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Aquarium Fish



Bristlenose Pleco  |   Crowntail Bettas  |   Flowerhorn Cichlid  |   Goldfish  |   Guppies  |   Reedfish


Plecostomus, or plecos, are a particular type of catfish that are really popular in aquariums because they’re just so cool looking. Unfortunately, there are literally hundreds of different types of plecos, and many of them are sold under the same name. In addition, some of these fish can grow to truly monstrous sizes, so if you don’t know exactly what you’re buying, you can get into trouble.
Luckily, there are some very well-known plecos in the fish world, and this is a good place to start for beginning pleco enthusiasts. One of the easiest and most common plecos is the bristlenose pleco, also sometimes known as the bushy nose pleco. There are several different species that fall under the name bristlenose, but they all require very similar care.
The downside is that the bristlenose pleco is sometimes also sold as a common pleco. Other ‘common’ plecos sold under this name can include sailfin plecos, which can grow to nearly two feet in length. So, if you don’t know exactly what type of pleco you’re looking at, don’t buy it! Unless, of course, you have a 125 gallon tank just sitting around at home.


Plecostomus - drawing by Sunnie LaPan In order to avoid the monster fish mistake, it’s important to know what the bristlenose pleco looks like. These plecos have a brown, black or gray body and sport some kind of spots, whether those spots are white, gold or even light brown. In addition, bristlenose plecos have large dorsal fins that lack spines. (Large sailfin catfish sold as common plecos usually have spines.) Their most distinguishing feature is the bristles, or whiskers, that grow on the front of the male’s face. These whiskers are easy to spot. However, females don’t grow them.
Using this, you could potentially buy a common pleco and rest assured that it was a bristlenose. However, if you have any doubt at all, don’t buy it. Most catfish are small and cute when you buy them, and then, if you’ve bought the wrong kind, they grow into giants.

Aquarium Requirements
Bristlenose plecos don’t grow nearly as large as other pleco species. Generally, a full-grown bristlenose will be between four and six inches in length. Therefore, it’s totally acceptable to house a bristlenose in a 30 gallon aquarium.

Bristlenose catfish, like many catfish, tend to make a mess when feeding. If you’re thinking of using this fish solely as an algae feeder that needs no other foods, think again. Although these little guys do do a good job on algae, you’ll need to supplement their food. But more on that later. My point is, a good filtration system is a must. Choose one that fits the size of your aquarium, and don’t worry about a strong current. Most plecos relish a strong water current, and bristlenoses are no exception.

An aerator is also a good idea in an aquarium with plecos, since they need highly oxygenated water.

As for substrate, the choices are wide open. You can go with a blank bottom, which helps with cleaning, or gravel, sand, or a mix of the two. Gravel and sand can make cleaning harder (especially sand) but they also help beneficial bacteria grow when you’re cycling your tank, and after.

When you decorate the aquarium, ensure that there are plenty of hiding places for the bristlenose pleco. Caves, either fancy ones or overturned flowerpots, are the way to go. In addition, you can add some plants. Live or artificial will both work, but keep in mind that some plecos like to eat plants. Bristlenose plecos aren’t known for this, but every fish is different, and you might get one that loves to munch on plants. All your plants should be held down with large rocks, as well, since the pleco will probably try to dig around them.

With most plecos, including this species, it’s also very important to include some driftwood in your aquarium. Plecos need to chew on wood in order to keep their digestive track functioning correctly.

Over everything, put on a strong lid. Plecos jump. You’re going to want a lid that’s pretty secure, as some plecos will bash against it if they feel the need. If you do come home to a pleco on the floor, put them back. Most plecos can live without water for a period of time, so the fish may revive.

Water Conditions
Bristlenose plecos are pretty hardy, and can live in water that’s between 71oF and 80oF. The pH levels can range from 5.5 to 8.0, although 5.5 to 7.0 is better. In addition, soft water is better than hard for plecos. The driftwood in the tank will naturally soften the water a bit. You can also add duckweed to your aquarium, and peat to your filter or substrate, to soften the water further.

As with most (all) fish, the most important part of the water conditions required is cleanliness. Any aquarium you plop a bristlenose pleco into should be cycled, so there is no ammonia or nitrites and nitrates are under 20 ppm. With these messy fish, you’ll also want to spot clean frequently, and weekly water changes of 30% or more are a good idea.

If your water conditions start to deteriorate, your pleco may think it’s the dry season, and will try to escape the aquarium. This can lead to injury or death if your pleco does manage to flee, so keep the water clean.

