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Tropical Fish Advice Needed for Newbie

 9:34 pm on Aug 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hi there, Everyone:

Have a five gallon tank (I know that is small).

Wife wanted to get goldfish, but I have heard that is to small for goldfish, and that tropical fish would be better. (and I like the look of tropical fish more anyway and I hear that goldfish are mess and when they get bigger, will have to move them to a larger tank anyway).

1) What would be a good combination of tropicals to put in a 5 gallon tank for confused / lazy people? And what's a good number?

2) Are those cheapo corner filter / box filters ok?

3)How long after I put in the water and the heater and the chemicals do I have to wait before I can put in the fish (one retailer said I had to wait a MONTH for ammonia levels in the tap water to go down).

4) Is Gravel ok for a substrate? Or does it have to be sand?

5) Aside from Stress zyme and Stress coat, do I need anything else to prep the water for tropical fish?

Thanks in advance.



 11:24 pm on Aug 1, 2011 (gmt 0)

If you start with goldfish, you will need to get a bigger tank every few years. Mine moved bit-by-bit from a 3-gallon to a 6-gallon to a 20-gallon and finally a few years ago I rehomed them to a pond, where they are both thriving :)

The generic rule is "an inch of fish per gallon of water" assuming your typical, er, fish-shaped fish. (That is, not something like angelfish.) Get something very small so it's got room to move. Guppies, say: 1-2 males, 2-3 females. Or one of the small tetras. Neons are pretty but not as hardy as some very similar varieties. Maybe mollies, but they're pretty grimy.

A MONTH? What on earth is in your tap water? Do you drink it yourself? You'll be doing weekly water changes, and nobody keeps four weeks' backlog waiting around. Slosh in the dechlorinator and you're done. Maybe you misunderstood the fish-store guy. Ammonia doesn't come from tap water; the problem is ammonia buildup when you first put the fish in. If you're not using biological filtration, there's not much to do about it. But it's safest to introduce the fish slowly so you don't get too much of an ammonia spike.

If you use sand, it has to be aquarium sand from the fish store, not generic sandbox-type sand. Gravel is harder to keep clean. If you don't vacuum it thoroughly every week, you'll be facing a big mess on cleaning days (every 4-8 weeks depending on how grubby your fish are). The best is bagged substrate, but it tends to come in great big sacks made for 20-gallon or bigger tanks.

You haven't said anything about plants. Let the aquarium run for a couple of weeks with plants before you start putting the fish in. And then have the water tested every week-- decent pet stores will do this for free-- until it's stable.


 1:13 am on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

We have a betta and three little guys I can't remember their names. In a five gallon tank. We have a pre-soaked driftwood (has to be pre-soaked otherwise it will leak something, I think tannins, not certain though). Using fishing line I tied down a plant to the drift wood (a very hardy plant).

I use rocks from PetCo Express. The expensive gravel from the aquarium was too dusty. Everything else I got from the Albany Aquarium. Service is hit or miss. Some workers are more helpful than others. I heard there's another place in Emeryville or thereabouts that is good for answering newb questions.

Plants help create a biological environment that keeps the tank healthy. For the plants you'll need fertilizers, two kinds. Thirteen bucks a bottle. Ten drops daily from one bottle, ten drops once a week from the other (I do that one after I change the water)

Once a week you have to scoop out 25% of the water and replace it with tap water that has been treated with seven drops of a water conditioner that removes heavy metals etc. I pretreat it the night before so that the water will be room temperature when it's added to the tank.

If you miss doing any part of this your fish can get pop-eye, fungus infection, or green algae can start growing all over the tank. I don't vacuum the tank, maybe I should. I just pour water into the rocks and tamp it around to stir up all the poop and old food, which then goes into the filter. Once every couple of months I'll change the rocks.

It sounds like a lot more work than it really is.


