Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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Chesh 02-17-2012 12:31 PM

Seeking advice from the fish gurus
Let me start by saying that I know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about fish or aquariums. At all. This will become painfully obvious I continue, so I just wanted to get that out of the way... :oops:

I have two kiddos,4 and 2, and as we were wandering around the mall the other day, we ended up in the pet store. As I am a sucker, we left said pet store with 6 small 'feeder' goldfish (less than an inch long), and one sucker fish.

Got them home, dug around in the basement for an old hand-me-down 10 gallon aquarium complete with a used filter, lights in the lid, & grave (no heater), cleaned it, filled it, put in the chlorination drops and dumped in the fish (one died before he even made it into the tank) and the girls had a fantistic time watching their new fishies!

Of course, within a few hours, the water got cloudy and they started dropping like flies. This continued for about a full 24 hours. When the water cleared, we were left with 1 goldfish and the sucker. I looked around online and figured out that we were supposed to have let the water cycle. Whoops!

Well, the girls were sad, so the next day we went to Petsmart and they picked out some more (yes, mommy is a sucker). We came home with 2 dalmation Mollies, 5 neon tetras, 3 fancy tailed guppies (2 female, 1 male) 2 snails, and a dwarf African frog,and a ribbon plant (that they told us was for the aquarium). Plus the remaining sucker fish and goldfish who were already in the tank. This was two days ago, and everyone was fine, so I thought it'd be okay. But then last night we lost 1 male and 1 female guppy - the other one is still perky as ever.

So... I came online to FINALLY do some research, I really want these guys to live - especially the Mollies and the frog, as the girls are in love with them. After much searching, I've learned that my plant isn't actually supposed to be underwater, and that I know even less than I thought about aquariums!

So please. . . I realize this is a VERY broad question, but I've been going through page after page of information, and my head is literally SWIMMING with it. I didn't do it right to begin with, I know this much now, so what do I have to do to salvage the fish that I already have and fix my tank so that they can all thrive?

Molly's need more space, it seems - I actually have a bigger tank in the basement, no problem there. But I don't have space for more than ONE tank. Can I keep these guys together? How big of a tank do I need, or is a 10 gallon okay for now? Will it stress them to move them so soon again? Will a taller tank kill my frog? WHAT am I supposed to put in the water to keep the levels right, since goldfish and Molly's have such a high output of waste? Is my tank done cycling, or will I wake up to more dead fish tomorrow? What to do with the one lone girly guppy? Does she really NEED at least 2 more buddies? Or would I just be sentencing them to death to add them to this tank? Should I get some medicines to keep on-hand just in case? If so, what? What about the water plant? From what I've found online, the one we have shouldn't be in there, but I want to replace it with some kind of plant (the frog likes to hide there) What should I get, and do I have to do something special to keep IT alive, too? I don't have a LOT of money to play around with. . . but I really want to see our fish do well, so I can dig up a little bit of extra cash for the cause.

I know NOTHING about this, but I really DO want to learn! I'm finding TOO much information, but it isn't specific enough for me to be able to figure out where to go from here (or maybe I just don't know enough as a foundation to process all of it). I'm baffled, seriously, but I want to save our little buddies and do things right from here on out.

Thanks in advance to anyone who actually managed to read all of that, and if you have ANY advice you can give to me, I would really appreciate it! :-D

ladayen 02-17-2012 01:14 PM

Well lets start with cycling the tank. this article should have all the information you'll need. The process will take 6-8 weeks. I wouldn't add more fish in the mean time. I would actually return the last of your original fish, the goldfish and the "sucker" Both will get too big for your tank.

I would recommend you use the larger tank you have available, but how tall is it exactly? Aside from having to change more water, they are generally easier to keep stable.

You will need to get a heater. I just picked up an extra emergency heater at walmart the other day for like $10. Fully submersible and automatically keeps temp at 78 degrees +- 2 degrees. Generally I find it goes on the lower side.

