Last Updated: 7/20/98
The descriptions, care, sexing, and breeding of the following specific fish have been moved to Robyn's Fishy Page Too.
Rosy Red Minnows and Fathead Minnows
White Cloud Mountain Minnows
Zebra Danios, Blue Danios, Leopard Danios, and Gold (Albino Zebra) Danios
General Care and Maintenance
The Nitrogen Cycle
Lighting, Relationship to Algae Growth, and Fish Sleeping
Ornament and Plant Cleaning
Tearing Down Setups
Health and Quarantining
The Secrets of Pantyhose
Newsgroups, Catalogs, and Web Sites
50 gallon tank with goldfish setup since 3/29/96:
*Fair - born around 1993, won at fair on 8/16/94, 9 inches, orange and white common male, picture taken 11/6/97.
*Quinn - born around 1994-5, bought on 12/16/96, 6 inches, blue oranda male, picture taken 11/6/97.
*Wade - born around 1995, bought on 12/16/96, 3 inches, calico oranda female (male behavior and some tubercules; I only assume to be female since the males devoured all of Wade's fins off), picture taken 11/6/97.
*Ziggy - born around 1996-7, bought on 10/6/97, 2 inches, red cap oranda, sex unknown, bad picture taken 11/6/97.
One large onion plant
One bunch of anacharis (partially eaten)
One pot of dying hairgrass
Magnum 350 Pro canister system with two biowheels
Air bar run by half a Whisper 800
Lots of fake plants
Glass lid with strip light holding 30W fluorescent
300 W Visitherm heater set to 68 degrees F
A piece of slate, driftwood, and a large clay pot
20 gallon tank:
Longfin albino zebra danio (aka gold danios) - one female
Longfin zebra danio - one female (father deceased longfin albino zebra danio (3/17/98), mother deceased longfin blue danio)
Longfin leopard danio - one male, added 4/18/98 to relieve above females of eggs (he went right to work on their egg bound problem)
White Cloud Mountain Minnows - four females and three males (one pair is much older, bought on 8/10/95, rest bought 7/97), plus 2 of their young born 3/98, one baby is already displaying as a male (5/98)
Rosy Red Minnows - one female
Fathead Minnows - one female (born to rosy red father above, mother deceased fathead)
Countless uninvited tiny species of ramshorn snail
3 rainbow shrimp - supposed to eat brush algae and grow to 3 inches, just got on 3/15/98
Lots of plants including: anubias nana, java fern, java moss, bacopa, floating fern (grows like a weed!), frogbit (covers entire surface), hygrophila, baby's tears, and a bunch whose names I forget.
Penguin 160 with Biowheel
Air bar run by half a Whisper 800
Glass lid with double strip light holding two 20W fluorescent Triton bulbs
100 W Visitherm heater set to 70 degrees F
Driftwood, two half small clay pots, and river stones
10 gallon tank:
Common plecostomus - one, sex unknown (male?), 9 inches long as of 7/98, moved from 50 gallon, way too big for this tank, killed pair of gorgeous longfin rosy barbs (6/98) with him after a year of co-habitation!!
Java moss attached to a clip, plecy uproots and/or eats everything except the onion plant when he was in the 50 gallon tank.
Penguin Mini with Biowheel
Air stone run by ancient small air pump
Glass lid with strip light holding 15 W fluorescent Triton
50 W Visitherm heater set to 75 degrees F
Large piece of driftwood for plecy and his cucumber holder
5 and 2.5 gallon tanks used as quarantine and for fry or salamander rearing as needed with corner filter, 25 W heater, and glass lids.
I feed my fish two times a day, year round. They get many kinds of flakes and freeze dried foods. I rotate about six kinds of foods for the goldfish including various goldfish flakes and pellets. The other fish are rotated on tropical fish flakes of a few kinds; freeze dried blood worms, daphnia, and tubifex; micropellets; and spirulina flakes. When I have fry around or feel like giving them a treat, I hatch baby brine shrimp for all the fish except the goldfish and plecostomus who will not eat them.
