Many first time aquarists make mistakes that, while small, can be devastating to the tank community. Here are the top five mistakes that novice aquarists make. With a little bit of research, most can be easily avoided so that your tank can remain happy and healthy.

1. Overfeeding

Overfeeding is the number one most common mistake that novice aquarists make. Often they have not researched the dietary needs of their fish and begin dumping food in the tank with the belief that the fish just hasn’t seen the food. This leads to dirty water, a build up of nitrates and ammonia, and starving fish that simply need another nutritional source. Beginning aquarists should be aware that flake foods are rarely the ideal food source for their fish. Most fish have special dietary needs that must be researched! If your fish is not eating, don’t throw food at it. Investigate instead. Your fish could be ill, or it could just not like the fish food. Try changing it up with some boiled lettuce or spinach, some brine shrimp, or some fruit flies. Often live food will encourage a fish to eat where other food will not.

2. Incompatibility

Another serious problem that novice aquarists often experience is fish incompatibility. This can be heartbreaking and upsetting as it often manifests in violence, with one fish eating another. It is easily solved with research and planning, however. A key to being a good aquarium owner is curbing the desire to impulse buy. Just because you see a beautiful fish in the fish store doesn’t mean you should buy it, run home and dump it in your tank. Jot down the name and head home to your computer. Spend some time researching the fish and comparing its compatibility to those already in your tank. For example, while Tetras are peaceful, they tend to be very active and may nip at the fins of slower moving fish. This can aggravate your larger, slower moving fish and cause them to become distressed. Make sure that you keep Tetras in a tank with other active fish, such as Danios, so that they are energy-level compatible and not stressing each other out!

3. Overcrowding

Impulse buying can often lead to overcrowding and overcrowding leads to dirty tanks and death. Remember, you should have 1 gallon of water for every 1 inch of fish. Therefore, if you have 10, one-inch Tetras, you should have a 10 gallon tank. In addition, a new tank is still trying to reach a precious balance of beneficial bacteria, low ammonia, and low nitrate levels. Adding too many fish at once can completely unbalance your tank and be deadly for your fish.

4. Lack of Maintenance

Water testing, water changing, and full cleanings are critical for keeping your fish happy and healthy. Make sure that you run a chemistry test every single month to check the ammonia and nitrate levels of your water. Change 10-20% of your water every 10 or so days, and perform a full cleaning every month.

5. Too Much, Too Fast

Remember, building a quality tank takes time. You should let your system sit for a couple of days before you add any fish to it. Remember, a good, healthy system is planned out long before fish are added to it. Test your water, do your research, and make sure that you are providing your desired fish with the best possible home before you go out and purchase them. Don’t add too many fish into a new tank at once. Add one or two hardy fish that can handle fluctuations before you add fish three and four.