Setting up your 1st Aquarium

Staring into a tank of fish has been likened to watching a crackling fire for its relaxing, soothing, almost hypnotic effect. Medical tests have even shown a reduction in stress and a lowering of blood pressure among people while watching aquarium fish. Adding an aquarium to your home creates a new area of interest, can be quite decorative, and gives you something to look at when you are bored. The cost of getting started can be very reasonable, depending on how deeply you want to plunge in. And fish are a fairly low maintenance pet.

There are three basic categories of aquarium fish - goldfish, freshwater tropical fish, and saltwater fish. The latter are by far the most expensive to own, and the most difficult to care for. It is best to forget about a saltwater aquarium until you have experienced success with freshwater fish. The inevitable beginner mistakes will be much cheaper.

Goldfish are the least expensive and most forgiving of mistakes, but they require a little more work. In addition to the common goldfish we all know, selective breeding has produced goldfish in a variety of beautiful colors and shapes. The main advantage of goldfish is that they donít require heated water, although they do much better when it is heated. Goldfish can tolerate a temperature range of 32-80 degrees, and can get along fine at room temperature.

The fish most people think of when considering an aquarium are the fresh water tropicals. Tropical fish are available in many unique varieties, in an assortment of colors, shapes, sizes, and personalities. While some exotic breeds can be expensive, most tropicals are reasonably priced and easy to maintain.

Getting started is easy and relatively inexpensive. A fully equipped aquarium with fish should cost under $200.00. There is a little work involved in setting up the tank, and there are some things you need to learn in order to care for your fish, but after that, regular feeding and weekly maintenance should keep your tank happy and healthy.

The basic items you need are a tank with a light source, a heater and thermostat, a pump/filter, and some aquascaping furnishings. You will also need a testing kit to check for chemical changes in the water. Until you are comfortable testing the water yourself, most pet stores are glad to test it for you.

Most experts recommend a tank in the 20-30 gallon range for your first aquarium, but a 10 gallon tank is a good size for a smaller space. Many standard size tanks have a canopy cover which includes a light. The light, in addition to making the aquarium more attractive and highlighting the color of your fish, promotes plant and algae growth. Avoid placing the tank where it will receive direct sunlight, as this will overheat the water, and produce excessive algae.

Tropical fish require water temperatures in the 72-80 degree range, and most people keep the water at 75-78 degrees. Heaters are available in submersible and non-submersible models, and are essential, especially in winter.

The filter/aerator removes debris created by uneaten food, waste, and dead organisms, and adds oxygen to the water as it returns to the tank. This process allows the chemical-biological balance of the water to stay at a healthy level.

Now we come to the fun part - aquascaping - the interior decorating of your aquarium. You get to add your personal touch while creating an interesting home environment for your fish. Youíll start with a base of gravel, which is available in an assortment of colors. You can add plants, rocks, a castle or sunken ship, or maybe a piece of driftwood. You're only limited by your imagination!

Now, sit back and enjoy your new aquarium -- it's a great way to relax.