 6:00 am on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks lucy24 and martinibuster for the advice:

My big concern is getting something that is "hardy" because I have a 5 year old son, and he gets kind of emotional, so waking up in the morning and seeing a tankful of fish floating belly up on the surface is one thing I am REALLY trying to avoid.

I was thinking a betta and possibly a couple of colorful tetras? I think I read that tetras like to school, so I have heard some people say the minimum you should get is 5, while others seem to think that two or three together with another fist are ok. So maybe a blue betta and a couple of yellow-ish tetras would look nice together?

If so, what should go in first? The betta or the tetras?

A MONTH? ...Maybe you misunderstood the fish-store guy.

No, well maybe. He definitely told me that if he sold me the aquarium supplies, he WOULDN'T sell me the fish until 1) a full month had passed, and 2) I brought in a sample of the tank water for him to test. I thought he said it was because of ammonia in the tap water, but it could have been something else (ph balance, nitrates, bad feng shui, I'm not really sure).

You haven't said anything about plants. Let the aquarium run for a couple of weeks with plants before you start putting the fish in.

As mentioned, have an impatient five year old. Soooo I was thinking of going the artificial route. Don't really know if I can put plants in and wait another two weeks before finally adding fish. Someone in our family tree by go ballistic.

Plants help create a biological environment that keeps the tank healthy.

Yeah, I thought about that. But I thought that they also use up lots of oxygen as well, so that your water can actually run low on oxygen.

And I thought that gravel was good for the good types of bacteria?

Oh, and do you guys have a recommendation on whether I can use the cheapo box filter that I have with the polyester foam and charcoal? I guess it is a pain to clean. Or should I get a different kind of filter? I'm more concerned about what is best for the fish.

Thanks in advance.


 7:49 am on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

5 gallon, Static (no aeration), a beta (one) and nothing else. Or a dime store goldfish (usually a koi). Forget gravel, plastic plants, or even real plants. Might last nine months. Will require monthly tank cleaning (and possibility of fish shock) and a second 5 gallon for holding. If you really want to do a tank then 60 gallons or better and a decision as regards fresh water or saltwater. Bigger the tank, the less frequent cleaning (50 gallons up about once a year). You gotta love it and be willing to expend Time and Effort. Speaking from 23 years of 4x100 gallon tanks and a diversity of fun both visual and essential. (A single wall in the house stacked two on two, which required some engineering and expense. If you aren't serious, or this is just for the kids, DON'T GET STARTED. Save a fish by not killing it (though somebody else will).


 8:16 am on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Heavens, how you exaggerate ;) I've got a 3gal breeding tank (it took on this function after I quarantined some new rosy barbs there), a 6gal saltwater (no fish), 12gal that used to be the quarantine tank when I had a 75gal and now just houses the leftover fish, and a 20gal brackish (mollies and a red-clawed crab).

For a standard five-gallon tank you can probably get an all-in-one topper. Everything but the heater-- you have to get that separately. But in some climates the light alone will keep a small tank warm enough. (Not here. My saltwater tank is directly in front of a window because they need the extra light.)

25% weekly is a pretty hefty change, though freshwater fish are more tolerant of variation. I do 1/6 of tank capacity except for the mollies, who are dirty. The saltwater tank gets 5% twice a week.

Oh, and some varieties of tropical river fish absolutely love the black water you get from brand-new driftwood. I had some tetras that thrived with a chunk of wood I picked up on the beach and just boiled for a few hours. The water looks stunning, too. It doesn't look dirty. It's just, well, black. Wears out in a few months.


 3:43 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)


For a standard five-gallon tank you can probably get an
all-in-one topper. Everything but the heater-- you have to get that separately. But in some climates the light alone will keep a small tank warm enough. (Not here. My saltwater tank is directly in front of a window because they need the extra light.)

Thanks for the tip. I might end up doing just that. I kind of want to keep it simple - and keep the fish alive.


