Fish anatomy

fish anatomy

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.

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

guppies and platies in a community tank

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

Make your own fish food

Raising live food

Feeding livebearers can be easy especially the commonly found livebearers, but to get the best results then care must be taken with their diet. Most livebearers are omnivorous, eating both animal matter and vegetable matter. Other livebearers are mostly vegetarian such as the platy and goodeid livebearer. And the last group of livebearers are carnivores that need live food and even small fish to eat such as pike livebearer, half beaks, four-eyed fish and porthole livebearer.

Dried food forms a livebearers staple diet

Dried foods can be used to feed most livebearers but if you have vegetarian livebearers or carnivorous livebearers then you need to pick a brand that has a high vegetable content or high protein content. Supplement dried foods with live food at least once a week. And for the vegetarian livebearers add some sliced vegetable matter such as a cucumber slice.

The biggest problem with dried food are that they quickly become stale. So it is best to buy only small quantities at a time and when you buy them check the sell by date and whether the carton looks dusty. Do not buy old stock.

Dried foods come in several varieties. Food flakes are the most common and are a good choice for livebearers because the flakes float giving the livebearers a chance to eat from the surface. Most livebearers are surface feeders.

Types of dried foods for livebearers

Food flakes come in different sizes. The sizes are there to allow you to feed fish with small mouths or fish with large mouths. If there are fry in the aquarium the just crumble a few flakes into crumbs for them.

You could also feed fish pellets to your livebearers. Care must be taken to buy a brand that has floating pellets. Livebearers will usually ignore food that has fallen to the floor of the aquarium where it will rot and pollute the aquarium. The advantage of pellets is that they are less processed than flakes and are just compacted bits of dried food.

Food tablets are useful if you will be away for days at a time. They are compressed food tablets that dissolve slowly over sevearl days. The fish will pick off bits at a time and will be kept fed while you are away.

Feed live food to keep your livebearers healthy

All livebearers benefit from the occasional meal of live food. The fresh vitamins, minerals and amino acids available in live food can not be obtained from dried foods. Once or twice a week is sufficient for most species. But for vegetarians you will also need to feed fresh vegetable matter at least once or twice a week.

Live food can also come in the form of frozen live food and freezze dried food. These are not quite as nutritiuos as real live food.

Where can you obtain live food?

  1. You can keep a large 200l litre barrel of water in a sunny spot in the garden. This will attract mosquito larvae and blood worms. But you can also seed the barrel with daphnia. Daphnia needs to be fed daily with green water or yeast powder. This is the safest and best way of collecting live food for your fish.
  2. You can buy live food from the pet store. But care must be taken to examine the bags of live food for freshness. Some bags of live food can be full of dead insects which is a waste of time. Also some pet shops will sell live food which may contain illnesses from their fish or other source, even the best aquarium store may be quilty of this.
  3. You can collect from wild sources. Good sources for daphnia are from water troughs for cattle or horses and are generally safe. Collecting from wild ponds is a danger. Care must be taken not to collect parasites and other nasties alongside your chosen live food. Best to avoid any pond that contains fish.
  4. You could also raise live food such as brine shrimp to adult hood to feed adult fish. Brineshrimp is an excellent choice of live food except for the effort you need to put in to raise the shrimps. You can also raise white worms or fruit flies. All make a nutritious supplement to dried foods.
  5. Another excellent choice is small earthworms. You will need to rinse out any soil from the worms stomach. Chop the worms up with a razor into small pieces to feed your fish.

Best live foods include daphnia, cyclops, mosquito larvae, and even earth worms, white worms and fruit flies. If you can give your fish a variety of live food as well as some vegetable matter then all the better for the health of your livebearers.

Vegetable items to feed livebearers

A slice of cucumber, boiled spinach or lettuce leaves, spirulina and algae are a good source of vegetable matter for livebearers. There are many vegetable items that can be chopped up into small pieces and fed to your fish. Experiment with what your fish will eat. Try ensure that the items float. Tie a cotton thread to the vegetable piece to keep it near the surface. Also after a couple of hours remove any uneaten vegetable item and throw it away.

Variety in feeding keeps your livebearers healthy and breeding

If you bear all this information in mind and feed your fish using this knowledge then your fish should remain healthy, vibrant and active. Remember variety is the spice of life and it goes for the food of livebearers too. They will of course reproduce when fed well which is a sure sign that they are healthy.

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

  • A 120 litre 4 foot tank. This is a basic minimum size.
  • Buy a hood with a normal lighting system.
  • You will also need a protein skimmer,
  • An external power filter,
  • 300w heater,
  • A thermometer and hydrometer to measure the salinity,
  • Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish
    Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish

    A marine water test kit

  • Bag of seawater salt mix
  • Natural coral sand
  • Fish tank stand.

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

  • 10 kilos of live rock
  • 1kg Live coral sand
  • 10 margarita or asteria snails
  • 2 hermit crabs blue or red-legged
  • Some hardy peaceful fish species

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium
Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium

Put together your stand and aquarium. Wash the inside of the glass with warm water. Never use any chemicals or soaps. If there are any stubborn stains then use white vinegar and a razor blade to scrape the stain. Rinse any white vinegar with tap water. Remove water with a siphon hose. Paint the rear glass in black, blue or marine or apply a stick on background.

With the tank empty move the stand and tank around the room until you find a location you are happy with. You can use a spirit level to adjust the levelness of the aquarium. If the aquarium doesn’t sit level then you can use thin flat pieces of plastic or wood to raise the leg that is lower. Once the aquarium is sitting level then you can then fill with water. Once the aquarium is 95% full then again check the aquarium for levelnbess. If the aquarium is not level then you will have to remove all the water and adjust the levelness again before re-adding water.

Once the tank is 95% full of water and level then you have to wait 24 hours to see if any slow leaks occur. If there are no signs of any leaks then install the filter, heater and protein skimmer. Set the heater to 76 Fahrenheit.

Plug in all the equipment and switch on everything. Leave everything running overnight. The next day check the temperature to be 76F. If the temperature is out then you have to adjust the thermostat.

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive
Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive

Calculate the volume of your aquarium then add your sea salt mix according to the recommended amount on the bag of your mix. If you wait another 4 hours your salt will have completely dissolved in the water. You can then check the salinity of the water with your hydrometer. The reading should be between 1.022 to 1.024 when the temperature is 76F. If it is less then you can adjust by adding a little sea salt mix. If it is more then you can reduce it by adding a little fresh water. Thenm wait a further 4 hours before testing again. When you achieved your ideal density use a black marker to mark out the water level in a hidden part of the glass. This mark will be your guide to the level of water before any evaporation. Topping up back to this level should get you back to the correct salinity.

Now test the water’s ph. It should read 8.2-8.3ph or close to this. If it is far from this then you’ve done something wrong somewhere or your hydrometer or thermometer is wrong. Fix the problem by changing your hydrometer or thermometer and make adjustments. If there is still a misreading then you will have to switch everything off and remove all the water and start again with the water mix.

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

golden wrasse - perfect lemon yellow fish
golden wrasse – perfect lemon yellow fish

When the water is just right you then need to start adding your pieces of live rock. Start with the larger pieces first. Move the rock about to create a pleasant aquascape. Test each piece is stable by prodding and adjusting into a settled position.

Place the bigger, heavier pieces directly on the glass. These should be arranged in a long semi circle along the sides and back. Leave gaps in between the individual pieces of live rock for your fish to swim through. Place the smaller pieces of rock in front of or even on the larger pieces again making sure that the whole setup is table. Use the live rock to hide the heater and protein skimmer behind.

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

You should clean your sand before you put it in the aquarium. All you need to do is rinse it thoroughly in a bucket of water by running the water through a bucket of some sand. Do it in small batches of sand and swirl the sand round until the water runs clear. Remove the water from the backet and put the sand into the aquarium all along the floor of the aquarium around the live rock.

Once the sand has been added the average level should be 2 inches deep. Then take your 1kg of live sand and spread it evenly over the other sand. Do not wash the live sand. It should contain beneficial bacteria and life forms which you risk killing by washing with tap water.

Check all your water measurements again such as ph, salinity and temperature. Adjust if necessary.

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew
blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew

After a week add your first creatures. Remember your filter, heater and skimmer should be running continuously throughout this time. Add your snails and hermit crabs. Algae eating species are recommended to clean up any algal blooms that usually break out in new saltwater aquariums. You should not just throw your snails or crabs directly into the water but float the bags in the water for 15 minutes then add some aquarium water to the bag slowly over ten minutes before releasing them into the aquarium.

Feed the snails and crabs with tiny amounts of fish food as a top up to the algae that the snails and crabs may eat, which may be insufficient for their needs.

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish
yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

Some experts recommend adding a couple of damsel fish as your first fish because they are a tough fish and can cope with the conditions while your aquarium water is cycling. While this is true I recommend an alternative to damsels as a first fish such as tank bred clownfish because damsels can be aggressive to future fish additions. You can start off with just a couple of clown fish to add colour and interest to your tank.

During this time your aquarium filter and live rock will be cycling by developing a colony of bacteria that can digest fish and other creature waste products turning it into less harmful nitrate. This process can take anything from 4-8 weeks. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite which are harmful to your fish and other creatures.

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback
orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback

After your first fish have settled in and looking healthy and happy you can start adding some invertebrates and a few other fish. Add hardy species of anemone. A good choice of anemone are feather dusters.

Fish to consider at this point will be wrasses, dottybacks and banggai cardinal fish. Try wherever possible to buy tank bred fish as these are fish that have adapted to life in the aquarium and should prove better survivors in your saltwater tank. Add fish at a rate of 1 or 2 a week. When you add new fish keep a close eye on them and make sure the newly added fish start feeding within 2 or 3 days. Also check the nitrite and ammonia levels daily. Stop adding new fish if the readings rise.

Some fish and other creatures to absolutely avoid as a beginner are: seahorses, octopuses, angelfish, clams, scorpionfish, and damsels.

When you have a settled tank and have introduced all the fish and other creatures for your aquarium then you can reduce the water testing to once a week.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your own piece of the ocean in your living room. However, you still need to keep checking all your water parameters once a week at least or when something doesn’t look right with any of the inhabitants.

Fish adaptation in the wild

Nothobranchius rachovi. Killifish have adapted to extreme conditions.

Fish adaption in the wild

The mudskipper can walk on land using its front fins as legs
Mudskipper walking on land on its front fins

Fish as a group are one of nature’s success stories. Fish can be found in nearly all bodies of water and on occasion can be found flopping onto land. Even the most inhospitable bodies of water such as suphurous thermal springs, ponds that dry up in summer, the deepest part of the ocean have all been colonised by fish.