The key to a clean tank with healthy plants and fish is water changes. These water changes should always include vacuuming of the substrate (or at least stirring it up) unless the tank is heavily planted. Avoid vacuuming extensively in planted tanks. The percent water you change depends on the tank size, number and type of fish and plants, filter strength, and condition of your tap water. First, the larger the tank, the less percentage of water that you need change. The more fish that you have, the more water you should change. The more plants that you have, the less water that needs to be changed. If you have a large, strong filter, the less water you need change. Lastly, the closer your tap water to the tank water, the more water you can change. If your tap water is very high in chlorine, chloramine, phosphates, nitrates, metals, etc., then you should change less to reduce fish shock (and be sure to add whatever needed to adjust the conditions to meet those of your tank). Also, the pH or hardness may be off. If you have salt water tanks, obviously you will want to change less water since it is a pain (and costly) to make up salt water. Besides adding salt, you may add other trace minerals, etc. All this said, water changes should range from 10-50% and from once a week (for most freshwater tanks) to two weeks (for large freshwater tanks or one with lots of plants) to three or four weeks (for saltwater tanks). I personally change 50% of all my tanks once a week. Changing your water more often (you can change a smaller percent) leads to less of a shock since the water is usually not as dirty yet. I use a python hose to vacuum my tank as I change water. They run best if fed by gravity. Without such a vacuum hose, hauling the 40 gallons of water I change weekly in buckets instead would tempt me not to change as much.
If you have tap water, you MUST add a dechlorinator. Some contain aloe vera like Stress-Coat which is good for injured fish and to replace the slime coat. You can add live bacteria in a powder or liquid form. I add Stress-Zyme with every water change. Salt can be added as a general tonic at about one Tablespoon per five gallons. Salt should be added in higher doses to saltwater tanks (duh!), brackish water tanks, and tanks with livebearers (mollies, swordtails, guppies). Tanks with soft water or that contain goldfish should always have about one Tablespoon per five gallons of salt present. Be sure the salt is free of iodine and sold specifically for aquarium use. Certain catfish and loaches may not be able to handle too much salt. Another weekly additive is liquid plant food. Follow the doses on the bottle as it varies. Finally, if you have fish from hard water areas like African cichlids or marine fish, there are many additives you can or should add. As I have not kept such tanks, I will not say anything further. Consult someone familiar with your type of setup.
All small tanks should have a filter that turns over the tank at least a few times an hour. There are three times of filtration: biological, mechanical, and chemical. The first is necessary unless you change water every day. The second two are good to have too but some people do not use them. Chemical filtration, especially, is often not used. Carbon for example, can actually be a detriment in a planted tank. Undergravel filters are often sold as filters but I am not one of their fans. I prefer corner or hang-on-the-tank filters. Whatever kind you have, it is most important to clean it regularly. Any media should be rinsed regularly and replaced (except for biological media). Carbon should be change every two to four weeks depending on how much you use.
Much has been said about the nitrogen cycle and its importance. For people who change very little of their water and not often, this is very important. Also, for ponds, it is important initially. But, if you change 30-50% of the water every week with treated similar water, then the nitrogen cycle is not so important. I also add Stress-Zyme which has live bacteria in it to help the nitrogen cycle. There are many such products and conflicting reports on whether they do any good at all. In water above pH 7, two groups or species of bacteria (controversy now abounds on what species actually do it) convert ammonia to nitrite to nitrate (NH3 =>NO2- => NO3-). In acidic water, it is ammonium (NH4+) which starts the process, which is less toxic than ammonia. Nitrite and ammonia can kill fish easily. Nitrate is less toxic and provides food for many live plants and algae. The helpful bacteria take a month or two to get up to full speed with the fish waste load. The bacteria do best between 70 and 90 degrees F. They die in too cold or hot water. In cold water, fish usually hibernate and produce less waste; therefore, the bacteria are not needed in winter. The key to keeping fish safe from their own wastes and other sources of ammonia and nitrite is to make water changes with vacuuming and to add only a few fish at a time when setting up a tank.
There are two main algae cleaning options. The first is to physically do it yourself with algae pads and scrapers. If done every week, this is no big deal. Left to fester, the algae is nearly impossible to remove. The other option is algae eating fish or snails. These include many species of plecostomus, otocinclus, and even mollies. Ramshorn, trapdoor, and mystery snails will eat algae too. Apple, golden inca, three-horned, and pond snails will eat some algae but will also eat most plants you might have. When keeping any algae eater, be sure to have supplemental foods (cucumber, kale, algae tablets, etc.) to provide when there is not enough algae. Also, be aware of their potential sizes and compatabilities with your other fish. I have not mentioned using chemicals. Most chemicals will kill most plants and may even harm the fish. I never use algicides. I do occasionally use a product which is a polymer which causes algae to clump in my pond. I causes less harm but is only a short term solution; in fact, it only increases visibility an inch or two. In ponds and large tanks, UV sterilizers can be used to kill suspended algae (and anything else alive that goes past it). Providing higher plants in large quantities in both aquariums and ponds also provides competition for nutrients and results in less algae.
