Aquarium accessories needed for running a fish tank
So, you’ve just got home with your new fish tank, to me that is 30 gallons or less. Aquariums are larger, at least in my mind. Since most new fish tanks and some 55 gallon models come in as a kit probably have...
- the tank
- a hood with light
- an adequate filter
- a 4 inch net
- some tropical fish flakes
- a small amount of a chlorine remover
- a plastic/silk plant or two
- possibly some coupons
It is strongly suggested, if you haven’t already, that you do a good deal of research before investing any more of your hard earned cash.
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This is the most important step in any endeavor that involves dealing with live animals. Speak with store personnel to get a recommendation for what is best suited to your application. THEN check on-line forums for the opinion of experienced users. Then commit your hard earned money.
This is true of any purchase you may wish to make. Check the stores but always check the various forums that are on the internet. Researching a project, whether it is size or type of tank, what types of fish get along together, what ever information you need is out there. These people enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with others interested in their hobby.
So now you’re all set to go and pick out some fish. Well, not quite. Unless you are planning to keep only goldfish you will need a heater. And if you have a heater you will need some way of ensuring that: The heater is actually working and, that your tank water is not ready to make tea in. This means you will need a thermometer. With the addition of these two accessories you now have the bare minimum to successfully operate a tropical fish tank. (Goldfish and a few other fish species, do just fine at room temperature.)
With the purchase of your heater you have now stepped into the bewildering world of aquarium accessories. You actually received a few with the new kit. The net, the chlorine remover, and the hood and light fixture all fall into a very large category known as accessories. Accessories are oft times mixed up with aquarium decorations. The distinguishing difference is that one is functional (accessory) and one is aesthetic (decoration). And of course there are things that blur the dividing line.
Within the accessory category a further division can be made. Sort of like the computer world, you have hardware and software. In your initial kit you got a net, hardware. And you got some chlorine remover, software. For brevities sake I will just gloss over the "software" section.
The software of fish keeping can be broken into: medications, supplements and vitamins, water treatments and test kits. Of these the one you probably want to start with is the ’test kit".
As a budding fish keeper one of the most important factors in keeping your fish healthy and happy is knowing what is going on in their environment. This is accomplished with the aid of test kits. Through the use of test kits you can monitor the critical parameters of the water in which your pets live. Test kits can be bought that measure just one specific attribute and more expensive kits can be had that measure many types of conditions.
When trying to diagnose a problem in your tank it will be necessary to know...
- what the acidity or alkalinity value of your water is (pH).
- What hardness is your water (GH).
- What is your carbonate hardness (KH).
- Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, iron, carbon dioxide and chlorine levels are other important factors that you, and others trying to help you, will want to know.
You can test for these factors yourself, or if you have the time or do not own a test kit yet, many LFS (live Fish Stores) will test a water sample that you bring to them.
Remember "ANYTHING" you put in your tank is going to affect the tanks environment. Be it fish, plants, your hand, a store bought decoration or the pretty rock you found while camping last summer.
Next in importance is probably the "water conditioners". Stress relievers, chlorine removers, ammonia removers, algicides, cycling aids, water clarifiers. Most of these are rather self explanatory, the exceptions being cycling aids, and water clarifiers.
- Cycling Aids - When you first fill your tank with tap water, it is devoid of bacteria. However; an aquarium needs bacteria to help break down mulm (fish poop, or per a dictionary: "Organic debris that can build up in the aquarium.") In the past this was accomplished over a period of up to 8 weeks of basically watching the paint dry while the water "matured" in your tank. With these products your tank can be ready in hours. (Read all labels carefully) Remember "ANYTHING" you put in your tank is going to affect the tanks environment.
- Water Clarifiers – There may be times that you get too much of a good thing. Some times even the good bacteria can get out of control (bad bacteria too) and cause your water to take on a hazy look. These products clear up cloudy water due to biological outbreaks (blooms).
Medications, supplements and vitamins
Medications and supplements and vitamins are just that. From time to time you may experience an out break of a disease that threatens the life of your pets. ICH (don’t laugh it’s a real word, it stands for the scientific name for the disease, ichthyophthiriasisis), is probably the most commonly experienced aquarium disease. Medications can be added to your water to rid your pets of this plague. And sometimes supplements are needed to help your little guys to recover. Plants and invertebrates also may require or benefit from the use of supplements and vitamins.