It is estimated that there are currently 30,000 different species of fish on earth. That is more than any other vertebrate. There are thousands of species that live in freshwater tropical streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. The most abundant of these are in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The most popular species of fish from these bodies of water have found their way into the aquarium trade and into people’s homes the world over. The most popular species in the hobby are usually the most colourful, hardy and easiest to breed or they may have an unusual shape or unusual behaviour.
Adapting to life

Salmon after 2-3 years at sea swim up river to breed
Salmon after years at sea swim up river to breed

Fish have been on earth longer than reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals, all of which have evolved from fish. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to note that fish have had longer to adapt to their environment than the other groups of animals listed. They are better adapted to their aquatic environment than most other life forms. They have found their way into many niches and developed many unusual behaviours that better allow them to cope with their environment.

Adaptation to life in rivers

The upper parts of river have fast flowing turbulent waters with little mineral content. The fish that live in these waters have adapted by becoming streamlined and fast swimmers and are able to mainatin a stationary position relative to the river bed while water flows past them. Because of the noise from the turbulent waters these fish have developed better eye-sight and lesser hearing ability. These adaptations help predator fish to better hunt their prey and also helps fish to avoid predation by larger fish and other predators.

Discus with flattened sides and vertical stripes
Discus with flattened sides and vertical stripes

Mid river, further downstream, is where the flow of the river is less and the river widens. Fish found in this part of the river are usually deeper bodied and less stream lined. Water in this part of the river is usually clear which aids fish with good eyesight.

In the river low lands the river becomes even slower and even wider. The water is usually cloudy with dissolved decaying vegetable matter and tannins from submerged logs, pieces of wood and roots.

Because of the water cloudiness in this part of the river fish cannot rely so much on their eyesight. They instead have developed better sense of smell, taste and hearing. Many shoaling fish in this part of the river have developed bright or even reflective scales to enable them to see each other in the murkiness.

Adaptation to life in ponds

There are other tropical fish that have adapted to live in lakes and ponds of Asia. During the hot and dry seasons the ponds and small ditches evaporate and reduce to small and stagnant bodies of water. Gouramis are a class of fish that have adapted to these low oxygen conditions by developing the ability to breathe air. They achieve this by gulping air into a specially adapted labyrinthian organ that absorbs the swallowed air. This allows them to survive in low oxygen conditions that would drown normal tropical fish.
These ponds and lakes are usually muddy or cloudy so having good eyesight is not such an advantage. Fish in these cloudy conditions have developed barbels near their mouth to help them find food. The gouramis have developed a pair of thin hair like fins that they use to feel and taste their surroundings and help them find their way through the thick vegetation. Fish in these cloudy conditions have also developed a better sense of smell.

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Difficult to beat the beauty of a male pearl gourami

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Excellent scene layout with Discus fish
Excellent scene layout with Discus fish

With the advent of good quality high resolution digital cameras that are nearing the quality of optical cameras, creating high quality tropical fish pictures has never been easier.

If you breed your fish for pedigree surely you would want to have a visual record of your prize fish. You can then keep a visual family tree of your best line breeding efforts. Even the best looking fish will eventually grow old and die and it would be a shame to not have anything to remember the fish by.

If you are into aquascaping then you will also have a motive to also develop your picture-taking techniques to record your under water masterpieces.

If you become adept at taking really good pictures of fish, aquascapes or fish action shots then you can have a go at selling them to magazine publishers, who will buy good quality or rare pictures regarding the aquarium hobby. Most magazine publishers don’t pay huge amounts for photographs unless you develop a reputation as a professional photographer.

Buy the right camera to take pictures of your fish

Digital camera with optical zoom
Digital camera with optical zoom

Buy a camera that has an optical zoom function and not just a digital zoom. And the higher the optical magnification rate the better.

Buy as large a memory card as you can afford then you can take multiple snaps of the same scene and pick from the best shot without worrying about running out of memory. With a large memory card you can take movies of your fish in action. Make sure you get the right resolution for the movie because the standard setting is usually low resolution. You can change the settings to get a higher resolution. From the videos you can take snap shots from the movie to get a picture out of the movie. Take several snap shots and pick from the best one. Snap shots are taken using a movie player on a computer. Taking snap shots from a movie allows you to capture your fish in action in the perfect pose. Fish are notorious for turning the wrong way or closing their fins at the wrong moment or hiding behind another fish or plant.

If you have shaky hands then to take really professional pictures, you will need to rest the camera on a table or stool or some other stable object before taking the shot. You could also invest in a tripod for your camera if you become particularly serious about your fish photography.

Lighting techniques to help take good quality tropical fish pictures

Correct lighting really enhances a marine aquarium
Correct lighting can really enhance a marine aquarium

Aquarium lighting by itself is not bright enough to take very high quality aquarium pictures. Another factor against aquarium lighting is that the bulbs will give off lighting with a tinge of colour. Some bulbs give off a green tinge while other bulbs give off an orange tinge.

Aquarium photography is best done in natural sunlight with light coming into the aquarium from the top. Sunlight from the rear will only silhouette your fish and ruin your shots. Sunlight during the middle of the day is best

If sunlight is not practical then you can try your hand at strobe lighting if you can afford it. When you are using external lighting you will need to clean and polish the glass on the outside of the aquarium as well as scraping clean the glass on the inside of the tank. Reflections can be a big problem with fish photography. To help avoid reflections you will need to take pictures at an angle to the front glass and avoid the reflection from lighting.

Composition of your aquarium scene

Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood
Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood

You need to organise the picture into a balanced and pleasing scene. In other words to need to place your plants, rocks and ornaments into an aquascape. The fish will obviously swim around and so you will have to wait to take just the right shot (which is easier said than done) or set your camera into movie mode for a few minutes. You should be able to see your fish swim into position. If not delete the movie and try again until your movie contains the shot you are after.

When taking pictures of your aquarium it is not only the fish that might be the main subject of the picture. Sometimes it is the aquascaping scene that might be the main focus of the picture with a few shoaling fish to add visual interest or it might be some prized architectural ornament that may be the main feature or even a large imposing rock or rockwork.

Sometimes a blurred after image can give a better impression of motion in a still frame of your fish swimming past. There should be a setting that allows you to take after-image photographs to achieve this effect. Take the picture at the same level as the fish are swimming. By panning left and right or taking the picture from an angle you will enhance this sense of motion in the fish.

Taking close up shots of your fish

gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish
gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish

Good close ups can be obtained by making sure the subject fills 75% of the of the frame. Focus on the most interesting aspect of the subject such as the body or head colouration of the fish or some exotic finnage such as a crown tail betta’s tail.

Fish make unreliable photographic subjects. They are always on the move, changing direction and orientation and twisting and turning as well as opening and closing fins. Luckily unlike people they do not blink but can suffer from red eye.

Tips on obtaining better tropical fish pictures

  1. Create crystal clear water – extra filtration for a couple of days before filming will produce good results. Carbon filtration will create even better crystal clear water.
  2. Clean the tank in and out, including the gravel, rocks, plants ornaments and aquarium equipment. Hide the wires and equipment behind plants if you can. Prune your plants and remove any dead leaves.
  3. Make sure the cover glass and the aquarium bulbs are clean. This is so that you don’t get cloudy or patchy lighting. But before cleaning let them cool down for 15 minutes first and dry before switching on again.

Use of a special photographic aquarium

This is the fishy equivalent of a photographer’s studio. This is a small temporary aquarium set up for just taking pictures from. The tank should small and narrow front to back. The tank should have a movable glass divider to further restrict the motion of the fish.

Using the glass divider you can then bring the fish into the ideal location and into a good focal range for you to take your perfect shot.

Use of coloured backgrounds for photographing your fish

Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive
Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive

Coloured backgrounds make a good contrast to your fish. They will bring out the colour of your fish and bring all the attention on the fish themselves. Matt black backgrounds work well with lighter coloured fish and will have the effect of making these colours look more solid. Darker fish need a lighter coloured background such as a pale blue background. This will have the affecter of opening up the darker colours to makie them brighter. You can also provide a grey rock work background for colourful fish such as Malawis.

You are now ready to make the most of your digital camera and with a bit of practice and experimentation you will soon be creating masterpieces of the fish world. One word of warning add a copyright signature to each photograph in case you publish them online.

Livebearers – essential facts

Lovely delta tailed golden guppy male

Introduction to livebearers

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

(Livebearers – the essential facts that you should know)

More about breeding livebearers here

More about keeping healthy livebearers here

Although a beginner’s fish livebearers have a fascination breeding behaviour and birthing method. The females give birth to live young. Baby fish that are the exact miniature version of the adult. There is also something for the advanced fish keeper. There are other exotic species of livebearer. Good examples are the mexican topminnow and endlers guppy as well as the half beaks. There are many other uncommon species almost as good as the common livebearers.

In the tropical fish hobby, there are four families of live-bearer available.

1. Livebearing tooth carps (Poeciliidae). This is the largest group of live-bearers and includes some well known aquarium favourites. Mosquito fish, guppies, platies, sword tails and mollies are all members of this family. There is an international fish club called “American Live-bearer Association” that is open to livebearer keepers all over the world. There is also a British version available to hobbyists in the UK called “British Livebearer Association”.

goodied livebearer xenotoca eisini male
goodied livebearer xenotoca eisini male

2. Goodeidae includes the Mexican topminnow. These are rare livebearers in the hobby.

More about Goodeids here

3. Half-beaks(Hemirhamphidae). These fish are straight long fish with a long pencil like beak shaped mouth. There are 20 species of half beak. Half beaks are occasionally found in the hobby.
4. Four-eyed fish (Anablepidae). These fish are interesting for their ability to equally see above the surface of the water as well as in the water simultaneously. Their eye balls have evolved into two bulbs with the upper part of the eye above the waterline and the lower part under the surface. They are incidently livebearers.

Where are livebearers found in the wild?

Live bearers are mostly from the Americas but some species are found in Asia. Their range extends from north America to Argentina in South America. Most livebearers eat mosquito larvae especially the mosquito fish. This ability of livebearers to eat lots of mosquitos and breed rapidly led them to be used in coutries with mosquito and malaria epidemics in S.E. Asia and the Philipines. However, these livebearers were so successful that they spread all over sub-tropical and tropical asia and even into parts of Southern Europe.

male and female halfbeaks fighting
male and female halfbeaks fighting

Goodeid livebearers (Mexican Topminnow) live in the rivers and lakes of the Mexican plateau and all the way down the rivers that lead into the Pacific.

Halfbeaks are found all over S.E Asia and can be found in both fresh and brackish water.

