I got a fish tank for Christmas...NOW WHAT?


Tis the season for a whole new group of hobbyists. First let me state a simple welcome to the hobby! There is much to learn, and much to enjoy.

 

The main objective of this article is to help you along the way to success instead of frustration and headache. When you first get the aquarium, you have visions of all the nice fish swimming happily in the tank, with bursts of color and grace that will liven up the room this glass world will occupy. And believe me, it will...but you need to know the basics to make it happen.

 

Step One...Read the manual.

 

What manual? That's usually what you will find. Oh, yes, some of the equipment comes with somettimes poorly described setup instructions but even the majority of books on setting up an aquarium are sorely lacking. Perhaps we can fill the void here a bit. This article is a makeshift manual.

 

Step Two...Prepare the tank and equipment.

 

This is important. It is too tempting to just throw it together and head for the fish store. Take a few minutes to clean the tank. Use warm water, but NO SOAP. Soap leaves a very thin skin on everything it touches, and this skin will later coat the top of the water surface, cutting down on the natural exchange of gasses that takes place, including the absobtion of oxygen, which is needed to keep the fish alive. Even new tanks have a certain amount of dust and dirt that will make their way into the tank, and this will be removed with a simple wipe down with a damp paper towel and a rinsing.

 

Make sure all equipment is complete and ready to use. Check your filters for all pieces that are supposed to be there, and as needed assemble them. Get your heater ready, and make sure that your gravel is rinsed and ready for placement in the tank. Wash any decorations, rocks and plants in preparation to place them in the tank.

 

Choose a suitable location for the tank. Make sure that if you are not using a suitable stand, that the unit that will house the tank will hold the weight. A quick reference of weight is as follows:

 

Tank Size in gallons (U.S.)

Approximate Weight

2 1/2 gallon

27 lbs

5 1/2 gallon

62 lbs

10 gallon

111 lbs

15 gallon

170 lbs

20 gallons

225 lbs

25 gallons

282 lbs

29 gallons

330 lbs

30 gallons

343 lbs

35 gallons

390 lbs

38 gallons

427 lbs

40 gallons

455 lbs

55 gallons

625 lbs

65 gallons

775 lbs

75 gallons

800 lbs

90 gallons

1050 lbs

120 gallons

1400 lbs

125 gallons

1460 lbs

150 gallons

1800 lbs

180 gallons

2100 lbs

Figures from AllGlass Aquariums, Inc.

 

As you can see, the weight of an aquarium is a factor that needs to be taken into account. An entertainment center may not be the ideal place to put it. Also to be considered is the availability of electricity. An aquarium will usually require a minumum of three outlets, perhaps more. The hood, Filter, and heater all require electricity, as well as an auxilliary air pump or additional filters, so make sure a free outlet is nearby. Then a consideration of available space is to be taken into account. Tanks do not easily bend to fit tight places, and you need to allow room for working on the tank. You need to know the tank demensions when placing the aquarium. Sizes are as follows:

 

 

Tank Volume

Width

Length

Height

Height on stand

2 1/2 gallon

6 in

12 in

8 in

**************

5 1/2 gallon

8 in

16 in

10 in

**************

10 gallon

10 in

20 in

12 in

45 in

15 gallon

12 in

24 in

12 in

45 in

15 gallon high

10 in

20 in

18 in

51 in

20 gallon long

12 in

30 in

12 in

45 in

20 gallon high

12 in

24 in

16 in

49 in

20 gallon Xtall

10 in

20 in

23 in

55 in

25 gallon

12 in

24 in

20 in

52 in

29 gallon

12 in

30 in

18 in

50 in

30 gallon

12 in

36 in

16 in

48 in

30 gallon breeder

18 in

36 in

12 in

***************

30 Gallon Xtall

12 in

24 in

24 in

56 in

38 gallon

12 in

36 in

19 in

51 in

40 gallon long

12 in

48 in

16 in

48 in

40 gallon breeder

18 in

36 in

16 in

**************

45 gallon high

12 in

36 in

23 in

55 in

55 gallon

12 in

48 in

21 in

53 in

65 gallon

18 in

36 in

25 in

57 in

75 gallon

18 in

48 in

21 in

53 in

90 gallon

18 in

48 in

25 in

57 in

120 gallon

24 in

48 in

25 in

57 in

125 gallon

18 in

72 in

23 in

55 in

150 gallon

18 in

72 in

28 in

60 in

180 gallon

24 in

72 in

25 in

57 in

Figures from AllGlass Aquariums, Inc.

 

So once space and support are determined, and located near electricity, we can begin to set up the tank. The first thing to check once the stand is in place is to be sure the tank is level. A tank that is not level runs a risk of cracking the glass or popping the silicone seal that holds it together. Either way it can be disaster. You may need to shim the stand, or place a sheet of 1/2 inch styrofoam under the tank, between it and the stand. Styrofoam will give to allow for balancing as water is added.

