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More Decoration DIY: Materials and Aquarium Suitability

The first two installations of our DIY blog series – “Adding a Personal Touch to You Aquarium Decor” and “Aquarium Decoration Ideas – Fish Bowl Designs & DIY” – seem to have gotten your creative juices flowing so we’re back with another entry. The most frequent questions we’ve gotten since then have been about the materials that you are looking to put into your aquarium so we’re going to break down some of the most popular materials that you’ve all asked us about. Remember, these are just some basic guidelines and you may need to test the piece you’re trying to use.

 

Adhesives

  • Choosing the right glue or adhesive for your purpose can make or break a project.

    Choosing the right glue or adhesive for your purpose can make or break a project.

    Cyanoacrylate Glue (“Reef Glue”, “Krazy Glue”, “Super Glue”) – These glues are some of the most common, especially among aquarists and reef hobbyists. They are effective with many different types of materials and are very strong, particularly when bonding plastic materials. They work well with reattaching coral frags that may have dislodged or fixing ornaments and they cure quickly. Most of them tend to turn milky-white if they are put into the water while the glue is still wet but they are otherwise safe for lots of applications.

  •  Silicone Sealant – Silicone sealants are usually used to fix the seams of an aquarium but they can also be used in assembling ornaments and pieces within the aquarium. It is usually available in black or “clear” (usually more milky blue-white, in my experience) and can be thicker that cyanoacrylate glue, but it is durable and more flexible once cured. Be sure to read the directions to make it easier to use and cure it fully before using it in your aquarium.
  • Epoxy - Epoxy is a two-part adhesive that needs to be mixed together to activate. Underwater epoxies usually look like a putty with an outer coating over a contrasting center and are commonly found in white or a coralline-algae-colored purple. These epoxies are more cement-like than other adhesives and are good for creating rockwork formations but not as effective for surfaces that need a thinner, more transparent adhesive. Avoid using epoxies that aren’t designed for underwater use or with toxic materials, especially before the epoxy has fully cured.
  • Hot Glue Guns – Hot glue guns are arts-and-crafts staples but are also surprisingly effective in aquariums, most especially in freshwater tanks. For quick fixes like re-attaching an artificial plant that may have become detached from a base, they are the easiest to use and are non-toxic and ready to use soon after applying. Make sure the pieces are completely dry and clean and avoid using this glue in higher-temperature tanks.
  • Water-soluble glues – For obvious reasons, never use water-soluble glues like white craft glue in aquariums. They will never cure and will affect the water quality.

 

Paint

nailpolish

Nail polish is an easy and inexpensive solution for touch-ups and quick fixes.

  • Clear-coats – Clear-coat paints and “sealers” were some of the most popular materials in the questions we’ve received. We’ve received many questions on what kind of clear sealers an aquarists can use to cover an unsafe material and make it suitable for use in a tank. There are clear spraypaints and other paints that can be used to coat an ornament or other piece but none of these can guarantee safety. The smallest crack or opening in clearcoat can allow water in and to the surface underneath. Once the water has started to get in, it will continue to soak in and get below the clearcoat. None of these clearcoats can prevent metal from corroding or minerals from dissolving. If something isn’t safe for your tank to begin with, a clearcoat isn’t going to make it safe. Clearcoats are available in enamel or acrylic just like the paints we’ll discuss next…
  • Enamel – In my opinion, enamel paints are some of the most durable for underwater use once they are cured. Small jars can be found in many different colors in craft and hobby stores with the model-building supplies. Even most nail polishes are enamel; we’ve used nail polish to create numbered frag plugs in our retail store for years. Clear nail polish can be used for quick touchups as well. Enamel spray paints are good for quick coverage for ornaments or for backgrounds on the outside of tanks. For any form of enamel paint, make sure it is fully dried and cured before using it in your tank; “dry to the touch” does not necessarily mean it is cured. If the directions on the paint say to allow it to cure for several days, follow those instructions.
  •  Acrylic – Acrylic paint is a water-soluble paint but can be fairly water-resistant once it is cured. These paints have some mixed results among hobbyists. I prefer to keep acrylic out of the tank itself; acrylic spraypaints can be effective backgrounds on the tank but may not hold up as well in the tank and constantly underwater. The most popular of the “acrylic” paints for use in aquariums is Krylon Fusion paints. These paints are usually described as “acrylic alkyd enamels” and they share characteristics of enamels and acrylics. Many aquarists use these paints with good results, especially over plastics, but they are less effective on glass surfaces where many aquarists see the paint peeling or flaking off.