Four-eyed fish are found all along the west coast of South America. They are nearly always found in brackish water.

Livebearers’ early history

European aquarists started keeping livebearers from 1890 onward. They were in popular demand when they first appeared because they gave live birth. Because of their popularity they were very expensive. Prices quickly fell when hobbyists started breeding them and selling on the young. Livebearers have always been easy to breed in the aquarium so became widespread throughout Europe.

Livebearer social and reproductive behaviour

Most live bearers are shoaling fish, so do best in a group of 6 or more fish. This group or shoal of fish will develop a pecking order of dominance where an alpha male will dominate other males. The alpha male will show off brighter colours and display his fins better that the subordinate males. The dominant fish will always get to the food first. He will either chase away others or they will retreat as he approaches. The alpha male will always get a better chance to mate with the available females. The females will be more likely to accept him as a mate and he will chase off rival males too.

Most livebearers are non-aggressive community fish but the males may get territorial. Also larger species such as mollies can be boisterous to timid tank mates. Swordtail males are the most aggressive to each other. Keeping 2 or 3 will lead to bullying and death of the weaker males. Surprisingly keeping 5 or more males does actually reduce the bullying against weaker males because the bullying is spread around. Always keep more females than males. A ratio of 2 females to each male is a good starting point to reduce male attention to manageable levels.

Nearly all livebearers do not recognise their young. They will eat any young that appear in their tank as if it was a form of live food, even when it is their own young they are eating.

Courtship behaviour of livebearers

Guppy and swordtail males are very flirtatious and ardent lovers. Males will swim back and forth in front of the females while flexing their bodies in display to the female.

male mollies will present their bodies in front of a females and then spread their fins to their full extent so that the female gets a good display before trrying ti impregnate her.

Other species have a wham bam, thank you ma’am method of mating. The males will lie in hiding waiting for a suitable female. When a female passes by the male will pounce and mate by inserting his gonopod into the females opening and fertilising her.

Some species of livebearers have males that have a hook on the end of their gonopod so that it firmly attaches to the female’s opening while he is inseminating her as she struggles to get away. Not every mating results in successful fertilisation of the female. The ratio is about 10% chance of success. So the males are always trying to repeat the process to guarantee fertilisation of the female.

If the female is not interested in mating she will make a determined effort to escape the male’s attention. Since males are nearly always trying to mate and you might get several males trying to mate with a single female, it is best to provide several females for every male while also providing bushy plants for the females to hide in when they need a break.

Reproduction in livebearers

Livebearing is the most advanced form of reproduction. It is almost universal in all species of mammals. In reptiles and fish it does occur in the occasional species. Most fish species lay many eggs which are fertilised by the males in open water. The livebearers have developed internal fertilisation of the eggs with hatching of the eggs internally. Most species of livebearers eggs hatch shortly before birth and young fully formed livebearers which are miniatures of the adults ae born.

In Goodeid livebearers, reproduction is even more evolutionary advanced. The eggs hatch early internally and the young embryos develop internally and nourished through a form of attached umbilical chord, which is similar to mammals.

Some species of livebearers have females that can store sperm internally following a successful mating. The stored sperm not only fertilises the present batch of eggs but also can fertilise future batches of eggs as they develop following a pregnancy. It was demonstrated in an experiment that a mosquito fish from one fertilisation was able to produce 11 broods one after the other for a period of a year without any access to a male mosquito fish.

 

How fish behave in the wild

Watching a large shoal of cardinal tetras is an enchanting experience

Fish Behaviour in the wild

Fish’s behaviour is affected by the rythms of nature. Fish recognise dawn and dusk and behave appropriately. Fish also recognise the seasons and will mate at the correct time of year that is best suited for the hatching and growth of their young. Fish will go into hibernation at the onset of winter.

Most fish are active during the day and rest during the night. At the break of dawn the fish will be most hungry and active in search of food in the shallows for the first couple of hours of the morning. After they have had their fill of breakfast then they retire to safer, deeper and more reclusive spots in the lake or river.

Young fish tend to congregate in the shallows for 3 reasons

      1. Food is more abundant in the shallows

      2. The sun heats the shallows and fish grow faster in warmer water

      3. Large fish avoid the shallows

Young fish have dull colours such as grey,brown or green that makes them invisible on the muddy banks between the plants and amongst the algae. This helps them avoid being eaten by adult fish.

How do Fish sleep?

Fish will slow down their metabolism, sink to the bottom in a safe spot while remaining relatively motionless. They do not close their eyes because they have no eyelid. It is though that they turn off most of their senses while mainting their lateral line sense active. Any disturbance and with a flick of their tail fin they will dart off to safety.

Some parental fish don’t sleep when guarding their nest of eggs or fry. They remain alert all night and fan the eggs and guard the young from predators.

Fish feeding behaviour

When a fish finds a good source of food it gets excited and starts to gulp the food down. Other fish will notice the excitement and will also get excited and swim towards the food. A feeding frenzy follows where more and more nearby fish notice the commotion and head towards it. All the fish will try and gulp down as much food as possible as quick as possible before the other fish finish it off.

Fish generally swallow their food whole and don’t chew much of it at all. But they will sometimes a bite at a piece of food that is too big and wriggle about until a piece snaps off.

They swallow food by expanding their throat pouch, which has the effect of creating a suction, where food just in front of them will be sucked up into their mouth along with some water. When the food is inside the mouth, the fish will close its mouth trapping the food inside. The fish will expel the excess water through its gills while keeping the food trapped in its mouth. The fish will then taste the food. If the food is stale or inedible the fish will expel the food from its mouth.

Teeth of fish

Most fish are omnivores which means they eat both vegetable matter and living food such as insects and other fish. Omnivores have peg shaped teeth that enable the fish to bite and hold onto its food. Some fish specialise in eating algae. These fish have specically adapted teeth that are flattened into a shape making them ideal fro rasping out algae attached to rocks.

Predator fish have sharp backward pointing teeth that can pierce the flesh of other fish and sometimes scissor together to slice through the flesh allowing the fish to bite off chunks.

Fish sometimes have specialise pharyngal teeth based in the roof of a fish’s mouth. These teeth workin in combination with a fish’s tongue to provide an additional mechanism to allow the fish to grip its food.

Some fish feed on hard shelled creatures such as snails, shrimps or molluscs. They have specialised teeth that enable them to crush or crack open snails shells by use of their pharyngal teeth while biting hard using powerful jaw muscles.

Many bottom feeding fish sift through the sediment at the bottom of the pond or river bed. The sediment contains decaying organic matter where worms and insects grow. Bottom feeders feed off these creatures as well as broken off bits of flesh and plants.

Some fish are mostly vegetarian so feed off the leaves of plants and maybe snatches of algae. These types of fish are hungry fish and generally will eat throughout the day because weight for weight plant matter holds less protein and calories than animal matter.

Coordination of swimming in fish

About half the know species of fish swim about in groups. There are two methods that this achieved

  1. How fish school

Schooling is where the fish of the group swim together in a tightly knitted coordinated way keeping a set distance apart from each other while trying to swim at the same speed and direcdtion as its neighbour. When a lead fish turns its neighbour will turn which in turn leads to its neighbour turning. This is done so fast that it looks like all the fish turn at the same time. This coordinated effect of many fish is called the Trafalgar effect. Schooling is said to provide protection from predators because of a predators inability to focus on a single fish and having multiple confusing targets.

  1. How fish shoal

However, shoaling is when fish swim together in loose groups but without coordinated swimming behaviour. This behaviour is exhibited by social fish. Each fish will try and keep within social distance of other fish in its group. When a threat comes close to the group the group will scatter away from each other and will only re-group when the threat has gone.

Each fish in a shoal has a personal space that it tries to maintain most of the time. In fast currents the shoal will tighten and the fish will swim closer together than in slow or still water where the fish will be in a shoal but further from each other.

Most fish are social animals as can be witnessed by their shoaling behavior. Fish keep tabs on each other by use of sight, smell and use of the lateral line sense.

Members of a shoal tend to be the same size and nearly always of the same species. Any sick or small fish are shunned and excluded from the shoal.

Fish aggression

Fish will fight over food, territory and mates.

Male fish will fight more aggressively to win a mate than they would fight over food. Males usually fight to defend a territory so when the time comes the fish can attract a female to its patch to mate with. Some species will defend a territory around its nest after breeding. They will defend the nest of eggs or young fish from predators. This is when the parents are at their most aggressive. They can kill other fish that are curious and come close to the nest. In some species it is just the male that will guard while in other species both parents will guard.

The largest, strongest or even the most aggressive fish will be the most dominant and will get the best and biggest territory. There is a pecking order of fish from the largest most dominant down to the weakest, smallest fish. Once the pecking order is established fish then tend to not fight each other. Sub dominant fish will give way to more dominant fish. When a new fish turns up in an area fighting will break out between the new fish and the settled fish. The new fish will start out quite low in the pecking order and will over the following days or weeks fight its way up the pecking order until it finds its natural place in the pecking order.

The best breeding territories are defended by the most dominant males. These areas are surrounded by smaller and not so good territories occupied and defended by less dominant males. Further out in smaller and least good territories the weakest males will try to defend their small patch too. These territories border each other with no buffer zone. Border disputes occasionally occur but quickly resolve themselves. The fish do not chase after neighbouring fish by following a neighbour because they would leave their own territory unguarded.

When a female who comes along and is in mating mood she will usualy go the the male with the best territory. All the fish will try to entice the female to their territory by displaying frantically. Only occasionally will she mate with a subordinate male.

How to show your fish at fish shows

China fish show

About fish shows

Gozo fish show
Gozo fish show

You’ve learned to keep your fish from dying. You have managed to breed your fish. Now what? Entering your fish into a local fish show is a great next step in taking your fishkeeping hobby to the next level.
With experience you can win trophies, ribbons or prizes such as aquarium equipment or money.
You can show off your prized champion fishes and your skill at raising and breeding your fish.
Fish shows are a good place to keep abreast of new products. Many new products and different interesting species are usually on display.
Usually there are door prizes giving the entrants many chances to win fishkeeping equipment such as heaters, filters or lighting.
You will certainly meet fellow aquarists who will be expert in various fields of fishkeeping. You can learn a lot by asking questions. These experts always take great pride in answering questions, so that they show show off their great expertise on their favourite subject.
You can also ask company representatives of manufacturers about any equipment that they have on display and advice on equipment in general.
You may have to attend shows a few times to see what your competition is like before you will be ready to start entering your fish into the show.
It is only when you start showing off your fish that your fishkeeping skills will really improve and you will become a real expert.
Only through research, and putting into practice what you pick up will you be able to consistently high quality show grade fish.

international fish shows for the best fish
international fish shows for the best fish

Different types of fish shows

Most aquatic competitions are organised by aquarium societies. Some are very large such as the International Betta Congress (IBC) or local to large towns or cities.

