Are you gifting an aquarium for the holidays? Make sure to keep nature and your new hobby separate

Prevent aquarium animals and plants from invading our waterways by following simple steps.

Your aquarium may be host to many non-native species.
Your aquarium may be host to many non-native species.

An exciting gift option for the holidays is an aquarium. Aquariums bring nature indoors and provide value and enjoyment to a home. Filled with exotic and easy-to-maintain plants and animals, aquarium keeping is an attractive and educational hobby for all ages to enjoy. However, it is important to keep in mind the life expectancy of new pets when making purchasing decisions. For example, red eared slider turtles can easily live more than 20 years in the right conditions. The menacing-looking pacu, a tropical aquarium fish, has been caught by anglers in Lake St. Clair. Unsuspecting pet owners sometimes release their unwanted aquariums into lakes and streams when they can no longer care for them, under the assumption that it is a humane decision.

While many aquarium plants and animals will not survive Michigan’s climate, they can have short-term impacts. Most aquarium species available for purchase are not native, and if let loose into the wild, may become an invasive species, outcompeting our native flora and fauna for food, space and resources and ultimately causing environmental and economic harm. Even species that do not survive winter can introduce disease to our lakes and rivers. If you are interested in adding a new pet for the holidays, ask your local retailer for advice.

If you are thinking of adding an aquarium to your household, or giving one as a gift, here are some simple steps to follow:

  • Never release water, animals or plants from an aquarium into a body of water.
  • Inspect and rinse new aquatic plants to rid them of seeds, plant fragments, snails and fish before adding them to your tank.
  • Contact a local pet store if you find yourself unable to care for the aquarium. Many accept returns or assist with rehoming.
  • Seal aquatic plants for disposal in a plastic bag in the trash. Do not compost.
  • Give or trade unwanted fish or plants with another hobbyist, environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo.

The State of Michigan has laws restricting and prohibiting the sale of some organisms, including plants and fish in the pet trade. However, the law does not include all potentially harmful species, therefore, it is important to never release anything from an aquarium.

To increase awareness of aquatic invasive species in the aquarium trade, Michigan State University Extension teamed up with the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to create the RIPPLE education campaign. Michigan retailers and residents follow RIPPLE recommendations regarding proper inspection and disposal techniques to keep non-native plants and animals out of Michigan’s lakes and streams. To learn more about invasive species and the RIPPLE campaign visit

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