Category Archives: New Aquarist Guide

How To Stop a Bully Fish

You’re finally finished. Your tanks cycled, the plants look beautiful and a new fish is on the way. You release them into the water and watch as they begin to mingle but something isn’t right. Your original fish are herding the new fish around, pushing them and keeping them away from prime locations. When you feed your fish the new tank mate doesn’t dare go near the rest as they eat all the food, leaving them hungry. You have a Fish bully and it needs to be dealt with.

Fish are not like most pets. We cant just spray them with water when they do something wrong, and we can’t put them in a time out either. This presents us with a unique situation where we have little control over our pets behavior. Follow along as we reveal every tip there is on how to get your fish bully under control and stop aquarium bullying.

The Fight

If you are fortunate to see the first fight try to remember it in detail. How long was the fight? Were both fish fighting or was it an assault?

When two fish fight for the first time it will often be to establish the pecking order of a tank. Given one or two short conflicts most fish will stop fighting as they know who is stronger and see no reason to fight. For those lucky enough to see the first fight try watching your fish a second time before taking drastic action. Does the bully fish no longer chase the other fish more than a few inches? When feeding your fish, are they all able to get food without being hit by one another? More often than not they will have stopped fighting.

However if you have had your fish for several weeks and are just now noticing the bullying, then a pecking order has long since been established and the bully has other reasons for attacking.

So why are our old fish being so aggressive? Some species like Beta fish and tiger barbs are naturally aggressive. To keep them under control you much purchase only equally aggressive fish. This stops bullying as neither fish will want to fight someone who will fight back under normal circumstances.

Fish Size Does Not Matter

You may think only the large fish can pick on small, new fish who cannot fight back but this is not true. Easily noticeable in Tiger Barbs, small fish can harass fish of any size if they are too passive. Always check fish compatibility charts to ensure your fish won’t be at each others gills

In cases regarding peaceful fish suddenly turned aggressive or properly managed aggressive fish starting new fights, the issue often lies in how your tank is laid out.

Redecorating Your Fishes Home

For starters, turn off your aquariums light and work in fairly low light. This keeps the fish from focusing on what you are doing. With the lights off begin to re-arrange your tanks decorations and equipment. Make sure nothing is in a similar spot and turn the lights back on.

Why are we doing this? Over time animals create nests and territories which they will protect much more adamantly than others will. Fish are no different, and claiming the higher levels of your tank can keep new fish from ever seeing a flake of food. Keep your fish guessing on where its territory is. While your old fish are looking for new areas, so will the new fish. Given the same start your two fish will both pick their own areas. Your old fish will be fooled into thinking they are in a new area, putting them on even grounds with the newcomer. This stops the majority of fish aggression, and is our favorite method.

Adding New Hiding Spots

Some fish are just too docile to be around other fish. These guys need a place to hide and not a territory to defend. Based on your fishes size there are a few ways you can go about doing this

  • Adding live plants will give your fish more areas to hide. Tall plants can create walls while a dense forest of stems can allow your fish a safe shelter. Be sure to tailor your plant selection to what is already in the tank. If you have a lot of walls get something that provides shelter. If you have a lot of low hiding spots give them some tall plants to swim behind
  • Find plastic decor with passable areas. Many owners own plastic plants, but these can cut fish with sharp edges, which deter fish from the hiding spots they create. Instead look for things like castles, columns or other items without sharp edges. Anything to give your fish some cover will do.
  • Move your equipment so that they create hiding spots. Bubbles in the back of the tank look nice, but a wall of bubbles a few inches in front of the back wall can give your fish the obstruction it needs to relax.

Bully fish only strike out at nearby fish. Remember this as you arrange your tank. You want hiding spots but don’t condense your tank into a smaller area in doing so.

Over Stocked Tanks

When there are too many fish in the same tank there is just no solution. Try as you might there is a finite number of territories fish can create in a tank. Even when given an equal chance at scouting a home out some fish will have to lose the race. Nature is survival of the fittest after all. That’s why we try to bring down the difficult of nature to allow all our fish an easy, stress free life.

