How to Build a Freshwater Predator Fish Aquarium

Five Parts:Acquiring SuppliesSetting Up the TankChoosing Your FishPurchasing and Adding FishMaintenance

In this tutorial, you will learn how to set up, maintain, and care for the most amazing kind of freshwater aquarium there is; the predator tank. This will be sure to catch all your visitors' attention... especially during feeding time.

Part 1
Acquiring Supplies

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    Acquire an empty tank. When it comes to tank size for predator fish, bigger is better. Do not believe the old myth that a fish will grow to the size of its environment. Yes, it is true that a fish with more territory and more food tends to be larger. But with monster fish, there is a minimum size they will grow to regardless of space. So it is definitely worth it to get a larger tank. When tank size increases, price tends to skyrocket very quickly. For example, say a five gallon tank is 15 dollars. That doesn't mean that a 150 gallon tank is only going to be 450 dollars. As the tank gets bigger, the glass has to get thicker. A brand new 150 gallon tank is well over 1,000 US dollars, not including filter, food, etc. Unless you want to pay for a brand new one, you may want to try looking at garage sales or resale shops.
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    Acquire the maintenance supplies. After buying an empty tank, you will need several things as a necessity. These include a stand, light(s), a filter appropriate for your tank size, an appropriate amount of bubblers, and a strong enough heater:
    • Stands: When it comes to getting a stand, with big tanks it's safer to use one made specifically for a tank of that size (rather than any old dresser or table). One gallon of water equals 8.34 pounds (meaning that a 300 gallon tank is well over a tonne). A stand also adds to the tank's price. When buying used tanks, it is usually harder to find one that comes with a stand. This is one advantage to buying a brand new tank.
    • Filter: You can either use more than one large store-bought filter, or if you're rather handy, you can build your own more efficient system.
    • Bubbler: Bubblers help keep the water in motion, but their main purpose is to oxidate the water. A fish's gills separate the oxygen and hydrogen molecules in the water. If you leave the fish in a tank without a bubbler, the water eventually becomes acidic because the fish use up all the water and suffocate.
    • Heater: You can either buy several submersible heaters, or make a larger investment in a more efficient one.
    • Note: Certain fish (such as African cichlids or river-dwelling fish such as trout) require a strong current for exercise. This is another maintenance item you will have to add to your list.
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    Acquire plants and décor. Décor may not seem important, but it can be essential to your fishes' health. Depending on the species, different behavioral requirements exist. Many fish like to hide in caves or behind rocks. Many predator fish like to feel as though they are stalking their prey, sneaking around obstacles (much like lions in a zoo). This is why décor can help improve your tank's quality.
    • Plants also have many benefits. Not only do they look pleasant, but they also help keep your water clean, as well as enriching pH and oxygen levels. However, many predator fish (such as members of the Cichlid family) like to munch on plants as well as meat. Do your research before buying live plants for your tank.
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    Acquire care supplies. You will also want to stock up on food before buying your fish. Although your fish will probably be hesitant to eat the first several days, it's still good to have it ready. You may also want to purchase dechlorination formula, mineral supplements, bacterial and/or fungal medicine, and aquarium salt (not marine salt––aquarium salt is made for freshwater fish and helps strengthen their immune systems). You may also want to get a water testing kit and a thermometer.

