Feb 08

Cycling your aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single biggest piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens for a newly set up tank. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

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Jan 15

Top 10 tips on African Cichlids

Top 10 tips for a successful African cichlid tank

African cichlids on youtubeTip number one. Watch a lot of cichlid videos on youtube. With many expert hobbyists giving first hand experience of setting up a cichlid aquarium, which species to buy, maintenance of a cichlid aquarium through to breeding the various, mbunas, peacocks, haps, Tanganyikans and other topics. Always be prepared to learn more because there’s tons of information in video format.

Tip number two. Over filtrate. Always buy a filter that is twice as powerful as the recommended size. Your tank has to be super clean the reason is because most Malawi tanks are overcrowded. Malawi aquariums are over stocked to spread aggression. Malawis are big eaters and cichlids are constantly producing waste you need to over filtrate. Running two filters simultaneously in the same tank is also a great idea. Canister filters are a must. You need to stuff them full of good filter material to do both mechanical and biological filtration.

Tip number three. Overstock your tank. Overstocking will crowded malawishelp spread the aggression between the fish so that no individual fish gets singled out. Even then you will still see aggression, where one fish will want to eliminate another particular tank mate. It is something that you have to expect when keeping Africans. But do all you can to keep that kind of behaviour down. To reduce it to a minimum. over stocking your tank, rearrange the rock scape every two weeks, and be quick to act when you see one fish getting constantly bullied by another. If it looks like one fish has picked out another fish for destruction remove the aggressor or the victim immediately.

Tip number four. Act quickly when you see a fish getting beaten up or looking ill. If you see mouth locking, tattered fins or hit marks on the side of the body. Immediately remove the weak or injured fish. If you leave it too late and remove a harassed fish you will often find that the fish will still end up dying either the same day or a few days later.

yellow bags in bagTip number five. Always add 4 or more fish to an aquarium at a time. Adding just one or two fish to an established aquarium results in the new fish entering other fishes already established territories and so will get beaten up.

Tip number six. Spend less on the filter canister and use the money saved to buy good quality filter media. And again having two canisters will enable you to service one canister while the other keeps running doing its job of filtering the impurities from the water and avoiding ammonia and nitrite spikes. And if
one filter fails you will still have one filter running until you can fix the broken filter or buy another one.

Tip number seven. If you skip one day a week of feeding the fish or possibly two days a week you will notice that your fish are more healthy and active. Also they will be less prone to getting Malawi bloat which is common in Malawis which are always eating. They are supposed to be eating mostly algae. So when they eat dried foods which are a more concentrated food than they find in the wild, you are actually overfeeding them. Also the water will be cleaner because less eating results in less fish waste.

Aquarium water changeTip number eight. Change 40-50% water changes every week. Try and set up an automatic top up system. Use a long hose system of some sort. When you add tap water use a water conditioner. It is wise to overdose rather than underdose on water conditioner. The easier this task is the less likely you are to skip it. Carrying buckets of water up and down in your living room every time you do a water change is likely to cause an accident at some time.

Tip number nine. Research on YouTube on the particular species of African that you intend to buy. You need to find out whether your particular fish is overly aggressive or passive or even a carnivore. Or the fish may grow much bigger than you can cope with. Always be prepared to move on a fish that is not suitable for your aquarium. Some fish that are beautiful and small when young can become nasty monsters that quickly outgrow your aqurium.

sulphur head peacockTip number ten. Don’t be too obsessive over getting everything exactly right. This is a hobby that is meant to be enjoyed so relax and don’t be too worry if the tank is not too perfect. You don’t have to be overly precise. Remember Malawis are strong fish that are mostly immune to things like ich.

Lastly an overall tip is to always chat with other hobbyists on the forums. Ask questions. Answer other people’s questions. Share your experiences with other hobbyists.

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Jan 14

Koi Pond

Building Your First Koi Pond

koi pond with streamA well built garden pond is relaxing and creates a feeling of coolness and mystery. You can design and create the perfect garden environment with water by building your own garden pond. You can allow your imagination complete freedom to build a koi pond that looks attractive while still being functional. Koi ponds should be at least 4 feet deep. This insures the koi’s habitat will remain frost-free even in the depths of winter.

One option is a preformed pond made of plastic which are very simple and fast to install and they’re available in a range of sizes and shapes. But are of fixed designs. Another option is using a rubber pond liner allowing you free scope. When designing a pond with liners you can put your own ideas for a pond into practice.

sand pond outlineHere is outlined plans for a lined pond 10 square metres in size. Once you have drawn out the plan for the shape of the pond you are ready to start. First of all, mark out the basic outline shape by sprinkling sand on the ground in the shape desired. You could also use a rubber hose or string. Use a spirit level to check height differences in the ground. If there are differences in height in the ground, lower levels have to be built, while higher levels will have to be lowered by removing soil. Once the outside boundary of the pond is level we can start digging.

