This is a simple article, but is a complex subject. This hobby is one of opinions and experiences, fact and fallacy, grey areas and rock solid fact, right and...well...not always wrongs. The biggest problem most of us face as we enter the hobby and as we proceed onward is the presence of overwhelming misconception. There are so many facts we rely on in the hobby that are based on absolutely nothing, or worse, incorrect concepts, that it seems at times difficult to discern what will or will not work. What I am attempting to do with this article is to illustrate that there is only one rule in the hobby, and that is that there are no rules.
"I'll start with a small tank and see if I can handle it" This is where most people start. In fact this is usually the first step to problems. Smaller aquariums are smaller environments, and are more easily thrown off balance. Of course when we begin we usually have no real understanding of what 'balance' is. This is a whole subject unto itself, and matter suitable for another article. Without an understanding of the nitrogen cycle, this is usually not easily to comprehend. Commonly the concept is that it is as simple as setting up a glass box, adding fish, and sitting back and enjoying the fish. Realism sets in when the tank is cloudy, smells, and equipment seems not enough to handle the load. Larger aquariums allow for a little more error while we learn the fine points of proper fish keeping. The more water, the more tolerance the tank gives before disaster sets in.
"Start with some Feeder Fish, when they die the tank is ready" This is one that is thankfully losing popularity. Feeder Fish are not aware that they are feeders. They consider themselves fish with potentially long and prosperous lives. They are no more willing to die a miserable death in a polluted atmosphere than you would be. The best way to start is with a few fish, small and selected because you want them to survive. I recommend starting with a single fish for each 5 gallons of water, and each of these fish should be young and small. If you plan on keeping Oscars, start with young ones when possible, and even fewer, since their waste is more profuse. This illustration is used because different fish produce differing amounts of waste. That waste is what is being dealt with as the tank begins to break in, and more waste means more potential problems. Start conservatively, start with what you want to survive.
"Starter Kits have all I need to get going" This is one that catches a ton of new hobbyists, and thankfully we learn early on that this one isn't the great bargain we thought when we bought into it. Why be a victim of the dumping ground of substandard products when you can build a quality setup for near the same money as you will have once you replace all the lousy starter kit equipment with that which actually does the job.
"Take your fish home with Stress Coat in the bag" With all due to Aquarium Pharmaceuticals, a quality company that makes, for the largest part, quality products, the marketing person there is an absolute genius. Aloe Vera is great for thickening the product, but it does little or nothing for relieving stress or healing anything, since it does not adhere to the fish, does not increase the slime coat, or for that matter much beyond de-chlorinating the water. But where the genius comes into play is the exposure. Someone at Aquarium Pharm set out to sell the shops on the value of the product and got shops to put a shot into each bag of new fish. While it certainly does no harm, I doubt it does great things either...but the new fish keeper sees it in use and figures it does...and buys it. The tactic has sold a lot of product and has convinced a whole generation that Stress Coat is a needed part of what we do.
"One fish per gallon" This one gets more of us into hot water than any other. A 'rule' as open-ended as this is dangerous. Not to mention the variants...an inch of fish per gallon...an inch per ten square inches...none of these is dependable, although the lat is better than the rest. Can you imagine 10 Oscars in a ten gallon tank...or for that matter a 10 inch one in the same tank...and yet 10 Neon tetras in the ten would seem empty. Each tank needs to be tailored to the fish that will live there...adults of course...and so much more. To set a 'rule' is almost foolhardy.
OK...that is a good start...there are many many more examples, and next month we will explore a few more fallacies and misconceptions...and more after that. Ideas for more examples are of course welcome.