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.

 

Suggestion list of compatible fish groups for your aquarium

fish tank set up

How to set up your tank fish from top to bottom

To increase the chances of your fish being compatible you need to consider the fishes’ territory. Fish swim in different zones of the aquarium. Some swim near the surface. Some swim midwater. And yet others stay near the floor of the aquarium. Generally fish in one zone will be less territorial with fish from another zone.

Here I will list suggested fish groups by tank size with an eye on maximum compatibility.

2 foot 50litre tank

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams
amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

Small amazonian biotope

Surface fish
4 hatchetfish
Midwater fish
8 neon tetras
2 angel fish
Bottom dwellers
4 panda corys

More on amazon biotope here


Small slice of an Asian stream in your living room

rasboras breeding pair male on left
Male and female breeding pair of harlequin rasboras

Surface fish
4 hatchet fish
Midwater fish
4 Harlequin rasboras
6 cherry barbs
Bottom dwellers
4 kuhli loaches
1 siamese algae eater

————————————–
Dwarf Cichlid Breeding set up

Surface fish
4 Lemon tetras
Bottom dwellers
Male and 2 female cockatoo dwarf cichlids
3 three stripe corydoras

More on dwarf cichlids here

————————————

pedigree red guppies
pedigree red guppies

Livebearer community set up

Surface fish
6 guppies 2 male 4 female
Mid water fish
3 sword tails 1 male 2 females
Bottom dwellers
3 bronze corydoras
 

 
More on livebearers here
———————————-

30 inch 76liter tank

Amazonian biotope aquarium

Surface fish
2 silver hatchet fish
midwater fish
3 emperor tetras 1 male + 2 females
5 lemon tetras
Bottom dwellers
3 peppered corydoras

More on the Amazon biotope here

————————————

kuhli loaches on gravel eating
group of kuhli loaches in an aquarium

Slice of an asian stream

Surface fish
3 glass catfish
midwater fish
6 harlequin rasbora
Bottom dwellers
5 kuhli loaches
1 siamese algae eater
——————–

Amazon dwarf cichlid aquarium

Surface fish
6 cardinal tetras
midwater fish
mated pair(1 male+1 female) of blue rams or bolivian rams
Bottom dwellers
6 pygmy corydoras
——————————-

4 foot 110 litre tank

male pearl gourami with red breast
male pearl gourami with red breast

Large gourami Asian biotope

Surface fish
male and female pearl gourami or male + female blue gourami (breeding pair)
midwater fish
6 checkerboard barbs or 8 harlequin rasboras
Bottom dwellers
5 kuhli loaches
——————————

Asian busy community tank

Surface fish
5 zebra danios
midwater fish
5 rosy or ruby barbs
Bottom dwellers
2 siamese algae eaters
6 kuhli loaches

———————————————-

kribensis breeding pair
kribensis male and female breeding pair

Non-rift valley African community tank

Surface fish
midwater fish
5 red eye tetras
Bottom dwellers
5 kribensis

More on kribensis here
———————————————-

Convict community

Surface fish
6 guppies
midwater fish
5 bleeding heart tetras
Bottom dwellers
5 convict cichlids
———————————————-

all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

Malawi Community

Surface fish

3 Mollies

midwater fish
6 peacocks (jacobfreibergi) 2 males 4 females

Bottom dwellers

6 yellow labs

More on Malawis here

 

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.

 

How to cure and prevent cloudy or green water

An aquarium blighted by algae

How to Cure and Prevent Cloudy or Green Water

How to achieve clear water here

Why your tank gets dirty

There are a number of potential causes for cloudy or green water in a fish tank or aquarium. It is important to be able to determine the cause of the cloudiness or green color in the water so you can correct any problems in the tank. For this reason, even though there are chemicals you can purchase at your local pet store, this should not be your go-to for clearing the water your tank. Yes, they will clear the water, but the underlying cause of the cloudiness or green color will persist.

Some of the reasons water becomes cloudy or green are essentially harmless or will resolve themselves over time and others are representative of an issue that needs to be dealt with. Cloudy water and green water are entirely separate issues, with different causes. Let’s first take a look at curing and preventing cloudy water and then examine how to cure and prevent green water.

Cloudy Water

Cloudy water in your aquarium is not always an indication that something is wrong. In fact, in most cases, the cause of the cloudiness will be resolved on its own or with the help of the filter and you don’t need to do anything. However, anytime the water looks cloudy, it is important to assess the situation and the environment to determine the cause. Once you know the cause, you can eliminate it if need be and get rid of the cloudy water.