Bristlenose plecos are omnivorous, but the main part of their diet should be made up of leafy foods. Algae wafers and fresh vegetables such as lettuce or zucchini will work well to supplement their diet. Don’t expect them to live on the aquarium algae alone. Meaty foods can occasionally be given, but if you have other fish in the aquarium, the foods that they leave behind will probably be more than enough to make up the meaty part of the pleco’s diet.

Some plecos can be pretty aggressive, but bristlenose plecos are not. These fish can be kept alone or in community aquariums with non-aggressive fish. If you keep a male and female bristlenose together, they may even breed.   -SEL

Crowntail Bettas

Deja, the Crowntail Betta - photo by Sunnie LaPan I love bettas. They're gorgeous, colorful, easy to keep, live a long time, don't take up much room, and they all have such amazing personalities. I've kept several kinds of fish, but it seems like we always have at least one betta around, because we just love them so much.
Betta fish are traditionally from Thailand and Cambodia, where they live in somewhat shallow, swampy water. These fish have short fins and dull colors, unlike the pet bettas found today, which have been bred for beauty. In most pet stores, what you usually find in the fish section are veiltail bettas. Like other betta types, it’s only the male of the breed that displays the long tail, although the females are just as vibrantly colored and fun to keep. However, recently, a new breed of bettas have been popping up in the stores. These bettas are called crowntail bettas.
Crowntail bettas are colored in much the same way as other bettas- deep shades, usually of reds, blues, and purples, although, if you’re lucky, you may find a white, yellow, green, or orange fish. But it’s the fins of these fish that really stand out. Even though your average male betta’s tail is already a sight to behold, the crowntail betta takes it a huge step farther. The tails of these fish are enormous, rounded and full, with spiky little edges. The sight of a male crowntail betta is just gorgeous. They are a wonderful splash of color and style in the fish tank.

Yevgeny, the Crowntail Betta - photo by Sunnie LaPan

The personalities of the crowntail bettas are just as large as those of other bettas. I truly find that each fish is different. I get to know their habits, likes, and dislikes. They will even learn to recognize their owner. One of my bettas is shy, but comes around whenever he sees me to beg for a treat. My other crowntail is really flamboyant, always showing off and trying to scare any other fish I might have (unwisely) placed near him.

Deja, the Crowntail Betta - photo by Sunnie LaPan Caring for Bettas
Like I said, I love bettas because they’re simple. Betta fish belong to a family of fish called labyrinth fish. The labyrinth is an organ that allows the bettas to breath from the surface of the water. This means that their aquarium water doesn’t necessarily need to be overly oxygenated, so no aeration system is necessary. However, a large surface area is a good choice, in maintaining the health of your fish. I don’t use a filtration system either, as these fish aren’t very messy. Instead, I perform partial water changes about once a week. I take out about a quarter or a half of the dirty water in the aquarium, and use a turkey baster to suck up any waste on the bottom of the aquarium, and then I add fresh water. (Try to use water that’s the same temperature as the water the fish is already in when you do water changes, to avoid shock.) You probably could use a gentle filtration system if you wanted to, though. Just pick one that's the right size for your aquarium.
Bettas can live in pretty small bowls, which makes them a great choice for small spaces. I’ve kept several bettas in one gallon bowls, and they seem to do just fine in them, provided the water conditions remain optimum. However, bettas do appreciate a little more space, if you have the room. I've used a five gallon in the past for a single fish, and this seems to be the perfect size.
Bettas are known as Siamese fighting fish for a reason. Male bettas are extremely territorial, and will fight another male to the death. For this reason, never keep two male bettas in the same aquarium. I’ve kept two together, and used an aquarium separator. This worked well for one fish, who seemed to enjoy the ’competition,’ but the other betta got stressed, and I moved him. You also want to avoid housing a male and female together, unless you’re planning to carefully breed them, or the female will get beat up. Some female bettas can be housed together, if given enough space. All the females I’ve ever had were also quite territorial, though, so I recommend keeping them separate, or providing a lot of room. Male and female bettas can be kept with some other peaceful tropical fish. Avoid those fish that nip fins.
Many people purchase bettas under the impression that these fish are vegetarians, and can live off of the roots of a plant without ever being fed. This is false! Bettas, all types, are carnivorous. They require a steady diet of betta foods, such as pellets, dried bloodworms, or flakes, in order to survive. I feed my bettas three to four betta pellets a day, and occasionally change it up with a fresh pea (occasional being the key word) or a freeze dried bloodworm.
However, coming from swamps, bettas love living among plants. I’ve never had any eat my live plants, but they do well with artificial plants, too. The plants give the bettas a little hiding room, if they feel stressed, and also look really nice.   -SEL


When I was first asked to look into flowerhorns, I had no idea what they were. I thought they were maybe a type of plant. It turns out flowerhorns are a type of fish, more specifically a cichlid. Cichlids are large freshwater fish, found in large lakes in parts of Africa and South America. Unlike most cichlids, which are found naturally in their habitats, flowerhorns are a hybridization, a mix, of several different unidentified cichlid species, and are only found in captivity.