 

Decorations

Aquarium decorations are where you can really let your creative juices start flowing! From fishing lures and hockey pucks to Eiffel Towers and zombies, we’ve gotten lots of questions about new pieces you all have been considering for your aquariums. While I obviously cant cover every single object here, here are a few of the most common materials we’ve been seeing you consider and how suitable (or otherwise) they may be for your aquarium.

    • Metal – Avoid it. Sure, you can try covering it up to protect it from the water, but as we’ve discussed, any small moisture seeping to the metal can start affecting your tank. At best, it will likely have some surface corrosion. At worst, it can leach very harmful chemicals into your water and even conduct electricity. To be safe, look elsewhere for a decoration if the object you are considering is made from or has any pieces of any type of metal.
      Coral skeletons may be fine in some tanks but can affect the water quality in others.

      Coral skeletons may be fine in some tanks but can affect the water quality in others.

    •  Natural/organic material – Use caution. This is a definite grey area. Some materials may be safe for some types of systems but others will decompose or severely affect the water quality by changing the pH or hardness. Also, where you are getting these things from can have a serious impact. Avoid using anything that you may have scavenged from nature (the beach, the forest, etc) since anything that the piece has come into contact with will go into your tank, including possibly harmful chemicals like pesticides. As a rule of thumb, it is also best to avoid putting anything natural into a very different environment than where it came from. For example, adding marine shells or corals to a freshwater tank isn’t safe and wood from the forest won’t usually hold up underwater.
    •  Rocks/Minerals – This depending entirely on what rock or mineral you are considering. Some are safe, others will affect the water quality. You can try keeping the piece you are considering in a container of your tankwater for at least a few days and monitor the water chemistry to make sure everything is remaining stable. Most rocks that affect water quality contain calcium carbonate which will dissolve at a low pH, causing the hardness to rise and pH to then increase. These rocks are usually from the ocean in origin. If you suspect this, you can try sprinkling a few drops of vinegar on your rock. If it has calcium carbonate, you’ll see it start to fizz up and dissolve. You would NOT want to addthis rock to a freshwater tank where the pH will be below around 8.0.
    •  Glass – Plain glass is fine in an aquarium. Colored glass is usually safe too, as long as it is the glass itself that is colored. The risky part comes with glass that is painted or glazed. When constantly submerged, this coloring can start coming off or be very easy to scrape off and may be harmful to the livestock at that point. Most clear-coats like we discussed above don’t bond very well with glass and may not be enough to make the piece safe for the tank. Use caution with any colored pieces and test, test, test before adding it to a tank with livestock! Most plain, clear glass is safe though and can you can make some very interesting betta bowls from fun vases and glass containers found at craft stores!
Glass is durable and lasts hundreds of years underwater so it is usually suitable as an aquarium decoration.

Glass is durable and lasts hundreds of years underwater so it is usually suitable as an aquarium decoration.

  •  Dishware and Pottery (mugs, plates, bowls, etc) – These pieces are usually safe. As a general rule of thumb, if the mog/bowl/plate/etc is dishwasher-safe, it is probably aquarium-safe. A mug with a company logo can make a great aquarium decoration in your lobby, and simple plates and bowls can make good ledges and caves (especially in a pinch). If the piece ever actually has been in a dishwasher or in dish soap, make sure it is well-rinsed and clean of any soap or food residue before adding it to an aquarium. The same rules go for pottery as well. Some unglazed pottery like terracotta pots can be safe in an aquarium and make for good breeding caves, but if they’ve housed a plant at any time, they could have absorbed fertilizers or other chemicals. If this is the case, it would be best to use a clean, new pot than repurposing one. Some decorative glazes may also not be durable enough to handle aquarium conditions. When in doubt, leave it out!
  •  Plastic and Rubber – In general, safe!! Plain colored plastics are inert and can make excellent decorations! Toys like Lego building blocks can be great, customizable centerpieces to a tank but only use
    Silhouette-Tank

    Dishware like mugs can be excellent personal touches for most aquariums, and a good way to get your company’s logo in the tank!

    pieces free from decals and decorations that may soften and break up underwater. The same goes for hard rubber. The hockey fan in me is dying to set up a tank with a hockey puck pyramid and hockey puck archways…but again, just use plain pieces without decals or decorations.

