Sunday, December 5, 2010

Types of fish in a nutshell, Tropical community prefered.

Learning about all the different types of fish your fish store offers is certainly a daunting task for the beginner.  The aim of this section will be to teach you how to place all those fish in certain categories and to show you what categories work together.  It is important to note that you can't just get any fish you want and put it in your tank.  Careful attention must be made to potential size, aggression and social behavior.  Having a good stock is 65% of being successful.  This entire guide will be focused on building a tropical community setup.  This is the easiest and is very rewarding.

Shoaling fish- These types like to be in groups of 5 or more.  They usually stay small, 1-3 inches.  Hardiness varies a lot of type, some can be finicky.  If you are unsure when buying from this group, ask the guy which one have low death rates and are good eaters.


Reputation- Very popular starter fish, good looking group fish
Size- 1-3 inches
Color- 7 out of 10
Numbers- 5 or more
Diet- Tropical flakes as a staple, treats on occasion.
Cost- 1$-7$
Notes- Stay away from neons, not hardy.  I Recommend black skirts.


Reputation- Famously hardy
Tank- 10g min for zebras, 29g+ for giants
Size- 2-4 inches
Color- 5 out of 10
Numbers- 5 or more
Diet- Tropical flakes as a staple, treats on occasion.
Cost- 1$-5$

Notes- A good choice if you can stand their looks. Some long-finned strains are common.  Robust and probably the most foolproof schoaler out there.


Reputation- Less popular and lower selection than tetras but still deserve consideration.
Tank- 10g min
Size- 1-2 inches inches
Color- 7 out of 10
Numbers- 5 or more
Diet- Tropical flakes as a staple, treats on occasion.
Cost- 1$-5$

Notes- Popular in planted tanks.  Display great shoaling behavior but a bit small for my taste. Could Possibly be finicky.

Cories (corydora) catfish

Reputation- Very popular"clean up fish" Hardy and interesting personalities
Tank- 10g min
Size- 1-3 inches
Color- 5.5 out of 10
Numbers- 5 or more
Diet- Sinking pellets, other random stuff too.
Cost- 3$-6$
Notes- Get these because you like them and not because they will clean your tank.  They require additional feeding so they will cut down on your entire tank's stocking budget.  Cool fish though.



Reputation- Very popular due to coloring, price and live bearing nature. Most of the time are hardy.
Tank- 5g could work but usually 10g +
Size- 1-2 inches
Color- 8 out of 10 males 4 out of 10 females
Numbers- 3 or more
Diet- Tropical flakes as a staple, treats on occasion.
Cost- .2$-4$
Notes- If you want babies, go for 1 male per 2 females. Otherwise, go all males.


Reputation- Good fish but below guppies in terms of popularity.
Tank- 10g +
Size- 1.5-2.5 inches
Color- 6.5 out of 10
Numbers- 3 or more
Diet- Tropical flakes as a staple, treats on occasion.
Cost- 1$-5$
Notes- Are some cool strains out there.  If you want babies go with 1 male per 2 females.  Males and females look the same.  Swordtails are very similar but males have a long sword on their tail..

Mollies- Livebearers as well, get a little larger than platies, around 3 inches.  20g min. These guys DO require salt.  I would stay away just because of this fact.  Go with platies instead if you like this look.


Plecos (sucker fish, algae eaters, sucker catfish...)-  These guys are extremely misunderstood.  The common ones get 18 inches, not suitable for most tanks.  They are also waste machines.  Do not get one to clean the algae or eat waste.  If you have loads of algae you are doing something wrong maintenance wise.  They need to be fed things like algae wafers, fresh fruits and vegetables such as zuchinni and romaine lettuce.  Fancy plecos such as the clown pleco stay small but their diet is a bit of commitment.  I would stay away from all plecos for now..

Gouramis- These can make great centerpieces but sometimes show aggression towards smaller fish.  Only males are sold.  Also I have heard that these are almost always injected with hormones to buff up coloring which supposedly compromises health in the long run.  20g min. Just be weary I'd say.

Catfish- Can work out well but you must consider the potential size.  They can eat fish easily half their body length.  Be very weary. Bumblebee catfish and upsidedown cats (schoaling)  may work, but anything larger like the pictus or rapheal will wreak havoc on a community tank.

