Well the time has finally come, you have wandered through the local fish store (LFS) with your family and as you were wandering around looking at the wonderful fish, you feel a slight tug on your hand. Instinctively you knew that you were just about to lose a battle, but had no idea why that premonition came over you until you heard that little voice beside shout with enthusiasm "Look, it's Nemo! Can we bring him home?" You tried to respond to that voice in a negative manor, but secretly you thought the same thing. The owner of that little voice recognised your half-hearted response and looked up at you with those adoring eyes and with all the charm that they could muster asked, "Please! I'll take good care of him." This is when you realised that you've been caught, hook, line and sinker. Now all that's left is to figure out what you need to do to care for your new pet.
After reluctantly giving in to pleas for getting a pair of clownfish, it's time to chose a home that your new pets will live in. There are many different types, sizes and styles of tanks to fit any ones preferences. To make life easier, you should chose the biggest tank that you can possibly fit in your place. Most people make the mistake of thinking, "I'll just get a small one, to see if I can keep the fish alive before I invest a lot of money in the hobby." Speaking from first hand experience on this issue, you'll end up regretting it, most hobbyists find that within a year of keeping marine fish they want to upgrade and have to buy new equipment for their larger tanks once again. However, the most important reason for getting a large tank to start with is that the larger water volume will be more forgiving of errors and a more stable environment for the inhabitants. A good size tank starter tank for a pair of clownfish is about 24 inches in length. Clownfish aren't very active swimmers, so they don't need a huge tank, however, in a tank this small you wont be able to keep any sort of Regal Tangs, like Dori. Tangs are very active swimmers and will need a lot more room, a tank a minimum of 48 inches in length will be required to keep the Tangs healthy.
The stand you chose to put your tank on is also a very important piece of furniture that can have many more uses then just holding the tank. It's a good place to be able to store all the many different foods, and accessories you will accumulate as well as housing any sort of external filtration units you wish to have or can even house a smaller tank called either a sump or refugium that can help out with filtration. It's best to get a stand specifically designed for an aquarium because a tank can be very heavy and regular furniture like a coffee table may not be able to hold the weight and break.
Lighting in a tank where only fish and possibly a few inverts will be housed isn't all that crucial. A regular tank light fixture with two bulbs in it would enough. There are many different types of lighting available along with different spectrums of bulbs. In a clownfish tank with twin fluorescent bulbs a good choice would be to have one actinic bulb and one daylight bulb between 6,400K to 10,000K. The actinic bulb is recommended to provide more of the blue and violet lights that are more commonly found deeper in the ocean, will help bring out the colouration of your fish, and will mix with the daylight bulb to give off a nice clean white light in the tank.
However with this basic lighting you wont be able to keep a host anemone with your clownfish. Anemones have very different care requirements then Clownfish and should really be left in the wild or at least until you have a lot more experience with Marine tanks and a special reef tank set up. Clownfish will be able to live long happy lives, even without an anemone to host them.
A protein skimmer is a very important piece of equipment for a Marine tank, it's the primary method of mechanical filtration and will pull out a lot of dissolved organic material from the water. A lot of research should be done before you pick out your skimmer to make sure it's the right one for your setup, easy to use and has a good reputation. This is one piece of equipment you don't want to just buy the cheapest one you can find because you will end up having to buy another one later on the works better or is easier to adjust. Although this piece of equipment is extremely important in a tank, it isn't absolutely necessary until the tank is completely cycled and you start adding inhabitants to the tank.