My fish tank lights are on from about 6:30 am to 6:00 pm. I do not vary this during the year although that is often a good idea. The natural sunlight extends the fishes' days during summer to provide seasonal changes. Fluorescent lights are best unless you want a ton of plants or saltwater tanks with corals. Incandescent lights are only good short term or specifically to add heat (like for lizards). I do not know enough about halogens, metal halides, etc. to speak about them. If you do not have algae eaters, you should only have the lights on for about 8-11 hours with less light yielding less algae (assuming no direct sunlight). If you have a hungry, large plecostomus to feed or a lot of small algae eaters, you should keep the lights on for 10-13 hours a day. Less than about 8 hours a day (unless there is a lot of natural light) or more than about 14 hours will confuse the fish. Yes, fish sleep! They lay on the bottom, in plants, etc. during the night if diurnal and during the day if nocturnal. Diurnal fish need to be in the relative dark to sleep well just like most humans. Nocturnal fish will not forage and be active unless it is relatively dark. Most fish cannot block all light from their eyes since they have no true eyelids but some catfish can block out light with flaps of skin (plecostomus for example), and others (cories for example) can blink their eyes. Fish woke from sleep by bright light often dart around in panic.
New plants should be treated to kill snails, algae, and any fish parasites or bacteria. They can be soaked in alum, potassium permanganate, or a 1:20 solution of bleach to water. Only soak for about ten minutes in a bleach solution or the plant will die too. Soaking plants in about .4 Tablespoons of KmnO4 per gallon or about 15 mg/L should disinfect them. Doses for treatment of fish must be much lower. I do not know the recommended dose of alum.
Ornaments and fake plants can be cleaned by soaking in a ~1:20 solution of bleach to water for a few hours or as long as needed. Then, soak in fresh water with dechlorinator added.
Occasionally, you may decide to tear down a tank. This means removing everything, cleaning
everything, and setting everything back up. Reasons to consider such a drastic step include:
uncontrollable pest or disease outbreak, large change in water quality to dangerous levels, large
amount of fish deaths, a tank too beyond dirty to clean without tearing it apart, a total crash (that
means everything dies), a lot of live plants dying, lots of algae, simply creating or getting rid of a
setup, etc. I have torn down tanks when I have gotten new tanks and moved a lot of fish around,
due to uncontrollable planaria outbreaks, a few times when most of my fish died, and also when
the tank gets super dirty.
The first step is to provide a temporary home for any plants or animals. A small tank or bucket works. Fill it with water from the main tank (unless you are tearing down due to water quality in which case well-aerated, fresh water with additives at a similar temperature is better) and aerate it well. Move the fish and any other living things. Next, drain most of the tank water. Then, remove all the ornaments, rocks, gravel, etc. Soak these in a 1:20 bleach solution for a few hours. In the mean time, wash the tank out. After getting all visible dirt, algae, etc. off, rinse with the dilute bleach. Then rinse with fresh water with dechlorinator. Rinse and rinse a lot. Also, soak the ornaments, gravel, etc. in fresh water with dechlorinator for another two hours. Set the tank back up. Rinse the gravel in a bucket again and put back in the tank using water to help. Fill the tank half full with tap water. Put in any ornaments, etc. You can also wash the live plants in the same bleach solution and then dechlorinator but for only about 10 minutes in each. Remove dead parts, rub off algae, re-clump certain plants together, and put the plants back. Fill the tank to the top and add any additives (dechlorinator, live bacteria, and a little aquarium salt are important choices). Add aeration and full filtration. If any live animals can stay in their temporary quarters overnight, that is best. Aerate the water overnight before adding animals back. Watch them for distress. Now, you have essentially a new tank.
