Questions and Answers For Beginning Aquarists

The opinions expressed here are my own, formed by personal experience, and might not always agree with other sources of Aquarium information. But they have worked for me. And remember, there are always some exceptions.

Q: How many fish can I keep in my tank?

A: Four medium size fish per 10 gallons, medium meaning about 2 to 3 inches long , such fish as: Platies, Swordtails, Catfish and Barbs etc. Small fish such as Guppies and Neon Tetras could safely be kept at up to 10 fish per 10 gallons. And large fish such as Angelfish, Sharks and other large Cichlids should be kept at only 1 or 2 fish per 10 gallons. Of course you could keep many more fish per ten gallons than this recommended ratio, but you will be pushing your luck and keeping yourself busy doing a lot of water changes and cleanup, not to mention the increased danger of disease.

Q: Why then do the pet shops have so many more fish in their tanks?

Because they have employees who just love to do daily water changes and aquarium cleaning.

Q: How much should I feed my fish?

A: An average 10 gallon tank of fish will need only a small pinch of fish food per day. If you then notice left over food, decrease to only half a pinch. Few if any aquarium fish, other than maybe the algae eaters, have ever died of starvation. Overfeeding is a much greater danger than underfeeding. You must remember that fish are cold blooded and don’t require the same proportions of food that we do. Overfeeding is the single most common reason for failure in Aquarium Keeping!

Q: But my fish always seem so hungry.

That’s good, that means they are healthy. If they aren’t hungry, then there really is something wrong.

Q: What kind of filter should I use?

A: You can’t go wrong with a “hang-on-the-back” type power filter or a canister filter. I am usually happy with an under-gravel filter. If you follow the rules of good aquarium keeping, then an under gravel filter will be a good choice. I employ mostly sponge filters in my set-up.

Q: What about lights?

A: The question of aquarium lighting will depend on your type of aquarium. If you are trying to grow live plants, then of course you’ll need bright lights left on for at least 8 hours a day. But if you are keeping a fish only tank, then I would suggest keeping the lights on for only about 4 or so hours a day, at the time of day when you usually watch the fish and at feeding time. That is assuming the fish get normal room light, you wouldn’t want them in total darkness for 20 hours a day. Leaving the lights off most of the time will help cut down the growth of algae, and thus cut down the time you will have to spend cleaning the glass and decorations.

Q: Any Advice On Diseases?

A: Do water changes, don’t overfeed and don’t introduce diseased fish into your aquarium and you should have minimal problems with diseases. If you do notice a sick fish in your aquarium, remove it at once to protect the other fish. The only medications that I personally use is common table salt at the rate of 1 tablespoon per gallon as a general preventative, and increase it to 2 teaspoons per gallon if a disease does break out, and for the really stubborn cases I might use a product named “Had-A-Snail”; it’s made to kill the snails in an infested aquarium , but I’ve found it to be a really good general cure-all in many cases. The main ingredient is copper, which will poison some fish (if over done) and kill all invertebrates, so use it cautiously. For sick marine fish my advice would be to use the medicines provided at the petshop where you got the fish. But, in the case of marine parasites I have found that a 4 minute dip in freshwater will usually cure the infected fish within about 3 daily dips.

Q: What’s The Best Beginners Fish?

A: Here is an area where I really disagree with a lot of the info I see in books and hear at many petshops. Livebearers such as the Black Molly , Sword Tail , and Platies are not the best choice for a first time aquarium. Reason ? : They are short lived and they are usually raised in outdoor ponds and sometimes shipped with diseases and parasites. My idea of a good beginners fish would be one that is hardy, easy to keep, active , and tolerant of less than ideal conditions.
My picks are:
Betta Splendens, also known as Siamese FightingFish, but don’t keep more than one male in an aquarium at the same time.
Zebra Danios, little blue and gold speed demons, best kept in groups of at least six for a really good display.
Corydoras Catfish, cute , comical, very hardy and long lived.