Mar 06

koi food

feeding koi with koi food

feeding koi with koi food

Koi food

What You Should Know about feeding your koi

Having a pond might be a good idea, especially one that’ll be booming with life. However, you can’t ignore having to feed your koi with proper koi food. With koi being a popular choice for any pond, what most people don’t realize is that they need to be fed regularly. Thinking that your koi will find enough food to eat from the wild in the pond is wrong. You’ll need to make an effort to feed them.

 

Everything you need to know to properly feeding koi is set out below.

Koi belong to the carp family, which means that they are omnivorous and can eat various kinds of food. However, feeding your koi involves more than just the food they eat. Here is a guideline of how much, when, and what to feed your koi.

Factors affecting feeding koi

There are various factors that you should take into consideration when feeding koi. You can’t just throw food in the pond thinking that your beautiful fish will eat it when hungry. You need to be aware of the food quality you’re giving, the temperature of the water, and the overall environment of the pond among other factors.

1. Food quality

The quality of food that you give to your koi plays a vital role in the rate of their growth as well as their well-being. This means that feeding your fish, food that isn’t high-quality will eventually make them ill. On the other hand, giving koi good quality food of , which a lot of pets shops have available, will have a positive effect on not only their body weight but also on the color and vibrancy of your fish.

Which foods are suitable?

Koi welcome various kinds of live foods which include worms as well. You can easily feed earthworms to your koi throughout the year. Worms contain a high amount of protein and are a favorite of omnivorous fish. You can also go green when feeding koi.

These ornamental fish will eat lettuce leaves as well as the flora present in and around the pond, such as duckweed.
You might want to throw other food to them such as pieces of bread. Koi will usually eat most types of food thrown in the pond to them; However, most of these food have little or no nutritional value for them and may even harm your fish.

You can feed your fish brown bread but not white. White bread is made using mild bleach; So do not feed your koi white bread.

Koi also eat foods like corn, beans or peas which have a shell-like skin. However, this skin will lead to your fish experiencing irritation as digesting the shell is difficult for them.

2. Temperature of the water

The water temperature determines the amount of food your fish eats as well as the frequency with which it eats. If you try to feed koi during winter, when the temperature of the pond is low, at the same rate with which you fed them during the warm summer months, you’ll end up harming them.

The digestive system of koi is dependent on the temperature of the water they live in. In cold temperatures, their digestive system slows down and even stops when the water is cold enough.

As the temperature of the water starts to fall, the level of protein that you mix in the feed should also be reduced. This change will not only help to make digestion easier for your koi, but will also help to avoid waste.
Similarly, as summer arrives and the temperature of the pond starts to increase, the protein in the feed should be increased because the metabolic rate of your koi will speed up. Therefore, a higher amount of protein will be needed for proper growth as well as for maintaining their health.

As mentioned, the temperature of water not only governs the kind of feed that one should use, but also the frequency at which the fish should be fed. When the temperature is low, feeding koi only once a day will be enough. On the other hand, when the pond’s temperature rises, koi can be given food every hour.

How much should you feed?

Of course, the amount of food as well as how often koi should be fed is debatable. However, a general rule is that when the water is around 58-Farenheit or below, then the protein level of your feed should be below 38%. When the water temperature falls below 46-Fahrenheit, you should stop feeding altogether.
Similarly, as the temperature of water rises, the amount of protein in the food, as well as the number of times you feed your fish in a day, should be increased. During the high-temperature summer months, the amount of protein in your feed should be somewhere in the forties and the number of times you feed the koi can rise to eight times per day.

Keep in mind that the fish should only be fed for a maximum of five minutes per one feeding. In the case where the fish doesn’t come up to devour the food, then this is an indication that the fish is either too warm, too cold or are not feeling hungry for some reason.

So, make sure that you feed light. If your fish are eating like they haven’t been fed for years, then you can just sprinkle food lightly on the water for a few minutes as long as you can see fish coming up to eat the food.

3. Quality of water

The quality of water has an effect on the growth rate of your koi, because in poor water quality your fish may lose their appetite and won’t eat the food provided. They might even stop feeding altogether. Moreover, poor quality of water negatively affects the metabolic rates of koi, hindering their digestion process.

Furthermore, the stocking level, which is the amount of koi you have in the pond, also affects the behavior of the fish and the way it grows. This means that you should have such an efficient filtration system which can easily cope with the increased amount of waste produced as your fish continue to eat and grow.