  •  Polyresin – A number of questions that we received about possible ornaments were for figurines made from polyresin. Polyresin is, in itself, inert and safe for most tanks. The paint and embellishment used on it may not be. You can experiment with water identical to your tank conditions or try contacting the manufacturer of the piece to see if they can give you some more information. But, once again, when in doubt, leave it out!
  •  Stickers or decals – When decorating your tank, don’t be afraid to use all of the surfaces available to you! Throughout these decoartion ideas, I’ve said to avoid using anything with decals or decorations and this is true….underwater. Don’t be afraid to use vinyl cutouts, stickers, window clings or other stick-ons on the outside of the tank. You can add dimension to the decor by using the front, background or sides for images that you can’t get on the pieces inside the tank.

 
I hope this helps you clear up some DIY confusion and gives you some more ideas of pieces that you can (and can’t) use to decorate your aquarium. If you’ve come up with your own creative DIY aquarium ornament, we’d love to see it!

A New Display Tank: An Amano-inspired Planted “Canyon”

planted display tank

This new 60-gallon cube display tank is located at the entrance to our retail store Plant Room

Several week ago, we posted about a new cichlid display tank in our retail store Fish Room. Not far from that tank, we have another new display tank with a very different look and theme. This tank was designed and set up by myself and former Fish Room supervisor and biologist, Sara Stevens. We were inspired by the style of the world-famous Takashi Amano, an aquarist who popularized mind-blowing freshwater tanks designed to resemble terrestrial forest and landscapes. These tanks have a higher focus on the aquascaping and livestock is chosen as a compliment rather than the focus of the tank.

 

 

 

 

 

The "river" tapers off from the front corner to the back to create dimension and distance

The “river” tapers off from the front corner to the back to create dimension and distance

The Display Tank Concept and Design

While our tank doesn’t completely follow the true Amano style, we still wanted to focus on taking the aquarium out of the underwater setting and give it more of a land-based feel. We love the look of the petrified wood available at our retail store and decided to use this rock as our centerpiece. The petrified wood has a color and texture a lot like that found in canyons so we made use of perspective and the space available in the 60-gallon cube tank to create a large cliff face in the back and a smaller rockmount in the front, which meet in the back corner, giving us a “river” diagonally down the center of the tank. To create even more of a “river” appearance, we lined this canyon with pond liner to separate the fine white sand representing the river itself from the black Eco-Complete plant substrate in the rest of the tank. Sara did a great job of arranging the rockwork to add the illusion of depth as the river flows from the back to the front. Instead of a traditional underwater aquarium background, we used a desert background that turned out to be an excellent complement to our theme!

 

 

 

A few of the plants used to create a lush environment

A few of the plants used to create a lush environment

Live Plants

The live plants in the aquarium were all chosen to represent the forest surrounding our canyon and the plants growing down the riverbed. In any planted tank like this, the aquascaping will take time to grow in and become established. We wanted an almost overgrown look with the plants over time so we chose plants that would grow and spread. Plants were chosen that can grow and root into the cracks of the petrified wood and I plan to also establish low, carpeting plants in the foreground of the tank. The bunched plants in the background were chosen with a gradient in leaf size and color for a transitional, ombre look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

L-R: Marbled Hatchetfish, Forktail Rainbows, Glowlight Tetra)

L-R: Marbled Hatchetfish, Forktail Rainbows, Glowlight Tetra)

Live Fish and Inverts

The fish and invertebrates in the tank were some of the last additions we settled on. While Amano’s tanks use a lot of small, schooling fish like Neon Tetras (if any fish at all), we wanted to use some of the more overlooked fish in our Fish Room to show how gorgeous they can be when established in the right tank. The stars of this tank are several pairs of Forktail Rainbows. Their body shape and swimming style makes them the hawks circling high above our river canyon and the color they’ve developed is a great complement to the rockwork and plants. We added a school of Glowlight Tetras for some additional color and movement as well as a few pairs of a gorgeous freshwater goby known only by its scientific name, Stiphodon percnopterygionus (who we’ve taken to calling these little guys “Pterodactyl Gobies” because that scientific name is a mouthful, even for us!). Most recently, we’ve also added a few Marbled Hatchetfish for some extra surface movement and a True Siamese Algae Eater and freshwater Nerite Snails to help with cleanup.

