Aquarium Care 101: Part 1

The Right Environment

This article is the first installment of a tropical fish and aquarium care series. In this addition, I’ll briefly discuss tropical fish habitats and simple ways by which you can adjust your aquarium conditions to meet the basic needs of your fish.

In particular, I’ll talk about the concept behind the method of creating nature inspired aquariums, a practice that has gained popularity among tropical fish hobbyists in recent years.

Acquiring a basic understanding of the native habitat of your tropical fish is the single most important thing to know about keeping successful aquariums! After all, you don’t want your aquarium to turn into a fish-prison! Instead, you want to create a healthy environment. Tropical Fish Care becomes a lot easier when you take this first and crucial step.

Aquarium Care principle 1: Balance and Stability

All bodies of water that contain fish also house beneficial bacteria. These bacteria consume the most potent compounds found in fish waste – namely ammonia – and they form the backbone of biological filtration.

You can read more about biological filtration in one of the recent filtration articles found on this website.  I also explain, in detail, how this vital filtration method works and how you can make it work for you in The Kick-Ass Aquarium.

For the sake of avoiding repetition, I’ll cover biological filtration only briefly.

Ammonia (NH3) is highly toxic to fish. Fortunately, the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria convert this poisonous substance to far less harmful compounds.

These bacteria are nature’s microscopic filter! They continuously munch on fish waste and thus provide for the water’s sustained cleanliness! (This is the reason why I opt for swimming in lakes over pools; lake water may seem murkier, but it’s actually a lot cleaner than the water you’d find in the average pool!;)

Although many aquarists rely on expensive and bulky filters, the smarter tropical fish enthusiasts rely mostly on biological filtration! The trick is to create an aquarium that imitates nature. It makes sense, really.

While most filters degrade over time – a condition that results in unstable and dirty water, some filters (such as canister filters) accommodate biological filtration and thus provide constant aquarium cleanliness for your tropical fish.

By imitating nature, by encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria, you’ll balance the amount of waste produced with the amount being consumed! It’s really simple, and it’s the right idea!

Aquarium Care principle 2: The physical aquarium environment affects water conditions

Not all tropical fish are the same. The species available on today’s aquarium market originate from a variety of habitats and are used to different water conditions.

While some tropical fish like hard water (water that has a lot of dissolved minerals in it), others prefer soft, mineral poor water. PH, a related water parameter, is also important, and you can refer to Chapter 7 of the book to learn about this complex subject.

For now, though, we should ask ourselves, “how did the water in various tropical fish habitats become soft or hard?”

The answer is simple. The physical environment – which includes rocks, sunken logs, and various bottom materials – of tropical fish habitats determines whether the water will be hard or soft.

A calcareous rock will release a lot of dissolved minerals into the water and thus make it hard. A piece of driftwood, on the other-hand, releases tiny amounts of acid that soften the water.

Africa’s Lake Malawi, for example, is filled with mineral rich rocks. The water there is hard. Conversely, much of the Amazon River Basin is littered with driftwood and contains minute amounts of calcareous rocks. Hence, the water there is soft!

When you set up your aquarium, keep in mind where your fish originate from, and try to imitate their native habitat as much as you can. If your water is too soft, add a calcareous rock. If it’s too hard, a piece of driftwood will do the trick.

Adding the appropriate decorations to your aquarium not only promotes the health of your fish, but it also looks nice!

If you borrow some of nature’s proven “methods”, you will create a thriving aquarium, a beautiful window to the natural world!

That’s it for this article.  In later installments of Aquarium Care 101, I’ll discuss some ways you can apply some of the above concepts to practice.

Until then, happy fish keeping!


2 people commented on "Aquarium Care 101: Part 1"
Feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment as well.

  • Beth says:

    Hi Luke,

    Thanks for this great reference.

    Question: what do you think of the bio-wheel system in the Eclipse Hex-5 tanks? I have a brand new tank…have regulated it for 3 full days (almost 4). When can I introduce four TINY baby fish?


  • admin says:

    Hi Beth,

    I’m happy to hear that you’ve found the information on this page useful 🙂

    The bio-wheel system, as I mention in my book, does not provide efficient biological filtration.

    However, here’s the good news: the gravel or sand at the bottom of your aquarium will house a ton of those beneficial bacteria that detoxify the water. So, the gravel will do the work of many, many bio-wheels put together! Of course, keeping the bio-wheel running won’t hurt either:)

    Adding your first fish: Yes, you can add your first batch of fish even two days after the aquarium is set up.

    Nevertheless, take great care in not adding too many fish into the aquarium at once, because If too many fish are added, the biological filter won’t grow fast enough to handle the amount of waste being produced (after all, the biological filter is a collection of living, breathing, “poop-eating” bacteria that needs time to develop).

    Also, keep in mind that until you add your first fish, the water is going to be pretty clean, for there are no waste producing organisms (your fish I mean) present in the water. This is precisely the reason why you can add your first batch of fish only two days after the aquarium is set up.

    Finally, if you haven’t done so already, take a look at the aquarium care video on the Kick-Ass Aquarium Information Page (you’ll find the video half way down the page).

    The video explains the basics of bio-filtration and, most importantly, the proper and safe way of adding fish to your aquarium. In fact, it should answer your above question regarding the addition of your first fish quite thoroughly.

    Hope the video proves to be helpful, Beth.

    As always, I’ll be happy to answer any more questions you may have.

    Take Care:)

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