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Author Topic: Road Trip-3--Without the skittles. Stocking your tank.  (Read 11976 times)
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« on: February 21, 2009, 10:41:00 AM »

Skittles. I love that word in the way that Debra applied it to fish a year or two ago.  It summed up the frustration that is periodically felt by the long time members of this place.  It seems that we are forever answering the question related to how can I get lots of brightly colored fish into my tank?  Not only that, but would you all be nice enough to tell me what species will work best for that.

Stocking the tank.  That is what "Skittles" are all about.  The answer was given in a place that person asking the question would never see.  We really do not like to come across as mean or persnickety.  So every now and again we make the humorous comment just to ourselves. 

Stocking the tank.  It is the step that everyone gets to after they have let Mother Nature take care of the Nitrogen Cycle.  Maintaining clean water is through the use of weekly large volume water changes is one of the things that clearly separate an experienced fishkeeper from the beginner.  What is swimming in that water is another. 

There is an old saying that gets used at this board: "If the tank looks a little bit empty, it is probably stocked about right". 

Nearly everyone that gets involved in this hobby is out of it in just one year.  They get frustrated with endless fish diseases and deaths.  They get frustrated with having to care for animals.  So many set-up a tank for the kids.  And Mom (god bless her soul) finds out it is yet another chore to do in an already overly busy day.  Or the fish they bought (at least the ones in rund two--the ones that replaced the fish that died as the tank cycled) were unceremoniuosly floating in the tank at various times over the next year.  They assumed that the fish had lived to their nomal life expectancy and put the tank away because they (and the kids) were no longer fascinated by their aquatic pets.  If you are going to keep an interest in fishkeeping for more than a year learning to appropriately stock a tank is critical.

Skittles.  It is when the tank is overcrowded with colorful fish.  The fishkeeper got into stocking the tank for his or her pleasure--eye candy--and not paying attention to the needs of the fish.  Two threads on the board last night added the incentive to talk about this topic.  One is in the cichlid section--started by Whartonloser--the other is the latest one inch per gallon thread that got moved to the myths and rumors area of the board. 

If your goal is to have a tank that is full of brightly colored objects swimming about--get a great filter and lightweight colored  plastic balls (skittles dissolve--plastic won't).  Or go out now and buy a 180+ gallon tank and stock it appropriately.  But since most beginners and intermediate level hobbyists have tanks ranging from 10-55 gallons disabuse yourself of that notion now.

The one inch per gallon rule that most beginners stumble across is one of the biggest culprits behind overstocking.  The surface area/oxygen equation is not far behind.  Staff and owners of local fish stores and big boxes are another one of the reasons for overstocked tanks.  Questionable advice by other beginners (either face-to-face or at on-line boards) is another.  Remember though, if your tank is overstocked you have no one to blame but yourself.  Either you got the fish you wanted or you did not do the appropriate research.

So how do you stock a tank?  It is the million dollar (trillion dollar when adjusted for inflation) question.  There is no easy answer.  Why should there be?  As you have discovered the hobby was not as easy as you thought already--what with the need to learn and understand bio-chemistry, the need to learn more about disease as it relates to fish than you know about diseases affecting human kind.  Why should stocking a tank suddenly take you to a place where you didn't need to think and learn.  Cats, dogs, gerbils, and the like are easy--they are mammals.  We intuitively understand their needs at some level.  Fish are new--they are different--our exposure to them has usually misrepresented the true nature of the animals.  We want tanks that look like the ones in movies or on TV.  Usually just isn't going to happen--lol. (so many of those tanks are marine tanks anyway).

So, what is our biggest problem with understanding stocking.  The first and most obvious is that there are no rules set in stone.  For some reason we all like clear cut, black and white answers.  It isn't going to happen that way very quickly.  They are there--they just take time to understand.  More subtle is the answer that you need to change how you think about fishkeeping.  Once again it takes a trip inward rather than outward bound.  Just like the need to change water--lots of it weekly--you need to make the mental leap that this hobby is about the fish and not the fishkeeper.  An odd journey to take.  After all you got into fish because you wanted something.  You were fulfilling a personal desire.  At the risk of sounding like a tree hugger or a bleeding heart liberal, let me suggest that it is about recognizing fish as a life form and treating them in a fashion that a life form deserves.  Think of it however you can get comfortable.  But whatever the thought embodies it has to include the mental process that accepts it is about the "fish" and not the whimsical desires of the "fishkeeper".  Do that and you will be very successful in this endeavor for a very long time to come.

Thought you were going to get tricks of the trade and not some philosophy lesson didn't you?  roflmao.  Maybe it is still possible to get to the how to's.

The first step is to clear your mind of the image of the tanks at the fish or pet store.  They are overstocked (they are in business--they need to pay attention to overhead and ROI).  Abysmally so.  No home aquaria will survive like that.

The second step is to stand in front of all those grossly overstocked tanks and just stare at the fish.  Figure out the species you like.  Discover what fish turn you on (if all you are after is a tank for the kids quit reading--ask us questions, we can stock a kid tank for you very easily.  just be honest about your intent  it will save us a lot of time and grief).  Is it behavior or color that catches your eye--or both.  Write down the name of the fish (common name and scientific name--if you have to go with only one fo with the scientific name) on the pad of paper you brought with you.  Take a gander at the information the store provides about the fish--but don't pay too much attention, it is often times misleading or out right fabrication intended to do nothing more than sell you something.  Then go to another fish store, with different kinds of fish and do the same thing.  While you are at the stores ask the staff questions about the various fish.  Once again--they are there to sell you something don't believe everything they say.  If yo have problems with my attitude about staff at stores think of real estate agents, mortgage brokers, investment banks, and maintream banks--all those people are honest too, right?