Flowerhorn Cichlid - drawing by Kyle LaPan Flowerhorns are really fascinating fish. They can grow to be extremely large, for an aquarium fish, reaching maximum lengths of one and a half feet. They look spectacular as well- these fish have bright, startling markings and colors. They can be found in many different patterns of reds, yellows, pinks, oranges, darker colors such as blacks and browns, and even some blues and greens. They also have a nuchal hump- a large, protruding bump above their heads. And flowerhorns are rather intelligent. Apparently they can be taught to recognize their owners or do tricks for treats. They live long lives, between eight and twelve years. They have strong personalities. It’s even thought that these fish can affect the feng-shui of your home.

Flowerhorns are relatively easy to care for. They’re undemanding and it’s nearly impossible to overfeed them. However, because of their extreme aggression and large size, they’re probably not a great fish for beginners.

Flowerhorn breeding can be very competitive, and fully grown fish with excellent coloring and a large hump can cost thousands of dollars. Flowerhorns develop their coloring and shape as they grow. Habitat and feeding can sometimes affect how the flowerhorn will grow to appear. Therefore, because you never know what the fish will look like, it’s often much, much cheaper to buy a young fish. I’d do this myself, anyway. Wouldn’t you want to have the fish for as long as possible?

Flowerhorns are seriously aggressive. They’ll quickly kill most other aquarium fish, as well as members of their own species. They can be kept with other species when huge amounts of space are provided, but in general, keep the fish alone unless you’re a pro aquarist. Otherwise, a 50 gallon aquarium or larger will work just fine. Stick your fingers in the aquarium with caution. Flowerhorns will try to eat anything, and they do have little fishy teeth that are sharp.

You can decorate the flowerhorn’s aquarium, or not. (I’d think the fish would prefer some decor, though, right?) Flowerhorns like to dig, rearrange, and push stuff over. If you add plants, be prepared to replant often. If you add stones or decorations, ensure that they’re set up in such a way that the flowerhorn cannot knock them over and hurt itself. Keep the water temperature between 80 and 89 F, and a pH between 6.5 and 7.8. Clean often. Flowerhorns eat a lot, and don’t do it in a neat manner. A pairing of frequent partial water changes and a strong filter is your best bet.

Feed the flowerhorn meaty meals often. Like I said, it’s almost impossible to overfeed, but underfeeding is a real threat. You can do all sorts of frozen, live, or dried insects, small fish, crustaceans, etc. Feeding several times a day isn’t a bad idea.   -SEL


(l-r) Fleur, Minerva and Sirius, the Goldfish - photo by Sunnie LaPan

Goldfish are one of those pets that seem like an excellent, easy choice, but always end up dying much sooner than you’d think possible. This is because goldfish, unlike hardier fish species like bettas, are very susceptible to dirty water or water temperature fluctuations. They also don’t care much for cramped spaces, so the old ‘goldfish bowl’ is kind of a fib.
However, goldfish can still make beautiful, fun pets when they are understood and proper care is given. There are many different types of goldfish. They all share relatively similar needs, but when you buy a fish, make sure you really look into the specific needs of that particular type of goldfish. When watched carefully for diseases and cared for properly, goldfish can live for decades.

Sirius the Goldfish - photo by Sunnie LaPan Aquarium Setup
Goldfish can be kept in small bowls if absolutely necessary, but it’s a pretty bad idea. Small bowls can stunt the growth of a goldfish, as well as stressing the fish. Smaller aquariums are also much harder to maintain and keep clean.
In reality, one goldfish needs about ten gallons of space. If you’re buying little fish, you can possible squeeze two into a ten gallon, but you’ll need to upgrade as the fish grow.
You can leave the bottom of your aquarium bare, or add a gravel substrate. You’ll also want to add some decorations, such as large aquarium caves or plants, real or fake, in order to provide some hiding places for your fish. Remember that real plants will probably get nibbled on if not completely mowed down by your goldfish.
You’re also going to want to stick some kind of hood or cover on your aquarium. Goldfish often jump because they’re nutty little things, and if you don’t see it happen, your fish will dry up before you can save it. Aquarium hoods are great because they allow for space for filters and lights and are easy to work with, but are also really expensive. I like a screen top lid, with spots cut out for the filter and whatever else. They’re a little harder to work with, but are sturdy and cheap.

