Optimizing fish growth in the aquarium
A lot of different factors act together to determine the growth rate of your fish and how large they will become. Some of these factors are constants, e.g. the species or your fish, while others can be adjusted by the aquarist to ensure optimal growth rates. In this article we will take a closer look at constant as well as alterable factors of imperative importance. A word of caution before we proceed: making a fish grow really fast is not necessarily a good thing. What we want to optimize as aquarists is the healthy type of growth that can be achieved without doing anything to the fish that can prove detrimental in the long run.
The DNA of each fish specimen will always put a limit to its maximal growth rate. Tinkering with the DNA of each specimen cannot be done by hobby aquarists; the only way to affect the DNA is to participate in dedicated, long term breeding programs where desirable genetic configurations are encouraged and undesirable ones are removed from the breeding stock. You can also make sure that you purchase your fish from reputable suppliers.
When you purchase a fish, it will already have a long history that affects its maximal growth rate. A wide range of factors are at play here, from the overall condition of the parents and the situation in their breeding aquarium to the water quality of the fry raising aquarium and the diet given to your fish in its crowded pet store holding tank. If you want to ensure optimal growth rate you should therefore stick to reputable breeders and pet stores that you know take good care of their fish.
Foods and feeding
Your fish needs a varied diet that contains all necessary nutrients in suitable proportions. Starvation as well as overfeeding (which leads to obesity) will both have detrimental effects on the growth rate of your fish. Fish need to be fed suitable amounts of food at appropriate times and intervals. When picking food for your fish, it is naturally important to stay away from ingredients known to have negative effects on fish health and fish growth.
If you fish stops eating or eat very little, you must always try to find out the reason why. It can for instance be caused by disease, improper choices of food, a monotonous diet, bullying tank mates, or improper water chemistry and/or levels of nitrogenous waste. Sometimes simple changes such as giving your big cichlids large pellets instead of miniscule flakes will solve the problem. In other situations, you may have to entice your fish with live food to trigger their hunting instinct and make them resume feeding. Learning more about how, when and what your fish eat in the wild will provide you with valuable information about how to provide them with optimal food in the aquarium.
Generally speaking, the most important water parameters in the aquarium are temperature, pH-value, water hardness, and levels of ammonia/ammonium, nitrite and nitrate. These factors are known to interact with each other and altering one of them can produce surprising effects on the other ones. It is therefore important to do your homework before you start fiddling with the water conditions. One thing that you always should do is to strive to keep the levels of ammonia/ammonium, nitrite and nitrate down by combining filtration (biological and/or mechanical) with regular water changes.
The only way to know which water parameters that will ensure optimal growth rate in your aquarium is to research the species you are keeping. Avoid mixing fish species that require highly dissimilar conditions since they will force you to keep the water parameters at levels that are “least bad” for all species instead of optimal for species from a certain biotope.
Disease will force your fish to spend a lot of energy fending off malicious microorganisms and there will be less energy left for growth. This means that even if you know that your sturdy fish is capable of handling Ich or dealing with velvet, you should still strive to never introduce these parasites to the aquarium in the first place, since disease will always steal energy from your fish that could have been used for growth. Frequently using medication to remove disease from the aquarium is not the right course of action because being heavily medicated is also stressful for your fish and will hamper its growth rate. Prevention (always quarantining new fish, cultivating your own live food, soaking new plants in saltwater etcetera) is therefore strongly recommended.
The choice of tank mates is very important, because bullying tank mates will cause stress in weaker fish and this can have a detrimental effects on the growth rate. Overcrowding an aquarium is also a bad idea in most cases, but there are instances where aggressive fish will fare better in heavily stocked aquariums since it will spread out aggression over many individuals and prevent territories from being claimed. Schooling species should always be kept in schools, since they hate to live alone.
An abnormally fast growth rate can have detrimental effects on the overall health and appearance of your fish and should therefore not be encouraged. An abnormally fast growth rate can for instance produce an undesirable body shape, e.g. a fish that grows very long but not sufficiently tall. An extremely fast growing fish can also fail to develop its sought-after colors (including color intensity and depth), patterns, elongated fin configurations and so on. Last but not least, there is evidence that growing too large too rapidly can shorten the life span of a fish.
Didn't find the info you were looking for? Ask your question in our Aquarium forum !
Our knowledgeable staff usually responds to any question within 24 hours
Other Aquarium Articles
Aquarium Cycling - A guide on how to cycle your aquarium.
Aquarium Lighting - Learn the basics of aquarium lighting
Breeding Fish - Overview of How To Breed Tropical Fish
Beginner fish - Great Beginner Fish for the Beginner Aquarist
Bad beginner fish - Horrible Beginner Fish for the Beginner Aquarist
The beginners tank - A guide to your fist aquarium
Cleaning your filter - Basic filter management
Carbon and aquariums - Information on the effects of using carbon in your aquarium.
Cycling - A guide to aquarium cycling and how it works.
Don’t trust the staff in the fish store! - A text about why you shouldn't alway trust your fish store.
Dry and Rainy Seasons in the Tank - A detailed account of how to simulate seasons in aquariums
Electrical Safety and Aquariums - How to prevent electrical accidents.
Filtration pro and cons - thoughts about filtration
Fry Growth rate - Thoughts on how to optimize growth in fry.
Fish keeping for beginners - An introduction for beginners.
Aquarium Filtration- Llists and describes the different methods of aquarium filtration, and then discusses their benefits and drawbacks.
Finding the Triggers - Information about how to find breeding triggers in different fihs species.
Fry Savers - Information about fry savers and how to construct fry savers.
How to Buy Healthy Fish - A gew tips on choosing healthy fish.
Making a Pebble Cave - A guide on how to make your own pebble cave for your fish.
Modifying Water Chemistry - A technical article about modifying hardness, alkalinity and pH.
Optimizing Growth of Fishes - The factors affecting fish growth - some may be manipulated, others not.
Setting up a tropical freshwater aquarium - Detailed guide on how to setup a freshwater aquarium..
Reverse Osmosis and aquariums - RO is a way to get very pure water in which fish such as dicus and neon tetras can breed and raise their fry.
Safe Rock and Wood Aquascaping - How to make sure that the materials you use in your aquascaping are aquarium safe.
Selecting Community Tank Fish - A guide that will help you choose the right fish for you based on tank size and experience level.
Setting Up A New Aquarium - Help beginners setup their first aquarium
Slime coat - Protecting your fishes vital slime coat
Snails in Aquariums - The biology of snails. Their advantages and disadvantages in an aquarium. How to keep them in check.
Amazon Biotope Aquarium - How to set-up, stock and maintain an aquarium that replicates the Amazon watershed.
Wall mounted aquariums - Information about Wall mounted aquariums
Water chemistry in the aquarium - Hardness, alkalinity and pH are discussed technically, from a chemistry point of view.
Water Chillers - Introduction to water chillers.
Central American Cichlids
Frogs and Turtles
Lake Victoria Cichlids
Marine Aquarium Fish
Responsible Fish Keeping
South American Cichlids
Tropical Fish Food