Freshwater Aquarium/Getting A New Community Tank Going
I have had fish tanks before, but they have always been 10 gallon tanks. I can never seem to keep the fish alive – they either get too big, eat each other, the tank gets too dirty, or they die randomly. (although I believe this might be because I over-fed them) I have made up a list of questions to help me get it right, since I will be shortly moving into a larger house, and getting a 50 gallon, in-wall tank.
1. What would be the maximum number of 1 inch fish that a 50 gallon tank could support ?
2. For a community tank, would Neon Tetras, White Clouds, Cherry Barbs, & Zebra Danios get along ?
3. I know that all four of these fish are schooling types. How many of each type would you recommend me get ?
4. When I bring home the fish, how long should I leave the pet-store bag in the tank to equalize before releasing the fish ?
5. I usually let the bag equalize, and then untie it, and pour the water & fish from the bag into the tank. Is this a good idea, or does it do some kind of damage ?
6. Can I bring home all the fish at once or should I do it in segments ?
7. Will a freshwater tank like this require a heater ?
8. How strong of a filter would be needed for a 50 gallon tank ?
9. How often and how do I clean the big waterfall-style filters ? (I used to have one of the old coal & cotton in-tank filters)
10. How thick of a gravel layer should I have on the bottom of the tank ?
11. I normally use plastic plants, and the rocks, sunken ships, and other aquarium decorations in my tanks, would this work for a community tank with these fish ?
12. Can I use the bubble-items, like treasure chests, in the tank, or would it cause problems for these kind of fish ?
13. Will these 4 types of fish eat the standard flake food, or is there a different kind that I would need ?
14. How often do I need to feed them, and how much ? (I think this is what killed one of my tanks before)
15. I have never understood the stuff about PH levels, and acidity, and stuff. What is the deal with these ?
16. I usually clean a fish tank by taking all the fish out, spray-washing the tank, cleaning the gravel, re-filling the tank, and adding the fish back to it. Is this the right way, or is there a better way ?
17. I want to get a scavenger for the tank. (I have always had either a yellow-shelled snail or an algae eater for my tanks) What kind would you recommend for this tank, and would one alone be enough for an aquarium this size ?
Before adding any fish to your tank, you need to set it up and cycle it. There is a lot of learning involved in figuring out how to properly cycle a tank, but it is worth it. Fish waste quickly turns into ammonia, which is toxic. Beneficial bacteria is necessary to turn that ammonia into nitrite, and then into nitrate. If you do not do a fishless cycle and just throw the fish in there, they are very likely to die or fall ill because of the high ammonia and lack of beneficial bacteria. A fishless cycle involves adding ammonia to the tank on purpose so that those bacterial colonies can develop before you add fish. There are also products available which are said to contain live bacteria, you could also try those. It works for some and not others. During the cycling process, regardless of if you do it with or without fish, it is important to have a good water testing kit so that you can see if the ammonia is turning into nitrites and then to nitrates as it should. If the ammonia gets too high, it will burn the fish's gills and they will die. Nitrite is also harmful in large amounts. The test kit should have a chart to show you if your water is within the safe or harmful ranges with those three things. If the ammonia or nitrites get too high, you will have to do a partial water change, which we will address later. Here are a couple of pages about cycling: http://www.aquaticcommunity.com/aquarium/cycling.php
I highly recommend investing the time involved in learning about properly cycling a tank.
Next, we will talk about your stocking questions: 1, 2, 3, and 17.
For stocking such a roomy tank, most would prefer to have some "centerpiece" fish, which are generally non-schooling and are larger than the others. I recommend some centerpiece fish, such as one large Gourami or two to three Dwarf Gourami. Angelfish are popular centerpiece fish, but they are extremely delicate, so I would only suggest them to experienced aquarists. Some gourami can get up to a foot in length, so it is best to research any of them before you get them. Personally, I would go with one Pearl Gourami (4-5 inches). You might be able to get away with having two large Gourami if you provide a lot of hiding places.
As for the schooling fish, I would have two or three schools of fish in addition to centerpiece fish and scavengers. I recommend a school of Neon Tetras, Harlequin Rasboras, and maybe a school of Cherry Barbs. They all would need to be in groups of six or more; for your tank, I would get 10 - 12 of each. Both Neons and Harlequins are very peaceful fish. Be sure to research any fish before you get them so you do not end up with aggressive fish in a peaceful community tank. It is best to provide a ton of plants and decor so that they will all get along. As for the White Cloud Minnows, they would not work because they are coldwater fish instead of tropical fish; and they require different temperatures.
For scavengers, I would get one Plecostamus or a school of Corydoras. Corys are lovely fish, but they can be a bit more on the delicate side. Corys need to be kept in groups as well. For them, I would get 6 - 8.
Next, we'll talk about your acclimation questions: 4, 5, and 6.
You will need to bring the fish home in segments to avoid overloading the biological flow of the aquarium. Start with the hardiest fish first. Once all is well, continue adding one more species at a time and add the most delicate fish last.
Acclimation is very important. Fish can go into shock from temperatures that vary by just 2 degrees. People go to different lengths to acclimate fish, but I would sit the bag/container in the water until it is all the same temperature. That should take about 15 minutes. Gradually add some of the aquarium water to the container, wait a few minutes, add a bit more, until it gets to where the fish is almost entirely in the aquarium water, then slowly release them into the tank.
Equipment questions: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, and 16.
Yes, you will need a heater. Not only does a heater ensure that the water is warm enough, it keeps the temperature from fluctuating, which is very harmful. For the fish I have listed, you will need to heat the tank to 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
The filter you described is what is referred to as a HOB/HoB (hang on back) filter. One of those would be fine for your tank, but canister filters are really better, but more expensive. With filters, you tend to get what you pay for. The good bacteria we discussed earlier sets up colonies in the filter, so it is best to clean it less often instead of more often. I would take it out of the tank and clean it a bit in a bucket of aquarium water about once a month. If you do it in tap water, it will kill the bacteria because of the chlorine in our water. Speaking of tap water, be sure to treat any water before adding it to the tank. All of the chlorine and stuff needs to be neutralized or it will chemically burn the fish's gills. I highly recommend Prime water conditioner. It is one of the best out there, and it is very concentrated so one bottle will last a long time.
Any of those decorations you mentioned should be fine. The only time you need to be careful with the decor you pick is if you have very long-finned fish that can get injured on sharp points.
As for substrate, I strongly recommend sand. Once you have it set up, all of the waste sits on top of the sand instead of getting buried down in there like with gravel. All you need to do is lightly stir it once a week to ensure that little gas pockets don't form. Corys love to burrow through sand, though, so they would probably take care of that for you if you got them. Sand is less maintenance than gravel, very natural-looking, and good for Corys and other bottom-dwelling fish. Here is a link to more info on using sand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buMZbrbhJVs
If you still want to use gravel, the amount is entirely up to you. Substrate isn't really necessary, so just add however much you like.
For water changes, never ever take out everything like you did before. It kills the good bacteria and can be very stressful for the fish. You need one of these: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/product/prod_display.cfm?c=3578+3728+3761+23954&pc
Siphon all of the debris from the bottom. I would change 25% of the water once a week.
The PH is a water parameter. It tells how basic or how acidic your water is. This is important because some fish do better in water with certain PH ranges. The same goes for water hardness and alkalinity.
Now it is time for the feeding questions: 13 and 14.
Standard tropical fish food will be fine for all of the fish except for the scavengers. They need something called algae wafers. Here is an article for how often and how much to feed them: http://www.petco.com/Content/ArticleList/Article/18/3/587/How-Often-Should-I-Fee