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Starting a Planted Tank

Plant Nutrients 101

Phophates in the Planted Tank

Activated Carbon

Fertilizer & the Planted Aquarium

CO2 & the Planted Tank

Algae Control

Safety Around the Aquarium

Cleaning Aquarium Glass

Mysterious Fish Deaths Explained!

Aquarium Photography

New Tank Syndrome

Choosing an Aquatic Heater

Tips for Beginning Fishkeepers

Salt in the Aquarium

Outdoor Patio Tubbing

Malaysian Trumpet Snails



Beginner's Tips - Part 3

8. Feeding. Probably more fish are killed by overfeeding, or by being fed the wrong
Foods than from any other source. In the wild, fish rarely eat all day, every day. They are evolved to eat when they can, and often go a day or more without any food at all. Since excess food can fall to the gravel and decay, it is possible to pollute the water and kill our fish by extra feedings. Fish are wonderful actors: they can swim frantically at the front of the tank when they see you, the great creature that lives in the air and that drops goodies into the tank. They appear to be pathetic, starving creatures who depend on you to feed them at once. You must learn to resist this temptation, and to feed only once or twice a day, as much food as the fish can eat in a couple of minutes, and no more. How much food is adequate? Well, if each fish gets 2 or 3 mouthfuls of food, that's adequate.

What to feed? Well, different fish require different types of food. Vegetarian fish have relatively long guts, where plant material can slowly digest and its nutrients absorbed over a longer period of time. Carnivorous fish have relatively short guts, and can absorb adequate nutrients from their food in a very short time. To feed a mainly vegetable diet to a carnivorous fish is not good because the carnivore cannot absorb adequate nutrition from a nutrient-poor vegetable diet. Over a period of time, a carnivorous fish fed a vegetarian diet will starve to death. Similarly, a vegetarian fish fed a carnivorous diet will quickly get in trouble because the animal matter in its gut will not be expelled quickly, and may rot and break down into toxic substances in the fish's gut, killing the fish. Omnivorous fish (those that can eat both plant and animal matter) do better on a general diet. Most prepared fish foods consist of animal material (fish meal), combined with vegetable material (spirulina, algae), and in general meet most of the needs of most fish. However, if you have a species tank that prefers one type of food over another, you should provide the food the fish requires. For example, most - not all, but most - African Cichlids are vegetarians, living off algae and plant material. Therefore, special Cichlid flakes are manufactured that meet this fish's special needs. Mollys are mainly vegetarians, but also eat mosquito larvae in the wild, and thus do better on a general-purpose flake food. Neon Tetras pose a special problem. They have very tiny stomachs, and cannot get adequate food at one feeding per day. Neons do better with 4 or 5 very small feedings every day, to maintain a constant supply of nutrients for their tiny little gut tract. In fact, it is this fact that often explains why people cannot seem to keep Neon Tetras alive. Again, be sure to study your fish's requirements so you can try to meet each fish's requirements.

Frozen foods are available from most fish stores. You can purchase Brine Shrimp, Bloodworms, Daphnia, Glassworms, etc., all in frozen form. Some fish seem to do much better if given occasional feedings of these frozen foods. However, frozen foods should not be fed as the sole, exclusive source of food for most fish. They are useful when conditioning a breeding pair in preparation for spawning. Frozen foods usually come either as a frozen block, or as frozen cubes. The cubes are usually much too large for anything smaller than a 55 gallon aquarium. If you have a 10 or 20 gallon tank of fish, cut one of the cubes in half to provide only enough food that can be consumed in a minute or two. If you see clumps of frozen food settle to the bottom of the tank, you are feeding too much!

9. Water changes. The secret to keeping a healthy aquarium is frequent water
Changes. Filters only remove some - not all - of the built up waste byproducts. Only water changes can remove all waste byproducts, and keep their levels down by dilution. How much water should be changed, and how often? Well, in general, 10% of the water should be removed and replaced with fresh water, every week. 20% would be better still. Do not allow yourself to grow lazy and skip water changes. They are vital to your fish's health. There are test kits to measure nitrates in the water. Nitrates make a good benchmark to tell if you are changing enough water or not. Most fish can tolerate nitrate levels of 40-50 parts per million (ppm). A few fish, such as Goldfish, may tolerate even higher nitrate levels. However, some fish become quite stressed at even 40 ppm. I know of no fish that cannot tolerate 20 ppm of nitrates, so that is my goal. I change enough water so that my nitrate levels never rise above 20 ppm of nitrate. If, at the end of the week, my nitrates are reading 40 ppm, then I know that I have not been changing enough water, and I may increase my water changes to 40% per week, or do two 20% changes per week. So long as the nitrate level never rises above 20 ppm, I know my water changes are adequate.

10. Tank cleaning. Gravel accumulates fish waste and debris. This waste material is
Called "mulm," and is the brown crud you see floating around in your gravel. This can be removed at weekly water changes by gently vacuuming the gravel with a special water siphon made for the purpose. The gravel vacuum consists of a long tube attached to a longer hose. To vaccum your gravel (and to remove water in preparation for water changes), just put the gravel vacuum in the tank and start a siphon into a bucket or drain. You do this by sucking on the end of the tube, but be careful not to suck any tank water into your mouth. Once the siphon into the bucket is started, sweep the gravel back and forth with the gravel vacuum, sucking up the debris and mulm that rises from the gravel. You can plunge the vacuum into the gravel and give it a stir, and you will recover more of the mulm that has settled down into the gravel. Do a different section of the tank each week, so that over a month's time, you have vacuumed all the gravel. Then, replace the water lost to the vacuuming. If you do this every week, your tank will remain healthy indefinitely, and will never, ever require a complete teardown for cleaning. Tanks maintained by this gravel vaccum - water change method can be run continuously for years or decades.

If you remember to do nothing else, DO remember to do frequent partial water changes, and DO NOT overfeed your fish. These two simple steps will go a long way to maintaining a healthy aquarium for years to come.

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