How to Enhance (Improve) Your Aquarium Fish Colors
By Eddie Waithaka @aquariawise
If you’re a fish enthusiast, you know that vibrant, colorful fish are a stunning addition to any aquarium.
However, your fish’s colors may not be as vibrant as you’d like, maybe because of stress, fish tank condition, or the quality of food you are feeding them.
Fortunately, there are several hacks you can use to improve your fish’s colors and enhance their natural beauty.
Feeding your fish foods rich in vitamins and minerals is one of the best ways to enhance their colors. Offer your fish quality foods with ingredients, like krill and spirulina algae, and vegetable constituents, like romaine lettuce, broccoli, and carrot.
Proper and quality lighting, 8 to 10 hours daily, will also improve your fish colors, particularly your betta and goldfish.
However, if your fish have lost their colors due to water quality or aquarium conditions, better their environment before you try quality color foods and lighting.
Here is a quick, scannable table of the things you can do to improve (enhance) your fish colors.
Tips to Improve Fish Color
|What You Need to Do|
|Provide proper nutrition|
|Quality, adequate lighting|
|Maintain water quality|
Given this background…
In this post, we’ll explore natural and artificial ways to improve your fish color, from proper nutrition and water quality to lighting and live plants. These tips should help your fish show their best colors and improve their overall health.
What Gives Your Aquarium Fish Its Color(s)
To improve or enhance your fish colors, it helps to understand where and how they get them.
Bright colors and patterns of aquarium fish come from different sources and complex biological processes. The colors can be created by a combaination of pigments (enhance by fish food), iridescence (lighting and breeding), and chromotophores (environment and mood).
Most species, like goldfish, angelfish, guppies, and tetras, get them from pigments on their skin, which are enhanced by a fish’s diet. So, your fish color expressions will be closely related to the diet you feed it and the pigment content in the food.
For example, the most common and well-known color of goldfish is orange, which comes from a pigment called xanthophyll, also known as carotenoids. They obtain it from the algae and other aquatic plants that goldfish eat.
Goldfish can also have other colors, such as red, yellow, white, black, blue, and green, which come from different pigments. For instance, red and pink colors come from a pigment called astaxanthin, an additive in formulated aquafeeds that provides reddish to orange hues(not present in natural carotenoids).
As such, aquarium fish without a pigment supplementation diet may fade (lose their vibrant hues), especially if the pigments are not part of their natural diet, like in algae and vegetables.
That said, not all fish colors come from pigments like carotenoids and astaxanthin. Some fish, especially marine species, achieve their bright color from how light interacts and reflects off their scales or skin.
A perfect example of iridescence tropical fish is betta fish, which have a wide range of vibrant colors that change depending on the angle of the light. Specialized scales that are layered will reflect the rays in different ways, depending on the angle of the light and the viewer’s position.
Iridescence is also present in goldfish, especially in breeds like the shubunkin, which have a blue-gray base color with splashes of red and white. The scales of these fish contain guanine crystals, which can reflect light and create a range of colors.
Aquarist can enhance the iridescence colors in aquarium fish by selective breeding. Select and mate fish with striking, bright hues to create new varieties.
Lastly, some ornamental and aquarium fish species, like goldfish and koi can have chromatophores that allow them to change their coloration in response to their environment or mood.
In this instance (chromatophores), your fish displays its best colors if it’s healthy and the water quality and conditions are optimal. Your fish colors will fade (turn pale) if the fish is stressed, sick, or bored.
What Food Enhances Tropical Aquarium Fish Colors
Fish can produce some pigments naturally. For instance, black and brown pigments (melanin) come from cells called Melanocytes, but your fish will not make others, like carotenoid and xanthophyll pigments. They will have to derive them from food.
Specific fish food enhance coloration in tropical fish. The best are foods, like spirulina (algae), krill and shrimp, and vegetables, such as carrots, beetroot, romaine lettuce, and broccoli, which are rich in pigments, like Carotenoids (red, orange), Astaxanthin, Xanthophylis (yellow), Melanin (black, brown), and Phycocyanin (blue, green).
— Spirulina: This is a type of blue-green algae that is high in pigments like carotenoids and phycocyanin, which can enhance the red, blue, and green colors of fish.
— Krill and shrimp: These are high in astaxanthin, which enhances the red, orange, and yellow colors of fish, particularly goldfish.
— Carrots: These are high in beta-carotene, a type of carotenoid that can enhance orange and red colors in aquarium fish.
— Beetroot: A vegetable is high in betanin, a pigment that enhances red and pink colors in fish.