Cold water versus tropical fish: 5 things to think about

Choosing between tropical or cold water fish

Are you planning to introduce an aquarium to your home?

There are literally thousands of fish species to choose from but one of the most important decisions that you’ll need to think about is whether you’ll choose cold water or tropical fish.

It’s important to understand the likes and dislikes of both so that you don’t mistakenly set up an aquarium that causes distress to your fish.

Here are some of the things that you should consider when choosing fish, especially if this is the first time that you’ll be owning them.

What are the differences between cold water and tropical fish?

A “cold water” fish doesn’t specifically require its water to be heated. Goldfish are a prime example of this type of fish.

On the flip side, “tropical” or “warm water” fish need their water to be at an optimum temperature to be healthy and comfortable.

Tropical fish need water that is between  76° to 80°F (25° to 27°C)  although different types of fish have different requirements. ALWAYS double-check with the specialist at the shop when you’re looking to buy a particular type of fish.

1 – They shouldn’t be mixed

You’ll have to decide whether you want cold water or tropical species in your tank – never try to have a mixture of both unless you’ve already got good experience of caring for fish.

Because they appreciate different water temperatures, it is very challenging to find middle ground that will suit them both.

There is also a risk that if one species falls ill, the other will not have sufficient immunity for that disease. This can mean that they ultimately kill each other off, albeit by accident.

2 – Goldfish Are messy

Both tropical and cold water fish need good filtration systems but this is particularly important for goldfish thanks to the mess that they can create.

This raises the ammonia levels in the tank, which can prove fatal if the filtration system isn’t up to scratch.

3 – Tropical aquariums aren’t hard work

Many new fish owners shy away from the idea of having a tropical aquarium as they fear that it will be too much of a challenge. In reality, it’s mostly a case of controlling the heating, lighting and filtration systems. Tropical fish are not difficult to look after and can actually be easier to care for than goldfish.

4 – Cold water fish are better in ponds

Goldfish need to be kept in large tanks to accommodate their potential growth but even then, they can still easily need more space than this.

If you’re keen to have goldfish, it’s kinder to let them live in an outdoor pond. This will give them plenty of space to move.

5 – Not all fish will be compatible

Don’t just introduce fish to an aquarium without finding out whether they’ll get on.

Check out their personalities first to make sure that it will be a good mix. Some fish are sociable, while others prefer their own company.

If your chosen fish are not compatible, the stress can weaken their immune system and make them more susceptible to diseases and ill health.

It’s also worth thinking about how their behaviour and diet will match up.

Do you have any tips for readers who are looking to set up an aquarium? Would you recommend tropical or cold water fish? Let us know in the comments below!

[Photo credit: John Kroll]

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  • Janet Moore

    Hi, I am really pleased to have read this article, as a novice who is just starting out, buying a 23 L tank. I assumed is best to start of cold water fish as much simpler, cleaner, what a nice surprise to think, yeah I can have tropical as my tank comes with heater/lights/filters etc. cheers.

    • Nathan Flatman

      Delighted we could help