Having an aquarium and keeping it stocked with tropical fish seems like a pretty straightforward proposition, doesn’t it? Just go to the pet store, pick out and buy some fish you think are pretty, and taken them home. You’re in business, right?


There are a lot of factors that go into selecting and maintaining an aquarium, and if one doesn’t do their homework and take some special care, a dream hobby can quickly become a nightmare. A hasty purchase or one made from a less-than-reputable vendor can put your fish in peril of dying, and that can get expensive!

So make sure you explore all of your options, conduct some research, and make an educated decision about your purchase. Where you buy your fish is an important consideration so let’s take a look at the options.

Online or in the store?

At first glance, the number of options you have for purchasing freshwater aquarium fish can be a bit daunting. Aside from the major pet store chains and the “mom-and-pop” neighborhood pets shops, you can buy direct from a tropical fish breeder or through the Internet from an aquarium supply outlet. Each option has it’s up-side; each also has a downside. So it behooves you to take the time and do your due diligence before deciding where to buy.

So let’s look at buying your fish in a store versus buying online. The first and most obvious advantage of buying your fish in a store is that you actually get to see what you are buying and you often can even pick the specific fish. This really doesn’t mitigate the fact that any fish purchased from any vendor can look healthy and there are no guarantees that a healthy looking fish is in fact a healthy fish. But it does give you some control over the process.

Buying from an online store or from a breeder means giving up that personal selection, but there is an advantage to this method of stocking your tank. Tropical fish from pet stores are often already stressed from the shipping process that got them to the store, and the trip from the store to their new home at your house may just be too much for them. Fish purchased from a breeder, however, eliminates those intermediate shipping steps that can stress your fish to the edge of expiration.

And while fish purchased from an online vendor or from a breeding farm may arrive in better shape than those from the local pet store, they also come with a higher price tag. And in addition to paying a premium price for the fish, you also may pay more for priority shipping to get them to you in an expeditious manner.

Not all online retailers and breeders will charge exorbitant fees; some may adjust the cost of the fish to help soften the shipping costs, and some even offer flat rate shipping, as well as bulk discounts. And reputable breeders will offer customers free replacement for any fish that succumb in transit. Of course, those same breeders and online vendors usually strive to ship their best, healthiest tropical fish to give them every chance of surviving the trip.


Choosing healthy tropical fish

No one wants to spend time and money picking out and buying fish only to have them die within days of their arrival in your aquarium. Apart from the aquarium ecosystem itself, which requires attention to maintaining a high level of water quality, there are a few steps you can take to make sure your new pets enjoy a long, happy life. And that starts with picking out healthy tropical fish.

Start when you first arrive at the pet store. Wander around and look at the tanks, really look at them. Ask yourself some questions: Are the tanks clean, or are they slick with algae. Is the water level good, or are the tanks low? More importantly, are the tanks well-stocked or is there a limited selection?

One dead giveaway (no pun intended) is the presence of dead fish in the bottom of the tank, or dead fish stuck to the filters. If either of those to conditions exist, chances are the other fish in that ecosystem are headed to the same fate. If those conditions exist in multiple tanks, you may want to try another store, as this may indicate a variety of problems, from staff negligence to poor water quality to an inferior quality of fish.

You also want to look for tropical fish that are lively and active. Obviously, avoid the top floaters, and stay away from those fish swimming slowly around the bottom of the tank as well. It is a good idea to find out when the store feeds their stock, and arrive in time to observe them during feeding time, and look for the fish with the healthiest appetites! Also, look for fish that have their fins intact, those that are not swollen, showing any redness around their gills and whose eyes are clear. Also look for growths, discoloration ot any signs of bloat; if you see any of those signs, do not buy those fish.

As important as choosing the right vendor may be, purchasing the right fish also means knowing which fish can inhabit the same ecosystem, and which ones cannot. Some species are more aggressive than others, so choosing fish that are compatible is just as crucial as buying ones that are healthy.

With the proper research and deliberation, buying fish for your aquarium can be as fun and rewarding as tending to and nurturing your new pets. So take the time and do your homework. It will pay big dividends in the long run.