The lights should be on during daylight hours, and switched off during the night - an automatic timer makes life much easier. 

You will need equipment to filter and to aerate your aquarium - there are a number of different methods available, and it may be best to ask the pet shop when you buy your aquarium which they recommend, or indeed many starter kits come complete with filtration system and pump.

It is also useful to have some water monitoring equipment, although most, except for the most basic, will probably be built up over time.  These include thermonitors to test the temperature of the water, water test kits to analyse the make up of the water, and hydrometers if you have a brackish or marine set up.

Aquariums for Children

The first thing to remember is to be careful about any promises to buy an aquarium as a birthday or Christmas present.  Although you will certainly be able to present the aquarium as a gift, it will not be possible to put any fish in it for at least a week.  Depending on the age of your child you will need to explain this carefully so that you can manage his/her expectations.

There are three main types of set up you can have - fresh water, brackish water or marine.  Marine fish, whilst undeniably beautiful to look at, are definitely not a good idea  for a novice fish keeper.  Brackish water contains varying amounts of salt - this is the water that is found where rivers meet the sea.  If fish that need these conditions take your fancy you will need to ensure that you can keep the salt balance exactly right.

And so we come to freshwater fish.  These have benefits in that some are quite hardy and easy to keep, some (guppies for example) will readily breed adding interest to the tank, and finally can be cheap to buy.  Stocking a freshwater tank need not break the bank. 

As a first aquarium it is best to stay with the more common freshwater fish.  They might not be as pretty as marine fish, but are cheaper to buy and the water balance is easier to keep correct.
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Keeping and Caring for Tropical Fish

A beautiful tropical fish tank, with fish of all colours gently swimming back and forth in crystal clear water is perhaps everyone's image of keeping fish.  But what is really involved, and just how easy is it to keep it that way?
A tropical fishtank is so much more than just a bowl with water in it - it is a mini eco-system which needs maintaining in just the right way to keep your fish happy and healthy.

For starters, you will need a filter for your tank, and will need to be able to maintain it at exactly the right temparature.  In the UK this means heating it.

The sort of fish you keep will be determined to some extent by the type of water in your tap!  Hard or soft water will suit different types of fish.  You can get a water test kit to find out what your water is, and by using different chemicals can alter the hardness of the water to suit the type of fish you wish to keep. 
On this page:

Aquariums for children
What size of tank
Setting up
Adding fish
Rosy Tetra
Rosy Tetra

Fish Keeping is a Science

Although a well established aqarium is relatively easy to maintain, setting up a new tank for fish needs care and attention.  It's easy to overfeed fish, and unless the child is a responsible teenager an adult will need to keep an eye on what's going with their aquatic pets, and be ready to help out when necessary. 

If fish are introduced to a tank where the water is not the right Ph balance for them they will die.  If the water becomes unhealthly due to over feeding, for example, they will die.  If you buy new fish which come from unhealthly stock and introduce a disease into your tank the fish will die

Although sad, it's often easier for adults to move on when this happens, learn a lesson and try to do things better next time.  But if the aquarium is a child's hobby be prepared for your son/daughter to be distraught when a prize fish dies! 

Tropical fish keeping is a complicated hobby - not quite as simple as buy a tank, put in water and add fish!  We are trying to give you some information on this site, but if you are serious about adding an aquarium to your home you should invest in a good book to guide you through tank set up in detial.

Setting up an Aquarium for Freshwater Tropical Fish

How big should my fish tank be?

This is where fish keeping comes into its own.  You can choose the size of aquarium that fits your room, and the colour and style to suit your decor.  The only thing you have to remember is that the size will influence the number and size of fish it will be able to support.  The table below gives some indication of the numbers of fish to size of aquarium.
Please note the table is only a guide - the number of fish a tank can support can be influenced by many things including water quality, cleanliness and health of the fish who live in it.   The length of fish is from nose to tail.
Aquarium Surface Size Fish up to 5 cm (2 in) Fish 5 - 7.5 cm (2 - 3 in) Fish 7.5 - 10 cm (3 -4 in)
45 x 25 cm (18 x 10in) 14
10 0
60 x 30 cm (24 x 12 in) 22 16 14
90 x 30 cm (36 x 12 in) 33 24 21
120 x 30 cm (46 x 12 in) 44 32 29
150 x 45 cm (60 x 18 in) 83 60 54
Lemon Tetra
Lemon Tetra

What equipment do I need?

