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 Once upon a time, freshwater aquariums generally consisted of a couple of Goldfish in a fish bowl- or at least that's how my first experience with aquatic pets went. But since then, I’ve learned that owning an aquarium can be much more interesting than you might think. If you do a little research, you’ll quickly realize that aquariums can be vibrant and full of life, featuring unique pets and plants. So why not  create an entire eco-system inside your home? Everything from crabs and frogs, to freshwater stingrays and eels, can swim through exotic floating plants giving you the chance to interact and learn about all kinds of aquatic creatures, big or small. With a little time and know-how, you can bring the aesthetic wonder of nature indoors, to enjoy 24 hours a day.

So you’ve finally committed, and you’re at home with that big empty tank, but where do you start? Sure, you should probably fill it with water at some point, maybe some rocks and stuff, but what steps do you actually need to take before your aquarium is habitable? According to the Petsmart website, at you can get started in a few easy steps.

Fish tank instruction 

  • Start slowly, let the aquarium run for at least a day before putting fish in
  • Use hardy, durable fish for your first inhabitants- the type that can withstand ammonia and nitrates
  • Seed the aquarium with bacteria found in cycling aid products sold at the pet store. Healthy ecosystems need good bacteria
  • Don't overfeed or overcrowd the tank. Especially not at the beginning
  • Test levels of ph, ammonia, and nitrates. Change small amounts of water out to balance these levels off 
  • Always make sure the water is at the right temperature for the fish you want. You can bet exotic fish from the Amazon or Africa like it nice and warm (74º- 82º)
  • And most importantly, always ask someone who’s raised, works with, or lives with fish for advise if you need help... 


The biggest difference in an aquarium’s health or lack there-of, comes from making sure you set it up properly. 

For example, Clean gravel and other rocks before layering the tank with them. This will reduce the amount of times you will need to clean out the water; otherwise, all the dirt naturally on the gravel will seep into the water and pollute it. It's also a good idea to let the tank cycle a few times to adjust good bacteria in the water, as well as balancing out levels of Ammonia, Nitrates and ph. Once these first steps are completed, taking care of the tank is as easy as changing a little water every now and then.

Tank with beadsOther than rocks, aquatic plants should also be used to help build the environment. As much as we would like to watch them all the time, many fish and other aquatic creatures like to know they can hide somewhere to feel safe, and plants make the best hiding spots.  In addition, a lot of green will bring more a natural element to your tank- plants are a vital part of every healthy ecosystem. Some fish even like to snack on the leaves.

Another super important factor to take into consideration is WHO are your inhabitants going to be? Believe it or not, some fish just don't get along. This can be caused by a need to be dominant, the King of the Tank so to speak. or even the instinct to hunt. This is one reason why overcrowding a tank can be a problem, and why a tank should be the appropriate size for the aquatic animals you want. And here’s one more important reminder- because the pet you buy at the store, like all living things, will grow. Fortunately, the associates at most pet stores actually know what they are doing, and can help you make these important decisions.  

So now you are all set up! The aquarium is healthy and vibrant, and your first few fish have actually survived. This is where the real fun begins, because now your tank can hold prettier, more exotic and interesting inhabitants. But what kind of aquatic animals are actually available? How interesting can your aquarium really be?

In short, the answer is very interesting. Nowadays, there is so much variety that your aquarium doesn’t even need any fish? Everything from crabs, shrimp, turtles, frogs, eels, and even fresh water stingrays are available. Though, as is often true with exotic pets, states may regulate what kind of pets can legally be owned. For example, Tennessee has recently outlawed keeping turtles as pets, due to the possibility of a dangerous bacteria spreading throughout the state. 

Be smart! Always follow the law and only keep animals that are legally allowed. But don't let this news kill your wonder, as there are still “plenty of fish in the sea”, and plenty of examples of great aquatic pets!


Into frogs? The African Dwarf Frog is a very popular aquarium guest. Primarily from the Congo region of Africa, these tropical frogs are completely aquatic. Though they can breathe air with their lungs, these little frogs choose to spend their entire lives underwater. They use webbed feet to swim around and shove food into their mouths, making for a very entertaining and interesting tank inhabitant. They are also considered beginner friendly, and do well in pebbly environments.

Bamboo Shrimp

Another vibrant choice for your tank could be the Bamboo Shrimp. Native to Southeast Asia, these shrimp come in multiple sizes, so it's important to have the right tank for these bottom dwellers. They feed by filtering debris out of the water with their large, hairy hands, making them a natural vacuum for the tank. They eat specially-made algae wafers for food, which is ground up and added to the water- just be careful not to overfeed, or you'll get a boom of unwanted bacteria. One of the most interesting aspects of this shrimp is its ability to change color, to and  from browns, yellows, reds, and greens.


If you’rer just into fish, that's okay too. Try out the famous Oscar. This species of cichilid can grow to an impressive size with a big enough tank to live in. They are said to have the personality and mannerisms of a puppy: eating food out of its owner's hand and responding to people from across the tank- especially if that person is the one feeding them. They come in a variety of colors, usually including a combination of orange, black and white. 

Motoro Stingray

If your feeling really exotic, the Motoro Stingray could be a perfect fit. From South America, this spotted freshwater stingray is supposedly a great choice for first-time stingray owners because they are tolerant and hardy. Keep in mind, you don't want gravel at the bottom of a tank with rays in it, as it can harm the soft bellies of these fascinating bottom feeders.

So there it is, everything you need to get started on your own little underwater world. Be sure to ask questions when you pick out your pets, and realize that they are living beings that deserve to live a healthy life. You might find that taking care of something so delicate will reduce stress and add love and life to your home! / Issue 183 - September 2018
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