Special Note on Breeding Fish

When housing multiple of the same species, we may often meet their optimal breeding scenario. Either through research or while simply adjusting the temperature, many owners will find themselves with breeding fish at some point in their aquariums life.

Fish that are of the same sex will fight during these times, defending their territories and driving away any competition. If your fish are both of equal size and aggression these fights will not end until only one fish remains. For this reason breeding parameters should be avoided when housing large groups of one species, and those who are meant to breed should be separated from the tank. This can be accomplished using breeding nets, tank dividers or another aquarium all together.

Please note that similar looking fish may consider the other to be in the same species. Watch your fish’s reaction as other tank mates swim past them and learn who he likes and dislikes. A short chase of two inches means they are safe, while a long unending chase is a problem that will not be solved without intervention.

Because of these difficulties in gender and species confusion we caution new owners to try schooling fish, being sure to follow the specific guidelines for each species. Generally you will want at least two females for each male.

The Unstoppable

If all attempts to stop bullying have failed then your fish may just be too aggressive for it’s tank mates. While compatibility charts will typically avoid this problems, some fish will simply break the norm and be far above their normal aggressive level. In this situation it is best to:

  • Remove the bully from the tank
  • Return them to the store they were purchased from. Many stores will take back fish if you return them soon enough.
  • Donate the fish to another aquarist

Keeping a bully fish who cannot be made to behave is not advised. They will continually harass your other fish to the point of their death. Even without causing bodily harm, the stress bullying puts on fish is actually enough to kill them. Removing your fish is of course a last resort, but safety of the tank must be placed above all else.

Maintaining Proper Aquarium Salinity

Aquarium salinity is one of the most deciding factors in keeping saltwater or brackish fish. Think of it as balancing out the oxygen we breath. Pure oxygen will actually kill a human. Likewise swimming in pure water will kill our marine fish.

To provide them with the optimal salinity it is best to look at their specific care sheet. If you have a tank with many fish or are unsure which you will be keeping it is safe to put the salinity at 1.026. This is the most commonly used number among marine tank hobbyists and by far one of the safest numbers. Should the water evaporate causing the salinity to raise you have a buffer zone before the water becomes too salty. This also works for topping off, adding un-salted water, as the salinity is high enough that a small drop will not harm your fish.

When choosing which salt to add to your aquarium there is one simple question you have to ask yourself. Am I interested in corals? If you are not you have both dodged one of the most expensive hobbies there is and can use any aquarium salt. Don’t get me wrong I love my corals but they can be a bit costly. If you do want to grow corals be on the lookout for reef salt. Salt labeled as reef salt will posses many trace elements that corals need to survive. While you can grow corals using normal salts, the amount of additives you would have to buy to match what comes with the salt is not worth the time/cost.

How To Correctly Make Saltwater

Always mix salt before adding to inhabited water!

If you have never set up a saltwater aquarium I can guarantee the amount of salt needed to create the right salinity will boggle your mind. Even a small 10 gallon saltwater tank will need cups of salt.

To begin you will first need your treated water. I highly recommend using a reverse osmosis filter to create the water, but tap water that has been treated works just fine. If the tank is smaller, I’d say up to twenty gallons, you will be fine stirring the water with your hand. Scoop in salt slowly as you stir the water, allowing the salt to dissolve.

Generally speaking you will want to use a refractometer to get the closest results possible. If you do not have one on hand or cannot get one you may use the rule of thumb: 1/2 cup of salt per gallon of water. This will give your tank a perfectly livable environment but may not be the perfect salt level for your fish. If you plant on keeping a saltwater tank long term you will need a refractometer.

