The first 3 months of starting a new aquarium are crucial. Early, avoidable mistakes result in many aquariums being abandoned. Choosing the correct setup and cycling of the new fish tank are the first challenges.
Nevertheless the main challenge is to acquire the needed knowledge and know-how quickly enough to effectively deal with the potential problems that tend to occur during the first months of setup.
Many questions have to be answered about water conditions, the importance of basic water parameters and of course stocking the aquarium with healthy, compatible fish.
Next to knowledge the best asset to successfully maintain a fish tank is the professional pet store.
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It is well worth the time to visit several pet stores in your area in order to find a store with a knowledgeable and courteous staff.
The Aquariums in a pet store should be clean and free of dead fish. Service should be directed towards the customer’s needs and expectations. The staff in a quality store will answer your questions in ways that are easily understood. Don’t simply accept some ‘magical’ additive with no explanation as to the cause of a problem you may be experiencing.
Once you feel comfortable with the staff of a store, keeping fish will be less difficult and more rewarding, as stores will commit their time, knowledge and experience as part of their service.
On that note, specialty stores do remember their customers, which is an added benefit.
Choosing healthy fish can be summarized by taking a well educated guess. There are signs to look out for, but even for experts there is no absolute guarantee.
Since fish always have an appetite, have the store put a little food into the aquarium to see how the fish react. Eating is the best test to determine a healthy fish.
Physically, fins should be intact and erected, not ripped. The body free of patches, discoloration, bumps, black or white grains and other signs of injuries. Respiration should be comparably normal, heavy breathing indicates stress.
Fish should interact with each other and be active. Observe the fish; it is very likely that the fish behaves in the same way at home as it does in the store.
It helps to ask where the fish is from, especially with saltwater species. Saltwater fish should be hand caught. Bargain priced fish are often caught using drugs (cyanide) which partially paralyzes the fish for easier collection.
Drugged fish have a weaker immune system and are more vulnerable towards carrying possible bacterial infections. A significantly shorter life span is also often the result of drugs and improper handling.
Collecting as much information as possible prior to buying a fish aides in avoiding incompatible fish.
Fish have to be chosen based on tank size, setup, decor (rocks/plants) and the specific water parameters at hand. If in doubt, a water sample can be taken to the store.
As a basic rule, aggressive and territorial fish need larger aquariums.
When choosing compatible fish, common sense should be used. Obviously coldwater fish are not compatible with tropical fish. Large fish may view small ones as lunch. Active, fast moving may stress more peaceful and slow moving species.
It should also be noted that fish do have a natural pecking order, that fish are born with behavioral patterns, and that they act on instinct.
Species of the same family (genus) rarely go well together if they have a similar body shape, behavioral patterns, or feeding habits.
When considering stocking a more aggressive fish or in case of uncertainty, the fish in the tank should be larger then the new addition.
When starting a new aquarium the most aggressive fish should be added last and should always be smaller then the ones added first.