Many people would love to keep a tropical fish tank but think that it is too difficult a task, and maybe something better thrown into the ‘too-hard’ basket. Let’s have a look at some of the myths about tropical fish aquariums, and answer the age-old question, are tropical fish hard to keep?
The short answer is that it isn’t too difficult, and certainly, beginners to the hobby can very successfully keep a tropical tank community. While it may not be too hard – I do believe that it takes time as well as passion, so these are the qualities you see in the happiest home fishkeeper.
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It Isn’t Hard, But You Need To Want To Do It
Owning a vibrant tropical aquarium will bring you a stunning piece of home décor, but you shouldn’t head down this path just to get a unique and lively work of art in your home. Home décor should be a bonus of fishkeeping, not your main goal.
Owning a tropical aquarium is the same as becoming any kind of pet owner. Your goal should be the care of a healthy and happy pet, whose love will then give your endless joy as a result.
Fish are calming as well as being interactive and uplifting, giving you hours of pleasure in watching an underwater ballet. If your fish are happy and healthy you will have a rewarding relationship with them.
If your fish aren’t happy or healthy, and you aren’t passionate about their care, then you may find keeping a tropical tank to be hard work. You may also find it to be an expensive undertaking, so work out beforehand if you have the time and passion for this kind of pet.
Myths About Tropical Fish
Myth One: A Smaller Tank is better for beginners
Many people think that they will start out with a small tropical tank, as this will be easier to get used to than a big one. Plus if you are going to make mistakes you won’t have forked out as much for a big tank.
It is a myth that a small tank is easier, and in fact, a larger tropical tank is easier for beginners than a smaller one. A larger tank has less fluctuation in water chemical and temperature levels, so you have more leeway to figure out adjustments in salt levels and pH levels without hurting your fish.
A larger tank takes longer to get dirty, so the pH levels won’t change as quickly as with a smaller tank.
Your fish community will grow, interact and thrive better in a larger space than in a confined one, and your live rock and coral will also grow better, providing a more stable environment for your fish.
A smaller tank will be cheaper to purchase, but making mistakes in a smaller tank is more likely and more expensive than in a larger one.
Myth Two: Freshwater Coldwater Fish are easier to keep than Tropical Fish
Some fish are hardier than other breeds, and some get along with others better as well as being less fussy with their diet. These are the kinds of fish that are easier to keep, and you can buy easy tropical fish breeds as well as easy freshwater ones.
Tropical fish that are easy to look after as well as great to look at and interact with include:
Myth Three: Tropical Fish need more complex equipment
If we believe television and the movies, you can be fooled into thinking that a tropical aquarium is a massive and complicated system that requires a professional to come into your house to look after, while for freshwater fish you just need a pretty vase on a table and a goldfish.
If you want to see some really unusual cold water freshwater fish then read this blog you’ll love it!
Neither of these myths is true. To keep any fish, you need a light and filter. For many freshwater fish and all tropical fish, you will also need a heater. None of these things are hard to use or to look after, you just need to check them regularly and keep them clean.
It’s more a matter of consistency rather than difficulty.
Myth Four: Saltwater is hard to balance
Just because freshwater comes out of your tap and saltwater doesn’t, you could believe the myth that comparatively speaking, managing a saltwater tank is more difficult.
Basically, both kinds of water types take a few steps in balancing.
With freshwater fish, you don’t just fill the tank from the tap and then leave the little fellas to it. You still need to test the water condition and pH levels, as well as making sure the water is filtered and the correct temperature for your breeds is established.
With testing water for any kind of fish, you should buy a good quality water testing kit and understand how to use it. You will need to test specifically, the pH, dissolved oxygen content, and ammonia and nitrate levels.
You will also need to buy and know how to use the chemicals which maintain these levels and the water condition.
With saltwater fish, you have the additional step of checking the salinity of the water and then putting the saltwater mix into the aquarium, which really doesn’t make things harder.
Myth Five: Tropical Fish require more cleaning
All species of fish need their water to be clean and filtered to thrive, not just tropical ones.
In actual fact, basic freshwater fish such as the ever-popular goldfish are actually messier than tropical fish, meaning they need more cleaning and more regular water testing because their poop will increase the ammonia and throw the water level out of balance.
Additionally, living plants in a freshwater tank create algae, which makes a freshwater tank messier than a tropical one, and more in need of a good scrub every few weeks. The living rock in tropical tanks makes for a much cleaner and more balanced environment.
