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( Originally Published 1938 )
It is a more or less constant source of amazement to beginners to discover that fish do not need a fresh drink of water every day. The simple statement that water should never be changed except because of pollution, seems rather hard for many beginners to believe. However, this is the case, and it might be a good idea to state right here that constant changes are definitely harmful to the fish. Remember that the fish likes his water old, even if you don't.
A balanced aquarium is one in which you have the right number of fish, the right kind of aquatic plants, the right kind of water, the right kind of scavengers and the right amount of light and air. This is the happiest kind of home for the fish, and it's the kind of environment in which your pets will live a long, decorative life.
The aquarium tank is your first consideration; then sand, then plants, then water, then scavengers, and then fish. Assuming that you intend to use a metal-frame, plate-glass tank, choose the location first. Pick a spot where the tank will have some sunlight daily. Make sure that the base for the tank (table, stand or whatnot) is good and solid. Tanks once in place should not be moved much if you would avoid leakage. Give the new tank a thorough cleaning with salt and water-no soap. Then season the tank by filling it with tap water. If small leaks do develop they can be stopped by emptying the tank and puttying the seams from the inside. The seasoning water should be changed daily for about a week so that any detrimental salts or oil on the surface of the glass or the bottom may be thoroughly soaked out. Incidentally, don't attempt to empty the tank by picking it up and pouring the water out in the sink-a smashed or leaky tank will result. Dip the water out, using care not to strike the sides or corners.
Aquarium sand, cleaned and of exactly the right size, can be obtained at all aquarium supply shops. Before putting sand in the aquarium put about two inches of water in the tank, then start at the back and slope the sand downward toward the front. It can slope from a two-inch depth at the back to three-fourths of an inch on the front. It is a good idea to carry the slope down toward one corner so that waste food and dirt can be collected in that one spot. The purpose of the water is to help hold the sand in place and to wash free any particles of dirt that may remain in the sand. Siphon the water off after the sand is in place.
Aquatic plants have an important place in the aquarium for several reasons: they are decorative; they furnish anchorage for the eggs of spawning fish; when in the sunlight they add to the oxygen supply of the water; their roots absorb as nourishment the waste and offal of the aquarium; they provide good natural hiding or loafing spots for the fish. Before taking up planting methods, here are descriptions of some of the better aquarium plants. You can buy them in most shops that sell aquarium supplies.
SACCITARIA is sometimes called "water grass" because that's what it looks like. Leaves are slender and grass-like; plants ' are hardy; they grow the year around and are good suppliers of oxygen if sunlight is present. In summer it bears small white flowers with yellow centers above the water surface. Roots send out runners to form new plants.
VnLLISNERiA, while not suited for a tiny aquarium, is a fine aquarium plant indeed. Like the Saggitaria, this is a grass-like plant with ribbon leaves; color tends toward a yellow-green. Fishermen will recognize it as eel grass; the plant is an excellent oxygenator in sunlight.
CABOMBA, which is the average man's idea of what sea weed ought to look like, is a feathery, plume-like plant much sold in pet shops. However, it doesn't last too well in an aquarium.
HAIR GRASS, when obtainable, is a fine attractive addition to any aquarium. Like Saggitaria, it sends out root runners and adds to itself.
ANACHARIS is a rapid growing plant generally to be found in any aquarium supply store. It is a moderately good supplier of oxygen under the right conditions, but seems to have the habit of dying out in spots.
THERE are two opinions as to how to plant an aquarium. You can use your own judgment, remembering that for either method you should really have about six pairs of hands.
METHOD 1: After arranging the sand with a slope upward toward the back, fill the aquarium with water to near the top. Take an aquarium plant, holding the top in one hand, while you guide the bottom and the root downward to the sand with the other hand. Still retaining a grasp on the base, scoop out a planting hole in the sand, guide the roots into it, spread them out and then carefully cover all the roots with sand.
METHOD 2: Put only a half inch of sand over the entire bottom of the aquarium, then put only two inches of water in the tank before starting to plant. Place the plants in location, and then fill in around them with more sand to build up the sloping floor. After the plants are all in place, fill the aquarium the rest of the way to the top with water.
In either case, some plants are apt to float free, or you may find exposed roots. Use a stick to return these to their places. A long stick with a slotted end (maybe a child's arrow minus its feathers) will be useful.
Note that you must keep the plants from drying out before planting. Sprinkle them occasionally.
