All About Tropical Fish Tanks
Written by Katherine Barrington
An overview of tropical fish tanks, what they are, and the pros/cons of keeping one.
Are you considering getting a tropical fish tank? Keeping tropical fish is a pleasurable hobby for families around the world. While keeping fish as pets has been a tradition going back to ancient Egypt and China, keeping tropical fish as pets is a much more recent hobby. Why? Because tropical fish are fish that live in warm water. For tropical freshwater fish, ideal temperatures revolve around 76 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (24.5 to 26.7 degrees Celsius). Tropical marine (saltwater) fish enjoy their temperature a little bit warmer at 80 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (26.7 to 27.8 degrees Celsius). This article will be focusing on tropical freshwater fish tanks.
What about the different kinds of fish tanks?
Tropical freshwater fish aren't the only kind of fish that you can keep in an aquarium in your home. We already mentioned tropical saltwater fish. Your other options are:
- coldwater freshwater fish
- tropical marine fish
- coldwater marine fish
- keeping reef tanks
Coldwater freshwater fish are also popular with fish hobbyists. The ubiquitous goldfish is a good example of a coldwater freshwater fish. Tropical marine fish are also kept by fish hobbyists. A clownfish is a good example of why they're so popular with their bright colors. Not all Marine fish are tropical; however, a popular coldwater marine fish is the Blenny. Marine fish tanks are challenging to maintain, namely because the water chemistry is hard to manage (and we're not just limited to the salt levels here). Marine fish are usually more sensitive to changes in their environment because out in the open water they aren't usually subjected to big changes.
Not content to just keep fish in their tanks, many hobbyists will keep planted aquariums. Some hobbyists keep living coral in their tanks; we call them reef tanks. An in-between tank (in between fish-only (FO) and the reef) is called the FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock). Sounds like an oxymoron, but the FO basically means that they aren't trying to grow live coral. Keeping reef tanks are extremely hard to manage and therefore are the bane of novice fish hobbyists but the holy grail for those up to a challenge.
Why go with Tropical Fish?
People decide to go with tropical fish for the following reasons:
- More choices and typically more brightly colored fish than coldwater freshwater fish
- Easier to care for than either tropical or coldwater marine fish
- Much simpler than having a reef aquarium
The Pros and Cons of Keeping Tropical Fish
There are many positive outcomes to keeping a tropical fish tank:
- There is the aesthetic appeal of keeping a tropical fish tank in your home. You get to design and decorate your own tank and little ecosystem.
- Keeping a tropical fish tank is an educational learning experience. You'll learn all about fish biology and the ecosystem that fish live in.
- Tropical fish don't eat much and don't require a lot of money after you set up the aquarium and buy the fish. A small dog or cat will eat about $150 in food a year whereas fish should cost you about $25 a year to feed.
- Tropical fish are good pets for kids in teaching responsibility at a much reduced cost than it would be to take care of a dog or cat.
- Keeping tropical fish is a relaxing and enjoyable hobby.
- Tropical fish can provide you the satisfaction of taking care of a pet without stressing you out over concerns that other pets require.
- You can leave tropical fish alone during the day, at night, on weekends, or on short trips.
- Your tropical fish will (usually!) stay put inside the tank where you left them.
- You don't have to walk them, wash them, groom them, brush them, take them in for check-ups, clean up after them (or keep your slippers away from them).
Just like keeping any pet in the house, there are things you'll need to watch when keeping tropical fish:
- Tropical fish can die very easily when something goes wrong with the tank. Often by the time you notice something is wrong with the tank or the fish, it will be too late for you to do anything for them (although you can take you lessons learned for the next aquarium you set up).
- Tropical fish do require more care than a plant; you must know how to change the water, clean the tank, and what to feed them.
- As opposed to bringing other type pets into the house, set up costs for fish keeping can be expensive. You'll need to put in an investment in terms of the tank and the accessories. Plus many fish are not cheap!
- Tropical fish are living creatures. Things happen to them, even when you're not paying attention. So they aren't just design features and will require your frequent attention and care.
- If you keep your tropical fish tank without doing any research, things can get ugly! For example you can have algae blooms or snail infestations that are very hard to eradicate.
Keeping Tropical Fish
In terms of keeping tropical fish as pets, you'll need to consider the following:
- housing them properly in an aquarium
- keeping their water aerated and clean
- feeding the fish
- feeding the fish
- helping fry (baby fish) grow if your fish mate and reproduce
Popular Tropical Fish
There are so many popular tropical fish that it's hard to narrow it down to a short list, but here is a list of my favorite fish for beginner aquarium tanks:
- Guppy (Poecilia reticulate). The Guppy is a great first time fish because they're easy to feed and care for. They provide some nice color and variety with their tail shapes. Guppies are also relatively easy to breed in aquariums.
- Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri). The Green swordtails can hybridize with other fish so think twice before putting them into a community aquarium.
- Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus). This is another good first fish; they like to eat algae and they bear live young.
Planning your Tropical Fish Aquarium
As you design your tropical fish tank, consider the following styles that you can go with:
- Community Aquarium is where you'll have a number of different varieties of fish in as harmonious a setting as possible, including plants to give the aquarium a very natural look.
- Dutch Plant Aquarium uses lots of plants in a much designed style (it should look like the aquatic equivalent to a formal garden). Very intensive and some critics believe that the fish take second place to the plants!
Absolutely necessary accessories when keeping tropical fish include the tank heater and the tank thermometer:
- Heater. The most common type of heater for aquariums is a submersible heater that includes a thermometer. Design your tank so that you can place the heater close to an area where the water is circulated to help spread out the heat. Wonder how large of a heater you'll need? It depends on how much water you're trying to heat. As a rule of thumb, you'll need 5 watts per gallon of water.
- Thermometer. There are two basic kinds: the internal that is meant to be submersed in the tank and the external that sticks to the outside of the tank. The internal submersed thermometer is usually a little more accurate. REMEMBER: You're keeping TROPICAL fish so the temperature of the tank water is of utmost importance.
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