Remember "ANYTHING" you put in your tank is going to affect the tanks environment.
When ever you are considering using any chemical, whether it is a liquid, a powder or a fizzing tab, read the labels carefully! This is true whether the product is a medicine, a supplement or a conditioner. Some are hazardous to plants, (many of the algaecides are harmful to live plants). Or they may cause a degradation of some other product you are using. Example: Seachem Purigen and stress coat products do not match. And sometimes a particular species is more sensitive to a particular product than others. Always be wary. Remember, it has taken you a lot of time, self education, and money to get everything "just so". An un-researched product can wipe it all out in a flash.
"ANYTHING" you put in your tank is going to affect the tanks environment.
Now, on to the really cool stuff. The stuff you can hold in your hand. Stuff you can gaze upon and marvel at. Stuff that you wonder "why did I buy that?" The ever expanding world of aquarium HARDWARE!
Okay perhaps the first things on the hardware list are not really exciting. But believe me, you will need them and be very glad you were smart enough to have them close by. They are, a three to five gallon bucket (two of these is better) and several towels.
Since your first accessory purchase was probably the heater, we’ll start there. The most common heater, the one that has been around since Adam was a young lad, is a glass tube with a heater element enclosed and a little knob on top to adjust the amount of heat it puts out.
This type of heater comes in various sizes, and is measured in watts. Actually all aquarium heaters are measured in watts. The smallest of the glass tube variety, that I am aware of, is the 50 watt units. The largest is 400 watts. They also get longer as the wattage goes up. A 50 watt heater is generally 7 to 9 inches (18 to 23 centimeters) long. A 400 watt unit ranges up to 16 to 17 inches (41 to 43 centimeters) long. If your situation or tank requires a heater bigger than 400 watts you will need multiple heaters or one of the newer "titanium" fully submersible tube heaters. More on titanium heaters later. The glass tube heaters have a built in thermostat that monitors the water temperature and have a small light that comes on when the heater is on. When the tank is warm enough the heating element shuts down and the small light goes out.
This DOES NOT apply to nano tanks (really small tanks less than 5 gallons/19 liters; they are kind of a world unto themselves.
An accepted "rule of thumb" is 5 watts of heating capacity per gallon (liter) on smaller tanks 30gal (114L) and under. 3 watts per gallon (3.785L) on larger tanks. This is because a large body of water retains its heat better than a smaller body of water. Conversely it takes longer to heat a large body of water than to heat a smaller one. Often people with larger tanks will use two heaters to get up to operating temperature faster and then cut back to just one to maintain their predetermined optimum temperature, or as a measure of self protection on larger tanks, two heaters each of which is rated at half of the wattage required for their tank. Example: a 75 gallon tank (284 liter) tank would require a 300 watt heater, instead you can run two (2) 150 watt heaters. This is to prevent extreme over heating should one heater malfunction and hang up in a fully on position, and conversely should one heater fail entirely the second heater may be able to maintain an acceptable temperature until the problem is noticed and corrected. Most tropical fish require a temperature of around 77 degrees F. / 25 degrees C.
All of the glass tube style heaters are designed to be mounted inside the tank. They all come with suction cups to keep them upright against the side of the tank. Usually the back wall. Some have a mounting clip to be hung over the lip of the tank, most just have suction cups. While there are a few of the newer and more expensive models available that can be fully submersed and placed in either a vertical or horizontal position, or anything in between, most glass tube models are intended to be placed vertically in the tank. They all come with a marked "water line" which is the minimum depth that the heater should be immersed. Please do not put the heater in below the operating dial. Can you say "electrocution"? Relax, today’s models come with auto shut offs should the water line get too low or water gets into the contacts. Personally I’m not planning on testing these claims. Wow did that remind me of something rather important. It’s called GFCI.
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt. In other words, as soon as a short in the circuitry is sensed by the device, all electrical power is cut off. These do work! (Please don’t ask how I Know. Just believe!) If you are an electrician, or your good buddy is, you can replace your wall outlet with a GFCI wall plug. If you are not an electrician, or your good buddy is doesn’t have the time, do not despair, you may not have to hire an electrician at enormous cost.