Part 2
Setting Up the Tank

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    Move the empty tank. This part is pretty self-explanatory. Simply move your stand and tank to where you want it to go. Do this carefully, though; put it near a window to make it easier to do water changes. Also make sure the tank is in no danger of being cracked or is near any chemicals or hot surfaces.
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    Choose a substrate. This may not seem important, but proper substrate is vital to making your fish happy. Substrate is any type of rock, mineral, or organic material that covers the bottom of an animal's habitat. There are many options to choose from, the easiest being gravel.
    • Gravel: Buy a few bags of aquarium gravel (which comes in many colors and looks much nicer), or if you want you can just buy much cheaper all-purpose gravel from your local Home Depot and clean it using a strainer.
    • Sand: Sand is not usually good because it gets kicked up easily and clouds up the water. It's usually only good for small, calm fish.
    • Aquarium soil: You could also use aquarium soil, if you want to improve your plants' health. However, be sure to only use soil made specifically for aquariums.
    • River pebbles: Above all of the aforementioned substrates, river pebbles are recommended for large predator fish. This is mainly because river pebbles are larger than gravel, and will not be accidentally devoured as easily as small particles.
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    Fill the tank with water. When it comes to filling your tank, it can be a real pain in the neck. The easiest way to do it is to simply feed a garden hose through your window and fill your tank that way (note that caution must be taken when doing this because many city water systems contain high levels of chlorine and fluoride; you will have to treat this water before your fish can be put in). A less appealing method is to fill it up bucket by bucket, but with such a large tank, it is not usually a great way to do it.
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    Apply a maintenance system. When applying your maintenance system, the first thing you will want to hook up is your filter. This will begin the cleansing process and get the water flowing. Once you've done that, set up the bubblers. Make sure the bubblers are spread out evenly. Then, plug in the heater(s) and start warming up the water. Once that is done, go ahead and plug in the lamp.
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    Insert plants and décor. Now it's time for some landscaping. Set up the plants and decorations however you like. Note that you may have to make some rearrangements depending on your fishes' behavior (if they like to hide, etc). One thing you should take into account is that if you plan to do live feedings, you should give your fish places to jump out from behind. It's a lot harder to catch your prey when they can see you at all times.
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    Treat and age the water. Once your entire aquarium is up and running, you can start applying dechlorination formula, aquarium salt, or other water enhancers. If you want, you can insert assorted feeders of your choice, so your fish can feast when they arrive in their new home (goldfish, minnows, guppies, or crustaceans like crabs and crayfish). They will also help make the water more "biological."

Part 3
Choosing Your Fish

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    Research different species. Before choosing fish, it is always important to do your research. Never purchase a fish on impulse; if the pet store has it now, chances are they'll have it next time you go there. So go ahead and do research at home before purchasing it.
    • Note: Until you are more experienced in keeping monster fish, try to avoid any member of the Cichlid family, except certain species of bass. Cichlids are very tricky; only South American Cichlids can be kept in a monster fish tank due to size, and they can very quickly become bullies.
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    Consider inverts. Invert is short for "invertebrate." Inverts help clean up the tank, eating mainly debris that falls off your fish, excess food, or unwanted parasites and algae.
    • Snails: In a large predator tank, snails will be eaten unless they are very large (at least two inches in width). But they can be a very rewarding asset to your aquarium.
    • Crayfish, crabs and shrimp: Crabs, shrimp, and small crayfish will normally be eaten as well, but if you catch or purchase a large enough crayfish then it will thrive in your tank, and make an interesting addition.
    • Clams: A third option is freshwater clams. Clams do not do much, in fact they do almost nothing at all. However, they do look quite nice and help the tank look more authentic.
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    Organize your tank inhabitants by hunting behaviour. If you do not know your species well, a good way to classify fish is by paying attention to the way they find food. You never want to have too many of one kind of hunter, or else territorial issues may come up.
    • Prowlers. An example of a prowler is the silver arowana. The arowana lurks through the water, gracefully slinking around obstacles to catch its prey. Prowlers are very cunning and tend to be smarter than other fish. They tend to stay in the middle or top section of the tank.
    • Stalkers. An example of a stalker is the spotted gar. The gar lays near the bottom of the tank, dead still, imitating a log or branch. When its unwary prey swims above it, it slowly rises to the top until it is at eye level of the little fish. Before the fish can react––chomp. Stalkers tend to hang around in all sections of the tank.
    • Ambushers. An example of an ambusher is the clown knifefish. The knifefish stays in its hiding place, waiting for prey to come swimming by. Out of nowhere, it shoots out of its cave and swallows up its food. Ambushers tend to stay in the bottom section of the tank.
    • Chasers. An example of a chaser is the peacock bass. Chasers are usually the dumbest fish in the tank, using no strategy at all and simply chasing their food. Cichlids are one of them. With many species of bass, this is a successful strategy. However, other cichlids such as Jack Dempseys or Oscars tend to have trouble. Chasers tend to stay in the middle section of the tank.
    • Bottom-Feeders. An example of a bottom-feeder is the redtail catfish. The redtail catfish wiggles along the bottom of the tank, sucking up scraps with its vacuum-like mouth. Bottom feeders are generally the most peaceful fish in the tank, and prefer not to bother anyone. As you can probably guess, they tend to stay in the bottom section.
    • Cleaner-Uppers. Cleaner-uppers are basically made up of species of suckerfish. The most common suckerfish kept in large aquariums is the Common Plecostomus, or Pleco. Their bony, spiny, armor-like skin protects them from any fish wanting to pick a fight.
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    Consider adding other attractions. Here are some possibilities:
    • Turtles. Yes, keeping turtles and fish together is possible, but tricky. A good way to start is to wait until your fish have grown to full size and are very large, then try adding two medium-sized turtles (with a shell no more than 6 inches wide but no less than 3) and seeing how they do. Most keepers are more successful when they purchase turtles as hatchlings, keep them with other fish that are larger than them but will not eat them (and never feeding the turtles any live food), then when the turtles have grown to full size (after four or five years) then moving them into a large tank with large fish. This way, the turtles are used to being around fish larger than them. However, without enough space, there is no chance that your turtles and fish can live in harmony. Turtles will also need a heat lamp and a log or rock to bask on. One good thing about turtles is that you can catch them wild and keep them as pets and they will have almost no problem adjusting, even if you catch them as adults.
    • Aquatic salamanders and newts. This family includes Axolotls, Mudpuppies, Sirens, and Hellbenders (all very similar species). None of these animals will ever attempt to harm your fish, although if they are small your fish may try to eat them or will pick on them. Make sure that your aquatic salamander is large enough to be housed with your fish. If you have turtles in the tank, they will most likely attempt to eat your salamander, regardless of size.
    • African Clawed frogs. Not to be confused with the African Dwarf frog, Clawed frogs are good tank mates for fish because they are entirely aquatic and do not need any land area. Like aquatic salamanders, the main issue is size. Make sure your frog is large enough or he will be killed or injured by your fish. If you have turtles in the tank, they will most likely attempt to eat your frog, regardless of size. Note: African Clawed frogs also tend to have an obesity problem. Be sure not to overfeed.