Lets not worry about adding other stuff to the water at this point. Water conditioner(dechlorinator) and some liquid fertilizer for your plant when you get another one is really all thats needed. Fish food of course as well :)

thekoimaiden 02-17-2012 03:12 PM

Welcome to the hobby and the forum. You've made mistakes in the past, but we all did. You're trying to correct them and that's what matters now.

I second ladayen's suggestion to return the goldfish and sucker fish (called a Pleco). The feeder goldfish will grow to around a foot and is better suited for a pond. The pleco will also get around a foot. If you can only get store credit maybe you could put that towards a heater. But not more fish right now. What you have will be fine for right now.

We'll get you on the right track. No worries. (:

Snappyarcher 02-17-2012 03:20 PM

Well first things first, lets look at the things you are going to need:
1. as large a tank as possible (when it comes to chemistry the larger the body of water the more stable the chemistry will be because of the degree of dilution of chemicals)
2. a filter (fish live and breath their own excrement, in the wild it s constantly swept away in the bigger "cycle of nature", however in a home aquarium we rely on the nitrogen cycle to help us on this score.
Basic nitrogen cycle is: fish produces ammonia, ammonia is broken down into nitrites and then nitrites are broken down into nitrates which are then used by the plants or dispersed by evaporation.
3. A heater, all tropical fish will require a temperature which will be warmer than 18 degrees, ranging through to about 28 degrees, as a general rule you will need a thermostatic heater to raise the temperature and then keep it stable.
4. Water.... although this may seem obvious, you will need to consider what actually comes out of your a general rule, and as far as fish are concerned...its crap! You will need tap water conditioner, which will neutralise some of the toxins found in tap water, which makes it effectively safe for the fish to live in and breath.
5. A hood or cover, fish do jump!
6. Books and a good relationship with a reputable fish seller.... and i do not mean pets at home or some of the "generic" pet store that can be found worldwide. Go to a good quality fish seller and be prepared to travel for this.
7. Lights are not essential and i would not recommend delving into this subject untill you have mastered the basics.... untill then, lets just say the lights make the tank visible.

Ok now specifically:
Mollies are tropical, goldfish are cold water, so at least in theory should never be kept together.... in these two cases it is possible but to say the least it is unfair and will foreshorten the life of the fish out of its comfort range. The frog is another matter and m probably not the person to ask on that one but you certainly do need to know which species of frog you have.
The books will give you more info about all of the fish but to get you started... guppies are breed-aholics and the males will constantly harass the females to the point of death, so it is well worthwhile having more than one female, at a ratio of 1 male to 3 females.
In short please do not buy any more fish until you have read as much as possible about the fish themselves and their compatibilities, and also at the very least untill the filter biology has established itself as per the nitrogen cycle, which will take about a month.
I agree with Ladayen, take back the goldfish and the sucker as they are thoroughly unsuitable for your tank.

SinCrisis 02-17-2012 03:36 PM

Wow, that was a lot of information.

To quickly summarize to make sure I got this right:

Current inhabitants:
1 Feeder Goldfish
1 Pleco (I am assuming this is the sucker fish)
2 dalmation mollies
5 neon tetras
2 female guppies
1 male guppy
2 snails (what kind? apple snail?)
1 african frog

Tank: 10g

Cycled: no

Filter: unknown size

Heater: none


First off, you need a heater, ladayen recommended a emergency one from walmart which is ok, but with heaters, a little more money is a lot safer for your fish. They generally last a long time so its a worthwhile investments.

Secondly, what kind of filter do you have? If you have any information or even a picture, it could help us identify its filtration capacity. This will determine if you need to get a new one for a bigger tank or can work with what you already have.

Thirdly, it takes WEEKS for a tank to cycle. Water stability is incredibly important to the health of your fish. Your tank is still cycling right now, it is likely that you will get another bout of cloudy water.

The bad news:

So for the number of fish you have right now, you need close to 46g. The pleco alone will require a tank that is at least 3ft long because they can grow up to and over 1 foot normally, most die before then because of improper tank size. They really aren't suited for indoor tanks unless its a huge tank. Secondly, you are likely to lose all your neon tetras. They are sensitive fish and in an uncycled tank, will succumb quickly to ammonia and nitrates. The mollys are quite durable, but may still die from the ammonia. The guppies are a mixed bag, as some are inbred and weak.

