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February 6, 2008

Fish Tank

[WARNING: If you're not interested in reading a sorta long and maybe boring story about how kristin and I set up a fish tank, you may want to skip to the bottom of the post to see some neat pictures. If you remain undaunted, you may proceed...]

Kristin and I decided we needed a pet - but a really low-maintenance one. My dad has a fish tank with two beautiful discus in it and when we were home, we always liked to look at the fish happily, gracefully swimming around. So - we decided fish were for us.

There are a number of reasons for this. Next time kristin and I decided to randomly leave for a week or so, the fish may not even need food, and if they do, there are automatic feeders. Kristin and I are also Zoo Nerds (we're members of the Nashville Zoo and hang out there now and then. We also have buddies in our cubbies), and like learning about the natural world. I'm sort of a science geek. So a fish tank (which is more-or-less a small ecosystem) is an interesting thing to learn about. It's not as simple as just dumping fish in (see the nitrogen cycle, for instance), so its perfect for those of us who are still interested in a little science now and then.

We settled on a 55 gallon tank kit from Walmart. It's actually a kit made by Marineland, a respected name, and just rebranded for Walmart. The kit included a filter, heater, thermometer, lid, lights, and some small packets of dechlorinator and food to get you started. Pretty nice kit.

Of course, take into account that water weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 lbs per gallon... And you realize you've got to get a fairly heavy-duty stand for the sucker. So we bought a nice black stand. Another chunk of change.

Then I heard from my dad that I could get like 30% anything from this online store for a while, so I loaded up on supplies from them... We actually were able to score an upgraded filter, usually $70-$80, for $30. This was a good score.

We bought some books and read a ton on what fish go with what, what kind of water certain fish like, all about the nitrogen cycle, beneficial bacteria, planted aquariums, and the like... Ph, hardness, buffering, diseases, water changes, and the like. I like to thoroughly research my hobbies :-)

We set it all up, put in a mixture of plain gravel and plant substrate (flourite) in the bottom, and bought some mopani wood (like driftwood, but does not decompose. a two-color dried african wood), and planted some aquarium plants (Amazon Swords and Java Ferns). We ran the sucker for a few days, and then it was time to get some FISH!!!

There were a couple options for us... We really liked my dad's Discus fish, but we also read about this one particularly awesome kind of fish called Oscar Cichlids. They are cute in a very homey sort of way, with huge mouths and a mixture of drab and bright colors. They get to be over a foot long, and are very inteligent social animals. They recognize their owners, wagging their fins when you approach. If they get bored, they'll tear apart the decorations in teh tank and rearrange them to their liking. Some of them even like to be petted. They can live to be 8 years old. They're like a small dog - albeit one that has to be kept underwater all the time. We really kinda wanted one, but a 55 gallon tank was a little small for them (we couldn't really put any other fish in it), and we will probably be moving at some point, perhaps selling our fish, and it would be hard to find someone willing to take such a large pet-like fish at the last minute. So we decided on discus. We'll have an Oscar at some point, though...

Usually discus aren't recommended for beginners. But my dad did it, and Kristin and I probably do a lot more research than most beginners, so we figured all would be well. We started to think of what kind of fish to stock with the discus. Turns out they really like to have schools of cardinal tetras around - it makes them feel relaxed. We decided to start stocking the tank with some of those. Petsmart only has four at a time, pretty much, so we bought them out. They are about an inch long, and grow to be up to two inches.... So these four tiny fish have this huge tank to themselves currently. Lucky little guys. We'll be buying a few more tomorrow, to bump up the size of the school.

I've been doing water testing nearly every day to check for buildups of ammonia (to track the progress of the tank's cycling) - but there is just not enough fish in the tank to register anything on my tests yet... However, somehow the ph jumped .4 after it got in the tank... The water is also cloudy, due to the fact that the substrate we used needs to be washed just ridiculously well (and we only washed it well). I think the two are related. The particulate in the water could be adding to whatever the ions are that make a high ph, and once i get the cloudiness down, with more water changes and gravel-vac'ing, the ph should come back down too. As the water comes out of the faucet, its 7, but the tank always reads 7.4-7.6 - this is pretty high for both discus and cardinal tetras - so something's gotta come down sooner or later.

Without any further ado, here are some pictures!!

Fish tank, no fish.
Fish tank all set up, no fish yet. Note the cubbies at top left.

Cardinal Tetras by the Java Fern
A couple tetras, hanging out by the Java Fern. The Java Fern is currently tied to the mopani wood with string. The string will keep it in place until the roots take hold.

another shot of a Cardinal Tetra
Another shot of our cute little Cardinal Tetras. Soon there will be a whole school of these suckers in our tank.

Posted by pedalboy at February 6, 2008 11:52 PM | TrackBack

Thanks for this! I miss you talking all technical like. Your tank and fish look awesome! Can't wait to see the discus and such.

Posted by: Joel at February 7, 2008 8:50 AM

Matt, you and Kristin sound a lot like my dad as fish owners. My brothers and I bought him a tank a few years ago for Christmas, and it took him a year to get fish because he did tons of research.

I'm a more casual fish owner. But I do have a 10-gallon tank with a red tiger Oscar, which I guess is pretty small for him, but he doesn't seem to mind. He's been living in there for a few years now. He does tear up any plants I try to put in the tank. He also goes crazy whenever I feed him.

When I first got this Oscar I had one previously that died over a Thanksgiving break when the heat got turned down while we were gone for a week I bought it with two other fish that were in the same tank at the store. He quickly ate one and then chased the other around the tank till it died. I guess something can be said for doing your homework.

Posted by: Dan P. at February 7, 2008 3:14 PM

Obviously I'm an advocate for people having pets, in particular people who actually know how to take care of their pets. You should get a web cam and set up a site were people can watch the fish all the time. That way I could leave my desktop on and my cat would have something to do whlie I'm at school. (Though she is pretty good at sleeping) The fish look really cool though, keep us updated!

Posted by: Allison at February 7, 2008 5:58 PM

why is everyone acting like it is really normal to be obsessed with fish?

oh, and i think the webcam is a good idea.

Posted by: kate at February 9, 2008 2:06 PM
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