A Family Science Project PDF Print E-mail
Delightful Surprises

      We just set up Sonia’s fish tank in her room once again, and as always, we are enjoying the beauty of tropical aquatic life. From the pretty pink, blue, yellow, and green gouramies to the adorable catfish and yellow snail, God’s underwater creations are truly amazing. Often one of us is perched upon the chair in front of the tank intently observing the fascinating lifestyle of our underwater clan. And at night it makes the prettiest bedroom nightlight, perfect for lulling the kids to sleep. Watching fish swim is so relaxing, even our large Persian cat falls asleep stretched out upon the lid of the tank.

      If you would like to begin an aquarium and are a beginner, purchase at least a fifteen-gallon tank. Complete setups can often be acquired for a fraction of the cost at garage sales or through the newspaper.

      After cleaning the tank with warm water and a plastic scrub pad, if necessary (do not use soap), begin creating a beautiful environment for your fish by covering the bottom of the tank with a layer of gravel. Natural tones of black, brown, and tan are the prettiest. For rocks, we use black, yellow, rose, and red ones that we gathered from our creek bed in the country. To add dimension and height, we always build a wall of rocks in one corner of the tank by layering flatter rocks one on top of the other. This also provides a safe place for the fish to hide. We then continue to place pretty rocks of various sizes across the back of the tank to create a dramatic backdrop. Part of the continuous chain of rocks is a tunnel big enough for fish to swim through, achieved simply by placing a flatter rock across two larger ones.

      A variety of live aquatic plants—a must for a healthy tank—are placed at various locations around the tank. Next attach your pump and heater to the back wall of the tank. Automatic heaters are much better than the adjustable ones because they continuously maintain the temperature you desire after the initial setting, while the adjustable kinds need to be adjusted continuously. For the first month, set your temperature at 74° and then on 76° thereafter.

      Gently fill the tank with water, and add the appropriate amount of Tap Water Conditioner to remove chlorine and one teaspoon of salt per ten gallons of water to help the fish’s hemoglobin absorb oxygen. Now allow the tank to rest for at least a week before adding any fish. After the week is up, take a water sample in to the pet store to be tested. If approved, purchase just a few fish to begin with and make sure you float the bag of fish in your aquarium 15-20 minutes before releasing them into the tank. This allows them to acclimate to your tank’s water temperature.

      Why purchase just a few fish at first? As inconvenient as this may seem, it is an imperative step in creating the healthiest environment for your fish. Because aquariums are closed environments, once fish are introduced, ammonia levels immediately start to rise while bacteria begin to grow, causing a very unstable and rather poisonous environment. Less fish lower the ammonia toxicity, lessening the chances of mortality. The lower temperature of 74° reduces bacteria growth, and feeding the fish every other day for the first month also helps. Cloudy water may occur due to the unstable bacteria growth; however, after four weeks of cycling, your aquarium should have stabilized with all new food and waste now being converted to nonharmful nitrates.

      At that time, you need another water sample tested just to make sure everything has indeed stabilized, and then you can purchase the rest of your fish. The rule of thumb is one inch of fish per gallon capacity. Of course, it is best to purchase fish from a reliable, knowledgeable staff. We have found Beldt’s Aquarium, 7025 Howdershell, Hazelwood (314-895-3350) and Petsmart, 62 Brentwood Promenade (314-918-9123) to be the best. While there, also purchase a clear cleaning tube. This will be used every six weeks to vacuum up the waste on the bottom of the tank and twenty-five percent of the water, which needs to be recycled. Refill the tank then, once again adding Tap Water Conditioner and salt.

      Saltwater tanks are much more expensive and time consuming, but also provide a lovely addition to any room. If you want to set up a saltwater tank, visit Tropics Inc., 2236 First Capitol Drive, St. Charles (636-947-5999). They are saltwater and living reef specialists. We first saw them at a Home and Garden Show at the Cervantes Center where they had a huge, beautiful living reef on display. While visiting the store, I talked to the manager who said he would give field trip presentations. Y