Part 4
Purchasing and Adding Fish

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    Scout for pet shops in your area. It is always good to know your local pet stores. A good way to do it is to search online so you can read reviews and such. Now, just because one or two people write terrible reviews doesn't mean it's a bad store. Many people don't know what they're talking about and often write reviews like this because they're having a bad day themselves. As long as the majority of the people who wrote a review of the place recommend it, it's trustworthy. Make a list of ones you would like to visit, then cross off the ones that received a large amount of bad reviews. Then, visit the pet stores and check things out yourself. If the tanks are dirty, too small, or have more than one dead fish in them (one dead fish doesn't mean much), it's probably not worth the risk of buying fish from there. You can still go back there for supplies if needed, though.
    • Note: Corporate pet stores like Petco and Petsmart usually don't carry monster fish, and if they do, then they are only available as babies. Local-owned pet stores are often better as far as selection, and they can usually give you more advice and answer more of your questions.
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    Purchase fish from pet shop(s). Once you've got a good idea of which pet stores you like, now it's time to go and purchase your fish. If a fish is acting strangely or looks sick, don't bother buying it. When buying your fish, feel free to chat with the employee about your specific fish (what he's used to being fed, etc). Store workers also may be able to tell you about the personality of your fish (like dogs or cats, not all fish behave according to standards). Once they've caught it and bagged it, pay and bring it home!
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    Catch your fish (optional). An alternative to buying fish is simply catching them. Most North American game fish can cooperate well with other predator fish, regardless of their country of origin (most freshwater predatory fish are native to the Amazon, however there are others that come from elsewhere). Bass, gars, catfish, salmon, pike, trout, carp, sturgeons, muskies, and walleye can all be kept in a large enough tank with lots of other species. Be aware that these fish, if caught wild, will need to be weaned off live food and will refuse to eat pellets at first. But, with enough perseverance, they will adjust.
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    If all else fails, order online. If you simply cannot find a store that has the fish you want, then go ahead and order them from an online breeder. This is usually cheaper than buying from a pet store, but it also costs a lot for shipping (it has to be priority mail or else the fish will die). So you can decide if you'd prefer to order from an online site.
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    Condition your fish. Once your fish have been brought home/delivered, you will have to condition them. The first thing to do is to get them used to the temperature in the tank. Rapid changes in temperature can force a fish into shock and can kill them.
    • Since fish come in bags, place the bag in the tank and let it float there. Leave it in there for a while, and the water in the bag will slowly warm up until it's the same temperature as the tank.
    • Next, get an empty bucket, tear open the bag, and release the fish and water into the bucket. Use a cup to scoop water from the tank and empty it into the bucket. There should be twice as much tank water in the bucket than water from the bag.
    • Leave your fish in there for a while to let it adjust to the pH, oxygen level, etc.
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    Feed established tank inhabitants (optional). If you want, it's sometimes a good idea to feed fish that are already living in your tank. This will make them more lethargic and less irritable when the new fish is introduced. But it isn't really required.
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    Introduce new fish to tank. Now it's time to release the fish into the tank. Catch it out of the bucket with a net. When releasing it, carefully lower the net into the water and let it swim out. Don't just flip the net upside down and allow your fish to fall in. Now, be aware that if other fish already live in the tank, they will start acting crazy when a new fish is introduced. Some fish may hide, others will swim around like maniacs, and some may even bite your new arrival. Do not be alarmed; fish take time to get used to another tank mate and will try to establish their dominance.