If your aquarium is new and you haven’t even had any fish in it, yet the water has turned cloudy, the problem is probably due to accessories in the tank. If these accessories are new and haven’t been properly rinsed off prior to introducing them to the tank, they can cause the water to turn cloudy. If it is an accessory that is safe for use in aquariums, then the filter and/or regular water changes will remove the cloudiness. If the accessory is not intended for use in an aquarium, it may be dissolving or disintegrating in the water, which is dangerous for your fish. The object should be removed and the water completely changed.

If you have had fish in your aquarium for a few days to a couple of weeks (depending on the number of fish in the tank) and the water has turned cloudy, it is likely due to the fact that the filter hasn’t completely cycled the water yet. The filter is responsible for cleaning the water of the waste left by the fish. If the setup is new, the filter takes time to go through one full cycle. Once it does, the cloudiness will be cleared up.

Sometimes when an aquarium has only been set up for a few minutes or even hours or it has just had a large volume of water changed, it can have a gray cloudy look to it. This is due to tiny bubbles of oxygen that are suspended in the water. You may have seen something like this in a freshly poured glass of water. This is nothing to worry about; the bubbles will dissolve in the water or make their way to the surface.

If you have wooden accessories in your aquarium, they can sometimes release tannins into the water. If your aquarium water looks like weak tea and you have any wooden accessories, then this is the cause. This cloudiness and the tannins that cause it are usually for your fish. However, if this happens, be sure to monitor the PH of the water regularly because the tannins might soften the water and cause the PH to drop. If this happens, you will need to adjust the PH level of the water.

Green Water

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

If you have had an aquarium for a long time, then most likely you won’t deal with cloudy water, unless you introduce new accessories into your tank or have just change a large amount of water. More likely, with older aquariums, you will have a problem with your water turning green. Green water in your aquarium means you have an algal bloom. Yup, you read that right. Just like the algal blooms you may have read about in the news that fill up many of our lakes and oceans, your aquarium water can be filled with an algal bloom.

In general, the presence of algae in your aquarium is a good thing. It’s a sign of a healthy tank that can support life. However, you don’t want this growth of algae to get out of control and form an algal bloom. Algae on the glass is beneficial but algae in the water is unsightly. There are a few reasons why there could be too much algae growth in the water, including the following:

Overfeeding: Whenever you feed your fish, there should be no food left floating in the water within a few minutes after feeding. If there is leftover food, then you are giving your fish too much and it could cause algal blooms to form. You can easily fix this problem by reducing the amount of food you give your fish.

Infrequent Water Changes: Algal blooms can grow quickly if there is too much time between water changes. Be sure to do small water changes regularly to prevent the buildup of nitrates, something algae thrive on. If your tank hasn’t had any water changes in a while, then you need to do a few large water changes a few days apart, replacing as much as 25%-30% of the water each time, until the tank is clear.

Too Much Light: If water changes and feeding are under control, then too much light might be the culprit. Algae thrive on light, so cutting back on the amount of light your aquarium is getting might just solve the problem. Also, if direct sunlight is hitting the aquarium this can trigger an algae bloom.

Poor plant growth: Plants and algae feed off the same nutrients in the water. So if you have good plant growth, this remove the nutrients from the water that algae rely on.

Healthy Water Means Healthy Fish

Just remember to assess the situation any time the water in your aquarium doesn’t look right. While it might not amount to anything important, you probably don’t want to risk the health and safety of your beloved pets by ignoring the situation. Keep a close eye and keep the water clean to have happy fish you will enjoy for a long time to come.

 

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.

 

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish
balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish

Aquascaping is the art of setting-up, decorating and arranging aquatic plants along with stones, rocks, driftwood or cavework in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also termed as underwater gardening, aquascaping was first introduced to the world way back in 1990’s by Takashi Amano from Japan, who made the natural underwater gardens look like dreamscapes. Although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, it can also be set up with fish as well as plants; or with rockwork, hardscape and no plants by following some specific methods.

If you find it difficult to create an aquascape then scan through the many examples of good aquascape scenes on the internet and pick a scene that you really like and that you can replicate.

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish
aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish

To reach the perfection in the design of your aquascape you must follow a few important principles that are listed below:

Simplicity is the key – While aquascaping is all about imagination, it is recommended that you follow a particular style and maintain simplicity which would make the aquascape look more appealing to the human eye.
 
