More Fish = More Service

by Tom Lang

One of the most common requests we receive from our clients is that they want more fish for their aquariums. While we would like to make a sale or see a tank absolutely chock-full of fish of all types and colors, we are often put in the position of having to explain why more fish will require more service. Hopefully this article will explain why this is the case.

We all know that our fish pets produce waste. We just don’t usually see it like we would if we had a cat or a dog or a horse. But think about that for a moment. The larger the animal, the more waste produced requiring cleaning of the litter box, yard or stall. The same goes with quantities – two cats, three dogs and a stable of horses all create more work for us than one individual animal.

All of this might seem obvious, but it is the same with fish in an aquarium. Let’s say you have a good-sized tank with a dozen small to medium-sized fish and things are going along just fine with once-a-month water change, cleaning of the filter, etc., except that you would prefer to see twice the number of fish swimming in the aquarium.

With double the fish, the amount of waste that will need to be processed by the nitrifying bacteria living in your aquarium will be doubled. These bacteria are essential to the success of every aquarium and work to transform fish waste into nitrate through the nitrogen cycle. Nitrate will therefore be produced twice as fast and in twice the quantity when the fish population is doubled. Since nitrate is acidic, an increase in nitrate will cause a more rapid, unsafe drop in pH, endangering the lives of the fish.

Now, taking into account that young, small to medium-sized fish are usually the ones selected to go into a new aquarium, it is important to also consider the potential adult size of these animals. A small fish may stay small if that is the normal size for that particular species, or a small fish may, in a few short months, grow into a large, or even extra-large fish ten to twenty times the size of when it was first introduced.

Rather than focusing on the quantity of fish in an aquarium, it is always more helpful to focus on the total combined mass of all the fish fish within a given tank. We have some clients with one extra-large fish in a medium-sized aquarium and that is truly equal to having twelve to fifteen small fish in the same tank.

The point of all this is that the waste produced by a heavily-stocked aquarium will far exceed what is produced by a lightly-stocked aquarium and will require more water changes, more filter cleanings and more over-all attention to the system. Pushing the limits of what any given tank can support also means that the entire population is close to the tipping point for a tank crash if one or two deaths go unnoticed. Dead fish remaining in an aquarium even for just a few hours can rob enough oxygen from the water to cause all the other fish to die.

Heavily-stocked aquariums require attention multiple times a day accounting for each and every fish, very precise feeding since decomposing extra food can also rob oxygen from the water and scrupulously cleaned filter media and components. Offices that are closed on weekends or over long holidays run the risk of coming in on Monday morning to a tankful of smelly dead fish because it always seems to be that a fish will die on a Friday evening after everyone has gone home.

A light to medium stocking level gives the fish a much better chance for long-term survival should the inevitable challenges inherent with all aquariums occur. A power outage will not immediately wipe out a lightly-stocked tank. A pump failure will not mean quick death in an aquarium with a dozen fish versus two dozen fish.

We encourage all our clients to stock lightly and succeed with once-a-month service visits. We are always happy to increase service frequency to accommodate medium stocking levels as well. But even with increased service levels, the more fish that are in any given aquarium, the more we need our clients to be partners in accounting for all their fish on a daily basis and to call us immediately if anything out of the ordinary is observed with the fish, the water clarity or the filter system operation before a small issue turns into a major problem.

Water Softener Woes

By Tom Lang

We have been seeing more and more homes installing water softeners and then having problems with their aquariums. In order to soften a home’s tap water, many water softeners work by exchanging minerals (mostly calcium and magnesium) with sodium. While this is good for your pipes, shower doors and washing machines, it’s not great for fish.

Aquarium water needs to contain a balance of electrolytes (solutes that break down into ions when dissolved in water) in order for fish to be able to regulate their internal homeostasis. Freshwater fish, especially, require some calcium and magnesium as well as carbonates and other minerals in their water for this osmoregulation since they continuously absorb water into their bodies though their skin and flush it out through dilute urine produced by their efficient kidneys. Electrolytes are lost from the body during urination and if these same ions are not present in the surrounding water, then the fish is unable to achieve internal electrolyte balance rapidly leading to death.

So it is not so much the presence of sodium that causes fish problems in softened water, but rather it’s the lack of calcium and magnesium (measured as GH – general hardness) and carbonates (KH – carbonate hardness or alkalinity) that fish need to survive in an aqueous environment.

