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Discussion Starter #1
Hi,

My girlfriend and I have recently purchased our first aquarium together. It is a 20 gallon tall. I have been doing a lot of reading about setting it up, so I'll tell you what we have done so far.

1. Part sand, part gravel substrate
2. Plenty of ornaments with hiding places for the fish.
3. Moderate amount of fake plants
4. Heater set to 78 degrees
5. Air pump connected to a volcano bubbler(?)

I went to a fish store near us, and told them that I was looking for ammonia, so I could get the Nitrogen cycle started for my tank. He told me to buy Tetra SafeStart Plus, and to add in 2 fish to get the cycle started. I haven't yet added any in, the only thing I've added into the water was a dechlorinator.

My main questions were:

A.) Is SafeStart + 2 fish good to get the Nitrogen cycle started?
B.) What type, and how many fish should I be putting into this tank?

We have been looking at a few species of fish.

Most Wanted:
-Mollies
-Bristlenosed Catfish
-Mystery Snail

Secondary:
-Otocinclus
-Tetra

Wanted But Probably Not the Best Choices:
-Swordtails
-Female Betta


We really want to make our tank a success, so i appreciate any and all feedback we receive. I can post a picture of the tank if you need that to help you decide what's best for us.

Thank you.
 

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Hi there and welcome to TFK!


So a few questions for you. Do you have a filter in the tank? Or is it only the bubbler (not a filter, just an aerator).
How many fish would you like in total in the end? Are you looking for a single molly or a group of them? I assume you've probably read about livebearers and know that you can end up with a tank full of them so do be warned lol. If you don't mind that then no worries. Mollies do get big though, about 4 inches. I would actually suggest you go with the Swordtail or Platy instead so you have room to play with your stocking in the tank. Mollies also do typically require some addition of salt for health reasons, livebearers in general will appreciate salt but other fish such as Otos, Tetras, Betta, or Plecos (I assume you meant Bristlenose Pleco, not catfish) don't like salt very much or in very small quantities.


Livebearers are social fish though and do better with groups of their own, so if you went with a livebearer (any of the fish in the families of Mollies, Swordtails, Platy, Guppy, or Endler), I would stick with a group of those and the BN pleco. Also know that Pleco's typically eat driftwood more than they'll eat algae. So I recommend getting some Mopani or Malaysian driftwood as well for the tank. Do know that driftwood leaches tannins, this will stain your water brown but it is not bad or anything! It's actually quite beneficial to the water and the fish. But many people don't like the look of it (look up Malaysian or Amazon Biotopes or Blackwater biotope to see some extreme tanks :-D ) and so you can remove most of the tannins by boiling the wood a few times and letting it soak before adding it to the aquarium. Some wood is already pretreated and won't leach tannins or as many. Mopani is the heaviest wood but also leaches a lot of tannins typically.


If you wanted to go with a school of Tetras or Rasbora or Barbs, I would do a nice big school of those (9-12 for smaller fishes, 8-10 for some of the medium sized like Tiger Barbs or Phantom Tetra) and some bottom dwellers like corydoras julii or corydoras sterbai. You could also have 3-5 otocinclus with this and a male or female (NOT TOGETHER!) Betta in with most fish. Betta's can be complicated though, some don't mind community tanks while other's hate it so it is a hit or miss with them. Also know that many schooling fish are not suitable to live with Betta's because they will nip and bully the betta, such as Tiger Barbs, Serpae Tetra, etc. Most of the bigger "Dime-bodied" not the sleek little ones are the nippers. So, not all Barbs are incompatible, Cherry barbs (sleek body) are great with Betta's as they don't nip much and tend to stick to themselves mostly.


Aqadvisor.com is a great site to get an idea of what your stocking and compatibility might be. They are conservative on their stocking but it's great for a guideline.
So I just plugged in a quick calculation for your tank. I did add on a filter rated for 20 gallons just to see. I personally like to overfilter my tanks just so you get extra room for filtration media and space for your good bacteria to colonize. It doesn't give you physical room in the tank of course, but it can help with water quality.