 

 

 

Visit our Retail Store to see this tank morph and grow!

 

In a tank like this one, pre-planning is important. We had a concept drawn out before we started and made some adaptations to it as we went along (the original design had a sand volcano erupting in the back and spilling sand down a rockface) but all of the adaptations were made while keeping the overall look, theme and the future appearance of the tank in mind. Since the plants will take time to get to the look we had in mind while starting the tank, this kind of design and aquascaping isn’t one for an aquarist wanting a finished product right away. But, with a little planning, patience and imagination, you can end up with a gorgeously original display far from the average aquarium. Visit our Lancaster, PA retail store to see how this landscape grows or to create your own!

 

Tank Specifications:

 

 

 

Source:

Stiphodon percnopterygionus photo found on SeriouslyFishy.com species profile, © Leo Chan

Our Newest Aquarium Display: An African Cichlid Utopia Tank!

Have you stopped by our Lancaster, PA retail store lately?  If not, you are missing out on our new and exciting 220 gallon cichlid aquarium display.  Created by one of our cichlid experts Erett Hinton, the aquarium is located in our spacious fish room and displays the beautiful and natural environment that cichlids can bring into your own home.

 

Why Cichlids?

IMG_0713 (1)

The cichlid species is a diverse group of fish, each with distinct appearances and behaviors that make them attractive to aquarium hobbyists.  “I was fascinated by the color, variety and intelligence,” said Erett.   “Something that separates cichlids from other fresh and saltwater fish is that there are more variants in cichlids than any other variety of fish in the world.  New species are still being discovered every day and it continues to make the hobby more interesting.”

Erett is certainly no stranger to cichlids.  He has kept them since he was a young teenager, and operated his own cichlid breeding company in Florida.  “I ran it by myself for eight years, with about 200 tanks and 70 different African, South and Central American species.”   His experience is a tremendous addition to our knowledgeable fish room staff.

Erett has combined a variety of cichlids from the Malawi, Tanganyika and Victorian Lake regions into a single “African Cichlid Utopia Tank.”  The aquarium houses 71 fish selected from our fish room, included with a variety of plecos and clown loaches to give the ecosystem some added variety.

A total of 71 fish in a single aquarium may seem like a few too many, but there is a method to Erett’s design.  Cichlids are famously territorial by nature and if they were afforded space to take as their own, they would–and actively defend it.  “Crowding them takes their territorial behavior away,” says Erett, “and it creates more peace, with fewer fights and less fish loss.”

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid

One resident that stands out is the Cyphotilapia gibberosa or Blue Mpimbwe cichlid.  The Tanganyikan native displays a prominent forehead with an attractive deep blue color.  The Mpimbwe has a calm demeanor and is not afraid to show itself to tank admirers, making it a perfect specimen around which you can build a show aquarium.

The selection showcases the wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes available from the species that you might not see from other types of freshwater fish.

Equipment

Erett has housed this eclectic mix of fish in a Perfecto 220 gallon Aquarium donated by Marineland.  The six foot long aquarium provides the living space needed for a large number of fish.  Erett chose lace rock and antique coral rock for the natural decor and crushed coral for the substrate.  “The combination of rock elements and substrate help exfoliate higher pH and water hardness, to a degree which cichlids prefer.  It also creates a habitat they can thrive in and replicates their natural environment.”

Erett has doubled down on the filtration to accommodate the large bio-load that comes with so many fish.  Filtration for the aquarium includes two Marineland C-530 Canister Filters.  Together they provide the increased water flow and circulation necessary for the large aquarium.  Erett also includes sponge filters with his aquarium set ups.  He explains, “Sponge filters provide surface area for a super colony of beneficial biological bacteria.  It serves as part of the filtration that is never tampered with, allowing me to make larger water changes without harming the natural stability of the aquarium.”