Luna the Goldfish - photo by Sunnie LaPan Water Conditions
Goldfish produce a lot of a waste, but need really clean water in order to remain healthy. You’ll need to perform water changes of about 10% or more each week, no matter what filter you have. Choose a filter that fits the size of your aquarium and has both mechanical and biological filtration. (It’s also important to completely cycle your aquarium before adding any fish.) The filter should be powerful but, if you have fancy goldfish, should not create a huge current- a lot of goldfish are not actually that great at swimming, and strong currents don’t help.
Goldfish need cold water to survive. They can live at 74oF, but temperatures between 64oF and 68oF are much safer. I use an aquarium fan over the top of the tank to keep my water temperature down.
Goldfish require a lot of oxygen in their water. Cold water always has more oxygen in it, but you can also add more oxygen by running an air stone in the aquarium all the time.
Aside from being clean and cool, goldfish water should contain no chlorine. Water can be de-chlorinated with an aquarium additive, or you can let the water sit for a day or so until the chlorine burns off.

There are dozens of different goldfish foods available, from pellets to flakes to frozen or dried foods. Choosing a couple that your fish like and rotating the feeding will help to ensure that the fish get a varying diet and a wider range of nutrients and vitamins.
Feed the goldfish once a day or so, and only feed as much as the fish can eat in a few minutes. Goldfish don’t need a lot of food- they can go for days without eating with no ill effects. Overfeeding, however, can easily kill the fish. Take the time to watch the fish eat and make sure each fish gets enough food. This will also allow you to judge the amount of food you need to feed. There’s no clear cut answer for feeding- observing and experience are the only ways to go. Also, make sure you soak any dry foods before you feed them to the fish, so they sink to the bottom. I swish my flakes or pellets around in a cup of water before feeding. This just ensures that my fish isn’t sucking in air by eating the food off the surface of the water.
In addition to actual fish foods, it’s not a bad idea to feed goldfish small pieces of peas once a week or so. This can help to stem off constipation, which sounds silly but is actually a real goldfish killer.   -SEL


When most people think of guppies, they think of boring, dull beginner fish. And most aquarium enthusiasts want nothing to do with a fish that a beginner could keep. I think guppies are pretty cool, though. They’'re pretty. They’re lively. And they need specialized care, just like any other fish, although they are relatively easy to keep. Guppy - drawing by Sunnie LaPan

Much like bettas, guppies can be bred to display a wide range of tail shapes, many of which are flowing and beautiful. Guppies can also be found in some astounding colors and patterns. Blues, greens, blacks, reds, oranges, and purples are not unusual. Hand-bred ‘designer’ guppies can be pretty expensive, but even the ones you can find in your local pet store, which are pretty cheap, can be really beautiful.

Guppies are friendly little fish. They get along well with their own kind, and with other peaceful fish. More aggressive fish may try to bully them, so it’s best to steer away from those if you are looking for a community tank. Also watch out for ‘friendly’ fish that like to nip fins. The long fins of the guppies can be pretty tempting.

Guppy - drawing by Sunnie LaPan Guppies grow to between one and a half and two inches long, so they don’t need too much space. A ten gallon aquarium can hold five guppies. You can add a substrate of gravel, sand or some pretty pebbles, or you can keep the tank bottom bare.

You can keep guppies in a blank aquarium, but it’s really much better to add some plants, whether they are live or artificial. This will give the guppies some places to go to get out of sight, if they’re feeling the need. Guppies also really like floating plants, so you might consider some of those.

Water Requirements
Guppies can adapt to a wide range of temperatures. 72oF and 86oF is good, with something in the middle of that range being best. Guppies prefer water that has a pH between 6.6 and 6.8, although a pH that goes as high as 8.2 is acceptable.

Guppy - drawing by Sunnie LaPan Whatever tank you put your guppies in, make sure your aquarium is totally cycled. You should also do partial water changes of about 20% once a week, sucking any waste out of the aquarium with a turkey baster (or whatever you want to use- that’s just my choice) at the same time.