The pond must be dug from the outside inwards. Remove protruding stones and roots that you will find as you dig. Dig out the whole pond area to the depth of the shallows. You then have to mark the bog zone, the shallow water zone and the deepwater zone. Use some of the Earth dug out to create the slope for a stream. the size of the liner required is calculated using lengths of string. Lay these out along the length and width and after adding on an extra 50 centimetres on each side you can work out the exact measurements for the liner.

koi-pond-trenchThe edges of the pond can be created in a number of different ways. The simplest method is to make a trench all round. Fleece and liner are laid over the mound so created and then tucked in. The gap produced is filled up with gravel. However edge fixings systems built on a firm base ensure that the edges of the pond do not sink even under load. Whether you use stone, wood or plastic tubing there is a whole range of options open to you. This design is with plastic tubes. If there are too many protruding stones in the earth the bottom of the pond you can cover it with a layer of sand to protect the liner. However, normally a. fleece is sufficient for lining the pond. Press the fleece firmly into place and cut off any surplus material. The next step is the pond liner. The decisive Factor is its texture as well as a high resistance to tearing. A rough texture of you liner makes it easier for microorganisms to attach themselves. This soon gives the liner a natural appearance

koi pond streamFor the edges you can use a liner with a decorative stone pattern. Pump hoses and cables are tucked away out of sight in a fold in the liner. Otherwise there should not be any folds or creases in the liner if possible. The liner for the stream is bonded to the pond liner with glue. Lastly you can form the protruding liner into a fold 10 centimetres deep. This so-called capillary barrier prevents the surrounding earth becoming saturated with pond water. The plants are placed in planting baskets which we fill with substrate. First of all we plant the deepwater zone where the pump is also located. This entire area is decorated with stones. However the stones should not be within the suction zone as the pumps performance will be reduced by a smaller suction area. High quality pumps are available whatever the application or requirements. If the pump becomes blocked up with leaves or Grass just blast a jet of water from a hose and pick off any remaining debris. There is a wide selection of special pumps for water features of all kinds. You can also attach a skimmer to your pump to clean the surface. The skimmer removes dirt and leaves directly from the surface of the water and passes them to the filter. Place gravel at the bottom of the pond and use large stones to set your pump and filter in position. Then fill the pond using tap water. Then plant the shallow water zone with potted plants.
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Embankment pockets are a perfect solution for the steep bank they are fixed with large stones at the edge of the bank and covered with gravel. To plant the bog zone cut out embankment mats from coconut fibre and arrange them in the shallow water. The mats are a lastly weighted down. Finally the bog zone is filled with gravel. Let your imagination run free when creating the transition from Pond to garden. This design is for natural stone paving. At this area on the bank any animals that fall in the pond can climb out again. At this point, the pond already looks really good. Your aim is to create a clean and healthy pond. A good option for filtering a pond is based on biological filtration which filter dirt and surplus nutrients from the pond water according to a mechanical biological principle. How does a biological flow filter work? Pond water and dirt are fed to the filter by the pump. In the filter there are filter material where bacteria grows. This bacteria breaks down the fish waste matter into harmless nitrates. Also available are ultraviolet light filter attachments that kill off algae and excess bacteria.
Filters will clog up regularly so buy a filtration system that is easy to clean.
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To add a small stream to the pond you need a pump with pressure filter that can power the filter and still have power to raise water to the stream.

Now you are ready to start adding the fish. But you first have to wait a couple of weeks for the water to mature. It’s the fish that really make the pond come alive. You caould mature your pond and filter with some cheap goldfish before you buy your prized koi.
The basic stocking rule applies; you should never stock more than one kilogram of fish per cubic metre of water in your pond. Your pond will hold 6000 litres that’s a maximum of 6 kilos of fish. But don’t forget that fish will grow so if you are buying young fish then the limit your pond to a total weight of 3 kilos per cubic meter. Then wait four weeks before stocking your pond with koi. that is the time it takes for the bacteria in the filter to mature. And then only add 1 or 2 fish at a time over many weeks.
It is a very good idea to buy a water test kit that tests the water for ammonia and nitrites. Test the water and only when these readings are near zero can you add the next couple of fish.

Clean water, thriving plants and happy Fish is your goal. You should by now have a fascinating piece of nature in your own garden. Making your own pond is really simple. Building a pond is not difficult with using your ideas and the right equipment.

Water features also give your pond something special. A range of different effects can be achieved really easily in next to no time. To make sure your fish are happy in their environment buy quality koi specific foods. The result is something to be proud of. A healthy easily digestible diet will keep your fish active. Tame fish even eat out of your hand. The ideal koi food will contain ingredients like spirulina and carotene. These are color enhancing foods that work very well to bring out vibrant colors in your koi. However, overuse of these products may result in the white areas of the fish developing an orange or yellow cast. To maintain brilliant white areas reduce the amount of color enhancing foods used.

Plants produce oxygen and reduce the level of nutrients so curb the growth of algae. Every plant in your pond has its preferred location. Waterlilies love deep calm Water. Reeds and Rushes on the other hand, prefer shallow water. Once your pond is build it needs occasional care along with its inhabitants.

And with the right tools it is simple to look after your pond both in and at the edge of the water. Whatever decorative idea for your pond interests you, if the technology keeps a low profile a truly natural atmosphere will be the result. Ponds can also look really attractive in the dark. Lighting systems can conjure up fascinating moods.

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Aug 24

Giant Betta

Care and breeding of the giant betta.

giant-betta-anabatoidesThe giant betta (Betta Anabatoides) comes from Borneo in Indonesia. It is the largest know Betta species with males growing up 10 or 12 cm. Males have larger heads and longer pelvic fins than the females. There is a light patch on the front of the anal fin in the male. The water should be soft and acidic. A ph of of 4.7 is ideal but they are not too fussy because they live in water conditions that change through the season. Temperature requirements are quiet high 25C to 30C.

They are carnivorous and respond well to live food, especially live food that stays near the surface or mid water. They can take most dried foods but some live food seems to be necessary for health.

