Written by Katherine Barrington
An overview of keeping fish in a fish bowl. A brief history. Pros and cons.
Practically speaking, keeping fish in a fish bowl isn't typically a good environment for most fish. But the truth is, for many people and children, keeping fish in a fish bowl is the natural first step to keeping fish as a hobby. So you can't say we didn't warn you. However, if you're bound and determined to keep a fish in a fishbowl, here's how to do it.
This article will first give you an overview of keeping fish in a fish bowl. After that, we'll share a brief history as well as go over common sizes that you can find for fish bowls. After that we'll discuss pros and cons for keeping a fish bowl. Then we'll go over things to keep in mind with fish bowls. After that, we'll provide you with some tips on keeping fish in fish bowls. We'll finish this article with online sources for you.
Overview of keeping fish in fish bowl
Keeping fish in a fish bowl is probably the simplest way you could keep a pet fish in your house. As its simplest form, all you would need is the bowl, fish, water, and food. For as many critics of the fish bowl, there are probably thousands of people around the world who for them, their first introduction to keeping a fish in their home was with a fish bowl. For the right conditions and right fish, life in a fish bowl isn't terrible. It isn't terribly exciting either!
The history of keeping fish for either food or as pets goes back at least 4,000 years. The Chinese have a long history of keeping fish inside in containers. Supposedly Madame Dubarry, Mistress to King Louis XV invented the glass fish bowl sometime in the mid 18th century.
Common shapes and sizes
Fish bowls come in a couple different styles:
- Classic drum style (this is wider from left to right than it is deep, from front to back). For the same size, you'll find more water volume in a round style.
- Round style. This type fish bowl is completely round. Has a larger water volume capacity than a classic drum style of the same size.
- New Bio-orb styles. These are new set-ups that include filtration systems and are usually much larger than your traditional fish bowl.
- Marineland sells fish bowls set in frames that include a little light. They're marketing this bowl to house Bettas.
Fish bowls come in the following sizes:
- The 1/2 gallon fish bowl is probably the smallest size bowl you're going to find readily available. An acrylic model costs about $6 and weighs about 3 pounds when full.
- The 1 gallon fish bowl is readily available. An acrylic model costs about $12. It will weigh about 6 pounds when filled with water.
- The 1.5 gallon fish bowl is a very popular size fish bowl. An acrylic model costs about $15. It will weigh about 8 pounds when filled with water.
- A 2 gallon fish bowl can also be found. It weighs about 12 pounds when filled with water.
- The 3 gallon fish bowl is another common size. It is typically about 11 inches high and 10 inches wide. This is probably the largest in a traditional style fish bowl that you're going to find. It will weigh about 20 pounds when filled with water.
Fish bowls come in both glass and acrylic. You won't find that much difference in cost with these size bowls. Glass might be a little cheaper but they'll more crack-prone and weigh more. Acrylic might cost a little bit more, but they're more crack-resistant and weigh less. Acrylic bowls are much more susceptible to scratches than glass bowls. You could buy a scratch remover kit but truthfully, the kit would probably cost more than a new Acrylic bowl would cost.
Pros & Cons for Keeping a Fish Bowl
The advantages to keeping your fish in a fish bowl are:
- Fish bowls are cheap!
- Fish bowls are small, enabling you to fit a fish into cramped quarters.
- Because they are small, fish bowls don't weigh a lot, even when they're filled, so you can move them around as you see fit. This also makes changing the water easier as you could bring the bowl to your water source.
- Fish bowls are simple. For children or first time owners, there isn't a lot that you have to coordinate with a fish bowl.
The disadvantages to keeping fish in a fish bowl include:
- Fish bowls are too small for most fish as they grow to adult size.
- Fish bowls are too small for most filtration systems to fit into so you're not going to get a lot of help with filtration in a fish bowl. This limits how many fish, no matter how small, you could keep in a fish bowl. You also have to keep up on frequent changes to keep the water clean.
- Forget about keeping saltwater fish in a fish bowl. You weren't seriously thinking about this, right? Most people wouldn't even use a fish bowl to house their fish temporarily while they cleaned their tanks!
Even with these disadvantages, many people manage to keep fish successfully in a fish bowl for years (or at least until they decide to upgrade their fish's home to a tank).
Things to keep in mind
Keeping fish in a fish bowl will severely limit your fish selection. That's because of the fishes' adult size or growth, their need for companionship, or their need to move around.
Goldfish aren't actually the best fish for a fish bowl. That's because most goldfish will quickly outgrown fish bowls and they are also very messy eaters, leaving a lot of food to decay in the bowl.
These fish are better: Betta, White Clouds, and Guppies. That's because they're small, don't require a lot of space for movement, and are fine on their own (the Betta you actually need to keep by itself). If you had to pick just one, go with a Betta. They're gorgeous and better on their own. They also have primitive lungs; they can actually draw oxygen out of the air up at the water surface. Ghost Shrimp work out great in a fish bowl. African dwarf frogs are also really cute, about 1/2 inch in size and they don't cost that much.
You'll also have to limit the number of fish (usually to one) because that size bowl doesn't usually have room for filters and so won't be able to process much waste at all. You might be able to get a simple box filter for your fish bowl but you're still limited to the volume of water that you can keep in your fish bowl. As a rule of thumb, you usually need to have one gallon of water per inch of fish for small community fish. As you could figure out when you do the math, you'll quickly run out of space in your fish bowl!
Because you won't have that much or any filtration, you'll need to change the water frequently. Experts suggest replacing 20% of the water twice a week. Wondering how to figure out what 20% of the tank volume would be? You could take the fish bowl size, figure out the volume of what the bowl would be (minus the couple of inches from the top that you would fill the water).
Another simpler way that might make more sense with a fish bowl is this easy method. Before you put your fish in it, fill it with a measuring cup and keep count. So let's say you have a 1/2 gallon size bowl. You'll find that you have roughly 4 cups of water in that bowl when it's not filled to the top. 20% of the total is slightly less than 1 cup but you can go ahead and round it up to a cup. So every couple of days, you'll need to change 1 cup of water out of that bowl. That's not too complicated, is it?
Besides filtration, you'll need to keep two other things in mind with your fish bowl: temperature and lighting. Remember to keep you tank is a room that is at least 72 degrees Fahrenheit at all times. That's because you won't be able to use a heater with your fish bowl. Another issue that you'll need to address is proper lighting. Unlike a fish tank where you can hook up lighting to the hood, with a fish bowl, you're pretty much stuck with ambient lighting. So place the fish bowl near a natural light source so your fish will get enough light during the day.
What else will you need with your bowl? You could get gravel but this is really a aesthetic decision. If you buy gravel, make sure you pick up a small gravel vacuum. A small net will help you clean the tank between water changes. You might be able to get a small filter if it will fit. Many people like to buy fishbowl covers to help minimize evaporation. If you want decorations, like a plant or a treasure chest, just make sure you can fit it inside your fish bowl.
Here are some lessons learned that you can use with your fish bowls.
- Don't fill the water all the way to the top. Fill it a little bit lower down so that you can increase the water to surface area ratio. Increasing that ratio will help improve the gas exchange between harmful gases in the water and oxygen in the air
- You can use the used fish bowl water to feed your plants. It will make them grow up tall and green!
- When you decide to move your fish up to a larger tank, you could use the fish bowl as a terrarium. They're supposed to be great for Venus Flytraps!
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