Recommended course of action:

Return the pleco if you can or give it away. Plecos are a huge burden on small aquariums, they poop a LOT, generating twice the amount of bioload a fish of their size should, and will grow beyong your tank's capacity.

Return everything except the feeder goldfish and snails. For the sake of preserving life, the other fish should all be returned. The feeder fish and snails will be enough to cycle your tank. You can purchase the fish and frog again when your tank parameters are stable.

If returning fish is NOT an option, you should look at changing 50-75% water daily for the next few weeks while the tank cycles. It is currently overcapacity so the bioload is far bigger than a 10g can handle so if the water quality isn't kept on top of, the ammonia could spike and create the same conditions that occurred on the first day.

You should be setting up the larger tank to let it cycle so when it is ready, you can move your current fish over.

The reason the goldfish isn't to be returned is because most stores wont take back feeder goldfish. Secondly, most of those fish have weak immune systems already, so it will unlikely make it to its full length.

What we need to know to advise you further:

Filter capacity, larger tank size, desired stocking of the tank.

Chesh 02-17-2012 08:05 PM

Wow! Thank you ALL for your advice and support! I’m feeling much more confident that one day in the not-too-distant future I will be able to have a nice and happy tank full of thriving fish!

To clarify what I have in the tank right now...

Current inhabitants:
1 Feeder Goldfish (will be moved to a new home this weekend - 5 others died already)
1 Pleco (will be moved to a new home this weekend)
2 dalmatian mollies
5 neon tetras
1 female guppy (2 others died already - 1 male 1 female)
2 apple ‘mystery’ snails
1 dwarf african frog

Tank: 10g

Cycled: no

Filter: Whisper filter 10 that came with the 10gal aquarium ‘kit’

Heater: none

Okay... so I understand that my tank is going to be in flux for about 2 months, because in my ignorance I’m forcing my poor creatures to endure a ‘fish in’ cycle (they really should TELL you these things when you buy fish in the first place!). I can’t return the pleco or the goldfish, but I’ve already found new homes for them, and I think I can send them off as soon as tomorrow or Monday at the latest.. I won’t add any more fish to the tank until we get the situation straightened out with the water/bigger tanks. . .

I have two tanks in my basement that I can use, they’re both around 30 inches wide, and about 12 inches deep. . . one of them is 12.5 inches tall, and the other is 18 inches tall - I’m guessing I should go with the taller of the two, but the shorter one has an aquarium lid on it, complete with lights and everything. The taller one has a screened lid (like maybe it used to house a lizard or something). I won’t be able to tell until I get my husband to dig them out of storage if the lid is interchangeable, but I’m hoping it is. Our dwarf African frog isn’t supposed to be a good swimmer, but I think he should be able to handle that depth just fine.

I can have both the 10 gallon and the larger tank set up on a temporary basis, until they’re done cycling, and all of the fish are settled into the larger tank but I don’t have enough room in the house to KEEP them both set up. What is the BEST thing that I can do to get the bigger tank ready for the fish in the least amount of time? I read the various methods to ‘kick start’ a tank, but I just don’t know! Should I set it up with plants? Drop in a dead shrimp? Put the goldfish and the pleco in to poop it up? Use water from the current not-cycled 10 gallon tank to ‘seed’ the tank? What’s the best way to do this right as quickly as possible - there are so may methods! GARG! The more I learn the more questions I have!!!

Another question - the 10 gallon tank has only been set up since Sunday night - 5 (dramatic) days. The water from this tank is obviously not cycled properly yet, but can I use some of the water from it to help get the bigger tank in shape more quickly? SinCrisis said:


Originally Posted by SinCrisis (Post 985201)
If returning fish is NOT an option, you should look at changing 50-75% water daily for the next few weeks while the tank cycles. It is currently overcapacity so the bioload is far bigger than a 10g can handle so if the water quality isn't kept on top of, the ammonia could spike and create the same conditions that occurred on the first day.

