Freshwater Aquariums For Dummies, 3rd Edition by Madelaine Francis Heleine

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Freshwater Aquariums For Dummies®

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Welcome to the wonderful world of freshwater aquariums! This updated edition of Freshwater Aquariums For Dummies is a handy reference guide for those who want the basics of setting up and maintaining an aquarium system. Everything you need to know to get started on your very own freshwater system can be found right here in this book.

In this book, I tell you about tank styles and equipment, disease prevention and cures, aquarium decoration, maintenance routines, species of fish and their habits, test kits for your water, different types of systems, and tips on working with plants. And much, much more. You’re likely to encounter all sorts of equipment and different fish species in pet shops and online, but all you need is the information contained in this book to get you started on the road to successful fishkeeping. After you master the basics, you can venture into new areas of aquarium keeping with confidence.

So sit back and journey into the fascinating world of freshwater aquariums, gathering the basics of keeping your fish healthy and happy the easy way. Your new aquatic pets will love you for it.

About This Book

You may have heard horror stories about your neighbor’s aquarium. Or maybe your best friend told you that his new aquarium that was in his second floor apartment is now decorating the downstairs tenant’s apartment. Okay, problems happen, but these rare aquarium misadventures can be avoided with a proper knowledge of the basics.

About 99 percent of all potential aquarium problems never occur if hobbyists take the time to find out a few simple fishkeeping basics. Wet floors can be mopped, and tanks can be repaired. Aquarium keeping will still move forward, despite the occasional setbacks encountered from time to time.

It’s really very easy to become a successful fishkeeper. All you need is a little bit of help to get you going, which is exactly what this book provides. This third edition of Freshwater Aquariums For Dummies gives you good, basic information and the ammo you need to battle any problems that may occur as you live with your aquarium. You can find plenty of information about the following:

  • Aquarium 4-1-1: From choosing and finding a good location for a tank and equipment to adding artificial plants and substrate, you can find everything you need to create a safe home for your fish.
  • The ABCs of fish: This book includes handy information about the different kinds of fish species to include in your aquarium, behavior and eating habits, and where to purchase your fish. After you have your fish, you’ll need to know what food options are available, how to feed your aquatic pets properly, and how to identify, treat, and prevent many common illnesses.
  • Lowdown on water, chemicals, and plants: You can discover all things water, including how to set up the aquarium with chemicals and what to do if you have problems. This book also gives you details about live plant species that can make your aquarium more beautiful and also more hospitable for your fish.
  • Birds and the bees: Get plenty of helpful information about setting the mood to breed your fish.
  • So much more: You can discover how to share your newfound hobby with your others. If you’re interested, this book also provides ideas to take your hobby to the next level.

My updates also include fun ways to expand your hobby, new equipment that’s available, and a quick guide to a few more advanced systems. This edition also gives you more information on other species of fish and plants.

Foolish Assumptions

When writing this book, I made the following assumptions about you, my dear reader:

  • You’re an absolute beginner, have never owned an aquarium before, and never even fed a goldfish.
  • You may have dabbled a little (perhaps you won goldfish at your school fair when you were young), but you have no real knowledge of how to set up an aquarium or take care of fish.
  • You know a little about fishkeeping and want to discover more so you can set up your first aquarium.
  • You’ve attempted setting up an aquarium, but for some reason, your aquarium had tons of algae and your fish were sickly.
  • You want to start a small aquarium and teach your children some responsibility about taking care of it.
  • You have a small aquarium and want to take your hobby to the next level.

No matter who you are, you can find all sorts of helpful information here.

Icons Used in This Book

If you’ve flipped through this book at all, you’ve probably noticed little pictures, called icons, in the margins. Here’s what they mean:

Tip This icon indicates good advice and information that will help you keep your fish healthy and safe.

Warning When I discuss a task or procedure that might be problematic, I use this icon. It also points out things that might be dangerous to you or your fish.

Technical stuff This icon flags information that’s, well, technical, and you can go ahead and skip that paragraph if you want to.