If the first method is used, be very careful how you move your hands in the tank. Too rapid scooping of sand, or quick motions may fill the water with a sand cloud, or stir up currents that wrench the plants loose.
Following the planting, allow the plants three or four days to take root before fish are introduced. If the aquarium is large, you may want to pot the plants. If you do this, be sure that the earth in the pot is covered with sand.
This is the point on which the success of your venture may hinge. Clear lake or river water is the best bet or, in general, any clean soft water that you can find. Tap water can be used, but it needs to be conditioned first. The chlorine present in most city water is not good for the fish. If you can endure the wait, tap water that has been allowed to stand for several days will be perfectly satisfactory. If you are in a hurry, boil the tap water and after it has cooled pour it back and forth from one container to another so that the water will pick up oxygen lost in the boiling.
When filling the aquarium, a baffle of some sort should be used to keep the inflowing water from disturbing sand or plants too much. A square of cardboard may be used as a target on which to pour the water. Pour slowly.
Various snails and some fish perform the useful function Scatiof keeping an aquarium clean. They eat up the waste food and bits of excess vegetable matter, and thus help to keep the aquarium balanced. Offsetting these advantages, it must be remembered that some snails will eat the life out of your plants, that they require part of the water's oxygen content, and that tropical fish may attack and kill them.
The best snails are the Red Ramshorn, Japanese, Columbian Ramshorn or our native Pond snail. All of these are good workmen, they do not attack the plants, and they add a definite decorative value to the aquarium. The Japanese snail is especially interesting because it bears live young. Whatever your choice, use only a few snails, because in great numbers they lose their importance as scavengers, merely cluttering up the tank and exhausting the oxygen supply needed by your fish.
This final step in the process may very well be postponed for a week or two after everything else about your aquarium is established. The water will be better seasoned, the plants will have taken better root, and you will be in a position to know whether the temperature is right or not. If you plan to keep goldfish, the final temperature of the tank will not be so vital, but tropicals should not be kept in water below 70° F. If you plan for tropicals, and the average temperature of the tank is below 70° F., an aquarium heater and thermostat must be installed.
When you finally put the fish into their home, dip them gently into the prepared aquarium-don't pour them from temporary containers.
Fish purchased in the fall from the spring hatch of that year are generally more satisfactory. Don't buy fully developed fish.
Aquarium glass, dirtied by vegetable growth, can be Amm cleaned by scraping it carefully with a razor blade. Do this frequently.
From constant use by fish and plants, the chemical content of the water in time will become exhausted. From time to time, a piece of plaster of Paris about the size of two aspirin tablets should be added to the water. Once a month will be often enough.
Salt in the water is another essential. A quarter of a teaspoonful of sea salt to five gallons of water should be added to the tank before you put in the fish.
"Green water" is not bad for your fish-in fact it's healthful, but it makes the tank unsightly. The general cause is too much light, which encourages the growth of :algae or other minute plant life. Screen the sides of the aquarium with tissue paper and the water will generally get back to a normal state of clarity in a week or two. Adding a lot of daphnia (water fleas) may clear the water in more of a hurry, but there is danger that an over-supply will exhaust too much oxygen.
Other cloudiness in the aquarium may be due to overfeeding. It is a fairly common mistake for beginners to feed their fish too much, and the unwanted morsels sink to the bottom and pollute the water. If at the end of eight minutes' feeding there seems to be any left, remove it and reduce the quantity of food thereafter.
ESSENTIAL: 1. A fine mesh dip net for removing fish.
2. Two yards of small rubber hose for a siphon, used to change water or fill the tank.
3. A heating element, a thermostat to regulate the heater, and a floating thermometer to check the thermostat-this if you have tropicals.
4. A dip tube to remove food from the bottom. Ask your aquarium supply man how to work it.
5. A plate glass cover for the aquarium. .Gas, smoke and food odors are absorbed by the water-the cover will keep much of this out along with soot and dirt. Also, it will keep leaping fish in the tank.
GOOD TO HAVE: 1. A breeding cage. This is a practical necessity if you have breeding fish.
2. A breeding aquarium.
USEFUL: 1. A constant action filter. Keeps the water pure. 2. A feeding ring. This floating device will help the fish to locate the food. Also helpful in the after-meal cleanup because it confines food to one area.
3. An aerator. This device is probably only for the advanced amateur, since it involves a great deal of equipment that would be unnecessary for keeping a small aquarium. Its purpose is to provide an artificial supply of oxygen, permitting the housing of many more fish in a given tank.