Fish Tank Decorations FAQ and Tips
This is a guide on using and choosing decorations - if you can't find answers on your questions within this article, the feel free to use a form at the bottom - we will gladly answer! This page is continuously updated in order to answer more questions of our visitors
What do I class as a fish tank decoration?
To me it’s anything that is added to the outside or the inside of the tank to enhance the overall viewing of the tank. This can be anything that the fish keeper desires but there are some rules that need to be applied. The decoration must be inert if placed inside the tank, if it reacts with the water the parameters will be affected over a period of time, this could be detrimental to the health of your fish. This statement could also be read that it is fine to paint the inside of your aquarium, please do not attempt this as the paint could contain toxins that will gradually leach into the aquarium water with disastrous results for the fish. If you wish to paint the background for your aquarium, always paint on the outside of the glass.
Any ornaments that are placed inside the tank must be aquarium safe. All of the ornaments purchased from pet stores should be but it still pays to check as some of the cheaper ornaments may be painted with inferior paints that can leach toxins into the water. Never put metal decorations into the aquarium, these too can leach harmful compounds into the water column; all suitable decorations should be supplied with a label stating that they are aquarium safe; this tells you that nothing will leach from them and that you tank inhabitants will not be poisoned by toxins.
All ornaments or décor must be cleaned and rinsed before they are placed in the water. If this is not done you could be adding potential diseases to the fish and contaminate the tank water. Do not add anything to the tank with sharp edges; they could injure your fish.
That is the serious side of decorating the tank but most of the above is common sense and decorating your tank can prove to be great fun. I have always found it is best to have an idea in your head of the finished tank, sketch it down on paper, then go out on a shopping spree to fetch the appropriate ornaments or hard décor. I have so often seen people buy ornaments here and there, put them all in the tank, then realize it just doesn’t look right.
Themed tanks are great fun, natural looking tanks can look very beautiful if done properly, none of this is too difficult and there is plenty of choice out there.
The first item that needs to be added to the tank, even before the tank hardware is added, has to be the background. I have seen tanks with no background but hiding all the wiring can be a nightmare. Most of the backgrounds bought are supplied on a roll and cut to the length of your tank. There are many designs to choose from, a couple of examples are reef scenes, or planted scenes. I prefer to use plain backgrounds, even with this choice the color of the background can determine how well the coloration of the fish will stand out. Because of this I normally go for the rolls which have a different color on both sides, this will give you the chance to change your mind once the background is back at home.
After the background is chosen and fixed in place I would normally decide next on which substrate to use. The two choices we have is whether to use sand or gravel, but this still gives us scope to choose a variation of colors and gravel grain sizes. In some cases the gravel is used to buffer the water but I would need to write another full article to explain this so for now we will just look at its decorative purposes. Keepers will often choose gravel if they intend to keep plants in their tanks as it provides a good anchorage but if artificial decoration is to be used, then choosing sand will not cause any problems.
When deciding which ornaments or decorations are going to be placed in the tank I always think first of a main centre piece that will catch the eye straight away. When I say centerpiece I don’t mean that it has to be placed directly in the centre of the tank, often it is more eye catching if placed to the side, but it needs to have a bit of a focal impact. I am not a great fan of artificial decorations but I have seen a tank set up with a massive shipwreck placed inside it and with all of the other pieces added it looked fantastic. Always try to pick decorations that match the size of your tank, there is no point adding something that will take away all of the swimming space for your fish. Purchase ornaments that have holes in them to provide hiding places for your fish; this makes them functional as well as attractive. Even more functional are the ornaments that attach to airlines and release a stream of bubbles into the water. Treasure chests, skulls, whales, and sharks, there are too many of these to mention, but they are great fun to look at.
Every time you place some ornaments in the tank, stand back to make sure that they are sited correctly and the tank looks balanced.