Remember When I make a point or offer some information that I feel you should keep with you forever, I toss in this icon.

Where to Go from Here

This book is a reference, not a tutorial. You don’t have to read it from Chapter 1 to the end if you just want to get a glimpse of the hobby before you get down to the basics. Just use the table of contents or index to find the topics that interest you and go from there. Start with your needs and interests.

If you don’t already own fish and don’t know how to set up an aquarium, start with Part 1. If you have a little more background in fishkeeping, maybe you want to check out the species guide in Part 2. Or maybe the chapter on live plants in Part 3 has caught your fancy. Go ahead and skip around. That’s what this book is for.

Part 1

Getting Started with Freshwater Aquarium Basics


Understand the basics of aquarium systems so you can set up an aquarium that runs successfully and is easy to maintain right from the start.

Decide which aquarium system is best for you so you can begin simply and move on to more complex systems as your hobby grows.

Find a good location for your tank so your tank will maintain the proper water temperature and your fish won’t be disturbed.

Choose an aquarium tank and stand that fit your available space and have plenty of room for the species you choose.

Know how to decorate your aquarium so your tank looks good and your fish feel safe and at home.

Grasp the function of aquarium equipment and figure out which equipment is essential (and which equipment isn’t essential) for starting your aquarium.

Chapter 1

Taking the Plunge: Just the Essentials


Bullet Understanding the basics of aquariums

Bullet Looking at what goes in an aquarium

Bullet Comprehending fish and plant choices

Bullet Expanding your hobby

Some of the most pleasurable moments in my live life have involved aquarium keeping. Something special and exciting comes with owning a beautiful tankful of wonderful fish and plants. Most people have either owned an aquarium, lived in a house with a fish tank, or dreamed of putting one together.

Many people think aquarium fish are harder to keep than other pets. This simply isn’t true. Everyone pretty much knows how to feed, water, and walk a dog, but many tend to shy away from setting up an aquarium because they worry about the minor details too much. Never fear, consider this chapter your jumping board into this book. It shows you how simple fishkeeping can really be so that you can start on the right foot and be successful.

Focusing on the Tank, Stand, Accessories, and Equipment

If you look at an aquarium from all sides and from the top, you’ll quickly see that it’s just a glass, plastic, or acrylic box with a bunch of things added to it. It is as simple as that.

You may be asking yourself a few questions like these: What is the function of all this equipment, and how does the tank use them to run? Does it matter which fish and plants I choose? Is there a special type of water in the tank? How do I feed and care for my fish and plants?

You came to the right place for answers. The following sections explain some questions you may have and preview the basics of setting up an aquarium.

Remember If you have other immediate family members living with you, such as children, don’t forget to get them involved in the aquarium decisions as well. By involving others, you can share your new hobby from day one with those you love.

Knowing where to put your tank

People wonder where they should place an aquarium in their home. There are good places and bad places. Place tanks away from direct sunlight and drafts. You also need to take into account household traffic issues and electrical considerations as well to ensure your fish will be safe and happy.

Chapter 3 discusses how certain places in a room can affect your tank’s water temperature. You also discover how high-traffic areas have an impact on your fish, how close your water source needs to be to your tank, what electrical supply is required, how much space will be ample to set up the tank that you want, how to fill your tank, and what cleaning options you can use.

Looking at the tank and stand options

Aquariums and stands have several shapes and sizes available in the marketplace, and you may be wondering if you should start out with a small tank or a large tank. In Chapter 4, you find that starting with a larger tank provides a more stable environment for your fish. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to go crazy and try to set up something that looks like it belongs at SeaWorld right off the bat. Instead, I explore what’s best for the beginner.

In that chapter, you also discover the difference between glass, acrylic, and plastic aquariums. I explain what aquarium stand works best for your needs. Chapter 4 also shows you the different styles of tanks and stands that you can buy to suit your individual needs and how to correctly move an aquarium if you ever decide to set your tank up in a different location or in a new home.

Figuring out what (besides fish) to put in your aquarium

When you look at different aquariums, you can see that they contain many different combinations of rocks, decorations, and interesting objects such as driftwood. No big mystery here. Some items are necessary for your tank to run properly, and others aren’t.

