Are the Fish in Your Aquarium Ticked Off?

Are the Fish in Your Aquarium Ticked Off?

Story at-a-glance -

  • A recent study confirms that like every living creature, fish do better in environments that closely mimic their natural habitat.
  • Many fish, when placed in small, boring aquariums, become aggressive to the point of brutalizing each other.
  • Larger, complex aquariums reduce aggression in some fish.
  • Aquarium owners should strive to provide the best environment possible for the fish they keep.

By Dr. Becker

There are almost 200 million ornamental (aquarium) fish in the U.S., and according to a new study, a lot of them could be very angry about their living conditions.

The study, published recently in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, looked at the effect of home aquariums on the behavior of a commonly kept fish, Midas cichlid.

The study author compared the behavior of young Midas cichlids in different environments, including a crater lake (their native habitat) in Nicaragua, a manmade stream at a zoo, and in small tanks commonly used by pet fish owners.

He looked not only at the size of the environment, but also its complexity (obstacles and hiding places like rocks and plants), as well as the number of other fish in the tank.

Pet Fish Need Space and Stimulation

The Midas cichlids living in larger, more complex environments were significantly less aggressive than those living in smaller, barren spaces. The fish living in cramped, uninspired quarters showed mild disgust by flaring their fins. Those that were really ticked off chased, nipped, charged and even killed one another.

Similar behavior has been observed in sea urchins and great white sharks held captive in small environments.

Clearly, some fish become aggressive when placed in confined spaces, and that aggression can wreak havoc on the lives of other fish of the same species sharing the same environment.

Keep Your Fish Happy

If you already have a tank or aquarium, give some thought to the type of fish you're keeping. The tank might need renovating to make it a better environment. It might even need to be replaced. If you're planning to set up an aquarium, start off on the right foot by matching the fish to its habitat.

If your interest is primarily in certain types of fish, do plenty of research to understand what kind of environment is best for them.

If your chief interest is in a certain type or size of aquarium, look carefully first for species of fish that would most benefit from life in the tank you have in mind. Combine aesthetic appeal with an aquarium environment that promotes the well-being of the fish you expect to live in it.

Some additional things to consider:

  • Do you want to keep tropical freshwater fish, coldwater fish, or perhaps tropical marine fish? I encourage you to only buy fish that have been bred in captivity, not removed from the ocean.
  • How big will your fish get? Will it prey on smaller fish? Does it eat live aquarium plants? What kind of water is most beneficial? Does it need other fish around or is it a loner?
  • What size aquarium can you afford and find space for?

A Final Thought

Sometimes we don't give much consideration to whether the pet we've picked would pick us given the choice.

Every type of pet imaginable was designed by nature to live in an environment different from the one we're able to provide for them.

In order to preserve and promote the health and well-being of our non-human companions, it's our responsibility to provide an environment and lifestyle that mimics – as much as possible – the manner in which nature intended them to live.