Teen views of the Aquarium Hobby, plus a spotlight on Rope Fish.
Article by Lily Hwang
Fish-keeping is a difficult hobby. With a plethora of factors to keep track of as well as dedication and consistency, it is easy to see why fish are often not recommended for kids. This makes it difficult for the truly motivated kids and teens to find resources specific to their needs. On top of that, children and many teens don't have a consistent source of income, so cost-efficient methods are a must. Most articles are written for older audiences. There are also many myths surrounding beginner fish that often lead to kids (and sometimes adults) getting discouraged rather quickly after their favorite fish dies. Here are a few things I have learned as a teen fish keeper.
First, the basics: Always use water conditioner for tap water. When water comes out of the tap, it has been treated to be safe for humans using chlorine. Chlorine is detrimental to fish, which is why a dechlorinator should always be used. I personally use Prime as it is cheap, lasts for hundreds of water changes, and removes chlorine as well as detoxifying ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite. Most fish sold in stores are tropical fish. This includes fish such as bettas, tetras, angels, and cichlids. Being tropical fish, they require heaters. Generally, a good range is around 72-80 degrees Fahrenheit. Heaters are rated in watts, and it is recommended to get a heater with 5 watts per gallon. That is not a perfect rule, but it is a good baseline. Another tip is to use multiple heaters on bigger thanks. That way, if one stops working, the temperature won't plummet, and you will have time to get another heater.
Filters: For bettas, shrimp, and small fish, sponge filters are the best. They also are more cost effective than HOB (hang on back) filters. The filter is gentle and provides a surface for beneficial bacteria to grow. It is also good for keeping fry alive. Always have backups. Accidents happen often in this hobby. Whether it be a burned-out heater or a furry friend knocking a light into a tank, accidents will occur. You don't have to have extras of everything, but I would recommend backup heaters and a backup filter. Most of the other pieces of equipment don't need to be replaced right away but it is important to keep the water clean and warm.
Hand feeding fish: Hand feeding has many benefits. First, it helps fish become more social and active. Shy fish that might be tempted to hide all day will become more adventurous once they get used to being hand fed. I hand feed both my rope fish and peacock eel. They both used to hide, but now whenever they see me approach the tank they swim out. Another reason to hand feed is to make sure every fish gets enough food. In crowded community tanks, it is easy to miss the few fish that didn't get enough to eat. Hand feeding allows for more control over how much food and which fish eat it. Lastly, it allows for easy health checks. Fish that are used to being hand fed will come up to the top of the tank to eat. This makes it easy to spot sick fish as you can get a close look of the fish while feeding. Check for ich and other parasites and to find the fish that hide towards the bottom due to illness or age. That way, you can catch many diseases before they take over the tank.
Towels and Toothbrushes: What I have found through many years of keeping fish is that towels and toothbrushes are always a must. Towels are useful for spills and to avoid dripping during water changes. Towels can also be used to clean up drips on the side of the tank. They don't have to be clean, new, or fluffy. They can be torn, used, and stained but they always come in handy. Toothbrushes are also a thing I always have. Brushing the glass helps remove more stubborn algae and is also more cost effective than the cleaning magnets. Although, you do have to get your hands wet. I usually clean the glass during a water change when I have my hands wet anyways.