If your filtration system is not sufficient for the number of fish in the pond, then the quality of water will be significantly affected, which in turn affects the amount of food that the koi takes in.

More factors you need to consider

There are two more things you need to take care of when feeding koi. One is the digestive system of the fish and the second is overfeeding.

Digestive process of koi

The gut system of koi is a very simple one. They only have a long straight intestine through which all their food passes. The nutrients are extracted from the consumed food when it passes through their intestine. Therefore, your koi can only digest a small amount of food at a time. The amount decreases even more as the temperature of the water decreases.

Therefore, it is vital that you feed fish the right amount of food and a sufficient amount of protein to make sure that they extract the maximum nutrition from the food while also avoiding the possibility of over feeding.
Overfeeding

Perhaps, overfeeding is the most common mistake people make when it comes to feeding koi. One reason behind this is the fact that feeding time is the most enjoyable time that you have with your koi. During feeding, the koi come towards the surface to eat. At this time, you can not only see them eat, but can also interact with them. Seeing your fish gather near you while you feed them can make for an enjoyable experience. And they will become tame to you through continued feeding.

Overfeeding refers to any period where the fish eat more than the amount of food they require. This has adverse effects on your fish. An excessive amount of food can lead your fish to become sick and the increased amount of waste that the koi would have to produce causes the quality of water to decline exponentially.

Moreover, if the fish in your pond are fed an increased amount of food, then they develop huge pot bellies, and they start to resemble tadpoles because of their wispy tail and big body. Of course, this does not kill the koi; however, it does severely affect the internal organs such as the liver, and the natural beauty of these creatures.

When you feed more food than your koi can eat then this will stay in the water and pollute the water causing pollution which may make your koi ill. If you can remove any uneaten bits of food five minutes after feeding then you will save your fish any stress from rotting fish food.

Want to feed your koi from your hand?

Koi can enthusiastically learn to eat out of your hand. Once the fish get used to the idea of you being close to them, then you can bring some koi cookies or bread as a treat in an attempt to bring them even closer to you. You only need to dangle your hand filled with tasty treats in the water for them to come to your hand.

However, this task takes time before your koi become tame enough. It may take weeks or months before one of your brave koi to make its way towards you to enjoy the treat from your hand. It will take further time for the others to catch on to the same routine. Soon, the other koi will also be swarming towards your hand in search of the delicious treat.

If you take it slow, the koi might be able to be okay with an affectionate rub and even a pat on their head! That is how tame koi can become. And they may even just come to your hand even when you don’t have food for them.

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Mar 03

weedy sea dragons

The Subtle Beauty of the Weedy Sea Dragon

weedy sea dragons

weedy sea dragons

The Weedy Sea Dragon is well-known for its majestic appearance and the ability to gently move through the water. You can easily lose sight of it when it decides to hide in its surroundings. This sea creature’s tricky nature adds to its overall appeal.

The Weedy Sea Dragon (scientifically called Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) is a very popular species (a close relative of the seahorse) that is found primarily just off the coast of southern Australia or in captivity in certain zoos in the US. They are unique animals that draw the attention of sea life enthusiasts worldwide.

They can make pets with caution, as a lot of work goes into the proper care of the Weedy Sea Dragon. They are also considered to be “Near Threatened” due to the difficulty of breeding in captivity and the low survival rate of the young in the wild. Because of this, private owners are encouraged to do more research about how to maintain and grow the current population. If you keep them your goal should be to breed them to maintain a back up population.
So, are you someone who wants a Weedy Sea Dragon? Are you up for the challenge, and interested in being able to help foster the continuation of this unique and fascinating type of sea horse? A good place to start is with some background.

What is a Weedy Sea Dragon?

weedy sea dragon

weedy sea dragon

Let’s start with the origin of the name. Sea Dragons, in general, were named after the dragons of Chinese legends. They are considered fish, but they don’t have a bony internal skeleton. Instead, they have an armored body protected by bony plates.

Weedy Sea Dragons are covered by leaf-like or moss-like appendages that decorate their bodies. They resemble seaweed and many times blend seamlessly with their underwater surroundings. They have curly tails, and they are slow swimmers, preferring instead to move in a swaying motion much like seaweed traveling along on ocean currents.

This ability is not accidental. It goes a long way in protecting the Weedy Sea Dragon from ocean predators. The camouflage they employ like armor is known as “mimicry” where the animal takes on chameleon-like traits to make themselves look “hidden in plain sight.”

