How to Choose an Aquarium


An attractive, well-planned aquarium can be a striking focal point in any room. Whether you want to keep just a few large fish or a traditional community aquarium, preparing the right environment has never been easier to achieve, thanks to modern technology – plus careful planning and plenty of patience.

Establishing an aquarium involves creating your own miniature ecosystem; it is worth taking the trouble to get the individual elements right so that they work together to form a well-balanced, harmonious whole. Although you need the aquarium fully set up, and the water conditions correct, before you obtain any fish, you should also have some idea of which fish you want before you buy the tank and equipment. If you decide to keep large species, it is wise to buy a sufficiently spacious tank at the outset. This saves money in the long term, pre-empting the need to replace the tank and equipment as the fish grow, and avoids transferring the fish unnecessarily and subjecting them to stress. Another advantage of having a large tank is that it makes it easier to maintain stable water chemistry.


Stocking density

As a rough guide, you can calculate how many fish a tank will accommodate from its surface area. To work this out, simply multiply the width by the length of the tank. For example, taking a typical aquarium with 30 x 90cm (12 x 36in) dimensions, this provides a surface area of 2700sq cm (432sq in). When calculating how many fish your tank will support, allow approximately 1cm of fish (length excluding tail) per 30sq cm of water surface area (or lin per 12sq in). Our example aquarium would therefore accommodate fish with a maximum combined length of 90cm (36in).

It is usually the surface area that is used as a guide, because this is where oxygen enters the water and carbon dioxide diffuses out, so is vital for the fish. The water volume is also sometimes used for stocking density, and this is worth knowing in any event, in case you want to use a water conditioner or need to add medication for the fish at any point.

Territory and growth

Some people stock an aquarium gradually over several months, starting with only a very few fish. The downside of this is that there may be more problems with territorial disputes or disease introduced by new fish. Although fish in an aquarium may not grow as large as those in wild, you must allow for their growth, or they will soon be overcrowded. The stocking density figure should be regarded as a maximum; with aggressive, highly territorial fish, it makes sense to use a lower rate, to minimize potential conflict.

Starter kits

Go to a specialist aquatic store for a good selection of tanks. You may opt for a starter kit – an acrylic tank with built-in components including heater-stat and filter. Simply add gravel, plants, fill with water, add a water conditioner, and plug in. The system is then operational. These are obviously very convenient, and are usually quite stylish, so may be ideal as an initial set-up. One drawback is that they are often relatively small, so will only accommodate a few small fish, but they should be suitable if you want to keep guppies, or even a small shoal of tetras. You may prefer to buy the components separately, since this gives you more flexibility and probably a larger tank for your money.

Glass or acrylic?

  • Glass Most ordinary aquaria today are made of glass rather than acrylic. Glass is far less vulnerable to scratches and retains its clarity, but it is not without its drawbacks. The most significant of these is its weight. A large aquarium is both heavy and cumbersome. It will also be especially difficult to handle if wet, because the glass may become slippery; always hold this kind of tank from beneath to reduce the risk of dropping it.
  • Acrylic The main problem is that the surface can be easily scratched, which will obviously detract from the overall appearance of the aquarium. Over time, it may also become slightly discoloured, although modern tanks are much improved in this respect.

Silicone sealant

The advent of silicone rubber aquarium sealant has revolutionized tank design. There are now aquaria in a wide range of shapes and sizes and triangular units that fit into the corner of a room are especially popular. With some more expensive tanks, the bare glass edges are covered with a plastic surround. This protects you from the cut edge and may make handling easier and safer.

The silicone sealant binds the glass panels together, but does not actually set hard. It remains flexible yet strong, easily containing the force of the water in the aquarium.

Sealant checkpoints

  • The sealant’s effectiveness depends on its even application around the joints, so check that there is adequate coverage here, although problems are rare.
  • If you need to repair a leaking tank, be sure to obtain
  • a sealant specifically designed for aquarium use; similar products produced for other purposes may well contain chemicals that could be toxic to the fish.
  • Check for algae, which may colonize the sealant and be hard to remove. If using a scraper to clean it off, take care not to strip off the sealant by accident.
  • If adding any kind of chemical treatment to the tank, especially dyes, remember they could cause permanent discolouration of the sealant, so check in advance.

Modern perspectives

Built-in aquaria are becoming increasingly popular. This is partly due to the growing interest in large fish, which require not only a spacious tank but also a bulky filter system under or behind the tank. A large aquarium can be spectacular in the right setting, as a room divider, for example, but they are usually very costly to set up. Special toughened glass is needed for the tank itself, and you may need to make structural alterations in order to provide it with sturdy support, so seek specialist advice.

A less welcome trend has been aquaria made as actual items of furniture such as coffee tables and lamps. These may be awkwardly shaped for the fish, with vibrations and sudden changes in lighting levels likely to cause them stress. Cleaning and maintenance also tend to be problematic. A purpose-designed tank is better – as well as the conventional shape, there are now triangular and hexagonal ones available, too.

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Related posts:

  1. How to Change the Water Safely in an Aquarium
  2. How to Choose Heaters and Thermostats for an Aquarium
  3. How to Build a Fish Tank
  4. How to Choose the Location for Your Aquarium
  5. How to Set Up the Aquarium

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About the Author: Fred Goodson has a passion for pets and animals. He has 4 dogs and is planning to have another one. He is also a blogger who writes about pets and animals. Currently, he is living in New Jersey.

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