by TFH Magazine on December 14, 2011 at 9:29 am
Do you know someone who is wishing for a new fish tank this holiday season? Do you want to be the one to deliver that amazing gift? Every year, many fish tanks are bought as presents but, unfortunately, they are either not set up properly or neglected after a period of time, which oftentimes leads to the loss of the fish. However, this doesn’t have to be the case—fish tanks can and should be fun and educational gifts with rewards that can last a lifetime. Stick with TFH and learn how to avoid the common pitfalls of giving a tank as a gift.
First and foremost, if you are getting an aquarium for a child and you are not that child’s parent, please make sure the parents are onboard. No matter how responsible a child is, the parents are mostly likely going to have to help out with the aquarium at some point, and you have to make sure that they are willing to do so.
Perhaps the most common mistake that people make is trying to give the fish and the tank together. Putting fish directly into a new tank leads to “new tank syndrome”—a situation in which harmful nitrogenous wastes, especially ammonia, build up because there are no beneficial bacteria in the tank to consume them. Ammonia is toxic to fish and is one of the leading causes of fish losses.
In order to avoid new tank syndrome, you must first cycle a tank, allowing the population of nitrifying bacteria to build up before adding any livestock. One great option is to give all of the hardware and other materials needed for an aquarium, but no fish. Spend some quality time setting up the tank, stand, filter, heater, lights, hood, and any pumps or other accessories you would like. Rinse the gravel along with any rocks, driftwood, or other ornaments, and soak the driftwood as necessary. Show the child how to use water conditioner, explaining that tap water can have harmful chemicals that the water conditioner removes. Also, be sure to explain that the water temperature of the replacement water must match the temperature of the water in the tank.
Once everything is up and running, and the tank looks exactly how you want it to, explain that the tank must cycle before fish can be put in there. If you have an aquarium, add some used filter media, gravel, and/or plant cuttings to the new tank to jumpstart the cycle. You could also buy a proprietary starter culture. Add fish food to the tank and let it decompose to serve as a food source for the bacteria. Run water tests on the tank daily; it should show a spike in ammonia first, then nitrite, and finally nitrate. Once there are no ammonia and nitrite readings, and only low levels of nitrate, it is time to add fish.
This can also be a great time to give the child a general book about aquarium keeping, such as the Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums (T.F.H. Publications, 2001), and/or a gift subscription to a reliable aquarium magazine, such as Tropical Fish Hobbyist. Have them read up about aquariums before obtaining any fish. Check out my next entry to find out about choosing and adding fish to a tank.