They can be kept in a species aquarium or in a community aquarium. Large aquariums guarantee success. Between 100L to 200L aquariums are fine because of their large size. They are as aggressive as Betta Splendens and two males will fight until one is dead.

The giant betta is a mouthbreeding betta. They need very quiet conditions to breed. The male incubates the eggs in his mouth until they hatch. The male and female courtship is similar to betta pugnax. The eggs hatch about 3/4 days after spawning but only after a further 8 days does he release the young fry. The fry can be fed infusoria and later on baby brineshrimp. They are fast growers.

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Dec 05

Fancy guppy, platy, molly and swordtail pedigree types

fancy guppy veiltail champion

fancy guppy veiltail champion

Fancy guppies, platies, mollies and swordtails

All the four popular livebearers available in your local shop are pedigree varieties or cross breeds. You will not find wild type (fish found in the wild or resemble fish from the wild) livebearers for sale. These fancy livebearer fish have been developed over many years of selective breeding. They are also mass produced from tropical fish farms from the far east and Florida.

pedigree in livebearers is measured by how close a particular fish is to an ideal fish in terms of colour, pattern, body shape and fin shape.

The laws of genetics applies to livebearers as it does to all other animals. You would be wise to learn the basics of mendelian genetics. Mendels law means that if two parent fish of different colour breed then the young will not be a blend of the two colours. If a pure red guppy breeds with a pure blue guppy then the young will not be

fancy guppy female champion

fancy guppy female champion

purple. The young will be either all red or all blue depending on if red or blue is the dominant colour. However the other colour has not disappeared it is still there but hidden behind the dominant colour. His second law means that every gene is inherited from an individuals parents – half from the mother and half from the father. When reproduction takes place then these genese split apart and recombine with genes from the other fish in complicated but predictable ways.

Mendelian_inheritance

Of all livebearers the four main livebearers (guppies, platys, mollys and swordtails) and their close relatives are ideal fish for selective breeding because fish such as guppies do not breed true. Every guppy differs from its parents slightly. These slight deviations can be developed over the generations to create new fancy varieties. That is why they have proven so popular with breeders. The other livebearers breed true most of the time so take a lot of work to produce new fancy varieties.

Guppies and mollys are closely related and it is sometimes possible to interbreed them to obtain a feature from one species to the other to create a new variety. Likewise swordtails and platys are also closely related and can interbreed to create new varieties.

male and female fancy guppy mating

male and female fancy guppy mating

If you want to be successful in pedigree breeding always select parent fish that are healthy, are in their breeding prime in terms of age and do not have any genetic defects.

When buying pedigree stock great care must be taken when buying the female in particular. The female’s pedigree is not obvious and just because most females look alike does not mean that they do not carry pedigree genes because they do. Using any old female for breeding is likely to result in a mongrel brood which is pointless.

When breeding for pedigree then you must apply selective breeding techniques.

1. Choose the best male and female that most closely fits the pedigree profile you are after

breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails

breeding pair hi fin tuxedo swordtails

2. Culling. This means you must kill off or dispose of young fish that do not match the pedigree profile.
However you must wait until the young fish are half grown before you can tell whether there is no chance of them becoming good pedigree specimens or not. Remove all fish that do not make the grade. Also it makes good sense to separate young males from young females to prevent unwanted breeding. But beware that some young males develop late and may look like females longer than other males. Keep an eye on this.
This separation of males from females allows you to grow the fish until they hit their prime and then picking the best two without the fear of unwanted pregnancies

Fancy guppy pedigree types

short round tail Moscow guppy

short round tail Moscow guppy

Pedigree guppies have a standard body length that excludes the tail fin of 1 inch which is 26mm. This is because of cross breeding with mollies to obtain black genes then crossing back.

The tail types are divided into short and long tail types.

Pegigree guppy tail fin shapes

Short tail types do occasionally occur naturally in the wild. The short tailed varieties are the round-tail, spear tail and spade tail.

The long tailed varieties do not occur in the wild but are the result of extensive line breeding to lengthen and shape the tail to a defined pedigree standard. The long tailed varieties are flag tail, veil tail, fan tail, delta tail, lyre tail, double sword tail, bottom sword tail, top sword tail and pin tail.

Snakeskin delta tail guppy

Snakeskin delta tail guppy

Pedigree guppy colours

After fin shapes, colour is another important factor in pedigree
Guppies are described with a basic background colour together with an overlay colour called cover. This technically refers to the different layers of pigmentation and other iridophores that refract colours in the guppies skin.

The base colours for guppies are

Grey This is the wild grey/olve green type colour
Albino This is the lack of black pigment cells. There is an albino version called the glass-belly that has no pigment at all and has the pink eyes.

gold coloured guppy

gold coloured guppy

Gold Yellow colour but when black pigmentation is present appears bronze
White This is formed from white pigment cells and the lack of other colour forming cells.
Blond This is a light yellow colour. They have dark eyes.
Silver This is when the shiny iridophores overlay white pigment cells.
Blue Guppies don’t have blue pigment cells. Blue is created by black pigment cells that are refracted through iridophore cells creating an iridescent blue. They lack the red and yellow pigment cells.
Cream
Pink
Lutino
fancy guppy pedigree colours

Cover colours and patterns are a secondary layer of colour that gives the guppy its final colouration. Patterns include leopard skin or snakeskin, while emerald is a cover colour.

black lyretail swordtail

black lyretail swordtail

Fancy swordtail pedigree types

There are 3 basic fin types in sword tails
1) Normal fins – as in the wild type
2) Tall fins – where the dorsal is larger than normal
3) Lyre finned – where the all fins have extended edges in a lyre shape. This sometimes results in a lyre shaped gonopodiumm that is so deformed that such a fish cannot mate.
Sword tails come in several ground colours but not as many as the guppy.