Loaches- I've have a group of skunk botias for a few years now and they are great fun.   Need to be in groups and 20g +.  Some loaches are rather reclusive and some get large so do extra research.  Stay away from clown loaches starting up.

Freshwater sharks- Don't be reeled in by the name to get one of these.  The common ones like red-tails and rainbows are 4+ inches and are territorial.  Only suitable if you are going with a more aggressive, larger stock which I won't really cover just yet.  Columbian sharks are brackish fish.  Iridescent sharks get 3 feet long.

Small cichlids- Some cichlids could work in smallish tanks.  They are aggressive and get larger. Note that you will need to base your stock around them  and its often hard for the beginner to pass up all the colorful community fish to get 1 or cichlids. Rams can be housed in a 20g, go for a couple and hope they are peaceful.  Then go for a small group of top dwellers like hatchets.  You could also probably do a couple angels in a 29.  They do get big though, so you may need to upgrade.  They will also eat smaller tetras so be smart. Kribs and apistos are also possibilities but they are usually for the more advanced keeper.

Not recomended-

Goldfish-  This will surprise almost everyone but it's true.  Common goldfish get a footlong and are waste machines.  They require cool water, so you cannot mix with the tropical fish above.  The fancy ones get 6" inches but are very bulky.  These guys need big tanks, 40+ just for juveniles, and are not good for starters.  Don't be fooled by the price on your conception to keep them in a bowl.

Pacu, arowana, oscar, large cichlids, any fish over 6"-  Those cute little pacus will get 3 feet long and 50 pounds.  Please don't even think about buying one, they shouldn't even be sold and are near impossible to get rid of.  Arowanas need a 180+. Oscars are very aggressive and will need a 75+.  Most cichlids are aggressive and it takes an experienced keeper and researcher to get a good mix.

Now that you know a bit about the types of fish out there, you need to choose what you want.  Let's say you have a 20g.  Buying fish at around 2 inches on average, I'd say you can get 10-20.  This means you could do 5 zebra danios,  5 platies and 5 cories.  That's a pretty well balanced setup.  People always say that a lot of these grouping fish need numbers of 5 or more and by all means, go for that if you can, but I've never had something die because I had 4 opposed to 5.  You are suppose to get 5 to disperse aggression among all the fish.  But if you have something like a 10g, that doesn't leave many options.  You will probably end up getting groups of 3 or something so just know that is it not entirely recommend.  This article is very basic and soon I will go into more details about the theory regarding stocking and feeding.  Water changes and feeding can affect your stock as much as tank size. Post a comment if you want advice on your stock.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cycling Simplified

What is cycling a tank?  Cycling a tank is building up a supply of beneficial bacteria in your filter.  It is VITAL you have this bacteria in your tank to break down waste, without it, your fish WILL die.  Water testing is necessary in this stage. Way too many people, even very experienced people do not know this concept.  Properly learning it though, will almost guarantee your success.  If anyone has ever told that in order to cycle a tank, all you need to do is let your filter run for a days, please forget that.  That is false.  It is important to know that nothing is really happening to the water in the tank; just your filter is getting colonized with bacteria that break down wastes such as ammonia and nitrite.  In order to start your colony, you must supply some type of waste into your tank.  All you need to do is supply ammonia and the bacteria will start to grow.  Cycling a tank is tough for the beginner but you will get through it.  Too many people don't even know about cycling so they attribute deaths to factors that aren't issues.  Reading this article puts you at a HUGE advantage over the beginner who sets up their tanks and throws in fish.  Below are the different methods which I will explain.  Read the very bottom for tips to reduce time.

Fishless Cycling- What I highly recommend because you aren't risking the lives of anything while your bacteria colony grows.  In this method, you add liquid ammonia found at a grocery store. Ammonia and nitrIte is toxic but it supplies the bacteria to grow.  So remember this: Before you add fish into your tank, you must slowly build up the bacteria supply because it is the bacteria that breaks down the fish waste.The bacteria breaks down waste in this order. ammonia--> nitrIte--> nitrAte.  Ammonia and nitrite are deadly while low nitrates is fine and unavoidable.  The bacteria and your filter will make the established tank have 0 ammonia and 0 nitrates while you must do water changes to bring down nitrates, water changes will be talked about later.