If your tank is large, say 30+ gallons then hand mixing the salt will be far too time consuming. When this situation comes around many hobbyists will use circulation pumps to mix the water for them. Some of the cheaper circulation pumps are under $10 and will save you plenty of time. This is the place to use those bargain pumps, as the noise they produce and longevity will not really come into play. These will stir you water for at least 30 minutes, adding on more time as the batch of water gets bigger.

Topping Off/Dealing With Evaporation

In the reef tank you will no doubt need to add water. The more powerful lights that are associated with saltwater aquariums, combined with sumps, surface agitation and protein skimmers will no doubt lower you water level every day. When the time comes there is one thing you need to keep in mind.

Salt does not evaporate

That means you will need to add normal water into the tank and not salt water. If you were to add saltwater each time the salinity would climb and eventually harm your fish. For the best results try to top off(refill your tank) around every other day or even add an automatic top off system.

That being said do not simply pour in all the water in an instant. Slowly add the water to avoid distressing your fish. While getting hit with freshwater will not instantly kill them it can bother them or scare them. We want our fish to be as stress free as possible.

Aquarium Heater Size Guide

When it comes to selecting the best aquarium heater size there is no “per gallon” rule that works in all cases. More often than not the size of your heater will be determined by the wattage and quality of your heater. This means the cheapest, biggest heater may not be the best aquarium heater. In fact it is often better to go for one of the better small, high quality aquarium heaters, such as the Eheim Jager.

Actions speak louder than words however. Therefore I have gone and created a list of tables to help you find the right aquarium heater size for your tank. This information has all be gathered from manufacturers, manuals, reviews and personal experience. This will help you make a much better choice than a “x watt per gallon” suggestion.

Additionally we must take into account our homes average temperature. A wind breaker doesn’t work too well during a snowstorm, so we can’t expect a heater to work just as effectively with huge differences in temperatures. For this I have done three ratings for homes at 68, 73, and 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

Aqueon Pro Heater
Room Temperature 50 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 250 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 14 Gal 19.5 Gal 37 Gal 52.5 Gal 60 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 17 Gal 25 Gal 46 Gal 64 Gal 75 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 20 Gal 30 Gal 55 Gal 75 Gal 90 Gal
Fluval E Series
Room Temperature 50 Watts 100 Watts 200 Watts 300 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 10 Gal 20 Gal 43.5 Gal 66.5 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 12.5 Gal 25 Gal 55.5 Gal 83 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 15 Gal 30 Gal 65 Gal 100 Gal
Finnex Titanium Tube
Room Temperature 50 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 300 Watts 500 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 10 Gal 20 Gal 30 Gal 60 Gal 80 Gal 100 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 15 Gal 25 Gal 45 Gal 70 Gal 90 Gal 110 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 20 Gal 30 Gal 60 Gal 80 Gal 100 Gal 120 Gal
Hydor Theo
Room Temperature 25 Watts 50 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 300 Watts 400 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 2 Gal 5 Gal 14 Gal 23 Gal 26 Gal 53 Gal 80 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 4.5 Gal 9.5 Gal 20 Gal 30.5 Gal 39.5 Gal 66.5 Gal 92.5 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 7 Gal 14 Gal 26 Gal 40 Gal 53 Gal 80 Gal 105 Gal
Eheim Jager

The Eheim earns a special note here. It has far above average heating strength thanks to its special laboratory glass, which you can read more about on the best aquarium heater page.