Sword tail ground colours include:

pineapple male swordtail

pineapple male swordtail

green
pink
gold
albino
blond
white
silver
cream
There are so far 3 cover colours in Swordtails: Black, red and orange. The orange covered fish are called pineapples.

The common swordtail varieties are:

berlin cross swordtail female

berlin cross swordtail female

Berlin cross swordtail.
This originated in Berlin. This is a red sword tail with a black spotted body. This variety does not breed true. You have to cross a red sword tail with a red sword tail with black spots. That is why it is called a cross.
Frankfurt cross swordtail.
Originated from Frankfurt. The front half of the fish is red while the rear half of the fish is black. This variety also does not breed true and has to be crossed from a red with a Frankfurt cross.
Hamburg cross swordtail.
Originated from Hamburg. Has yellow fins, black body with blue/green metallic scales on the sides.
Wiesbaden Cross swordtail.
The fish is black with shiny scales. The top of the fish and the bottom of the fish are either red or green.
Green swordtail.
This has a green body with a red zig-zag band on the side.

red lyre tailed sword tail

red lyre tailed sword tail

Red Swordtail.
Both the ground colour and the cover colour is red. This gives the fish a deep red colour. The red albino has no ground colour but does have a red covering colour. The resulting fish is red with red eyes and a red tail. But its colour is not as deep as the normal red sword tail.
Tuxedo sword tail
The body is two thirds matt black covering a red ground colour. The black extends over most but not all of the body. The back is usually red.
Wagtail sword tail
Red bodied fish with all black fins. There are white, orange and yelow bodied varieties but all must have black fins.

Fancy platy pedigree groups

There are two basic species of platy that are closely related and over the years they have been interbred.
The maculatus platy is deeper bodied than the variatus platy. The maculatus platy comes from warmer waters than its close relative. The variatus platy grows more slowly than the maculatus platy. Most varieties have been developed from the maculatus platy with interbreeding to bring the varieties over to the variatus platy.

sunshine platy variatus

sunshine platy variatus

Fancy platy fins.

The point at which the body and tail meet should be a nice gentle curve and angle will be penalised by judges.
Most platys have tall dorsal fins that are square or flag shaped. Some platys have a brush like tail that is similar to the spear point tail in guppies.

The ground colours for platys are green,red and albino

The cover colours for platies are red, blue, marigold and black.

Well known platy varieties are:

comet platy = where the upper and lower edges of the tail fin are black.
2 spot platy = where the base of the tail has two dark spots. One above and one below.

mickey mouse platy

mickey mouse platy

Half moon platy = Where the base of the tail has a black crescent band.
Moon platy – where there is one large rounnd spot at the base of the tail.
Salt and pepper = Where the base colour(white) is dotted over with black dots all over.
Blue mirror platy = This variety has a green/grey base colour overlaid with shiny blue scales on the sides.
Coral platy = This variety is foreshortened so looks chubby. This variety is deep red.
Bleeding heart platy = This variety has a blond ground colour with a red patch on its breast and red bands coming up from the red patch.
Tuxedo platy = The body is two thirds matt black
Wagtail platy = Red bodied fish with all black fins.

Variatus platy colours

The only ground colour is green/grey
Sunset platy = This variety has bluish sides, yellow dorsal and red tail.

Hawaii platy variatus

Hawaii platy variatus

Hawaii platy = Matt black body with a yellow dorsal fin and a red tail fin.
Marigold platy = This variety has a yellow back and yellow dorsal fin. The lower half of the fish is orange as well as the tail being orange.

Fancy molly pedigree types

There are two closely related molly species in the hobby. The normal molly and the sailfin molly. Over the years they have been occasionally interbred in an attempt to create new varieties or improve existing varieties of molly. The normal molly has a small dorsal. Other fin types for the molly include a tall dorsal fin type, a veiltail fin type and a lyretail fin type. Note that some males with fancy fins have difficulty breeding because the gonopodium (being a fin) is also affected. So the male cannot fertilise his female.

female dalmation molly

female dalmation molly

The main colours for mollys are

Black, white, and green

The main molly pedigree types are:

Midnight molly = black body with a red dorsal fin
Albino mollys are common
White molly = silver white body and fins
Piebald molly = white molly with black dots all over
Golden molly = golden yellow molly. Some golden mollys have are overlaid in marbled black.
Liberty molly = blue sides and red edged fins .

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Nov 28

Saltwater fish food

Hungry saltwater fish eating

Hungry saltwater fish eating

Feeding saltwater fish

Different fish have different diets

Saltwater fish food is not as easy to get right as for freshwater fish. Depending on the type of marine fish you have, they will have different feeding needs. There are the seafood eaters who will require bits of fish or seafood tidbits. Then there are the plankton feeders who need to be fed with small foods such as baby brine shrimp, frozen cyclops and mysis shrimp. plankton feeders will need to be fed many times a day. If you supplement their diet with pellets these will have to be crumbled into the tank so that they can pick up the pieces.

Then there there are fish that feed on plant life such as seaweed and will need to be fed with greens from the kitchen and algae. And finally there are the algae grazers who will need a diet that is mostly algae. All vegetarian food will try to eat throughout the day so food must be made available throughout the day for them.

