Written by Katherine Barrington Published May 21, 2012
Article on the benefits of keeping fish.
Have you considered getting fish as pets? Perhaps you've always been intrigued with the idea of having a fish tank in your home, of being a fish hobbyist?

Benefits of Fish Keeping

Keeping fish as pets can be a rewarding hobby. Designing and maintaining your aquariums is a wonderful creative outlet. Watching your fish swim around is both relaxing and fun. Fish make great pets because they require less hands-on care than other animals but they still need your care.

Freshwater Fish versus Saltwater Fish

What's the difference between Freshwater and Saltwater Fish? Well, pretty much, their names are self explanatory. Freshwater fish exist naturally in fresh water and saltwater fish exist naturally in the ocean. You can come across fish that naturally live in brackish waters. The Black Molly is an example of a "freshwater" fish that can get acclimated to saltwater tanks.

When considering whether to go with a freshwater or saltwater tank, for an absolute beginner, most people will advise you to go with a freshwater tank. The reason why? There are two reasons why people recommend freshwater tanks over saltwater tanks. Freshwater tanks are easier to maintain and freshwater fish are over-all cheaper to buy. That said, that doesn't mean that saltwater tanks are worth their effort!

Now we'll discuss the pros and cons between freshwater and saltwater fish specifically:

  • Looks. Saltwater Reef Fish win heads down. There are many beautiful freshwater tropical fish out there, however!
  • Behavior. Because you'll find it much easier to breed freshwater fish over saltwater fish, you'll find that aspect of their behavior much more interesting.
  • Breeding. Much harder to breed saltwater over freshwater.
  • Cost. Saltwater fish cost much more than freshwater fish. This is because they are still captured in the wild whereas many freshwater fish are bred in captivity.
  • Taking Care of them. Saltwater fish are harder to maintain than freshwater. This is because with saltwater fish, you've got a lot more to deal with in the tank water chemistry. Their salt water mix has more you need to be concerned about.
  • Error Tolerance. Freshwater fish are more tolerant of deviations in their environment than saltwater fish are. This is because out in the ocean, saltwater fish normally don't have as much change in their water conditions that they've had to accept in the past.
  • Size. Saltwater fish tend to need larger tanks than freshwater. This becomes an issue with space in your home and costs for the tank.

What to consider when stocking your aquarium

There are so many choices to go with when considering what to stock your aquarium with. Remember to consider the following needs when looking at fish to buy:

  • Adult Size. It's hard to believe since juvenile fish are so small (hey, they all have to start somewhere, right?) but just like pet dogs, pet fish can really vary in size once they grow up. There are minnows that never get larger than 3 inches as adult and then you have fish that routinely get over 1 ? feet as adults. Why does this matter? Tank size! If you have limited space or if you have a limited budget for your tank (and most of us do!), then make sure you don't buy any fish that will soon outgrow their tanks.
  • What they like to eat. How complicated of a feeding session do you want to have with your fish? Are you a "tap-tap-tap" fish food kind of person (who believes that fish flakes are the only way to go) or are you more adventurous and would keep snakes in the house if your roommates let you?
  • How compatible are the fish with other fish in general or other males of its own kind?
  • What water temperature do the fish need? Freshwater fish are divided up into tropical and coldwater. Even within tropical freshwater fish, you'll find a difference in what the fish really want. Marine fish also fall into either tropical or cold water realms.
  • What pH do fish require? Why would fish need different pHs? Because they've developed in different bodies of water around the world that have different pH levels. Have you ever noticed how the water at the beach is soft and your hair feels dirty no matter how much you wash it? That tells me that I prefer living inland. Fish also have pH preferences.
  • How well do they breed in aquariums (if you're interested in this). Breeding fish is extremely rewarding for many fish hobbyists but you won't get anywhere if you buy fish that are known to be "shy" in captivity.
  • Life expectancies (some fish live up to 10 years in captivity; that's a big commitment for a fish, don't you think?)
  • Cost. Just because a fish costs more doesn't mean that it's a better fish for your aquarium. Many times fish cost more because they're harder to catch and keep alive in captivity. So for a beginner fish hobbyist, you might want to start with "pedestrian" and "cheap!"

List of Favorite Freshwater Fish

Here is a list of some of the most popular freshwater fish that you might like:

  • Guppy (Poecilia reticulate). Guppies make great fish for beginners because they're easy to care for and feed. They love eating mosquito larvae, which has been the impetus for their introduction into countries troubled with malaria.
  • Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri). The males have the swordtails but you won't want to keep more than one male in a tank together; they don't like other Swordtail male company. Other than the male rivalry, green swordtails make good community fish.
  • Black Molly (Poecilia shenops). The fascinating thing about Black Mollies is that they are from brackish waters so you can actually keep them in both freshwater and saltwater tanks! Black Mollies are live-bearers but they don't take care of the fry.
  • Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus). Platies are live bearers and do well in community aquariums.
  • Neon Tetra (Paracheirodon innes). Neons are great to keep as a school of six or more in your fish tank. They will dart around and around the tank. Don't put them in a tank with larger fish who will bully them.
  • Clown Plecostomus (Peckoltia arenaria). Easy to care for fish that eats algae. There hasn't been much success (any?) with breeding Clown Plecos in aquariums.
  • Goldfish (Carassius auratus). Most of the other freshwater fish we've highlighted so far are tropical freshwater fish. The goldfish is a coldwater freshwater fish. You usually won't need to heat their tank water since they're happy in water in the 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 to 20 degrees Celsius).

List of Favorite Saltwater Fish

Here is a list of the most popular saltwater fish for regular hobbyists (serious fish hobbyists have a longer list of marine fish they can choose from):

  • Clownfish (Amphirprion ocellaris). Nemo! Even if you haven't seen the movie, Finding Nemo, chances are you've seen this fish before in pictures or tanks. It is an orange fish with white vertical stripes. This little cutie actually makes a great first time fish for saltwater tanks. I wish I could say the same thing about the anemones but apparently they are a lot harder to keep alive in aquariums (most usually don't make the one year mark). Be careful, clownfish are very territorial against other clownfish.
  • Yellowtail Damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema). These bright blue fish have yellow tails and grow to about 3 inches in an aquarium.
  • Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica). This fish has a yellow head that fades to orange through the midbody to a blackish tail. They are easy to care for fish that are not too aggressive to their fishmates.
  • Tangs/Surgeonfish (Zebrasoma veliferum, Zebrasoma flavescens, Naso lituratus, and Acanthurus coeruleus). This beautiful fish is completely herbivorous so plan on providing much algae and lettuce to keep it happy. They are actually aggressive and territorial so may not be good for a tank with a lot of other fish in it.
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