Small fish shows

Small fish shows are sponsored by local clubs. To enter a fish into one of these shows you do have to be a member of the local club.

Regional fish shows

These are shows where different clubs compete against each other. A regional show forces you to cooperate with other members of your club in a team effort.

Open fish shows

Same as regional shows except that these are open to the general public and not just members of any particular fish club or aquarium society.

Fish exhibitions or Aquatic Conventions

These are the largest shows that you can enter. These types of show are hosted by tropical fish magazines and international societies.
Many aquarium equipment manufacturers will be present. They usually showcase their latest product line in aquarium filters, lighting, aquariums and aquarium equipment. They will try to sell you something if you look like a prospect.

How fish shows work

Understanding classes in fish shows

Here a judge is grading discus at a show
Here a judge is grading discus at a show

Fish shows put fish into classes so that similar fishes will be judge against each other. Fish shows have many rules for a fish class. You will have to make an effort to understand these rules and comply with these rules to have a decent chance of winning.
Fish have to be compared like for like to make it fairer and easier for the judge to make a decision. That is why you have to enter your fish into a specific class. Make sure you put your fish into the correct class. Classes are grouped by similar species. Groups such as livebearers, central american cichlids, dwarf cichlids and the like are examples of classes and should be easy for you to decide which class is best for your fish to be entered into.
Classes can be further divided into sub-classes. For example a livebearer class can be divided into guppy, platy, molly and swordtail classes. Then guppy class can also be further sub divided into tail type classes such as spade tail, round tail, lyretail, etc. Make sure your fish is suitable for the class you intend to enter it into.

Increasing your chances of winning a fish show

Pedigree dragon scale koi betta
Pedigree dragon scale koi betta

Try to prevent or discourage people from looking at your fish before the judges arrive. You don’t want your fish to be unnecessarily stressed before the judges have arrived. Stressed fish may lose their colour.
You can actually train your fish not be be spooked out by strangers coming to inspect them. What you need to do is recreate competition-like conditions for your fish at home.
Place your fish’s holding tank somewhere lots of people will pass to and fro in front of, with the occasional person peering into the tank. Or arrange for several members of your family to pace back and forth near the tank several times a day. And also tell them to peer into the tank, while you observe your fish’s behaviour. When the fish becomes accustomed to this attention then you can train less often. Also you can try shining a torch at the fish occasionally so that when the fish is at the show the fish will not be startled by a judge with poor eyesight flashing a torch at your fish to better see it.

Never present ill fish at shows. Only take fish that are in tip-top to the show. The stress of the show and the travelling to and from the show does put a fish under stress. Such stress can kill or make ill a weak fish. You will not be popular at the show if you bring a sick or weak fish.
A small holding tank can be used to keep your fish safe and well before the show so that your prize fish can avoid getting into a fight or injured with other fish. You can also keep a close eye on your fish’s health. Feed live food and vegetable tidbits in preparation for the show. Make sure you clean the tank with water changes and syphon off any waste matter daily.
Don’t include decorations in the holding tank that may injure your fish. You can however include floating plants and some java moss or java ferns. Have a bare bottom or a thin layer of sand at the bottom of the holding tank.
Your fish needs to be relaxed and stress free in the holding tank. And maintenance and observation will be easier.

Champion grade koi shusui scaleless
Champion grade koi shusui scaleless

Exhibiting your fish in a professional manner

Get hold of a copy of the rules for the class you expect to show your fish in. Study the rules carefully before you fill out an entry form so that you can familiarise yourself with the rules of the contest you want to enter your fish into.
Take your fish to the show early so that your fish has time to settle down. Stressed fish may have washed out colours. Adding a little salt to the holding tank can help your fish regain its colour.
Always take water from home with you to the show. Do not use water from the show, which may be markedly different than the water you have at home. Many owners who ignore this end up with sick fish after the show. Also for a day or two before the show stop feeding. This will not harm your fish, but will reduce any toxins in the water and your fish will become more active.
Always use a show tank that is the appropriate size for the size of fish that you will be showing. A small fish in a large tank will look lost, while a large fish in a small tank will look cramped.
Make sure you read the rules in regards to the set up of the show tank. Some shows don’t allow gravel. Make sure you clean the glass throughly on the outside of the tank and inside.
When your show tank is all set up then stand back and look at the whole set up with the fish inside. Look at it with the eye of a judge. Make adjustments where necessary.

Show guidelines for showing fish

wonderful champion crown pearlscale goldfish
wonderful champion crown pearlscale goldfish

Judging guidelines are usually very strict. Contestants are usually not allowed near their tanks when the fish are being judged. So, be patient.
Each class has a single judge who will judge and score your fish on its own merit and not in comparison to neighbouring fish.
After all the fish in all the classes have been judged, a best of show award is given to the best fish in the show overall.
Aquarium societies have set up benchmarks or standards that each fish can be directly compared to. Obviously the fish that is closest to the benchmark is usually judge to be the winner.
Most fish are judged on a point system. Points are allocated in sections. Some points for size, some for shape, some for colour, finnage and deportment. Some sections are appointed more points than others, so be aware of this. The fish with the most points altogether is the winner.

Size and body weight of show fish

Size is a consistently high scoring factor. Bigger fish score more than smaller fish.
The fish’s body must be fully intact. No bumps or growths or deformities. They are not tolerated well by the judges. The fish’s body must be of the correct shape and correct proportion. The fish should not look bloated or anorexic.

Colour and fins of show fish

A fish’s body colour is determined by various layers of pigmentation that is found in the scales and the flesh underlying the scales of the fish. In the wild, colour is used for camouflage, display, mating and for shoaling purposes.
In shows, the fish must meet the the show standards for colour which might be markedly different than wild colours. Many show fish have colours that have been mutated over many generations away from the original wild colouration. Colour can be a very important factor in scoring for a show and a lot of points out of the total go to good coloration.
Fish do have some chameleon like abilities when it comes to colour. They can adjust their colours to better blend in with their surroundings. In bright tanks they can become washed out while in dark tanks they can darken.
Your fish’s coloration should be even all over the body and fins. The colour should not look washed out or be in patches unless it is a patterned fish.When 2 or more colours appear on a fish the borders where 2 colours meet each other should be well defined without colour bleeding.
Do not be tempted to use artificial colouring methods to improve the colour of your fish. These techniques leave the fish looking artificial and most judges will instantly recognised an artificially coloured fish and disqualify it.
Fins should all be present and well formed. Any missing or deformed fins are severely frowned on by judges. It is better to not enter such fish because you want to build up a good relationship with the judges for future shows. All fins must be in good condition with no tears, splits or frayed edges. The fins should all be held wide open and properly coloured. The fins should all be symmetrical in shape and size.

Overall condition of show fish

There should be no missing or damaged scales. Eyes should be bright and clear and symmetrical. The eyes must not be bulging or look sunken. The fish must be in perfect health and have a healthy and alert appearance.
Transporting fish to and from a show
Transport the fish’s display tank in an insulated wooden box. Darken the tank by covering with a cloth. Cushion the tanks so that vibrations and jolts are not transmitted to the tank and the fish. Make sure you arrive early to set up your show tank and give your fish time to settle after their stressful journey. Relaxed fish always display better and always score better than skitty fish with stressed colours.

 

Foreground plants and specimen plants

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

Foreground plants and specimen plants

More about aquascaping basics here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

These are plants that stand out as individual plants. They occupy the middle to front of the aquarium. They usually have large leaves and visible stems. Only a few are needed or even a single large dominating plant is a possibility. Here is a range of easy to care for foreground plants.

cryptocoryne-beckettii
cryptocoryne-beckettii

Cryptocoryne Becketti

Long slim pointed leaves with a serrated edge. The plant can turn from green to red in brighter light. Use of fertiliser and brighter light helps this plant grow faster but is not necessary.

Plant separately in individual pots. It does not like its roots touching the cold aquarium bottom.

It gows 6″ to 8″ and requires low to medium lighting with a temperature range of 75-82F. It is a nice low maintenance plant once established.

Cryptocoryne Undulata

cryptocoryne-undulata
cryptocoryne-undulata

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves grow upwards from short thin stems.
Leaves tend to turn red or brown when kept in bright lighting which can be quite attractive depending on your own personal preference. In moderate to low lighting the leaves remain green.
It grows between 4″-8″ and is flexible in terms of the lighting conditions provided.
It does best in temperatures between 72F-82F and a ph 6-8
It is an easy to care for plant

Cryptocoryne Wendtii

It has medium to long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This is the most popular and most recommended of the crypt plants. They grow between 4″-6″ but there are also larger sub-varieties of Wendtii.
It likes a water temperature of 72-82F and a ph between 6-8. It likes low to moderate lighting
This is the easiest to keep of the crypts.

cryptocoryne-willisi
cryptocoryne-willisi

Cryptocoryne Willisi

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This plant likes medium to bright light.
It grows to 6″ in height. Ph of 6.5 -7.2 . Temperature range 72-81F
It is one of the toughest Cryptocoryne species.

Echinodorus Tenellus

It has a grass like appearance with nice long slim green leaves. Under water grass that will cover most of the foreground area. Place larger plants within the middle of it.
Will grow and spread quickly once established. It prefers soft water with a ph of about 5.5-7.5
It grows to 3.5″ and likes bright lighting. Keep the temperature between 62F-80F

Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae
Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae

Lilaeopsis novae zelandiae

This is a grass like plant with long thin green leaves that bunch together. It propogates off runners. Just take cuttings when the mini plants develop roots.
Needs bright lighting. Grows between 3″-5″ high. Keep at temperatures between 64F-82F. It has a pH range 6.8-7.5

Giant Sagittaria

Long but wide green leaves that fan out from the base and no stem. Can also be placed in a coldwater aquarium.
Grows to 8″ tall. It needs bright lighting. Teperature range of 61F-79F

More unusual foreground plants

Anubias-barteri-nana
Anubias-barteri-nana

Dwarf Anubias

A short plant with green privet shaped leaves. It is good for low lit aquariums. Temperature range of 72-82F. ph range of 6.0 – 9.0. Grows from 3-4 inches tall. Can be attached to bogwood or rocks away from the aquarium floor. It develops a good root system.

Java Fern

This is a popular plant and for good reason. It is a relatively easy to care for plant that survives in most aquarium conditions. The leaves are bitter tasting to most fish and is usually left alone. It likes low lighting conditions. It will grow to 10inches tall. Temperature range of 68-79F. Ph between 6-8 ph. It prefers not to be planted but to have its roots attched to a rock or a piece of bogwood. The plant has long wide pointed leaves.