In general Weedy Sea Dragons are known to live in rocky reefs, seaweed beds, seagrass meadows and really just about anywhere seaweed is found. They can sometimes be seen lurking in the shadows of pier or jetty pylons.
When they are seen it is a spectacular sight. They can often have amazing color patterns as well which include orange, red, yellow or even sometimes purple, depending on flora and fauna of their environment. They don’t just disappear, but they fit in. Like patterned wallpaper or the perfect divan, the Weedy Sea Dragon can add an air of completion to any seaweed colony.

Okay, so they’re pretty and fun to watch as they glide through the water. But what’s the big deal about them? Why are they becoming so rare?

There are 2 main reasons:

Feeding Problems of the Weedy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragons are unique in that they don’t have a digestive system. That seems like a weird thing for mother nature to have missed, but these little dragons make do by eating often and slowly. They eat by inhaling food through their snouts so everything must be the size of their snout or smaller.

Weedy Sea Dragons can range in size anywhere from 12 – 15 inches on average so they can usually be seen feeding on plankton, small shrimp and different types of malleable crustaceans. They’re not really known to be the fiercest of predators, but with their ability to blend in so well with their surroundings, catching unsuspecting prey ends up being an easy task.

However, as the intended prey adapts and get bigger and faster, it leaves the Weedy Sea Dragon at a disadvantage and often the animal has to go outside of its comfort zone to dine. This can be dangerous when your primary trait is blending in with familiar surroundings.

Breeding Sea Dragons is Difficult

weedy sea dragon courtship

weedy sea dragon courtship

Like seahorses, Weedy sea dragons are unusual because the male is the one to gestate and birth the babies. It is a task they take seriously and finding the appropriate partner is a must. The mating ritual between the two is long and involved, and at the end, the victor will deposit her eggs onto a sponge-like patch on the tail of the male Weedy Sea Dragon.

Gestation lasts about eight weeks or 2 months after which the eggs hatch and the baby dragons emerge. They are mostly independent and can take care of themselves, but they are still vulnerable to being eaten by all sorts of predators including penguins and fish.

Because of this, the mortality rate is at an astonishing 98% for the Weedy Sea Dragons born in the wild. Add this to the numbers that are accidentally rounded up in mass net fishing, or netted and used for medicinal purposes; you’ll see why their numbers are dropping fast.

To make matters tougher, for some reason breeding in captivity for these creatures can be difficult. To date, only a few Aquariums have been successful. The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee along with the Melbourne Aquarium in Melbourne, Australia are among the very few that have successfully bred Sea Dragons in captivity.

The Weedy Sea Dragon, in particular, has been bred in captivity in Florida, Tennessee, and areas of Georgia as well as Australia. In fact, there is a protection act on the entire species in Australia.

It’s understandable if you try to look at it from their perspective. Being held captive in an unfamiliar environment could lead to them not being interested in breeding due to stress. The water, lighting, food or aquarium temperature might not be right. Additionally, the Weedy Sea Dragon is very picky. The courting process goes on for days, and the two paramours size each other up looking for true compatibility. This is hard to achieve and nearly impossible to fake in captivity unless there is a large breeding population.

newly hatched weedy sea dragon

newly hatched weedy sea dragon

In December of 2015, the captive breeding program at the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium was able to replicate the conditions of the wild. By making changes to the lighting, water temperature, and flow, they were able to encourage breeding between their captive dragons successfully. In March of 2016, 45 fry (baby sea dragons) were still going strong and represented a 95% survival rate!

The fry themselves are destined to be world travelers. With extensive notes and connections to aquariums throughout the United States, China, Europe and the UK, these timid creatures are about to get the cultural experience of a lifetime. With a life expectancy of about nine years, it’ll be a short life, but a full one.
Keeping it as a Pet?

Well, that’s great! You might think. Breeding is happening all over the world so now it’s time for me to get a tank.
And you know what? Maybe it is. With the right care and conditions, you can help keep the Weedy Sea Dragon, a quirky part of the deep sea community. Make sure you purchase from a reputable and legal dealer, and that you have the setup and time to provide the care the animal needs.

If you don’t want to keep them yourself, then perhaps instead, encourage your local aquarium to invest in a herd of these creatures. By showing interest and volunteering your time or even a monetary donation, you can help the research that ensures the safety and survival of these precious sea creatures.

