What fish for my aquarium?

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Different fish species have evolved and adapted to specific aquatic environments, such as coral reefs, rock caves, and freshwater with varying pH and soil. When buying fish for an aquarium, consider their native environment, size, temperament, and compatibility with other fish. Research the species and cross-reference information from multiple sources. Tap water should also be considered when creating a specific environment. Plan the tank population consciously to ensure the fish’s needs are met for their entire lifespan. Fish can live for over a decade and provide years of pleasure if well taken care of.

Fish, like people, come from specific environments within their aquatic habitats. In the ocean, coral reefs are one habitat while rock caves are another. In freshwater, the water itself varies widely, along with the underwater soil. The Great Rift Lakes of Africa are known for their extremely alkaline, hard and rocky water environment, while the Amazon River has acidic fresh water filled with vegetation overflowing its wild banks. These completely different environments are home to specific species of fish that have evolved and adapted to their surroundings.

Therefore, the type of fish to buy depends on the type of environment you have created in your aquarium. If your tank is already set up and you’re looking to add a fish, choose those whose native environment matches your tank’s environment; one that won’t outgrow your storage capacity; and species that will get along well with other fish. Keep in mind that different species occupy different water levels. If you already have bottom dwellers like catfish, you may prefer an upper-level or mid-level dweller. The species also have specific temperaments, aggressive or peaceful, and are nocturnal or diurnal.

Luckily there are many ways to find out all there is to know about fish that you may want to consider. In addition to various atlases there are numerous online databases. Whether you check online or in print, be sure to cross-reference information about any specific species with at least 3 unrelated sources, and it’s best not to use dealers as a source. They often use overly lenient and inaccurate statistics, especially when it comes to how much a fish will grow. Instead, they often count on the fish to die before reaching mature lengths. Therefore, beware of tankbuster species.

Fish are often cited as being able to adapt to a wide range of pH. In truth, most do not do well outside the pH of their native waters. Neon tetras are a perfect example. This brightly coloured, peaceful freshwater schooling fish with its distinctive neon blue and red stripe is commonly known as being able to adapt to a pH ranging from acidic to alkaline. However, neon tetras kept in alkaline water live an average life span of 1-3 years. In their native environment of the Amazon, where the water is sweet and acidic, they live an average of 20 years.

If you don’t have an aquarium yet, consider whether you’re more interested in keeping a specific type of fish or creating a specific type of aquarium environment. If it’s a species you’re interested in, research it first to ensure you can successfully create its native habitat. For tank mates, look for other species from the same environment that will be compatible in all of the previously mentioned ways.

If you want to create a specific type of aquatic environment, look for species native to that environment. For example, a heavily planted freshwater tank is similar to an acidic Amazonian freshwater environment, perfect for peaceful schooling fish like neon tetras or the beautiful discus. Angelfish or gouramis will also do, as will any acid-loving species. Just remember that big fish will eat small ones, so if you plan on having neon tetras or other small fish, avoid large species like angelfish.
Conversely, if you like the stark look of a freshwater sand and rock tank, this is similar to a Rift Lake environment that has very hard water and an alkaline pH. Aggressive cichlid fish will do well in this environment.

Before deciding on a specific freshwater environment, however, consider the nature of your tap water. If you have hard, alkaline water like most people, maintaining a soft water environment will be very tiring and more expensive. If you need to make the water harder, it’s not that problematic. But it’s easier to raise species whose natural waters closely match the hardness and pH of your native faucet.

When you bring a fish home, make sure you know what its needs are beforehand and that you can accommodate it for its entire lifespan. Avoid walking down the aisle of the local pet store saying, “I’ll get one of those, three of those, and the long one hidden behind the wood.” Plan your tank population consciously and you will never regret it.
Fish can live well over a decade. The investment is long, but full of rewards. Be good to your fish and they will be good to you, giving you years of pleasure!

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