In a freshwater planted aquarium, a balance of minerals is also important, however it is interesting to note that plants may do fine for quite a while in softened water even as the fish perish. This is due to a hydrophyte’s (fully submerged aquatic plant) ability to retain minerals in its tissues since, unlike terrestrial plants, it does not need to expend energy retaining water. Calcium and magnesium are considered “secondary” nutrients because plants require these in smaller concentrations than nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Often, aquarists with planted tanks will also add plant nutrients that contain enough calcium, magnesium and other minerals for the plants, but not in enough quantity to provide for the far greater needs of the fish.

Finally, using softened water in a saltwater fish or reef aquarium creates other issues. Again, the lack of calcium and magnesium may require supplementation to bring them back into line with natural seawater. While saltwater fish are drinking seawater rather than absorbing it through their skin like freshwater fish, they still must regulate their internal electrolyte balance. It is necessary to add calcium, magnesium and carbonates to artificial saltwater made with softened water if tests indicate levels below natural seawater.

Pitfalls of Buying Fish from Retail Fish Stores

Fish Store

By Tom Lang

If you are considering stocking your aquarium with fish and other aquatic life from your local retail fish store (LFS), you should be aware of the risks associated with this practice.

This article is not meant to criticize the retail fish industry, but hopefully educate consumers about typical problems encountered when establishing an aquarium.

Even clients of professional aquarium maintenance companies such as Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. often succumb to the temptation of adding “just one more fish” to their established aquatic communities.

 

Buying a new tank and fish at the same time

It is always amazing to us to see customers walking out the doors of retail fish stores with a brand new tank and bags of fish in the same shopping cart! A good local fish store will strongly discourage this.

A new aquarium takes time to establish – not just because of the chlorine most municipalities add to their tap water, but also because the nitrogen cycle takes at least several weeks to complete.

This natural beneficial bacterial culture is the key to success in keeping all fish, whether freshwater or saltwater, in a closed environment. If you don’t know how the nitrogen cycle works (or how to test for it) then you should not be purchasing fish until you do.

For all new aquariums installed by Aquarius Aquarium, Inc., we carefully monitor critical water quality parameters frequently during the early weeks when adding new fish.

Once an aquarium is established, it is not as critical to constantly test the water, but many problems can be prevented by paying regular attention to the basic parameters. Taking appropriate corrective action when such action is warranted by testing can save not only the cost, but also the lives of your new fish.

 

Introducing disease to your new or established aquarium

Click on this photo to see if you can you spot signs of disease on these beautiful saltwater fish offered for sale at a local fish store.

Whether you have a new aquarium or a long-established community, the number one cause of disease being introduced to your aquarium is through the addition of new fish, living plants, corals or any other aquatic life. Retail fish stores receive frequent deliveries of fish, often from multiple sources.

The busiest stores can bring in multiple shipments in a week with an accompanying high turnover of fish in their sales tanks. These are the stores that gain a reputation for their “great selection,” which in turn attracts many customers!

The main problem with this is that even one newly-arrived diseased fish can infect all the other fish in its tank even if these other fish have been disease-free up to the day of the arrival of the sick one.

Add to this the common practice of linking all the tanks in a store together on one master plumbing system, and it is very likely that a disease can run through an entire section of interconnected tanks.

Free-swimming stages of parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi can easily travel through the pipes from tank-to-tank and the water going home with an unsuspecting customer can be teeming with microscopic disease agents even if the fish in the bag appears completely healthy.

Buyer beware and the benefits of quarantine


So, how can you avoid the pitfalls of buying fish at your local fish store (LFS)? There are a couple of ways.

First, consider buying your fish through a local aquarium service company like Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. that is committed to only selling fish after quarantining them for a period of at least two weeks.

But if you still wish to purchase your fish at a LFS, be very sure that the fish you are considering adding to your aquarium is in good health. If the fish exhibits obvious signs of distress (rapid breathing or mad dashing around the tank), damage (torn fins. missing scales) or disease (cloudy eyes, fungus-like growths, or tiny white spots that look like salt stuck to the fish) you should not buy that fish, no matter how tempting it may be to try to “save” it or what discount the store offers you.

Also, if after asking a store staff member to feed the fish, the fish is not eating, do not buy that fish. When a fish isn’t eating in the store tank, it is unlikely it will in your tank.

Finally, if the fish appears healthy and is actively feeding, you can contract with a local aquarium service company like Aquarius Aquarium, Inc. to quarantine your new purchase for you or you can set up your own quarantine aquarium.

Keep in mind that any quarantine tank must also have an established biological filter just like any aquarium before you purchase your new fish or fishes. If not, you will encounter the same problems as those customers who buy their new aquarium and fish on the same day.