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Location of your aquarium
So, you bought your very first fish tank. And you probably already decided where to place it. But keep in mind that a fish tank filled with water is much heavier than it seems. So please, place it on something strong and stable.
It is also advisable to keep your fish tank away from direct, or even indirect, sunlight. Long hours of sunlight will induce algae, something you do not want if you wish to keep your aquarium beautiful.
Skip this part if you plan to have a simple bare-bottom fish tank. Personally, I feel that gravels make an aquarium looks so much nicer. Having gravels also helps hide your fishes' wastes.
Before you start pouring your gravels into your fish tank, stop! Take a pail, pour your gravels into it instead. Start washing them over and over until the water is decently clear. This is important, as you don't want your fishes to be swimming in chocolate milk.
Preparing your water
Water is the single most important element of an aquarium. It is important to prepare your water before adding any fishes, as most tap water contains chemicals like chlorine and chloramine, which are harmful to fishes. So be sure to get a bottle of water conditioner from your favorite pet shop that neutralizes both chlorine and chloramine.
If you have gravels, be very gentle when pouring water into your tank, so as not to stir up the gravels. A useful tip is to pour your water onto a floating plate or saucer, so as to divert the force of the falling water. Fill water to your preferred height, and add measured amount of your anti-chlorine-and-chloramine water conditioner.
Setting up your filter
Setup your filter according to your filter's manual. Make sure that it is working properly as intended, as the filter is a very important part of an aquarium. Your filter provides water circulation, and also oxygenates the water, if your type of filter causes water surface disturbance. If your aquarium is heavily loaded with fishes, and your filter fails for even a few hours, it could be fatal.
What is cycling?
"Cycling" is the process where bacterias break down ammonia(NH3) into nitrite(NO2), and from nitrite to nitrate(NO3). Ammonia and nitrite are both very toxic to fishes, and nitrate being the least toxic of the three. Therefore this process is the most important for any aquarium.
The nitrosomonas species of bacteria starts forming when ammonia is present. They form all around our fish tank, the driftwoods, the substrate, and especially inside our filter. Slowly, they will form into a colony large enough to efficiently breakdown ammonia into nitrite. When nitrite in the water has reached a certain level, the Nitrobacter species of bacteria starts forming. Slowly, they will breakdown the nitrite into nitrate. And finally, nitrate in the water can be removed via the most common and cost-effective method, water changes.
In a nutshell: Ammonia > Nitrite > Nitrate
Introduction of ammonia
These are the various ways of introducing ammonia:
- "Seeding". Transfer some gravel or filter sponge/wool/etc from an established fish tank into the new one.
- Fish wastes. Zebra danios are very hardy fishes that are commonly used for cycling.
- Market prawns. Yes, it will stink.
- Commercial products.
Personally, I feel that the "seeding" method would be the most reliable and yields the fastest results.
Fish method is slow, but adding more fishes does makes the process faster. Just that the fishes might not survive the intense ammonia poisoning. We don't want fishes to die in our new fish tank. It is also not recommended to use feeder fishes for this task, as they often carry diseases.
Prawn method is easy, throw them in and wait. But be prepared for the smell.
Commercial products are not the most reliable. Most of us would wonder how much shelf life do these products have. After all, we are talking about live organisms here. But there are indeed cases where hobbyists introduce fishes without cycling, relying on commercial products to do its work. It all boils down to how much risk you are willing to take. Personally, I have a bottle of Nutrafin Cycle, which I bought when I upgraded my filter.
So you've introduced ammonia, turned on your filter, and is waiting for your fish tank to cycle. I would recommend at least three days of cycling before introducing your fishes. Longer, if the fishes you plan to keep are sensitive. Or if you have not decided on what fishes to keep, now is a good time to research on that.
Find on how big will the fishes grow up to. Most fishes are so tiny when young, but can grow up to huge sizes. This is important, as having no space to swim will stunt their growth, their colors will not show, and they get sick easier. So get suitable fishes, unless you have plans to upgrade to a larger fish tank.
Find out if the fishes are to be kept in brackish water or fresh water. Do not mix the two types of fishes. Find out also their aggressiveness, feeding habits, behaviors, and anything else you need to know to keep your fishes healthy and happy.
Acclimatizing your new fishes
Finally, it's time for you to go out and buy your fishes. Get the pet shop people to help you select healthy ones. While at the shop, make sure you've already gotten everything you need. Things like food, aquarium salt(if keeping brackish water fishes), net, water pump, and a bottle of anti-chlorine-and-chloramine water conditioner.
Once you reached home, float the packet of your new babies in your tank water. This is to acclimatize your fishes to the new water temperature. Float for about 15 minutes, then open up the packet, and pour some of your tank water into it. This is to acclimatize your fishes to the new water parameters. Wait for another 15 minutes, or more, if your fishes are sensitive species. And finally, use a net to catch your fishes into your fish tank!
Observing your fishes
If your fish tank has decorative objects, most likely your new fishes will go into hiding. This is normal, and will last up to a few days. When they do show themselves, observe them. Take note of how their bodies look like, and how they behave, so you will know when something odd happens.
Feed very sparingly during this beginning stage. As the filtration and bacteria system is still new, do not want to pollute the water too much. I suggest feeding small amounts once a day starting from the second or third day. If your fishes refuse to eat, do not put in more food. Try feeding again the next day. This is normal and you do not need to worry, as the fishes most likely already eaten when in the pet shop, and they can survive for as long as a week without food.
Soon, your fishes will get used to their environment. They will start becoming more active. Their vibrant colors will start showing. And they may even recognize you whenever you come close to feed them. That is the reward of fish-keeping! But of course, you have to be a responsible owner. Performing the regular water changes, medicating them when they get sick, and feeding them quality food everyday. And I officially welcome you to the hobby!
About the author:
For more fishy articles by Leon Huang, visit Your Fish Tank's Friend
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