📷 The Importance of Social Media: As a generation, us teens are the most comfortable (in general) with technology and its many applications. Social media plays a huge advantage in the fish keeping hobby for everyone, not just teens. However, we have the tools and the experience to use social media to the fullest. One of the benefits to social media in the fish hobby is the ability to learn from it. Online forums are common, and they can be an excellent source of information. They also provide a space to ask questions specific to your situation. There are different categories in which you can find past questions, other people's experiences, or ask your own questions. They are easy (and usually free) to join. The topics can vary from different diseases, plant care, rare fish care, shipping fish, and even breeding them. There are endless topics and things to look through. Each thread helps explain what went right, what went wrong, and what could be done better. It can also help you diagnose why the plants are melting or what kind of illness your fish has. Forums are a crucial part of the hobby and they help keep us up to date on what's going on. The internet can also be used to find fish. Many beginner fish that come from pet stores are malnourished, sick, and of low quality. Looking online can help you find nearby fish stores that specialize in fish or to find fish online that can be shipped to you. I have gotten bettas from Indonesia and Thailand for a lower price than the dumbo ear bettas at chain pet stores. There are a couple good sites, and it is important to remember to check the sources and customer reviews first to make sure it is not a scam. Aquabid is a great website to get fish from as they cover all price ranges, rarities, and difficulties. Another good website is eBay. Although you should still be careful on both, they are generally credible, and the customer reviews can help you decide which sellers are good and which ones are not. Even younger members of the fish keeping hobby can breed and sell fish. Selling Fish: Here are a few things I have learned as a younger member when it comes to selling fish. First, find your customers. For me, I sell and trade fish within my local fish group. Local fish stores (LFS) will also give you store credit or cash for certain fish. Local fish stores are often good sources to buy fish as well since they take better care of their fish. Local fish stores are not chain stores and they are locally owned. Stores usually don't take in things that are easy to breed or common, which leads into the next tip. Start breeding with good quality fish. Don't be afraid to spend a little more on a good quality breeding pair since it will pay off in the long run. If you end up breeding fish of lower quality, then you will have trouble finding them new homes. Breeding high quality fish will not only help you earn more but will also help establish a good reputation with those around you. Especially as a younger keeper, it is important to know what you're doing. Social media can help you achieve this. You can set up a chat for all the junior members of the club. I did this using discord and we trade amongst ourselves to make sure that kids don't outbid each other at auctions. Also, many clubs will have a website or Facebook group that you could join to stay up to date on events, ask questions, and advertise things for sale.
Organizing the Hobby: I mainly use two social media platforms to organize my fish hobby. First, I use Instagram to post all the pictures I take of my fish. This helps me document times as well as health and dates. I can look back at pictures to tell where and when I got a certain fish or how old a certain batch of fry are. I can also check posts about how I've treated ich or the things I did to protect my fish afterwards. I also follow other aquarium accounts so I can learn from them in terms of new species, new techniques, and new ideas. Another platform that I use is Facebook. I use Facebook to organize sales of the fish I've bred as well as getting supplies and new fish from other members of the group. Facebook is the easiest one to post sales on as it gives you notifications when people say they are interested as well as letting you upload pictures and other information about the fish. Always do your research. Although I will try to cover most of what you need to know in these articles, it will never hurt to do a little research of your own. As mentioned before, forums are an excellent source to gather knowledge. Do keep in mind that the replies to questions are usually based on personal experience and might not work for everyone. Just doing a general search using "(fish name) care" will likely bring up good results as well as a variety of sources. Always remember to use more than one source to double check the information you get as there is often no one correct answer. Opinions and experience differ and the more you read about a species the more prepared you will be to keep them. YouTube is also an amazing source to get information from. Looking on YouTube, you can find seller reviews, product suggestions, and care videos on hundreds of species. Social media has infinite uses in the fish hobby, and these are a few main ones. Teens usually use social media anyways. Why not use it for fish as well? Questions? Ask them in the comments below or on my instagram, @beautiful.aquarium.fish. Rope Fish: One of