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Acclimatizing your new Aquarium fish

By reefspecialty, March 17, 2015

Acclimatizing your new Aquarium fish

One of the significant aspects of fish keeping is acclimatizing the fishes or invertebrates, after you bring them to your home. You might wonder why in most cases, an aquatic life doing well in local fish store dies,once introduced into your home aquarium. No proper acclimation is the main reason behind this. Knowing what acclimation means, why it is required and what are the different methods of acclimation are essential for the best chance of survival of your new fish in your tank. This article helps you to better understand the need of acclimation and various methods of acclimation.


Acclimation means:

Acclimatizing Aquarium fishYou will think that fishes or invertebrates in the local fish store are grown in good conditions and so once you bring them to your home it is ready to go into the aquarium directly. Or some people with little awareness, based on some information heard here and there, will just float the fish bag in their aquarium water for some time to balance the temperature and release the fish into the tank. Releasing fishes or invertebrates directly, after floating the bag for some time alone will not help them to accustom to the new environment. Adversely, it might cause sudden chemical environmental change for the aquatic life,which in turn endangers its life.

Here comes the acclimation process. Acclimation is nothing but the process of adapting the new aquatic life to the water conditions of your aquarium slowly. That is, along with temperature, balancing few other factors like pH level, nitrate, salinity, etc. These parameters are need
s to be tested and matched before introducing them into the aquarium.Unbalanced pH levels might give a pH shock to the new fishes and it might even kill them. In particular, invertebrates are highly sensitive to even slight variation in these parameters. So, proper acclimation is inevitable.

There are two best methods to acclimatize the new aquatic life. They are:

  • Floating bag method
  • Drip line method

Irrespective of the method you would follow, in general, acclimation is a process that needs to be done with patience. You need to spent considerable amount of time and effort for the sake of aquatic life.

Let us see the steps to be followed for Floating bag method in detail.

Floating bag method:

The Floating bag method is a basic method for which you would not require any distinct equipment to perform the acclimation process. All you need is a measuring cup. The steps to be followed are:

  1. Once you bring the new arrival to your home, before opening the box, dim the lights of the room where it is kept and also switch off the aquarium lights. Sudden exposure to bright light might cause stress or trauma to the aquatic life.
  2. Now take out the fish bag and let it float in the aquarium for 15 minutes without opening the seal. This will help the water in the fish bag to slowly adjust to the aquarium water temperature.
  3. After 15 minutes, carefully cut open the sealed fish bag as close to the top as possible. Make sure no water from the fish bag spills into the tank. And then make 2 or 3 folds from the top edge of the cover for approximately one inch to create an air pocket within the rim of the cover. This will help the fish bag to float in the aquarium water. If you have heavy fishes or invertebrates which might submerge the fish bag, then you can either place the bag in a plastic container or you can follow the alternate method explained on step 10.
  1. Start adding aquarium water into the floating fish bag. You should not add a large amount of water at once. Using a measuring cup, add 1/4 cup of water in case of small bag or 1/2 cup of water in case of large bag.
  2. Keep on adding same amount of tank water into the bag on regular intervals, say every 10 minutes.
  3. Once the bag is full, take it out of the tank and dispose half of the water into the sink, without causing any harm to the fishes or invertebrates.
  4. Again let the fish bag float in the aquarium water and repeat steps 4 and 5, until the bag is full. You can reduce the time interval of pouring water to 5 minutes, because most of the original water would have been removed now.
  5. You should repeat this process of adding small quantity of water for at least one hour.  If the pH level difference is huge between the tank water and the fish bag water, then you may have to extend the process to another one hour by increasing the interval to 15 minutes for the first time.
  6. Once the pH level and other parameters of fish bag water are almost same to the tank water, you can net the aquatic life and introduce them into the tank. Remove the fish bag from the tank and dispose it along with the water. At any point, do not let the water from fish bag mix in the tank water, as it might invite diseases or parasites to the aquatic life in the tank.
    Acclimatizing Aquarium Fish
  7. Alternate method:This step is not only for large aquatic life but also you can use,if you have any complexity in
    handling the fish bag over the aquarium or if there is any leaks in the fish cover.After step 2, instead of folding the edge of the fish bag and floating it in the tank, carefully pour the contents of the fish bag into a bucket or container which can hold 5 times of the water of the fish bag. Make sure that the bucket or container you use is dedicated only to the fish tank water and it does not have any soap or dirt. And then follow the steps 4 to 9, by adding tank water into the bucket in place of fish bag.

Next, let us see the steps to be followed for Drip line method in detail.