Chapter 5 shows gravel and/or other substrates are recommended for most aquariums. You also discover the type and number of decorations in an aquarium come down to a matter of individual taste (though some species do well with certain additions such as rock caves), and that you can really let your creativity, decorating skills, and good taste shine.

Considering aquarium equipment

Most new hobbyists get confused when deciding what equipment to purchase. You can choose from many different options. Chapter 6 discusses filters, heaters, lighting, pumps, airstones, thermometers, tubes, valves, tank circulation, and hoods. When purchasing equipment, always buy the best that your budget will allow.

Remember When setting up an aquarium, don’t take shortcuts. You can’t rush down to your aquarium store, buy a bunch of stuff, and expect to have fish swimming around in your new tank within an hour. If you take the time to set up an aquarium properly by following a few basic steps, you’ll have fewer problems later on down the road.

Determining what you really need

For beginners, I recommend starting out with the basics: a 20- to 55-gallon tank, a simple power filter system, gravel, a heater, food, declorinator, a thermometer, a couple of nets, simple decorations, and a hood with lighting. Often you can find all these things in an aquarium kit for one price. After you become more comfortable with the basics, you can move to larger or more specialized systems.

Caring for Your New Aquatic Pets

Before you’re ready to purchase fish, you need to know how to take care of the fish you want. You also need a general idea of the type of fish you’ll buy so that you know what types of plants and other items you need and how to set up water conditions that are just right for the species you choose. These sections help you begin.

Eyeing differences in species

A fish’s physical makeup (fin shape and size, body shape, color, and so on) and how a fish uses its body in its natural environment are important when determining what type of fish and what type of aquarium you need for that particular species. For example, long, thin, streamlined fish such as danios tend to be speedy horizontal swimmers and love a tank that is long and not tall.

Chapter 7 explains the physical makeup of aquatic species so that you can understand what system your fish will enjoy most. This chapter also allows you to quickly see if there is a problem, such as stress or disease, by observing any deviation in your fish’s normal body shape, fin shape, and swimming patterns.

Knowledge isn’t only power; it’s also the best preventive method on earth for diagnosing aquarium problems before they get out of hand.

Assessing which types of fish are best for you

You have so many choices in aquarium fish that you may wonder, where is the best place to start? Chapter 8 gives you a good selection of popular and easy-to-keep aquarium fish so that you have a many good options to choose from when you begin.

Of course, I only have so much space to discuss the species. It would take volumes to describe all the species available. Chapter 8 offers excellent choices for beginning hobbyists. These fish are inexpensive, easy to find, forgiving of beginner mistakes, and will help get any aquarium off to a good start. You also can read about a few neat invertebrates (animals that don’t have a spine) to keep your fish company.

Buying fish — what you need to know

The best way to start as a beginning fishkeeper is to develop a good relationship with a local pet store. A quality vendor can help you make decisions on the best way to set up or improve your system. He can also make good suggestions on fish compatibility and lend a hand if your fish become ill.

Chapter 9 helps you figure out how to choose quality dealers and develop good relationships with them. This chapter shows you how to select healthy fish for your new aquarium by providing information on how to evaluate the physical attributes and behavior of fish in a store.

The Internet is a great place to find fish, plants, and equipment for your new aquarium, but nothing beats the wonderful feeling of walking through a tropical fish store and seeing everything up close with a helpful dealer at your side.

Aquarium clubs and societies are another good place to find aquarium stuff. Using a combination of local stores, clubs, and societies, and wonderful dealers online to purchase aquarium fish is always a good choice that will ultimately provide you with the best options for your setup.

Feeding your fish — what types of food to buy

Although you can buy canned fish food, nutrition goes beyond premanufactured dry food. Many species of fish have different nutritional requirements.

Chapter 10 helps you understand basic aquatic nutrition and shows you what and how to feed your fish properly.

Remember A well-balanced diet for you fish can include prepackaged, frozen food, live food, and in some cases fresh vegetables.