Guppies should be given a couple very small feedings twice a day or so. You can feed flake foods, or give baby brine shrimp or even dried bloodworms. Varying the food makes life interesting for the guppies and also ensures that they get the proper vitamins. Be careful not to overfeed. I say this, but it can be really hard to know, since your fish probably won’t get fat before it encounters health problems. As long as you feed small quantities, you should be ok. If you have baby guppies in the same tank, you can feed a little bit more. This will ensure that no babies get eaten.

Guppies breed like rabbits in a healthy aquarium, so it’s important to know the differences between the genders. That way, you can either plan ahead for the (probably hundreds of) baby fish you’ll end up with, or you can separate the genders so no breeding occurs.

Male guppies tend to be more excitable than females, and often chase other fish around the aquarium. Males also have longer fins and are much brighter in color. Female guppies tend to be grayish. The most sure-fire sign of guppy gender is the gonopodium and the gravid spot. Male guppies’ anal fins, the fins located at the back half of the underside of the body, become long and pointed. This is the gonopodium, which is used to spawn. On the other hand, females develop a gravid spot on their undersides. This spot is dark in color, and is where the eggs are.   -SEL


If you’re looking for a really weird, really cool fish for your aquarium, the reedfish, also known as the ropefish, dragon fish or snakefish, might be the way to go. These fish, which are closely related to bichirs, look like slithery eels or pieces of rope. In fact, they’re true fish, not eels at all. Not only do these fish look awesome, but they can be very friendly and are entertaining to watch, if you can catch them in action.

Reedfish can be shy at first, but often learn to recognize their owners and may allow themselves to be hand fed. Reedfish love being with other members of their species, and will often huddle together and may even feed each other. For this reason, it’s best to keep at least two, if not a group of reedfish, together in the aquarium. In addition, reedfish get along well with other peaceful fish. If you want to put them in a community aquarium, ensure that there are only peaceful fish, and that none of the fish are small enough to be eaten by the reedfish. Reedfish are friendly, but that doesn’t mean they won’t pass up a handy meal.
Reedfish - drawing by Sunnie LaPan
Aquarium Requirements
Reedfish can grow to between 16 and 24 inches in length, which is pretty big. Because of this, and because of their need to be kept in pairs or groups, an aquarium of 100 gallons or more is really the only way to go.

Reedfish can breathe air from the surface of the water. For this reason, it’s best to leave a gap of a few inches between the water’s surface and the top of the aquarium. A depth of 15 to 24 inches is more than enough. Remember that whatever aquarium you choose should have a wider base footprint than depth, as this is where the fish will be swimming.

Use a soft sand substrate, or keep the bottom bare. Sand is probably the better bet, as the reedfish may want to root through it. Gravel can be used as well.

Decorate the tank with pieces of wood, live or artificial plants, and caves, giving the reedfish plenty of places to hide. Be aware that live plants may be dug up by the fish. Caves are essential as the reedfish loves to tuck itself out of sight. Even pieces of clean PVC piping will provide a perfect hiding place.

Reedfish eat quite a bit, and this can become messy, so a good filtration system that fits the size of your aquarium is necessary. Be aware that under gravel filters may be disturbed by the reedfish’s digging.

Secure the aquarium with a tight fitting lid or hood. Reedfish are great jumpers. They can wiggle through even small gaps, so seal off any holes where the filters go in and whatnot. If you do find your reedfish in an odd position, say on the carpet gathering dust, give him a rinse and put him back in the tank. Chances are he’ll revive.

Reedfish may even try to make an escape while you’re feeding or cleaning the aquarium, so be aware of this possibility. Before buying a reedfish, ask yourself, ‘Am I prepared to handle a fish that looks like a snake?’ Chances are you will need to handle it at one point or another. If you feel like you can’t, or like you may not be able to stick your hand in the aquarium while they’re in there, then this fish isn’t for you, no matter how cool you think it looks from a distance.

Water Requirements
Reedfish prefer water that’s between 72oF and 82oF. A slightly acidic pH, between 6.5 and 8.0, but leaning toward the higher end of that spectrum, is best. Medium to hard water is ok as well. These fish are actually pretty hardy and can usually adapt, as long as there are no big swings in water chemistry, and the water stays clean and free of ammonia, nitrites and high doses of nitrates. Always cycle an aquarium completely before adding reedfish.

Reedfish can be given live foods, such as bloodworms or even small feeder fish. Meaty frozen foods such as bloodworms and pieces of shrimp are often a better bet, since you know they’re not carrying any diseases. Some reedfish may need to be coaxed into eating stuff that’s not live, but eventually most of them get the idea. Many will even eventually eat sinking fish pellets.   -SEL

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