Drip line method:

The Drip line method is also a very simple, but advanced acclimation method, where you would need airline tube to perform the process. This method has less manual intervention compared to the floating bag method, but you will have to keep monitoring the entire process. The steps to be followed are:

  1. Like we did on floating bag method, once you bring in the aquatic life into your home, dim the lights of the room where it is kept and switch off the aquarium lights as well. Then, take out the fish bag and let it float in the tank water for about 15 minutes without opening the seal.
  2. Once 15 minutes are over, take out the fish bag from the tank, cut open it and slowly pour the contents into a bucket or container. The bucket or container you use should be the one specifically used only for tank water and also it should be clean. Make sure the water in the bucket completely covers the fish or invertebrates. If not, tilt the bucket accordingly and make it stay still using any wedge. The bucket should be kept in the floor next to the aquarium where the aquatic life goes.
  3. Set up a drip line by using plastic airline tube from the aquarium to the bucket placed down in the floor. You can use airline control valves or put knots in the tube in order to control the flow of water.
  4. Suck the end of tube in the bucket and begin the siphon. Once the water started to flow, adjust the drip rate to 2 or 3 drips per second.
  5. Once the water in the bucket doubles than the actual amount of the bag water, dispose half of the water and again start the drip. Let the bucket doubles one more time. By this time, the creatures are slowly accustomed to the tank water.
  6. Now the aquatic creatures are good to go into their new habitat. Carefully net the fishes or invertebrates and introduce them into the tank.

Pre-acclimation guidelines:

Before you bring in new buddies to your home, taking care of few pre-acclimation steps will help for a smooth acclimation process and also increases the chance of survival of the new creatures in your aquarium.

  • While going to the Local fish store, do not forget to take a thick paper bag or thick box with you. Carrying fish bag in it helps to prevent the creature from exposure to bright light.
  • Avoid bringing fish during extreme weather conditions, as it might cause drastic temperature fluctuations in the fish bag water.
  • Do not hesitate to ask the local fish store keeper to measure the pH, nitrate and ammonia levels of the tank water from which your new fish is being taken and make a note of it. Once you are home, test your tank’s water and you will get a perception of how long your acclimation process has to be done.
  • If you see any dead or sick fish in the fish stores tank, avoid buying fish from there, as the fish you are buying might carry that disease or parasites within it.
  • If you need to transit the fishes or invertebrates to a longer distance, then ask the fish store keeper to inject oxygen in the fish shipment bag without fail.
  • Choose which method of acclimation you wish to follow and prepare the necessary materials before you go out to buy the creatures. Because, the fish bags should not be kept sealed for a longer time, as it might cause ammonia build up or accumulation of carbon-di-oxide (CO2).
  • Some fishes may appear overly stressed, sitting on the bottom of the bag or even it may appear to be dead because of oxygen depletion in the closed bag. It will recover once the bag is opened or even you can put an airstone for couple of minutes in the bag to aerate the bag. Do not leave the airstone in the bag for a long time, as it might drastically increase the pH level of the water in the fish bag.
  • Even if the fish appears to be dead, follow the acclimation process. Such fishes or invertebrates will recover once the acclimation process is completed properly.

Quarantine Tank:

The Quarantine tank is one of most useful procedure which everyone must try to follow. Every new arrival should spend minimum 3 to 4 weeks in a quarantine tank before introducing into your aquarium. This will help to make sure that the new fish or invertebrate are not carrying any diseases or parasites. Also it safeguards the new arrival from annoyance of the tank inhabitants and helps it to recover from the stress of shipment.Acclimatizing your new Aquarium fish

You have to follow proper acclimation process even before adding the new arrivals into the quarantine tank.  This may look like an overhead task, but while thinking of the benefits, it is worth the time and effort spent.  Observe the fish every day and if you are sure it does not carry any diseases or parasites, go ahead and add the fish into the main aquarium tank after acclimatizing.


Few steps to be taken care during the acclimation process and post acclimation:

  • Do not let the fish bag water mix with your aquarium water. If you see any leaks in the fish bag, slip another plastic cover around it and then float it in your aquarium.
  • The aquarium lights should be kept off for some more hours even after the acclimation process is completed.
  • As a part of acclimation process, some of your tank water will be removed. So some top-off water need to be added after few hours of introducing the fish.
  • In order to safeguard the new arrivals from the annoyance of the existing fishes, you can use a plasticstrainer to contain the aggressive fish in your tank for few hours until the new fish accustoms to its new environment. Or keep the aggressive fish in a perforated plastic grid within the tank separated from the new tank mate for some time. Once the new creatures are adapted, you can remove the grid.

By understanding the importance of acclimatizing and performing it properly with enough patience, will help you to prevent loss of the life of your new arrivals. And you can enjoy seeing your new creatures relishing its new environment.

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