Choosing the aquascaping style – There are several major styles that you can choose from, which you can create a visually-enticing aquascape. These include the Japanese-inspired nature style, the garden-like Dutch style, the jungle style and many others. While the nature aquarium style is the re-creation of terrestrial landscapes – mountains, hills, valleys, etc., the Dutch style is characterized by terraces or raised layers containing distinct types of plants with different leaf types.

Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.
Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.

Maintaining Proportion- To maintain harmony in the aquarium, it is crucial to strike the perfect balance between plants, decorative items and fish as well as between filled and empty spaces in the aquarium. Also, arrange plants, rocks and wood in a manner that there is a balancing contrast of light and dark spaces.

Use your imagination- There are no defined rules for aquascaping. Use your imagination to make a beautiful aquascape that has clean water and an appropriate amount of light, CO2, and other essential elements.

To ensure proper care, maintenance and success of an aquascape, aquascapers must keep in mind several factors to strike balance in the closed system of the water tank. These factors include:

  • aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood
    aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

    Filtration System

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Medium to high level of lighting
  • Maintaining the correct amount of carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis
  • Frequent water changes
  • Substrate and fertilization
  • Algae control

Plants and Plant Types

Besides the layout, style and design of an aquascape, aquascaping require specific ways to ensure proper care and maintenance of plants underwater. One of the most crucial things that aquascapers must keep in mind is choosing healthy and vibrant plants. Also, they must be trimmed to get the desired shape and positioned properly using a thread. Before beginning, you must know the plants and plant types that we shall discuss now!

Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant
Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant

Carpet Plants: Just as the name suggests, carpet plants are used by aquascapers to create a mat of plants or a lush of green lawn, making the underwater garden more beautiful and attractive. You can choose foreground pl ants such as Hairgrass, Dwarf Baby Tears, Java Moss, Water Wisteria or Willow Moss as they stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of the water tank.

Fast Growing Plants: When you begin with aquascaping, you can choose fast growing plants like hornwort, Vallisneria, Cabomba and Hygrophilia that would grow quickly, with no effort and would not even put a hole in your pocket. Other stem plants including sword plants, Java fern are also suitable but a little expensive.
Floating plants: While a number of floating plants can block light, many aquascapers prefer using them for visually-enticing aquascape. These plants include Hornwoot, Java Moss and Najas.

Artificial Plants: While using artificial plants is not considered aquascaping, it is one of the easiest ways for beginners. So, if you find it difficult to care for and maintain natural plants, you can go for artificial plants that do not require light or water parameters.

green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background plant
green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

To create a beautiful landscape underwater, it is essential for aquascapers to place the plants in an aesthetic manner. The major aspect to keep in mind is the focal point. It can be anything like a rock, a piece of driftwood or a bunch of plants or even one dominant plant. It is recommended to begin with carpet plants at the foreground and place the bushy and large plants at the background.

You can begin with the focal of the water tank and continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants. At the end, place the higher plants. You can choose an appropriate composition such as the concave set up, the convex set up, the rectangular set-up, the triangular set up, or the Iwagumi set-up.

Different Coloured plants

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

To create in-depth perspective and make the aquarium look more natural, aquascapers use plants of different colours and sizes. Plants can be grown in groups and with rich colour contrast. Commonly used plants for colour contrast and highlights include lutea, lucens, wendtii, walkeri, and becketii of the Cryptocoryne species, Ammania, Alternanthera reineckii and Rotala.
Notably, 3 plant species per foot would be preferred to ensure good colour contrast.

Open Spaces for Fish

Before you kick-start aquascaping, you must understand that plants as well as fish are EQUALLY important in your water tank. When you provide the best conditions for your plants to stay healthy, you are providing a healthy environment for the fish as well. At the same time, it is a must to wisely use spaces between plants by creating imaginary streets as well as pathways. Also, make sure that you have as must open space as must filled space to provide space for your fish to lively comfortably and happily.

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots
discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots

Hardscape is one of the most commonly used techniques used by aquascapers across the globe. It involves using driftwood, rocks and resin sculptures. Driftwood adds a decorative touch to the aquarium, while making it look natural. The wood can be the main focal point, around which the plants can be placed. Many aquascapers prefer using the Malaysian driftwood or manzanita branches, depending on their preference.

Use of Rocks and Stones

In addition to wood, aquascapers use rocks and stones at the heart of their aquarium to create a natural-looking aquascape underwater. You can place boulders, large cobbles and smaller pebbles aesthetically in the water tank to further enhance its beauty. The classic way to use rocks is to place 2-4 flat rocks on the bottom of the aquarium and then arrange other rocks in the order of their size. Alongside, you can also add airstones and submersible lights to create visual effects and make the water tank more attractive.

