A fish in a bare fish tank is simply a shell of a fish, so to speak. He needs things like caves and places to explore, spots to hide and things to dig in. Oh, and important stuff like the right lighting and water quality is important, too.
Water Quality and Temperature
To keep your fish happy and healthy, ensure they have the right type of water. A filter can make or break the water quality in your tank -- cleaning debris and particles from the water and building the good bacteria in your tank. Circulation is also aided by the use of a power filter. You need to know the water temperature your particular species requires, so you'll need a thermometer in your tank, too. Of course, you'll need a heater to keep the water above room temperature, something important for many species, especially tropical fish. Cardinal tetras, for example, prefer their water to be between 73 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Chlorine remover or another water neutralizer is essential if you plan on using tap water; most tap water is treated with chemicals that could harm your fish. Performing regular water tests can tell you whether or not you need to stabilize the pH.
While you may see many different types of substrate in the pet store, including shiny, glittery or jeweled stones, different species and types of fish have different preferences and requirements. Some fish, like clown loaches and certain cichlids, enjoy digging and therefore need a substrate such as fine gravel or sand. Others may pick up rocks and eat them, so you'll need to get something that won't hurt them. Overall, the substrate should be as close to what the fish would have in their natural habitat.
Another important aspect of the proper aquarium setup is lighting. Some fish prefer a darker tank, like bottom-dwelling loaches. Others may prefer a light that mimics bright, natural sunlight. Whatever the case, the lighting needs to be dedicated to aquariums and the proper wattage for your specific species. The colors of many species are improved by proper lighting, as well. Like with almost everything else in the tank, proper lighting closely imitates the natural lighting in your fish's native habitat.
Aquarium plants do more than just beautify your tank, they also provide hiding places and, in some cases, food for your fish. Again, the type is dependent on the fish you keep. Some fish will eat live plants too quickly; some cichlids seem to enjoy uprooting aquarium plants. Most fish are prey animals, so the hiding places live plants supply can reduce stress on your finned friends. Live plants can help keep your water quality up to par, too, by releasing oxygen and competing with algae. A few artificial plants strewn about the live ones can help add hiding places for your fish without the risk of them eating them too fast.
Home Sweet Home
Ideally, your freshwater aquarium should look like you took a small piece of your fish's natural habitat and put it in your home. Natural-looking accents such as driftwood, river rocks or larger stones will help your fish feel right at home, which cuts down on the stress. Cave-like rocks and other structures are favorites of many species of fish. Your goal is to make your fish comfortable. Natural accents are available at online retailers and aquarium supply stores.
Last but not least, add some personality to the tank. Even a single brightly colored accent will add a little bit of you into your aquarium. After all, many aquariums are the focal points of a room, so why not show off your style? Aquarium-supply retailers are full of decor from the bright and colorful to the downright tacky.
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