Tips To Make Keeping Tropical Fish Even Easier
Buy Good Products
The better the quality of your materials, the easier your life will be. Some filters and heaters have extra bells and whistles built-in, so if ‘easy’ is your goal then it might be worth investing a little more in higher-end equipment.
- you can buy a heater that monitors its own temperature and will turn on and off by itself as needed
- you can also buy a thermometer with a built-in sensor that can alert you to any dangerous temperature changes
- the right kind of light will reduce algae growth, as well as helping maintain the water temperature.
Better products work better, are easier to use, easier to clean and will break down less often, so this is really the area where you can reduce any workload when taking care of tropical fish.
Make friends with your fish guy (or lady)
When you don’t know what you’re doing, the best thing you can do is make friends with your friendly neighborhood fish-seller. This lovely person will have all sorts of excellent knowledge including the best tank, filters and fish for beginners, as well as fish which create communities well together.
When you buy all of your equipment for the first time and set it up, this will be new to you. You will need to figure out how everything goes together.
You might find it helpful to make a list of the steps to get set up, as well as a daily, weekly and monthly schedule or reminder of what you need to do, at least until you get the hang of things.
You need to set up the tank and establish this environment for at least a few weeks and up to a month before adding tropical fish. This will allow the water to cycle and healthy bacteria to grow, as well as letting your live rock get established.
Your first fish may be a bit of ‘test’ fish, so as an extra starting out tip, don’t buy the most expensive breed first. I’m not saying the first guy is automatically a sacrificial-lamb fish, but you may not have everything balanced in the beginning, and a cheaper, starting fish could be a smarter way to make mistakes.
Choose the right location in your home for a cleaner and easier to look after tank including keeping away from direct sunlight and maintaining water temperature levels.
Research beforehand and choose compatible breeds
Keeping tropical fish isn’t difficult, you just need to know what you are doing.
Research the kinds of fish you want to keep before buying any, and work out if you want a small community or a big one. Work out which breeds are reef-friendly and will interact well. Work out what your breeds will eat and if you can double up on some types of meals.
Fish are easier to look after when they have enough space and get along well with each other. Don’t cram too many in and combine reef-friendly fish that have similar schedules, behaviors and diets.
Get to know your tropical fish
If you keep an eye on your fish regularly then you will be quick to notice if one of them becomes unwell. You will be able to put any sick fish into quarantine and ensure the rest stay fit and healthy, and you can also get medication to your sick fish sooner, with better results.
Check in with your fish so you get to know their color and usual behaviors, then you will pick up quickly on any changes in their condition.
Getting to know your fish isn’t difficult, but again it takes some time and care. When you know them, they will be healthier and looking after them will be easier in the long run.
Feed them well
Feeding your fish correctly keeps them healthier and makes them hardier, which makes them less work to take care of.
Feed your fish the right food for their diet and be careful not to overfeed. It is far easier to overfeed a fish than it is to starve one, so err on the side of caution here. Feeding them less also means your tank will be cleaner.
Here’s our complete guide on tropical fish food.
Many fish do better with small amounts regularly, including being fed more than once a day – so you do need to devote this time to feed them correctly.
Store your food properly in a sealed container in a cool dark place. Don’t keep frozen food for more than three months.
Live food should always be considered as a treat once or twice a week. Read our article on Bloodworms and see why they are so beneficial for your tropical fish.
Set a schedule and make time to look after your fish. You’ll need to check on them for a couple of minutes once or twice a day just for feeding, lighting and temperature checks. Then you’ll need to spend about fifteen minutes once a week to change 25% of the water, and around 30-60 minutes once a month to give your tank a really good clean.
None of this is hard, but it is a time commitment. If you travel a lot for example or enjoy weekends away, you will need to arrange for someone to look after your fish (the same as if you had a dog or cat).
Have you ever wondered why cats are attracted to goldfish?
You can’t really skip parts of the care schedule or you will neglect your fish, affecting their health. This is when looking after fish becomes harder, because they may become weak and develop conditions.
If you leave your tank too long between checks or cleaning, it will be harder to balance and clean next time (as well as not being great for the health of your fish).
What you’ll need to keep tropical fish
A suitably sized aquarium is the first item you’ll need to purchase. This one from Coralife aquarium comes complete with a filter to keep the water clean and nice LED aquarium lights.
This aquarium is the perfect sized tank for a beginner. Not too big that it is hard work to set up and not to small that the water quality will be difficult to maintain.
