For anyone new to fishkeeping, you are facing a minefield of potential problems when buying your first fish... But don't worry help is at hand, and the fact that you're reading this forum means that you've taken an important step to becoming an enlightened and responsible owner... well done you!
Cycling What on earth is cycling?
Well its probably the single most important thing that you need to learn, and preferably before you put any fish anywhere near your tank. This is the process of starting your own mini eco system to process the fishy waste products, after all they are living in the same water that they poop in! – It takes a bit of effort to get started, but once its up and running it should reach a nice balance and look after itself. 'Fishless cycling' is by far the best way to get started, take a look here for all you need to know: The Nitrogen Cycle
How many fish can I get? Most people buy their fish from the local fish shop where you will see lots of tanks, each with lots of fish in them. This is NOT how your tank at home should look!
The fish in the shop are usually very young, and capable of growing much larger than their current size – Always check on the maximum adult size before you buy that cute little fish… Get this wrong and in 12 months it could have grown too big and you’ll have to take them back which is not fun.
The ‘one inch per gallon rule’ is a good general guide, this is one inch of (fully grown/adult size) fish length not including the tail per gallon of water in your aquarium. There are exceptions to the rule, but follow it and you’ll have much better results.
Only one inch per gallon?! Well it might look a little empty to begin with but you’ll be amazed how quickly your fish can grow, and they’ll all be much happier and healthier.
What type of fish? There are so many to choose from, if you are planning to use tap water then that’s a good starting point – For example my tap water is on the hard side, so I don’t keep any fish that prefer softwater.
It’s a good idea to research all of your fish before you buy them, and check that they will be suitable tankmates for your existing fish… Impulse buys can be disastrous!
Some fish are more hardy than others, and can be a bit more forgiving of less than perfect water conditions – These make good beginner fish, while you are finding your feet.
First fish: There are so many fish to choose from, but here are some that are maybe a bit more suited to beginners
Livebearers – Very common, ideal first fish, easy to breed (Guppy, Platy, Swordtail)
Tetras – Small, peaceful, shoaling, ideal community fish (Neon Tetra, Glowlight Tetra)
Danios – Hardy & active shoaling fish (Zebra Danio, Pearl Danio)
Barbs & Rasboras – Colourful and active fish, please note some types can be a little aggressive and nip the fins of other fish (Harlequin, Cherry Barb)
Rainbowfish – Stunning colours, active and peaceful shoaling fish (Dwarf Neon Rainbowfish, Boesemani Rainbowfish)
Loaches – Most species are small, peaceful, and a good addition to any aquarium (Zebra Loach, Dwarf Chain Loach, Kuhli Loach)
Corydora Catfish* – Small, hardy, peaceful catfish that should be kept in groups of 6 or more (Panda Cory, Emerald Catfish)
Algae Eaters* – Some smaller species are an interesting and very useful addition to your aquarium (Bristlenose, Otocinclus)
*Please note: Corys and algae eaters shouldn't be your very first fish as they require a mature tank
Fish to avoid: Here are a few fish that are commonly sold to beginners, which are not suitable and should be avoided
Chinese/Siamese Algae Eater – Sometimes just sold as 'algae eater', placid enough when young but adults can become very aggressive and territorial, relentlessly harassing other fish.
Common Pleco – You can buy these at about 1” in size, don’t be fooled – the common plec can and will grow to around 18” long which is much too big for all but the largest aquariums
Rainbow Shark/Red Tailed Shark – The clue is in the name – SHARK! These fish must be kept singly and are unsuitable for a community tank unless with much larger fish.
Bala/Silver Shark - These can also grow to over a foot long and require a large tank with lots of swimming space.
Clown Loach – Tiny in the shop, but can reach a big and bulky 12” in length – Need a very large aquarium.
Pangasius Catfish/Iridescent Shark Catfish - A lovely catfish, but these brutes can grow to over 3 feet long and are unsuitable for most home aquariums.
Cichlids – This covers many many species, but as a general rule of thumb most cichlids can grow fairly big, aggressive and will bully weaker fish. Never buy without some extensive research first.
Oscar - The king of cichlids, who require a specialist setup and will eat ALL of your other fish before you can say 'oops' ...
Clown Knifefish/Black Ghost Knifefish - Both grow very large, and are predatory
Discus - Notoriously difficult to look after and expensive, a bad combination for beginners.
Siamese Fighting Fish - Not for beginners without a lot of thought on tank mates and tank conditions - They don't like a fast current, and those flowing fins can get ripped to shreds by other fish if you aren't careful.
I hope this was of some help, and good luck – You’ve chosen an exciting and hugely rewarding hobby, and I guarantee it won’t be long before MTS sets in :p
** Thanks to everyone for their help in creating this thread, especially to Hayley for your help with the 'bad' fish
About the author
chrisandsarah registered at Tropical Fish Forums UK on April 09, 2008, 01:43:00 PM and has posted 945 posts in the boards since then. Last visit was September 02, 2010, 08:09:57 AM.