There are many different kinds of substrates available for usage in marine tanks, again each has it's own set of advantages and disadvantages. The type of substrate you choose should be compatible with the types of fish you wish to keep. In a clownfish you could easily go with a bare bottom tank, a one inch layer any type of crushed coral or a 1/2" to 2 inch layer of aragonite sand depending on the look you want in the tank. If at all possible, try to get some substrate material out of a mature setup to add to your tank. This will also help speed up your cycling process. If it's not possible to get some of mature substrate, don't worry your substrate will eventually mature and become live, it may just take a little longer. For more options see the article
The most common form of biological filtration in a marine tank requires the use of Live Rock. The term live rock primarily refers to the beneficial denitrifying bacteria found within the pours of the rock. A more practical and wider scope definition of live rock also refers to the many different types of hitchhikers that can be found in and on the rock such as 'pods, worms, sponges, coralline algae, macro algae, snails, mini feather dusters and many other types of small and microscopic life forms that use the rocks for their homes. When choosing live rock, you need to know if it is cured or uncured rock. Cured rock means that it has been sitting in a holding tank for a long period of time and had time for all the natural die off to occur. This type of rock is safe to put into an aquarium that is already cycled. Uncured live rock comes directly from the ocean and is covered in all kinds of organic material. Most of the external material will die off during the first month or so. This type of rock is ideal for a new tank as the dying and decaying material will aid in the cycling of your tank. Live rock not only reduce ammonia down to nitrates, but it also has a limited ability to break nitrates down into nitrogen gas, thereby making it easier to maintain low nitrate levels. A common rule of thumb is to have between 1 -1.5 pounds of live rock per gallon of water in the tank.
There are many different types of salt on the market and it may be difficult to chose which one you want to use for your tank. There are many ongoing debates on which are best to use and which aren't that great. The truth of this matter is that all artificial salts available have it's own unique sets of problems and good points. For a simple starters tank for the clownfish you wish to get, any salt brand will work.
One major caution you should be aware of is if you decide to change brands in the future (or even when you pick up a new batch of salt for that matter), you should mix some of the new salt in a container outside the tank with some of the old salt you were using in the tank and see if there is any sort of negative reaction. A negative reaction would be the salt not completely mixing, the water gets cloudy for a few hours or doesn't clear, or white precipitation on the bottom of your mixing container. If any of these symptoms appear, you either have incompatible salt mixes or a bad batch of salt and it shouldn't be used.
Power heads (a common abbreviation is PH, not to be confused with pH which is a water parameter) are small submersible pumps that are used to increase water circulation in an aquarium. There are many different sizes of PH's available for use in a tank. It's better to get two or three smaller PH's for your tank rather then one really powerful one. Clownfish are fairly poor swimmers so having one large PH will cause too great a current in the tank to be able to swim and they run a bigger risk of being stuck on the PH intake. To help prevent fish from being stuck to PH intakes some manufacturers have created a basket that fits on the bottom where you can add filter floss or carbon for additional mechanical filtration which keeps the PH from getting clogged, thereby increasing the lifespan of the power head. There are also some PH's that swivel from side to side creating a more random movement in the tank.
Here are some extra optional items that you may wish to pick up to make things easier for keeping a tank:
In addition to the items listed above is additional more traditional types of filters such as hang-on filters, canister filters or internal filters. Although they aren't absolutely necessary and you can keep your tank and water conditions optimal without them, many hobbyists feel more comfortable having this option available to them. They can be run occasionally for additional chemical filtration by running either carbon or a phosphate sponge in them, or they can be employed full time. However they will make it more difficult to keep the nitrate levels down in the tank causing more frequent water changes. They are also good for helping set up an instant quarantine tank when adding new fish or treating an ailing fish.
Water quality and stability is probably the most important issue you will need to learn about when caring for a marine tank. Marine animals come from an environment that is extremely stable with very little fluctuation in temperature or salinity. In nature the water is pristine and constantly being placed by waves, tides and currents. In our tanks, we change out very little of the water very seldom. We attempt to mimic the motion found in the ocean through the use of water circulation devices and filtration units, but it doesn't come close to what wild animals are provided with. Therefore, it's extremely important to remain vigilant when adding water to the tank. No matter what kind of artificial salt mix you pick up for the tank it will not be exactly the same as natural salt water (NSW).
All commercially available salt mixes are formulated for use with distilled water. This was done to insure that no matter where salt was mixed up they would have the same chemical composition regardless of the variations of local water supplies.