Saltwater fish love marine algae

Saltwater fish love marine algae

Your first job is to find out what your particular fish eats then set about buying or obtaining the foods they need. Some fish will not readily take to dried foods so you will have to rely on live foods and plant matter.

Some fish such as blennies are bottom feeders and search for organisms through the mulm at the bottom of the aquarium. They may feed off uneaten food left by other fish. Take care to see that these types of fish get properly fed. You may need to feed them directly with sinking pellets for them to find.

The fish that eat meat and that includes carnivores and omnivores will eat most forms of seafood from your fishmongers such as sea fish, prawns, mussels. Always chop these up into bite size pieces. For fish like tangs the pieces need to be very small because they tend to eat small life forms. Always blanch the seafood in boiling water for 1 minute to kill off any potential sea borne parasite.

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

Various recommended saltwater fish foods

Algae sheets such as nori which is a japanese food available in delicatessans is a great food to feed saltwater algae eating fish. When it is placed in the aquarium you will see all the vegetarian fish go into a feeding frenzy for it. It contains many essential micro-nutrients that are not available within garden greens such as romaine lettuce and spinach. So must be provided as a supplement.

All fish in the wild eat live food or fresh vegetable matter. Many wild caught fish will not take to dried foods so must be fed live foods such as brine shrimp and algae. However, many fish can be persuaded to eat chopped vegetables such as romaine lettuce and other greens. Dip the leaves into boiling water for 1 minute so that they become soft. Seaweed in the sea is usually soft so softening greens will simulate seaweed texture.

Other foods for saltwater fish foods

frozen mysis shrimp

frozen mysis shrimp

Some saltwater fish may take dried foods or even frozen foods. You can soak the defrosted frozen foods or dried foods in a multivitamin supplement for saltwater fish. This will ensure that your fish will get any vitamins that may be lacking in the diet you provide.

Frozen saltwater fish foods are available such as krill, mysis shrimp or cyclops. These should be defrosted thoroughly before being fed to the fish. If your fish take to this then your job will be much easier. But there is no reason to not also supplement their diet with seafood scraps from the supermarket or fishmonger.

Dried foods are not really recommended because of the lack of essential micronutrients that is available in live and fresh food. On saying that some fish keepers do get away with it. As long as you soak the dried food in a good quality saltwater fish vitamin supplement and top up their diet with some seafood tidbits and algae then you should be able to get away with feeding dried food. With dried foods you need to be extra vigilant and remove any scraps of food that fall to the floor and remain uneaten at the bottom of your aquarium.

Make your own saltwater fish food

If you can set up a small saltwater algae tank on a sunny window spot then great. Your algae eating fish can eat fresh organic algae, the perfect food that they would find in the wild. When doing a water change or just removing water from the main aquarium, do not throw it away but use it to top up your algae tank. The algae will grow well from the fish manure. If you can get some small shrimps or other minute invertebrates growing in the algae aquarium then all the better. Your omnivorous fish will love the tidbits of livefood found in the algae.

Place sheet rocks in the algae aquarium so that algae can attach itself. Then move these rocks to the main aquarium for feeding. When the algae has been stripped away move the rocks back to the algae aquarium.

Growing Brine shrimp or other shrimp in a hatchery

You can hatch out and grow brine shrimp in a separate small tank. Use a sponge filter powered by an air pump. Keep the water heated up to 80F. The tank should be placed on a sunny window sill. Pour in your brine shrimp eggs and wait for them to hatch. After hatching they take a days to eat off their yolk sacs so should not be fed immediately. Feed the shrimp with yeast, wheat flour, soybean powder, or egg yolk. Do regular water changes to keep the tank clean. The salinity for brine shrimp should by at 1.018 specific gravity. If you look after the shrimp well then they should grow and breed providing you with a continuous supply of shrimps. Gut loading the brine shrimp before feeding your fish is a good idea. This is just means feeding vitamin rich nutritious food to the brine shrimp for a couple of days before you feed your fish.

 

 

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Nov 28

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

Daily tasks in saltwater aquarium maintenance

Once your saltwater aquarium has become properly established with all the fish, corals and invertebrates that you want and the liverock has developed a healthy colony of de-nitrifying bacteria and other micro-organisms then your job should start to get easier. This process may take a few months.

Your daily routines now should include checking the temperature and checking the evaporation level against a pre-marked line against the water surface. Also check to see if all your fish and invertebrates are present. This can be done while feeding, when all the fish will come to eat. But don’t just check to see if they are present but also check to see if they are behaving normally and do not show any signs of injury or illness.

If any of the fish or invertebrates has died then remove it immediately. A dead corpse will quickly rot in the water and start to pollute the water and will eventually cause illness to other fish and invertebrates. After you have removed the corpse then your next job is to investigate the cause.

First check your water parameters, especially ammonia, nitrite and ammonia levels. Any unusual readings spells trouble and will require an immediate water change. Syphon off 25% of the water in the aquarium. Syphon in or near the sand where there might be some decaying organic matter. Then replace with clean saltwater to top up your aquarium. Try to maintain pre-mixed saltwater that has been allowed to settle that can be used immediately. If there are no unusual readings then check all the fish for any symptoms of illness. Look for laboured breathing, split or frayed fins, white/grey/brown spots, any slime or fluffy grey/white patches, any red sores. If you see any of these signs or anything similar then your fish have an illness and you will have to diagnose the illness using a checklist.

Once you have determined the illness of your fish then you can obtain the medication or treatment and start medicating your whole aquarium. But be careful in the choice of medications because some corals and invertebrates are susceptible to them. And be careful not to overdose with medication as invertebrates may survive normal doses but high doses may kill them.

