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What Is Better


Guest luli k

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My two cents: sand can lead to a build-up of anaerobe bacteria, which can produce e.g. ammonia. If your fish poke around in it, it could release the gas, with not so nice consequences. Also, if they filterfeed on the sand, it could hurt their gills. Gravel has the problem that the gf might (and usually will) try to eat it, sometimes not being able to spit it out again (because it's a tight fit in their mouth) when they notice it's not food. Because of this, a large portion of goldfish keepers go for the bare-bottom alternative.

That being said, there are a number of people on the forum who use either gravel or sand quite succesfully, with really nice looking results.

Regarding rocks, as long as they don't have sharp edges and are not contaminated (paint, cleaning agents, ...) they are a nice alternative to sand or gravel to get a nice look for your tank.

Hope this helps a bit :) .

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Always avoid sand with goldfish as it it very fine and abrasive; it has a tendency to enter and irritate their gills as they root through the substrate.

When using substrate, it is good to keep the depth as shallow as possible to avoid the build up of bacteria-breeding crud, as Erinaceus points out.

The other thing is to ensure that it is either larger or smaller than the fishes mouth but not the same size - fish will easily get mouth-sized gravel lodged in their mouths which is avoided if you use either fine grade gravel or larger river rocks/pebbles. Many people here do go barebottom to avoid these problems. I have recently removed all my gravel as I've been treating my fish and I have to say that the absence of crud on the tank floor is so noticeable. That said, I have to say that I like the look of a tank with substrate and plants. It's just a little more work.

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avoid sand for all of the reasons mentioned. avoid large gravel or rocks because they can caught in the fish mouths. Either go with the standard small gravel or nothing at all

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avoid large gravel or rocks because they can caught in the fish mouths. Either go with the standard small gravel or nothing at all

I disagree. Large gravel or river rocks are what does not get stuck in a fish's mouth-- it is the SMALL GRAVEL which you will find has this problem.

Luli_k, there is actually some disagreement whether sand is a good substrate for goldfish or not. You will find that there are two strongly entrenched camps-- those that will tell you to NEVER use sand and those that use it themselves. There are pros and cons to each substrate. However, unless you are a very experienced fishkeeper, I recommend that you stick to large gravel/rocks or go barebottom.

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Guest luli k

currently i have small gravel, and all my fish are about 6cm, and i have large rocks that arent sharp, plus they cant fit into my goldfishes mouths

it is true that people have had success with sand and gravel, but now that i think of it, it would be better to go barebottom

I think this is a very good debate, if someone has seen a thread like this before please make a link because i know a topic like this can go on and on

although there is still one more question.

since fish sleep, do they sleep on the gravel? or in this case would they sleep on the bottom of the tank?

(im sorry if it has been asked before)

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Oh dear, not THIS topic again! It's fine for you to have asked, Luli, but let's not get bogged down in another argument about this. Please reference the thread that Joy linked to -- there's lots of info there.

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Okay, I know that I was the one who just said that we shouldn't get entrenched in another discussion/argument on this topic, but I have to throw this out there for discussion:

I have a patient who is a zoo vet and we always talk about animals when she comes in for appointments. She talks a lot about how important it is for zoos to provide enriching environments for animals -- environments that duplicate their natural habitats and enable them to participate in natural behaviors as much of the time as possible, even if it means more work for the keepers and the vets to keep the animals clean and healthy in those environments.

In the last thread we covered the notion that there really is no such thing as a "wild" goldfish and that goldfish have been kept and bred in captivity for so long that they are very, very far removed from their mud-sifting carp cousins. But it does seem clear that sorting through the substrate (whatever it is) is one of the modern goldfishes' favorite pasttimes.

I made an interesting observation a few weeks ago when I visited Tommy's in Dallas. He has hundreds of goldfish in barebottomed pools. As I selected fish that I wanted to look at more closely, he would remove them from the pools and put them into an aquarium with fine gravel on the bottom. Without exception, after the fish were placed into the aquarium they immediately zoomed to the bottom and began sifting through the gravel, taking it into their mouths and spitting it out again. Perhaps it was a reaction to the stress of a sudden change in environment, but I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, so I guess my question for discussion is this: Does a barebottom aquarium provide a sufficiently enriching environment for goldfish? Do they have enough to do in a barebottom tank? Do they crave a gravel or sand substrate to sift? Are we prioritizing the fact that a barebottom tank is easier to keep clean over the mental/emotional wellbeing of our fish?

Please note that I haven't settled on an opinion yet -- my office tank is barebottom and my home tank has a thin scattering of large pebbles/small rocks.

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You raise a very interesting point, but really-- I think it's probably more because they're hungry little fishies than anything else. The rooting instinct exists not for their entertainment or occupation but in order to help them find food.