You can purchase what is known as a "Portable GFCI Outlet Adapter" for some what less than an enormous sum. There are various models of course. Some are extension cords with this technology built in. Some only give you one protected outlet, and some give you up to 5 outlets. The thing they all have in common is you just plug it into an existing wall outlet and you are protected. Remember – Water and Electricity do not mix well. Get one, or several. Tell em I sent you.
Between the glass tube and the titanium tube heaters are some new models using composite materials for the tube section. The one I have is solid black in color but this may not be true for other manufacturers. This works just the same as the glass tube models, without the possibility of dealing with broken glass. Pricing is a bit higher than the glass tube models but not as high as the titanium.
If Tim Allen designed an aquarium heater these would be it. "More power!" These babies come with up to 1000 watts. Heat your swimming pool! At least a swimming pool I could afford. Problem is after buying one of these I couldn’t afford a wading pool. Yea, they are a bit pricy. But, they are very nice. Not only are they completely submersible, but they have an external controller so you do not have to get wet when adjust the setting. Some controllers have digital read outs for the tank temperature so no need for an independent thermometer. Pretty neat. Not so neat is the fact that usually the "tube" and the controller are sold separately. Although as has happened historically in electronics is the price will slowly come down.
Between the glass tube and the titanium tube heaters are some new models using composite materials for the tube section. The one I have is solid black in color but this may not be true for other manufacturers. This works just the same as the glass tube models, without the possibility of dealing with broken glass. Pricing is a bit high than the glass tube models but not as high as the titanium.
External and/or In-line Heaters
All of the tube heaters, glass and titanium, are generally used inside the tank itself. Those that are fully submersible can also be used outside of the main tank it you have a wet/dry or sump filter system. If your sump filter is deep enough you can even use a standard heater and call it an external heater I suppose, but generally when you say an external heater most people will think of a specially designed heater. The two that I see most often are the Hydor external heater and the Rena SmartHeater.
The Hydor external heater was designed to be used in conjunction with a canister filter. They come in a 200 watt and 300 watt model. They are placed on the incoming water line from your canister filter to your tank. They will not work with the typical Hang On Back (HOB) or Hang On Tank (HOT) type of filter. They could be plumbed into a wet/dry or sump style of filter with varying amounts of effort and ingenuity. If you are like many in the hobby you don’t really want to see all the amazing technology that makes your tank work. You only want to see the tranquil setting you have worked so hard to create. So keeping the heater out of the tank is one less artifact to be hidden or ignored.
The Rena SmartHeater
Now here, according to their advertising, is the heater for all seasons. I have no personal experience with these or their HOB (Hang On Back) filter called the Smartfilter. The Smartheater can be used as an independent fully submersible heater inside your tank, or as an in-line filter in conjunction with the Rena Filstar canister filters, or used with the Smartfilter.
And finally is the filter heater combination where a heater element is built into the filter unit. Almost exclusively built into canister filters.
Thermometers come in all kinds of flavors. The lowest cost models are the plastic strips that you glue to the outside of your tank. The older design was a one shot deal. Once placed it could not be moved (except by razor blade and usually in pieces). The newer ones are now moveable. The next step up is the floating style. These are a standard type of thermometer. You know, a glass tube with the red stuff that goes up the middle. These usually come with a suction cup so you can stick it to the inside of the glass should you get tired of looking for it. Up next are the digital display units that can be stuck to the inside of the glass. These are usually powered by a small hearing aid type of battery. Fancier yet are the digital display models that have a sensor that can be suspended in the tank or again set in one position via a suction cup, while the display unit is kept outside of the tank. Many of these also have a time of day display, or a date and time display. Some even come with alarms should the temperature go too high or too low. I personally like these a lot. I do not have to squint to read the temperature any longer. However; I seem to drop or knock them into the tank a little too often. This is not healthy for the thermometer and is getting expensive. Again these are powered by hearing aid type batteries.
With these items, plus a suitable filter, which were covered in an earlier article, you can successfully operate a tropical fish environment.
Air Pumps, air stones
Probably the next most purchased item for a new tank is an air pump and an air stone or "bubble wand". Some people use the term "diffuser".
Air pumps come in a surprising variety of configurations and with all the various fittings that can be purchased separately; you are only limited by your imagination and wallet.
