Fish aficionados in cold-climate, inland cities like Columbus, Ohio may find it difficult to acquire unique or unusual freshwater tropical fish – unless you know where to look and what to do once you get there. Those interested in dazzling guests with a tropical ornamental tank that has a saltwater ambience without the saltwater fish keeper’s prices or commitments will find the following information useful.
As an avid fish keeper for many, many years, I once found it consistently difficult to find healthy, unique tropical fish in Columbus, Ohio. In the last ten years, it was nearly impossible to find Brazilian Leaf fish, Archer fish, Mono Argenteus, Puffer fish or Scats. Most chain pet retailers would not purchase these species without a guaranteed, high consumer demand. The self/family-owned and operated retailers either didn’t have the space to house tropical ornamentals sold in bulk or found themselves in a similar position as the chain retailers with the risk of taking a loss on a product that didn’t move.
Fortunately, the times are changing. Columbus has four quality pet retailers that offer a wide variety of tropical ornamental fish at relatively inexpensive prices. My personal favorite has always been Byerly’s Aquarium Supply (http://www.byerlysaquarium.com). The staff is knowledgeable and friendly, which is always a bonus. Byerly’s offers a very wide variety of fish, tanks, frozen foods, and supplies – you can’t go wrong once you walk through the doors. Another local, popular favorite is Aquarium Adventure (www.aquariumadventure.com). This huge warehouse is impressive and can be somewhat overwhelming when you enter – so allot plenty of time to peruse the aisles of tanks that stand seven feet high (or more). You may also find the tank displays of exotics interesting and the pond setups are professionally maintained. Aquarium Adventure also offers a vast variety of live plants for your “veggie nibbling” baby tropicals!
Jack’s Aquarium and Pets (www.jacksaquarium.com) may fulfill requests for unusual tropicals, but if you’re looking for “used”, sizable fish from other fish keepers looking to sell or trade “tank busters”, Jacks Aquarium is the place for you. Conversely, if you have healthy tropicals in your tank in need of more tank space than you can provide, the retailer (as well as most of the local retailers mentioned here) will be happy to buy them from you. Jack’s also offers a good variety of live foods (e.g., brine shrimp, feeder fish in various sizes, and insects).
I have found several tropical ornamentals and purchased many Lemon Yellow Malawi cichlids from Petland (www.petland.com). They generally have very healthy, unique fish. Also, if you want to purchase a very unusual tropical fish, your wait time will be minimal (maybe 2 to 3 weeks). Although the Petland stores in Columbus, Ohio have limited aquarium space compared to Aquarium Adventure or Byerly’s, they do offer occasional selections of exotic tropical species: infant sting rays, gobies, and show quality cichlids. Petland also offers a wide variety of tank supplies, water conditioners, flake/dry foods, and medicines to keep fish healthy. The staff are generally knowledgeable and personable – an important asset to any fish keeper interested in ordering unusual tropicals on a regular basis.
The process of acquiring unique tropicals begins by researching the type of tropicals of interest to you. You will have to know whether or not your selections are community fish, fare better with the same species and/or sex, or do best alone. For example, if you choose fancy Plecos and Red Devils as tank mates it’s not a good idea to introduce aggressive Puffer fish (fin nippers) or very passive fish, such as Freshwater Dolphins or Iridescent Sharks. If you’re not “internet savvy”, choose any of the retailers above and ask someone in the aquatics department for advice.
You’ll also need to research the breeding habits of your favorite tropicals. This is very important to maintaining your budget and getting the healthiest, quality fish available. The summer and spring seasons are the best time to purchase most ornamental, freshwater or brackish water tropical fish. Tropical fish need warm water (between 78 – 83 degrees) and it’s less costly to ship tropical fish during seasons where the climate is within those temperatures. You can talk to the staff at any of these retailers or surf the net for the information you need on the breeding seasons of the fish of interest to you. It’s equally advantageous to find out which wholesalers (fish farms) sell to your local pet store. Some online wholesale suppliers include: www.aquafind.com, www.somethingsphishy.com, www.grandaquatic.com, and www.bayfish.com. Browse these sites to see fish pictures and pricing information.
Once you’ve done the research, go to your local retailer and begin to establish a relationship with the staff or management. Buying other pet supplies or purchasing tank equipment or fish food on a regular basis from your local retailer is a great way for the staff to remember your face and recognize you as a valuable customer. When you’re ready to request a special order tropical from your favorite retailer, attempt to contact the person who places the orders to the supplier. This is the person that will provide you with an idea of your cost after markups have been applied to the cost of the fish. Keep in mind that a retailer may not always be able (or willing) to absorb the costs associated with fulfilling your request. These costs may include the cost of the fish, air/ground freight charges, packaging (boxes and bags), and heat or cold packs. Fuel surcharges may also be applied for ground shipping.
If you purchase a fish during “off” seasons, it may be extremely costly to have it shipped to your local retailer and it’s not likely the retailer will be willing to absorb any of the aforementioned costs. To give you an idea of how expensive “extremely expensive” is: shipping usually costs $45-$55, regardless of the quantity purchased. If you find a wholesale supplier that will ship to an individual (which is not likely), you may find that prepayment is a requirement. This could prove to be disastrous if quality is not guaranteed. Moreover, if you purchase from a supplier during breeding season (cool/cold seasons), you will pay for heat packs and extra packaging that will ensure the integrity of the fish. When those costs are totaled, a purchase of one unique and unusual tropical fish could cost as much as $100.00 or more!
After speaking with your tropical fish retailer, you may find the cost to purchase one fish of interest to you is too expensive. Shop or post a request for your desired species at www.aquabid.com. This website operates much like ebay.com, where bids are taken for a product within a matter of hours or days and the highest bidder receives the product. Another good way of communicating a request for a specific ornamental tropical on the internet is to post your request at www.craigslist.org. If you find a seller, meet at a local pet retailer, if possible. Not only is it a good personal safety practice, but you will have access to supplies, food, and water conditioners that will help your newly acquired pet become better acclimated to its new home with you.
Finally, if all else fails, start or join a fish club. It’s fun to compare fish size, variations in color and eating habits with club members. When you are away on vacation, you don’t have to worry that your tropicals will be over- or underfed. You can solicit members at your local pet retailer or look for clubs online. I highly recommend this if you and your fish keeping friends want to create consumer demand for a specific tropical fish at your local pet retail store. When a retailer purchases in bulk (6 – 30 fish per box), the cost to fish keepers is minimized. It’s a great way to keep your fish purchases reasonable and enjoy your new unique and unusual tropical fish with your favorite fish fans!