1. Setup your tank with heater, filter, substrate, conditioned water ect.

2.  Obtain liquid ammonia WITHOUT surfecents.  When shaken, it should not bubble.  I got some at price chopper, I'd recommend getting that so this guide will work exactly.  It come in large bottle, maybe 2 L found in the cleaner section.

3.  Now, you want to add ammonia until your tank has 5 ppm.  Use your test kit. This will probably be around 3-5 mL per 5 gallons.  Note a teaspoon is around 5 mL. This does not have to be exact but record how much ammonia it took to get to 5ppm ammonia.  Now, put this amount in the tank once a day.  At a week, start testing for nitrItesOnce you detect nitrItes, cut the dose in halfThe cycle is done once the ammonia and nitrIte are at 0.  This will probably in the 2-4 week range.  Test high in nitrAtes is expected and normal.  Stop the dosing.

4.  Do a large water change, preferably 100% to remove all nitrates so you start fresh.  Do not do water changes prior to this.

5.  Your filter is now properly cycled.  Adding in fish plus fish food will basically replace the liquid ammonia so the bacteria continue to sustain themselves and keep your water good.  Using this method, you can add in all your stock at once which kind of rewards your patience but also benefits fish that are territorial.

*Note* you can use fish food/shrimp whatever instead of liquid ammonia, although it can get quite messy and isn't entirely recommended.  Use the guide to get the same ppm, but you'd have to wait until it breaks down into ammonia so that's one of the downsides.

Cycling with Fish-This is the method commonly used years ago but I really don't recommend it.  Doing this, you put fish in as soon as the filter is running and slowly add a few fish in every week or two until your stock is full.  Doing this, you are pretty much exposing them to the high ammonia and nitrites, greatly increasing death rates.  Exposing them to high ammonia can have long term affects as well so you really shouldn't do it.  I know it's hard to opt for the fishless cycle because you will be weeks with an empty tank, but really doing that is a GREAT first step to success in the hobby.  I would say that 80% of fish deaths do occur in the cycling stage.

1.  Setup the tank with filter, heater, conditioned water ect..

2. Add in a few small hardy fish. 

3.  Now here is a balancing act.   Of course, you must feed the fish but in order for them to survive, ammonia levels cannot be too high.  Because the filter isn't developed with bacteria, ammonia will be through the roof.  But you do need some ammonia to start the bacteria colony.  Eventually after maybe a month, ammonia and nitrite will come down to 0. Note during this month, your fish are suffering.

4.  Whenever I encounter someone who has fish in an uncycled tank, I always tell them to reduce feedings to once every other day, not get anymore fish, and do 50% water changes as often as possible.  Trying to keep fish alive in an uncycled tank is pretty much survival mode.  You must do all this work and hopefully the fish survive.  Really, go with the fishless cycle and save yourself the worry and don't hurt the fish.

**Quickening cycle***
Like stated before, the entire point of the cycle is to develop a  bacteria colony.  Now there are some ways to introduce a colony in your tank which may drastically quicken the cycle.  You can:

1.  Introduce a filter pad or developed media from an established tank.  If done right, the new tank may be insta cycled.  Squeezing a used filter pad can help too.  To test if the new tank is good, add in some food and see if any ammonia or nitrItes show up; if not, then you should be good.

2.  Add some developed substrate.  This works alright.  Add in some gravel and hopefully the bacteria transfers over.  Note: transferring water does nothing. Bacteria doesn't live in the column, only on things.

3.  Some products work in boosting the cycle.  I have a hit miss history with stability and no success with big al's or anyone else's "bacteria supplement."  I have heard nothing good about Cycle either.  Bio-spira or other 'live' supplements are likely to be the only ones that actually work but they are expensive to buy and ship, and can be rendered useless if unchilled at any point.  If I were you, I'd first try to get an established filter pad and then try out stability.  Either of these, you'd use the fishless cycle guide above but they should quicken all aspects.

Next will be fish descriptions.

Friday, December 3, 2010

List of essentials and prices

Here is what you will need before you get fish.  I try to make this as clear cut as possible but of course, your situation will probably vary at least slightly.  This will be for a cookie cutter 20 gallon.  Note, some of these components are available in a package available at walmart, petsmart or petco ect so go with that if it includes most of these at a reduced price.  Here we go.