Step 3.  Go on-line with the scientific and common names.  Google the species.  Read about them.  Learn the basics.  Post questions at forums like Badman's.  Read the answers.  Be careful who you trust.  Then ask yourself if your tank accomodates them.  Is the tank large enough?  Is it appropriately decorated?  If the fish are prolific live bearers do you have a plan to deal with that certain eventuality?  If they are mouthbrooders, egg layers, or whatever--do you have a plan to deal with that outcome?  Do all the fish you like come from the same parts of the world?  Are the fish you want compatible with oe another?  If you get a male of a given species is it best kept with 4-6 females of the same species?  If you were after brightly colored fish that will change the equation.  Do the fish you want have the same needs in terms of diet?  Same water parameter requirements?  Does your mechanical filtration produce enough, or too much, current? 

Every species has their own requirements.  Often times requirements that are incompatible with the requirements of other fish you may want to keep.  Rift Lake cichlids do not do well with New World cichlids--or even those Riverine or Victorian cichlids from other areas of Africa.  They are all Cichlids--yet each of those types of Cichlid has unique needs in terms of food, water, decor, and stocking ratios.

Step 4.  Make your best guesses of what will work and post them somewhere on-line (this is not a bad place--lol).  Wait for feedback.  Keep an open mind.  Don't get defensive.  Always remember that the stocking program is based on waht is best for the species and not the fishkeeper.

Step 5.  Try the stocking plan you want.  Be prepared to make changes.  Even the best laid plans do not always work.

Above all else remember--the stocking plan has to be predicated upon the adult size of the fish and not the size of the juveniles that are so typically bought and sold.  A plan based on juvenile size is always destined to failure--a failure often accompanied by disease and aggression causing substantial fish damage.

And remember that species selected will usually influence whether you have planted tanks, tanks dominated by driftwood, or tanks composed of rock and cave.  it also influences what substrate is utilized.  A tank can be a very dynamic and ever changing object.  But those changes are always mandated by the fish living in that glass cage.

Also remember that the tank size guidelines given by reputable sources are most often the bare minimum size required for a given species.  Without influence of other inhabitants of the tank.  The tank sizes given are based on a species/specimen tank--not a community tank.  As you add fish beyond the first species/specimen the tank size may have to grow substantially.  Putting 8 fish with a minimum requirement of 24" means you usually need something much larger than 24". 

Wvery tank is unique.  So every stocking plan is in and of itself something that defies simple stocking rules about gallons, length of tank, and number of specimens.  Experience helps you gain that understanding better.  All we can do here is share opinions and knowledge based on our experience.  Ultimately every tank stocking plan is the sole responsibility of the fishkeeper.  Sometimes we are not shy about saying what we think of stocking plans--especially when any and all advice and commentary is ignored. 

I hesitate to post "mathematical" guidelines for stocking a tank for beginners.  Because they will come up with the oddest ideas.  Ones destined for failure.  they will argue that by this formula or taht formula they will be fine and ignore the best intended advice given.  But I will share the one "guideline" I have found to be the best out there.  Remember that it is only a guideline--and the authors are very good about reminding you of that.

Skittles.  A tank that is oriented to packing the greatest number of most colorful fish available is about the hobbyists wants and desires and almost always ignores the needs of the fish.  If you want color in endless amounts get an empty tank and fill it with candy. 

If your tank looks a little bit empty, it is probably stocked just about right.  At least by head count.


« Last Edit: March 31, 2009, 04:43:31 PM by Sully » Logged
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smile your happy

« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2011, 01:51:11 AM »

i noticed your post had been read alot but no one had really replied.its so true.skittles is what most people fact when i first started i too wanted pretty colours and cute fish.dealers tanks look great in the city.i live in the middle of no where .our tiny pet stores had tiny fish sections which werent always perfect.1 of our pet stores is always nice.its miniscule but the tanks are clean ,the advice is good and even though there isnt a huge variety of fish its because their tanks are well stocked.there arent bettas with tetras ,guppies and gouramis.bala sharks arent with gold fish and so on.the tanks dont look full or overflowing.i love this little store.our other pet store is slightly larger.they are all about money.10 huge glodfish cramed into a 30 or so gallon tank.they have a giant gourami and an arrowana.which for a long time they kept in the same tank with other fish.even me.ignorant as i am could tell those fish didnt was terribly sad as it was so unfair.they regularly have dead fish in their tanks.the tanks always look overflowing and they have some ridiculous combinations of fish in them.i have a tank the same size as many of their stocking tanks which will be over ful even if i stock it a third as full as they do.a few years ago they sold me 20 neons and a chinese algae eater.i had an 8 gallon had just been fulled and hadnt been dechlorinated.we knew nothing.everthing died of course.their prices are absurd and frankly their fish are sickly and saddens me when people come in,especially with children and pick odd combinations ,tiny bowls,funny coloured gravel and no other equipment.i hope this site prevents some of these glad some one understands and has a philosophy for it.its true theyre looking for skittles.

it is harder to forgive and forget than to remember and regret.
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