 

Making Cichlids Feel At Home, In Your Home

IMG_0719 (1)African cichlids generally prefer a pH around 8.2 and enjoy temperatures around 79 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit.  They also prefer low nitrate levels, so frequent water changes and making sure not to overfeed are both critical.  Erett feeds a mixture of Pure Aquatic Cichlid Flakes and New Era Cichlid Pellets, both of which provide necessary nutrients for growth and help bring out natural vibrant coloration.

Replicating a cichlid’s natural environment with structural elements like rock and substrate, along with water quality parameters like pH and temperature, gives you the ability to view firsthand how cichlids would behave in their native habitats.  You can watch as they exhibit unique territorial behaviors and engage in breeding activity and ritual, allowing you to experience nature right in your own living room.

Come Check It Out!

This attractive cichlid display tank is just one of several hundred aquariums that can be found in our fish room.  If you’d like to check out the aquarium stop by our Lancaster, PA retail store.  If you have any questions about the tank or cichlids in general, you can ask Erett in person or speak with any of the members of our expert fish room staff.

 

The following components were used to construct Erett’s “African Cichlid Utopia Tank”: 

Marineland Perfecto 220 gallon aquarium

Marineland Perfecto 72 in. x 24 in. Glass Canopy

(3) Marineland 30 in. Single Bright LED Fixtures

Approx. 180lbs of lace rock and antique coral rock

Approx. 220 lbs of crushed coral

(2) Marineland C-530 Canister Filters

(2) Marineland Visi-Therm 400 watt Heaters

Sponge Filters

Air Pump and Airline Tubing

 

 

 

Aquarium Gravel and Substrate vs Bare-Bottom tanks: Pros and Cons

One of the first purchases most aquarists will make for a new aquarium, be it freshwater, saltwater, reef, discus, goldfish, cichlid or any other – is the gravel and substrate. It could be sand, crushed coral, Fluorite, neon pink pebbles, glass marbles or countless other materials  but it all tends to be the very first thing to go into an empty aquariums. But….why? Do you really need it? Are there alternatives? Much like the eternal home decorating debate of hardwood-versus-carpets, the battle brews among aquarists over what covers the bottom of their aquariums, a layer of substrate or nothing at all.

 

So why has substrate become such an integral part of the aquarium culture, and why are some aquarists now looking past it in favor of the bare glass or acrylic bottom of their aquariums? Much of it has to do with our understanding of the aquarium ecosystem now over what we knew years or even decades ago. Even as recently as five or ten years ago, undergravel filters were thought as indispensable for all types of aquariums and as such, gravel was thought vital to their function. We’ve come a long way with filtration technology since then, and we’ve also come a long way with understanding how the water chemistry in our aquariums functions. Alternatives and advancements have made the old undergravel systems nearly obsolete and the aquarium gravel that went on top of them is become more of an Option instead of a Requirement.

 

That said, how do you make the choice? Like so many other parts of our hobby, it comes down to personal preference and your goals. Bare-bottom tanks are becoming more common and have their benefits of substrated tank and vice versa; substrate is still a better choice than going bare for some other types of tanks. Weigh your options carefully before you choose which one is right for you. We’ll go over a head-to-head comparison in the major factors to consider to help you make your decision.

Cleaning a Fish Tank

 

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

An aquarium that is easy to clean and easy to care for is the dream of most aquarists. Bare-bottom tanks win this category easily. Ever wrestle with starting the siphon on a gravel vacuum, then have it clog up repeatedly with gravel when you are cleaning? With a bare-bottom tank, a gravel vacuum isn’t needed; you can just use tubing to vacuum up any waste sitting on the bottom of the tank and water pumps or powerheads can be used to circulate the water underneath and behind the rockwork more efficiently. It can be a lot easier to scrub algae off of the glass bottom and sides without having to worry about missing some at the gravel line or getting bits of sand stuck in your scrubber as well. For tanks like reef aquariums with lots of rockwork, debris and detritus can get stuck under the rocks or in the back where your vacuum cant reach as well, causing the nitrate levels and algae blooms to increase. While not as vital in, say, a freshwater community tank, nitrate and algae can spell Doom (and Headaches) in a reef tank.