Of course, remember that your 3 Molly's may turn into 100 down the road lol.


Here is another option for you, same tank specs:

The things they don't say here is that, though your stocking is only at 96%, your filtration capacity with a filter rated for 20g is down at 67%, it should be 100% or over ideally. So this is where overfiltering comes in handy. It also recommends you change about 28% of your water weekly which is a nice feature too ^_^


So you can play around with that site and see what other options there are for you guys as well!


To answer your questions though, yes, Tetra SafeStart and two fish are a good start. Unlike Fish-Less cycling where all your bacteria accumulates and you can stock the tank immediately, with fish-in cycling your bacteria only grows to accommodate the fish you have in the tank at that moment. So, if you want to add fish, you need to do it slowly; 2-3 fish at a time so the bacteria can catch up without crashing. So, if you do the Fish-Less route, you have to be prepared to fully stock the tank immediately once it's done so that the fish waste can start feeding the bacteria and they don't die off.


So your second question I kind of answered first but it really depends on the look that you guys want. What kin of fish appeal to you! There are so many out there so definitely take a look around first. You can always change it up later as well but it's easiest to plan first and get what you want right off the bat if possible ^_^
 

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Discussion Starter #4
First off, thank you both for replying.

Lil,
We currently have a Tetra Whisper EX20 filter.
Total, we would like a moderate amount of fish, not really interested in keeping a bunch of babies. To combat that, we were planning on getting all one gender of the mollies(Female), but if that's not a good idea, please let us know.

As far as which fish we like the most, I love the look of male swordtails, but I read they can get aggressive. My girlfriend loves the mollies and the mystery snail, and we both like the Bristlenosed Pleco. Is there any way we can put all of those species in small numbers in the tank, or would it be overcrowded?

I used AqAdvisor, and I put 3 mollies, 1 snail, and 1 bristlenose, and I'm already at 99% filtration, 19% water change, and 74% stocking.

It seems weird to me that a 20 gallon can only hold 4 fish and a snail, does that seem right?



Beaslbob,
We thought about live plants, but figured it would be better for our first tank to just get the hang of taking care of the fish before we add plants in too :) I'm not sure if that's wise or not, but we've already bought all the tank plants and feel it would be a waste of money, as we can't return them. I appreciate the suggestion though, and will definitely do that on future tanks.
 

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First off, thank you both for replying.

Lil,
We currently have a Tetra Whisper EX20 filter.
Total, we would like a moderate amount of fish, not really interested in keeping a bunch of babies. To combat that, we were planning on getting all one gender of the mollies(Female), but if that's not a good idea, please let us know.

As far as which fish we like the most, I love the look of male swordtails, but I read they can get aggressive. My girlfriend loves the mollies and the mystery snail, and we both like the Bristlenosed Pleco. Is there any way we can put all of those species in small numbers in the tank, or would it be overcrowded?

I used AqAdvisor, and I put 3 mollies, 1 snail, and 1 bristlenose, and I'm already at 99% filtration, 19% water change, and 74% stocking.

It seems weird to me that a 20 gallon can only hold 4 fish and a snail, does that seem right?



Beaslbob,
We thought about live plants, but figured it would be better for our first tank to just get the hang of taking care of the fish before we add plants in too :) I'm not sure if that's wise or not, but we've already bought all the tank plants and feel it would be a waste of money, as we can't return them. I appreciate the suggestion though, and will definitely do that on future tanks.
That's pretty normal for stocking. What happens is that they take into account the adult size of the fish (there is an option to plug in juvenile sizes too) and the bioload. Basically, some fish poop more than others. The fish you want; livebearers, snails, and plecos, all poop a ton and the most besides Goldfish/carp. lol.


