FAQS FOR NOVICE FRESHWATER HOBBYISTS

FAQs for Novice Freshwater Hobbyists
Published January 06, 2013
As a beginner in the aquarium hobby you are likely to have many questions. Familiarize yourself with these FAQs before you begin and you will have a greater chance of success in cultivating your own freshwater tank.
When you are first starting out in the freshwater aquarium hobby you are likely to have many questions. What type of tank should you buy and how should you decorate it? What kinds of fish are recommended for beginners and how many should you start with? All of these questions and more are the kinds of things novice aquarium hobbyists are likely to wonder. If you are new to the aquarium hobby, you would do well to familiarize yourself with these questions before you begin your journey. By preparing yourself with the answers to these basic questions you will be better equipped to start your journey in the aquarium hobby out on the right foot.

Question:  
What size tank should I start with?

Answer:  If you have never kept aquarium before you might be tempted to think that it is easier to start out with a small tank rather than a large one. The truth of the matter is, however, that large tanks are often easier to maintain than small tanks. The key to keeping your aquarium healthy is to maintain high water quality and water quality is easier to regulate in a tank that has a greater water volume. As your fish eat food and excrete waste, toxins and organic debris will build up in your tank, affecting the water quality. In small tanks, these toxins will be more heavily concentrated and will have a greater effect on the water quality in your tank than they would in a larger tank. In order to keep your water quality high you will need to perform regular water changes but, if you keep a large tank rather than a small one, you will have to perform these water changes less often.

Question:  What kind of fish should I stock with my tank? 

Answer: When you are first starting out in the aquarium hobby you should carefully select the fish you use to stock your first tank. It is wise to begin with a species that is hardy and tolerant of various water parameters because it will take you some time to get the hang of maintaining your new tank. Experienced aquarium hobbyists often recommend livebearers like swordtails, guppies and mollies as beginner fish because they are easy to care for. Many species of tetra like neon tetras, black skirt tetras and cardinal tetras are also easy to care for. The key to stocking your tank properly is to start off small with just a few fish and to gradually add more as you get the hang of things.

Question:  How do I keep my fish healthy?

Answer: An important part of your role as an aquarium hobbyist is to ensure that your aquarium fish remain happy and healthy. In order to achieve this you will need to provide them with both a healthy diet and a healthy environment. A healthy diet for aquarium fish should consist of a variety of foods – you should provide your fish with a staple diet of commercial flakes or pellets supplemented with various live food, frozen and freeze-dried foods. Live foods like brine shrimp, daphnia and bloodworms are an excellent source of protein for fish and will help keep them from getting bored with their diet. To maintain a healthy tank environment you will need to water your tank parameters including the pH, temperature and chemical levels. You will also need to replace your filter media on a monthly basis and perform routine weekly water changes. 

Question:  Should I use live plants in my tank?

Answer: Adding live plants to a freshwater tank is a great way to decorate and it will also provide a number of benefits for your fish. Live aquarium plants will help to increase the oxygen level in your tank water and will also combat excess algae growth because live plants and algae will naturally compete for the same nutrients. Though adding live plants to your tank will provide a number of valuable benefits, it will also mean a little extra effort on your part. Aquarium plants require a certain amount of lighting and, if you plan to cultivate a planted tank, you may need to invest in planting media or fertilizer to put down under your substrate. You may also need to careful about selecting the fish for your tank because some species tend to nibble on aquarium plants.

Question:  What kind of equipment do I need?

Answer: There are three types of equipment that are absolutely necessary for cultivating a thriving freshwater aquarium: a filter, heater and lighting system. As you gain experience in the aquarium hobby you might consider installing some additional equipment such as a protein skimmer, an aquarium chiller or a sump system but all of these things are optional. An aquarium filter is a requirement for keeping your tank water clean and clear. Over time, solid and dissolved wastes and debris will accumulate in your tank water and it is the job of your aquarium filter to remove those substances before they can affect your water quality. If you plan to keep tropical aquarium fish you will need to invest in a quality aquarium heater to maintain a stable water temperature in your tank – most tropical fish require a water temperature ranging between 75 and 82F. Without an aquarium heater, you may find it difficult to maintain a steady temperature in your tank. In addition to heating and filtration, you will also need to equip your tank with a lighting system. Aquarium lightingwill not only illuminate your tank, thus enhancing its appearance, but it will also provide the energy needed by photosynthetic organisms to thrive and grow. 

Question:  How much do I feed my fish?

Answer: One of the most common mistakes new aquarium hobbyists make is overfeeding their fish. Aquarium fish do not actually need a great deal of food in order to thrive and overfeeding can actually lead to a number of health problems including bloating and indigestion. In addition to causing health problems for your fish, overfeeding could also result in problems with the water quality in your tank. Uneaten fish food will sink to the bottom of your tank and accumulate as organic debris – over time, this debris will break down in a process which produces ammonia, a substance toxic to fish. The more debris you have in your tank, the higher your ammonia levels will be and the more your water quality will be affected. It is wise to avoid feeding your fish more than they can consume in a 3- to 5-minute time period and you should not feed them more than twice a day to meet their nutritional needs. If you have trouble regulating the amount of food you feed your fish, try setting up an automatic feeder to dispense the food for you at regular intervals.

