How to set up an aquarium

Stocking a freshwater aquarium; choosing, setting up, and maintaining a tank; feeding the fish; treating ill fish

Start with only a few fish. Goldfish are ideal for a beginner’s aquarium. Some other popular freshwater species are guppies, medakas, swordtails, and Siamese fighting fish. Select fish that appear lively, well fed, and free of fungus and other growths.

Choosing the tank – A rectangular glass tank is the best container. The traditional fishbowl has a narrow neck that does not allow enough contact between the water and the air. There should be at least 50 square inches of water surface for each fish, and the tank should hold at least 1 gallon of water for each inch of fish. Thus if you have two fish, each about 2 inches long, you need a 4-gallon tank with an opening of 100 square inches. Buy a stand for the aquarium, or at least make sure that it is on a level surface.

Equip the tank with a glass or clear plastic cover. This keeps dirt out of the water, minimizes evaporation, and helps maintain an even water temperature. Sudden changes in temperature can be fatal to fish. Goldfish thrive in cool water, but most tropical fish must be kept in water between 68°F and 80°F Get a thermometer and water heater for tropical fish.

Plants play an important part in an aquarium by removing potentially dangerous nitrates from the water. Plants also absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day. At night, however, they use up dissolved oxygen; so you should install an air pump with a filter to ensure proper oxygenation of the water at all times. Setting up the tank A day or so before you buy the fish, wash the tank with clear water. Cover the bottom with 11/2 to 3 inches of well-rinsed aquarium sand or gravel. Slope the sand or gravel to form a slight hollow in the middle-it will catch dirt, making cleaning easier.

Soak the plants for 15 to 20 minutes in a solution of 3 tablespoons of salt per gallon of water to get rid of parasites. Rinse the plants in clear water and embed them in the sand or gravel. If you like, add a few rocks or ceramic pieces to the tank.

Fill the tank with tap water, trying not to uproot plants. Let the tank stand, uncovered, at least 24 hours.

When you add fish to the tank, float them in their plastic carrying bag for 5 to 10 minutes or until the water temperatures correspond. (Do not leave fish in a plastic bag for more than 45 minutes.) Maintaining the tank Place the tank where it will receive diffuse light; keep it out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight may cause overheating and overgrowth of algae. If you cannot get proper natural light for your aquarium, install a fluorescent light on the top of the tank. Pet stores carry special light fixtures to fit any size tank.

To clean the tank, scrape algae from the sides with a long-handled glass scraper. Remove sediment, decaying plants, and uneaten food with a dip tube. Both tools can be purchased from a pet shop. Trim plants occasionally and siphon off some water from the bottom, replacing it with water that has been sitting for 24 hours.

Feeding – Feed your fish twice a day with commercial fish food. If this is not possible, morning is the best time. Give the fish only as much as they can consume in 10 minutes. (Uneaten food pollutes the water.) Occasionally offer the fish a fresh or frozen food, such as daphnia (a water flea) or tubifex worms, or bits of cooked liver, canned salmon, shrimp, or hard-cooked egg yolk. If you are out of fish food, use ground-up dry cat food or baby cereal flakes. If you are going away for a day or two, the fish can go unfed.

Fish Illnesses – Fish gasping at the surface means insufficient oxygen due to overcrowding, heat, or dirt. Improve tank conditions. Move fish that appear ill to a separate tank for observation. Trailing feces indicates constipation. Give the fish greens or other fresh food.

Fungus, appearing as a white, slimy coating, may infest a fish. Place the fish into a tank containing 3 teaspoons of salt per gallon of water. If the fish does not improve in 3 or 4 days, dispose of it.