Ideally we should also use distilled water to add the salt to, however in most cases this is impractical and expensive. In addition to the expense of distilled water, most distilleries use copper piping to cool the steam down. This leads to the potential of the distilled water being contaminated with copper, which is a very toxic substance in a marine tank.
A second option, which is highly recommended, is to use RO/DI water (Reverse Osmosis / De-ionization). The price of purchasing an RO/DI unit is come down dramatically within the last couple years making them more commonly available to have in your own home. RO/DI water is filtered water so it isn't 100% pure but with a unit in good working order, you can get it close enough that you needn't worry about harmful contaminants.
Tap water, although extremely handy, isn't all that reliable. It has the potential of having many harmful toxins in it and should be tested before being used in a marine tank, especially for phosphates, ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, copper and other heavy metals. It's also important to know that what you test today may not be what you will get out of the tap tomorrow.
Should tap water be used it will need to be conditioned to remove chlorines and chloramines that is commonly added to make it safe for drinking, but is toxic to fish and invertebrates. Make sure you read the labels on any water conditioner carefully to ensure the proper dosage. Do not over dose or under dose the conditioner or you may run into other problems in your tank, mainly with your protein skimmer. The pH of tap water may also need to be adjusted if it's too low. This can be done using a marine buffer or Kalkweisser (lime water).
To make future water changes easier, it's best that you have one container dedicated to mixing your saltwater in. This way you can get used to how much salt to add to that particular container to be close to the specific gravity (SG) you have in the tank instead of guessing all the time. Different salt mixes will require different amounts of salt, but should be fairly similar measurements. For a clownfish tank, a SG between 1.022 to 1.025 will be fine, however once the tank is going, you will need to maintain that original SG with as little fluctuation as possible. Even a change of 0.001 is a big change for marine animals and could cause a lot of stress; invertebrates are extremely susceptible to these variations.
Before you mix the water, it's best that you heat it up to around 25 - 26C (77F - 79F). This is done because the readings you get on your hydrometer will vary according to temperature. After the water is heated, slowly start adding salt and mix thoroughly. A spare PH added to the mixing bucket will make mixing the water a lot easier. When all the salt is dissolved in the water, test the SG carefully making small adjustments as necessary.
After many hours shopping and agonizing over getting the equipment you need for your clownfish, your finally ready to set everything up. When looking for a good location for setting up a tank there are a few things you should look for and avoid:
1, Heavy traffic areas: this will unduly stress the clownfish out and they will tend to hide a lot
2, In Front of Windows, AC outlets or Heaters: This will cause the tank to either over heat or have larger temperature fluctuations then the fish will like. Also, make sure that you don't place the tank in places it will get direct light from the window or have the sun reflect off the glass that will impair your viewing of the clownfish.
3, In front of doors or other moving objects: You don't want anything to swing and hit the tank and break the glass!
1, Near power outlets. The importance of this can't be understated, you will have many power cords for your tank and you don't want to have to use long extension cords to power your tank.
2, Make sure you can place the tank a minimum of 6 inches away from the wall. There will be times when you need to get behind the tank to adjust power cords, clean the glass, look for a missing fish, hang equipment pick up that fallen net, etc.
3, The closer to your water source the better. You will need to maintain the tank, do water changes and top-off the water in the tank due to evaporation, the less work it is to haul water back and forth, the more likely you will keep doing those important maintenance tasks on your tank.
4, Ensure the area the tank will be sitting on is level. This will allow weight to be distributed evenly and reduce the potential for the tank cracking once the water, substrate and rocks are in place. Use a sheet of polystyrene insulating material for the tank to sit on to help.
5, Make sure the tank is easily accessible for reaching into and watching when you aren't working on it. The more accessible the tank is, the less hassle maintenance will be and the more enjoyable the tank will become.
Before filling your tank up and adding all the equipment it's a good idea to leave the tank on the stand in the location you have chose for it for a day or two to make sure that's where you really want it and to see if there is something about the location you don't like. Once the tank is set up it's a lot of work to take it down again to move it because of a poor choice of location.