 

Once tank is in place, add gravel (place undergravel filter if one is included before gravel) to tank bottom uniformely, sloping slightly towards the back of the tank. This will allow the gravel to tie in with any background you use.

 

Speaking of backgrounds, these are very popular, and help hide filters, airlines, and other nasties. If you want to make your background look really good, take a moment to coat the back of the tank with a very hin layer of vaseline. It will keep the background right against the glass and make it look like it a part of the tank!

 

Once gravel is in place, you can place plants and decorations as you think they will look best. Of course, once the water is in the tank, you may find that you want to make some changes, but this gets you started. After all is in place, take a small saucer or bowl and place it on the gravel...this is where you want to pour the water as it comes into the tank to help keep the water from blowing the gravel all over the tank and creating a depression. Once about half full or so you can remove the saucer and continue to fill. I suggest using water that has been drawn at the temperature you want to keep the tank at overall, much easier to set the heater.

 

Once the water is in, you can place the heater and plug it in. CAUTION: Do not plug in any heater unless the tank is full, and do not leave heaters plugged in when changing water, this could cause glass to crack. To adjust the heater, turn the knob on top until the light comes on. You may need to turn the knob a few times to get the pilot light to come on, the higher/lower indicators simply show which direction to turn. Once the light comes on, back the knob off slightly till the light begins to flicker while your fingers are on the knob, and goes out when you let go. This will generally keep the temperature where you want without much further adjustment.

 

Place your filter (filtration is a long topic, for more information or ideas on the ability of your filter to handle the tank you have, posting a message at the link below will prove to be of great assistance) in it's desired location and fill with water...and plug it in. It should begin to run and any noise will quiet very soon. If you use an undergravel filter, this is not applicable. At this point add your selected water conditioners and install patience. You should allow the tank to run for at least two days before adding the fish.

 

Now the good part!

 

You've set up the tank and it's running, now for the fish. But before you hop in the car and drive to the Fish Store to buy all those pretty fish you've dreamed about for the last couple days...you need to understand a little about this underwater world you have created. It is a clean sterile environment. Sounds good, but it is actually the worst place you can put fish. There is no biological means of dealing with the waste of the fish, and as your fish eat, they will produce waste. Adding too many fish too quickly leads directly to disaster. Consult with a GOOD fish store employee to find out the kinds of fish that you both like and will get along. Some fish are not good for beginning tanks, but if you eventually want them you should start with more durable fish that will live well with the fish you will have when all is done.

 

So how do you know who is a GOOD fish store employee? Well, for starters look for the person who draws a crowd. If there are several employees around, but one seems to have more people talking to them, this is likely the person who knows the most. It is worth the wait. Talk openly to this person, explain your setup to them, and ask opinions. They may suggest other types of filters or other equipment, this can usually be taken with a grain of salt, or bring it back to the message board to find out if what they say is true. What you week is compatibility of fish, numbers of fish, and ways to care for them. Always start with smaller fish, they are younger and healthier, and will produce less waste in the crucial first few weeks.

 

So all this mention of the first few weeks, just what does this mean. When you add fish to a tank, a natural process begins to occur that is commonly referred to as "cycling" the tank. This is more correctly beginning the nitrogen cycle, a natural process where beneficial bacteria break down the waste products of the fish to form byproducts that are not harmful to the fish. To understand this better, but to avoid technical confusion, the following should make it more understandable.

 

Fish produce waste similar to other living animals. Solid waste is visable, but the liquid waste is released in the form of ammonia. A set of bacteria begin to form which will break ammonia down. The first byproduct of this ammonia is nitrite. Both ammonia and nitrite are harmful to fish, and large enough amounts will lead to illness and death in your fish. But thankfully nature provides another set of bacteria that break down the nitrites into more non-toxic nitrate. The whole process takes about 4 to 6 weeks as a rule, although some tanks cycle faster, some slower. The more fish you have, the higher the levels get, and the longer it takes.

 

It is best to start with one smaller fish for each 5 gallons of water in the tank. This allows for enough ammonia production to effectively establish the bacteria colonies without producing so much as to start lilling off the fish. Keep in mind that even though after a week or so the bacteria will have the ammonia pretty much under control, the resultant nitrite is present, and the fish are still producing more ammonia which is becoming nitrite, and the levels of nitrite become much more intense than the ammonia, and take longer to control.

 

After the levels drop to zero, you can safely add a few more fish at intervals of about two weeks, to allow the bacteria colonies to adjust to the higher levels of waste produced by the new fish. Give a little patience and reap a ton of reward. You will be surprised what enjoyment you will get from your tank.

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