Aquariums – introduction

Information about the physical and behavioural characteristics of aquarium fish.

Varietal range differences

In Australia, the common name for particular fish species is variable between states or even between different parts of the same state. For his reason, it is advisable to use scientific names. As there is a large variety of fish, this material can only provide information in general terms.

Keys and descriptions of species can be obtained from scientific publications. There is ample material about Australian marine and freshwater fish and the fish department in the Australian Museum can be contacted for more details concerning identification.

A wide variety of fish species, both native and exotic, are available commercially. It is very easy to keep fish in an aquarium in the classroom. As an educational tool, aquaria can be used to study the habitats of fish and their behaviour. With a small breeding tank, for example, students can watch the spawning, hatching and development of fish. In a school environment, it is much easier to keep, and maintain, freshwater tanks than marine ones.

Where different species are kept in a community environment, consideration must be given to species compatibility. It is important to note that, as some fish grow, they may bully smaller individuals, even of the same species. When considering which fish to use, your capacity to maintain and care for the fish should also be considered. Thought must be given to the care of fish during school holidays and arrangements must be made for appropriate maintenance of the aquarium during these periods.

Schools that wish to collect stock for an aquarium from the wild must complete and submit an Aquarium education collection permit application which can be found at Apply for Section 37 Permits.

Aquariums are very suitable for primary schools and inner city schools where space is a limiting factor. Aquariums take up very little room in a classroom and are very safe for children to manage. Having a classroom aquarium allows students to experience the responsibilities of caring for animals as well as observing their natural behaviour when they may not have other opportunities to do so.

There are some 25000 species of fish divided into three groups: jawless, cartilaginous and bony. Many of these are suitable for school aquaria.

Physical characteristics

Characteristic Details
Size The size of a fish will be determined by factors such as species, the size of the aquarium, number of other fish and availability of food. Goldfish and Rainbow fish range from 10-160mm.
Weight In an aquarium 2-250g
Range of breeding ages Adulthood varies with the species. Spawning continues from adulthood to death.
Temperature Fish are poikilothermic, that is, their body temperature is determined by their environment. References will need to be consulted for the physical attributes of particular species.

Behavioural characteristics

Fish behaviour varies with the species of fish. Consult an expert to learn what behaviour should be expected for the species of fish that are being kept. Once you are familiar with the fish’s normal behaviour, you will be able to identify any behavioural changes that may suggest illness, inadequate diet or insufficient water quality. Fish health deteriorates rapidly, and any sign of abnormal behaviour should be acted upon. Test water temperature, quality, and pH and monitor fish food intake. If you are concerned that fish are displaying abnormal behaviour, contact an expert.

Selecting and adding fish to the tank

Different species of fish have different behavioural traits. This must be taken into consideration when adding different species of fish to the same tank. More docile species of fish should be added first and more aggressive species added last after the other fish have had time to settle into their new environment, discover hiding places and gain some territory.


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