 7:07 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Ok, I think i am just going to start with a Betta and some silk plants and some sort of decoration for him to hide in. Maybe I will get daring and add a snail.

Do I really have to "cycle" the tank FIRST with ammonia drops and the like to grow bacteria in the filter first BEFORE adding a single beta? One guy at petco who actually DID seem to know a lot about fish said that with bettas you could leave them on the ground outside of their tank and spray them with water from a spray bottle and they would survive.

One last question. I know I will need a heater. But do I absolutely need a light / hood? I know betas will jump, so they said to leave the water level about three inches down from the top if it is uncovered (it's a tall tank so that should be ok, I'm guessing).

Then if all goes well, a few months down the road maybe add some tetras?


 7:19 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Don't put too much faith in the petco people. Go to a dedicated fish store. You'll get better advice there.

Think about how bad your son will feel when your betta gets pop eye, a raging fungus infection, fin rot, tail rot and there's green sludge growing everywhere. I think our betta 1.0 got pretty much every disease known to afflict bettas. I think it was diseased from day one when I bought it at Petco.

That's why I ended up getting all the stuff that I listed above and threw away the plastic plants etc. For convenience sake, a tank with an integrated light and filter is fine, works for me.


 7:47 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Thanks martinibuster:

I have the water treatment chemicals already.

the light / hood is kind of the deal breaker here... If I get a hood / light it will end up costing $40 plus just for that... I could get a whole new integrated betta tank for that amount.

Argghhh... maybe I should just get a chinchilla...


 9:11 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Have you priced chinchillas? Unlike most rodents they breed infrequently and have small litters, so they cost far more than hamsters and guinea pigs. On the plus side, this means people are more likely to take them to the vet when they get sick.

If $40 strikes you as excessive (a chinchilla will cost at least twice that, and then there's the housing and food and sand and...), possibly you would do better with an air fern. Or, hey, use your tank as a terrarium.


 10:08 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

Hi there, Lucy24:

Thanks for the note about chinchillas.... it was a weak stab at humor on my part because I am pretty sure that chinchillas are actually illegal to raise here in California.

I cannot believe how incredibly stressed out I am getting over a simple fish. I really need a vacation.


 11:06 pm on Aug 2, 2011 (gmt 0)

No, chinchillas are on the Approved List. You're thinking of ferrets ;)


 4:35 am on Aug 3, 2011 (gmt 0)

You should get Tetras they are small and swim in schools so you can put in more

I have a 5 gal tank [walmart.com...]
filter and cover included the only thing you will need if you get tropical fish is a heater [walmart.com...]

If you get tetras keep in mid they are small and will have trouble eating typical fish flake you should feed them micro pellets [google.com...] if not you will constantly have trouble with the ammonia levels


 8:09 am on Aug 3, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, I went and got a crowntail betta (think that is what they are called).

I have a couple of silk plants and a little Asian pagoda decoration.

I worry that the air pump / corner filter set up might be too strong. It seems there is a fairly strong current near the surface.

We put him in about four hours ago, and it's 1:00 am, and I just went to check on him. Looks like he is just hanging out kind of "under" the filter. Maybe he's real sleepy. Just kind of passive. Sort of thought he would hang out in the Pagoda or the plants.

Sure hope he makes it. We've always had terrible luck with fish before.

My son and I did have a real good time setting things up together. Parenthood is amazing.


 3:36 pm on Aug 3, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, it's in the morning now and he has been in the tank overnight for about 10 hours total. He is just in the bottom corner sort of under the chamber / box filter.

I am thinking the current is too strong. All the resources for fixing current problems seem to be for waterfall type filters instead of chamber filters. Headed to petco to buy food (forgot to get it last night) and will ask them for suggestions.


 8:17 am on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Well, it's the end of day two.

Fish is still alive, but won't come out from hiding (either underneath the box filter, or behind the silk plants.

I know Bettas like to hide, but he won't even come near the surface to eat. So we have tried feeding him twice and both times ended up having to scoop the food off the surface and throw it away.

