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Choosing Your Fish in 7 Easy Steps

Choosing Your Fish in 8 Easy Steps

Ready to build your underwater family? Then you’ve come to the right place! Selecting your fish can feel overwhelming at first; after all, there are tens of thousands of varying types that are available around the world for home aquariums. Here we will examine the seven basic questions to ask yourself that will narrow down the selection and assist with your final decision.

Depending on the fish, each type has its own life expectancy. Some, like the betta, live 2-4 years on average. Other fish, like the plecostomus, often carry on for a decade or more. Can you see yourself doing this five years from now? Ten? Of course, rehoming the fish is always an option if life circumstances change, but ideally a fish stays with the same owner and environment for its lifetime.

2) How Big or Small Are You Willing To Go?

Fish vary in size, even among the same species. They often range anywhere from a quarter inch to a foot long! It generally takes 1-2 years for a fish to reach its full adult size. In addition, how many fish do you picture in your tank? Perhaps you’re looking for a single aquatic friend, or maybe you’re looking to create an entire community. Some fish are very social while others need their space. Consider the location in your house or business where you plan to place the aquarium, and determine what the limits are on the budget and the physical space.

3) Freshwater or Saltwater?

Saltwater aquariums require another layer of complexity and attention that freshwater aquariums simply don’t. But they open up your selection to some stunning and exotic creatures! This question can be summarized as: how much time and money are you willing to invest in the care of your underwater world? The main cost of saltwater aquariums is up front; the purchase of tanks, equipment, fish and coral can approach $1k-$2k or more depending on the size and scope. Freshwater aquariums may only cost a fraction of that. The cost and time requirement for maintenance of a saltwater aquarium is only slightly more than that of a freshwater one after the initial setup is completed.

4) Color, Shape, Size and Speed

Here comes the fun part! Time to look at the fish themselves. Consider different color combinations, as well as varieties of shapes and sizes, to make for an intriguing aesthetic display. Are some fast swimmers? Are others slow and graceful? Do you want a mix of both? While doing this research, be sure to screen the choices with your answers to the three previous questions. Bring the result of this brainstorming list to the final three questions.

5) Personality and Temperament

Now that you have your selection pool, it’s time to do a bit of research on the personalities. Fish are categorized on a scale of bold to shy, particularly as regards the exploration of new environments and quickness to adapt. It’s fine to mix bold and shy fish, but shy fish particularly appreciate hiding places to get away when they need to recharge. There is also a difference between being bold and being outright aggressive. Some fish are naturally aggressive but still make great pets! Shy fish generally respect the more aggressive ones. If you plan to add more than one aggressive fish to the tank, though, it’s best to add them together so that they begin on an equal playing field. Choosing the whole lot at the beginning, therefore, is better than building it a little at a time if aggressive fish are likely to be included.

6) Water Parameters

Not all fish will thrive in the same water environment of pH (potential of hydrogen), KH (carbonate hardness), GH (general hardness), temperature and light. If you’re brand new to fish ownership, this might sound like a lot to take in. Don’t worry! It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and many of these factors are interrelated. Do a bit of research on the range of these parameters that is ideal for each type of fish that you are considering. So long as they have overlap in their preferred ranges, then they can live together under the same conditions.

7) Special Requirements

Lastly, consider any unique needs that any one fish might require. For example, do any of the fish require live food, frozen food or a higher quality of dry food than average? Do any require plants for eating or for laying eggs? Do they prefer more hiding places or more space to swim? Do they prefer to be alone or swim in schools? Each fish species is unique in itself, so it is important to make sure that you are attending to their survival needs and mixing those types which will form a harmonious ecosystem.


Once you’ve completed steps 1 through 7, all that remains is to make the final selection among the fish under consideration. Then it’s time to take action: you’re ready to buy and assemble your aquarium! You now have a game plan which simply requires implementation infused with your own spark of creativity. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to becoming the creator and artist of your underwater world!

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