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Are Fish Cube-Friendly?

Dear Lifehacker,

Yesterday you shared an article about cube-friendly plants. Any tips on cube-friendly fish? I’ve heard everything from Bettas to Goldfish to no fish at all. What would you suggest?

Signed,

Fishless in Cubeville

Dear Fishless,

Asking about fish is a great followup to the cubicle-plant curiosity of your fellow Lifehacker reader. Fish are enjoyable and low maintenance companions but they certainly require more work than plants. Let’s review some of the important things to consider when deciding if keeping a fish in your office is for you.

Workplace Rules: What workplace regulations, if any, apply to keeping pets of any sort in your cube or office? Most workplaces are fairly lenient when it comes to be plants but might not be so lenient when it comes to fish. Before you buy anything, especially a living sentient thing whose care you’re responsible for, you’ll need to check and see what the official or unofficial policies are. You’ll also want to read the full guide before checking in with the boss so you know what you’re getting into and can answer questions he or she might have about your little fish keeping operation.

Supplies: People keep fish in all sorts of terrible conditions that are harmful to the fish. Just because a fish can survive in conditions without immediately keeling over doesn’t mean we should force them to do so. Proper fish keeping that provides the fish with adequate room to move and grow and clean water that won’t burn it — poorly filtered and infrequently changed water causes a buildup of waste in the water that actually burns the fish’s gills — requires more than a little bowl next to your monitor.

Plan on, at minimum, having at least a 18 litres of water for even a few small fish. Keep in mind that a little 20L tank weighs around 30kg when full and a more fish-friendly 38L tank weighs around 50kg when full. If having a tank with that volume and weight of water in your cubicle is going to pose a problem, you’ll need to get your fish keeping fix at home.

You’ll need a tank, filter, heater and some basic supplies like a small bucket and a siphon hose for performing water changes, a water test kit and a bottle of dechlorinator if your office has city water treated with chlorine — highly probable since they don’t often build cube farms out by the real farms.

You can find starter kits for regular old fish tanks at nearly every pet store. Depending on whether or not you get a premium tank like the Eclipse or a regular tank you’ll spend between $US50-$US80 on setup costs purchasing everything brand new. Definitely hit up eBay before you run to your local pet store, however, as eBay is perpetually flooded with used fish aquariums and gear.

You can find tons of resources online to guide you through setting up a fish tank and performing a fish-less cycle to help get the tank up and running before you dump fish into it.

Selecting Fish: Just like your selection of office plants is limited by space and lack of sunlight, your selection of fish is limited by the size of your tank. The world of fish keeping is filled with interesting and exotic fish but unless your boss is cool with you gutting your cube and working on a laptop in front of a 400L tank you’ll have to narrow the list a bit. Referring to your letter goldfish are out of the question as they grow to be quite large and a 40L tank is hardly suitable for them despite the popular belief that they do just fine in a bowl. Photo by Daniella Vereeken.

You want select fish that have small adult sizes — bala sharks, for example, are a popular aquarium fish that are only a few inches long when brought home from the store but can grow to be as long as your arm. With that in mind, the following examples are all fish that won’t grow much bigger than they are when you get them:

  • Bettas: A single and showy male betta — seen above — or a group of two to three female bettas would do well in a small tank. They’re hardy fish found in the wild in the muddy water of rice patties.
  • Multies: You’ll have a harder time tracking down Neolamporlogus Multifaciatus cichlids but you can be assured you’ve found one of the most interesting small tank fish around. The males rarely get bigger than two inches and the females often fail to break an inch long. The have all the intelligence and personality of the Cichlid genus without the size of their vastly larger relatives. While the Multi is the smallest Cichlid it has a few tiny shell dwelling relatives that aren’t much larger like Brevies and Occies. You may find some or all of them at a local specialty fish store. Check the video below to see a small Multifaciatus colony in a 45L tank:
  • Guppies: Get a handful of colourful males for a small tank — not male and female unless you want to have enough guppies for every cube in your office. They’re low maintenance and brightly coloured, they’re also incredibly inexpensive. Where you might spend $US15 for your trio of fancy finned female bettas above or $US15-$US30 for your Multifaciatus, you’ll spend a bunch or two on guppies.

The above examples are just a tiny fraction of the numerous small fish and other creations — like snails or shrimp — you can keep in a small tank. For more ideas on fish that are at home in small tanks you can check out TinyTanks.net, a site devoted to small fish keeping. When visiting a fish store — try to visit an actual fish store and not just a chain pet store — be very clear with the staff what you’re trying to do. They’ll be able to help you pick the proper mix and number of fish for a small tank if they know the specifics of what kind of tank you’re setting up.

Maintenance: When you first get the tank set up, it’s wise to do a 10 per cent or so water change every day just to make sure you’re keeping the water nice and clean for the fish as the tank adjusts. After things are stabilised, you can get by with a 20 per cent water change every week and a filter cleaning. Just keep an eye on the water temperature, test it — with a water testing kit — and feed them a small amount of food daily. Extra emphasis on the small, new fish owners love to overfeed!

For further reading we’d suggest starting with Common New Aquarium Mistakes and then checking out some of the other great articles in the About.com fish keeping section.

Love,

Lifehacker