27 September 2005

The ultimate guide to keeping fish

Ah, yes... My birthday has just passed (last Saturday), which also means that I've been keeping fish as a hobby for exactly one year.

In all this time, I've learnt a few important things about preventing fish from dying:

1. Don't get an air pump - They're useless.

just in case you don't already know, fish actually need oxygen to breath - not just water. What you may not realise is that the exchange of carbon dioxide(from the water to the air) and oxygen(from the air) only happens on the surface of the water.

Unless you plan on keeping aquatic plants (which is a far more complicated matter), you'll need to agitate the water surface (i.e. make ripples) to encourage the exchange of gases, so that the fish can breathe.

While you can use an air pump to do this, it's noisy - and the surface-agitation can be done by a water pump / filter anyway.

2. Get a filter - it is essential

Throughout the course of the day, your fish will eat, sleep, shit and urinate - just like us, actually. The difference, though, is that they have to swim through it 24/7. We, on the other hand, can always walk to the next room.

This waste is toxic, and can slowly kill your fish if you're not careful. So, you'll need a filter to get this waste away from your fish and to break it down into components which aren't harmful to your fish (through bacterial filtration or something like that).

That's why you'll also need to cycle your tank with special bacteria. You can buy it in a bottle (I use Nutrafin Cycle) from most pet shops - simply add a capful every time you do a water change. Eventually, your filter's elements (most likely a sponge) will house these bacteria and perform both chemical and physical filtration.

There are many different types of filters out there, but the best (for small tanks) are the outside-hanging filters (that work like a mini mechanical waterfall) or a completely submerged filter. I've recently switched to the latter after my old hanging filter started to leak. However, it is a little freaky having an 240v electric motor submerged in the same water as your beloved fish.

Apparently, they're pretty safe...


3. Do regular water changes

No matter how good your filter is, it will never keep the water in your tank clean forever - so some fresh water is always good for your fish.

It's simple, really... Just scoop out about a quarter of the water once a week, and replace it with fresh water (treated with anti-chlorine, of course). Try not to do a complete water change unless you're absolutely sure of what you're doing (or if you have to). Sudden changes in water temperature, carbon dioxide levels and other mineral levels can cause your fish to die of shock.

The filter needs to be cleaned as well, but about once every two weeks.

The thing about cleaning filters, is that you don't want it to be too clean. If you scrub it until it looks brand new again, you've probably killed off most of the helpful bacteria too. Just give it a quick rinse to get rid of larger waste particles.

4. Don't overcrowd your tank

Unless you're a pro, you should always keep the population of fish in your tank as low as possible. Fishes need personal space too - some are social fish, but some may prefer to be alone.

Also, a higher number of fish per litre of water also means greater chemical changes in the water for every little thing you do. For example, your fish may end up poisoning themselves if your filter isn't able to break down the their waste products quickly enough.

Similarly, if there's a power failure, a big tank with fewer smaller fish can survive for days. In a smaller tank with bigger/more fish, it'll be a matter of hours before your fish go belly up.

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Well, that's all I can think of for now. In the meantime, here's a brief look at what my aquarium looked like a year ago and what it looks like now.

The original tank (bowl, actually):

This was my first fish bowl - barely 2 litres of water, an air-pump, no filtration at all and 5 fishes (three guppies and two upside-down catfish). The red arrow points to one of my catfish, 'Whiskers', who's still alive today! He's a hardy fish, and has been to hell and back under my care... Oh, and the red guppy in the photo died the next day - it jumped out of the tank. Other than Whiskers, the rest of the fish perished within a month.


My current tank:

Yes, I realise it looks empty... but that's because I've got a collection of weird fish. Basically, they're all bottom-dwellers and shy away from bright light whenever possible. So yes, I've got five fish in there (2 algae-eaters, 2 clown loaches and Whiskers, the upside-down catfish) and it still looks empty...

Inhabitant no. 1

That's Whiskers inside the fake bell. When I first got him, he was about an inch long. Now, he's about 4 inches long.

An interesting bit of trivia: he's the longest-lived pet I've ever had (Yes, I'm completely shit at keeping pets alive).

The cool thing about upside-down catfishes is that they swim upside down - sometimes. Whiskers swims belly-up at the surface of the water during feeding time and, if you time it properly, you can even get him to do roller coaster-style loops around the tank. Plus, he often leans on rocks (upright, with his tail facing downwards and his head facing the sky), which is a rather odd for a fish.


Inhabitant no. 2 & 3

That's one of my clown loaches. I got them because they look kinda like marine clown fish - but also because of their black and orange racing stripes (like an Ah-beng modified car). Plus, they've also got a very peculiar habit which I wasn't aware of until I got them: clown loaches like to lie on their sides at the bottom of the tank (sometimes, even upside down). Plus, they keep very still. This caused many heart-stopping moments during the first couple of weeks of owning them. Basically, I thought they'd died and reached in to scoop them out - only to have them dart behind the water filter...


Inhabitant no. 4 & 5

This is one of the algae-eaters. I'm not sure if that's what they're really called, but I got the pair of them to sort out a huge problem with my tank: it was completely covered in algae, which looked disgusting.

And about a week after I got the algae eaters, my tank was completely spotless. It's quite fun to watch them go about their cleaning, especially if you've got tank decorations with a thick layer of algae on them. As they suck on the surface of the decorations / glass, they leave clean algae-free trail behind them - kinda like watching someone mowing the lawn.



This is just another shot of the lot of them. I'm currently evaluating the possibility of adding more fish. Although I'm thinking of getting something that doesn't go into hiding every time I enter the room, I'll probably end up with more bottom-dwellers.

Why? Well, they all look cooler. They're wider rather than taller, which gives them a lower centre of gravity - good for making high-speed corners (just like Michael Schumacher's F2005 race car). Ok, maybe not.

More advice on keeping fish

I'm no expert at keeping fish, and most of what I've learnt is from trial and error. If you're planning on keeping some more exotic fish, I highly recommend seeking the help of an expert instead of going at it alone.

Apparently, my cousin Kien Chung is an expert at this sort of thing (especially when it comes to maintenance-free tanks with plants). He hasn't got a website, but he's got a business card and an e-mail address (kienchung@hotmail.com).

If anything, he can probably point you to some useful websites on keeping fish.

In this past year, I've really come to like this hobby. It feels good knowing that you're caring for some form of life other than yourself. Kinda like playing God, but without violent tendencies...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

City water has raised some concerns for many people that fear drinking contaminated water without a filter is very bad for you, your family pets and fish. Who knows what toxic material is in the water that is entering into your home; the best thing to do is to have the water filtered.

Water Filters