However, if you cannot determine the cause of your lone fish death then it may remain a mystery. The cause may be a hidden illness of the dead fish, perhaps an attack from another fish or invertebrate or perhaps from an overcrowded aquarium. When a fish dies from an overcrowded aquarium then the death actually gives breathing space to the rest of the fish.

Invertebrates usually rely on scraps of food that are left over remains of uneaten fish food. If the fish do not leave enough scraps for them they can go hungry. Make sure you feed the invertebrates directly. remove any uneaten food after 15 minutes.

Weekly tasks for saltwater aquarium maintenance

Weekly tasks include checking ph is between 8.1-8.3. If it falls below 8.1 then you may have decaying organic matter in the tank. This causes a drop in ph. If there is a ph drop then check your ammonia and nitrite levels as well. Then syphon around the sand, looking for any decaying bits of food. Open up the filter and remove excess mulm by rinsing in a bucket full of aquarium water.

Another weekly task is to check the salinity level. First off, check the water against the original line you marked on the side of your aquarium when you first filled it. If the water level has fallen then you will have to top up with fresh saltwater (preferably reverse osmosis water) Make sure the water is the same temperature. Check your phosphate levels and calcium levels as well.

After this check the salinity with a hygrometer. Your reading should be 1.025. If the reading is less than this then you will need to do adjust the salinity slowly over many days. Everyday change 5% of the water with a freshly mad batch of seawater with a reading of 1.026. Repeat daily until the aquarium gets back to 1.025. Likewise if the reading was higher than 1.025 then you will need to change 5% water daily and replace with a mix of 1.024. Again repeat until you get the 1.025 reading again. If the reading was correct at 1.025 you should still do a 15% water change with water at 1.025.

Check the output flow from your filters. If the flow feels less than normal then you will have to take apart the filter. Place the filter material in a bucket of aquarium saltwater and rinse out any excess mulm before putting back the filter material into the filter and putting back the filter. Do not use tapwater or cold water to rinse the filter material because you might kill of healthy bacteria in the filter which you must preserve at all costs.

Scrape off any algae that has grown along the front glass. Do not remove any algae off other parts of the aquarium because algae is a natural biogical filter that removes nitrates from the water.

Clean out the protein skimmer cup. If there is a lot of waste skimmed out then you might need to do this more often. You also may be feeding your fish too much. So consider reducing your feeding a little.

Lastly do a thorough inspection of all your corals. Check for any infections or lack of growth or bleaching of the corals. If there is excess growth then you need to trim them back. If the corals have become ill then you might be able to frag off a healthy piece to save your coral because ilness usually spreads to the whole coral. Fragging may be the only way to save it. Sick corals are best left undisturbed. The best way to treat them is by fixing water parameters. Usually high phosphates, high nitrates and change of lighting or water flow can be the cause. Sometimes invertebrates or fish may take chunks out of them.

Finally, if you don’t see any of the listed problems then well done! You are doing a good job and everything is running smoothly.

 

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Nov 23

Common livebearer illnesses: how to recognise and treat them

Common livebearer illnesses

Most tank raised livebearers are quite healthy fish. In other words they hardly ever get sick as long as their aquarum is kept clean and healthy and nothing goes wrong such as a faulty heater.
However, dirty water, overcrowded aquariums, overfeeding or even a poor diet can lead to livebearers getting sick.

Diseases can be avoided and should be avoided rather than relying on medications and treatments to cure sick fish it is better to avoid the conditions that lead to sick fish.

Here are some common sense tips:

  1. Don’t buy sick fish. Even apparently healthy fish should be quarantined for a few weeks in case of hidden illnesses to avoid spreading illness to your existing fish.
  2. Remove dead fish immediately. I dead fish which may have been carrying an illness will release its illness into the water as it decomposes. Also a decomposing fish will rot and pollute the water causing the other fish harm. A partial water change after removing a dead fish is a good idea too.
  3. Check your fish daily for any signs of lack of health such as lethargy, clamped fins, scratching against objects or unusual breathing by the fish.
  4. Treat your fish as soon as a disease is spotted. Some diseases can only be cured if the disease is treated early.
  5. Keep common fish medications at hand. In other words buy them early. Methylene blue, malachite green, white spot medication and an antifungal medication are helpful first aid. Also sea salt is often helpful.

Common illnesses that affect livebearers

1) White spot
The signs of white spot are white dust like spots about the size of a grain of salt sprinkled over the body and fins of affected fish.
Treat fish early. Fish can die from untreated white spot. Raise the temperature to 85F but less for livebearers from cooler waters. Add some salt to the water. 1 teaspoon per 5 litres of water. Treat with the latest white spot medication as well.

2) Mouth fungus (cottonmouth)
Recognised by white fluffy growths around the mouth or occasionally along the fins. Although it looks like fungus, it is not. It is actually caused by a bacterial infection – columnaris.
Treat fish with marycin, salt added to the water and malachite green. Cottonmout has become resistant to some antibiotics so you might have to re-treat with a different antibiotic.

3) Fin Rot
Signs of fin rot are split or frayed edges to the fins with dark or white edging to the fins.
Treat with nitrofurazone or a similar wide spectrum antibiotic. Also add salt and methylene blue to the water.

4) Fish tuberculosis
Symptoms include bloated stomachs, pop-eyes, body abscesses and protruding scales.
This is very difficult to treat because TB forms a protective mass coating that prevents antibiotic penetrating to kill off the bacteria. Very sick fish are best killed.

