Keeping Tropical Freshwater Aquariums

Chrystal JStarred Page By Chrystal J, 26th Sep 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Pets>Fish

I have enjoyed the fish-keeping hobby for 5 years now and have had multiple tanks. I've also worked in the pet industry where educating and selling people fish was part of my everyday job.
Here's my guide to the wonderful world of pet fish!

Keeping Tropical Freshwater Aquariums

The hobby of fish-keeping has captured the interest of people for hundreds of years, with some of the first crude tanks kept for pleasure by the Romans and Chinese.
Later, European lands such as the UK and Germany would adopt the interest, and it would finally land on western shores, here, in North America by the late 1800s.
Today, fish-keeping has a tremendous following throughout the world.
With the variety of supplies, décor and fish available in todays’ market for the home aquaria, it makes the hobby all that more interesting, with well over 9 million households in the US alone, having a tank in their homes.

Types of Aquariums

Although this article will be discussing the tropical freshwater tank system, there are actually four general types of tanks that can be kept, including the tropical freshwater tank.

-The cold freshwater tank: A tank that keeps freshwater fish who require a cold water habitat.
-The tropical freshwater tank: A tank that keeps freshwater fish who require a warm water habitat.
-The brackish tank: A tank thats water is a mix of fresh and salt water.
-The marine tank: A tank system that keeps saltwater fish and other ocean life.

Essentials for an Successful Aquarium Start-up

The tank is the first feature piece.
Tanks come in many shapes and sizes. The shape generally is not as important as the size, but the most popular tank shape is a horizontal rectangle, as many fish prefer this to the tall tanks. It also gives you more ground surface area which is important for beneficial bacteria to grow.
With size, you can get anything from a bowl to a 1000+ gallon tank. However, the smaller the tank the more often you must clean it. Also, the smaller the tank, the less fish you can keep. This seems like common sense, but many people overstock their aquariums, which can lead to disastrous results. An overstocked tank leads to stressed fish because of a lack of space and tank pollution. Which in turn becomes a breeding ground for disease.

If you decide on buying anything bigger than a 5 gallon tank, you need to purchase a stand/table that is appropriate for holding a water-filled tank. Remember, even a 10 gallon tank when filled weighs around 100lbs.
The stand needs to be sturdy and VERY level so that none of the tanks’ panes of glass have more water pressure on them than another. If one does, especially with larger tanks, it could lead to that pane giving out over time.

Not all aquarium set-ups have a hood (I prefer a hood however, as some fish are jumpers), but all aquariums should have a lighting systems.
If you wish to decorate your tank with live plants, buy a hood that takes fluorescent bulbs. A general wide-spectrum bulb for tanks should do.
If live plants aren’t something you wish to incorporate, then an aquarium incandescent bulb will be fine.

A filter is also needed to mechanically siphon the tank water through a chemical media filtration system and then release the water back in the tank. This is needed to keep your tank balanced chemically and clean out smaller debris.
The size of filter you need ultimately rests with what tank size you purchase.

A submersible heater is an important feature in tropical aquaria to maintain your tanks water temperature. Drastic influxes in temperature can stress and kill your fish.

Also, a thermometer to keep an eye on your tanks temperature should be placed in your tank.

Gravel is often used as the medium for the bottom of the tank. Finer gravel is nice for fish who like to dig, but not good if you have an under gravel filter. Small natural or coloured bagged pebbles/gravel is what is most common. DO NOT grab just any old sand from a beach and put it in your tank…it hasn’t been treated for chemicals, microorganisms and may also affect you chemical water composition..

An air stone or bubbler is not required but nice to have. It doesn’t help oxygenate the tank that well, like many people think (that mainly happens by breaking the surface of the water, like with a canister filter), but it does help with gaseous exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide and the thermo regulation of the water.

An aquarium pump to vacuum the gravel is essential, as is a scrub pad to use on built up algae on the glass and ornaments.