the fish that I get the most questions about is my rope fish. His name is Sevy and hopefully no one minds that I will refer to him as such during the article. Rope fish are a very fascinating and rewarding species to keep. There have been no reports of them being bred in captivity and their life in the wild is still shrouded in mystery. Let's start with a little information about the overall species that we do know. The rope fish is also known as Erpetoichthys calabaricus or the Reed fish. It is a part of the bichir family and is found in West and Central Africa (Wikipedia). The rope fish, much like the labyrinth fish such as bettas and gouramis, have lungs as well as gills that allows them to breathe in oxygen poor water and even outside of water for short periods of time. Rope fish usually reach between 12 and 16 inches. As of now, all rope fish are wild caught as they have never been bred in captivity. Although there have been rumors of people who have been successful breeding them, it is not yet proven or efficient enough to have caught on in the hobby. Rope fish are actually very easy to care for. They are not high maintenance or particularly picky. As they are from Africa, the ideal temperature for rope fish is anywhere between 72 and 82 degrees. This corresponds perfectly to the range most tropical fish are kept in. Rope fish should have at least 40 gallons but ideally 55 gallons with low flow. Rope fish are not equipped to swim in current and prefer to stay in slow moving areas near the bottom. They are however surprisingly active once they get over being shy and enjoy exploring and swimming around the tank. Rope fish love to hide in things, so rock work, PVC pipes, and other hiding spots are essential. Be careful when choosing PVC sizes though. My rope fish gave me a small heart attack once when he managed to get himself stuck in the PVC that was just too small for him. He was bent in two before I got him out. Luckily, they are like snakes and very flexible. I was able to push a pencil through the loop he made and gently ease him out. Another warning when it comes to these oddballs: Always have a secure lid. Although Sevy has never jumped, I have heard many horror stories of people finding their beloved pets on the floor (sometimes still alive as they can breathe outside of water). Of course, most people don't want to keep just a rope fish in a 55-gallon tank. It would look empty. Luckily, there are many options for tank mates. Rope fish are very peaceful. They can be kept with other rope fish and are often more social and active when other rope fish are present. From what I have heard from other rope fish keepers, rope fish seem happier and healthier in the presence of other rope fish. I have not noticed any negative side effects of keeping them alone though. They can also be kept with larger, peaceful or semi-peaceful fish. I have kept Sevy with discus, angelfish, knife livebearers, bettas, small cichlids, rummy nose tetras, plecos, and many others. The only things I haven't had success keeping him with are thin, bottom-dwelling fish such as kuhli loaches and crayfish. He seems to target them right after they molt. Other than that, rope fish can be kept with many different species from all over the world. General rule? Nothing that will fit in their mouths or that will bully them should be in the same tank. Other than that, feel free to experiment! Just be careful and monitor all the fish for the first few weeks. Another important part to rope fish care is feeding. Rope fish come from dark waters so their eyesight sucks. They rely more on the two sensory whiskers they have on top of their mouths and their sense of smell to locate their prey. When they first come in to stores and into your tank, they will be painfully shy, so it seems like an impossible task to feed them. As stated previously, rope fish come from the wild and are accustomed to eating live foods. It is a good idea for the first few weeks to have live blood worms/red wigglers/night crawlers on hand depending on the size of the rope fish. The only thing that changes is the food. The training is the same (yes you can train fish. Feel free to look up a video of goldfish playing soccer). Place multiple PVC pipes facing the front of the tank but slightly angled in any direction. Wait a few days to figure out which one your rope fish likes best and make note of it. Once you see your rope fish in there, use tongs or your hand to slowly lower the food towards the PVC pipe while shaking it slightly from side to side. It is important to go slowly as to not spook the fish. Eventually, the rope fish will notice the movement and reach for it. The first few days and sometimes even weeks, it is normal for the rope fish to get spooked. If this happens, leave the food in the PVC pipe and move away. Soon, the rope fish will learn to associate both the shaking movement and the PVC pipe to food and will be much easier to feed. Without using this method or something similar, it is easy for the other tank inhabitants to get to the food before the rope fish can get to it. Once the rope fish notices the PVC pipe and shaking means food, it is a simple task to transition from live food to frozen food. Using this method, I switched Sevy from live blood worms to accepting anything I present to him. Frozen blood worms, night crawlers, or beef heart. Regardless of what I’m holding, he knows it’s food for him.