Room Temperature 25 Watts 50 Watts 75 Watts 100 Watts 125 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 250 Watts 300 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 4 Gal 6.6 Gal 15.8 Gal 26.4 Gal 39.6 Gal 53 Gal 79 Gal 106 Gal 159 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 5.5 Gal 11 Gal 21 Gal 32.5 Gal 46.5 Gal 66 Gal 92.5 Gal 128.5 Gal 210 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 6.5 Gal 15.8 Gal 26.4 Gal 39.6 Gal 53 Gal 79 Gal 106 Gal 159 Gal 260 Gal
ViaAqua Quartz
Room Temperature 50 Watts 100 Watts 200 Watts 300 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 8.5 Gal 16.5 Gal 33 Gal 53 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 11 Gal 21 Gal 41.5 Gal 66.5 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 13 Gal 25 Gal 50 Gal 80 Gal
Marineland Precision Heater
Room Temperature 50 Watts 75 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 250 Watts 300 Watts 400 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 8 gal 13.5 gal 19.5 gal 26.5 gal 36.5 gal 46.5 gal 53 gal 83 gal
Normal Room (73 F) 10 gal 17 gal 25 gal 34 gal 45 gal 58 gal 66.5 gal 104 gal
Warm Room (78 F) 12 gal 20 gal 29 gal 40 gal 55 gal 70 gal 80 gal 125 gal
Aquatop GH
Room Temperature 50 Watts 75 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts 250 Watts 300 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 8.5 gal 13.5 gal 16.5 gal 26.5 gal 33 gal 43.5 gal 52.5 gal
Normal Room (73 F) 11 gal 17 gal 21 gal 34 gal 41.5 gal 55.5 gal 64 gal
Warm Room (78 F) 13 gal 20 gal 25 gal 40 gal 50 gal 65 gal 75 gal
Tetra HT
Room Temperature 50 Watts 100 Watts 150 Watts 200 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 4 Gal 18 Gal 24.5 Gal 33 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 7 Gal 24 Gal 37 Gal 44 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 10 Gal 30 Gal 40 Gal 55 Gal
Zacro
Room Temperature 50 Watts 300 Watts
Cold Room (68 F) 10.5 Gal 66 Gal
Normal Room (73 F) 13 Gal 72.5 Gal
Warm Room (78 F) 16 Gal 99 Gal
Aquarium Heater Size Graphs

For those who hate tables but don’t mind looking over graphs I have converted the data just for you. A quick glance is all it takes to find the perfect aquarium heater size for your fish tank.


Keep these tips in mind when deciding what aquarium heater size you need:

  • Small aquariums can be heated much quicker and should avoid oversized heaters.
  • Large aquarium heaters may not work as well as two smaller heaters. This is highly dependent on water circulation. Either choose two smaller heaters or direct strong currents towards your heater for the best results.
  • Always keep a back up heater! Even if your back up is a cheaper model it can still save your fish while you get a longer lasting model.

I cannot stress enough that the wattage of your aquarium heater is not the only factor for sizes. Cheaper models such as the Tetra HT cannot heat anywhere near Eheim or the Fluval E series heater. Only go for cheap heaters as back ups.

The Ultimate Aquarium Equipment List

It happens every time. Someone who is new to the hobby asks me if they have everything they need to set up their first fish tank. The first thing every new aquarist does wrong is a strange mistake: They buy what they don’t need.

When building aquariums it’s not uncommon for even experienced hobbyists to forget an item or two, such as magnetic scrapers, so how can someone new to the scene buy extra equipment? Easy. They buy what they see in aquariums and not the hidden components that keep them ticking. Follow along our new aquarium equipment list and your first tank will be on it’s path to success.

If you want to skip the read, all fish tanks need:
Aeration, water treatment, filtration, a lid and a heater

Tanks do Not need:
Decorations, water pumps, air stones, stands, lights and excess medicines.

Aeration and Water Movement

Notice how I said aeration and not air stones. Why is this? Nearly every tank in the pet store has air stones! Again you are right. Most retail stores like that you copy their builds. How easy is it to sell a piece of equipment when someone just learns they needed it? Very, and big stores know this.

In reality aquariums need surface agitation. The act of disturbing the surface creates a strong exchange of gases between the water and its surrounding environment. Hang on back filters, water current producing power heads, and finally air stones all provide this. But how much is enough?

When providing your tank with air their is such a thing as too much surface disturbance. Air stones are the prime culprit here, as their excess amount of small bubbles dramatically increase evaporation, increasing your workload.

