Everybody loves a fish that has bright and beautiful colors. They make our aquariums sparkle and are quite the attractive sight. However, sometimes what we do not realise is that our fish can be made to light up with even more colour. We can, yes that’s right, enhance the color of our fish.
Where Does Fish Color Come From And How Do You Enhance It?
Keeping it simple, fish skin contains cells called chromatophores which contain color pigments. Where these cells are placed is all down to genetics creating the patterns such as the black and red lines that we see on the Denison Barb, or the spots on a Golden Nugget Pleco.
How bright these colors are, or how well the color pigments work, on the other hand, is partially down to the ways in which we care for our fish. We cannot create color where it wasn’t, it has to be said, but we can enhance what is already there.
Enhancing the color of your fish can be done essentially in five ways. These are by providing them with great water quality, giving them a good environment, and feeding them from a choice of three color enhancing diets.
1. Water Quality And Color Enhancement
It goes without saying that providing excellent water quality ensures our fish live a long, healthy, and happy life. However, what doesn’t go without saying is that water quality can also affect their color. Fish that live in pristine water conditions shine brighter and are far more vibrant, whilst fish in poor water become dull and drab.
To avoid dull and drab, and encourage enhanced bright and vibrant there are several things you should do regarding water quality. These are:
Cycle your aquarium – Before adding any fish you should ensure that your aquarium is fully cycled. Cycling ensures that ammonia turns to nitrite then nitrate and that good bacteria is present.
Use water conditioner – The primary use of water conditioner is to remove the chlorine and chloramine from tap water making it safe for your fish. Water conditioner should be used very time you perform a water change.
Provide good filtration – Filtration not only cleans your aquarium of debris and waste but also ensures that your ammonia and nitrite stay at zero ppm. Filters need cleaning on a regular basis to ensure they work efficiently. Ensure you have the right size filter for your aquarium, read our complete filter guide for small or large aquariums.
Perform weekly water changes – Good filtration alone is not enough, you also need to change at least 15% of the water in your aquarium on a weekly basis. This keeps nitrates low and replenishes the water buffer and minerals. Read our article on water changes for more information.
Perform weekly maintenance – Following on from the previous points, water changes and good filtration are still not enough! You also need to ensure that you clean the debris that has become trapped in your aquarium away. Usually this is done with a simple substrate vacuum that will suck up all waste and dirt.
Provide correct temperatures – Whether you are keeping saltwater, cold water or tropical fish they all have optimum water temperatures that they thrive in. Though it may not be possible to keep every species in your aquarium at the perfect temperature level, you should strive to be as close as you can.
For more tips on starting an aquarium from new or a beginners guide then read our complete guide.
2. The Environment And Color Enhancement
It is often said that we should provide the best and closest to natural, if possible, environment for our fish to live and thrive in. This includes if you want your fish to have enhanced colors. Providing them with the perfect, or as near to as possible, living conditions can and will make their colors pop. Environmental considerations are:
- Aquarium size
- Safe retreats
- Tank mates
- Species numbers
It may not have escaped your notice that so far the ways to enhance your fish’s colouration have all been the same ways in which you keep your fish healthy, happy, and thriving. This is no coincidence with colouration and its enhancement being directly linked with these aspects of care.
Getting back to environment, it is no secret that not providing your fish with the correct care in this area can lead to them becoming stressed, sick, and even dying. How does this relate to color? Well, sick fish fade in coloration and it really is as simple as that. If you fish become sick you’ll need the right treatment to nurse them back to health. Read our guide on tropical fish diseases.
3. Color Enhancing Fish Food
In recent years fish food manufacturers have begun to produce flakes, pellets, and other products that are capable of enhancing the color of the fish in our aquariums. These usually contain high levels of carotenoids which promote color development.
Carotenoids are categorised as any of a class of mainly orange, yellow, or red fat soluble pigments that give color. They are found naturally in many foods that fish would eat in their natural environment. They are, however, in commercial fish foods, concentrated to give more effect from lesser amounts consumed.
A word of warning needs to accompany this method of enhancing fish color as there are some downsides. For example these foods can cause the burning of colors onto a fish causing odd patches of color to appear. They can also tint your water making it look cloudy or dirty.
We use Omega Super Color fish food which we purchase from Amazon because they offer next day delivery and their prices are low.
Don’t take our word for it, read genuine customer reviews and ratings on Amazon here.
4. Color Enhancing Vegetables, Fruit, Herbs And Other Things
If you’d prefer to take a more natural approach to enhancing the color of your fish then vegetables, fruits, and herbs are an excellent way to go. Not only do they contain amazing color enhancing properties, but they are also nutritionally great. Color enhancers of this kind are suitable for most fish including herbivores and omnivores.
Seaweed is a great example of a fantastic color enhancer since it is one of the few foods that can enhance the full spectrum of colors, from red to blue. Each species also excels at a color according to the color of the seaweed itself. For example, green seaweed creates a fabulous enhancement of blue, and red, well, red!
We feed our fish Omega One Veggie Seaweed Sticks like the ones above.
When it comes to vegetables and fruit part of their appeal in color enhancement has to be that there are so many different options to choose from. They are also, in the main, desirable treats for many species of fish that will be eagerly feasted upon. It is worth noting, however, that some vegetables may need to be slightly cooked before serving. Recommended fruit and vegetables include:
- Bell peppers
- Bok choy
- Winter squash
- Mustard greens
- Swiss chard
- Dill weed
- Romaine lettuce
Finally, herbs are another great way to get natural color enhancing produce into your fish’s diet. These, however, are only readily accepted when in powdered form or extract which is mixed in with their normal diet. Examples of suitable herbs include:
- Gou quiz (goji berry)
- Nasturtium flowers
- Marigold flowers
- Dandelion flowers
5. Color Enhancing Proteins
Mainly suited to omnivores and carnivores, protein color enhancers are generally foods that most people give their pet fish as treats, if not on a regular basis, at least occasionally. There are many of them available including these which are just some of the best.
- Krill – A small crustacean found in oceans all over the world.
- Plankton – A diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water.
- Salmon – A river fish native to tributaries of the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean.
- Mysis shrimp – A shrimp like crustacean found in both shallow and deep marine waters.
- Brine shrimp – An aquatic crustacean that has existed since the triassic period. They are found in inland saltwater lakes, but never oceans.
It is also worth mentioning that mixing protein color enhancers with seaweed can create marvelously enhanced shades of blue, purple, and green in your fish.
We buy our Krill, Brine Shrimp and Mysis Shrimp freeze dried. Click here for the best prices.
Conclusion: How to improve the color of your fish
It should be noted that whilst color enhancing foods are great for enhancing colors, they should not be given to your fish exclusively. This is because they do not contain all the nutritional requirements that your fish needs. They are also not the only thing needed to ensure your fish is full of color, but rather just part of a bigger picture that includes water quality, care, and food.