1.  Aquarium- You can save good money here by going with a package.  Go as big as you can but most beginners go for 10-29 gallons.  As you'll see, it gets less expensive per gallon as you go up so that's one incentive to go big.  Larger tanks are in some ways easier to maintain because a larger volume of water fluctuates slower than a smaller one; more room for error.  More water means more fish or it means cleaner water. Of course, changing water and scraping algae will take longer on a larger tank but it's not bad considering you have better options fish wise.  But I do understand if you're not totally into keeping a 4 or 6 foot long tank if you unsure about the whole hobby so you may want to start smaller.  Petco also has dollar a gallon sale on tanks 10-55 gallons once or twice a year.  You can also find good deals on craigslist mostly for larger tanks but expect to spend time cleaning it up.

2.  Filter - You will probably end up going with a standard hang on back power filter.  Go for one rated higher than your tank.  Example, you have a 20g, get the one rated for 20-40gs rather than the one for 10-20g.  If you're going to splurge on one thing, make it the aquarium or the filter.  Often times, a good filter can increase potential fish stock or decrease maintenance.  Popular brands are aquaclear (A+) , marineland (B+) topfin/penguin (B).  Packages usually come with penguin/topfins but they are usually good enough for a moderate stock as long as you maintain it.  To start, get 1+ set of replacement filter cartridges, they will last months.  You can add a filter later on also to supplement.  Canister filters are expensive but are better in many cases than power filters.  I won't get into sumps here.  Sponge filters are better in some cases as well but still go for the standard hang on back power filters.  Power filters can range from 15$ (10g) -80$ (55).

3.  Heater- There is a 95% chance you guys will start with tropical fish and will thus need a heater to get the water to around 78 degrees F.  Just get one rated for your tank.  Getting two less powerful ones will provide better insurance in case one breaks but usually this isn't necessary unless you're dealing with harder fish that can't survive a day in cooler water.  I would say avoid topfin heaters if you can, but they usually come with the package so you may just need to make it work.  Read reviews for the heater you're going to go with because I have to admit, I don't have great luck with them and I don't really use them as my fishroom is heated itself.

4. Lid/lighting- Fish are fine without lighting but it makes the tank look so much better so I wouldn't consider an aesthetic tank complete without one.  Most fish are good without lids as well.  Again, the packages usually come with a decent hood with a fluorescent strip or even compact fluorescents.  Hoods can be expensive so usually here the package will save you cash you can spend on other stuff.

5. Substrate- The beginner will probably go with the standard gravel.  I'm pretty sure the bag will say go with one or two pounds per gallon but that isn't too accurate because of height differences.  It doesn't have to be too deep, a layer barely cover the bottom can make it easier to clean too.  Many of my tanks are bare bottom but otherwise, I usually use washed home depot sand. I'll probably do an article on that later but for now, go with the regular gravel at 1lb per gallon.  Expect to pay less than a dollar per pound.

6. Conditioner- Seachem Prime is the conditioner to use to rid your tap water of chlorine and chloramine although others work too.  Bottles start at 3$.  It can be dosed in emergencies to get down ammonia as well.  This should be one of the ONLY chemicals in your arsenal.  Don't listen to anyone trying to sell you snake oil that will make your tank perfect with no maintenance.  The only other chemicals I would consider are some meds. 

7. Siphon- A vital tool that too many aquarists don't have.  You use this to siphon debris from the gravel.  This gets rid of uneaten food as well as removes water into a nearby bucket.  A medium one costs maybe 8$.  I would definitely recommend purchasing a python though for maybe 30$-40$.  You hook one end to your sink and the other into the tank.  This way the water gets drained right into your sink and you refill the tank right from your sink.  Best 30$ I ever spent as a beginner.  No more carting 5g buckets.

8.  Water- It hurts my eyes when I see people buying betta water or store prepared water in general for their basic setup.  Conditioned tap water will work in almost all cases.

9. Food- You will need to know what type of fish you are getting before you buy food of course.  Basic flake food is good for most community fish.  Sinking pellets are good for catfish, loaches and bottom dwellers.  I'll get into pleco diet later.  Variety is important so be sure to mix in random foods like frozen/freeze dried bloodworms, mysis shrimp, brine shrimp, tubifex worms ect.. It's good to start out with a nice assortment and using them a couple times a week will make them last forever.