 

Aesthetics & Natural Environments

 

IMG_4312

A natural planted freshwater nano-tank

I have to give this one to Substrate. Surprisingly, flat panes of glass or acrylics just aren’t found at the bottom of most environments in the wild. Natural environments have sand, or mud, or pebbles or some other natural material. Besides just plain looking more natural, some animals also need this substrate to live normal lives. Some fish and snails bury themselves in it or find their food in it. Timid animals need it to hide or camoflauge themselves and in some specialized ecosystems, the substrate plays a vital role in the water chemistry. Most live aquarium plants won’t survive without a substrate to root into. Having a substrate also provides many more options in changing the look of the aquarium, whether its a natural substrate or a decorative one.

 

Aquarium Water Chemistry

 

This one is an even draw; both having substrate or having a bare-bottom can negatively and positively affect the water chemistry in an aquarium. Some substrates like crushed coral can buffer the pH and hardness of the water. For a saltwater tank with a target pH around 8.0-8.4, this is a good things. For a tropical tank with a target pH around 6.0-7.0, maybe not so much. A Flouorite substrate for planted freshwater tanks can give the plants some much-needed minerals and nutrients through their roots that a bare-bottomed tank can’t give them.

 

As much as this exchange helps, any waste that can get trapped in the substrate can hurt the tank. If waste becomes trapped, it will decompose and increase nitrate, phosphates, ammonia and other negative levels which can lead to fish illness and algae blooms. As we mentioned before, this waste is much easier to get rid of in a bare-bottomed tank.

 

Microinverts, hitckhikers and other “bonus” tankmates

 

IMG_2091

Our bare-bottomed 700 gallon store display tank

Unexpected new arrivals like bristleworms can be the ban of a saltwater aquarist’s existance, and tiny little nuisance snails or flatworms can harass a freshwater aquarists to tears. Most of these critters live or reproduce to some extent within the substrate and getting rid of the substrate to go bare-bottom will help get rid of them. Unfortunately, it will also get rid of the good critters like copepods and amphipods that can provide a natural food source to some of the pickiest fish and inverts. If you are making your choice to go bare-bottom to get rid of the nuisance critters, weigh the needs of the rest of your tank carefully to see if they can do without the good to get rid of the bad.

 

The (Bare-)Bottom Line

 

Choosing whether to add substrate to your aquarium or stick with the bare tank ultimately rests on you. Most aquariums will survive either way but one choice may be more successful than others. In our store, we have both bare-bottom tanks and tanks with substrate among our display tanks as well as the tanks we sell fish out of. Stocking these tanks is determined by the needs of the fish and the care that they need. Generally, coral-only reef tanks can go bare, planted freshwater tanks can’t; freshwater fish-only tanks might not need it but saltwater fish-only tanks (or fish-only with live rock) will do better with it. If you can’t decide which way will be more successful for you, we’d be happy to help you make the best decision for you and the success of your aquarium.

Aquarium myths & Misconceptions

In the attempt to make aquarium keeping easier, or simply be able to provide some sort of answer to common questions. There have been a number of “rules” or guidelines that have found their way into the hobby, that you may have heard repeated over the years. You may have heard them from other hobbyists, from your LFS, Web Forums and even in published books and magazines.
I want to focus on a few that I feel really need to go away, that were either bad information to begin with, or have become obsolete. These myths and misconceptions have a far greater potential to cause problems for the beginning aquarist, than they are to provide guidance for success.

The Inch Per Gallon Rule

red-oscar

One 6 inch Oscar does not equal 6 1 inch Guppies

How many fish can I put in my aquarium? This is the oldest question in fish keeping, the first person to put fish in an aquarium asked himself this question. People want a number, they need a number, why can’t you give me a number!!!! Somewhere along the line, born out of the need to provide an answer, the Inch per gallon rule was conceived, and I hate it.
Why do I hate it? Because not all fish are created equal, and not all aquariums are created equal. Six one inch guppies do not equal one six inch Oscar. Body type, temperament, compatibility, adult size, diet and many other things should be considered when choosing fish. Slender bodies fishes, deep bodied fishes, schooling fish, colder water fish, all have different space and habitat needs.