Any ideas on how to "make" a Betta eat?


 8:27 am on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Betas are hardy fish and any research reveals their brilliant colors and fantabulous fins are part and parcel of the absolute MUDDY WATER from which they originate... and they are combative and will kill most other fish... so one per tank, unless it is a VERY LARGE TANK (see above by this poster). And, yes, they are secretive, prone to hide (hence other suggestion above for NOTHING in TANK) and if you wish to see DISPLAYS of fin, particularly the males, put a MIRROR next to the tank. Sincerely hope that's not considered more "exaggeration"...


 5:29 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

@ tangor:

Thanks for the input.

Any suggestions on how to get them to eat?

I have mine in a 5 gallon tank (kind of tall, not so wide), and he won't go near the surface. So even if I leave the food pellets there, he won't go near them (and after about 15 minutes I scoop them out so that they don't sink to the bottom).

(I turn off the filter / air pump for a few minutes before trying to feed him so the water should be nice and calm.)

some people say that their bettas "know" when they are about to be fed, and will go to the surface in anticipation. How can I "train" him to do that?


 7:07 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Bettas are fine with other fish and won't kill them... as long as they're not colorful.

Maybe your fish is sick. All of my healthy fish have been enthusiastic eaters since day one. My betta is not secretive or hides. Sometimes he hangs out in corners, but usually he's swimming. If I approach his tank all of my fish surge to the top with anticipation of being fed.

What kind of food are you feeding it?


 8:18 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

If he's hungry he'll eat. Cold-blooded carnivores don't need to eat as often as you do.

Bettas and goldfish have one unfortunate thing in common: they can survive in absolutely atrocious conditions, though they are happier when properly cared for. There's even a myth-- someone told me this in absolute seriousness-- that bettas live in the water-filled footprints left on rainy days. Sheesh.

Some fish can be faked-out by giving them see-through tubes to hide in, but if it's visually oriented (as it must be if it reacts to a mirror image) it probably won't work. But taking away its hiding place won't make it any happier.

they are combative and will kill most other fish

Bettas generally do fine in large community tanks, it's just other bettas they can't stand. (They are not the only species that takes this attitude.) Even female bettas tend not to like each other.


 9:29 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

If I approach his tank all of my fish surge to the top with anticipation of being fed.

Are you telling me from day one they recognized when they were going to be fed?

Unfortunately, if he is out swimming around, when I approach, he usually hides.

What kind of food are you feeding it?

I am trying to give it TetraBetta Floating Mini Pellets. I soak them in tank water for a few minutes first so they expand. They are pretty tiny.


I soaked some a little too long, and when I put them in, two pellets sank to the bottom, right in front of the betta. As they were sinking, he kind of looked at it, sort of started toward it, and stopped.

(I hope two tiny pellets lying at the bottom of a 5 gallon tank is not going to create an ammonia problem with a single fish.)

someone mentioned a live bloodworm, since the movement might get the betta's attention, but I don't really want to just start dumping things in the tank if they will (eventually) just end up at the bottom of the tank.

One more question: during the first week, since I didn't get to cycle the tank, should I do a water change? Again, it's a 5 gallon tank filtered and heated. Or should I only do a water change in the first week if ammonia levels start to get high?


 9:32 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

Bettas generally do fine in large community tanks, it's just other bettas they can't stand.

I've come to the conclusion that if you ask four people who raise bettas whether they get along with other fish, you will get 8 different opinions...

I am going to take it slow for now. Once I have a healthy betta with good self-esteem then I will think about putting in some tetras. The Betta is blue so I thought some yellow colored tetras would be nice.

Oh, and should I get a snail or some other fish / critter now for... I don't know, good company? Or should that wait, too?


 10:16 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

If you put in some really teeny fish the betta might decide it's hungry after all ;)


 11:01 pm on Aug 4, 2011 (gmt 0)

If you put in some really teeny fish the betta might decide it's hungry after all ;)

Lucy, you're scaring me now...


