Equipment can be purchased from your local pet shop but it will be much cheaper to do so online. It is not advisable to buy equipment second hand, you need to be very careful that there are no diseases or bacteria present in the equipment you will buy for keeping tropical fish.
Setting up your equipment is crucial for keeping tropical fish successfully. Because tropical fish have relatively specific requirements, creating the right setup to help them properly can be a daunting task… fear not, we have arranged a rough schedule for you to follow to keep your fish healthy.
Step one (day one) – Buying, positioning, cleaning
1 *Tank* (* add links for all below items*)
8 Interesting Objects
Step two (Day Two) – Getting it all together
1 Setting up the tank (* add links for all below items*)
5 Turn it all on
Step three (Day Seven)
1 Fish (* add links for all below items*)
2 Fish Food
3 Enjoyment 🙂
Step one – Day One
1. Fish Tanks
There are many types of *fish tanks* available but they all have one thing in common and that is they should contain the fish’s environment in a way that is pleasant for you and them. Whether they are glass or a plastic is your choice but the most important rule is to get the biggest one that you can afford or will fit in the space you want to fill. There is a very practical reason for this because it is easier to keep the water clear and healthy in a big tank than a small bowl. Look for a design that has a big surface area rather than one which is too deep because there carbon dioxide is released from the water and oxygen is collected from the air.
If you would like to buy a tank without too much surface area, you can simply buy an *aerator* for additional gas exchange to keep your tropical fish healthy.
No matter what, make sure your aquarium has a cover of some sort for very practical reasons.
Some types of fish do jump, even fish that supposedly do not have sometimes been found on the floor of a very unhappy owner – tropical fish that live in warm waters can be particularly active and prone to jumping out of the water – install a cover to prevent tragedy!
Also, the cover will help you to stabilise the temperature of the tank more easily during the colder winter months, keeping your tropical fish warm throughout the year and avoid undue evaporation.
The most practical cover is made of plastic with built in filters and light bulbs. A plastic cover is also helpful if you would like to cut spaces to install your own filters and lights, you can do this by using a cheap *dremel tool* and cleaning the lid carefully afterwards to avoid plastic dust in your water.
A clear cover is also extremely useful, not only can you shine light through the top but you can also view the fish directly from a bird’s eye view (they often look much bigger from this angle too!)
If the heater is too hot and you would like to have air exchange between the room and your fish tank you can also use a * net filter*, this will block fish from jumping out but still allow air circulation.
To keep your tropical fish healthy, avoid hoods made of wood or without a class cover under them. This causes water condensation which can turn into drips into the tank. Chemicals from the wood can be very unhealthy for your tropical fish so you need to be careful when picking a good setup.
*LED or flurescent lighting* is the best way to light up your tanks. The tubes/bulbs come in a variety of different colors, they do not produce much heat and are cheap to run. If you want to keep live plants, you need 2-4 watts of light at least to keep them happy. Incandescent light bulbs are not sufficient, they contain few wavelengths which can be utilised by plants, are relatively costly to run and operate at high temperatures which can overheat your tropical fish.
In regards to fish, if you are keeping only plastic plants which do not require sunlights then a small light will be enough. Tropical fish often live in deep, murky waters in nature which do not receive much sunlight at all so this will generally not be an issue.
Make sure that above the aquarium cover there is some sort of hood which contains light for your tank. In the olden lights, simple neon lights were used and they worked quite well.
4. The pump and filter
There are a large amount of filters with an overwhelming range of types and makes but they can all be boiled down into separate categories, it all comes down to what they do and how they do it.
4.1 The Under Gravel Filter
The under gravel filter works well for keeping tropical fish. This system has sheets of plastic with holes in it that lie at the bottom of your tank. The gravel is spread on top of this sheet. Water is sucked out of from under the gravel either by a bubble stone and air pump or by a powerhead, which is a quieter and more efficient system of getting the water moving.
The gravel in the tank is used to filter the solids into the gravel, which provides an environment for a host of microbes that basically eat all the faeces that would otherwise poison off the fish very quickly. This is the oldest of the biological filters and has both advantages and disadvantages.
Biggest advantage: easy to use, system requires little maintenance other than a syphoning off of solids frmo the gravel now and then (depending on the number of fish).
The disadvantages are that firstly the under gravel filter is upposed to disturb the function of the root systems of the plants. (In all my experience of keeping tropical fish, I have never experienced any problems with this set up because plants with an established root system will thrive as long as there is enough light).
The second disadvantage is more serious because if the pump fails or electricity cuts off, the microbes begin to die quickly, turning the water into a toxic mess – although this is a very rare occurrence.
4.2 Outside Power filter
These filters use a power head to suck the water out of your tank where it is filtered before it passes back into the tank. I recommend the use of these outside power filters in the tank because they are easy to use and clean as well as doing an excellent job of filtration.
Most of these combine the biological filtration already described with mechanical filtration, which is simply the removal of suspended particles of waste, excess food, plant matter and general dirt from the aquarium. Most filters employ some sort of mechanical filtration through filter floss, pads or sponges that trap the waste as water passes through it.
You want one that wil circulate the tank water at least four times in an hour; more is OK, as I’ve found that you cannot have too much circulation in a tank. In fact I use two methods of filtration in most of my bigger tanks for keeping tropical fish as a regular policy.
4.3 Filters Suspended in Tank
These can be a combination type filter but are normally of some sort of filter medium, which acts as a biological filter with a combined mechanical action. They have the fautls and advantages of both of the above but they have added disadvatnages because they are not normally easy to clean without a disruption of the tank. Therefore they tend not to be cleaned regualrly which is fine provided the number of fish is not large and the biological system can cope but usually they end up by damanging the health of the tank.
