My kids and I have been talking about getting a fish tank at the end of the school year for about a month now. A few weekends ago we headed to the pond beside our house to catch frogs and came home with two minnows. They survived a few days in the small bug catcher container (we changed the water daily, using distilled water), eating bread and a car ride to Toronto (where half the water was lost onto my son’s lap). All the while I was doing research on how to properly care for these little things. I called a lot of stores, and when the advice didn’t match up, I called more. And searched online too.
the fish bowl
I thought that we needed a fish tank with an aerator (which gives more oxygen) and filter (which cleans out the tank), etc, if we really wanted to keep any fish alive but I know now that’s not true. A fish bowl works just fine, if you care for them in the right way. We chose a 1 gallon fish bowl that had a wider opening at the top, vs the more traditional gold-fish style bowls that have smaller openings (these ones are also not completely round, they have a flat front and back). The reason we chose the bigger opening is because we learned that it’s a healthier environment for the fish as they get more oxygen. We bought ours at Pet Valu for $14. I also saw them online at Walmart. Better yet find a local mom-and-pop shop pet store (that’s a mouthful).
For the minnows, we used distilled water, until I did my research. But they had distilled for a good week and were happy. We changed it (excessively) every day. Though we learned that that was not necessary (for reasons stated below). Using tap water is much easier. Just buy a dechlorinator and mix a few drops with the tap water PRIOR to putting the fish back in the water. You want to be sure the new water you put in is the same temperature as the current water in their bowl (which teaches your kids to be mindful of their natural habitat). Dechlorinator was around $6 (the fish will die before we finish the bottle). We use .5ml/approx 1/8tsp per gallon of water.
We read feeding every day or other day was good; however, we preferred the morning and night routine. We are just very careful to not overfeed. If there is food floating or at the bottom of the bowl after 3-5 minutes then you are overfeeding them. We bought our food at Loblaws on day 2 (didn’t think the bread would be the best diet long term). We saw the same brand at Pet Valu.
Too many fish in one bowl can produce too much of a waste build up, which becomes toxic for the fish. Too many water changes is hard on the fish – 1x a week is better for lower stress levels. There are two options that I’ve found get equally favoured by fish experts for unfiltered/unaerated tanks/bowls:
1. Replace the water once a week. Don’t rinse out the bowl though, as you want to keep some of the good bacteria which will help break down bad waste that’s in the tank.
2. Some prefer you replace 1/4 to 1/2 (at most) of the water for the same reason, to keep the good bacteria that grows in the tank. TIP: Use a turkey baster to suck out the poop from the bottom (squeeze air out before placing it in the water otherwise the bubbles will shoot the poop around like a snow globe!).
Both have worked for us. If the water seems murky then do a full change, otherwise you can do a partial change. We’ve been doing #2 mostly. After using the turkey baster, then we simply pour out the remaining 1/2 water while the fish are still in the bowl (getting lazy now, at first we’d remove the fish). Don’t forget to add dechlorinator to the new water before adding it back into the bowl. I’m finding these minnows are quite resilient (goldfish, not so much).
other general rules I learned along the way
• over feeding also creates ammonia – this creates disease or they could die
• don’t apply this post for goldfish, 1 goldfish per gallon of water is recommended
• the type of fish you have will affect the amount of cleaning required – i.e., goldfish release high ammonia so need more thorough cleaning and more often (also why 1 per gallon is suggested)
• goldfish are not easy fish to care for so if you are wanting to buy one do some research; many will say these classic round fishbowls are especially awful for goldfish and is the cause of their high death rate because of the lack of oxygen they receive from such a small surface bowl opening
• Pet Valu sell only bettafish; you can not put two males together (ha) or they will kill each other
• use real plants not plastic, which will provide small bits of oxygen and the fish can nibble on them as well (though I think you need lights for this, so you might save this for a tank with lid)
I was pleasantly surprised at how easy this was (other then Fri/Sun road trips north where I keep expecting to find one on the car floor mats when we arrive). And it’s great to see my son caring for his two minnows – Silvy and Fisher. He feeds them daily, and if he forgets, I don’t feed them. Not that I want them to die (hehe…no, I’m kidding, I really don’t), but because they are his responsibility and I want him to take full ownership of that. (And, if I think he has forgotten to feed them I’m never 100% sure till I see him after school or the next morning.)
So if you’ve been looking at wanting a fish tank but are procrastinating thinking it will be too much work, just get a fish bowl and wing it. Go to a pond and catch a few or buy them at a fish store. A great way to teach your child about nurturing another living creature. And it’s easy fun.
NOTE Great nature books series for kids shown in the photos can be found at major bookstores like Indigo.