You spotted a great looking fish at the local pet store so you bought him; you brought him home, and now he doesn’t look the same! Why does this happen? Your problem could well be a lighting issue. Yes, the type of lighting in your tank has a major impact on every aspect of your aquarium.
When it comes to aquarium lighting, it isn’t just a question of how many watts that your bulb has; there is much more to it than this! You can use incandescent or fluorescent lighting, you can position your light source in different locations over the tank, and you can even purchase bulbs that give off different spectrums of light. Yes, the perfect tank just got harder to obtain, and more expensive too, but the way you light your fish can have a huge impact on your enjoyment of your hobby.
First of all, incandescent bulbs (the normal light bulbs in your home) are really unsuitable for anything other than a very small tank. They emit a very low spectrum of light and they produce more heat than is healthy for your fish In addition, this type of bulb uses more energy than a fluorescent bulb, so unless your tank is 10 gallons or smaller, I wouldn’t even consider incandescent.
Fluorescent bulbs are the way to go. They emit much less heat, use less energy and come in a variety of spectrums. Most of the bulb manufacturers have bulbs specs listed on the side of the package, but a handy reference is usually included in the bulbs name. They have names like aqua-glo or sun-glo or plant-gro. Their names hint at what spectrum they produce and this is a good cue about which color(s) of fish look best under that lighting. For instance, if the bulb is rated high in the blue scale, then blue fish tend to look remarkable under that bulb. If your goal is to promote plant growth, then the plant bulb is the one for you.
As important as the right bulb is, the location of your fixture can be even more important. Most canopies are constructed with the opening in the front, for ease of feeding, and this is unfortunate. Almost every longtime aquarist agrees that tanks look much better when they are “front-lit”, in other words, the fixture sits toward the front of the tank, rather than where the hoods position them-in the back.
Experiment with the set up that you currently have. Take the top off of your tank and move the light around. Try it in different locations. See if moved if it makes a difference to you. Where do you want the light? Where do you want the shadows?
A front-lit tank presents the light on the front of the fish, emphasizing their colors and bringing your fish out of the shadows. If your tank came with this sort of hood, you might consider exchanging your hood for a simple pane of glass or plexi-glass. You can get these made at any glass shop and even at many of the hardware warehouses. It’s a cheap, one time expense that will pay dividends for the life of your tank.
Whatever you decide, do not be afraid to experiment. Bulbs do eventually need to be replaced, so try a different kind of bulb next time. See what you like best; it’s all part of making your tank the best that it can possibly be.