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In order to support live fish, every aquarium needs to include a few essential pieces of equipment. Even though most of the aquarium supplies you’ll need are universal, there are some which will need to match the specific needs of your pet fish.
Aquarium filters are a good example of this. Some filters create a strong current which exhausts sluggish fish species like goldfish. Fish that naturally live in streams, like white cloud mountain minnows on the other hand feel right at home in such conditions.
This list will arm you with all of the knowledge you’ll need to choose the right supplies for your first aquarium.
9 Essential Aquarium Supplies
To choose the proper equipment for your aquarium, you should first decide what fish species you’re going to keep.
Here are the most important factors that you should take into consideration when choosing the right fish species for your aquarium:
- Dietary preferences
- Size and growth rate
- Group behavior
- Temperament and aggression levels
- Water pH
- Preferred water temperature
Ideally, you’d want pet fish with similar needs which makes for easier maintenance.
Another factor that will also impact your choice of aquarium supplies are plants. If you opt for a planted fish tank, then you’re going to need additional lighting as well as a source of nutrients for the plants. Without these, your plants will simply wither away shortly after they get introduced to the aquarium.
Here are all of the essential aquarium supplies you’ll need for both a planted and a bare-bottom aquarium:
1. An Appropriately Sized Aquarium
A common mistake among beginners is cherry-picking the fish with the most vibrant colours to stock their tanks, while disregarding any potential compatibility and size issues.
The size of your future aquarium should correspond to the specific needs of your fish. Some species tend to be aggressive and require more living space so they don’t harass their tank mates. Others appear deceptively small at first, but can quickly outgrow the size of their tank as they age.
Furthermore, some fish species like to “school” together and must be kept in groups of at least 6 specimens. The size of your new aquarium will also depend on what fish communities you’d want to keep inside.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that smaller aquariums are more difficult to maintain. Deadly compounds such as ammonia released by the waste of fish, accumulate significantly faster in smaller volumes of water. This gives you less time to react in case of a sudden ammonia spike in your aquarium.
Generally speaking, a 36-litre tank is a good starting point for someone who’s a complete beginner in the hobby.
However, there isn’t a clear-cut rule when it comes to aquarium sizes. This is why you should carefully research each species of fish before you rush in to buy your first fish tank.
2. Water Conditioner
There are several different sources of water that can be used to fill an aquarium. While reverse osmosis and deionized water work the best, most beginners usually go for tap water.
Unlike these sources however, tap water contains chlorine or chloramine which are both toxic to fish.
When these substances enter the bloodstream of fish they start destroying their cells. This leads to burns all over their bodies which could subsequently affect their gills and eventually kill them.
In order to make tap water safe for your pet fish, you should use a water conditioner to dechlorinate it.
It’s good to keep in mind that chlorine and chloramine can sometimes be present in commercial spring and mineral water as well, so we recommend using a water conditioner in these cases as well.
3. Bottled Nitrifying Bacteria
To sustain live fish, aquariums should first have an established nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle is a biochemical process which is responsible for recycling the organic waste in an aquarium. This is achieved with the help of several types of beneficial bacteria also known as nitrifying bacteria.
These bacteria neutralize the harmful effects of fish waste by converting it into a less harmful substance called nitrate. This process is often referred to as “cycling” in fishkeeping.
An aquarium can be cycled in multiple ways, but the fastest one is to use bottled nitrifying bacteria.
Using bottled nitrifying bacteria establishes a functioning nitrogen cycle in no more than two weeks, unlike some of the other methods which may take you more than two months.
4. Water Test Kit
Water test kits are an essential aquarium supply you’ll frequently rely on as a fishkeeper. They are used to measure several different water parameters such as pH and hardness. In most cases however, they’re utilized to monitor the levels of nitrates in an aquarium.
The results on a water test kit are measured in Parts Per Million or PPM in short. An aquarium with an established nitrogen cycle should have the following readings:
- 0 PPM of Ammonia;
- 0 PPM of Nitrite;
- 10 or more PPM of Nitrate.
