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Selecting The Right Fish For Your Aquarium

Updated on April 19, 2011
Aquarium stocked with African Cichlids
Aquarium stocked with African Cichlids | Source

Aquarium hobbyists often face struggles with choosing appropriate residents for their aquariums. There are a host of factors that complicate the situation such as erroneous information on specific fish as well as the irresponsible sale of fish that have no business being in a home aquarium. As an individual who frequents aquarium shops and pet stores, I cannot even count how many times I have seen associates at chain – type pet stores sell a fish with demanding or specific requirements to a new hobbyist without even educating the buyer. In addition, I have also witnessed hobbyists purchasing species that grow far too large for their aquarium. In the following article I hope to pass on some useful tips to aquarists who are purchasing new fish. Following these guidelines will help to determine if that irresistible fish you see in the pet store is right for you and your aquarium.

Size - Before you purchase any fish you need to determine its full adult size to make sure you have adequate aquarium space. You can ask the associate at the store you are purchasing the fish from, but you should also have the information verified elsewhere. Every fish shop should have multiple reference books that the employees use to look up care information on fish. Just ask if you can flip through one of the books to make sure it is fish you want to purchase. If the fish isn’t in any of the store’s reference books then do a quick internet search on the fish from your cell phone or at home. View multiple websites to determine what the actual size will be, some websites may have differing information but at least you will have a size range. The reference books and websites will also provide you with a minimum tank size requirement. It is also important to discredit the myth that fish only grow to the size of their tank. The reality of the situation is that the fish’s growth is stunted in an aquarium that is too small and their life span is significantly shortened due to the host of physical ailments (tumors, deformities, curved spines,) that will accompany their stunted growth.

Temperament - You will need to make sure the fish you are purchasing will be able to share its quarters with your existing species. Observe the prospective fish in the store and see if you notice anything out of the ordinary. It is important to match size and aggression levels accordingly. Large predatory fish should be maintained with fish they cannot fit into their mouth, aggressive cichlids should be kept with other aggressive fish that can hold their own, peaceful community species should be maintained with other peaceful species, and so on. Although this seems like pretty basic information, proper research will still need to be conducted. Again, your best bet is to ask the sales associate their experiences with the particular fish. Then refer to the store’s reference books or the internet for information on temperament and suggestions for potential tank-mates.

Diet - Some fish species have very specific diets and may be difficult to feed in the constraints of an aquarium. With this in mind it is imperative to ask the store you are purchasing the fish from what the fish is eating in the store. If the associate responds with “I don’t know”, request to speak with a manager who can give you reliable information. Your next step is to request for the fish can be fed a small amount of food in front of you. This is important because you want to purchase a healthy specimen that is willing to eat. Once again if there are any questions or doubts refer to the store’s reference books or an internet search about the dietary requirements for your potential purchase. You do not want to be stuck with a specimen that has a particular dietary requirement that you are unable to suffice as it could potentially starve to death in your aquarium. This is especially true for various saltwater species as they may have a small niche that they occupy in the wild consisting of a very specific diet that is difficult to replicate in captivity.

Water chemistry - Another vital aspect to consider is your water chemistry and parameters in relation to the species you plan on purchasing. Many of the commonly available tank raised fish are hardy and adaptable but you always want to determine what parameters the particular fish requires. In this sense, it is important to test the Ph and hardness of your tap water prior to stocking your aquarium. You can obtain easy to use water test kits online or at any pet store. Once again you will have to do some research on the fish you plan on purchasing and determine what Ph range it can tolerate and if there are any other special requirements along the lines of water chemistry. This is one of the most overlooked aspects by beginners and it can result in detrimental consequences for the fish. Be sure to research the type of habitat the fish naturally resides in and replicate it accordingly. It is also important to ask the exact water parameters from the source of which you are purchasing the fish. This way you will know that if a certain fish is being maintained in a store at water parameters that are far different from yours, it may not be a wise choice to purchase the fish.      

The Blueface Angelfish is an example of a marine fish that reaches large proportions and has special dietary requirements.
The Blueface Angelfish is an example of a marine fish that reaches large proportions and has special dietary requirements. | Source


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    • SomethingFishy84 profile image

      SomethingFishy84 6 years ago from Indiana

      Thank you for the kind words pldominice!

    • pldominice profile image

      Patricia Dominice 6 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Excellent info! Working in a pet store that sells fish, anyone can look at our books and I would never mind feeding a fish in front of a customer!