wanted to say welcome aboard. We're glad you found us. :-)

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