5) Gill flukes
Symptoms include: fish having laboured breathing with gill covers open. Fish may also start scraping their gill plates against objects.
Treat with praziquantel baths. Alternatively treat with a dylox bath.

6) Intestinal parasites or worms
Symptoms are thin bellied fish, stringy white poop. Fish may go off their food.
Buy anti-parasitic medication that can be mixed into the fish’s food. If the fish are not eating you will have to capture the fish and inject the medication directly into the fish’s mouth.

7) Cloudy Skin
Slimy looking film on the skin or fins is an infection of ciliates or flagellates. This may be cured by raising the temperature slowly over several days until it reaches 85F and treating with methylene blue.

8) Poisoning
The fish will have clamped fins and may dart about the tank and rub against objects. Fish will also breathe heavily.
The main causes of water poisoning are Chlorine from tap water, ammonia from decaying organic matter or a build up of fish urine and poop, chemicals from aerosol sprays, insecticides such as fly killers are pretty bad.

Do an immediate 50% water change with safe water that has been standing for at least 24 hours and is the same temperature as your aquarium. Remove any decaying matter or dirt in the aquarium, remove excess mulm from filters, stop feeding. After 24 hours do another 50% water change.

9) Fungal infections
Symptoms are white or greyish fluffy patches on the body or the fins. This may come about from injury to the body or fin. Dab the affected area with cotton wool dipped in malachite green or set up a malachite green bath dip for the fish. Leave the fish in the bath for 1 hour.

10) Shimmies or livebearer disease
Symptoms are when your fish continually rock from side to side.
This is thought to be because many livebearers prefer hard alkaline water with some salt added. Livebearers kept in soft acidic water will over time develop this disease.
Treat by adding some salt to the aquarium and find ways of adjusting the ph and hardness of the water. Perhaps by the use of crush coral sand or dolomite sand.

 

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Nov 16

Fish coloration

Coloration in fish

How do fish colours come about?

various tropical fish coloursFish coloration is formed by the reflection and absorption of various parts of the spectrum of light inside specialised cells. This is achieved by various layers of colour forming cells, such as crystals in the skin(iridophores), pigment cells(Chromatophores) and underlying flesh colours. Pigment cells are of various types.

Chromatophores can be classed according to colour under white light: xanthophores (yellow), erythrophores (red), iridophores (reflective), leucophores (white), melanophores (black/brown), and cyanophores (blue).

Combinations of these pigments and optical effects can produce many distinct colours.
Fish can also alter their brightness, colour and patterns. These colour changes are mostly autonomous and are effected by nerve impulses and hormonal releases during mating or fright. The nerve impulses and hormonal releases affect the chromatophores. Coloured chromatophores are branch liked structures that contract to remove the colour or expand fully to show full colour. Iridophores can reflect light thereby creating a metallic effect. Some iridophores refract light. This has the effect of creating a colour where that colour is not available as a pigment. Blue is often created in this way. Very few species of fish have blue pigmentation.

regal angelfish fish coloration

regal angelfish fish coloration

The pigments found in the chromatophores cannot be created by the fish but must be extracted from their diet. It has been demonstrated that when certain fish are denied a certain pigment from its diet that the fish will change colour.

Why do fish have colour?

Fish can change their colours to blend in with their environment called background adaptation, in terms of brightness and colour. They can also change their colours depending on mood and agression or submission.

Colouration in fish is vital for a fish’s survival. It plays a role in camouflage, fish recognition, mate selection ,mood display and warning of poisonous or danger. Most preyed upon fish have camouflage themselves by having a coloration, pattern or shade that closely matches it background environment. Fish can recognise each other as being from the same species and which gender and colour plays an important role in this. When in breeding mood usually the male will colour up with brilliant coloration. The brightest colours tend to attract the best females and is used as a warning against rivals. Fish can display dominance and submission by darkening or lightening their colours. In some species such as in many Malawi cichlids, submissive males will take on the colour of the females to avoid attack from dominant males. Some fish do the opposite of camouflage and in fact have developed very striking colours as a warning of being poisonous or dangerous.

yellow box fish

yellow box fish from Maldives

In the tropical fish keeping hobby colour is one of the most important factors that determine whether a particular species of fish makes its way into the hobby. Hobbyists favour fish with brilliant colours and patterns. Hobbyists by selective breeding have created new “sports” with enhanced or even new colours. These fish are more valuable and score higher in fish keeping shows.

Experienced tropical fish keepers recognise that fish do change coloration according to their environment, water conditions and diet. Having a darker gravel, feeding foods with high levels of pigmentation and providing the correct ph, hardness and salt levels all help in getting the best out of fish colours. Some vitamins and amino acids that produce pigmentation have a short shelf life and will not survive in sufficient quantities in dried fish food. Only live food and vegetable matter can provide sufficient pigmentation to aquarium kept fish.  Stressed fish will lose coloration as well as fish under bright lighting in bare aquariums or fish undergoing medical treatment.

Countershading is where there a fish’s body is dark when viewed from above and is light when viewed from below. This is for camouflage from predators above the water who will find it difficult to see a dark backed fish against the dark of the ocean, while the light bellied underneath of a fish makes it difficult for predators underneath to see the fish against the bright sky.

When in courtship mood fish usually enhance their colours to their maximum level of vividness. Usually male fish have better blue and red coloration and are generally more colourful than their female counterparts.

