New Member of our Household; Monkey the Betta

When we had a tour of “A”‘s preschool a couple of weeks ago, a large bowl caught my eye. Inside this large bowl was a red fiery fish; a Betta splendens named Monkey. You probably know them as Siamese Fighting fish.

Well that had me thinking, I wonder if “A” and “W” would enjoy having their own fish at home. I have some spare fresh water fish items that I could probably set up (with “A”‘s help) and they can have their first pet! Not that I think they could really do much of the maintenance that goes along with having a pet, but at least “A” can help me feed the fish.

This is the beginning of the experience of having fish at home with kids. Let’s hope it continues to be a positive experience or not only myself, but the kidlets as well!

Fish Selection

Well, I’m not a great aquarium hobbyist, but I have kept up a 10 and 20 gallon tank. I would love to go larger but space becomes and issue. Ideally I think I’d like to have at least a 55 gallon fresh-water fish tank set up. Though what I have in the closet is quite smaller than that. I have a 5 gallon Eclipse tank, one that I tried setting up when my wife and I were living in our 1 bedroom apartment in Vancouver’s West End.

There is a general rule of thumb when trying to think about stocking a fish tank, and that guideline is 1-inch of fish per gallon of tank. 5 gallons is roughly 5 fish. Though depending on the fish you may have to go with less as some fish produce more waste than others or some fish get much much larger than you’d expect.

So with 1-inch fish to 5 gallons I figured that I could do either some neon tetras or mollies or guppies. Well I don’t want to find out I have male and female mollies or guppies as they can breed like rabbits and tetras might be a bit too boring for toddlers (or are they?). So I thought about getting a Betta. Yup, just one of them, though I would give “A” the choice of what fish he would want in the tank and so I took him to the local pet store to see the fish. I also figured since he had one at preschool he could relate with it a bit better and perhaps have two places to learn about fish.

I wish I took photos of the pet store, but we went up and down the aisles looking for some additional equipment I would need for my preexisting fish tank. The items I had to pick up were:

  • A Floating Thermometer
  • A Submersible Heater (10W)
  • Extra carbon filters for Eclipse filter
  • A Fish or two

In total these are the following additional items I already had to make up our little fish tank:

  • 5 Gallon Eclipse tank (multi-stage filtration)
  • A pound or two of some base material (natural rock look)
  • Decorative items (palm trees, sunken ship)
  • Master Test kit (for Ammonia, Nitrate, Nitrites, PH etc)
  • DeChlorinator (make tap-water usable)
  • Bucket (for water changes etc)
  • Fish net (to move fish in/out of tank if needed)

I think those two lists make up the equipment I need in order to get this 5 gallon fish tank up and running.

So “A” and I get to the fish tanks at the store that store all the variety of fresh water fishes your heart may desire. He goes straight to the mollies and says he wants those. In my head though I’m gearing for a single male Betta and nothing more. I plan on doing a Fish-In cycle and I don’t want to have high causalities if there are to be any at all. I also thought it would be neat to have the same fish that his preschool has.

I walk him over to the Betta location and of course it’s on a end shelf display which houses about 40 little individual cups. The one thing about male Bettas is they love to fight other males so the individual cups is actually to protect them. Though it is sad to see the fish in such small cups.

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As you can see from the image above, the cup to the left is what the Bettas at the store are sold in. The cup, well mug, to the right is a 16 oz one for size comparison. I always feel bad for Bettas but at least I would be taking one home and his new home would be about 12 times the size of his home in the store.

The cool thing about Bettas is that they are a labyrinth fish or anabantoids which means they can breath both water and air. That’s why Bettas are sometimes kept in small bowls, they don’t need the water circulation (that helps oxygenate the water) like other fish species require. Though at the same time because of this, people keep them in really small bowls so they don’t get much room to swim around. Anyway…that’s another topic, back to the setting up of the fish tank with “A”.

So “A” ends up picking a red Betta from the plethora of colours available, but that’s okay red is his favourite colour. I also made sure I picked up some Betta food (pellets). He found a cool sunken ship decoration too (luckily it was on sale.. whew). We took our purchases to the till, paid and headed home.

Setting Up The Tank

There are two main ways of setting up a fish tank for the first time; Fishless and Fish-In. These two terms refer to how you develop the natural good bacteria in the environment that the fish will thrive on. There has always been debate between the practices of each type of tank cycle/set up but I went with a Fish-In cycle.

Fish-In cycle refers to setting up a new tank with populating the tank with (hardy) fish right from the get-go. The draw back is the water is not in the correct state and can stress out or even kill the fish so you need to be very diligent in ensuring the water changes are done and various chemical levels aren’t extreme.

The Fishless cycle is the more “humane” approach where you introduce Ammonia (store bought or uneaten flake food) to generate Nitrates and then by doing water changes you eventually have the Ammonia and Nitrites replaced by Nitrates (notice the ‘i’ vs ‘a’) and you can then introduce fish (slowly) into the environment without worrying about the water.

Both types of setup require you to watch the Ammonia and Nitrite levels over a period of time. For us, I don’t think a toddler would like to stare at an empty fish tank for 4+ weeks while I did water changes.

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I placed in the decorative gravel, plopped in the palm tree, placed the mini water heater and the thermometer. *Note the haze on the front of the tank. This is actually an acrylic tank and in its previous location was exposed to direct sunlight most of the day. I believe the UV has faded it. When I lift the black rim around the tank off, the acrylic is spotless and clear.

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The above photo shows you the Eclipse multi-stage filter; multi-stage being a carbon filter and then the water passes over the bio-wheel. I have had the Eclipse system before (on a 20 gallon tank) and liked that it was sort of an all in one with a lighting hood attached. This tank has the lighting hood also but it’s attached to a different piece (not pictured).

Once everything was in place and the filter was running we placed our newest family member into the tank. With my previous tanks I would normally have to condition the new fish to their new home, but since the Betta was stored at room temperature at the store, the tank’s water temperature was also room temperature.

We asked what “A” wanted to call his new pet and he said ‘Monkey’. Yup, he wanted to use the same name as the red Betta they have at preschool. My vote for Fireball was shot down instantly.

The Future

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Well it’s only been a day since we have set up the tank. I will do 20-25% water changes every other day and keep an eye on the Ammonia, Nitrite levels. Once they start to zero-out I should see Nitrate being present. Once that happens the tank is cycled and the fish should be in the clear for a long(ish) healthy life.

If everything goes well perhaps one day I’ll get to look at setting up a larger home aquarium, something in the 55+ gallon size. Then I can stock more fish and put in live plants like I have done with previous tanks. I’m sure the kids will love growing up with fish.

Having fish tanks at home is fun if you have the room for it. Fresh-water fish tanks don’t have such a high maintenance/running cost as Salt-water ones do and they can be was beautiful as a Salt-water tank is too. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll try my hand at Salt-water! I’m sure the kids would love to find Nemo!

Does your family have fish? Have you thought about having fish?