Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: Plan Ahead
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Plan Ahead

Let's face it, most of us shop for tropical fish with the same degree of preparation and planning as a trip to the bakery:

"I'll take four French donuts with chocolate frosting... two with vanilla... one of those long rectangular ones... one round one with sprinkles... do you have any lemon slices?... oooh! is that a prune Danish?!"

PhotoThat actually works pretty well for donuts (trust me), butrainbows would you follow your instincts rather than a road map when driving through Chicago? ("Hmmmm...., THAT looks like a nice street; let's turn here!") It doesn't take a rocket scientist - or a trapeze artist - to see the benefits of planning ahead. When it comes to selecting the next inhabitants of our community tank, we can spare ourselves a lot of trouble if we simply glance at the road ahead on occasion, or better yet, prepare an itinerary.

Know what you're buying. There is probably no tidbit of aquarium advice that is more valuable - or more often ignored. A few dollars spent on a good book, and a few hours spent browsing through it, can save us money and aggravation in the long run. I am frequently amazed at how hard it seems to sell aquarium books as opposed to, say, plastic burping clams. There are numerous excellent fish identification books - and even some computer software - available that can not only help in your fish-buying decisions, but make great Wish Lists as well.

Seek professional help. Maybe a few of us do need psychotherapy; but I'm speaking here of professional fish-keeping help. A fish store that is destined to remain in business should be able to tell you something about the fish you are considering. They should certainly be able to tell you what kinds of fish they've tried mixing in the shop and may even have an employee available that has personal experience with the species in question. At the very least, they should take you back to their book section and help you look them up. Many stores will allow for an exchange of newly purchased fish that are not working out, providing they are returned before any serious damage is done. But it's certainly to everyone's benefit to avoid mis-matches in the first place.

Amateur help is good, too. No matter what level of aquarium expertise you have achieved, there are others who have "been there, done that." Hanging out with other hobbyists - especially successful hobbyists - allows you to tap into a great pool of personal experience, and can give your enthusiasm quite a boost as well. If there's a local aquarium society in your area, check it out; or if you're computer-literate, look into the Internet or World Wide Web aquarium listings.

Watch the fish before you buy. Sometimes you can get a pretty good clue as to how a new fish will work out by simply studying it for a few moments in the dealer's tank. Is he constantly taking little nips at other fish that venture near? - forget about putting him in with your mega-tailed ultra-finned fancy guppies. Does he panic every time another fish shoots past him? - don't try him with your lightning-fast danios or ever-chasing barbs. Does he look a lot like your super-territorial cichlids, but in a wimpy sort of way? - don't even think about it. Does he look like he just might fit into your African frog's gaping mouth? - don't be surprised if that's where he spends the night.

Beware fish that limit future additions. Some popular types of fish, for example angel fish, neon tetras and fancy guppies, can severely restrict your choices of tankmates, since they are no match for more aggressive or even more active companions. Similarly, there are numerous aggressive fish, including many cichlids, that don't welcome company much at all. Ancompany much at all. And finally, there are the cute little oscars, pacus and the like that too soon become footlong oscars, pacus and the like. That doesn't mean any of these should be avoided altogether, only that you'll have fewer prospective tankmates once these are added to your aquarium.

This article originally appeared in
Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine

Copyright © 1997 James M. Kostich
All rights reserved.

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