In the strict application of the term accessory, air pumps are needed to drive smaller Under Gravel Filter Systems. Usually they tend to be used as part of a decoration application. Air stones aid in this by sending a column of air bubbles rising to the surface. This also insures that there is plenty of oxygen in the water. So now you can get setups that open a "treasure chest" or the top of a skull, etc. etc. and let out a stream of bubbles. When I used an air pump for aesthetic applications I always preferred the wand style, or a very long air stone (air bar), that would let out a curtain of bubbles. I usually set this up along the back of the aquarium both for its appearance and to help obscure the various parts and pieces of equipment hanging in the tank.
Ah, back to the pumps themselves. Air pumps for anything less than 100 gallons (378.5 liters) are relatively small and easy to conceal, usually they can sit quite comfortably behind the tank on any flat surface. For smaller tanks a single outlet pump is probably sufficient. For larger tanks with elaborate air powered devices dual out-let pumps are available. Air pumps are measured in PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) or in liters per minute. Obviously the more devices you wish to run the more PSI you will need. Speak with the store personnel to get a recommendation as to what pump would be best for your application.
Your new tank probably came with a cover (hood) which contained a small fluorescent light. For a straight forward tank this is sufficient. But the next most popular tank accessory is specialty lights. Some of these are purely for decoration, like the combination of a colored LED light with a surrounding air diffuser for a volcano effect. Many people consider "moon lights" as decoration, but moon lights can aid in inducing spawning amongst many species of fish and most vertebras. Moon lights are usually LEDS that can be added on to the tank rim or to your existing light fixture. It also makes viewing your tank at night just a bit more "magical". Light fixtures can be purchased that replace your entire hood with stronger lights, and moon lights already built in, or "RETRO" fit kits can be purchased to upgrade your existing light unit. When you get involved with live plants or marine (saltwater) environments, lights become very important. Live Rock, corals, and some species of saltwater fish require very specific "types" of light. What I mean is they require certain wave lengths or frequencies from the light source in order to grow and stay healthy. This is also very true of live plants. Many aquatic plants will thrive in low light. Many can not survive with out large amounts of light in order to "photosynthesize". Research, research, research.
I know it has not been that long but I do want to remind you that:
"ANYTHING" you put in your tank is going to affect the tanks environment.
Some are very simple and easily assembled from things found at any hardware store. Some are more sophisticated. A very basic aquarium vacuum is a siphon hose with a large tube on one end. The large end goes in the tank. Because of the larger end the draw of the siphon is weakened, allowing heavier material to fall back into the tank. Meaning the siphon will not remove your gravel substrate. Some of these have very fine mesh bags or screens that will separate the waste from the water. If you have house plants this debris makes a very good fertilizer. There are models that with the use of an adapter can be connected to a kitchen or bath faucet. The faucet provides the drawing power for the vacuum. And by the turn of a knob can then refill the tank by reversing the water flow. (These types of devices are very common in waterbed stores; you just have to add the hose) And finally there are small hand held types that are battery powered (remember water and electricity do not play well together).
Did I mention research? Good.
The last of the general items that can and are used by fresh and saltwater aquarists is the automatic fish feeder. So you finally get to go on holiday (vacation). Yippee! Let’s go. Oh wait, who is going to feed the fish? If you’re lucky Uncle Ned is somewhat knowledgeable about fish and he does not mind stopping by once or twice a day. Great. Oops, Uncle Ned is also on holiday. Now what. The kid next door? You know the guy who thinks tapping the glass is something the fish enjoy. Probably not. Well modern science has come to your rescue, and invented the Auto-Feeder. Provided you feed dry foods to your pets. Flakes, pellets or freeze dried. These are not built for live, or frozen foods.
Auto-Feeders come in a bewildering array of capacities. Some measure the holding capacity in ml (milliliters) some in grams, at least one gives their capacity in cubic centimeters. Most are battery-driven. Almost all are digitally programmable. The really good thing about Auto-feeders is that they work right through power failures, and won’t overfeed like a well-meaning friend. The biggest problem has always been "clumping" of the dried food due to the humidity from the tank. Now many newer models have a hook up for an air line from your air pump to prevent this from happening. Research, research, research. Because they deliver pre-calibrated amounts, many aquarists like to use them all the time. If however; you only use your auto feeder at vacation time make sure you test it out for at least a couple of weeks prior to your departure. If it should fail for any reason you will have ample time to correct or replace it before you leave. This will also get your pets used to the feeder, and they will probably quickly forget you.