Radicans Swordplant

radicans-sword
radicans-sword

Quite a large plant. Can grow up to 24 inches. So you need a larger taller aquarium. It has long stems and round leaves. It likes bright light and a temperature range between 64-82F. PH 6.5-7.5. An easy to care for plant.

Red Tiger Lotus

This is a stunning and dominating plant with variegated red, orangey or yellow leaves. The leaves are wide, round and crinkly. It can grow to 12-20 inches tall. It needs bright light and a temperature between 72-82 and a ph of between 6.5-7.5. Relatively easy to care for but will need to be pruned occasionally.

Java Moss

This not a plant but is a moss that grows in the shape of a bush. It can be pruned and trimmed to the right shape and size. It is not fussy over lighting conditions. It is a tough and undemanding plant that grows slowly and doesn’t need much attention. Fool proof plant. Temperature range of 68F-86F. Ph 5-8 or more.

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Find out about how to maintain a tank here

Find out about aquascaping here

Perhaps you have an old aquarium that hasn’t been used in a while and you want to spruce it up and make it usable once again. Or you could have an aquarium that is in use, but you have had it for a long time and you might be feeling a bit bored with it, even if your fish aren’t. After all, every once in a while we need to change the décor of our home, right? An aquarium is like a tiny room in our house that needs sprucing up every once in a while. There are a number of ways to spruce up an old aquarium for your pleasure and for the current or new occupants.

Give your aquarium a good clean

It’s best to start with a thorough cleaning of your aquarium. While you likely clean your tank weekly, as recommended, sometimes an aquarium needs some spring cleaning, aka. a complete overhaul. Before you decide to spruce up the old aquarium, start by cleaning it thoroughly. In fact, you can alter the appearance of your aquarium simply by making everything bright and clean once again.

Changing the water

The first thing you will need to do is change the water in the tank. To do this, you will need to syphon off at least half the water in the aquarium and add “aged water” to the tank to replace the water you removed. What is “aged water”? This is water that you have poured from your home faucet into a never-used or sterilized container, such as a bucket.

The key to aging this water is to allow it to sit and reach room temperature. You can allow it to sit and aerate long enough to de-chlorinate, which takes about 24 hours, or you can use a de-chlorination tablet or solution from your local pet store. You should also ensure your water is at the correct pH level, between 6.5 and 7.5. If your water is outside of this range, use a product from your pet store to adjust the pH of the water.

Cleaning the gravel bed

All kinds of debris gets buried in the gravel bed of your aquarium, including fish waste, uneaten food, and parts of plants that are dead and decomposing. These need to be removed by syphoning them from the tank. For this reason, it is ideal to do this at the same time you are removing old water from the tank.

Remove any accessories you have in your aquarium before you begin. Live plants can also be removed and placed in a dish of water. Place one end of the syphon in a bucket and place the other end in the tank. As you syphon the debris, use the end of the syphon hose or your fingers to gently stir up the debris, but not so much that it spreads throughout the whole aquarium. Remove as much debris as you can.

Scraping and cleaning the tank

After about half the water and as much debris as possible is removed from the aquarium, you can clean the sides of the tank and the accessories that were in it. Scrape any algae and other material off the sides of the tank and wipe it clean with paper towel. Use a brush or abrasive pad to clean accessories. Never use soap or chemicals when cleaning any part of your tank. It is also important not to change or clean the filter at this time. Good bacteria live in your aquarium and in the filter. Since you have probably cleaned much of it out of the aquarium, you need what is in the filter, so wait two to three weeks before cleaning or changing the filter.

Tank accessories

Once your tank is clean the real fun can begin. Changing the accessories in your tank, or simply adding new ones, is perhaps the easiest way to spruce up your old aquarium, but there are other ways to make it look grand and provide you with a much-needed change. Here are a few suggestions:

Get some live plants:

If you have only synthetic plants in your aquarium, you can choose to replace or augment those with live plants. If you are unsure about using live plants, just start with one or two. They will help oxygenate the water and create a more natural environment for your fish. They also look beautiful. You might have to trim them back as they grow and they will need a full spectrum light on the tank, but otherwise they are very low maintenance.

Change the color of the gravel:

This is a bigger job that requires the removal of the old gravel, but changing the color of the gravel will really add some new zing to your aquarium.

Go with a theme:

You can choose new accessories for your aquarium based on a specific theme. You are only limited by your imagination, so check out the many different types of accessories and themes at your local pet store and online. Choose from sunken ruins, Easter Island, Super Mario, a bathroom scene, Sponge Bob Square Pants, an underwater volcano, or any one of a number of others. Make up your own scene for a more personalized aquarium.

Use a 3D background:

3D aquarium backgrounds offer an added dimension of scenery for both you and your fish. These backgrounds don’t just offer a pretty 3D picture on a 2D surface; they offer a vertical 3D surface that is textured and can even provide crevices, ledges, and rocks fish can explore and hide in. A 3D background definitely provides your fish with a more natural-looking environment, making them feel right at home.
Add different fish: Finally, to spruce up your old aquarium, you can add new fish. Of course, you have to have the space for these fish and you need to be sure the new species can comfortably live with the fish you already have, but as long as these factors allow for it, new colors and types of fish can be a welcome change.

Change the lighting:

You can go with a brighter light to bring life to a dark aquarium. Or get a day glo type bulb to reveal more natural colours. There are even bulbs that bring out reds or blues more. If you have red fish or blue fish that you would like to bring out the colours, then bulbs like this will add sparkle to your aquarium.

Sprucing up an old aquarium can be a fun, creative project. You can do it on your own or involve the whole family. Just remember that the happiness and wellbeing of your fish come first. As long as this is your first priority, use your imagination and have fun creating an aquarium that will not only look great, but will become a conversation piece for anyone who visits your home.

Selecting midground plants for your aquarium

Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background

What is a midground plant?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about background plants here

A midground plant is a plant that acts as a filler in the mid area of the aquarium. Usually planted as individual plants. Midground plants should have distinctive large leaves and colour. They should be short plants to not block out the background. A good midground plant will stand out against the background without dominating the scene. Midground plants create the ‘body’ of the aquascape, whereas background plants create the skeleton of the aquascape.

I will list below recommended midground plants for your aquarium that are easy to care for.

Anubias barteri known as broadleaf anubias

Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant
Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant

This is a slow growing plant that has tough, firm dark leaves and is recommended for an aquarium with fish that destroy plants. It should be planted singly in the midground. They prefer a heated substrate. Needs moderate to bright lighting. Temperature range of 72F-82F. ph of 5.5 to 8 and moderately soft water.

Giant Bacopa

This is a fast growing plant that likes bright light and can be kept in hard watere. It is a stemmed plant with medium spade shaped leaves all along its stems. Can be propogated by taking cuttings. Leaves can turn red under very bright light. It can tolerate lower light levels. Temperature range 68F-82F. Water ph 6.5-7.7.

Japanese Cress

Healthy specimen of japanese watercress
Healthy specimen of japanese watercress

An unusual plant with a disorganised growth pattern. It is not strictly tropical so should only be used in the unheated aquarium. It is hardy except that it can be affected by medications and chemicals. It does prefer bright light. Temperature range is 61F-72F. Water ph 6.5-7.8.

Stargrass

This plant can grow tall and should be trimmed down. The leaves are long and slender and grow out in groups of 5,6,7 leaves giving it a star like shape. They do better with a little fertiliser occasionally and good lighting. Temperature range is 72F-80F. Water ph 5-7 and low hardness is preferred.

Water pennywort

The leaves of this plant are large and round with lace like edging. The leaves grow all along winding and branching stems. This plant will try to reach the water surface, where it will grow leaves that block out the light to the aquarium below. So, trim back before the plant reaches the surface. It prefers bright light. Temperature range is 68F-82F. Water ph range is 6-8.

Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light
Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light

Green ludwigia (ludwigia palustris)

This is an easy to care for plant. There are various varieties of this plant. The best, recommended variety has bright solid green leaves which are medium/small in size. It prefers bright light. Temperature range 64F-80F. Water ph range is 6.5-7.5 with moderate hardness.

 

Background plants for your aquarium

aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

Which background plants for your aquarium?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

How to recognise good background aquarium plants

What is meant by ‘background plant’? This refers to plants that will be placed along the back and sides of your aquarium. These type of plants usually grow tall and cover most of the rear of the aquarium. And finally they usually provide a good background contrast to foreground plants. This is achieved by having bushy growth or fine leaves. Listed below are the best background plants in terms of beauty and ease of care.

Magenta Water Hedge (Alternanthera Reineckii)

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

This is a plant that will contrast well against other green plants because of its red/purple coloured leaves.

Because it is a little short it has to be planted in groups to form an effective background or as a space filler between taller plants. There is a taller variety that does make an ideal background plant.

Allow space between each stem so that each plant will obtain enough nutrients from the substrate and also they don’t block each other’s access to light. It does need good lighting or it will not thrive. Push fertiliser tablets near its roots because they do like a lot of nutrients. The water hedge prefers neutral to slightly acidic and soft water with a temperature range of 72F-80F. Hardiness is average.

Green Cabomba

fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds
fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds

This is a plant that needs strong lighting and fertilisers tablets near its roots or it tends to disintegrate. It is better to keep the aquarium water well filtered because the fine frond like leaves collect debris. Plant cabomba in groups. Easy to propogate by taking cuttings from the top. Prune when it grows too long. Temperature range is 60F-80F. It prefers water that is around neutral in ph with a moderate hardness. It is medium in difficulty to care for.

Onion Plant

This plant sometimes known as the aquatic onion plant resembles an onion plant but is unrelated. It grows long slender but thick leaves that don’t branch. It has a bulb above its root system. The leaves tend to spiral slightly as it grows. It is a tough low maintenance plant. It is good with cichlids and goldfish. It needs moderate lighting. Temperature range of 64F-80F and can handle a wide range of water conditions around neutral ph and moderate hardness.

Cryptocoryne Balansae

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves
cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

This plant has long slender crinkly leaves with pointed tips. It can grow well in hard water and can be grown under different brightness. However it will grow faster in bright light. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets that grow on the runners. It is a hardy plant and easy to care for. Plant in groups for a nice effect. One of the best background plants. Temperature range 73F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph between 6-8ph and a moderate hardness level.

Broadleaf Amazon sword plant

This is a good beginners plant and makes a good background plant but does need to be kept pruned because it grows large. It needs a reasonably bright light. It can cope with a temperature range between 68F and 82F. Does benefit from the occasional fertiliser tablet. It does not care much about its water chemistry as long as extreme conditions are avoided.

