Choosing the Right Fish for your Aquarium
Most beginning aquarium owners are overwhelmed with the large number and variety of decisions required when setting up a new aquarium. The owner must decide on the type, size and placement of the aquarium; whether it will be freshwater or saltwater; live or plastic plants; types of filters, heaters, lights, and food; and a hundred other technical questions that must be answered for designing a proper aquarium capable of maintaining its inhabitants.
Unfortunately, the last decision that is often made concerns the type and number of fish that are going to live in the aquarium. When the owner does decide on buying fish it is often done based on color and appearance. As a result, many new aquariums fail to thrive and many fish perish as a result.
Questions to ask before choosing fish
Once you have decided what fish you would like to have in your aquarium, then the rest of the decisions will fall into place much easier. One of the most important steps to take is to build the aquarium around the chosen fish species not the other way around. You will be much more successful and have healthier fish if you build your aquarium around the needs of the fish rather than around your desire to have an attractive aquarium. If you create an aquarium where the needs of the individual fish in the aquarium are placed first it will be both healthy and beautiful.
The type, size and location of the aquarium will be tailored to best suit the species of fish you choose. The filtering and heating choices will be based on the type of fish you choose. The plants, lighting, food source, and substrate choice will all be tailored to provide the healthiest and most natural environment for your fish species.
Seven Categories of Aquarium Fish
Catfish: There are over 2,000 species of catfish each with their own unique characteristics but, as a group, none of these fish have scales. They are covered with skin or an armor-like plating. Many catfish are used as scavengers in aquariums and while many species are well adapted to this, some have very different eating habits. There is probably a species of catfish that would work well in just about any type of aquarium setup. The important thing is to find the catfish that will work best in your aquarium. Some things to consider when choosing a catfish are:
Characiforms (characins, tetras, hatchetfish, pencilfish, splash tetras): This category includes a very large number of fish that are commonly found in Africa and the Americas. Some of the smaller species are very popular in community aquariums. Some of the larger ones (piranhas) are more difficult and better suited to experts. Many of these species are wild caught.
Cichlids: This category consists of a large very diverse number of fish that are commonly found in Africa, the tropical Americas and Asia. The bright colors and diversity of habitat common to these species make them popular in many aquariums. The Cichlids all practice parental care which makes them more territorial. When they are guarding their young or eggs, they can be very aggressive towards any other fish in the area and may even guard their nest areas when they aren't actively hatching young. This aggression makes most of them better suited to living in aquariums where other species of fish aren't present. However, some species (dwarf cichlids and angelfish) will live together well in a community aquarium if the right conditions are provided.
Cypriniforms (barbs, danios, rasboras, sharks, loaches, goldfish, koi): These fish are found in many locations throughout the world and the species include both tropical varieties and coldwater species such as the goldfish. Many of these species are popular in the aquarium because of their hardiness, ease of care and willingness to breed. Many species are sociable and do well in a community aquarium.
Cyprinodonts (toothcarps, killifish): These fish are usually small and live and feed near the surface. The toothcarps consist of the egg layers that can be rare and difficult for beginners and the live bearers that are popular aquarium species such as guppies, mollies, swordtails, and platys.
Labyrinth Fish (gouramis, betta, paradise fish): This group of fish is very popular with the aquarist. They are generally small, hardy, peaceful fish that are well suited to community aquariums with the exception of some of the aggressive males of the paradise fish.
Rainbowfish (rainbowfish, silversides): The fish from this family come from a variety of different habitats and the individual needs of each species should be researched. These fish tend to have an iridescent quality to their skin that makes them change colors as they move through the light. Most species are small, peaceful, and colorful, and make good additions to a community aquarium.
Bailey, M; Burgess, P. Tropical Fishlopedia. Howell Book. New York; 2000.
Burgess, P; Bailey, M; and Exell, A. A-Z of Tropical Fish. Howell. New York; 1998.
Burgess, WE; Axelrod, HR; Hunziker III, RE. Dr. Burgess’s Mini Atlas of Marine Aquarium Fishes. TFH. Neptune City, NJ; 1997.