So where does this leave us? Simply put, Waterfall filters and power heads provide much more functionality for their price, along with reduced evaporation and noise. My little girl had to have bubbles, but couldn’t stand the noise. This led to me making a trip to get 25 feet of airline tubing to place the tube in another room entirely because she could not stand to be in her room with the noise it produces. Personal story aside, the water movement and filtration caused by the other two methods of aeration should be enough to catch the smart shoppers eye.

By using a simple power head found on Amazon you can combine both your aeration needs and water movement into one piece of equipment. This cuts out air pumps and saves you $10 on the air pump, $5 on the air line tubing and $2 on the air stone.

Aeration and water flow taken care of for the price of one.

Filtration

So now we need a filter, but not just any filter. We want our aquarium to be quiet. No loud hums, no splashing fountains and certainly no rattling motors. Combine all this and you get one of the most expensive items on the list. Check out this behemoth on amazon. Silent and effective all the way to 400 gallons. It meets all our needs but at that price we could just take a cruise and see fish in the wild. For our first tank we are going to want to invest a smaller amount.

Keeping the quiet and reasonable price together we have found amazing success in Hang on back filters. Unlike internal filters, these are made to hang free on the tank, allowing owners easy access to clean out the filter and even adjust suction strength for feeding time.

But what about the water crashing? To be fair, not everyone likes the sound of a waterfall in their bedroom. However take a look at the highest rated filter available.


View on Amazon

Low Price
Amazing Warranty
Multiple Sizes
Minimal Tank Space
Low Water Outlet

Take special note at the mention of a low water outlet. Given your tank is not half full, the outlet is likely going to reach your water levels. How does this affect our noise issue? As the water has zero fall time, it silently slides into your tank horizontally.

no splash, all silence.

 

The Fish Tank

Unless you are inheriting an aquarium from you friend, family or craigslist, you will need to buy a home for your fish. The general rule is one inch of fish per gallon of water. To most hobbyists this will mean buy the biggest you can afford and fit in your house. most beginner will want at least a 10 gallon, but we will leave the size choices to you. A special note we will make here is to watch Petco’s weekly adds if you have one in your city. They often have dollar per gallon sales, giving us access to well below bargain prices.

Warning: Despite all the old movies, TV shows and in store displays, do not put your fish in a bowl. Likewise nanocubes should be avoided by beginners, as the water parameters can change suddenly, killing your fish. Small bowls and nanocubes limit the owner to one tiny fish. We are not sinking $50 into fish supplies to house a single guppy. Your fish need space to swim and water volume to combat the toxins fish produce. We urge new owners to stick with the rectangular tanks for your first purchase.

Heater

Assuming your house is not constantly 80 degrees, your fish tank will be too cold for almost all fish. Goldfish and a few other like cold water, but plecos, swordtails, guppies and bala sharks all prefer warmer waters. To keep your water heated up to the right temperature you will need 3-5 watts per gallon of water. The range is depending on the difference in temperature you require ex: room temp of 65 changing to 82 vs room temp of 75 changing to 78.

Theres not much to talk about here so lets move on.

Covers and Hoods

Fish jump. They will never not jump. Buying a fish without having a hood on your aquarium is basically inviting them to your floor. Keep your fish alive with a glass canopy or deluxe hood.

Glass canopies are cheaper and allow you to view your fish from above with ease. Hoods on the other hand can take care of your lighting in addition to covering your tank. For those with plants in their tank we really recommend hoods, as spot lights added to glass tops create dim sides on the tank.

Either choice will serve to keep your fish alive and reduce your evaporation. For those getting into the hobby for the long run a hood is a great investment, and not much more expensive for the value it will bring you. If this is just for your children for a few years then a glass top can serve your purposes well.

Water Treatment

When setting up a new aquarium many owners use tap water without questioning it. Nearly all water available to the public has levels of iron, chorine and phosphates. While iron and phosphates are not particularly bad for fish, chlorine will kill most fish that are forced to endure it.