Décor of course is not an essential, but if you do decide to add something, make sure it is made for an aquarium. This includes rocks and driftwoods.
Adding untreated natural items can cause the same problems adding sand from a beach would and could leave you with many dead friends, quickly.


You must be mindful of where you place your tank. It should not be near an external heat source, such as the stove or heater vent and it should not be placed too close to a window. This is because it can inflict temperature variations and direct sunlight can cause algae issues.

Clean your tank, new or used, with hot water and a touch of vinegar. Rinse it well.
Rinse gravel with water before adding. You want about 2-3 inches of gravel to cover the entire bottom of your tank.
Set in any décor pieces and begin to fill with water. When full, add in the filter, thermometer and heater (do not plug in heater before it is submersed in water. Same goes for the filter motor).
Add in chemical that removes the chlorine and chloramine from the water.
Add in a beneficial bacterial booster to your tank. This will help your tank establish its beneficial bacteria, which is necessary for a balanced aquarium.
Turn on tank light for approx. 10 hours a day.
Your new aquarium should run for at least a few days to a week before you add any fish.
Before you add fish you should purchase an aquarium chemical testing kit. The kit can be strips or drops (I prefer the drops) and it should cover pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and water hardness (KH and GH). Your tank should be within the safe limits for the fish you wish to keep before adding aquatic life.

When you do add your first fish, it should only be a few at a time, 1-2 for a 10 gallon, 2-6 small fish for a larger tank, 30 gallons and up.
The fish you choose need to be very hardy, as these are the only types that will survive the ammonia spike that will hit before the Nitrogen cycle balances out.
These first fish will help your aquarium establish itself. You should not add any other fish until your tank has gone through a full cycle, which can take 2 weeks to 8 weeks on average.

The Nitrogen Cycle

Before your tank goes through a Nitrogen cycle, it will have what is called ‘New Tank Syndrome’. This means that before your tanks’ beneficial bacteria levels are adequate, your tanks’ toxic chemical levels will dangerously spike before the tanks’ first Nitrogen cycle is complete.
During a Nitrogen cycle, which happen continuously, toxic chemicals are converted to non-toxic ones.
When fish produce waste and un-eaten food settles in the tank, it produces Ammonia, which is toxic to fish. When your tanks’ beneficial bacteria establishes itself, it will feed off it and oxidize the Ammonia to a by-product known as Nitrite, which is also toxic. However, this allows another type of bacteria to convert it further to Nitrate, which is generally not toxic, provided it isn’t present in large amounts.
Aquatic plants help reduce the Nitrate levels as well as partial (10%) water changes (water evaporation does not count).

Adding Fish

Adding aquatic life is the most exciting part of setting up an aquarium, which is why so many people rush to stock their new tank. This is a big mistake and should be avoided.
Aside from the fish first bought to cycle your tank, you should not add more until the tanks’ bio-filtration system is established. Once that has happened you can begin to add more fish, but not more than a few at a time, because as you add more fish it puts a strain on your bio-filtration(beneficial bacteria) to keep up with the new Ammonia converting work-load. The conversion will happen safely and more quickly if only a small amount of fish are added at a time.

When adding fish you should allow them to adjust for up to half an hour before adding them to their new home, by floating the bag and adding small amounts of water from your tank to the fish bag.
When adding don’t pour them in from the bag, but pour them into a net over a bucket and then gently place them in your tank. This is because you don’t want to add pet store water to your tank water, which may chemically be slightly different than yours or contain bacteria or parasites.
This is the reason why many fish keepers will recommend you quarantine your new fish in a separate tank for a week or so before adding them to the main tank. This can potentially help you avoid adding a specimen that has a contagious disease. However, many find keeping a separate tank for this purpose to be inconvenient, and so will add their new fish directly into their new home.

