Aquariums add color and life to homes, but like any pet, fish
They can’t be walked, petted, cuddled, nor can they play fetch. But there’s still something appealing about fish and the way a well-kept aquarium can make a room look.
“Fish tanks are cool,” said Hannah Martins while browsing the tanks at Petco in Gilroy. “It’s kind of soothing to watch the fish swimming around, and some of them are so pretty with all their bright colors.”
But creating and maintaining the perfect fish tank isn’t as easy as many people think, said Becky Cutler, a manager at Pet World in Hollister. In fact, it can get downright complicated.
“You can’t just slap Nemo in a tank, give him a filter and call it done,” said Carol Lui, a manager at The Rainforest Pet Shop in Hollister. “There’s way more to it than that.”
To create the perfect aquarium for your home, there are several things to consider.
Saltwater vs. Freshwater
A saltwater tank should never be someone’s first fish tank, said Sherry Cushingham, a manager at the Gilroy Petco, because figuring out how to maintain saltwater is an exact science.
“Saltwater fish are so gorgeous, people want them right now, but you just can’t do that,” she said. “If you put too many fish in at once, you risk killing them all. If you don’t mix the water correctly to get the pH balance right, you’ll kill the fish. And since saltwater fish are about triple the price of freshwater fish, those mistakes will be very expensive mistakes.”
To keep the correct pH balance and salt levels in a saltwater tank, aquarium owners need to test the water almost daily, Cutler said. The temperature of the water is also vital to the fish’s survival.
Though freshwater fish still need careful attention, freshwater tanks are easier for beginners to maintain and the risk of fish dying is less than with saltwater tanks. Petco does not offer guarantees on saltwater fish, but does offer a 15-day guarantee on freshwater fish.
Putting It Together
Aquarium beginners should know it’s a slow process setting up a fish tank, said Cushingham, who recommends starting with a 10-gallon freshwater tank.
It takes eight to 10 weeks to cycle the tank because bad bacteria will grow first, eventually followed by the healthy fish bacteria, Cushingham said.
“You need to put a water conditioner in for the tap water to take out the chlorine and the harmful stuff in tap water that can kill the fish,” Cutler said. “We also have a chemical for the water that helps keep the fish stress down. It’s good to have about two inches or so of rocks at the bottom to catch all the waste in the water, too.”
Other items necessary to starting up a fish tank include a filter and air pumps to give the fish oxygen, she said, adding that though plants and decorative ornaments aren’t necessary, they provide a convenient and festive cover for several kinds of fish, such as catfish, that like to hide.
Selecting which fish to include in your tank is also an important decision, Lui said.
“There are non-aggressive tropical community fish like guppies, neons and mollies that are cute little guys that are good to start with,” Lui said. “Some of them even do the whole schooling thing, and you can have a 10-gallon tank set up with them, no problem.”
Lui recommends asking how big fish will grow, because though a fish is an inch or two long when you buy it, some can grow an additional five or six inches easily.
“Choosing fish that will thrive together can be tricky,” she added. “There are the evil fish that will eat anything smaller than themselves. You can’t have two male fighter fish in a tank together or they’ll kill each other, and there are some fish that you can only have one in a tank from the whole species. For example, there are about 40 different kinds of angel fish, but you can only have one per tank.”
When you bring a fish home, try not to shake the bag or to leave the fish in the bag too long, Cushingham said.
“Fish can get sick quite quickly due to stress,” she said. “To avoid shocking the fish, leave the fish in the bag and set the bag in the tank water for about 10 minutes. Then open the bag and mix the waters together. It’ll get the temperature around the fish to equalize and mixing the water will get the pHs right. Then release the fish into the tank.”
Goldfish are among the dirtiest fish available to buy, Lui said, and they’re not nearly as low maintenance as traditionally thought.
“If you want an easy, simple, fish, get a Beta (fighter fish),” she said. “They don’t need a filter. You don’t need to do anything complicated; just change the water once a week.”
Clean the freshwater tank about once a week, depending on the size of the tank and how dirty the water is, Cutler said. Siphon about one-quarter of the water at regular cleanings and replace it with new water, and about once a month siphon out about half the tank and replace it with new water. Occasionally, it’s good to put the fish in smaller containers, empty the tank completely, and thoroughly clean the rocks and ornaments. Rinse everything in the tank and the tank itself with warm water, and do not use soap, Cutler said. Then put the tank back together.
Talk to a pet professional before investing in an aquarium because it will save time, energy and money, said Lui and Cutler. Both said they see a lot of customers who had gone to big-box stores to buy fish and ended up killing them.
“Do some research to know what you’re getting into,” Cushingham said. “Don’t just jump into buying a tank. You have to change the water. You can’t overfeed (the fish). You have to clean the tanks, vacuum. It’s quite an undertaking. Our animals always come first, and we don’t want to see our fish die.”
For more aquarium help, go to Petco and ask for the free fish information packet. It provides additional tips for setting up tanks, cleaning them and selecting fish.
Paying Nemo’s Way
Fish tanks range in price depending on their size and the features included. A “deluxe show combo,” for example, pairs a 25-gallon glass tank with a special infiltration and illumination system. The cost: about $150.
A “SpongeBob SquarePants bikini bottom aquarium,” on the other hand, is a 1.8-gallon tank that includes basic filter and pump systems, gravel, tubing and backdrops. The cost: about $30. On a smaller scale, a regular fish bowl is about $6.
Small fish such as betas, guppies, neons and goldfish range between $1.50 and $3 each. Angel fish are about $7, and saltwater fish start at $3 and go up to about $60.