Once you have the location chosen and are satisfied with where you want the tank, it's time to start setting things up. Make sure the stand is level. Once it's levelled off, place the polystyrene insulating on top of the stand and then the tank. The polystyrene will compensate for any flaws in the stand. That done you can add the substrate to the tank. If you got the substrate from an open bin in the LFS then it's best that you rinse it off thoroughly to help avoid contamination. If your substrate came from a bag, it's not necessary to rinse it off, the smaller particles on the substrate will be good for bacteria to grow on, but the water will be cloudy for a few days.
Now that you have the tank level with the substrate in, it's time to get the water ready. It's best that you premix the water before you add it to the tank so that you can be sure that all the salt dissolves ahead of time. If you mix the water in the tank, you run the risk of having some extra salt settle in the substrate and slowly dissolve during the days ahead and slowly raise your salinity. If you don't have the room to mix up the salt water outside the tank, then it's better to mix a hyper saline brine solution in a smaller container and slowly add the brine to the water in the tank until you get a specific gravity reading between 1.022 to 1.025. Only fill the tank about to full to allow for water displacement when you add the rock and remaining equipment to the tank.
Before you add the equipment to the tank, you may wish to take this opportunity to label all your equipment just above the plug. Once you get everything into the tank and start plugging equipment in the cords will quickly become jumbled and can be difficult and annoying later on to figure out which plug is which.
Now you can add the remainder of your equipment to the tank and start placing your live rock. At this point in time, it's not necessary to have your skimmer running, there will be nothing in the water for the skimmer to remove. The skimmer can be started after the cycle is completed. Take your time and have fun aquascaping your tank! If at all possible, avoid resting rocks on the walls of the tank, this will limit the water circulation in the tank and will make it difficult to clean the algae from glass later on. However, in smaller tanks this may be very difficult, in this case, make sure that you have some way of getting decent water movement in behind the rocks so you don't get detritus build ups that will pollute the water. Make sure that the rock work is sturdy and rocks wont fall over should something bump the rock or tank. This could lead to a fish injury or worse the rock hitting the glass and breaking it. Try to provide as many hiding places as possible. The more comfortable a fish feels in the tank, the less stress it will experience and the less it will hide. use your imagination and have fun! Try a few different set ups to see what you like before you add fish to the tank, after you have fish in the tank it'll be more stressful on them should you constantly be rearranging their home.
Once you've finished adding all the equipment and decided on how you would like your rocks placed, top off the water in the tank, plug everything in and make sure all your equipment is working. Check the salinity in the tank and make sure it hasn't changed. It's also a good idea to take some baseline measurements for pH, Salinity, Temperature, Calcium, Alkalinity, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate and log them in a book so you can see any sort of patterns emerging as the tank matures.
Once the tank is set up, it's time to wait for the tank to mature. This is the thing, which catches out most people when starting a new aquarium, for some reason it is hardly ever explained properly when a tank is purchased, and quite often the wrong advice altogether is given. The filters need to grow a colony of helpful bacteria to breakdown the toxic water in the aquarium water. This won't happen simply by leaving the tank without fish for a few days after it has been set up. The process actually takes from 4 to 8 weeks and until it is complete NO fish should be added because there is a very high risk of them dying.
Method one, Set the tank up and leave it all running for a few days Inc lights filters everything. After a few days the tank will go cloudy due to a population explosion of mobile bacteria as they feed on dissolved organic material in the water and anything else trapped in the gravel etc. This will soon clear as there is a very limited supply of food for them and once it is used the tank will clear of its own accord.
At this stage a couple of hardy fish can be put into the tank and when this happens the Ammonia level will begin to rise. Because fish excrete Ammonia through there gills and any waste they pass will also be changed into Ammonia as described at the beginning of this message. The mobile bacteria, which produce the Ammonia, can multiply very rapidly and so Ammonia levels will rise rapidly too.