Ruffled Amazon sword plant

This is another easy to keep amazon sword variety. It is more bushy than the broad leafed amazon and its broad leaves have an attractive crinkle to them. It needs the occasional fertiliser tablet and some good lighting to thrive. Temperature range of 72F-82F and likes a wide range of ph and hardness with slightly acid being preferred.

Spadeleaf plant

The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant
The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant

This is a very broad leafed plant. It is easy to look after and grows quickly when supplied with bright light and tablet fertilisers. It can become quite bushy because of its fast growth. It likes a temperature range of 50F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph and water hardness.

Water wisteria

Water wisteria is an easy to keep plant with finely branched leaves. Use a table fertiliser near its roots and a bright light to ensure good growth. Water wisteria likes a temperature range of 73F-82F. Likes average water conditions around 7 ph but is not too fussy.

Dwarf Hygrophila

This is a popular aquarium plant and for good reason. It is low maintenance and very hardy. It will grow under nearly all aquarium conditions. Plant in groups of five in the background to create a bushy background. It does grow rather quickly. It does prefer bright light but can get by in moderate lighting. The preferred temperature range is 64F-86F. Ph range 5.0ph – 8.0ph.

Green myriophyllum

The green myrio is a great beginners background plant
The green myrio is a great beginners background plant

A great looking background plant that creates a fine leaved layer of green bushes all along the back of the aquarium. Keep the aquarium well filtered because debris in the water will collect in the plants fine leaves. Temperature range between 59F-77F.

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf rotala is a stem plant with leaves that grow all along single stems. In bright light the leaves take on a reddish colour over the green. This plant grows quickly when kept in brightly lit aquariums. It is an easy to care for plant. Temperature range is 68F-84F. Ph 5.5-7.5.

Straight vallisneria

The vallisneria is a tough, easy to care for plant. It reproduces by sending out runners on which plantlets sprout out. Each plantlet can be cut off when the plantlet has grown roots. It will grow quickly in the right conditions. Because of this it needs to be thinned out by separating out the leaves of the plant. vallisneria grows best in bright light but it will tolerate low lighting conditions. It is best planted in thickets surrounding the back and sides of the aquarium. Temperature range of 59F-86F. ph range is ph6-ph8.5.

The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough
The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough

Corkscrew vallisneria

The corkscrew vallisneria is similar in appearance to the straight version but with spiral leaves. It is not as hardy as the straight leaved version and needs moderate to hard water to thrive. And will not do well unless bright lighting is provided. Temperature range of 75F-82F. Ph range is ph6-ph8.

 

A guide to keeping and breeding fancy goldfish

Champion grade veiltail goldfish with the ryukin back
The comet goldfish is a simple variant on the common goldfish
The comet goldfish is a simple variant on the common goldfish

A guide to keeping and breeding fancy goldfish

Goldfish are one of the perennial favorites of the aquarium trade. It is difficult to imagine a fish more evidently associated with fish keeping than the goldfish. While everyone is familiar with the traditional appearance of the common goldfish, the various varieties known as fancy goldfish offer a much wider selection of colors and forms than the layperson would expect.

All of these fish share similar needs when it comes to successfully keeping them. Because they create more waste than any other fish, it is necessary to provide them an appropriately powerful filtration system. This is because their digestive system lacks a stomach; food passes through their body very quickly, making it easy for you to end up with more mess in your tank than you know what to do with.

Specialised Care for fancy goldfish

Although care is similar to common goldfish, you do have to take into account the shape and features of the different varieties. The “chubby” varieties are prone to swim bladder problems and so should be fed with more fresh greens and live food and avoid or restrict feeding them with dried foods. And you may need to keep a heater in the tank in the winter to protect them from colder temperatures because they are not as strong as the common goldfish.

The bubble eyes are prone to damage to the bubble so avoid any sharp or abrasive objects in the tank. Both the bubble eyes and celestial types have poorer eyesight so you need to feed them close by and keep an eye on any uneaten food to remove it.

Ideal goldfish equipment

Nice example of a veiltail. Chocolate coloured veiltail
Nice example of a veiltail. Chocolate coloured veiltail

While it seems reasonable to imagine that goldfish belong in a bowl, the truth is that they need lots of space to survive. Use a large tank if you want to keep more than a few goldfish at a time, or keep them in an outdoor pond. Ponds offer numerous benefits to goldfish due to the large size, but offer poor visibility to aquarists.

If you keep a tank for your goldfish, you can create a tightly controlled, ideal environment for breeding. Before getting into breeding though, you will need to install a powerful filter that can move ten times the volume of the tank per hour in order to keep the water clean. That means a 100-liter tank should move 1000 liters per hour, in order to compensate for the waste these fish produce.

Goldfish do not need heaters in indoor tanks, but you may want one in order to encourage early breeding. These fish are biologically programmed to begin breeding when the water gets warm and food becomes abundant. Choosing which breed to breed, however, requires an introduction to the various types of fancy goldfish available.

Types of fancy goldfish

oranda goldfish with ryukin style back
oranda goldfish with ryukin style back

Despite the wide range of appearances common to different species of fancy goldfish, they are biologically very similar to the standard common goldfish. Most of them are characterized by a single major difference that they exhibit when compared to the common goldfish. Different sizes, colors, fin and body shapes, or other combinations of special features define the various species:

  • Comet Golfish – The single-tailed comet goldfish is similar in appearance to the common goldfish, but features a long forked tail. They come in a wide variety of colors, but the common gold coloration remains most prevalent. Comet goldfish come in white, red, and various spotted colorations as well. Comets as well as common goldfish can be wintered outside in ponds that ice over.
  • Fantail Goldfish – Fantails are one of the more basic fancy varieties. They have a sturdy tail fin that is forked into two when viewed from above. The top of the split tail will be closer together than the bottom of the tail creating a fan shape. The top of the tail fin should be firmly held above horizontal. The ends of the tail fin will be rounded. The body is deep and wide, egg shaped in fact. Fantails can be wintered outside in ponds as long as it doesn’t ice over.
  • Ryukin style back veiltail goldfish
    Ryukin style back veiltail goldfish

    Ryukin Goldfish – This is the Japanese version of the fantail and veiltail. They are distinguished by having a distinct humped back starting from behind the head and ending at the tail. Also, their tail fin fans out wider than the fantail. Finally the tail rises higher than the fantail. These goldfish come in red, white, black, and orange color combinations as well as the calico version. There is also a lionhead version too. Ryukin can be wintered in ponds with no ice because they have been outcrossed back to the common goldfish to re-introduce vigour.

  • Veiltail Goldfish – While featuring a body shape largely similar to that of the fantail, veiltail goldfish have a distinct double tail that is lengthy and uniquely square-edged, without any forking between lobes. The best ones will have a straightish end to the tail fin rather than lobed. The bottom of the veil in champions is horizontal and not diagonal. They come in many colors, with metallic varieties also available. Calico specimens are particularly attractive, where the colours should run into the fins. The veiltail is one of the less hardy breeds of goldfish and should not be wintered outdoors.
  • bristol shubunkin has wider tail fin than the london shubunkin
    bristol shubunkin has wider tail fin than the london shubunkin

    Shubunkin – The fascinating Shubunkin goldfish is a single-tailed type of fish featuring nacreous scales that are a blend of both metallic and transparent genes. The fins are similar to the common goldfish except they are elongated. They come in a wide variety of colors, most often with overlapping patches. This mixture of colours is called calico. Deep blue is the background colour with overlayed patches of red, brown, orange, yellow and black. The colour should extend into the fins. These can be wintered in ponds that don’t ice over.

  • Black Moor Goldfish – This species of fancy goldfish is surprisingly not gold in color at all. In fact, it is jet black with metallic scales, and sometimes a very slight orange tinge. They tend to be longer and thinner than most other goldfish varieties.
  • Pearlscale Goldfish – The pearlscale goldfish is a very popular fish for beginners. While very similar in appearance to fantails, every one of its scales feature a distinctive raised bump that makes it look like it is covered in pearls. The best specimens have a round, globe like body. Additionally, this type of fancy goldfish can grow significantly larger than others, so needs to be given sufficient space to thrive in successfully. A pearlscale with a lionhead is called a crown pearlscale.
  • Highly developed goldfish with telescope eyes, calico colour and oranda hood
    Highly developed goldfish with telescope eyes, calico colour and oranda hood

    Oranda Goldfish – One of the most colorful varieties of fancy goldfish, the oranda subspecies comes in combinations of red, black, blue, white, brown, and black. This species features a unique “hood” that covers part of its head. While they are born without this hood, it grows into place over the first two years of the fish’s life. The size of this growth is affected by the diet and water conditions the fish enjoys. Similar to the fantail but with the hooded growth similar to the lionhead.

  • Telescope Eye Goldfish – This sub breed, also sometimes called a demekin goldfish, dragon goldfish, or globe eye goldfish, feature extra large, protruding eyes and a round body. Fantails, blackmoors, orandas, veiltails and other shortbodied breeds can have telescope eyes.
  • Lionhead Goldfish – The distinctive lionhead hood  and lack of a dorsal fin separates this fancy goldfish from the other breeds. Apart from the signature growth on its head, it features short fins and a rotund body structure. Colors include numerous combinations of red, orange, white, black, blue, and brown.
Tancho lionhead goldfish. Tancho=red just on hood
tancho lionhead goldfish the red should be limited to the hood

These are only ten varieties of fancy goldfish—there are many more commercially available types, and even rarer varieties available to the fortunate aquarist. Many of these species look so different than the common goldfish that only experienced aquarists can recognize them as goldfish.

Because of the intentional genetic differences bred in fancy goldfish to develop their unique characteristics and traits, goldfish pedigree is important for individuals who wish to breed goldfish. Breeding fancy goldfish successfully requires access to adequate information about their lineage. This allows you to choose which characteristics you would like to see emphasized.

How to breed fancy goldfish

You can breed fancy goldfish in the aquarium or when the weather is warmer in a pond. In the aquarium you can breed them as early as march by using a heater to raise the temperature to about 65F.

Crown pearlscale goldfish showing perfect spherical body
Crown pearlscale goldfish showing perfect spherical body

If you have a male and female of fancy goldfish that you would like to encourage to breed, you need to set up the appropriate conditions. Female goldfish tend to anchor their eggs to something solid when they spawn, so you will want to add some live plants or a spawning mop to your tank.

Spawning mops, which are designed to protect the eggs from hungry adults while making it easy to transport eggs, are also widely commercial available for this purpose. Using a spawning mop, you can easily collect the eggs and deposit them in a secondary breeding tank, ensuring their safety in the process.