I’m not really sure if I understand this totally, forgive me for being slow! Basically, you’re saying there’s too much fish poop in the water and the 10 gallon filter can’t handle it, I get that, but if I’m scooping out 50-75% of the water that’s in the tank - what do I replace it with? Tap water? Doesn’t that kind of put me back where I was on day one when everything died? Or am I supposed to be adding something to the tap water to make it nicer for the fish? Snappyarcher mentioned ‘tap water conditioner’ All I have right now (and what I used before putting the fish in originally) is a tiny bottle of DeCHLOR that they told me to use at the petshop - what SHOULD I be using? Won’t it seriously stress out the fish to change out that quantity of water every day? Plus... how to you deal with getting it to the right temperature? I still don’t have a heater in the tank. I’m just not sure how to go about this. Also, when the goldfish and the pleco leave the tank, the bio load will be MUCH smaller (though I understand Mollies also produce more than their fair share of waste), will the 10gallon filter be able to handle it at that point until the bigger tank is ready?

I keep reading about ‘ammonia spikes’. Is this something that happens all of the sudden? Fish are fine, then they all pee at the same time and BOOM! Instant death??! Please clarify this for me if you can. . . also, should I be testing the ammonia/nitrate/whatever other things I’m supposed to be paying attention to but don’t know yet in the water? I haven’t done anything like that yet, should I buy a kit? Or just go with the assumption that the water in my tank right now is pretty much hell for the little guys.

I’ll be working on getting the bigger tank set up this weekend. Can you recommend a good filter and heater? I’m all about the $10 WalMart heater, that might be all I can handle this weekend, but I’ll be looking to upgrade as soon as possible to a better one - suggestions are VERY welcome, obviously I have no clue!

A friend who used to breed fish recommended a local fish store, called Exotic Aquatics. It’s a bit far for me, but I plan to make all of my purchases from now on through them - they ONLY sell fish, and have a very knowledgeable staff from what I’m told.

Currently, the water in the tank is clear and the fish look happy. I know looks can be deceptive, especially to someone who doesn’t know what to look for, but everything seems okay now. I really hope the worst is past us, and this isn't just another example of the calm before a storm...

Thanks again for all of your responses! I’m eager to hear what else you have to teach me, and thank you most sincerely for your help - I really had no clue what I was getting myself into, but I want to do the best I can for these awesome little animals in my care!

Snappyarcher 02-18-2012 05:24 AM

To clarify about the nitrogen cycle and to answer your question about spikes:
The nitrogen cycle is a progressive development of certain types of bacteria which will break down the fish waste through stages.

Lets first consider one concept: once you have the right mix of species regarding behaviours and compatability, you are not managing the fish, you are managing the water!

Ok so what are we actually looking for? An aquarium with as close to zero levels of Ammonia as possible, but the catch is the fish produce ammonia as they pee. The ammonia is toxic and must be converted in to something safe, is performed by bacteria such as the Nitrosomonas species, which converts ammonia to nitrites. The problem is that it takes time for the bacteria to build up and so the ammonia ill build up and up untill the bacteria is present in such levels to firstly reduce the ammonia and then of course keep it low. That is why you get spikes in the ammonia.
So once the nitrosomonas bacteria have built up sufficiently and they have converted all the excessive levels of ammonia to nitrite, The nitrite will have built up to a spike as well untill the next colony of bacteria in the chain has built up adequately to reduce the resultant nitrites. This next colony of bacteria is called nitrobacter. Nitrobacter convert nitrites in to nitrates, but again before they are present in sufficent numbers the nitrite will necessarily build up to a second spike, in this case a nitrite spike. This spike will of course come down once the nitrobacter bacterium have built up enough to reduce the amount of nitrite by converting it to nitrate. The nitrate will of course build up as well but not to the same extent as the previuos two because of the fact that nitrate s processed back to pure nitrogen by a number of different processes, not just bacterially.

