Inconsistent Information About Aquarium Care
Why Do People Give Different Answers?
(The First Tank Guide)
There are three typical causes of these apparent contradictions, and they are all frustrating, both to newcomers and to experienced aquariists. However, generally these contractions are not malicious in nature. These three causes are: only giving part of the picture, perpetuating common misconceptions, and responding to customer demands rather than customer needs. More information on each of these issues is provided below.
Only giving part of the picture:
Often these people are not contradicting each other, but are merely not providing (or not considering) all the information available. These partial views can seem contradictory when you are given different parts of the truth by different people.
For example, I heard from a woman who was interested in Bala Sharks (also sold as Tricolor Sharks). She was told:
- Bala Sharks do best in pairs
- Bala Sharks do fine all alone
- Never put only two Bala Sharks together because they'll fight and one will become dominant and other will eventually die, always have at least 3.
- Bala Sharks are great and will do fine with just about any other fish
- Bala Sharks are semi-aggressive so don't put them together with anything much smaller.
Well, these answers are all right... Sort of...
Bala Sharks are actually a Barb, and as such are a schooling fish. Because of this they will do best in groups, and, if possible, the larger the group, the better. However, Barbs are generally not very particular about being in a school, and Bala Sharks should, in fact be all right as a solitary specimen or in a small group or pair. But, in smaller groups, the behavior of barbs will change. In some species (usually smaller barbs), like Tiger Barbs or Checkered Barbs, in smaller groups the fish will quickly establish a pecking order within their group and will turn their aggression onto other fish in the tank. In some species (typically larger barbs) such as Tinfoil Barbs or Bala Sharks, the fish often will become flighty and easily agitated or startled when they are in small groups. In a small tank like most home or office aquariums (when compared to a 12-14" Bala Shark), this can result in the fish slamming themselves into the sides of the tank when they hear a door shut or when they see someone moving outside of the tank, or when the lights come on or turn off.
As far as the size is concerned, though Bala Sharks are peaceful fish, they will, like almost all fish, consider anything that is small enough to fit into their mouth as potential food. The means that it is likely if you have Bala sharks in a tank with small fish like neon tetras or zebra danios, that the small fish will eventually become food. This is not because the Bala Sharks are mean, nasty, or aggressive, but it is because they see something little and wriggly and cannot differentiate between your favorite fish and any other piece of something-that-might-be-good-to-eat.
Perpetuating common misconceptions:
Often these people are perpetuating unfounded (but very popular), and sometimes even ridiculous, common misconceptions without ever stopping to think about them or research them at all (the most common of these is the old wive's tail that fish will only grow to the size of their environment).
Responding to customer demands rather than customer needs:
Often businesses will sell some kind of "snake oil" in one form or another because of the absolute demand from the people keeping aquariums for a magic bullet to make their tanks perfect...
Remember that this is often not driven by the store's desire to sell something (though sales are always good), but rather by the customers who do not want to listen to someone explain to them that they have to care for their fish as though they were living creatures. Many people just want some quick and simple solution to do the work for them. Rather than feeding carefully, maintaining their filter, and performing regular water changes, many people just want a magic additive that they can put in their tank to make it right. In my experience, and from what I have heard from people repeatedly, most of these chemicals are more likely to cause problems than to solve anything.
There are several reasons that you might be getting information that is contradictory to other information you have previously received. Generally the purpose of the misinformation you are receiving is not malicious, but is borne out of either ignorance or conformation to unsupported standards. Though it can be frustrating to get conflicting information from different sources, understanding why there are differences in the answers you have received and help you to evaluate the information and make an educated decision.