The fish you add should be compatible with one another. If you wish to keep a community tank of several different species or very small fish, you should consider non-aggressive types. If you are drawn to a particular species but they tend to be aggressive then you may need to tailor your aquarium to owning only aggressive or semi-aggressive fish (so they will stick up for themselves).
Another very important rule to keep in mind when choosing your tank mates is what type of water parameters they need. The fish you choose should have similar needs in this respect. Don’t house a Discus fish that prefers soft/acidic water, with a Cichlid who prefers hard/basic water.

Some popular types of fish kept in a tropical freshwater aquarium are:
-Silver Dollars
-Algae eaters

Fish Care and Aquarium Maintenance

Most fish care centres around proper tank maintenance. If you have that down you probably won’t have too many issues.
However, your fish will need to be provided with a quality flake food geared for your tank mates once to twice a day. This can be accompanied by some Spirulena flakes for fiber or crushed peas a few time a week.
Different frozen foods are available too, like mosquito larvae, which are wonderful to add to their menu a couple of times a week.
If you have bottom dwellers, you will need to provide them with sinking pellets. This includes algae eaters. They should not be expected to live solely off of their tanks algae (many algae eaters aren’t even herbivorous!)
Your fish should only be given as much food as they can consume in 3 mins, in one sitting. Sometimes the pellets take a bit longer to eat, which is fine, as long as your’ fish are diligent at finishing them and are not leaving it to rot.

A smaller tank will need to be cleaned more often than a larger one, simply because there is less volume and surface area, the water quality will decline at a faster rate.
A bowl or 2-3 gallon tank will need to be cleaned 2-3 times a week. A 10-20 gallon, every 1-2 weeks. A 30 to 60 gallon, about every 3-4 weeks.
During this time you will be scrubbing the tank walls/décor, wiping algae off of plants and siphoning the gravel for waste.
In most cases, you don’t need to and shouldn’t remove more than 10-20% of the water volume.

You will need to clean the filter as well a couple of times a month. This means rinsing the parts and occasionally changing the filter medium, which you would do as often as your filter brand instructions dictates.
Do not clean your filter the same day you clean the rest of your tank. This is because you will lose some of your beneficial bacterial colonies when cleaning, but you don’t want to lose too much at once or it can throw your tank back into the ‘New Tank Syndrome’.

You should check your tanks chemical composition daily during the ‘New Tank Syndrome’ period. Afterwards a weekly check will generally suffice.

For those new to the hobby, fish keeping may seem daunting with all of the information needed to be known to keep fish successfully, but in my experience most people do just fine with their first tanks.
Indeed, part of the fulfillment of aquariums is the challenge of coming to understand the complexities of these aquatic kingdoms and watching their beauty thrive.


Aquariums, Aquatic Plants, Fish, Hobby, Tanks, Water Quality

Meet the author

author avatar Chrystal J
Mama to three, and Wiccan High Priestess. I write partially for a living and for fun. Short, descriptive verse, children's stories and spiritual non-fiction are my writing focuses.

Share this page

moderator Mark Gordon Brown moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
21st Oct 2014 (#)

We have kept Betta fish in the past, but they all died off years ago, now we have no fish but do have a pet turtle. Having an aquarium can be nice. Good aquarium tips for people.

Reply to this comment

author avatar C.D. Moore
21st Oct 2014 (#)

Great article with beautiful pictures. My grandson enjoys keeping tropical fish.

Reply to this comment

author avatar AjaySinghChauhan
24th Oct 2014 (#)

good post

Reply to this comment

author avatar Chrystal J
5th Dec 2014 (#)

Thank you folks!
Love my fish!!

Reply to this comment

author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
19th Jan 2015 (#)

Great article and tips! Nice pictures.

Reply to this comment

author avatar Chrystal J
20th Jan 2015 (#)

Thank you! Working in the pet trade industry for a few years, I've seen way to many people make easily avoidable mistakes with fish.Wanted to share some of my knowledge so that anyone getting into fish keeping will hopefully avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?