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The most fun part of starting an aquarium is selecting the pets to put into it, introducing them to the aquarium, and watching them adjust to their new home.

Remember, when we first talked about the aquarium, we said we were going to build an eco-system. The aquarium is the whole world for the finny friends we're going to put into it. It has to be right for them, or they'll get sick and die. It is sort of like our world would be if we were suddenly put into a house that didn't have much oxygen, but had a lot of carbon monoxide (exhaust fumes from cars), and we couldn't get out. We wouldn't live very long. The fish won't live very long if their environment is not right for them.

A brand new aquarium, with brand new plants, brand new gravel, fresh water, and the water treatment chemical which takes out the stuff not good for fish, is not correctly balanced for the delicate tropical fish that we plan to have. If we select the lovely tropical fish we want and put them into the new aquarium, it is likely that many of them will die--maybe all of them.

Part of what our pets will need is water condition that develops from the waste product of the fish. Over time, their waste, which has fallen to the bottom of the aquarium, breaks down into material that helps the water to have the condition the fish need. It is the certain condition called the "pH Balance," and it has to do with the acid/alkali content in the water. In a new tank, this balance is just not there.

There is one kind of fish that can live in almost any condition. That is the ordinary goldfish. Most experts feel that the best thing to do when starting up a new aquarium is to put five or six goldfish into it, and keep them for about six weeks. They eat, they produce waste, and they build the correct water condition for tropical fish. It is best to have the goldfish in there, and when they have been in there for six weeks, take a little bottle of the aquarium water to the pet store and ask them to test it. They can tell if the water is right for tropical fish. Usually, you can give the goldfish back to the pet store.

It is kind of a disappointment to build a beautiful aquarium, thinking about all the different kinds of tropical fish to put in it, and then find out all you can have is goldfish. Goldfish are nice, though, and they are quite pretty, and fun to watch. They play in the plants, they chase each other, they come to the top of the water when you walk up close to the aquarium. When you take them back to the pet store, you feel like you'll miss them, because, after all, they have been your pets.

During the time we have the goldfish in our aquarium, we will read about the different kinds of tropical fish that are available. Each of you will have three different kinds of fish to study, and report on, in one month. Remember, we are studying fresh-water tropical fish; not salt water fish. After we have heard the reports, we will vote on the kinds of fish we will get.

Here is a list of characteristics to find out about:

1. Is this fish gentle, or does it fight with other fish?

Some fish are very aggressive, and will kill any fish smaller than it is. The aggressive fish are not good for a community aquarium (a community aquarium is one where there are different kinds of fish). Fish are territorial. That means they will take a certain spot in the aquarium for their own, and they don't want other fish to go there much. The aggressive fish will injure or kill other fish that come into their territory. We also have to remember that fish eat fish. Most fish food that we buy at the pet store is made from fish. Different kinds of fish are of different sizes. Many fish will eat any other fish that will fit into its mouth. That seems really gross, but, that's the way it is. For our aquarium, we will look for gentle fish.

2. Does it usually feed at the top of the water, in the middle of the water, or on the bottom of the aquarium?

It is best to have some top feeders, some middle feeders, and some bottom feeders. The bottom feeders (like loaches and catfish) help keep the aquarium clean, because they eat the food that falls to the floor of the aquarium. Usually the middle feeders (like the tetras) swim around the aquarium, half-way between the floor and the top, grabbing flakes of food as they drift toward the floor. They are fun to watch. The top feeders come up when you get close to the aquarium, and grab the food the minute it hits the water. They don't get it all, but it isn't because they are generous and want to share. They just aren't fast enough to get it all.

3. Does it need a hiding place?

Some fish are very shy. Kuhli Loaches are shy. They live on the floor, usually under a rock, and swim around, cleaning up the floor at night when it is dark. There are several fish that are shy. If all the fish we get are the shy kind, we won't see them often, and won't enjoy them. All fish need to have hiding places sometimes, and they will hide in the plants, or behind rocks or pebbles sometimes. It is good to have places for them to go when they want to hide for awhile.

4. How big will it get?

Our fish do not have to be all the same size, but we don't want to have very large fish, for a number of reasons. One reason is that we can't have very many fish if any of them are large. If our aquarium is crowded, the fish will die; some will get sick because there isn't enough oxygen for them all, and some will get murdered just because they are smaller than the large fish. Many fish that we see in the pet store are babies, and will grow very large in time. We want to check on that before we choose our pets.

5. Does it get along well in a community aquarium?

Fish that are usually gentle usually mind their own business, stay in their own territory most of the time, and don't bother the other fish. This is the kind we want.

6. Does this fish get sick easily? Is it more delicate, or fragile than others?

Some fish are very sensitive to their environment, and if the pH balance gets a little bit off, they will get sick and die. We don't want this kind. Usually the very fragile fish do not do well in community aquaria, but do all right in an aquarium that has only that kind of fish.

7. Does it have long, flowing fins that other fish will nip? Some fish are "fin-nippers." They swim around having fun, and then when you're not looking, they will bite at the long fins of other fish. Barbs are known for being fin-nippers, and we don't want barbs unless we avoid fish with the long, thin fins.