SO in answer to your question the cycling of a tank is the process of setting up colonies of bacterium which will effectively remove the toxins produced by the fish, and is a staged process. The spikes dont just pop up but progressively grow over a period of time and with test kits this can be observed, the reason we do the water changes in the first instance is to try to keep the ammonia and nitrite levels a t levels which are tolerable, although not ideal, for the fish untill such time as mother nature takes over and does the job for us.
However consider this, you cannot start a nitrogen cycle in a tank very effectively without the presence of something to produce the ammonia, so to some extent we need the fish to be there to produce ammonia to start the whole cycle off!

Bear in mind this is a very simplified version of the nitrogen cycle but it really is all you need to know as a fish keeper.... with a good routine of maintenance as described in so many books its unreal.... you will have happy and thriving fish.

Chesh 02-18-2012 08:28 AM

Thank you for taking the time to dumb that down a bit for me! I think I've got it... I spent a long time after the kids were in bed last night reading up on this, as well as which fish we have and what each one will need to thrive.

I'm seeing a TON of stuff on the market for testing water levels - is there a simple/decently accurate/inexpensive way to do this - at least to get me a ballpark idea of where the tank is? I can invest in a more expensive/better method in the future, but I need something cheap to get started with - I'm already spending more on this than I was expecting (of course, I wasn't expecting to come home with fish in the first place, ha!)

I'm also still confused about how to set up the new tank to cycle quickest, and at what point it will be at least AS safe to put the fish into it to get them out of the 10 gallon. . . I'm going out for supplies for the bigger tank sometime this afternoon, I hope. . . I can 'seed' the new tank with some of the water from the existing one to help get the process started, but I'm still unsure as to how to replace the water I've taken from the 10 gallon with clean water. There isn't a heater in there now, but the temp in there is warmish. If I add cold tap water, the shock will kill them, right? Arg! (also getting a thermometer and a heater today)

I also have been wandering around the forum in search of information on the actual aquarium. The hoods from my two ARE interchangeable, so I can use either (the shorter one used to house a rodent, the taller was home for an iguana, according to my husband). It seems that there is some debate on whether taller tanks are better. The frog can take it, according to what I've read on the breed, and it seems to me that our Mollies would really enjoy the extra space - they zoom top to bottom and back to forth like maniacs. Any input on which tank would be better for my guys would be appreciated!

Thanks again... hopefully I'll be on the right track soon. Right now I'm feeling so sad for my poor fishies and very nervous that they could drop dead at any moment - I'm not sure what I can do to help them, or if there's really ANYTHING I can do at this point other than wait it out, get the new tank ready, and hope for the best.

redchigh 02-18-2012 09:22 AM

I would probably go ahead and spend the $30 or so on a liquid test kit. None of the other methods are worth the money.

Don't add shrimp, they only act as an ammonia source. You have the fish for that.

Once the goldfish and pleco are gone, live plants could definately help. Some sort of stem plant left floating would remove a lot of the toxic nasties that build up.

Change the water as often as you feel like it.

Ammonia and nitrite are both toxic. They will build up in the water until it's cycled.
It does seem like the fish die suddenly, but I think it's because 1 fish dies from the nitrite, and within minutes or hours decomposition starts- which produces more ammonia/nitrite, pushing the deadly levels even higher.

If you see your fish 'hanging out' just under the water surface, do a 50% water change. It's one of the warning signs of ammonia poisoning.

One problem, is that the frog breathes air, and doesn't have gills, so needs a shallow tank. I'd put him in the 10 gallon by himself.

While the tank is cycling, feed your fish a tiny amount, once every 2 days. They won't starve.

ladayen 02-18-2012 10:41 AM

Either tank is fine. 18" high will be fine for the frog.

To clarify a bit of what Snappyarcher said "However consider this, you cannot start a nitrogen cycle in a tank very effectively without the presence of something to produce the ammonia, so to some extent we need the fish to be there to produce ammonia to start the whole cycle off"

You do not need fish to start a cycle. You can simply drop a few fish flakes in the tank and let them rot to start the ammonia building process. However you already have fish in the tank. The bacteria cling to surfaces, very little of it is free floating in the water, changing water in the tank will have little impact on the cycle of the tank. It will remove excess ammonia/nitrites making it clean for the fish though. To "seed" or kickstart a cycle in a new tank you take your filter media from the old tank and put it into the new one.

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