As much as our Ted steals the limelight, he wasn’t our first pet. No, while I was embarrassing myself on holiday in Barcelona in 2018, Dan purchased a fish tank. I came home, bleary eyed after a 6 hour delay, to a white monstrosity in my living room. It took weeks for me to come round to the idea, and now, I seem to be the sole carer of our collection of tropical fish.
That being said, I’ve learnt a lot along the way, and after almost two years of being a tropical fish mum, I think I’m getting it.
It takes a while to set up the tank…
which is something I didn’t expect. For about a week or so, we had an empty tank in our living room. The reason for this is to optimise the balance within it: a fish tank is a living, breathing ecosystem after all.
We started out with gravel, a few rocks, and some leafy plants, and left the filter to cycle the bacteria around. Soon enough, the plants were booming, and we felt ready to add some fish. So we bought 100 and…
I’m kidding. You need to introduce all fish to their new environment slowly, so Dan and I started out with two guppies, which leads us onto the next point.
You will grow attached to your tropical fish…
like I did with Alpha and Unos. However, in just one day, Alpha was panting a the top of the tank, while Unos was swimming happily. The environment wasn’t quite right for Alpha, and sadly he didn’t make it.
Unos went on for a few more days before we added a couple more fish: another few guppies, and three corydora. I shouldn’t have, but I named them too. All the fish looked different, so it was easy to distinguish them. We had Tux, Snake-Eyes (the cobra guppy), and Lemon (the yellow guppy). We also had Salt and Pepper (two peppered corydoras), and Third Place (the bronze corydora).
For a while our tank thrived. So we added a few more additions: my beloved Kilifish.
The best looking fish aren’t always the most interesting…
which is true for things like angelfish or bettas. They tend to hang out in a single place for a while looking pretty.
My killifish though, was gorgeous. We started with one that I named fruit salad, who again didn’t last very long. He was alone, and an obscure breed, which I think probably caused it.
However, Static and Kinetic were our male and female pair and I loved them. Kinetic especially regularly visited the front of our tank to say hello. He winked. He played hide and seek. I swear he knew we were there. Static, based on her name, wasn’t as exciting, but she had a beautiful pink colour and was lovely to look at.
The tank needs regular maintenance…
And by regular, I mean regular. My greatest misconception was that the tank would be set up, and voila, I’d never have to touch it again.
Nope. Once the weather gets warm, the water level drops quickly, meaning that water changes have to happen more frequently. Sometimes you have explosions of snails dragging their slimy body across your glass. More often than not, you’ll find yourself scrubbing algae off almost everything.
Sometimes, you might even have to clear a blockage in your filter… Yes, you need to suck it out of the tube. Ew.
Tropical fish can go a few days without eating…
But they will eat each other. Static and Kinetic were stunning, but they were vicious predators. It turns out that killifish do not appreciate the tails of a guppy. Within a few months, the killifish had abused the guppies so badly that they were dropping off. We’d find a corpse floating at the top of the tank every now and again and lament for the loss of another fish.
But, with every loss, it meant that we had space in our tank for other, hardier fish. We now have schools of neon and rummy tetras, and a load of otocinclus.
Your tropical fish will die…
and it is awful to watch.
After a year or so with our killifish, Static suddenly appeared lethargic and swollen. She might be pregnant, I thought. No, it was dropsy. The poor girl looked like a pine cone as she struggled to float around. What we didn’t have was hospital tank – somewhere to put a sick fish that separates her from the rest of the tank.
If we had though, I don’t think it would have made a difference. We had to watch the poor girl suffer, as I couldn’t bring myself to pick her out and suffocate her, or smash her head in.
Then, about 7 months later, Kinetic also became lethargic. He didn’t have dropsy, but he lost his colour, he barely swam, he was hiding in leaves when he used to dart all over the tank. The day I bit the bullet to euthanise him, I was home alone. I went to get him out of the tank, and realised he was already gone. Yes. I cried.
Third Place is our last remaining original fish. He’s a real trooper; he’s scarred and bruised from various bumps and scrapes, but he persists.
So, I hope this post has helped you get a better understanding of what it takes to set up your first tropical fish tank. If you have any other tips and ideas, please leave a comment!