Your choice of ornaments will also depend on the age group of the keeper who is going to look after the tank. There are many ornaments that are well suited for our younger fish keepers, this also includes the backgrounds. Cartoon characters, characters from children’s television series, they are all available. For the more senior fish keepers there are many choices. I have seen tank set ups with a Roman theme in mind, in the tank ornaments of Roman temples, arches and ruins were included. All of these decorations makes the Roman theme seem more realistic than just having the odd ornament of a temple or ruin in the tank, they all compliment each other to give an overall Roman feel. This was very effective as the theme was used throughout and looked the part. Some of the aquarium decorations are fun and can even make you smile when you see them, when placed in the aquarium they can bring a light hearted approach to your design but as long as all of the decorations match the same theme, then they will look the part. Going back to the cartoon characters available, these are often direct copies of the original character so using a group of these for a more visual effect will look correct even to the older members of the family.
Often resin statues are added to the aquariums, these are becoming very popular as are replicas of dinosaur heads and skulls made from resin. If you are planning on adding these to the tank then double check that they are aquarium safe as there are many cheap copies about that are of a lower standard.
For a more natural looking tank set up, using rocks and wood is very effective. Wood can be siliconed together to create unusual shapes; even flat rocks can be silicones and stacked to create natural looking caves for the fish. In my opinion with any tank setup, plants are a must. Here again you have the choice of using artificial or live plants.
Creating a biotope which replicates the habitat that your fish originate from is a very popular theme for fish keepers as they try to replicate the natural surroundings, this is also of a benefit to many of the fish making them display their colourations better and make them feel more relaxed in the tank.
With some biotopes it may be necessary to add rock formations to create caves and hiding places for the fish. Many catfish for example may wish to hide away all day and only come out after lights out to investigate the tank.
Caves can also act as spawning sites for many fish such as the secretive cave spawning cichlids, my bristle nose catfish always spawned in caves and tunnels that I had created for the tank, the only downside with the cave sis the poor access for tank maintenance and any water flow that you use will be blocked off in a cave or tunnel.
One of the very popular biotopes, and sometimes controversial, is the Discus tank set up. I have arranged several of these tanks; each one has included live plants for decoration as well as rocks and wood. Many old style Discus keepers believe that plants are not suitable but I have never had any problems and cleaning the substrate is still fairly straight forward. A lot of the new Discus keepers are now adopting this style of décor and the fish are certainly settling in well into these tanks as they can also use the plants for cover if required.
Other Discus arrangements consist of a sandy substrate with a few pieces of bogwood added to give a desert-like feel to the aquarium, at the end of the day any style that is used is a matter of personal choice.
The newer ranges of artificial plants really do look realistic, more so when they are underwater. A little trick I learned is to add plants near the ornaments to blend them in, with a little practice it is even possible to get plants growing through the ornaments, this really does look spectacular. Some plants that do not have their roots submerged can even be attached to wood or ornaments and they will grow quite happily.
There are many items that can be used with a little imagination to create your own tank decorations, we discussed caves earlier in the article, PVC piping can be used to create tunnels, and large holes can be drilled into these to make them friendly for more species of fish besides the catfish family. Terracotta plant pots are often seen added to the aquariums of planted tanks and blend in well if partially submerged in the substrate. One trick I learnt in the past was to use piping and egg crate, this was furnished with shells or small pieces of rock for a realistic effect, the rock and shells are easily fixed by using aquatic milliput or even super glue.
A fairly recent innovation to tank decorations is the submersible tank lighting. These use very low voltage bulbs and come in a variety of colors. Some of the models will even have the facility to connect to an air line as well. If sited correctly, they can illuminate some of your favorite decorations, adding more than one with a different color arrangement looks good. These lighting units are completely waterproof and safe to use.
I doubt very much that you will be happy with your initial layout of the tank, no-one ever is. Move things about and keep checking the result, eventually you will stand back and be pleased with the final result. It is easier to re-arrange your décor before the tank is up and running rather than trying to move things around when it is full of water.
Feel free to visit Decorating Your Aquarium at firsttankguide.net too!