When you start looking at types of fish you will read about types
based on where in the world they come from (Cyprinid, Cichlid etc)
and what species they are - barb, krib, killi, cory, guppy, mollie,
platy, tetra, shark, loach, pleco... there is a huge list and at
first it is fairly daunting and/or meaningless.
As you have read, my initial choice of fish was a handful of Black Ruby Barbs at the point where I needed to mature the tank. This was due to them being hardy, and the most pretty of the vendor's recommendations. This restricted me to other fish which would a) like the same conditions b) not be so tiny they are eaten by the Barbs c) be active, so the Barbs didn't attack them!
When choosing total numbers of fish, there are two rules in common use. For a conservative estimate, use the rule "an inch of fish for a gallon of water". For the very maximum you can use the rule "an inch of fish for an inch of tank". That means that, if your tank is 30 inches long, you can have a maximum of 30 inches of fish, if they were lined up nose to tail (and excluding tail fin length). Obviously this is the most that you could hold in your tank, and you need to allow for growth - very fast growth in some cases. I'd suggest you get a few fish, and see how it goes. Read up on the potential size, and also whether they need extra space to swim (some species do) and note whether they prefer to swim in the top, middle or bottom of the tank.
However, many fish prefer several of their own type. For example my Green Tiger Barbs are aggressive to each other in groups of fewer than about six. Work within the size of your tank, but remember that it may be stressful to the fish if there are not several of the same type - check before you buy!
Also, check which fish are compatible. Ask your fish shop about this or have a look at Aquazoo which groups fish according to friendliness!
Many fish shops will tell you whatever you want to hear, just to sell you their fish. If you want decent advice, try a newsgroup such as Uk.rec.aquaria.misc or Rec.aquaria.misc. The readers can offer personal experience and are fairly welcoming to newcomers.
I have had a variety of plants, as you can tell from early pictures of
the tank. Only one kind has worked for me, and so I have had to go with
When choosing plants, make sure you get real, aquatic, plants - and not houseplants which are being kept under water. For example, there are not many aquatic plants that are naturally variegated! Houseplants will eventually rot and die, diminishing water quality.
I have ended up with a plant which sprouts single green leaves from the centre. In fact it has done so well that I have split it into two halves. However, the feathery kinds of plant disintegrate, or rose to the surface before they had chance to root. The grass style of plant fast became battered by fish and even moving water.
If you aren't sure which plants to get, buy a cheap collection of them and see what works. You can buy plants online at Java Plants (see their economy collection) and also at Aquatic Plants.
When you buy plants, remove them from any pot they are in. If they have
a clip with fibreglass matting around the bottom of the stems, remove
the fibreglass. It's no good for the fish. (Watch your fingers too!).
If the plant is already rooted, bury the roots in gravel, but don't
bury any of the stem. If the plant isn't rooted, trim the ends off and
put the fresh end in gravel - hopefully it will root.
Plants are great for the tank's appearance, remove nitrates from the water, and fish appreciate having somewhere to hide. Some fish even need to eat plants. Use plenty!
This is usually pretty simple - most tropical fish will happily
eat a flake food. You can also buy flake foods to boost their colour,
if you prefer. Don't try goldfish or pond fish pellets - they don't
You can offer live food, but beware of spreading infection or causing a worm colony to grow - try freezedried instead for a treat.
Catfish and bottom dwelling fish will prefer algae wafers, and (in particular Plecos) need bogwood to chomp on. You can also buy pellets called Plecochips which include algae and wood. In fact all my fish enjoy wafers and pellets, so I need to distract them with flake while I drop the pellets in for the catfish. My Pleco also enjoys cucumber and celery, but although you can get special clips to hold the vegetables, I find that they decompose quickly and clog the filter.
Don't forget that many fish are omnivorous; if they can get it in their mouth, they will eat it! Small fish are at risk from bigger ones; baby fish are almost certain to be eaten, if you manage to breed any; dead fish will be cannibalised. This is quite natural, so don't let it repulse you - just choose your fish carefully!
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This page last updated: 01 September 2022
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