Your aquarium water should have the exact same readings, before you can add any live fish.
There are two varieties of water test kits available on the market – liquid test kits and dipsticks. Liquid test kits are more reliable than dipsticks, because they have a smaller margin of error.
Even though dipsticks are mostly accurate, it’s better to use a liquid test kit since even small traces of ammonia or nitrite can be detrimental to fish.
Substrates have an important role in an aquarium setup but are sometimes underestimated by beginners in the hobby. This aquarium supply not only enhances the aesthetics of a fish tank, but also serves as a refuge for skittish fish.
This helps to reduce their stress levels and improves their overall quality of life.
Apart from this, aquarium substrates also serve as a bed for beneficial bacteria. In this sense, they are significantly more efficient at harboring live bacteria than a bare-bottom tank.
This is because their porous structure provides more living space for bacteria opposed to the small surface area of bare-bottom tanks.
Aquarium substrates can be classified in two main categories in terms of their nutritional potential – inert and depleting.
Inert substances have no fertilizing value for aquatic plants and are most commonly used for aesthetic purposes. Depleting substrates are used to support vegetative growth in planted tanks.
If you’re going to keep plants in your aquarium, we recommend using a depleting substrate like a commercial grade aqua soil. Otherwise, you can use an inert substrate like sand or gravel.
6. Aquarium Lighting
Aquarium lights are without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most important pieces of equipment for any fish tank. They not only create a visually appealing aquascape, but also regulate the sleep cycle of fish.
What’s more, lighting fixtures are essential for fish tanks with live plants. Without them, some plants won’t receive sufficient amounts of light and flourish.
There are several types of aquarium lights that are suitable for a variety of tank setups. LED lights are by far the most versatile and reliable ones. They come with many features, some of which allow you to control the precise amount and type of light they emit.
This can come quite handy if you decide to include high-light plants in your tank later on.
7. Aquarium Filter
Aquarium filters are one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll need as a fishkeeper. They maintain the water quality by providing mechanical, biological and chemical filtration.
Simply said, they keep your aquarium free of debris and toxins, while also serving as a bed for beneficial bacteria.
In addition to this, aquarium filters also keep water well-oxygenated by providing surface agitation and promoting gas exchange.
There are several types of aquarium filters available on the market.
To choose the best one for your needs, you should take the following factors into consideration:
- Vegetation. Some floating plant species don’t do well in aquariums with a strong water current. If you’re going to keep such plant species, it’s advisable to stick to filters that don’t cause water turbulence.
- Fish stock. Community tanks typically have high bioload and as a result need a more powerful filter. Aquarium filters with high turnover are also useful for messy species of fish such as Plecos and Goldfish.
On the other hand, some fish species are intolerant to the stronger currents created by such filters and fare better with less powerful ones.
- Aquarium dimensions. HOB (Hang-On-Back) and sponge filters are ideal for small 36 and 54-Litre fish tanks. Aquariums with a larger capacity, however, require multiple HOB filters or a canister filter.
- Noise. Even though this isn’t as crucial as the previously mentioned factors, some aquarium filters can get a bit noisy. If you prefer to keep your peace and quiet, you’d want to get a canister filter.
8. Aquarium Heater
Heaters are another indispensable piece of aquarium equipment. They help maintain a stable water temperature which is important for both tropical and cold water fish.
Tropical fish are fish that need to be kept within a temperature range of 75°F to 80°F (23.9°C to 26.7°C), while cold water fish are more hardy and fare better at lower temperatures.
Even though the latter can generally be kept without a heater, it’s still a good idea to have one as sudden temperature drops can severely impact their immune system.
Aquarium decorations are a great way to improve the aesthetics of your new tank. By adding live plants, driftwood or other decorative pieces, you create a more naturally looking environment which helps your pets feel more comfortable.
This way you reduce their stress levels and improve their overall well-being. Fish with low levels of stress also exhibit more vibrant colours and have a better appearance.