Part 5

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    Feed the fish. Feeding large predatory fish is a bit more complex than other fish. It's not as simple as sprinkling flakes into the tank and being done with it. Monster fish require a diverse diet in order to be healthy. Their diet should consist of several things:
    • Peeled shrimp (thawed and not cooked)
    • Sardines/silversides
    • Pellet food (if possible)
    • Live food (only as a treat and for exercise)
    Note that most fish, unless they are used to it, will not eat pellets until they are weaned off of raw or live foods. If you plan to buy pellets for any fish (not just monster fish), the brand Hikari is the way to go. Also note that many live feeders available for purchase (guppies, minnows, goldfish, and crustaceans) will often have diseases, so make sure to examine them carefully before buying. When feeding, make sure that all of your fish get their fair share. When a fish is full, its belly should bulge a bit (if they are still growing and you want to speed it up, feed them more frequently and with larger portions). Feed once a day.

    Note: Some fish, such as the Burundi Frontosa Cichlid, are nocturnal, and will not normally accept daytime feedings.
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    Change water. Water changes with large tanks are quite a pain. However, with a strong enough filter and maintenance system, you shouldn't have to do it as often or take as much water. As a bare minimum, it's usually good to do a water change every couple of weeks, and even then only take about 25% of the water and your fish will do just fine.
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    Treat disease. The only disease you will probably ever encounter in your aquarium is ich. Yes, that is a real thing. Ich is a bacterial/fungal infection. It can be identified by white spots/red marks on a fish's fins or body. The way it happens is when tiny micro-organisms lay their eggs on a fish's skin, the eggs develop into larvae, and the larvae mature into adults and detach from the fish and go swimming out into the water. Then the cycle repeats and the "ich" bugs continue to multiply. Ich is extremely common––it is estimated that every fish tank has at least some degree of ich in it, but fish have developed an immunity to it. However, when their immune systems are weaker (usually when stressed), that's where ich can become a problem. Don't worry, though. Ich is relatively easy to treat, if you start before it gets bad. Just look at your local pet store, and you'll find it.
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    Identify potential problems. One thing that will take time for you to learn is how to identify problems in your tank. Pay close attention to the way your fish behave. If two fish seem to be cramming themselves into the same hiding spot, build a second one and they'll separate. If one of your fish seems to be throwing a fit, it may mean it's hungry. Or, if your fish are very lazy, it could mean that your water has low quality. Try to pay attention to things like this to improve habitat quality.
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    Learn to deal with the death of a fish. Let's face it, you're bound to lose at least one of your fish eventually. Don't fret about it too much. If you find a fish dead, quickly remove it from the tank and dispose of it however you choose. Afterwards, try and do research and attempt to find out why your fish died––it could help you save some of your other fish in the future.

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Categories: Aquariums