Feeding chopped earthworms, brine shrimp, or black worms to the fish can help mimic the abundance of spring time, when goldfish would naturally breed. Feed them three times a day and the fish will begin to enter the breeding mood.

If the female looks plump with eggs and the fish haven’t bred then try spraying cooler water into the aquarium first thing in the morning. This should trigger them to breed. The male will start chasing the female around the aquarium.

Sexing your fish for breeding

Blackmoor with the ranchu lionhead body and hood
Blackmoor with the ranchu lionhead body and hood

Once you set up the conditions for breeding, it is likely that your fish will enter breeding season, when they can be sexed. Identifying female goldfish can be tricky, especially for fancy varieties in which individuals can look very different. The following four steps can help:

  • See if you can identify the shape of the vent, located between the anus and anal fin of the goldfish. Female vents are convex and rounded, looking somewhat like the protruding “outie” navel a human being might have.
  • Feel the abdomen of the goldfish to determine how soft and yielding it feels. The area between the pelvic and anal fins on a female goldfish should be softer than that of a male goldfish.
  • Observe the pectoral fins. Females tend to have shorter, rounder pectoral fins than males do.
  • Males usually develop with pimples around the pectoral fins and gill area during the breeding season.
  • Males will start to gently chase and bump females before they are ready to breed.
Show quality ranchu lionhead goldfish
Show quality ranchu lionhead goldfish

Once you’ve conclusively identified your males and females, you should take the extra step of separating males and females into separate tanks for a few days before introduction.

Then select which male to breed with female. Often just picking your best female specimen with the best male specimen and allowing them to breed doesn’t give the best resulting offspring. With a little experimentation it can be discovered that a fish with slightly overlong fins should be bred with a fish with shorter fins to get a brood with perfect finnage.

It should be noted that calico coloured fish (including shubunkins) do not breed true. Only half the offspring will be calico coloured. The other half will be either metallic or pink in equal numbers.

Breeding season, however, is usually enough to get them to begin. Your males will become atypically aggressive towards the females, who will release their eggs in response.

Spawning behavior and raising fry

Show quality veiltail oranda goldfish
Show quality veiltail oranda goldfish

The male will chase the female for up to several hours. When the male bumps the female she releases eggs, which he will immediately fertilise. The temperature of the water with the eggs can be raised to 72F to help with egg development. During the next 3 days you can place the eggs in their own tank or remove all thish. Add methylene blue to your breeding tank’s water in order to prevent fungus growth on the unfertilized eggs and protect your fertilized ones.

Once they hatch, they will live off of their egg yolk for a day and a half. Only then do you need to feed them. They eat infusoria for a few days. Then start feeding on newly hatched brine shrimp.

After the fry have hatched, you should remove the spawning mop from the tank, taking great care to allow your fry to escape from inside the media first. You may then focus on raising them with an excellent diet of live brine shrimp and immaculately clean water.

After 4 weeks they can move onto bigger foods such as blood worm and chopped earthworms. And, weather permitting you can move the fry outside into ponds so that greater numbers can be grown. At 8 weeks they can eat finer grained fish food or flakes. The more delicate breeds will have to be brought back indoors before winter sets in. At this stage you should cull as many defective fish as possible.

Culling your goldfish

Calico lionhead. More blue in the colour would be better
Calico lionhead. More blue in the colour would be better

The last part of successfully breeding your fancy goldfish is rigorously culling your brood in order to ensure that the best specimens survive. Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to unlimited aquarium space, there is no way that the hundreds of even thousands of fry you are caring for will be able to survive without culling them weekly using a small net. Be sure not to discard your fish in the toilet.

When goldfish are born they are the colour of their native ancestors which is a greyish green colour. So it is not easy to cull for colour until later on. The young will start to change to the adult gold from the age of 5 months onwards. The green will darken to almost black then the orange colour will break out from this. Fish that change colour later such as 12 months and later will have a deeper richer red than fish that colour early. But some fish actually never change colour and stay green all their lives.

A lot of the brood will revert back to the natural form. Breeds such as fantail with the double tail can be easier to cull. Remove all fry with a single tail, leaving only the double tailed fry. But also note whether the tail has completely divided or not. Many otherwise perfect fantails have tails that don’t completely divide. These need to be removed too. Breeds that lack a dorsal fin can have fry culled that have the dorsal fin.

calico oranda
calico oranda

The lionhead and oranda do not develop their raspberry like growths on their head until they are about 12 months old so culling is difficult. However, you can still cull for the twin tail and lack of dorsal in the lionhead. But note that an oranda is not just a lionhead with a dorsal. If you are breeding lionheads and the fry have a dorsal you can’t just declare them as orandas. The lionhead has a more splayed fantail than the oranda and the back has a different curve.

Fancy goldfish require more rigorous culling, since they will doubtlessly feature much wider variation in their traits and characteristics, including body deformities and missing organs. You will need to begin separating and culling your fish after two weeks of life in order to make sure that you end up with a handful of healthy, high-grade adult fish in the end.

After several breeding and raising fry, you will gain experience as to which young show promise and which young should be culled earlier.

If you keep it up and handle your fry right, you’ll soon have a new generation of fancy goldfish, bred to your exact specifications.

Always match your fish against champion grade fish. There are many examples on the internet showing high quality body shapes, coloration, finnage and other features. Strive to emulate the best specimens and proven champions. This goes for purchases as well. Use the show class standards to help you buy the best specimens you can.

 

Koi varieties explained – a guide to recognising the varieties of koi

some champion koi varieties swimming together

Koi varieties explained: a comprehensive guide to recognising koi varieties

Feeding koi here

Building a koi pond here

champion grade quality koi varieties
champion grade quality koi varieties

Koi remain one of the most lasting and popular varieties of fish for the discriminating aquarist. They are one of the few fish with records of keeping koi going back hundreds of years, though modern koi as we know them have been around for just over one hundred. Originally hailing from Japan’s Niigata prefecture, koi fish have become a staple fish for many aquarists.

So many koi, so little time

Any hobbyist with a passing interest in koi fish may have, at some point, asked themselves just how many varieties of koi fish exist in the world. This is a tough question to answer, since new species are developed every year. The current count uses thirteen separate classifications with more than a hundred individually named varieties.

Since there are enough individual varieties to fill an encyclopedia with, this article will represent each of those thirteen categories with their most popular fish. Some categories feature multiple koi worth mentioning. If you would like to delve deeper into the world of koi fish, there are great supplementary resources available, including high quality books with exhaustive lists of individual varieties.

The beginning Koi: Kohaku

champion kohaku koi
champion kohaku koi

Experts in the koi industry often claim that keeping koi begins and ends with Kohaku. It is believed to be the first ornamental koi variety.This deceptively simple white fish with red blotches is emblematic of the species, and may very well be the fish that comes to mind when you mention the word, “koi”.

Because of their simpler coloration, these koi are often recommended for beginners to the koi hobby. Interestingly, high quality specimens are also coveted by advanced koi keepers for their subtle patterns and elegant coloration. A high quality Kohaku koi features a snowy white complexion and a uniform red hue. Orange is common, but generally avoided in favor of a deeper crimson coloration.

Tancho Kohaku is a specific variety of this category that features a single bright red circle on the forehead, symbolizing the Japanese national flag. A koi with the tancho mark alongside other markings is called a Maruten Kohaku.

Show quality kohaku have very clearly defined edging to the red coloration, ie any blurring of the red into the white is penalised. Kohaku is still the most popular variety of koi in Japan.

The Taisho Sanshoku Koi: Sanke

taisho sanshoku or sanke - a white based koi with red and black
taisho sanshoku or sanke – a white based koi with red and black

Sanke koi are white based with red and black patches over the white. This particular variety enjoys a historical name alongside its common name. Taisho Sanshoku refers to the era and region from which this koi originates. Sanke koi look very similar to Kohaku koi except they have distinctive black markings in addition to their white and red coloration.

The best way to judge the quality of a Sanke koi is by first appealing to their Kohaku-like markings. Bright, snowy white and a deep, crimson red is ideal. After identifying these elements, you can examine the black spots, which should by an inky, pure black. Young sanke koi often have black spots that appear blue in hue; as the fish matures, this blue becomes a jet black shade in time.

The black koi: Showa

showa champion grade koi
showa champion grade koi

Showa koi are often confused with sanke koi, since they feature the same combination of white, red and black markings. The difference is that Showa koi are distinctively black-based, with additional white and red markings overlaying the black foundation.

High quality specimens are prized for the balance between the three colors. It is ideal for the showa koi to have a distinctive swath of black color that forks out from the base of the pectoral fins, making for a striking and powerful display of color.

Showa will have some black on its head whereas a sanke will not and good quality modern showas have more white than previously. Again, there should be no blurring. a sharp edge to the colours is preferred for show quality showas.

The fire and ash koi: Hi Utsuri = black with red

ki utsuri which is the yellow version of utsurimono
ki utsuri which is the yellow version of utsurimono

The Utsurimono family contains koi with a pattern containing two highly distinct colors. Of these, the most popular and visually striking is the Hi Utsuri black with red. It is easily recognizable by its black foundation and bright red markings. The two colors should offer a stark contrast, with the deeper hues being more prized than lighter shades.

Hi Utsuri are commonly sought out for unique asymmetric color patterns. Often, koi experts will recommend Utsurimono koi with the most quirky patterns possible, in order to emphasize their character. There is a yellow version with yellow markings over the black foundation – ki utsuri and a white version with white patches over the black – shiro utsuri.

The rock garden koi: Bekko

superb aka bekko red based with black markings
superb aka bekko red based with black markings

Shiro bekko koi are incredibly popular for their stark black-on-white coloration. Often confused with Shiro Utsuri, a white-on-black variety, these ones feature minimal black markings that should resemble the placement of small stones used in Japanese rock gardening against a white sand surface.

The ideal combination is a clean, snowy white with small specks of strong black overlying the koi’s scales. There should be no black on the koi’s head, or below the lateral line of the koi. A checkerboard pattern along the koi’s back is a sign of particular excellence.

There are two other main bekko types the aka bekko which is a red based fish black markings over it and the ki bekko which is a yellow based fish with black markings over it.

Show quality bekkos have distinct black markings without speckling and clearly defined edges to the black and the base colour should be snow white in the shiro bekko, crimson red for the aka bekko and a canary yellow for the ki bekko.

The single-color metallic koi: Hikarimuji

hikarimuji ogon yamabuki is a metallic yellow fish ie gold coloured
hikarimuji ogon yamabuki metallic yellow fish ie gold

Hikarimuji koi feature a single shiny metallic color, with no other markings anywhere on the body. The best specimens feature a bright and metallic finish, highly prized for their reflective surface and beautiful metallic luster. The colour must be evenly spread over the whole body.

