With tropical Fish temperature of the water is very important.
The reason they are called tropical fish is because they are from the tropics near the equator where the water is nice and warm!
Fish are cold blooded which means they cannot maintain their body temperature. Their body temperature is dependent on the temperature of the water. Every fish has an "ideal" temperature and it's different for every fish. A gold fish for example will thrive in 60F water where as the idea temperature for a Discus is 86F.
Many people will ask what is the "ideal" tropical fish temperature? Well, as you can see from the example above it really depends on the fish. As a general rule most of the tropical fish you will find at the local pet store will be happy between 72F and 82F. I keep my tanks at about 77F.
Like the Discus, there are exceptions to the rule. When choosing compatible fish for your aquarium it is very important to factor in the "ideal" temperature in addition to the type of behavior the fish exhibit.
So what happens if the water gets too cold? Obviously if the water gets cold enough the fish will die. But many times tropical fish will survive in water at lower temperatures, they just won't be happy. They won't exhibit their true behavior and characteristics. They won't breed. They will pretty much have a miserable existence.
The coloration of fish is greatly affected by the water temperature. Fish that normally exhibit beautifully vibrant colors will often become very dull looking when the water gets too cold. I once neglected to check the temperature on one of my tanks for several days when I noticed the fish looked pale. A quick look at the thermometer told me the heater wasn't working. It was amazing how quickly the vibrant colors returned to my fish once the heater was replaced!
My little incident with broken heater underscores the importance of a good aquarium thermometer. It's easy to forget, but it's very important that you check the temperature of your tank on a regular basis. There are a few different types to choose from.
An LCD stick-on thermometer simply sticks to the outside of the tank. It will change colors with temperature just like those strips your mom used to use on your forehead to take your temperature when you were a kid. Then there are floating mercury thermometers that can either float around the tank freely or be secured in on place with a suction cup. You can also buy aquarium thermometers that sink to the bottom and sit in one place.
If you want to get really fancy you can even get external digital thermometers with remote sensors. Some can even be programmed to give you an alarm when the temperature is out of range.
To maintain the proper tropical fish temperature, you need a reliable aquarium heater. Submergible aquarium heaters are available in many different sizes each having a specific power designation. Obviously the larger the tank the larger heater you will need. Take a look at this page about aquarium heaters for more information on choosing the correct heater for your aquarium.
Since the average tropical fish temperature is warmer than what we humans consider comfortable room temperature, most of us only need to worry about heating the water. But if you live in a very hot climate and don't have the luxury of air conditioning, you may have to find a way to cool the water in your aquarium.
If you find yourself in this situation there are a few things you can try before dropping a lot of money on a chiller. It may seem obvious, but the first thing to do is to make sure your aquarium is not in the direct sunlight as this can raise the temperature significantly. A simply fan to blow air across the top of the aquarium will not only dissipate the heat from any lighting, it will also cause the water to evaporate which lowers the temperature. Believe it or not, it is possible to lower the temperature of the water by several degrees by using a fan, but you will have to add water more often due to the evaporation.
If all else fails you may have to buy a chiller. Just like aquarium heaters, aquarium chillers come in all different sizes depending on your tank size and the ambient temperature. A conventional chiller will pump the aquarium water through an external unit that cools the water much in the same way your refrigerator cools your food.