Fish Keeping Myths


Tyler Letcher

One of my aquariums, pictured here, is a 75 gallon, stocked with African Cichlids, a Plecostomous (sucker) catfish, and many Corydoras Catfish. A Penguin Biowheel hang on back filter is in use here, as well as a glass tube heater.

I’ve been keeping fish for over a decade at this point, and I’ve gone from winning goldfish at carnivals (only for them to die days or weeks later) to keeping 4 tanks at one time… all in my room. Having gone from a total novice to someone who takes great pride in their aquariums, I love helping people who are just starting out in the hobby. Below, I’ve listed both some common misconceptions and tips for starting your first aquarium.

Myth: Goldfish and Bettas only need a bowl to survive

Some of the most common fish in the hobby, especially for beginners, will be goldfish and bettas. These staple fish have very often been sold as incredibly easy to take care of and keep, and while this can be the case, most people who pick up these fish don’t know how to take care of them properly. And unless you’re going to a store specializing in aquatic animals, most times, the employees at average pet stores will know no better than to sell you a betta or goldfish without offering any tips or even outright lying to make a quick buck.

Goldfish have been staples of American pets for decades now, and the quintessential image of one is in a fishbowl. These small enclosures, however, are completely unsuitable for goldfish, especially if you want them to live for more than a month at most. But what most people don’t know about these fish could fill a dictionary. Your common 99 cent goldfish from Petsmart requires at least a 30-gallon tank that is more than 4 feet long, not to mention proper filtration, heating, and upkeep. Often, goldfish, with the proper care and environment, can easily grow to a foot in length, with some pond-kept common goldfish reaching a whopping 18 inches.

Bettas have become increasingly popular in recent years, due to their long, flowing fins, neon colors, endless patterns, and perceived ease of keeping. While Bettas do require little care, they still need more than your average fishbowl. They require a tank of at least 2.5 gallons but prefer any tank 5 gallons and over, and need proper filtration and heating as well. If you want your Betta to be happy, provide plenty of plants (artificial or live) and other hiding spaces for your fish to feel safe. Another tip is to not house a male betta with another male betta unless your tank is over 30 gallons and you have the recommended ratio of 4 females to one male.

Myth: Fish shouldn’t live long.

The myth that fish don’t live very long is incredibly overstated. Some species of common freshwater fish, such as Corydoras Catfish and Plecostomus (sucker catfish) can live up to 30 years in captivity under the right conditions.

Myth: Changing my filter’s media every month is a MUST.

In fishkeeping, there are 3 common types of filtration. Internal and hang-on-back (HOB) filters are most common among beginner fishkeepers, while canister filters are usually reserved for more veteran members of the hobby. Certain hang-on-back filters, however, are able to be well-used in professional fishkeeping operations, provided they are maintained and kept with the correct type of filter media. This filter media comes in endless types, but usually, your necessary types will be Mechanical, Chemical, and Biological. Mechanical filtration refers to a sponge, filter pad made of fabric, or any other substance that will catch waste, uneaten food, and other particles passing through the filter. The most common chemical filtration is Activated Carbon, which, if changed every 2-4 weeks, will help keep your tank’s water clear and kill any negative substances in the water. Biological Filtration refers to specially made substances that are kept in the fish filter and are often never changed, as they will build up a large supply of beneficial bacteria in the tank so the fish will stay comfortable in their habitat.

One of the more common brands of HOB filters among beginners is Petsmart’s own Tetra brand of filters, and while these are okay to start out with, they provide little to no customization to the filter media or the filter itself. As you begin to immerse yourself deeper into the hobby, you’d want to look into better HOB filters, such as a Fluval Aquaclear or a Marineland Penguin, my personal favorite. Having owned both of these filters, however, I have been able to see the positives and negatives in each. With Aquaclear filters, you get great customization, with a large cage for filter media, making it infinitely customizable. Some negatives, however, are that the filter deals with a large amount of noise, specifically with vibration. The Marineland Penguin filters are incredibly quiet, efficient, and reliable and have either 2 or 4 cartridge slots, depending on the size of your filter in question. In order to customize your filter’s media, however, you need to buy refillable plastic cartridges for $2 each on Amazon, and even then, their slim size means that not all filter media will work.

Myth: Fishkeeping is expensive

While fishkeeping can get expensive from time to time, it doesn’t have to be. Using strategies such as measuring out your fish’s food in increments can help, as well as buying equipment off Amazon to find a better variety at often better prices. One big money-saver in the fishkeeping hobby is filter media. When buying a hang-on-back filter, specifically, make sure it is compatible with your own filter media. Buying filter cartridges month after month isn’t just annoying, but also a waste of time and money. Buy a big vat of activated carbon, some filter floss, and some bio material, and you’re ready to go.

Fishkeeping is one of those hobbies where you either get it or you don’t. I hope that with this advice, more people will understand the hobby for what it is: a satisfying one, filled with fun challenges that don’t have to be all that daunting