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Mar 02

Brown algae

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae a common problem for new tanks

What is brown algae?

Brown algae is a form of algae called diatoms that can photosynthesise as well as obtaining chemical forms of sustenance enabling them to survive even in low light levels as long as their alternative food sources are available. Silicate, phosphorus and nitrates are potential food sources for them.

Recognising brown algae.

When you see a light to dark brown blotches which appear as a slimy film covering any aquarium surface then you are highly likely to have brown algae. It is easily displaced from any surface and can be vaccuumed off glass, plants and gravel.

What causes brown algae?

It usually comes about when there is low light levels, low green algae or plant growth and when there is an abundance of silicate, nitrate or phosphorus in the aquarium. This usually happens in a new aquarium. The silicate can come from the glass of a new aquarium leaching silicate into the water or from newly used sand leaching silicate. Sometimes the rocks in the aquarium contain minerals that feed brown algae so may need removing.

Is brown algae harmful?

It can be harmful to plants or corals because it can coat them and block sunlight and nutrients to them. It the algae starts to die it can cause pollution problems. However, many algae eating fish will relish brown algae and is generally not harmful if it doesn’t overly cover plants or corals.

How can you cure brown algae?

The best way is to deprive the algae of the nutrients that the it feeds off. Correct the lighting problem, such as buying a new light if your aquarium bulb is old or buy a brighter light. The algae will take up the nutrients from the newly set up tank. Once the tank has matured the algae should run out of food. If the algae is continually removed from the aquarium, the nutrients inside the brown algae will also be removed along with it. When you scrape off the algae make sure it is removed from the water. If it is allowed to remain in the water it will simply re-attach elsewhere or it might die and leave silicate in the aquarium water. If the water you are using contains silicates and phosphorous then you will either need to put silicate/phosphorus remover in your aquarium or you could try mixing tap water with reverse osmosis water.

Removing any suspect rocks or gravel in the aquarium and replacing with safer gravels without silicates or phosphorus. Sometimes all it takes is to wait for the aquarium to cycle and mature.
Add a couple of otocinclus catfish which will devour it. In a saltwater tank fish like yellow tangs like to eat it too.

I suggest you avoid any chemical treatments to kill off the brown algae because of the side effects on your other tank inhabitants and the harmful effect on the biological filter.

Preventing brown algae.

Use good lighting. Set up fast growing plants. Use safe gravel or aged sand. Check out the mineral content of your rocks. Do not overfeed the fish. Make sure you cycle your aquarium properly. Use a silicate free source of water such as reverse osmosis water.

Brown algae in a saltwater tank

Check for silicates in your saltwater mix. Look through the list of ingredients to see if any silica based compound is in the list. Try using reverse osmosis water rather than tap water. Make sure you clean the brown algae off the corals daily. Use a phosphate/silicate-absorbing material in the filter.

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Feb 26

Starting a fish tank for beginners

Starting a fish tank for beginners that have never had a fish tank before. Everything that you need to know, do and buy is explained here.

Which type of aquarium setup do you want?

There are 3 basic aquarium setups

beginners aquarium set up

beginners aquarium set up with plants

1. The tropical freshwater tank. This is the most common. This is an aquarium that uses tap water or other freshwater source and a heater to maintain the tropical temperatures needed. There are a wide variety of colourful fish and plants available to populate this type of aquarium.
2. The cold-water tank. This is less common put still popular. By far the most common fish for this aquarium is the goldfish. With the growth of fish keeping there has been a wider availability of other cold-water/temperate fish (besides goldfish) that do not require warm water or a heater. Some of these fish are quite colourful.
3. The marine tank. This is a heated aquarium that uses seawater instead of tap water. You don’t need to take trips to the sea to obtain seawater. You can actually buy a sea salt mix and add it to tap water to make your own seawater. Most marine fish in the hobby are reef fish. Reef fish are the most colourful fish available. Maintaining a marine tank is much more difficult than the other two and is not recommended for beginners.

beginners aquarium

Setting up a beginners aquarium

Beginners should choose either the cold-water aquarium setup or the tropical aquarium. Both are as easy as each other. The tropical aquarium is more colourful and allows you to have more fish in the tank but does require a heater.