8. Does this fish require special food? Does it require
live food?

Some fish won't eat the flaked fish food. They need to have live food, such as brine shrimp, tubifex worms, or "feeder" fish, which are just small, inexpensive fish that just swim around until somebody eats them. Shrimp and worms can be purchased live, and kept in a jar in the refrigerator. They can also be purchased freeze-dried. Some of them actually "come to life" when they are put into the aquarium, and will swim around until they are eaten. It would not be practical for us to have fish that require live food, unless they will eat the flaked food most of the time and have some freeze-dried worms or shrimp once each week.

9. Does this fish help with the housekeeping?

All fish seem to be hungry all the time. They really aren't, but people think they are, and that is why most fish are fed too much. The bottom feeders usually are good housekeepers. They swim around the floor and eat food that has fallen there. The danger of feeding too much to the fish is not that the fish will eat too much and die. It is that the uneaten food will fall to the floor and rot, and make a chemical condition in the water that kills the fish. The bottom feeders help prevent this from happening. Some kinds of fish help with the housekeeping by eating algae that form in the aquarium. The plecostomus, for instance, will stick his mouth to the side of the aquarium, and suck the algae.

10. How much does it cost?

Some tropical fish are very expensive, and when we first start our aquarium, we don't want to have expensive fish. After we know what we're doing, we might get some of the more expensive fish, but not until then.

11. Are there any other kinds of animals we can get for our aquarium? If we have mostly gentle fish, without long, flowing fins, we can have African frogs. They are darling! Little brown frogs that swim around, up and down, perch on plant leaves, and sleep on the floor. They eat some fish food, but need tubifex worms, and they are satisfied with the freeze-dried kind, about once each week. The fish will eat some of the worms, also, and they are good for the fish.

There is a kind of crab we can have in our fresh-water aquarium, if we don't have bottom feeders with long, delicate fins. The crabs just sort of hang out on the floor, walk around and eat garbage. Unfortunately, they make quite a bit of garbage, so they are not good housekeepers. But they're cute.

Many people like to have snails in their aquaria because they eat algae from the sides. However, sometimes snails kill the fish. Also, they make more garbage than they eat, so they are not good housekeepers, either. In addition to that, if we get one snail, we may end up with hundreds of them!

There may be still other kinds of animals that can live in a fresh-water aquarium, such as water insects and other invertebrates (animals with no backbone) like beetles (not the kind who play guitars), hydra, copepods, and ostracods. We'll have to do some reading to find out about them.


Each of you will answer all ten questions about each of the three fish you have to study. Draw pictures of each of them, and color the pictures with crayons, pastels, or water-colors. Then, we will share what we have learned, look at the pictures of the fish, and vote on which ones to get.

Most kinds of fish need to have at least one companion of the same kind. Not so that they can breed, but just so they can have a friend. Some fish do better if there are three of them. We will be sure to ask at the pet store, if we couldn't find out in our studies. Neons do best if there are six of them. They hang out in a group, and they are pretty to watch.


When we come to the classroom with our new pets, they will be in plastic bags, half-full of water, and half-full of air. We will float the bags on top of our aquarium so that the temperature of the water in the bags will be the same as that in the aquarium. This way, the fish won't be shocked when they are released into the aquarium. After about a half-hour, we'll carefully cut the rubber bands at the tops of the bags, and let the fish swim out into the aquarium. We want to look very carefully at each bag before we remove it from the aquarium, because there may be a fish still in it.

It is loads of fun to watch them when they are first released. Kuhli Loaches need a rock so they can hide under it all day. We don't get to enjoy them, but they are very
good housekeepers. It is fun to watch them select the rock where they want to live. When we first put in the fish, we will just sit quietly and watch them. They will be very busy, finding a place to live. Some of them may argue over a spot. If the fish can't stop arguing, it is best to gently reach into the aquarium and move a rock to another place on the floor. That usually helps the fish to decide where to live, without arguing.

After the fish have settled into their new environment, they will calm down, and we will be able to learn their habits. If we watch carefully, we'll see which fish are the leaders. There is a definite "pecking order" in aquaria, and usually, the most aggressive fish will be "in charge" of things.

We will never tap on the side of the aquarium, as that hurts their ears. If we want to get their attention, we can gently touch the side of the aquarium, and they will see that, and usually they will come over to investigate. The top-feeders, of course, will head for the top of the water if we get close, because they'll think they're going to be fed.

We can feed our fish every other day. The amount of food must be very small. We'll watch, and be very careful not to put in more food than they can eat in five minutes. The food that will fall to the bottom will be a small amount-just enough for the bottom feeders to eat. We can take turns feeding them, but in order to avoid having two people feed them in the same day, we will put our names on the calendar, so we will all know whose turn it is each time they are fed. We won't be here on weekends, but that is okay, because they can go a few days without being fed. When vacation time comes, we will get a food block. That is a greyish-white cake of fish food. We will put it into a plastic holder (a medicine bottle lid works very well), and set it on the floor of the aquarium. The fish will go to it for their food-even the top feeders will eat from the food block. During summer vacation, we will arrange for the custodians (janitors) to feed them.

After we have established our aquarium, and all our pets have chosen their homes, we might want to get another type of fish or another animal. If all the territories are being used, the new pets will not find a place to live without having an argument, or, several arguments, and maybe they would be injured by the others. Just before we release the new pets from their bag, we will reach into the aquarium and move one rock (not the one where the loaches live) to the other side of the aquarium. This will confuse all the fish, and they will all have to find a new territory, and nobody will get hurt. That's a surprise, isn't it!

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