Clearing Up 7 Common Aquarium Myths: Fish Tales or Facts?

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As with any other hobby, the aquarium scene is full of myths and misconceptions that mislead people into making unfortunate mistakes or missing out on many opportunities.

Here, we’ll debunk 7 common aquarium myths so that you won’t have to learn the hard way. Let’s quash the fallacies and reveal the facts!

Live Plants Are Hard To Keep

Underwater landscape

Our first myth is unsurprisingly one we’d love to debunk the most! One of the saddest things about the aquarium hobby is how many people start out imagining or hearing that live plants are difficult to keep, only to miss out on one of the most fulfilling elements of keeping an aquarium.

While it’s true that certain species of aquatic plants should only be attempted by experts, there are also endless plants that are incredibly easy, beautiful, and fun to keep. Take Java moss and Java fern for example, virtually indestructible plants that can even be tied to rocks and pieces of driftwood.

Another classic choice for beginners is the Amazon sword, whose elegant pointed leaves are a joy to watch swaying in the aquarium’s gentle current. Then there are floating plants such as frogbit and water sprite that create a lovely dappled shade and a natural aesthetic to the tank without fuss or worry.

Not only are plants beautiful and fun, but they also provide hiding places for your aquarium fish and filter the water to improve water quality. To find out more about plants that are a doddle to keep, check out our guide to 8 of the best beginner plants, here.

Almost All Fish Require a Heater

aquarium heater

Another myth that even experienced fish keepers often believe is that almost all fish species require an aquarium heater.

In most people’s minds, cold water aquariums are confined to goldfish and guppies, and little more. Yet as long as your aquarium is in a reasonably warm room that remains above 65°F, you might be amazed at the options you have.

Buenos Aires tetra, bloodfin tetra, zebra danios, celestial pearl danios, peppered cories, Japanese rice fish, and rainbow mountain minnows are but a few of the small schooling fish that can be kept in coldwater setups. As well as guppies, Endler’s livebearers and mosquito fish are good examples of hardy livebearers.

Slightly larger species that can be kept without a heater include rosy barbs, golden barbs, and paradise fish. Advanced aquarists could also consider rainbow shiners (Notropis chrosomus), and pumpkin seeds (Lepomis gibbosus). As for invertebrates, most freshwater shrimp and many snails can live in unheated aquaria.

Not only do coldwater tanks offer a novelty that saves energy, but they also naturally have higher oxygen levels, with many species living longer lives than they would in tropical tanks.

Filters Are Not Essential

freshwater aquarium with filter

While some aquariums can go without a heater, none should be left without a filter. Aquarium filters perform so many vital roles that attempting to go without one only puts your fish in danger, and yourself under a lot of stress.

Firstly, filters are the primary home of beneficial bacteria in the tank that convert deadly ammonia into relatively harmless nitrates. Even going a day without a filter could see your fish wind up with ammonia poisoning.

Then there are the cleaning and aerating roles that filters fulfill. Without these, you’ll need to clean the tank and change the aquarium water daily just to keep it clean and oxygenated. Since filters are so affordable and easy to maintain, why take the risk?

Okay, okay, there is one very small caveat. The ‘Diana Walstad method’ is an innovative yet complex method of filtering and aerating water with plants alone, but to avoid disaster, it should never be attempted by anyone but the most advanced fish keepers!

Fish Can Live Happily in Bowls

Goldfish in the aquarium

Oh no, they can’t! If you’ve been following our discussion on why goldfish bowls should be banned, you’ll know why.

First of all, fish bowls normally don’t have filters, and we’ve already discussed why that’s a non-starter. Secondly, the curved glass of a fish bowl distorts the fish’s vision, causing it constant stress as it struggles to identify the reflections and warped appearances from outside the tank.

The small water capacity of goldfish bowls also often means constant fluctuations in water chemistry that can severely shock, if not kill fish outright. Sadly, many people believe that goldfish are only supposed to live for a few years, when kept in the right way, they can exceed twenty!

When hobbyists begin to understand how smart fish are, they will resolve not to keep fish in such cruel conditions.

Fish Are Not Smart

Following on from the cruelty of keeping fish in bowls, it’s time to debunk the notion that fish are stupid, unaware, and don’t suffer.

At Aquariadise, we’ve written plenty about the remarkable feats of fish intelligence. Not only can pet fish learn tricks and recognize their owners, but they can also complete tasks that are normally associated with highly evolved animals.

By shooting insects from foliage above the water, archerfish are included in the list of animals that use tools. By using an electromagnetic field, elephant nose fish can navigate in the dark. And by remembering skills taught to them years ago, goldfish are fast dispelling the misnomer about their ‘5-second memory’!

By observing your fish with an open mind, you’ll begin to discover just how complex and advanced their behavior and interactions are. It’ll give you a new appreciation of a fish’s inner world, and cause you to treat them with a new level of admiration and respect.

Small Tanks Are Easier To Maintain

Close up of a hand pumping out water to clean up the substrate in a fish tank.

A rather dangerous myth or misconception among newbie fish keepers is that small tanks must be easier to manage and maintain. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Firstly, we need to understand that no fish, no matter how small, should be kept in a tank of less than 5 gallons. Doing so is extremely cruel, and such small tanks should be reserved for plants, shrimp, and snails only.

But managing stable water parameters in any tank that’s under 20 gallons in capacity isn’t easy either. Because there is less water volume to buffer fluctuations, water chemistry, and temperature can change extremely quickly, putting their inhabitants at great risk.

For a first aquarium, we’d thoroughly recommend a medium-sized 20- to 55-gallon tank that will have much more stable water parameters and also provide more room for fish (especially schooling fish) to enjoy their lives thoroughly.

Fish Can Live on Dried Food Alone

man feeding fish

Man cannot live on bread alone. If he did, he’d get malnourished very quickly. Likewise, fish that live solely on flake food or fish pellets are highly unlikely to reach optimum health or appearance due to a dull, monotonous diet.

Because fish species have evolved over millions of years to eat natural food items like algae, insects, worms, and crustaceans, they do best when given similar types of food in captivity, too.

While it might feel like a hassle to stock live foods, or thaw out frozen foods every day for your fish to eat, even offering your fish these healthy snacks twice a week will make a big difference.

You’ll notice immediately how excited and feisty your fish become as you offer them their favorite foods, and how their eyes, scales, fins, and colors all begin to glow more brightly as a result of the extra nourishment.

Proper feeding may even get some fish in the mood for breeding! Now there’s a bonus worth shooting for. To read more about live and frozen foods, as well as vegetables to feed fish, check out our dedicated guide, here.

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