Getting the proper amounts and types of lighting in your fish tank is vital to the health of your fish and plants. Even though your fish are in an aquarium inside your home, they still need to experience light as they would in nature so you want to be sure to provide around 12 hours of light a day. Consider using a timer so that you can consistently light the tank, inconsistent lighting may stress your fish which can lead to health problems.
Although most aquarium setups come with hoods that have lights fitted right into them, you can also purchase different types of fish tank lighting to suit your needs. Most beginning aquarists need only to use the lighting that is provided with the aquarium as long as it is fluorescent lighting and your tank is for fresh water fish only.
If you want your fish to be their happiest, you should use fluorescent lighting. This lighting resembles natural light more closely than incandescent and it will also show off the colors of your fish better. Incandescent lighting also has the drawback of throwing off a lot of heat which can cause the water in your aquarium to become to hot which can harm your fish. If your current setup has an incandescent light you should be able to easily change the bulb out and replace it with fluorescent.
For a fish only tank, it is recommended that you have 3 watts of lighting for each gallon of water the tank holds. This ratio can be important when it comes to algae control and if you notice green algae taking over your tank it could be because your lights are too strong. You should plan to replace your lights every 8 months as the lighting will get weaker over time.
If you are planning on keeping plants in your fish tank, then the lighting requirements are a bit different. If you have tried to keep plants in your fish tank only to have them grow weak and die after a few weeks it is simply because you do not have the right type of light. Contrary to what many people think, aquarium plants are not hard to keep alive and should last as long as house plants with the proper lighting. If you want to keep anything other than a basic fern plant, you need a tri-phosphor tube or full spectrum fluorescent bulb which will provide the full spectrum of light that plants require.
Aquarium lighting for tanks with plants is different than for all fish tanks. Aquarium plants can last as long as house plants if cared for properly. While you may be able to keep some fern like plants with regular fluorescent aquarium lighting, most plants require a full spectrum fluorescent bulb or tri-phosphor tubes which concentrate on the red, blue and green spectrum ranges.
If you have a saltwater tank that you plan to keep only fish in then the fluorescent lighting you would use in a fresh water tank is probably sufficient. If you want to keep live coral or rocks you will need much more light. Many people start out thinking they only want to keep fish but eventually want to expand their horizons and add live rock and in this case it is wise to get a hood that has fixtures for 2 tubes, that way you can add more lighting as your aquarium grows. Although some corals can survive with 4 watts of light per gallon, most will need 5 - 8 watts to remain healthy and alive.
Keeping a fish tank can be a fun and relaxing hobby and with the proper lighting you can help keep your fish healthy and happy and feeling right at home in their tank.
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