Anyone who raises tropical fish can tell you how easy it is to become mesmerized by them. It's surprising how quickly the minutes pass as you gaze into a tank at their vibrant, almost electric colors and follow the seemingly random twisting and darting as they swim through the water. The one drawback is the care required. Fish cannot be neglected, and the conditions in the tank need regular attention. As daunting as it sounds, pet expert Marc Morrone says caring for the fish can be quite simple if you follow a few basic steps.

Success or failure will be determined almost from the start. The biggest mistake many new fish owners make is choosing incompatible fish. Fish are almost as finicky as humans; some prefer cooler water while others like it warm; some are aggressive, others gentle; and different species demand different acidity levels in the water. In addition, it's best to include one variety of fish who like to swim near the surface, another preferring the middle zones, and a few bottom dwellers. Talk with your pet-store owner about good candidates. If you're new to the world of fish, chances are he or she will steer you away from more demanding, exotic fish and suggest hardier tropical varieties such as neon and serpae tetras, platties, swordtails, mollies, catfish, and danios. While you're in the pet shop, make sure the fish show no signs of disease; if you see white spots, cottony patches, or frayed fins, the fish may not be in the best health. Also examine the tanks to make sure they are clean and well-maintained. If you already have a tank and want to introduce new members, bring along a water sample for the pet store to test. This will indicate whether the pH and ammonia levels are compatible with those required by the new fish.

The amount and type of food you provide is also very important. You'll need to include a few different foods -- such as flakes, freeze-dried cubes, and pellets -- meant for the top, middle, and bottom feeders. It's important not to overfeed; you want to provide just enough food for them to consume within three minutes. Discuss which types of food are best suited to your fish with a knowledgeable salesperson at your pet store.


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