Basics of Aquarium Management
by Kent Turner
An aquarium is much more than just a glass cage with water and fish. It is a fragile microhabitat where fish, plants, invertebrates, and microorganisms live together in a delicate balance. In a properly functioning aquarium, these organisms support and depend on each other to maintain a habitable environment. If this balance is disturbed, the result can be a break-down that can cause the animals to suffer or die. Such disturbances can be caused by many factors, such as:
- Too much or too little food
- Inadequate or improper maintenance
- Incorrect or fluctuating temperature
- Residual pesticides or other chemicals in or near the aquarium
- Stressful environment (lights on 24 hr., noise around tank, etc.)
- Introduction of parasites or other disease
- Incompatible tankmates
Some guidelines to help avoid these problems are:
- Follow a feeding regimen. Donít fall for the temptation to overfeed. This is a very
common mistake. Fish always look hungry, but too much food will cause water
quality problems. There should be no uneaten food left in the tank after 3 or 4
minutes after feeding.
- Maintenance should be performed regularly by a knowledgeable person. It should
never be procrastinated, or the fish will suffer. Most of the harmful elements of poor
water are invisible, so donít use the appearance of the tank as a guide to when
maintenance is needed.
- Be sure the tank is located in an area that avoids extremes in temperature or
fluctuations in temperature, such as windows, doors, heater or air conditioning vents,
etc. Also, purchase a good quality heater and thermometer. Cheap heaters will
eventually malfunction, either by sticking in the "ON" position, cooking all your fish
to death, or in the "OFF" position, allowing them to die from chill. Many people tend
to skimp on the heater, but a quality heater is worth the cost in the long run.
- When cleaning aquarium glass and equipment, use clean, warm water. Never use any detergents or spray cleaners, or any pads, rags, or sponges that have ever been used
with any chemicals or soaps in the past. Even chemicals marketed as "aquarium
safe" have often been mislabled by unscrupulous sales people. Avoid spraying any
aerosols near a tank, and never fumigate a room with an aquarium in it. For water
changes, use a bucket that is used only for that purpose; one that has never been used to hold paint, cleaners, or other chemicals. Even trace amounts of many chemicals can kill all the fish in your tank. Be certain that any decorations in the tank are of a suitable material before addition to the aquarium. Many rocks, shells, and driftwood, etc. can leach harmful chemicals into the tank or will rot there. If in doubt, leave it out!
- Most fish donít tolerate loud noise very well, so keep the tank positioned away from loud stereo or TV speakers or other noise sources. Also, some fish are shy and should be kept away from extremely busy locations. Putting an aquarium in a brightly lit area can also cause an excessive growth of algae. Lights should be left on for ten to fourteen hours a day, and the fish should have a period of darkness to rest.
- To avoid adding parasites and diseases, always quarantine new fish in an isolation tank for two weeks before adding to the main tank. Purchase only fish that are healthy and show no signs of stress and disease. The fish should look well fed.
Avoid buying fish from any store with sick fish, unless they show that they are
quarantined. If they are willing to sell fish from a tank with sick fish, go elsewhere.
Avoid feeding live food of questionable origin or quality. If your fish do become
sick, use medication only according to the directions of a knowledgeable
professional. Treating incorrectly can cause many more problems. A word of
caution; while many store owners are honest and knowledgeable, others will try to
sell unnecessary treatments either because they donít know better or because they
wish to make a dollar. In most cases, medication isnít even required; the fish can
often be cured by other means such as changing the water temperature, etc. Never
use chemicals designed to eliminate algae, snails, etc. These products are not safe for aquariums as they advertise.
- Compatibility encompasses many different factors. Before adding any fish or
invertebrate, here are a few things to check for:
- Be sure that the new addition is not predatory towards your other tank inhabitants.
This sounds obvious, but it is a common mistake. Sometimes it is difficult to tell, for
it may look perfectly harmless. Research is important here to be sure that not only
will it not make a meal out of the current residents, but that it will not become a
meal! Also, even if it is too small to devour a fish altogether, some fish are known as
"fin nippers", and will tear holes in a fishís fins and scales, killing it slowly.
- Check the size of the animal as an adult. Many fish are sold when young and
colorful; before they grow into large, aggressive behemoths!
- If the tank is a community tank, check to see that the fish requires the same water
conditions, such as pH, hardness and temperature.
- If you have plants, make sure it will not eat them.
- Be certain that there is enough capacity for it in your tank. Overcrowding is an easy and common mistake to make.
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