Where to place your aquarium

Where not to place an aquarium

1. Do not place near any heat source such as a fire or a radiator.
2. Do not place near a window that has any sunlight.
3. Do not place near a draughty location.
4. Do not place in a location that has a lot of disturbances such as people walking by or banging doors.
You need to place the aquarium near a double electric socket. Place the aquarium in a location where you can observe it comfortably and you have easy access to the top of the aquarium for maintenance.

beginners fish tank cabinet and hood

beginners fish tank cabinet and hood

Essential equipment for the beginner’s fish tank

Glass aquariums are recommended for best viewing. Plastic tanks are available but scratch easily
Buy a as large a tank as you can reasonably afford. A 2ft/60cm tank is the recommended minimum size.

You need a heater for a tropical aquarium. But no heater is required for goldfish or temperate fish.

Lighting is needed so that the plants can grow and you can see the fish clearly. Good lighting can bring out the colours of your fish.

aquarium water test kit

aquarium water test kit

Ammonia and nitrite test kit is essential for a new aquarium to test for fish waste build-up.

Filter – a canister or even a sponge filter is necessary for biological filtration to break down fish waste. A sponge filter will need an air pump to power it.

Fish food. A good quality fish food that is made for the type of fish you keep. Remember some fish are carnivorous, some are mainly herbivores, while most are omnivores.

A syphon and bucket to remove water easily from an aquarium is a necessity. You can also use the syphon and bucket to return fresh water to the aquarium in a way that does not scare the fish.

beginners coldwater fish tank

beginners coldwater fish tank

Plants. Plants help remove fish waste(manure) from the water and provide a healthier more natural looking environment for the fish. You can choose from floating plants, rooted plants and non-rooted plants such as moss balls.

It is not essential to have gravel or sand but most people prefer it because it gives a grounding to the aquatic scene. Plants can be potted in pots with soil topped with gravel for better growth.

A thermometer is essential for a tropical aquarium to check if the heater is heating the water to the ideal temperature for your fish. This varies depending on which species you have. However, there is a range of temperatures that fish tolerate.

A hood. This prevents excess evaporation, heat loss and stops fish jumping out of the aquarium.

equipment for beginners aquarium

equipment for beginners aquarium

How to set up your fish tank

A fish tank when filled with water can get heavy so it needs a floor that can support it. Most floors in modern houses do this with ease. You can place an aquarium on a fish tank stand or a cabinet. A fish tank cabinet is preferred because it has been designed to support the weight of a tank of water. Home furniture can be used as long as the top surface is straight and has vertical support in the middle which will prevent the cabinet from bowing. If you buy a larger tank then a proper fish tank cabinet or stand is a must.

The stand or cabinet has to be level under load. The floor might not be level so use a spirit level on top of the aquarium and adjust things until the aquarium is sitting level. Before filling the aquarium use a cushioning material underneath the tank, ie between the tank base and the top of the cabinet. Polystyrene foam is ideal and helps distribute out any unevenness.

Basic aquascaping for your beginner’s aquarium

Find a picture of an aquarium that you like online and try to replicate it. When you place the gravel in the aquarium slope it from the back to the front. Place tall or bushy plants at the back and sides of the aquarium. Leave the front and middle of the aquarium plant free except for the occasional specimen plant. Place heaters, filters and other equipment behind bushy plants.

Setting up sequence for a beginner’s aquarium

Once the tank has been properly located and set up level, you are ready to start putting it together. A suggested sequence is as follows.
1. Wash your gravel or sand by placing some in a bucket then running water from a tap into it. Dust will come out with the water flow. Swirl it with your hand until all the dust has gone. Then place the cleaned gravel/sand in the aquarium. Then put the next batch of gravel/sand in the bucket and repeat until all the gravel/sand that you need is in the aquarium.
2. Half fill your aquarium with water. Smooth out the gravel/sand again. It usually gets disturbed when you add water to the aquarium.
3. Place your potted aquarium plants in the aquarium. Add fertiliser to the roots of the plants.
4. Place all the equipment and any decorations in the tank.
5. Fill the tank to the top.
6. Switch on all the equipment.
7. Place on the lid and turn on the light.
8. Add dechlorinator to the water.
9. Check the temperature and adjust the heater to get the required temperature
10. After 24/48 hours add a couple of fish.
Do a 10% water change every day. The new water needs to be dechlorinated and at the same temperature as the tank water.
11. Daily check the ammonia and nitrites. They will rise as the fish keep pooping and urinating. If the ammonia/nitrite levels go too high, do an extra water change.
12. When the ammonia/nitrite levels start to drop add another 2 fish.
13. Check the levels again and keep doing the water changes.
14. As the levels drop again and again add more fish. Only add more fish when your aquarium can cope.
15. After 6 weeks the aquarium should be stabilised.

starter fish for beginners

starter fish for beginners

Choosing the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

You need to research to find which fish is tough and won’t die easily. You need to avoid fish that are aggressive to other fish. And make sure you don’t buy fish that grow very big. Make sure you have a few alternative choices, because the particular fish you want might not be available. Do an internet search for fish that you like the look of that fits the previous choices.

