I'm interested in many different types of pets, including freshwater fish, and I enjoy sharing what I've learned about them.
Wet pets, especially fish, are not the most robust pets in the world. Sometimes, it seems if you just look at the tank funny, the fish will float the next day. Fish will inevitably die. That's what fish do. But they should live a couple of years or more before they shuffle off this mortal coil.
We have all heard of someone who spent a fortune on aquarium supplies and couldn't get a fish to live more than a fortnight. Then we seem to bump into someone who had a goldfish living in a cramped bowl for 25 years. Is there any way of figuring fish out?
What Are the Easiest Fish to Keep Alive?
The heartiest and easiest to care for fish are freshwater fish. Unlike with brackish water fish or saltwater fish, you don't need to keep a constant balance of saline to water. Since you don't have to worry about that, you are given enough freedom to worry about all of the other aspects of fish care. And, with freshwater fish, the easier ones are those that do NOT necessarily need a heater. They prefer their water a little on the cool side.
The most idiot-proof (or, in my case, Sherwood-proof, the other end of the scale) are these three species:
- the common goldfish
- the Betta (Siamese Fighting Fish)
- the Plecostomus
The common goldfish—not the fancy kind with bubble eyes, fan tails, or lion heads—is one of the hardiest fish in the world. How old do they get? Well, brace yourself: The oldest goldfish ever known was Tish, an English common goldfish who lived in a little bowl until he was 43. Tish even outlived his owner's son, who won Tish in a Doncaster funfair in 1956.
Goldfish require at least a gallon to two gallons per fish. The temptation to overfeed is incredible, as they do get in the habit of begging. They come in an incredible rainbow of colors, not just gold.
The next hardiest is the Betta, or Siamese Fighting Fish. The males must be kept on their own—they sometimes attack other fish, and they will always attack another male Betta. Their ancestors hopped from puddle to puddle in Thailand. Female Bettas can live in groups, but they are not so spectacular to look at. They require at least a gallon of water and regular water changes. You'll want to do your research on how to feed Bettas as well.
The next is the Plecostomus. They can sometimes grow to unpredictable sizes, but for the most part they stay small. They require different food than just fish flakes. It's great if they have places to hide, too. Not all species of Plecos will handle living in an unheated aquarium, so check to see if your intended Pleco will not mind the chill. These are usually the plainer brown ones.
Debunking Myths About Fish Care
There are a lot of inaccurate ideas about fish care floating around. Make sure you truly know what to expect before you get a fish.
1. Fish DO Require Maintenance
Somehow, aquarium fish got the reputation that they are maintenance-free. Nothing could be further from the truth. True, they don't need annual inoculations or walks every day, and the poo is minimal, but they certainly need your time and energy in order to be given at least a fighting chance. You don't just stick a fish in a bowl and sprinkle it with food once a day and that's that. Like any other pet, you need to be sure they are clean and not stressed out.
2. Fish Are NOT Actually for Kids
Somehow, fish got the reputation of being a great first pet for a child. Unless the child is responsible and genuinely interested in animal care as a long-term affair, instead of a fad hobby, do NOT get the kids a fish. Fish need to be checked every day. Generally, the smaller their bowls, the more their water has to be changed. You need to deal with algae growth, as well. And, you need to be able to check your water's quality. This might be a bit too complicated for small children, say, under nine years of age.
Perhaps the myth that fish make great children's first pets is that goldfish have usually been given away as prizes. And, if the child isn't too observant, the fish can be replaced with a look-alike at low cost without the child realizing that the fish has died. This method of fish-keeping really isn't recommended.
Other Ways to Ensure That Your Fish Stay Alive
The best way to keep the fish from dying so quickly is to know what you're getting yourself into before you get the fish. You need to set up your tank or bowl at least a week before you get your fish, ideally. This will give you a chance to get used to having a tank or bowl around and get into the habit of changing water or figuring out how the equipment works before risking a fish.
There are lots of books, magazines, and websites that explain simply how to set up your bowl or aquarium. (I recommend the First Tank Guide site.) These resources are written by people who have been in the same situation you are in. It is a good long-term investment to pick up a few fish care books to turn to in case you can't get online.