 1:17 am on Aug 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

I was told at the aquarium that what sets off the bettas are the colorful fish. So I purchased some tiny fish for the tank, three of them. My betta knows when it's going to be fed and I feed it one pellet at a time. He rises to the top and waits for me to drop pellet after pellet in front of his face. Not the Petco pellets. It's some name brand from the aquarium. My fish sitter didn't believe I hand fed the betta until he saw it with his own eyes, lol.

For the little guys I crush the little pellets into smaller pieces and they eat them as the float down.


 4:42 pm on Aug 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

@ martinbuster:

I was told at the aquarium that what sets off the bettas are the colorful fish.

when you say "sets off," do you mean makes them upset? Or lets them know that it is feeding time?

I've read that they might attack "fancy guppies" (whatever those are) and they might get attacked by tiger barbs. So I am still thinking about some tetras. My betta is a dark blue so maybe something yellow or orange?

[edited by: Planet13 at 4:50 pm (utc) on Aug 5, 2011]


 4:49 pm on Aug 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

It's day three and the betta is more active, but he still hasn't eaten anything. He is swimming around more.

Still won't eat. Put some food at the surface and he ignores it. It sinks to the bottom of the tank, and he ignores it.

He is constantly flapping his flippers, even when staying in place. Is that normal? I turned off the pump / filter for a few minutes to make sure there was no current, and he still kept flapping his flippers (I hope that is the right term).

No obvious visual signs of being sick. Fins, eyes, and skin look ok.

Had the water tested yesterday with the five strip and an ammonia test. The ammonia test was SLIGHTLY elevated (halfway between safe and stressful). So I did a 20% water change (one gallon since he is in a 5 gallon tank). All other tests were spot on.

I wonder if the water is still too cold... I have a "self-regulating" heater that has gotten mixed reviews which is SUPPOSED to keep it at 78 degrees, and a separate water thermometer that is hard to read but looks like it is around 78, too (it is in the "green zone"), and just to triple check, (and this might be kind of gross), but I used a digital meat thermometer normally used for cooking and stuck it in the tank, and it said the water was just shy of 77 degrees.

But when I stick my hand in the tank, of course the water FEELS like it is freezing...


 5:02 pm on Aug 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

I would have suggested ( had you been asking what kind of small pet to get )..buy a rat..( but I suspect only Lucy24 would have agreed with me ) rats are waaaaay more fun..waaaaay more intelligent, and waaaaay easier..

You wouldn't want to keep it ( and it wouldn't like living there, even in a tank with no water in it ..actually rats like to have free run of the place most of the time ..and just have somewhere to go back to ) in a fish tank though..but ! The fish would not be wasted, if you were to now buy a rat :)..rats are quite partial to fish IME..and they ( yes they* is better ) would be able to play in the tank ..if you made rats ramps so they could get out without jumping..

So you could cut ( or dice and slice ) your losses ..and get a rat..

*More than one rat is even better ;-))..and even one rat is waaaay better..than a betta :)


 5:50 pm on Aug 5, 2011 (gmt 0)

So you could cut ( or dice and slice ) your losses ..and get a rat..


the whole thing came about because my wife was cleaning up the storage area with our five-year-ole son and found an old fish tank. So of course she promised him we would get a fish.

So yours truly was assigned to acquire the necessary items. Thought it would be around $25 max. Boy, was I ever wrong...

Even on cutting corners I've sunk like $140 into getting ONE fish - and that was WITH a tank already.

Rats are great pets (had one in my single days). Until they get cancer and suffer a slow, agonizing death.

And if I had said to my wife that we should get a rat instead of a fish, I would have been sleeping in the garage for a month - which is extra bad since we don't actually have a garage...

This 38 message thread spans 2 pages: 38 ( [1] 2 > >
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