You have to remember that these fish get big for small fish. Mollies get up to 4 inches, BN plecos get 4-6 inches depending on gender and the Mystery snails don't get that big, 1" usually but snails poop a lot because all they're doing is eating all day long. All these fish are grazers so they eat all day long and poop all day long lol.


I recommend getting males actually. Livebearers really don't matter if you have all males or females as far as bullying goes, some of them are more outgoing and boisterous than others within the same species. But if you get females, there's a good chance they're already "hit" or pregnant with fry. Most of the time the fry will just be eaten anyway so you don't have to worry too much but livebearers can hold sperm for about 3 months IIRC, and become pregnant without a male due to the holding of sperm. So you could end up with 9 batches of fry potentially. Females can also be just as nagging as the males. Mostly with the males is that they'll just show off to each other and attempt to practice breeding (this happens a lot in all social animal species, not just fish).


You could do 1 Molly and 2 male Swordtails. I don't find them any more aggressive than Mollies or Guppies honestly. They aren't really "aggressive" as in they'll eat other fish (though, they do eat their babies lol), but they will bug other fish relentlessly sometimes and cause the other fish to stress out.


The other problem is that your tank is taller than it is longer. The longer the footprint of the tank (width and length), the more fish because there is more space to swim around and get away from each other. Small aquarium fish tend to swim side to side rather than top to bottom when swimming away from other fish--typically.


EDIT: live plants are always great but sometimes can seem daunting to take on. Try some easy plants first like Java Fern and Anubias. Those plants don't do well being buried in the substrate so instead, best to tie them to some décor or just put the roots into the gravel/sand and not the rhizome (green stick part that the leaves grow out from). Both plants need very little from you and will grow in most any situation ^_^
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Ah, so I've picked the poopers lol.

Based on that, I think we will go with your suggestion of 1 Male Black Molly, 2 Male Swordtails, 1 Mystery Snail, and 1 Bristlenose Pleco.

We are going to add the SafeStart today, so would it be better to add in the 2 swordtails to start, or 1 swordtail and 1 Molly? Or does it make no difference?

Thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter #7 (Edited)
Update:

We went ahead and bought a male sailfin molly and swordtail. We let them sit in their bags floating in our tank for 45 minutes, slowly adding more tank water to introduce them. They have been in the tank for an hour with the light off, and have shown no signs of aggression toward each other. They are pretty much each doing their own thing, exploring and getting comfortable.

We're going to turn the tank light on in a few minutes, and keep an eye on them over the next while, to make sure they don't start fighting, but overall I'm liking these fish.
 

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Yeah, it doesn't matter in which order you add these guys, livebearer's don't really care as much. Some fish do but not these guys usually. Occasionally you'll get a bully


Sounds like they're doing great! So yep, add that TSS and don't do a water change for the next two weeks and your tank should be cycled enough for those guys at least and then you can add the last swordtail and then the pleco and I would add the snail last just to make sure that the tank is absolutely cycled and isn't going to crash. Snails can be a bit sensitive, though Mystery's are typically hardier at least. So I'd add one fish a week or every other week, whatever you feel comfortable with. If you can, test the water after you add each fish to keep sure that the tank isn't spiking through the roof with ammonia. The bacteria will take some time in catching up after you add the fish but it should only be a few days before they catch up.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
The fish have been doing well. The Molly is pretty funny, because he'll follow the swordtail around to see what he's doing.

I measured the water right after adding the fish yesterday, and my levels were as follows.

pH: 8.2
Ammonia: 0.25ppm
Nitrite: 0ppm
Nitrate: 10ppm

Do these seem okay? The pH seems a little high to me, because I read that these fish should live in a pH of 7-8. Anything I should do to try and lower that, or is it alright for them?
 

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Sounds great!


parameters look good, you're off to a good start.
Don't mess with your pH, it's not worth it. Livebearers in particular love hard water as does the snail, the pleco is typically softwater fish but will adapt especially if you get it locally. Higher pH is really hard to get down to any level and it may become unstable, better to have a stable pH than one that is "perfect" for the fish species.
 
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