Unfortunately the bacteria which oxidize Ammonia and make it into Nitrite don't multiply quite so fast and it could take up to a week at tropical temperatures for them to start oxidizing the Ammonia effectively during which time the ammonia levels will continue to rise.
After about a week or so the Ammonia levels will start to fall as the bacteria get to work on it and as a result the Nitrite levels will begin to rise. Again the bacteria which convert Nitrite to Nitrate are slow to grow and they don't like conditions where a lot of Ammonia is present so they won't really begin to thrive until there is some Nitrite present and the Ammonia has almost gone. This could take 2 to 4 weeks during which time the Nitrite levels will rise.
Finally another type of specialized bacteria will begin to grow and convert the nitrite into nitrate and gradually the Nitrite levels will drop until they eventually reach a level where they can't be detected. At this point the tank is cycled.
Advantages of this method - none
Disadvantages - It subjects the fish to high levels of toxins, which will harm them and could kill them.
Method Two Fishless Cycling with Live Rock, This is the most popular method of cycling a marine tank. This can be done using either cured live rock or uncured live rock. Using cured live rock will give you a nearly instantly cycled tank. It's best to wait about a week and test for a small cycle to occur. When using cured live rock it's possible that you wont get any ammonia or nitrite readings, but you should see a slight rise in nitrates, at this point it's safe to add fish slowly! Unfortunately, cured live rock generally comes at a premium price however there is a less expensive method available as well, uncured live rock. Using uncured live rock will take more time, but the end results will be the same.
Advantages - Can be nearly instant with Cured live rock, kinder to fish. Live rock also introduces
many small life forms into the tank increasing the biodiversity, provides a small natural food source
for fish and is vital for complete de-nitrification within the tank.
Disadvantages - can be time consuming when using uncured live rock.
Once the ammonia and nitrite levels both read 0ppm, it's safe to add your first fish or two. Remember to go slowly or else you risk going through another cycle and harming your fish. Even though there is enough bacteria in the system to handle some ammonia and nitrite, the system isn't completely stable yet and wont be able to handle a sudden large bio-load.
Having patience up to this point has been extremely taxing and now that you are finally ready to find your first clownfish! Before you can chose the type of clownfish you want, it's good to know some general things to look for in a healthy fish.
A healthy fish should be actively swimming and not resting motionless on the bottom. Clownfish
naturally have a odd wobbly swimming pattern so don't be alarmed with this.
It should be swimming throughout the tank without any apparent effort or floating to the top when resting.
All its fins should be erect and it eyes clear from any cloudiness
It should be free of any deformities.
It should be alert and interacting with its surroundings.
It should look to be reasonably well fed and not hollow bellied.
It should be free from sores and blemishes.
Even if all these criteria are met the fish should still be rejected if any of the tank mates appear to be unhealthy.
Always reject any fish with any of the following.
Any fish sharing a tank with fish showing signs of a disease or sharing a tank with already dead fish.
Fish that look hollow bellied or pinched behind their heads. These fish will not last long.
Any fish with open sores or frayed fins. The chances are they are carrying a bacterial infection and could be contagious.
If the batch of fish has just arrived and is offered for sale immediately. This will cause some fish to die from the stress of it all.
If possible find a reputable retailer who quarantines his stock before it is offered for sale and who is knowledgeable and helpful. Such dealers are worth sticking with even if they charge a little more. Before you leave the store, find out what temperature they keep their tanks at, and ask if they use any sort of copper treatment within the tanks to help combat any sort of diseases. These things will be important to know when you start acclimatizing the fish for your own tank.
Almost all fish are sold in plastic bags, 9 times out of 10 this is fine but it isn't unknown for fish to become trapped in the corners of these bags and die on the way home. Yet this is so easily avoided.
You can use rubber bands to tie up the corners of the bag or double bag where one bag is placed upside down in another this has the advantage of offering some protection against a leak too. Some fish auctions and shows now make it mandatory for the double bagging method to be used and failure to do so will see you excluded. The fish should also be protected against cooling this can be done by wrapping the bags in a towel for the journey.