Young fish in most species are grey,green or black and have few distinctive markings. This is a form of camouflage because most young fish are preyed upon by adult fish. Young fish spend most of their youth near river or lake banks or near muddy bottoms between algae and plants and so have colours that resemble their bushy or earthy surroundings. Some sea fish have young that undergo a larval stage where they drift along with plankton. Most of these young are transparent to blend in with other plankton to avoid being eaten.

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Nov 09

Fish anatomy

River fish are usually streamlined

River fish are usually streamlined

Anatomy of fish

The shape of a fish’s body tells you a lot about its behaviour in the wild. Long stream-lined fish are usually lake or river fish. Being streamlined helps a fish to swim faster in rapid moving waters or open bodies of water such as a large lake. Short or stocky fish are usually from ponds or live near the bed of a river. Side flattened fish usually reside in in slow moving waters with lots of vegatation or roots. The body shape helps these fish swim between plants and reeds. Top flattened fish usually swim on or near the river bed or floor of a pond. Fish with mouth barbels usually swim near the floor of the river or pond and use these barbels to seek food on the murky bottom.

Mouth Anatomy of fish

The shape of a fish’s mouth tells you which part of the water it feeds from. Fish with upturned mouths feed from the water’s surface. Fish with forward pointing mouths feed mostly from midwater. Fish with down pointing mouths feed near the pond floor or river bed. Fish with mouths underneath the head feed off the floor or off algae attached to encrusted rocks.

Fish scales

The scales on a fish’s body provides physical protection from injury. These scales are quite tough and overlap each other to form a tough but flexible armour. The whole of the fish’s scaly body and fins and all body parts are covered in a slimy mucous. This mucous is being continuously secreted by the fish and is used to wash away any bacteria, fungus or virus from invading the body of the fish.

Fins of fish

Fins are used by fish for propulsion, steering, stability and braking. Fins have a secondary function as flags and signals to other fish. Fins when held spread are usually a sign that the fish is healthy, while a fish that is unhealthy will tend to clamp its fins closed.
Some fins are single while other fins are paired. All fins have some purpose.

The single (unpaired) fins are:

  • Dorsal fin – This fin is used for stability
  • Tail fin – This together with the tail is the main means of forward propulsion
  • Anal fin – This is used for stability and in male livebearers is adapted into a reproductive organ.
  • Adipose fin – This is found in some species such as the characins or tetras. This fin appears on the top of the fish in between the dorsal fin and the tail fin.

The doubled fins

  • Pectoral fins – Pectoral fins lie on either side of the body behind the gills and are attached near the bottom of the fish’s body. They are used for braking, manoeuvring and reversing.
  • Pelvic fins – These lie forward of the fishes anus. On most fish these are attched mid body near the bottom of the fish’s body. The pelvic fins helps the fish to rise and descend through the water. They also help the fish turn sharply and assist braking.

Swim Bladder

The swim bladder in fish is an air filled sac that is within the fish’s body that aids in buoyancy and maintaining the fish’s level in the water. By relaxing or contracting the muscles of the swim bladder a fish can compress the air sac or expand the air sac. When the fish decides to compress the swim bladder it will sink. When the fish expands the swim bladder it will float.

Fish Senses

Fish have the same five senses we humans have, plus they also have a specialised sixth sense, the lateral line. The lateral line runs along the middle of the fish from begind the gills to the tail on both sides. The lateral line consists of small pits in the middle of each midline scale. The water filled pits contain small neuromasts which are minute finger shaped structures that contain hairs. When currents enter the pits the neuromasts move, sending a nerve signal to the brain of the fish. This detection of minute changes in flow and water pressure allows the fish to sense its surroundings in a sonar like way. This sense is used in shoaling and detecting minute water currents from prey, other fish or objects. Blind cave fish rely on the lateral line to ‘see’.

Sense of taste in fish

Of course fish don’t have tongues but they do have taste buds in and around their mouths. Many fish also have taste buds all over their body. Many bottom feeding fish have taste buds in their barbels.

Sense of smell in fish

Fish smell through their nostrils. Some fish have two sets of nostrils that allows water to flow through them. Water is pumped into the intake nostril and expelled out of the ottake nostril. The resulting flow of water that passes across receptor cells in the nostril cavity which detects chemical messages and sends signals to the fish’s brain. Fish use their sense of smell to swim away from some smells that may be harmful, such as that of a predator. Or they may swim towards a smell of food or towards potential mate.

Sense of hearing in fish

Although fish do not have ears they do have an internal ear mechanism. Sound actually travels faster through water than through air. Sound travels through water as a series of vibrations. These vibrations travel through the fish’s body mostly undisturbed. However in the fish’s inner ear there are tiny bones called otoliths. Because the otoliths are denser than the surrounding flesh, they vibrate. This vibration is detected by nerves attached to these bones. The nerves then send signals to the brain. In some species sound is amplified by the use of the fish’s swim bladder.
Some fish can make sounds by grinding their teeth or drumming their swim bladder.

Sense of sight in fish

Sight is an important sense for fish as light does penetrate to beneath the waters surface. The eyes of fish have much in common with amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Fish’s eyes tend to be more spherical though. Most species have colour vision and some fish can even see ultraviolet light. Fish focus their vision by moving the lense closer or further from the retina. Most fish do not have binocular vision. However, the hammerhead shark does have a good binocular vision because it has its eyes set far apart but focussed forward.

Sense of touch in fish

Fish do have a sense of touch that spans through their who skin. Scaleless fish such as some catfish have an even better sense of touch.

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