ALL ABOUT TROPICAL FISH TANKS
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). If you want to successfully cultivate and maintain a tropical fish tank, take the time to learn everything you can before you start.
What Are the Different Kinds of Fish Tanks?
When it comes to fish tanks, there are many different types to choose from. You are likely familiar with the two main divisions – freshwater and saltwater. What you may not realize, however, is that even these categories can be further divided. Some other types of fish tanks include:
- coldwater freshwater tank
- tropical freshwater tank
- tropical marine tank
- coldwater marine tank
- reef tank
- brackish tank
Coldwater freshwater fish are also popular with fish hobbyists. The ubiquitous goldfish is a good example of a coldwater freshwater fish. Tropical marine tanks and reef tanks are also very popular – think of fish like the clownfish and brightly colored tangs. 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.
In addition to keeping aquarium fish, many aquarium hobbyists also stock their tanks with live plants and other organisms. Marine tanks can be stocked with live rock and/or coral which are more than just decoration – they are living organisms that must be cared for properly. An in-between tank (in between fish-only (FO) and the reef) is called the FOWLR (Fish Only with Live Rock). Keeping reef tanks alive and thriving can be very difficult and therefore are the bane of novice fish hobbyists but the holy grail for those up to a challenge.
Why Go with Tropical Fish?
Because there are so many different options to choose from, you may be wondering why tropical fish are so popular. People decide to go with tropical fish for the following reasons:
- More choices to choose from
- Typically more brightly colored fish than coldwater freshwater fish
- Often less expensive than marine 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
Before you decide whether a tropical fish tank is the right choice for you, you should take the time to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of this type of tank. There are many positive outcomes to keeping a tropical fish tank including the following:
- 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
Once you determine that keeping tropical fish is indeed the right choice for you, there are still other factors to consider. What do you need in order to setup and maintain your tank? What kind of maintenance is required? What and how often do you feed your fish? These are just a few of the mention questions you must answer before you can successfully cultivate a tropical fish tank. Some addition factors to consider include:
- Size and shape of the aquarium
- Proper location for the tank (accessible but not in the way)
- Appropriate lighting for the tank
- Adequate filtration and aeration for the tank water
- Maintaining stable and ideal tank temperature
- Feeding the right food in the right amount
- Stocking the tank with compatible species
- Keeping the tank clean with routine maintenance tasks
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 which can be a wonderful experience for the aquarium hobbyist.
- Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus helleri). The swordtail is named for the fact that males of the species have a long swordlike extension to their tails. These fish are very peaceful and get along well with other community species. The Green swordtail can hybridize with other fish, however, so think twice before putting them into a community aquarium unless you don’t mind them mating.
Green Swordtail by Flickr user Genista
Planning your Tropical Fish Aquarium
- Platy (Xiphophorus maculatus). The platy is another excellent community species and, like the swordtail, they give birth to live young. These fish come in a wide range of colors and they are typically fairly hardy which makes them a good choice for beginners.
- Black Skirt Tetra (Gymnocorymbus ternetzi). These fish have silver bodies with black stripes and black tails – there is also a long-finned variety that is very stunning. Typically very peaceful by nature, these tetras do well in community tanks, especially when kept in schools of 6 or more.
- Betta Fish/Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta splendens). If you are looking for a single fish to start out with, the betta is a good choice. These fish have long, flowing fins and exhibit a wide variety of colors and patterns. Keep in mind that males of the species will fight, so if you plan to keep bettas in a community tank be sure to select females.
Planning your Tropical Fish Aquarium
Perhaps the most exciting part of having an aquarium is selecting the design and setting it up. As you design your tropical fish tank, consider the following styles that you can go with:
- Community Aquarium – you will 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.
- Biotope Tank – a tank designed to simulate a particular natural environment such as the Amazon River or a mangrove swamp.
- Planted Aquarium -- uses lots of plants in a much designed style (it should look like the aquatic equivalent to a formal garden).
In addition to considering how you will decorate your tank, you also need to think about the equipment you will need. Absolutely necessary accessories when keeping tropical fish include the tank include the following:
- 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.
- Filter. A filter is what will keep the water in your fish tank clean. Filters come in many shapes and sizes and they work in different ways. Some filters serve only to remove solid debris from tank water while others help to remove dissolved toxins and chemicals as well. Do your research before you buy to determine what type of filter is best for your tank.
- Lighting. Having adequate lighting in your tank will help your tank to look its best. Lighting is particularly important if you plan to keep live plants in your tank because these plants will need light in order to survive.
Keeping a tropical fish tank is both a joy and a challenge. As you should now understand, there are many different factors to consider before you even set up your tank and then you have to think about maintaining the tank and keeping your fish healthy. If you feel like a tropical fish tank is the right choice for you, learn everything you can about them before you start to ensure your greatest chance of success.
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