I think that an aquarium with larger rocks, plants, airbubbles, and/or other fish is plenty enriching for a fish. Just remember the peas. :D

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Anyway, so I guess my question for discussion is this: Does a barebottom aquarium provide a sufficiently enriching environment for goldfish? Do they have enough to do in a barebottom tank? Do they crave a gravel or sand substrate to sift? Are we prioritizing the fact that a barebottom tank is easier to keep clean over the mental/emotional wellbeing of our fish?

I wondered the exact same thing! I planned on going barebottom when I set up my 55g until I realized my gf's favorite thing to do was sift through the small gravel in their original tank. I decided on a single layer of large river rocks and glass pebbles. Not enough to trap too many nasties but just enough for them to have fun scooting the pebbles around looking for food (just make sure to keep out any broken pebbles cuz they might injure your fish). Good discussion!

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One more thing I just thought of:

I know we all love our fish, but there is a tendency for us to anthropomorphose them; essentially, to assign them human emotions and motivations for behaviors that they probably really do not have. So perhaps take it with a grain of salt when we say, "Their favorite thing to do is sift through gravel."

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You raise a very interesting point, but really-- I think it's probably more because they're hungry little fishies than anything else. The rooting instinct exists not for their entertainment or occupation but in order to help them find food.

I think that an aquarium with larger rocks, plants, airbubbles, and/or other fish is plenty enriching for a fish. Just remember the peas. :D

That's a good point thoughtsofjoy but think of it this way; their rooting instinct is strong enough to have stayed intact through centuries(?) of domestication and breeding. If it's so strong then putting them in an environment where they can't act on their most basic of instincts could cause them unnecessary stress. Just a though, I could be way off...

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Good point tangelo. I think the most frustrating thing about this issue is that it's impossible to know how the fish are "feeling" inside about their instincts and environment.

In the end, I think as long as we can provide for them an adequate ecosystem that keeps them healthy, there's not much more we can do.

Also, here's a funny way to think of it: humans have a basic rooting instinct as well, that drives us to search for food. We don't live out in nature as we used to, so our rooting instinct has morphed into more of a "what's in the refrigerator?" instinct.

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One more thing I just thought of:

I know we all love our fish, but there is a tendency for us to anthropomorphose them; essentially, to assign them human emotions and motivations for behaviors that they probably really do not have. So perhaps take it with a grain of salt when we say, "Their favorite thing to do is sift through gravel."

I know what you mean about anthropomorphizing and perhaps I am doing that by using a term like "favorite". But I don't think that we have to assign human emotions and motivations to animals to see that they may benefit from an environment that requires them to "work" for their food and keeps them busy with a purposeful activity.

For instance, my vet patient was telling me last week that she particularly likes working with the small primates at the zoo. She says that the primate keepers spend a great deal of time hiding little bits of food all over the primate enclosure, which the monkeys spend the whole day seeking out and nibbling on. It would be much easier for the keepers if they just gave the monkeys their meal in a dish, but hiding the food and making them spend the whole day finding it makes them much more mentally healthy.

Her comments on this topic were what got me thinking about barebottom fish tanks. As I say, my 29 gallon tank at work is barebottom. When I feed my fish there, they eat their pellets and then go on about swimming around the tank. At home my tank bottom is covered with a very thin layer of small river stones. I fed my fish their evening meal over two hours ago and all six of them are still poking through the rocks in hopes of finding a little something that they missed before. I don't spend nearly as much time observing my work tank as I do my home tank, so I can't comment on whether I think that my work fish are less mentally healthly than my home fish.

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Good point tangelo. I think the most frustrating thing about this issue is that it's impossible to know how the fish are "feeling" inside about their instincts and environment.

Exactly. The substrate I have is pretty much for the enjoyment of watching the gf root around in it. Who knows what the gf think. I'm guessing it's mostly food/not food.

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In the end, I think as long as we can provide for them an adequate ecosystem that keeps them healthy, there's not much more we can do.

I just want to be sure that I am not keeping my fish in an environment that is similar to the tiger pacing in the bare concrete enclosure the way that you used to see in zoos years ago. I am not saying that a barebottom tank is the fish equivalent, it just is something that I have been pondering.

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I know what you mean about anthropomorphizing and perhaps I am doing that by using a term like "favorite". But I don't think that we have to assign human emotions and motivations to animals to see that they may benefit from an environment that requires them to "work" for their food and keeps them busy with a purposeful activity.

Good point!

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Ugh, that pulled up an unpleasant mental image, Kristen. Those poor tigers!

If I were to compare, however, I would think that a bowl would be more like those tiger enclosures than a nice big 75gal tank.

However, given that fish like to root and will root given adequate conditions, and that it does keep them active, I think that a light layer of river rocks is good-- perhaps preferable, if you're thinking along the same lines as Kristen. I'm just playing at devil's advocate-- I mean, my tanks have river rocks in them. :P

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