Do You Need An Air Pump In A Fish Tank? The Remarkable Facts You Need To Know!

Last Updated on November 6, 2021 by Marco C.

When you are setting up an aquaponics system, there are many components to consider.   One of those is oxygenation- how will you provide air to the tank’s ecosystem?  This article will give you a detailed and thorough answer to the very important question: do you need an air pump in a fish tank? 

Just like humans, fish need air to provide crucial body functions.  In a closed setting like a tank, there often is not enough natural air provided to keep the ecosystem thriving.  This is where the man-made invention: the air pump for the fish tank- can be necessary! 

Before we dive into details, let’s take a look at the basic things every fish tank needs.  This way you can understand how the air pump functions in relation to the bigger system. 

Main Parts Of A Tank

If we had to break it down to the most simple things a fish tank needs we came up with:

  1. A tank – to hold the water, fish, and parts of the ecosystem
  2. A pump/ filter setup- to keep the water clean 
  3. Water, Fish, and everything inside! 

There are numerous different ways you can choose to set up your tank.  But no matter what there are crucial things that every system needs if you want your fish to survive and your aquaponics system to be a success. 

Remember, the main key to aquaponics is using the nutrient-rich water fertilized by fish waste to grow plants.  Thus, no fish means no system! This is why you have to pay attention to the environment you maintain for your new pets. 

At bare minimum, the main things every fish needs are:

  1. Food- this should be an obvious one. 
  2. Clean water/ ecosystem to live in
  3. Oxygen

Main Parts Of A Tank

Learn more about: The Facts About 250 Gallon Fish Tank Dimensions

Why Do My Fish Need Oxygen?

Oxygen is one of the most important things for fish just like it is for humans.  All living things require it in order for their cells to go through aerobic respiration.  In its most basic form,  this concept means breathing.  

Breathing is what provides the fish’s bodies with energy.  However, fish do not have lungs that fill with air entering through their nose and mouth (like humans).  Their oxygen enters through the gills, which are organs located behind the head of the fish.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the gills are filled with many small blood vessels which enable oxygen to pass through and carbon dioxide to exit.  

The very unique thing about fish which sets them apart from humans is they must receive their air from Dissolved Oxygen (DO) – which means oxygen located in the air, but rather oxygen gas dissolved in water.  Fish pass water through their mouth into their gills to receive this valuable resource. 

The amount of DO present in water varies from each water source.  When you have a fish tank you will need to ensure that there is enough oxygen available for your fish.  This is where people feel they need an air pump in a fish tank.

So, Is An Air Pump For A Fish Tank Necessary?

The short answer is it is not 100% necessary in all scenarios but it will make your aquaponics life a lot easier.  You may be wondering where the oxygen in a natural body of water comes from.  There are few main sources.

One is from the movement of water which aerates the surface of the water. This movement sends bubbles through the water making the DO available for all fish to enjoy.  

The second most important source of O2 in aquatic systems is our reliable friend: Plants!  Just like above ground, plants give off Oxygen and absorb Carbon Dioxide underwater.  If you fill your system with enough aquatic plants and keep its ecosystem balanced, it is possible to generate enough oxygen so that you don’t need an air pump.  

If you want to avoid using an air pump, it is necessary to keep a steady ecosystem. This means don’t have too many fish in your tank, don’t overfeed the fish causing nitration, and keep your tank clean.

Perhaps you have seen a fish tank sticking their head outside of the tank water to take a breath.  This happens when there isn’t enough O2 in the system.  They need to take some O2 from the air (which is a very low energy source of Oxygen for fish). 

It is possible to measure the amount of DO in your system by using test kits. A good level is 5mg/L. 

Using An Air Pump To Provide Oxygen

Although it’s possible to get enough DO in your tank without an air pump, it’s a great shortcut.  An air pump simply takes air from the outside and pushes it into the tank,  providing lots of oxygenate bubbles for your fish to consume.  

This aeration increases the amount of time that gas exchanges at the surface of your water with the outside air.  Basically, this means there will be more oxygen in your system and therefore a healthier life for the fish. 

It also has the added benefit of moving particles around your tank, making it easier to keep clean. A typical fish tank air pump setup consists of three parts.

  1. The pump which sucks air from the outside and pushes it to your tank
  2. The Siphon tube which moves the air into the tank
  3. An air stone which is located at the bottom of the siphon tube and disperses bubbles into the tank

I highly recommend using an air pump because it is not that expensive but gives you a great benefit.  If you decide to use an air pump in your fish tank, you won’t have to be concerned about the Dissolved Oxygen levels for your tank.  

Setting one up is very simple, just make sure you have a waterproofed electricity source nearby and you are good to go.  This is a super low-maintenance tool that works for you in the long term.  Why not try it?

Feel free to ask questions and comment below!

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