Sunday, May 08, 2011

Aquarium Blunders

That is some serious fish-fu, dude!

I tried to keep tropical fish for more than five years, and failed. Here are some lessons I learned the hard way:
  • All home aquaria are too small. Mine was 20 gallons and should have been 55, long and narrow to give active fish like Buenos Aires tetras room to scoot and zoom in.

  • Use a bottom filtration system with a curtain of bubbles. Filters that hang on the side of the tank are a noisy joke. THINK AHEAD. You will regret your choices far less.

  • Your heater will do its job far too well, in a home that is not air conditioned. When it's 95° F. outside, it's over 100° in a south facing room. Your water warms well past the 86° your tropicals are comfortable with.

  • Be prepared to deal with nitrate buildup. This natural result of living stuff in a closed tank not connected to anything natural kills fish slowly by blinding them and eating away their sides and fins. The usual thing to do is change water frequently, and suction out the mulm on the bottom.

  • Algae are a worse problem than you can imagine, especially in tanks placed near bright sunlight. Don't trust "algae eaters." They don't eat algae. Little algae eating fish become huge, aggressive tank bullies.

  • Snails do eat algae, and anything else they can catch, but they make a nasty mess. They also smear egg patches on glass walls which have to be peeled off with razor blades, but the glass is never clean again, or not as clean as it was.

  • All plants die, except for unattractive junk like Elodea (aka Anacharis), which turns long-jointed and ghastly yellow in incandescent room light, then dies anyway. Duckweed may take over koi ponds outdoors, but it dies from bad pH balances in indoor tanks. Amazon swords become algae infested. Etc.

  • Speaking of pH, a little baking soda may improve your water, if needed. But anything sour, like vinegar, will kill your fish — all your fish, within minutes. Don't do that!

  • You must love this hobby passionately, or the problems will make you hate it passionately. You are not Herbert R. Axelrod. You must learn nurture the hard way.

  • It hurts when your aquarium dies. It will haunt you like Banquo's ghost. There's a period of mourning. You'll want to start over, try again, but at that point, the voices start up: "No, Dad! It's my turn! I want a kitten. In a bubble!" And my favorite, the 17 degrees colder in here, "Oh, really...?"

  • Getting rid of a problem tank and stand is easy. Just clean it up and put it on the curb with a sign that says FREE — ours was gone inside two hours.

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