Turn off the tank lights, and close the curtains to make the room dim. To avoid scaring the fish by bringing it from the darkness into a bright room.
Then take the fish from the outer bags and place the plastic bag containing the fish in the tank and allow it to float for 30 or 40 minutes so that the temperatures will equalise. Cut open the plastic bag; don't puncture it using your fingers because this could damage the fish's swim bladder through the sudden increase and decrease in pressure.
Test the water in the bag for Salinity and pH and compare it with the water in your tank, you need to take more time to acclimatize the fish.
If the water parameters in your tank and the store water are similar and no copper was used in
the tanks water, then you can use a simple acclimatization procedure by adding about a cup of
water from the tank into the bag. Repeat this a few times every 5 to 10 minutes, when the bag gets full,
dump about half the water out (not into the tank) and keep filling so that the two water chemistries
are allowed to mix.
If the water parameters are very different or there was copper used in the LFS's tanks then it's best to use a drip acclimatization and ensure that absolutely NO water from the LFS gets into your tank.
For fish that have been acclimatized in the bag, hold the bag open below the surface and allow the
fish to swim out of their own accord. Don't tip them out.
For fish that were in a drip station, bring the drip station as close to the tank as possible, carefully net the fish and then put the fish into the tank as quickly as possible. Allow the fish to swim out of the net on it's own.
If there are already some fish present in the tank feed them about an hour before the new fish are added and give them another small feed immediately after the new fish have been introduced. This will allow the new fish time to settle without being threatened by the established residents.
Clownfish are one of the best choices for a beginner fish, they are hardy, colourful and are very comical. It's easy to see the attraction these fish have in their own right, and why they have been a popular favourite in the hobby for a long time and you have been fighting for the patience to put one in the tank.
Staring in the tanks at the LFS you realise that you still have some choices to make on what kind of clownfish you would like to get.
There are currently 28 different types of clownfish described, however not all of them are commonly available for sale and not all of them make the best tank mates should you wish to add a couple more fish. For the environmentally conscientious, captive bred and raised clownfish are available for most species.
The two most common types of clownfish available are
Three other types of peaceful non-aggressive clownfish are commonly known as the:
Among the most aggressive of all the clownfish commonly available for sale and should be introduced into the tank after all the less aggressive fish have been firmly established.
*Note: A. clarkii (Clark's Clownfish), commonly called or confused as an A. sebae however the A. sebae if rarely if ever found for sale. Any other types of clownfish you see available will fall between these two levels of aggression.
There are many other hardy types of fish that can get along with clownfish, depending on the size of your tank.
For tanks that are less then 48 inches:
In larger tanks over 48 inches you can also add
Clownfish are opportunistic feeders and will readily accept any foods offered to them in a tank. They will accept fresh, frozen, flake, and freeze dried foods. A good variety of meaty and vegetative foods should be fed to them. Ideally they should be fed small amounts of food a couple times a day.
Once the tank has been completely cycled, a good water change is required along with a quick rinse of the filter media and cleaning the glass.
Turn lights on
Check tank temperature
Check to see all fish are accounted for
Check skimmer to see if its working
Top off water with fresh RO/DI water, not saltwater
10 to 20% water change
Check Ammonia, nitrite, Nitrate, pH, SG, Calcium, Alkalinity, Phosphate, and Copper levels
Clean out skimmer cup
Blast live rocks to remove as much debris as possible
Clean out skimmer
Change part of live rock
Clownfish are susceptible to a number of different diseases such as Cryptocaryon (ich), Amyloodinium (marine velvet), Brooklynella (clownfish disease) and Head and lateral line erosion (HLLE). These diseases are more commonly found on wild caught specimens then on tank raised specimens and care should be taken before they are introduced to a fully stocked tank. When choosing any clownfish for your tank, carefully examine them for any signs of disease. These fish are ideal candidates for quarantine.