The expression “research before you buy” is thrown around the fishkeeping hobby like a hot potato but this one’s no myth – it’s a fundamental commandment of fishkeeping. But what exactly are you looking for and what exactly are you supposed to be researching?
Tank size and décor
You need to know how big a tank you’ll need to keep a fish as well as the décor materials and/or plants required for keeping the fish happy and feeling secure in their environment.
Tank size must take into consideration more than just the maximum adult length of the fish: You need to know how large a fish will eventually grow but you will also need to know how active the fish is. Some species are relatively inactive whereas others, such as zebra danios are very active and require swimming space. On top of this, it is always wise to factor in the digestive efficiency of a given species as some species with relatively inefficient digestive systems are capable of producing far more waste, requiring a greater volume of water and filtration capacity to keep their water healthy.
Décor is immeasurably important and can not only make your tank look nicer, but your fish too. Providing natural décor and plants can perform multiple functions such as improving water conditions, breaking up lines of sight, providing territories and areas of dim lighting. Suitable hardscape is very important for breeding certain fish.
A tropical fish, is not the same as another and has different requirements in terms of water parameters. As a minimum, you will need to know the temperature range, Ph, and hardness suitable for keeping any given species. A failure to get any of these right and you could stress and kill your fish in no time. You must ensure that any addition to your tank is coherent in its requirements with all other livestock in the same system. Adding a fish to your tank and assuming it will be fine based on the evidence that your other fish seem happy in their water is unacceptable. Never assume that you will be able to provide the right water for your fish if you haven’t actually tried it; you may need to buy additional equipment, notably a reverse osmosis system, just to prepare your water!
Many fish are fairly easy to feed and will happily accept flake foods; your retailer will be able to tell you what they feed their fish with in the shop. On the other hand, some fish, not just marine ones might I add, are difficult to feed and may only accept live and frozen foods. Take on a seahorse and you’ll be not only preparing live foods, but also enriching it before feeding.
Some fish don’t require you to simply change which tub of fish food you buy in store, oh no, some fish rather like grazing on algae, such as Otocinclus which will rarely feast on flakes you drop into your tank. Putting Otocinclus into an immature aquarium with clean sides and no algal growth then expecting them to munch their way through your goldfish flakes instead is unreasonable.
A fish doesn’t have to be large enough to swallow up its tankmates before it is considered a bad combination. Some fish can display high levels of aggression, even towards larger species and fin-nipping is a common phenomenon. Serpae tetra are a good example of a fish that, whilst very small, will happily nip the fins of other fish, potentially leading to infections and deaths.
Not only is a simple analysis of species compatibility important, but you must also be aware of what numbers you need to keep your fish in as well as gender ratios. Some fish are much happier to be kept in groups whereas others require their own space, especially whilst breeding. A tank full of males from a territorial species, such as rams, will end badly. To this end, you need to understand how to sex a given species before buying.
Naturally, if one fish is both carnivorous and large enough to eat another, it is likely that the smaller fish will end up as a snack. The same goes for shrimp which should never be kept with fish known to eat them, which includes pretty much all fish over 2cm.
Even if you don’t intend to breed your fish, you will still need to understand their breeding habits and the kind of behaviour associated with it. This knowledge is an invaluable part of fish husbandry. Livebearers can give birth to 30 or so relatively large fry at a time, occasionally more, and are therefore very prone to overpopulating a tank within just a few months. Some females can be pregnant in shop tanks and are able to produce several broods from just one single mating owing to their ability to store sperm. You should be aware when fish are likely to spawn and be able to spot the signs in order to prepare for the fry. This advice is not exclusive to livebearing fish.
In addition to overpopulation, another issue commonly associated with fish in breeding condition is aggression, and not always males. Males are often very territorial when they are partitioning off their own territory in their tank whilst females are also known to show aggression, often after spawning has taken place.
Thinking of keeping a whitespot prone fish with invertebrates? Fancy keeping marine fish without a hospital tank? Think again! If you are planning to keep fish alongside invertebrates, you must be forewarned that many commonly available treatments contain copper which is lethal to shrimp and other invertebrates.
Where to do your research
Apart from aquaristmagazine.com of course, there are many fantastic resources, both online and in other formats. A great start is joining some clubs and societies or asking your local fish shop staff for further assistance with selecting a fish and ensuring you can meet all of its needs.
Further to this, you can buy a huge number of books very cheaply on the subject of fishkeeping in general and on specific types of fish too. There are also many great internet resources and forums that cover just about every fishkeeping subject. Some good websites include seriouslyfish.com, fishbase.org and aquaticcommunity.com. However, you can more often get much more detailed information from a book written by a specialist, even though these websites remain top notch resources.
Be wary of forums
Whilst a great virtual meeting place for hobbyists, online forums can be prone to poor advice from people who know relatively little (especially forums that require you to post umpteen messages before you can start a thread or include a signature link) and the international nature of a forum means that some messages may be lost in (google) translation. Always take advice you read on forums with a pinch of salt and verify information with other trusted resources. You could of course ask us a question here at Aquarist Magazine by using out contact form.