10. Ornaments- Not really essential but the tank would look odd in the living room without anything.  It does depend on the fish, but I do like to keep things as minimalistic as possible.  Go for some fake plants and maybe a couple smallish structures.  Also, don't get live plants just yet.

11. Cycling materials- *Ding ding* here's cycling again, very important.  You will need to choose a method to cycle with and get the stuff for that. Basically check out my cycling article on how to do that, will write soon.

So there you have it.  Remember don't waste your money on chemicals other than the ones specified.  You'd MUCH rather spend money on the best filter/heater as possible than ornaments.  More updates soon.

Read this before you buy anything

It is important that you understand what is required if you want a healthy, rewarding tank.  I try to put everything in numbers because that's what you really want to consider.  I consider a beginner tank somewhere in the range of 10-30 gallons because of price but I will talk about sizes later.  I give realistic figures so there are no surprises.

  • Time- The typical beginner tank will require feeding 1-3 times a day at 3 minutes per feeding. The beginner tank will also require a weekly partial water change which would usually require 20 minutes but can be as short as 10 minutes or as long as an hour. During a water change you will need a way to dispose of roughly a third of the tank's water and a method of refilling the tank. Other than feeding and water changes, a few minutes every couple weeks MAY be needed to scrape some algae.
  • Money- The cheapest setup you could get would probably be a small, few gallon, heated betta or shrimp setup.  This would run maybe 50$.  A nice 10 gallon setup would run maybe 85$.  A 20 gallon probably 120$.  A 29 probably 140$.  Most fish you will consider will probably be 2$-4$ and at this small size, you'd probably get 1 per 1-2 gallons (varies, discussed later).  As you plan your tank, consider your budget wisely because you don't want to be stuck with a setup you can't afford but you also want to get the fish you really enjoy.  Maintenance costs aren't too bad.  The ONLY chemical you will probably need is water conditioner (prime), a 5$ bottle will last a few months.  Food would cost a few dollars a month as well.  Electricity and water costs only really add up on larger setups.  You really can't get into fish keeping if you just want to place a betta or goldfish in a bowl, it simply is cruel and won't work; you need to shell out some cash and some time.  Again, this guide will start you off slow so there won't be huge money lost if mistakes are made.  I find this to be a good balance between enjoyment vs. cost.

  • Learning curve-  Forget what anyone has told you about fish.  Chances are anyone you have talked to about fish is misinformed, even your friend who has kept fish since they were a child or the guy at petsmart.  Listen to this.  I'm telling you now that if you don't want any dead fish, you will need to cycle your tank which takes around a month or more.  Yes, this is necessary and it means you will have a tank with water running with no fish for a month.  I would say 80% of fish keepers quit because they don't grasp what cycling the tank is.  If there is one thing to take away from this blog, it will be the cycling article.  Also, realize now you will probably not be able to house any combination of fish you want together.  Fish fight like many other animals. This will be one of the next articles.  Keep checking for updates.
Please realize that I'm not writing this to scare anyone away.  I'm writing this so you are aware of what you are getting into once you take a living thing into your home.  It would be unfair if I told you anything other than the truth.  Also, you will see me mentioning a lot of prices in here, please don't think that I think of my wallet before the health of my fish.  I've worked in a petstore and I know how much cost affects how people keep their fish.  I'm just being informative my giving you prices so you know what to expect.  The rewards of keeping a nice tank are huge.

      Short Introduction

      Hello there.  Because it can be quite difficult for beginners to learn about aquariums on the internet, I wanted to create this blog to be an all-inclusive source for the beginner fish keeper.  This is the place for you if you are thinking about getting an aquarium, are having difficulties keeping your fish alive, or if you are looking for ideas on how to get more out of the hobby.  I have seen too many people give up or never start the hobby because of bad information.  Following this blog, you will rarely have deaths, you will have healthy fish and your water will always be crystal clear.  I have been keeping fish for many years and more importantly, I have worked with many people in getting their tanks running. I know the pitfalls beginners face and I'm here to help. Much of my research has encompassed books, articles and forums; I have been reading for years and this the location where I will be dumping all my knowledge in a condensed and easy way.  Stay tuned fellas.