Coralife LED BioCube Aquarium Kit, 32 Gallon
$364.99 in stock
- Sleek modern hood with vibrant LED lighting; Hinge-top canopy design (also compatible with BioCube 14 and 29). Average output at 12-inches
- Integrated 24-hour timer with three independent channels: bright white, sparkling blue and color enhancing LEDs for maximum beauty
- Automatic 30 minute sunrise/sunset and 60 minute moonrise/moonset functions to replicate natural day cycle
- Compact and customizable built-in filtration – easy to setup and maintain. Clear glass back panel for easy refugium set-up
- Quiet submersible pump, dual intakes and adjustable return nozzle
You’ll also need a suitable aquarium heater. For a fish tank of this size, we would recommend a 150 watt heater. This one for Orlushy is perfect and comes with plenty of great customer reviews.
Orlushy Submersible 100W Aquarium Heater-Fish Tahk Heater With Adjust Knob Thermostat 2 Suction Cups Suitable for marine saltwater and freshwater
- ★100W aquarium heater is suitable for 15 to 30 gallons aquariums,Length - 9",voltage 110-120V, power cord is 6ft, please choose the right wattage aquarium heater according to our size chart.
- ★It shows an area to adjust the temperature. It's not exactly accurate but it turns easy and can be adjusted at small intervals.
- ★Explosion Proof: 2mm thickened quartz glass,can be used in fresh water and salt water aquariums,easy to hide in the tank.
- ★Precise temperature dial from 68 to 89°F allows for complete control of aquatic climate within a 1-degree difference.
- ★Adjustable Aquarium Fish Tank Water Heater Sensitive and reliable thermostat maintains uniform temperature. Automatic shut off when the temperature is reached
Once you have your aquarium set up and the water has gone through the natural water cycle process to ensure the water is safe, you can start to think about adding tropical fish.
But first, you’ll need to test the water to make sure that it meets all the water conditions suitable for keeping tropical fish. We use this water testing kit from API because it is very simple to use and very accurate.
API 5-in-1 Test Strips Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box
$10.20 in stock
- Contains one (1) API 5-IN-1 TEST STRIPS Freshwater and Saltwater Aquarium Test Strips 25-Count Box
- Monitors levels of pH, nitrite, nitrate carbonate and general water hardness in freshwater and saltwater aquariums
- Dip test strips into aquarium water and check colors for fast and accurate results
- Helps prevent invisible water problems that can be harmful to fish and cause fish loss
- Use for weekly monitoring and when water or fish problems appear
Once you’re happy with the water condition then you can start to add fish. Here’s our list of the most popular tropical fish suitable for beginners.
Once you have purchased and slowly started to build up your fish list you’ll need a suitable tropical fish flake food. Like TetraMin which we use as a staple diet. You will also need to provide other types of foods to balance their diet, out such as live foods, freeze-dried and algae wafers/pellets.
Laifoo Aquarium Vacuum Gravel Cleaner Fish Tank Cleaner Washer Siphon Water Changer
$29.99 in stock
- ✮2-IN-1 FUNCTION: Convenient to siphon fish faeces, impurities, turbid water out of fish tank & refill clean water by switching connector.
- ✮GRAVEL TUBE: Sinkable, with a filter screen inside. Will not disturb fish or decor when it's working.
- ✮25 Feet HOSE: Made from elastic clear plastic. Harmless to fishes & No peculiar smell. Durable and anti-kinking. Easy to put away with a hose strap.
- ✮SIPHON BALL: All you need to do is to pinch it for 3 to 5 times, water will flow out automatically. Without striking a blowing.
- ✮WARRANTY: 3 months after the date of purchase, we take care of all quality-related issues with a FREE replacement or refund. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact our professional after-sale service.
After a few weeks of having fish in your aquarium, you’ll need to start thinking about partial water changes and the equipment you need to perform this with ease.
We use a water syphon to clean the the gravel at the same time we change the water. Using a syphon like the Laifoo gravel cleaner will save time and make less mess.
Final Thoughts: Are tropical fish hard to keep?
While keeping tropical fish isn’t hard, you will learn as you go, and everything will only become easier. Buy the right products and the right fish, and devote the time and passion for caring for your pets that they deserve.
These are the best tips for making tropical fishkeeping easy and also ensuring this hobby is as rewarding as can be.
I have been working in the tropical fish industry for over 30 years now and I’m still learning. Everyday is a school day in this hobby. In my spare time I play golf very badly!