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Introducing New Fish

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#1 anchar

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  • Joined: 28-January 04
  • Location: Bullcreek

Posted 07 September 2006 - 11:57 AM

This guide is intended to help you when introducing new fish into your aquarium. I have broken it down into a few, easy to understand, steps that will hopefully provide a solid basis upon which you can build. By cross referencing other articles that will appear in this forum, most questions should be covered.

Testing the Water
Why should I test the water? Quite simply put, fish from different regions have different water chemistry requirements. For example, the waters of South America are soft and acidic, whereas those in the Rift Lake area of Africa are higher in pH and hardness (refer to the other articles on this forum for a more in depth explanation of these factors).

Others parameters will also need checking before introducing new fish into your tank. Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate also need careful assesssment. More information on the Nitrogen Cycle can be found in the article of the same name.

There are also a series of "non-chemical" tests that you should perform. These include checking the temperature; the majority of tropical fish and plants require temperatures in the region of 25C. Using your nose will help detect unhealthy odours, such as ammonia and sulphur (rotten egg gas). A healthy aquarium should smell slightly "earthy". The clarity of the tank can be assessed by looking through the water. It should not show any suspended particles. Colour may vary according to the biotope that you are trying to create eg. the water should be clear unless there are tannin additives used (refer to the article entitled "Wood in the Aquaria").

Choosing the Right Fish
Prior to arrival at the LFS (local fish store), fish are subjected to a great deal of stress (by way of handling and long travelling times in restricted space). In addition, every time a net is pushed around the tank, the fish fish become terrified and subsequently stressed. They lose colour and making the correct choice can be compromised. It is best to avoid buying fish during the times that the LFS is busy ie. on the weekends.

Successive stresses weaken fish and make them less resistant to disease. Aquarists need to be vigilant and understand how to limit the risk of purchasing unhealthy fish. There are two main criteria to consider when making your choice.

Fistly, consider the behaviour of the fish. They should be lively, have a steady swimming action with all their fins extended. Naturally fish that are motionless, gasping at the surface, cowering behind decor, trembling etc. must be avoided. Don't "feel sorry" for a fish and purchase it as an act of kindness. Any fish that show abnormal behaviour will be stressed and probably have an illness. If possible, ask the sales person to drop a little food into the tank and observe that your chosen individual is eating.

You also need to consider appearance. A healthy fish will have vibrant colouration and be free of marks or skin blemishes. Often spots or sores have formed during the handling process, either via the net or through disease. Avoid them! The eye should be proportional to the body size and look clear. Fish with abnormally large eyes or show opaqueness of the lens should be overlooked. The shape of the body is equally important. Curvature of the back, misshapen head, unnaturally shortened body etc. are all indicative of poor breeding. If you are unsure of what your fish of choice should look like, do a search on Google or ask reputable breeders on the forum.

The health of the fish is quite often linked to the cleanliness of the shop. It should not have an unpleasant smell and dead fish amongst those on sale impacts negatively. The tanks should appear clean and clear labelling is often also an indicator of "good housekeeping". A reputable LFS should also be able to correct advise you on the compatibilty of your purchases. It will be helpful to the sales person if you are able to provide a list of the fish that already reside in your home aquarium.

If the fish are likely to be in bags for more than 2 hours, ask the assistant to add oxgen to the bag. This is especially critical during the warmer months of summer. A polystyrene box or drinks esky are also a great idea when transporting fish. These help to keep the temperature more stable during transportation.

The behaviour and overall general appearance of the fish are good indications of its health. It is better to purchase healthy fish than risk introducing disease into your aquarium.

Acclimatising Your Fish
The water in the bucket or bag from an LFS (or fellow hobbyist) undergoes a fluctuation of tempertaures whilst en route to your home. This, in turn, impacts on the fish in the water. It will handle this reasonably well if the changes are gradual. Thermal shock will usually lead to the fish developing contagious mycoses. This is avoided by floating the bag for at least 15 minutes in the top of your aquarium upon arrival home. This will equalise the temperatures between the two environments.

Osmotic shock and pH shock further stress the fish. The water at the LFS may be vastly different than yours (although a reputable retailer should be keeping fish in their appropriate water conditions) and many fish are sensitive to these sudden variations in characteristics. It is important that you acclimatise your new fish very gradually. This involves slowly adding some of your water to the bag of water from the LFS. After the bag has floated for about 15 minutes, open it up and roll down the sides. Add about a cup of water from your tank into the bag, repeating this process 3 or 4 times over the space of around 30 minutes (the slower/longer time intervals the better). Then gently release the fish into your aquarium.

Sometimes it is not immediately apparent whether your fish is carrying disease or parasites. The best solution is to quarantine all of your new purchases before adding them to your community tank. A tank with a capacity of 20 to 50 litres should suffice. It needs to be fitted with an internal filter and a 50W heater. Lighting is not essential, although it may help you to observe the fish a little better. Remember though, that some medications are destroyed by light, so it should only be turned on for a few minutes during the observation period. Pratical considerations take precedence over aesthetics. Substrate is generally not recommended. The water parameters should exactly match those of the main tank for which the fish is intended. The tank must be kept extremely clean so regular vacuuming of excreta and excess food is important. Some decor (maybe some java fern or PVC pipe) should be added to give the fish a sense of security. Ramshorn snails are helpful in eliminating fish wastes, although they can be sensitive to some medications.

Introduce the fish into the quarantine tank via the method explained above. It is recommended that you have a few treatments on hand so that there is minimal delay in taking any appropriate action. Observe them carefully during this time and only when all potential risk has been averted should the new arrival be allowed to join the community tank (approximately 2-4 weeks; coldwater tanks need longer as the life cycle of many diseases takes longer in lower temperatures).

If the addition of medication becomes necessary, an exact diagnosis is essential. Most infectious agents can be transferred amongst aquariums via nets, decor and hands. Therefore accessories and equipment used on the quarantine tank must never be used on other tanks. It makes sense to tend to the needs of the quarantine tank last, so that nothing on your hands is added to the healthy tanks. An article about Fish Disease: Treatment and Diagnosis will be added shortly to this forum.

Andrea Watts

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