Taking care of sick fish

Despite having the best setup possible, fish will eventually contract disease from time to time. This usually isn’t a cause for alarm because many fish illnesses can be cured.

Chapter 11 helps you identify stress, spot common problems ahead of time to prevent disease, treat common illnesses, set up a hospital tank to treat disease, and understand the importance of a quarantine tank to avoid introducing sickness into your main tank with newly purchased fish.

Warning Never buy ill fish with the noble idea of taking them home and nursing them back to health. This practice will endanger your other fish and risk upsetting your current system.

Understanding Water, Chemicals, and Live Plants

One of the most important elements of your aquarium is the water that your fish live in. In order to be a successful fish keeper, you’ll discover the different types of water, testing methods, types of chemicals to treat it, and the way that bacteria in water stabilizes your tank through a nitrogen cycle. In this section, I also look at putting simple systems together, the different types of live plants that can benefit your tank, and what to do if trouble arises.

Grasping everything water

Adding the right water to your aquarium is extremely important for a good start. Chapter 12 explains the different types of water you can use in your aquarium, the best way to make the water safe, and the way to fill your tank.

Using chemicals to improve your aquarium conditions

Many beneficial chemicals can help you start and maintain your tank. Chapter 13 discusses the chemicals you’ll need to start your aquarium, other products that will help you maintain it, chemicals you can use if you decide to keep live plants, and useful medications.

Testing your water

Chapter 14 explains the nitrogen cycle (a natural process that makes aquarium water safe over long periods of time). You find out how to start and maintain the nitrogen cycle and how to test your water to keep track of this biological process.

Getting a system going

Chapter 15 spells out a few basic freshwater aquarium setups. I show you step by step how to get your aquarium up and running, so you can successfully become a fishkeeper right out of the gate.

Adding live plants

If you decide that you want to use live plants in your aquarium, Chapters 16 and 17 show you some different plants you may want to consider and how to purchase and transport plants from a dealer, how to maintain them, and how to take care of any problems that arise.

Fixing common problems

Despite best efforts, problem to pop up from time to time. Chapter 18 helps you solve feeding and aggression problems. You also discover what to do when your equipment, tank, and water have issues.

Expanding Your Aquarium Hobby

Setting up and maintaining an aquarium is only the beginning. If you want to expand your hobby, you can do many fun and interesting projects.

Breeding your fish: Yes or no?

Many hobbyists love to breed their fish for fun and profit. If you become really good at breeding, you may even come up with a new color or pattern for the world to enjoy.

Chapter 19 helps you find the right water conditions, feeding schedule, plants, and equipment for breeding fish. It also tells you how to help coax your fish into mating. When you get to Chapter 20, you can discover how to decide which fish to breed, how to select strong breeding traits, what the best ways are to care for fry and protect them from other fish, and how to succeed in this wonderful and challenging aspect of the hobby. This chapter also gives you breeding tactics for several different easy-to-breed species.

Keeping track of your progress

Many hobbyists are concerned about remembering every fish and the problems and success they have had with each species. Chapter 21 helps you cut through the clutter by explaining how to accurately record fish data and photograph your fish for fun, education, and potential profit.

Broadening your hobby

Chapter 22 explains many different ways to expand your hobby by joining aquariums clubs to interacting with others, volunteering in fish-related enterprises, setting up tanks in places that can heighten the enjoyment of fishkeeping for others, entering your fish in a show, writing about your hobby, and teaching kids about aquarium science to ensure the future of the aquarium industry.

Contemplating other types of aquarium structures

This book focuses on freshwater systems so that you can gain a strong foothold on the basics of keeping a successful aquarium. After you master the basics of freshwater aquariums, your choices will become unlimited, and you may want to continue your adventures in the hobby by trying other types of setups.

If so, look at Chapter 23 that gives you a brief overview and a quick guide to the different types systems you can try, including the brackish and marine (saltwater) side of the hobby. This chapter also shows you where to find good information on setting up an aquarium for those oh-so-beautiful marine species of fish and invertebrates.