These fish come in all colors, from vibrant white to deep orange or yellow. The most consistent and bright the coloration is, the higher quality the koi.
Yamabuki Ogon – pure metallic yellow/gold. Platinum Ogon – pure metallic white/silver. Orange Ogon – pure metallic orange/copper. There are also the kin matsuba and gin matsuba which have raised metallic markings that look like pine needles, where the individual scales are seen.

The metallic koi: Hikarimoyo

These koi are similar to Hikarimuji koi, featuring the same metallic luster, but with multiple colors. This is a koi classification that features multiple individual types, such as the colorful Kujaku koi, also known as the peacock koi.

The key to determining the quality of these koi is in their metallic luster. Coloration is unique for each individual and generally takes second place in importance to a strong, shiny metallic tinge.

The autumn water koi: Shusui

shusui are an almost scaless fish with a row of blue scales along the back
shusui are an almost scaless fish with a row of blue scales along the back

This species of koi adds a fascinating character to any koi collection. Shusui is the scaleless version of the Doitsu Asagi. The Shusui should only have two rows of blue scales on its back and might have scales along its lateral line. The common name Shusui means, “autumn water” and is used to describe the unique double row of blue scales running down the length of the koi’s back. On each side of the body there are vibrant red markings.

The scalelessness gives a smooth appearance to the fish and if the colours are clear and bright without blurring then the fish has an almost painted gloss like appearance.

These koi have few characteristics for determining a high quality specimen from a low quality one, but the most important aspect of coloration to consider is the blue dorsal line. The blue should be even, continuous and symmetrical.

The veiled koi: Ai Goromo

Ai goromo fish is like a kohaku with purple within the red patches
Ai goromo fish is like a kohaku with purple within the red patches

These striking fish feature purple markings on a white background, and are highly prized by koi enthusiasts. The name of this koi’s classification category, Koromo, means, “veiled” and refers to its vignette. The most prized specimens feature a deep purple robing that covers a portion of the scales while leaving a characteristic fade to red around each marking. The purple colour is a result of blue or black coloration blending into the red.

When young, these fish can resemble Kohaku koi. Often, the purple coloration does not set in fully until the fish has reached maturity. It can be helpful to assess the koi’s value from a Kohaku standpoint, substituting red for deep violet.

The five-color koi: Goshiki

goshiki kanno koi - female - five colours red,white,black and blue and slate
goshiki kanno female – red,white,black and blue and slate

While it is very rare for one of these koi to prominently feature all five colors, the Goshiki koi remains one of the industry’s favorites due to its bright, rainbow-like combination of colors.

A high quality specimen will exhibit red, black, white from the sanke with the grey, and blue colorations from the asagi. This is because the original goshiki were developed by crossing a sanke with an asagi. Only the rarest specimens will feature these colors in equal proportions.

The rarest specimen of Goshiki koi is one with a bright red Tancho mark on the forehead. Also highly sought after are Goshiki koi featuring the stepped patterns often seen in Kohaku koi.

The crow koi: Karasugoi

all black version of the koi
all black version of the koi

Karasu is Japanese for, “crow” and refers to the jet black coloration of these koi. They always feature rows of scales running along the dorsal or lateral lines and generally feature a white underbelly. Sometimes, these fish feature a white head and black body.

The best specimens are a deep black with no metallic scales. Note that when any scales are lost the replacement scale that grows will not be jet black and may ruin an otherwise good specimen.

Particularly valuable speciments often feature a wavy white and black pattern covering the flanks of the fish. It is this particular coloration that gave rise to the term, “dragon fish” in reference to koi.

The black net koi: Matsuba

gin matsuba means white metallic with black in the scale
gin matsuba means white metallic with black in the scale

The matsuba is a highly prized and very beautiful fish with a solid, metallic base of color featuring a black net pattern along the scales. The base color change: white, yellow, and red are common varieties, but the black net pattern remains a constant.

The value of this type of koi is based on the metallic sheen of the scales, and the consistency of the black patterning. Vivid contrast between the two colors is highly sought after by koi enthusiasts.

The strange koi: Kawarigoi

Kawarigoi is a catch-all term for just about any variety of koi that does not fit neatly into the existing classification system. Kawari is a word that refers to something strange or with unusual characteristics. It should go without saying that Kawarigoi are a varied bunch, and often contain unusual hybrids between other species.

Finding a quality Kawarigoi is usually up to personal preference. These koi are prized not for their adherence to a standard classification of beauty, but for their individual uniqueness. If you find a Kawarigoi that suits your fancy, it is a good one!

Learning more about koi

While this article touched on some of the most popular and distinctive species, the koi trade is a deep and historically significant one. Further reading is highly recommended for anyone interested in keeping koi as a hobby.

How to make your own fish food

prawns make a good component for diy fish foods

How to make your own fish food

prawns make a good component for diy fish foods
prawns make a good component for diy fish foods

While many fish are happy enough if you give them excellent quality water, a well-stocked aquarium to live in, and commercially available dried flake food, many aquarists enjoy going the extra mile and preparing their own fish food from scratch, or supplementing the diet of their fish with homemade meals. This option allows careful aquarists to enjoy a number of benefits simply not possible with commercial foods.

Although it may seem like hard work, you can make a lot in one go. A large batch can keep your fish going for a long time. Freezing what you are not using right away can keep it fresh a long time.

Advantages to preparing home made fish food

• Fresh Ingredients—By leaving out the manufacturing process, storage and distribution of commercial fish food, you ensure that your fish food is much fresher and healthier than commercially available dry flake alternatives.

. Better ingredients – because you don’t have the same economic constraint a manufacturer has, you can utilise the best ingredients rather than using cheaper alternatives.

• Lower Costs—If you are clever with your use of household food waste, you can use a wide variety of commonly thrown away food scraps to feed your fish. Even if you don’t totally recycle your foods, you can still end up enjoying considerable savings.

• Nutrient Control—Since you are controlling the foods your fish eats, you can determine the specifics of its diet. For example, weak fish can be fed home made preparations that are higher in protein, and sick fish can be given important boosts of vitamins by using supplements.

The combination of fresher ingredients and strictly controlled nutrients can help you ensure that your fish enjoy happier, healthier lives. This is usually the primary reason why aquarists go for home made fish food recipes.

Types of foods that your fish will eat

spinach is an excellent green ingredient for fish food
spinach is an excellent green ingredient for fish food

Unlike cultivating live food such as brine shrimp or daphnia, home made fish foods are generally easily put together from various common household leftovers. And you only have to do it once in bulk, freeze the product and use it as needed. You will have to begin collecting leftovers that fish can eat and combining them into nutritious meals for your fish. Your fish will gladly eat many combinations of meats and vegetables if they are properly prepared using a food processor or blender.

Your fish, of course will happily eat just about any seafood, especially shrimp, but they will also happily devour most meat leftovers as well including chicken and beef. Take care to remove any bones before processing. A very popular option that many home made fish food enthusiasts take is discarding livers, hearts, and other organs in the food processor with root vegetables such as carrots or zucchini.

Most of the healthiest recipes centre their nutritive offerings around a combination of leftover meats and vegetables including peas and spinach. The basic combination of meat and vegetables forms the base of your recipe. The vegetables need to be steamed soft and then blended with the cooked meat to make a healthy paste. Also the gelatin or agar must be prepared separately by adding a little liquid and boiling before adding to the ingredient paste to create something that will bind together without crumbling. Then it can be conveniently frozen in small separate blocks and fed to your fish as needed.

Examples of healthy ingredients that can be used in your home made fish food are:

  • beef heart is a good food for meat eating fish
    beef heart is a good food for meat eating fish

    fresh prawns or fresh fish

  • Discarded meats and organs (but take care to remove any fat)
  • Root vegetables like carrots and broccoli
  • lettuce or spinach
  • Ground staples such as corn and flour
  • Most fruits in small quantities
  • Spirulina (fresh if you can find it, but powedered spirulina is acceptable)
  • Raw chicken eggs

This allows for some very creative possibilities, but there are some ingredients to steer clear of as well: Things to avoid include nuts, saturated fats, and just about anything processed.

Tweaking your fish food recipe

Once you begin collecting your leftovers, you can conveniently make your own brand of fish food from a wide variety of ingredients and then begin adding health boosters for your fish. For example, fish will gladly eat eggs, and the protein boost can be very helpful when you want to encourage growth, so cracking a few eggs into your fish food paste can be an excellent idea. This is especially true for juvenile fish.

agar makes an excellent food binder to keep the fish food from disintegrating
agar makes an excellent food binder to keep the fish food from disintegrating

Another useful tip that can make your life easier is the use of unsweetened gelatin powder in your fish food paste—this powder will help give your food the consistency it needs so that it doesn’t crumble before your fish can eat it. You are also encouraged to add vitamins and other useful ingredients such as lecithin. Do your research on the vitamin and mineral needs of your fish before deciding which supplement to add. Simply add the powder to the food processor with all of the other ingredients to enjoy its benefits.

You will want to spend some time getting your fish accustomed to your new specialised cooking skills by gauging their reactions to your experiments. Fish, just like people, will have differing tastes and you may find that yours prefer certain foods over others. By paying attention to their appetite, you can begin to formulate an exact recipe that fits their needs exactly.

Packaging and freezing your fish food portions

Once you have settled on a combination of ingredients and have successfully processed them into a fine paste, you are ready to package individual portions into small bags and freeze them. It is recommended to pack just enough food into a single serving for your fish to consume everything in one sitting. Each frozen pellet of food will easily dissolve in your tank, providing great health and nutrition for your fish. Remember to thoroughly defrost the fish food before feeding your fish.

Home made fish food can be a great way to give your fish a special treat, or offer a complete replacement for commercial fish foods. Enjoy watching the obvious pleasure of your fish as they eat your lovingly crafted foods.

Example recipes

Recipe 1 for omnivorous fish

  • 1kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/4 kg fresh fish
  • 1/2kg fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/2 kg spinach
  • 1/2 kg fresh carrots
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 200g spirulina powder
  • 6x 1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together

Recipe 2 for carnivorous fish

  • 1kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/2kg fresh fish
  • 1/2kg beef heart
  • 200g spirulina powder
  • 6×1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together

Recipe 3 for vegetarian fish

  • 1/4 kg fresh shrimp
  • 1/4 kg lettuce
  • 1/2 kg fresh carrots
  • 1kg spinach
  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange or lemon
  • 400g spirulina powder
  • 6×1 a day multivitamin tablets
  • 120g gelatin powder or agar for binding everything together