There are too many fish health concerns to go over. There are dozens of species of bacteria, viruses, protozoans, insects, arachnids, fungi, cancers, and other critters that can harm and/or kill fish. Refer to a good book like the Manual of Fish Health (see below) or ask on a newsgroup (see below) about specific problems. There are two keys to preventing this. First, quarantine all new fish for at least two weeks. Watch for any problems. As a precaution, I treat them with a general parasite killer for a few days. Second, do regular partial water changes and filter cleanings. Keep an eye on water chemistry, fish behavior, etc. If something does come up, there are hundreds of medications on the market. Before using one at full dose, give it at half dose for a day or so. Some medications in some waters are more toxic to some fish. I have lost more fish to medications than the problem for which I was treating. For example, penicillin once wiped out about 15 fish out of 18. In this case, the antibiotic probably killed all the good bacteria and the fish died of ammonia poisoning in less than a day. Some fish, like catfish, cannot take large concentrations of copper and other medications. I have lost cory habrosus and otocinclus to medications. But, I have had good experiences, like a heavily fungused goldfish recovering with medication. In my experience, the "cure" is often worse than the disease.
Most fry can be treated similarly. For the first few weeks, keep them in a 5 or 10 gallon tank. Include a corner filter with carbon and floss inside. Use pantyhose (see next section) to cover the inlet. Alternatively, use a sponge filter. If you can include floss or filter material from an active tank, that is good to provide bacteria. Adding bacteria may help here too. Any filter used should be driven by a light flow of air bubbles to provide aeration and break the surface but not beat the fry to death. If eggs are placed in the tank, light aeration is all that is needed until you start feeding. Do not feed until fry are free swimming. Besides the filter with air, you will also need a heater if the room ever goes below about 75 degrees F or you are raising fry that need warmer temperatures. Set the heater to about 75 degrees F for most fry. Before you add the fry or eggs, fill the tank either with water from a healthy setup tank or start fresh. If you start fresh to lessen chances of bad organisms from a lively tank, heavily aerate the water for at least a few hours and add about .5 Tablespoons per gallon salt (either specifically for freshwater fish or marine salt), dechlorinator, and anything else you desire like bacteria. Cover the tank with plexiglass or glass to keep moisture in and other pets (if any) out. Catfish and labyrinth fry especially will gulp air. If they are in 75 degree F water and gulp 65 degree F air, they could die. It is also a good idea to add lighting above the tank for a few hours after you add food. Both live foods and fry are attracted to light; thus, the fry find the food easier. Newborn fry are tough. Besides the filter and heater, the tank should be empty. This is so that once you start feeding, you can clean the tank. Use a piece of air line tubing or vacuum tubing to vacuum debris off of the bottom every day or two. How often you do this depends on the number and size of fry and the food you are feeding.
One fry food is infusuria bought through the mail, cultured from ponds, or made at home with dry formulas you can buy. It is composed mostly of paramecium (a small animal). A great food is baby brine shrimp. You can buy eggs and hatch them in salt water. Tiny fry cannot eat them until they are a few weeks old. Other live foods of various sizes include microworms, daphnia, cyclops, euglena, and more. Try to provide other foods as well. There are a number of prepared foods on the market: Tetramin for egglaying and live birth fish, Liquifry, and others. A number of people have come up with homemade foods too, often including strained egg yolk. Judging the amount to feed is extremely difficult to learn and takes trial and error. It is very easy to either starve the fry or kill them with excess food. Once the fry are large enough that you can see their mouths working, you can provide small pieces of the same things that their parents eat. As the fry grow, feed them more, vacuum the tank more, and provide larger tanks as needed. Once the fry are large enough to live with their parents (without being eaten) and eat their food, they are ready to be considered fish.
Check out more breeding information at:
JAWS - information from dozens of breeders
Cathy's Homepage of Tropical Fishkeeping - a full overview of all aspects of breeding
People often ask what to do about their fish and aquaria while on vacation. If you are gone less than a week, you need not do anything. Simply do routine maintenance and do not feed while gone. Also, do not feed extra food before leaving or upon returning to "make up" for being gone. If gone for a week or more, you should change the water and vacuum the day before leaving. Change however much water you normally change, between 10 and 50 percent. Be sure to add additives. See water changes and additives above. Also, repeat this the day after you return. As far as feeding, you have a few choices. First, you could chose not to feed. Fish in well tended tanks with enough room, algae, and/or plants to nibble on can live for two weeks just fine without added food. If you have live plants, keep the lights on timers. Never leave lights on 24 hours a day. The fish cannot sleep. If you do not have algae eaters, live plants, or algae for eating, turn off all artificial light. Indirect window light is fine. The fish will be less active when it is darker. To achieve this, you could also turn down the heater if the fish can take it. Second, you could have an experienced aquarist care for your fish. This would be your best choice. Third, you could have an inexperienced person tend to your fish. If you chose the last choice, it is important that you leave certain things for them. Put each day's food in small ziploc bags or other containers so that the person will give the correct amount of food. Be sure that they know what to do about the filters if a problem should come up. They also need to know what to do if the power goes off. This can mess up timers, filters, etc. Most importantly, they must have your phone number and check with you regularly. If you are gone for more than a few weeks, you will need to arrange for someone with experience to change water and clean the tank. Forth, you could use battery-driven automatic fish feeders. Even with these, it is good if someone checks on the fish every once in a while. Another choice is to use time-released hard foods that look like white rocks. I do not recommend these since they just foul the water, and the fish do not like their "taste" anyway.