You will need a heater to maintain the aquarium's temparature at approximately 72 - 78 degrees fahrenheit (23 - 26 centigrade).  You need a flourescent light of the right size and power to light your tank (remember you are trying to mimic a natural environment where sunlight will filter through to the fish) and if you want to grow plants you will need more powerful light of different spectrums. 

Setting up the Aquarium

Now you have your tank and basic equipment, you also need to have rock, gravel, plants (plastic or real) and any other ornaments which suit the mood of your room or who the tank is for.  Sunken ships, ruined castles can make an aquarium attractive to look at, and more importantly give the fish an interesting environment and places to hide. 

Select a place for your aquarium well away from direct sunlight or radiator - check that the floor will take the weight of the tank filled with water.  Make sure the tank is sitting on polystyrene rather than directly on the top of the stand or cabinet. 

Add well washed gravel to the empty aquarium, and then add the rocks.  Follow instructions for the installation of your chosen filtration system. 

Place the heater, air lines and filters in position, but do not switch anything on.

Blue Black Widow
Blue Black Widow
Start to fill the aquarium with water.  If you place an upturned bowl on the floor of the aquarium and pour the water onto this it will disperse the flow and will not cause too much disruption to the gravel and ornaments you have put in. 

Fill the aquarium to about half way, and then add some warm water to raise the temparature.  IMPORTANT  Do not use warm water from a tap as it is likely to contain copper which is poisonous to fish- always use cooled boiled water.

You can now add living plants.

Adding water conditioners will get rid of those chemicals put into the water that make it safe for humans to drink (but harmful to fish), and should be added at this stage.  Then continue filling the aquarium. 

Once the tank is full switch on the heater, the filter and the lights. 

Do not add fish!

Your tank will be very cloudy.  However much you rinsed the gravel it will still muddy the water, and you will need to let the filter start to do its work to clear it. 

You should now leave the aquarium to settle for about a week.  Check the temparature regularly and adjust the thermostat - plants are able to withstand more fluctuations than fish!  Make sure the filter is working, and that you understand how it works.  Use a water test kit to become familiar with how to use it, and how to read the results.

After a week your tank will have cleared.  You can now begin to think about adding fish.

Choosing Fish

Aquariums are mini eco-systems, and need to be in balance.  The natural waste from fish and behaviour of the filtration system takes a while to settle down.  For this reason you should never stock a new tank to more than 50% capacity.

There are so many types of fish to choose from that this can be bewildering to a beginner.  If the tank is for a child the best fish to start off with are those that are good in a community.  Most of these, such as neons, cardinals and other tetras are brightly coloured. If you choose smaller fish you can keep more of them - but do remember that fish grow, so ask the stockist about the fish you are interested in, and make sure they will not grow too big for your aquarium.  Your stockist will also be able to tell you which fish get on well together - unfortunately some fish are known to be aggressive to others, and some will nibble the  long flowing fins of the beautiful angelfish or gourami..  Some fish, such as guppies or platties are pretty, easy to keep and will breed, adding much interest for a child.

Fish keeping is a rewarding hobby, and there are magazines and books which will be of immense help to you and your family as you develop more interest and knowledge.

Kuhli Loach
A very useful fish to have in the aquarium is a plecostomus.  These eat algae, and will help keep the glass clean.  Some grow extremely big, but you can get some which keep quite a small size.  Always ask in the pet shop to make sure it will be the right size for your tank.

Some fish, such as the Kuhli Loach, like to burrow into the substrate and come out at night - it may possibly never be seen again after you put it in the tank! 
Kuhli Loach
Fish get a number of common diseases - often caused when the ph of the tank is not correct, or the tank is dirty.  These include white spot and dropsy.  You can get treatments for this common ailments from your local pet shop.  It's not easy taking fish to the vet when they are ill, so most people treat at home.  Join a fish keeping forum on the internet so you can get help and advice if you have any problems. 

To keep your fish as healthy as possible the aquarium should be cleaned out regularly.  Up to a third of the water should be taken out, and replaced with fresh, clean water.  The new water should be as close as possible to the temperature of that already in the aquarium - adding cold water will cause shock to the fish.  You should also put water conditioner in with the new water (before adding it) so that the harmful chemicals are removed.

You can buy special siphons so you can 'hoover' the gravel to remove the dirt and debris which has accumulated on the bottom of the aquarium - but always be careful if you have fish such as the Kuhli Loach which may be buried in the gravel. 
If you keep the aquarium clean and do not overfeed then you should have happy and healthy fish which will live a long time.
See also Keeping and Caring for Goldfish