How to buy the fish for a beginner’s aquarium

Child choosing fish in aquarium storeNow, you know what fish you are after and they are available. Do you just hand over your money? No! You must go to the fish shop’s tanks and have a good look at the fish in the tank. A tank with dead or sick fish is a big no no. You need to observe the fish. Are they active? Do they have fins extended. Are the colours bright and clear? Make sure there are no missing scales, no spots and no bits of fungus growing on them. Don’t buy a fish with split fins or cloudy eyes. When you approach the tank and pretend to feed them at the top of the aquarium, the fish should all rush to where you put your hand.

Select one fish at a time and ask the shop keeper to net the particular fish that looks good to you. Remember to not get excited and buy just a couple of fish at a time.

When to add the fish to your aquarium

Add the first 2 fish 24 to 48 hours after the tank has been filled up. To add fish to the tank from the bag. Do not just throw them in, but put the closed bag in the water and wait 15 minutes for the bag’s water to match the tank’s temperature. Then you just plop the fish in.

Then do daily ammonia/nitrite tests and daily water changes. As the fish eat they poop and urinate into the water. This pollution is cleaned up by bacteria in the filter. But, it takes time to build up enough bacteria. That is why you need to test the ammonia/nitrite levels. When the levels start to fall, add a couple more fish. If the ammonia/nitrite becomes too high then do an immediate water change of 25% and add dechlorinated water at the same temperature.

Cycling the beginner’s aquarium

This is critical to keeping your fish alive for any length of time. Fish waste builds up in water which slowly poisons the fish. Luckily when fish waste appears in water, bacteria start to grow that feed off this waste and neutralise it. However there is a time lag of several weeks before the bacteria can grow enough to cope with all of the fish waste. Most cycling bacteria grows inside a filter on the sponge material. The filter needs a good flow of water to feed the bacteria, which means you occasionally have to squeeze off the excess mud off the filter to stop it becoming clogged.

Cycling your aquarium

Setting up a maintenance routine

Once the tank has cycled, perhaps after 6-8 weeks then you can start to relax and reduce the water changes to 10% every week. Water changes help reduce the level of nitrate that is produced by the cycling bacteria. In nature, fast growing plants and algae would normally utilise nitrate, which is a fertiliser. In the aquarium we need to dilute the nitrate because we normally have too many fish compared to nature.

beginners tank fish feeding

beginners tank fish feeding

Every day
Feed the fish and do a fish count every feeding time. If any fish are missing then search the tank and remove the dead fish otherwise it could rot and pollute the tank. At the same time, check that all fish are healthy, active and with fins spread. Check for any parasites, any spots or any fungus and treat the fish when they are sick. At the same time check the temperature is right.

Once a week
1.Do an algae scrape of the front of the aquarium. It is better for the health of the aquarium if you do not scrape the side and back panes of the tank. If you are a meticulous person then you can also scrape the side panes as well but leave the back pane alone. Syphon 10-20% of the water into a bucket and sift the syphon through the sand/gravel to disturb any food or fish droppings that are trapped in the gravel. Pour away the bucket of water but be careful not to pour away any accidentally syphoned gravel. Wash this gravel and put it back into the aquarium.

2. Next, mix up a bucket of water with hot and cold tap water until it is the same temperature as your aquarium. Add your dechlorinator to the bucket of water. Then add this water to your tank. Top up your tank until full again.

3. Check there is a good flow from the filter. If the flow is slow then squeeze the excess mud from the filter and throw the mud away. Do not wash the sponge with tap water because that will kill the nitrifying bacteria on the sponge. Just squeeze the sponge by hand and then wash your hands.

4. Check your plants. Prune any dead bits and remove any dead plants.
5. Sit back and relax and enjoy your aquarium. You have passed the hardest stage of fish keeping. Now everything becomes easy and should be a more relaxed routine.

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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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