Tank shape is also important, and is completely ignored in most cases. A tanks surface area (footprint) has much to do with how many fish it can easily hold. Gas exchange only occurs at the water surface, and is where an aquariums dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are maintained with the atmosphere. A tall narrow column shaped aquarium, will have a smaller surface area than an aquarium that is short, wide and long. Two aquariums can be the same size in volume, but be very different in shape and surface area.
This is a case where I don’t like the simple answer. My advice to people is to try and do a little research into the fish they’re interested in, see what they will get along with, and how big they will be as adults. Make sure you have adequate filtration, and take a conservative approach to stocking, don’t add all the fish at once. Most importantly, test your water quality, especially if you plan on keeping your aquarium near its limit. If at any point you are having trouble keeping your aquarium chemistry stable, do not add more fish, you may already have too many.

Fish will only grow to the size of the aquarium

fat-fish-little-tankThis one really bugs me, and I still hear it stated as fact on a regular basis. This is simply just not true, some fish may grow slower in a small aquarium, or can be kept smaller by limiting food, but this is not way to treat your fish. Often used in conjunction with the inch per gallon rule, to try and justify putting more fish in a small aquarium, by ignoring the adult size of the fish, this myth needs stop being perpetuated. Most fish that reach a large adult size, and going to get quite large in the first 2 years, if your aquarium is too small, don’t buy the fish. There are better choices to be made!

Small fish tanks are better for beginners.

There are a plethora of small aquarium kits on the market, many of the marketed for children, or with the entry level aquarist in mind. Where this has the potential for problems is when people confuse affordability and ease of setup, with the reality of the needs of a small aquarium. The downside of the small aquarium is how quickly problems can arise, conditions can change, and frustration takes over. Some of the things that can cause serious problems in small tanks, are common mistakes made by the beginner. Over feeding, overstocking, poor tank placement, improper heater and risk of contamination are just a few things that can have rapid and unfortunate effects on a small aquarium. Not to say these things are good for larger aquariums, just that they affect larger aquariums more slowly, and allow you a chance to correct issues before the results are disastrous. Be sure to check out our aquarium beginners guide before buying.

The dos and don’ts of cycling your aquarium.

This one could be a topic for a long article all by itself, so I will just hit on a few of bits of bad information that gets passed around to the unsuspecting new aquarist. Again, this is another topic where some simple research will go a long way to understanding the nitrogen cycle, and what to expect in your new aquarium.

Let your aquarium sit for a month before you start adding fish.

This is false; an aquarium is no more ready for fish after a month, than it is after 24 hrs. Once you have the aquarium setup, filters running, and heated to the proper temperature, you can start to add fish right away. 24 hrs is usually sufficient for your new tank to stabilize. Start with just a small number of hardy fish to get your system started.

Using a bacteria supplement will instantly cycle your aquarium and allow you to fully stock your aquarium immediately.

Although many manufactures’ of these products make them out to be a magic bullet, I feel Bacterial supplements should be used to complement the natural cycling process, not replace it. Without supplementation cycling will take 4-6 weeks, this time can be significantly reduced using supplements, but ultimately what is going to provide a stable aquarium is its own biological filter, the bacteria that colonizes and grows in your filter, and on your gravel, rocks and decorations. In a Marine aquarium, starting your aquarium with good cured Liverock will start you with a strong foundation.

Don’t do water changes while your aquarium is cycling.

This is also false. While your aquarium is cycling, toxic ammonia and nitrite levels can occur while the beneficial bacteria that consumes these waste products establishes in your system. You can absolutely perform small water changes to keep levels low enough that you do not reach levels that are toxic to your starter fish. While it is true that the first bacteria to colonize your aquarium are free in the water, especially if you are using bacterial supplements, the vast majority of bacteria that forms your biological filter lives on solid surfaces. Removing water will not affect this bacteria, and will not greatly inhibit your aquariums cycling ability. If you are a couple weeks into cycling your new aquarium, you should not be afraid to do water changes to help manage the high Ammonia or Nitrite levels.