Question: How many fish can I keep in my tank?

Answer: The number of fish you can safely keep in your tank will depend on the size of your tank and the type of fish you choose. It should go without saying that larger tanks can accommodate more fish, but you should not take this as an excuse to fill your tank to the limits. When considering how many fish to keep in your tank you need to think about the maximum size those fish will achieve, not the size they are when you bring them home from the pet store. You also need to realize that some fish take up more space than others – cichlids, for example, are laterally compressed (they have flat bodies) while goldfish are more full-bodied. When you are just starting out in the aquarium hobby it would be wise to start with just a few small fish to see how much your tank can handle. As you get the hang of caring for your fish and maintaining high water quality in your tank you can gradually increase the number of fish in your tank.

Question: What will I need to do to maintain my tank?

Answer: If you set up your tank properly the first time you should not have to spend a great deal of time maintaining your tank. You will need to test your tank water on a weekly basis using an aquarium water test kit to keep an eye on your tank parameters including the pH, water hardness and chemical levels. Each time you test your tank water you should record the results in a journal so you can get an idea what the “normal” levels for your tank are – that way, when you get an abnormal reading, you will be able to take action to remedy the issue before it becomes a problem for your fish. You will also need to perform water changes in your tank on a weekly basis, replacing between 10% and 20% of your tank volume. Use an aquarium gravel vacuum to perform these water changes, siphoning dirty tank water from the substrate in your tank and replacing it with fresh tap water treated with an aquarium water conditioner. In addition to these tasks you will also need to replace your filter media every three to four weeks to keep your filter running at maximum efficiency.

Question: What do I do if my fish get sick?

Answer: No matter how clean you keep your tank, you are likely to deal with some kind of illness at one time or another. The first thing you should do when one of your fish gets sick is to quarantine that fish in a hospital tank to prevent the disease from spreading to your other tank inhabitants. A hospital tank is simply an extra tank setup to mimic the parameters in your main tank but it should be sparsely decorated to make cleaning easier. After you have quarantined the sick fish you will need to observe it for symptoms so you can identify the illness and then follow the recommended treatment protocol. Depending on the disease, it could take several days to several weeks for your fish to recover and you should wait until it is fully recovered to return it to the main tank. To avoid illness in the future, make sure you quarantine all new fish before adding them to your tank and do your best to keep the water quality in your tank high.

The more you learn about the aquarium hobby before you start your first tank, the better off you will be. You cannot prepare for every eventuality but the more you know, the greater your chances of success. 
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The Top 10 Worst Tank Busters
THE TOP 10 WORST TANK BUSTERS
Find out which fish will rapidly outgrow your tank, and the smaller alternatives that are available.
Common Myths About Bettas
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT BETTAS
Discover five common myths about the beautiful betta freshwater fish.
The Natural Environments of African and South American Cichlids
THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENTS OF AFRICAN AND SOUTH AMERICAN CICHLIDS
Learn about and how to recreate the natural environments of African and South American Cichlids
African Cichlid Aggression - How to Reduce Aggression
AFRICAN CICHLID AGGRESSION - HOW TO REDUCE AGGRESSION
Learn about the causes of cichlid aggression and methods for reducing it.
Breeding (10)
Tips for Breeding Gouramis in the Home Aquarium
TIPS FOR BREEDING GOURAMIS IN THE HOME AQUARIUM
Gouramis are some of the best community fish around because they are peaceful, hardy, and lovely to boot.
The Basics of Breeding Bala Sharks
THE BASICS OF BREEDING BALA SHARKS
Bala sharks are a very popular species of aquarium fish.
Tips for Breeding Silver Dollar Fish
TIPS FOR BREEDING SILVER DOLLAR FISH
Silver dollar fish are a great addition to the community tank and breeding them can be a fun challenge.
How to Raise Cichlid Fry to Maturity
HOW TO RAISE CICHLID FRY TO MATURITY
Breeding freshwater aquarium fish can be a rewarding but challenging experience.
Caring for Freshwater Angelfish Eggs
CARING FOR FRESHWATER ANGELFISH EGGS
Breeding freshwater angelfish can be a rewarding experience but raising the eggs to maturity may be a challenge.
Breeding and Rearing Live-bearing Species of Fish
BREEDING AND REARING LIVE-BEARING SPECIES OF FISH
Live-bearing species of fish like guppies and swordtails are notorious for breeding in the community tank.
Tips for Breeding Discus Fish
TIPS FOR BREEDING DISCUS FISH
Discus fish are one of the most colorful species of freshwater aquarium fish and they can be a joy to breed.
Breeding betta fish can be both an enjoyable and educational experience.
BREEDING THE TWO KINDS OF BETTA FISH
You may be aware that there are over 30 species of betta fish in existence but did you know that these species can be divided by their breeding habits?
Breeding Mouth Brooding African Cichlids
BREEDING MOUTH BROODING AFRICAN CICHLIDS
Learn how to succesfully breed mouth brooding African Cichlids.
Breeding Freshwater Fish
BREEDING FRESHWATER FISH
Learn how to succesfully breed freshwater fish.