Letters to the Editor
(Ted Coletti of “Livebearers Unlimited” received this letter
and passed it along):
Noisy Equipment and Fish
I enjoy your column very much and have learned quite
a bit about livebearers in particular, and fishkeeping in
general from you. In fact, every month when I receive
my new copy of TFH, the first two things I read are “The
Planted Tank” and “Livebearers Unlimited.” I’m emailing
you today with a question about a concern I have.
I’ve kept aquariums for many years—since the good
old days when all we had were air-driven outside and
undergravel filters. I never thought much about it over
the years, but recently having read that fish have a very
acute sense of hearing, I’ve begun to wonder if our fishes
are affected by the noise that’s produced by power filters,
water pumps, and air pumps. When I put my ear up to
the glass and listen while the filters and/or pumps are
running and then turn them off and listen again, I notice
a very big difference. I’m not referring to the sounds of the
water flowing, but rather to the humming and buzzing of
For example, an airline carries a surprising amount of
the noise from the air pump itself; outside power filters
that rest against the glass create a very loud hum; water
pumps within the aquarium do the same or worse; and
the only filter I have that doesn’t seem to contribute much
if any noise is my canister filter.
I believe all these loud noises must have a negative
effect on our aquarium fishes. I hate to think that while
we all strive to create the best possible environment for
them that they are all the while suffering because of the
relentless, ceaseless sounds of the aquarium equipment.
Please tell me what you think. I’m very eager to get your
opinion on this.
I am trying to decide whether—for the sake of the
fish—I should change to canister filters (which are fairly
costly) for all my tanks, or keep the outside power filters
that I have.
“Thanks for your kind words, David! I have always
wondered about this too, especially recently, as I use several
internal power filters,” Ted replied. “My fish do not seem
to be affected, however, and I have had cichlids spawn in
such conditions as well.” But the question does bear some
thought—after all, we are always looking to maintain a
comfortable environment for our fishes, one that makes them
feel at ease so we can observe their natural behaviors in as
stress-free an environment as possible.
Sound carries much better in water than in air, and most
fish can hear very well. Ostariophysian fishes (catfish,
cypriniforms, and characiforms) have even better hearing
than other groups. Many fish communicate with a variety of
sounds, some of which can be heard at quite a distance from
the aquarium, but many of which are inaudible to us. Natural
habitats vary greatly in the types and volume of sound
present—from quiet, languid, rainforest ponds to surf-beaten
reefs or rapids and waterfalls. When you factor in the sounds
made by the fish themselves, some natural environments can
be pretty noisy!
People and other animals can habituate to (get used to)
repetitive or constant stimuli like mechanical sounds to the
point of tuning them out completely—like the proverbial
person who lives next to the railroad track and sleeps soundly
as the freight train thunders through but wakes up suddenly
one night when it fails to come by.
But does the noise produced by aquarium equipment
bother our fish? Certainly fish that grow, thrive, and
spawn in our tanks must be fairly comfortable in their little
environments, but fish do respond to loud sounds, and some
may be discomfited by incessant mechanical noise. If such
sounds interfere with the fish’s communication, this would
likely cause it stress.
If your fish seem to be oblivious to mechanical noises in
your system, there probably is no reason to change anything,
but if you have some specimens that are unusually skittish or
refuse to spawn despite all your ministrations, noise pollution
in their environment is certainly something to consider.
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