Pantyhose has many little-used applications. Some are aware that it can be used to tie tomatoes and other plants to stakes. It is also great to cut off just about 8 inches of a foot and use these for your fish. First, I bleach the footsies (stocking toes) for about half a day and then soak them in dechlorinator for half a day. You can put floss, carbon, zeolite, peat moss, or anything in the stocking. Then tie it closed. Put it in the bottom of an Accuclear filter, in the back of a Penguin filter, in a box filter, in a canister filter, or any number of other types of filters. This is cheaper than buying the carbon built into a floss holder or some other fancy filter. Another secret of pantyhose is over a filter inlet. Those fry getting sucked into the corner filter or fancy goldfish tails getting torn up by a Magnum 350 inlet (in my case) or other suction problems? Use whatever size footsie you need to cover the inlet. Voila! Filtration without sucking up fish! A lady reading this recounted a story of her husband using a plastic tampon container as a temporary strainer for the filter after the extension tube came off! There are things lying all over the house that can be used for your aquaria!
I have the following books about fish and aquariums. There are many others available as well with a range of prices and qualities.
You and Your Aquarium by Dick Mills, Alfred A. Knopf, 1993. A great beginner's book.
The Manual of Fish Health by Dr. Chris Andrews, et. al., Tetra Press, 1988. Great book!
The Living Aquarium by Peter Hunnam, Grange Books, 1994.
The Optimum Aquarium by Kasper Horst and Horst Kipper, Aqua Documenta, 1985. This book, which I received from a book sale, may be out of print. It is one of the best books on a complete aquarium and its coverage on plant care is extraordinary.
Baensch Aquarium Atlas (there are three volumes) by Dr. Riehl and Hans Baensch, Mergus, 1994, 1993, and 1996. My favorite books, great photos, and tons of information on a lot of fish and plants!
The Encyclopedia of Freshwater Tropical Fishes by Dr. Herbert Axelrod, et. al., T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1996. This is a good choice if you can only have one aquarium book.
Goldfish and Koi in Your Home by Dr. Herbert Axelrod and W. Vorderwinkler, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1984.
Koi Varieties: Japanese Colored Carp-Nishikigoi by Dr. Herbert Axelrod, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1992. It has a zillion pictures of prize winning koi.
Freshwater Fishes of the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, & Delaware by Fred Rohde, et. al., The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Breeding Aquarium Fishes: A Complete Introduction by Dr. Herbert Axelrod, T.F.H. Publications, Inc., 1987.
Aquarium Fish Breeding by Ines Scheurmann, Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1990.
Newsgroups, Catalogs, and Web Sites
Newsgroups to which you might subscribe:
A free catalog from That Pet Place can be obtained by calling 1-888-THATPET. I get most of my dry goods from them due to the excellent prices.
R.C. Steele in New York has some aquarium supplies at good prices. Call 1-800-872-3773 for a free catalog.
Pet Warehouse has a large catalog including advanced aquarium supplies which you call obtain by calling 1-800-443-1160. Their web site is said to be the "world's largest aquatic web site."
Petsolutions recently sent me a catalog. They have many aquarium supplies. Their number is 1-800-737-3868 if you would like a catalog.
Links to Links:
More Aquarium Links
Freshwater Fish Directory
General Fish Care and Miscellaneous:
JAWS - a fishy web page with a ton of
information including care, breeding, links, etc.
Cathy's Homepage of Tropical Fishkeeping - this page has almost everything including breeding information
The Master Index of Freshwater Fishes
Fred and Chantal's Aquarium - an excellent fish site, in French, includes pictures and information on white cloud mountain minnows, zebra danios, plecostomus, and otocinclus
Badmans tropical fish - a very large fish site with lots of information, not "Bad."
North American Native Fishes Association
Goldfish Page for Beginners
Zebra Fish Book - care and breeding of zebra danios (for research)
Arowana Page - lots of information on arowanas and general links too