Filters are extremely important, make sure you buy a good one! You can never be too careful about water quality. After all, the poor little inhabitants of the world you create can only get sick or die. They don’t have any other way of complaining to the management if their home is a dirty, polluted mess!
What is biological filtration?
The most misunderstood type of filtration.
Biolgoical filtration is the process in which beneficial bacteria covnert organics (fish waste and uneaten food) that have been broken down into the toxic elements of Ammonia and Nitrite into the less harmful compound – nitrate.
Ntirate can then be removed by water changes or chemical means. The process of iological filtration does not happen fast and usually takes between 4-6 weeks to be established. The bacteria will colonize all surfaces of the tank and fitler. Some filters are designed to promote these bacteria through the use of special media. Most complaitns of cloudy water are due to a lack of a good bacterial filter, which causes the bacteria to float freely around the tank. (this will be explored in detail *later*).
5 The Stand
If possible, it is much easier to buy a ready made stand rather than build one yourself. Most days the stands are made of welded steel but the wooden ones provided also do the job provided they are sturdy. They have the added advantage of having a cardboard arrangement underneath to store all your fish “junk”. This collection is unavoidable, it will continue to get bigger the longer you keep the fish.
Note: The majority of tables and benches will not support the weight of a fishtank. Remember, every litre of water weighs and entire kilogram, get someone heavy to sit on the table before you decide whether or not it can hold a fishtank!
* make sure the tank’s base is well insulated by a layer of wood or styrofoam
* never place your tropical fish tank in direct sunlight
* never fill your tank with sand or water until its upright already
* never put unwashed items in your tank unless you can’t help it
* rinse off soap very well (preferably just don’t use it, tropical fish hate it!)
* sterilise by boiling or strong salt solutions, it kills bacteria
Unless you live in places like Southern Florida or other tropical environment where it is warm year round, it is necessary to buy a heater because your temperatures will not climb high enough to keep tropical fish. When buying a *heater*, be sure that you buy one that is big enough for the job. If you get one that is too small, even though they cost less in the beginning, they will work all winter, give you a smaller power bill and save lots of money in the long run for your tropical fish.
Because we are dealing with tropical fish, you will need to maintain a stable water temperature. On average, you will need 2-4 watts per gallon to maintain a temperature in the mid 20s celsius. For a standard setup, 50 watts per 8 gallons (30 litres) should be enough.
*Gravel* is another necessary component unless you’re setting up a hospital tank (for curing sick fish) or a nursery tank (for raising new fish). The gravel needs to be rinsed in a plastic bucket quite a few times until it is fairly clean otherwise the water will take a very long time to become crystal clear. (for most fish, cloudy water is an irritant on their gills and will sicken them). When choosing gravel you have many colors and varieties to choose from. This will depend on your personal taste but never choose gravel that is too coarse or too fine, this will be a problem for keeping tropical fish. The first because some fish like to move over it or move it around (this will be elaborated later) while very fine sand will form an impenetrable mass on the bottom or take too long to settle and tend to cloud up the water for your tropical fish. I suggest to look for a natural gravel with a neutral color, similar to that of a natural riverbank. I’ve found that fish in tanks with a darker colored base tend to do more well than fish living in a fish tank with light colored gravel.
Do not place any gravel into your tropical fish tank until day two.
8. Interesting items
Besides the plants that will be added at a later stage, it is wise to think of putting in *rocks and branches*. Firstly these can be used to hide unsightly filters pipes and heater arrangements, secondly they help to create the natural environment that these fish would have found in their natural circumstances.
Rocks and branches are necessary to give your fish an interesting environment, somewhere to hide and simple a little area of the tank they can call home. It is surprising and rewarding to view the personalities and behaviours of your tropical fish once they settle in after feeling comfortable.
Some fish will like to play and explore, some are bullies that simply like to cruise around and explore everywhere all the time whereas others might hide in the same place till “dusk” when they come out to play.
Take care to prepare wood pieces particularly well by making sure you boil them well before adding them to your tank. Mangrove roots or others that are dead but water loving when alive will not rot and poison your water but I always make sure by buying a *sealer* from amazon to properly seal the wood in my fish tanks.
Rocks also need a word of warning, as some like limestone, are soluble and will affect the quality of your water. Try to find very hard rocks like granite and basalt. Some people say that slate is not good but I have a tank with a slate ‘clfif” which was put together to provide a backdrop to some Cichlids from Central Africa – that tank has always been a success.
Backgrounds can be purchased to give your tank a further depth but if you’re even slightly talented or even prepared to have a go it is far more satisfying to paitn your own with *watercolors* and a *paintbrush*.
Remember that many of the fish you want to keep are somewhere near the bottom of the food chain out in the wilds. So for their well being most want to have an environment that is not threatening and where they feel they can retreat to safety.
For this reason it is wise to have a tank with at least two sides where the fish are not faced with the goings-on of people walking by and then they will become more confident in displaying their true behavior and colors for your observational pleasure.
One further way to provide a background for your fish tank is to paint directly onto the back of the tank. This “scene” or neutral to dark colors will provide some security for the fish. Dark colors with wood stuck onto the back of the tank or even pieces of slate will simulate a riverbank very nicely.
By now, you should have purchased everything you need for day one.
Clean everything by rinsing throughly then do it again to be sure!!
You are now ready for day 2.