The two answers to this differ greatly in price. The high end that will be needed for large salt water tanks housing corals is reverse osmosis filters. These filter the water to be pure, allowing for the absolute best start. For our ten gallon tetra tank however we can use a tap water conditioner found at any retail store. These are cheapest at Walmart and almost the same at pet stores, so don’t look too hard into the best deal. Either way be sure to do something about your waters chlorine, less you have only dead fish in a day or two.

The Not So Needed

Substrate

While this is close to essential, many tanks will see success without any form of substrate. These “glass bottom” aquariums will be far easier to clean.

The down side is the lack of surface area for beneficial bacteria. The good bacteria in our tank will eat the toxins our fish produce and delay the need for water changes. It’s up to the owner to decide which they prefer. No substrate and faster cleaning or adding substrate for less water changes.

Stand

Simply put many tanks will end up on our dressers or end tables. You likely have something you want to add your tank to, so there is little need to buy something that will result in you throwing something away.

Lights

Lights allow our tanks to grow plants and be seen more easily in dark rooms. Without plants however, lights only serve to promote algae growth. Most aquariums are fully visible in normal room lighting, but a aquarium light will really help your tank stand out in the room.

This choice is more of “do I want people to gawk at my tank?” We love to dazzle our guests, but our kids had to ask what the black thing on the top did.

Water Pumps

I’ll admit, we fell into the trap of buying a water pump early on. Sure it mixes our salt into new saltwater for us, rather than me swirling it around with my hand for 30 minutes, but other than that it just sits in the corner looking pretty.

Don’t get me wrong, this was essentially day one of our journey to the perfect aquarium. Since then we have found a great deal of uses for our pumps, the best being connecting our tank to a sump.

If you have big plans and know what you’re using the water pump for go ahead and pick one up. If you heard they help a lot but have no idea what you would use it for don’t worry about it.

Water Chillers

We live in the northern parts of the US and would never dream of the word “colder.” However when I lived in Texas, a water chiller was an absolute must.

These are essentially attachments that will keep your water cool. Mostly used when owners are away from the house and turn off their ac. Running a tank chiller instead of your houses ac will be a huge decrease in your electric bill meaning those in hot areas should really pick up a water chiller.

Gravel Vacuum

We love these for two reasons. Our pleco is lazy with cleaning the floors and the siphon created by these are actually amazing for water changes. No more dunking buckets into your tank to get the water out.(come on we all did this at least once)

Those with sand or no substrate at all can clean the bottoms with a net or clean, not washed, cloth. For gravel users without a handful of cleaners you will want to add a gravel vacuum to your cart.

Not Needed, Maybe Wanted

Air Pumps

I know we already talked about this but we really want to keep people away from air stones. Unless you absolutely need bubbles, you will be better off using a power head for aeration.

Medicines

We do not want you to let sick fish die, however buying medicine before your fish is sick is a bit silly. Imagine if you kept a spare engine in your car, or another trash can in case yours gets knocked over and cracks.

If your fish gets ill then by all means get medicine. Just don’t keep every single chemical you see by the tanks side. You likely wont notice your fish get sick the second it happens, one more hour while you get what you actually need will not make a difference.

Plastic decorations

We have all seen spongebobs pineapple at Walmart or Petco, you don’t need it in your tank. Some of the more elaborate decorations can be cool, just be sure it fits and your substrate matches.

When choosing your decorations avoid all plastics with points and sharp edges. Fish get startled and will swim into these. Plastic plants can impale fish and sharp edges will remove scales. If your kid can hurt themselves with it, your fish probably can too.

Fish and Fish food

Any aquarium can survive fantastically without inhabitants. For the owner looking to watch an empty glass water box you can easily forgo adding fish and therefore food.

These are all the tools you will need to run a successful aquarium, along with our notes of what sounds useful but really is just a waste of money.