Balanced aquascape with driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet
Balanced aquascape: driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet

Get Started!

Aquascaping is not all about creating a plan and sticking rigidly to it. Sometimes it is better to do a quick sketch up and then proceed to plant according to your rough draft. Then when it’s all laid out, you can see that it might not be right so you will need to rearrange things until you get it right. And don’t forget plants do grow and some grow more than others. So your aquascape will actually develop over time.

Aquascaping is all about imagination and creating enchanting visuals that appeal to the human eye. So, make sure that you use your imagination to create an amazingly-looking aquascape. Happy aquascaping!

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers make and how to avoid them

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank
Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

New aquarium hobbyists are generally an excitable bunch—they are quick to purchase all the tools necessary and eager to begin their first foray into the colorful and rewarding world of fish keeping. That excitement, however, can lead to some important oversights when it comes to maintaining a successful tank. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and would like to ensure success, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls:

Number one: lack of patience

In order to ensure the success of your aquarium, you must be able to provide your fish with a stable environment that is carefully and patiently attended to. The desire to get everything done right now and enjoy a colorful display of fish may be overwhelming, but if you do not take the time to address the water conditions of your tank first, you run the risk of killing fish.

Examples of impatient behavior that threatens fish include placing fish into your tank before it is cycled, placing multiple fish in your tank on the same day, and overfeeding. It is important that each of these steps is taken carefully and with respect towards appropriate timing.

Make sure you treat tap water to remove chlorine or allow a bucket of tap water to rest for 36 hours before adding to the aquarium.
When adding new fish they should ideally be quarantined first and when putting a fish into an aquarium put the bag into the aquarium first for 15 minutes before emptying the fish into the aquarium.

Don’t overfeed your fish. Any uneaten food should be removed within five minutes. Use a siphon to hover out uneaten food. The amount of food a fish can eat is minute. Most beginners overestimate what their fish can eat.

Don’t feed just for entertainment, to get the fish to actively swim for food is not a good idea.

Don’t buy sick or unhealthy fish. Keep your money in your pocket and find a shop where they sell healthy fish.

Wait until your fish tank is ready before buying fish.

Number two: not understanding the nitrogen cycle

All about cycling here

Make sure you have a good filter. The more powerful, the better. Not buying a filter is the surest way to fish death.

This mistake links heavily with mistake number one, since an unsuccessful tank cycling is often the result of impatience. Getting bacteria in your tank to reliably convert toxic ammonia into nitrite and nitrate is of critical importance to the health of your fish, and it takes time. If you rush this important step, your fish will have a very hard time surviving.

Thankfully, there are numerous guides on this website and others dedicated to helping newcomers understand the nitrogen cycle. By following those guidelines to the letter and giving your tank time to become the ideal environment in which the necessary bacteria can grow on your filter medium, you will ensure that your first fish thrive.

Buy a filter with a lot of surface area such as a sponge and make sure it is well powered. The bigger the aquarium the more powerful a filter you need. The filter is not there to just filter ‘bits’ out of the water but more importantly it is there to allow bacteria to break down fish waste into harmless substances.

Do not clean everything in the tank. You will remove the healthy bacteria. Washing the gravel is a big no-no. But you should hover the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

Do not wash the filter’s sponge in tap water as you will kill the healthy bacteria.

Also do not use soap or detergents or any other chemicals to clean the aquarium or any equipment. Most are poisonous to fish.

Number three: buying a small tank

Often, newcomers to the aquarium hobby will look at large tanks and think they require expert-level care due to their size when in fact, the opposite is true. Large tanks offer a far more forgiving environment for your fish when it comes to water quality—one of the most challenging areas for newcomers.

If you choose a small tank, you run the risk of upsetting the balance of water acidity, hardness, or ammonia levels very easily. In a large tank, even significant mistakes can be remedied with relative simplicity, owing to the greater volume of water present. You are much less likely to accidentally kill your fish in a large tank, so it is worth it to invest in the biggest one you can afford!

Goldfish bowl – this is a big no-no.

Number four: overstocking your tank

If you succeed in properly cycling your tank and setting up the right conditions for your fish to thrive in, you still run the risk of overstocking your tank with fish. Experienced aquarists can run highly populated tanks, but a newcomer would invite disaster by the attempt.

There are many rules to combining the ratio of fish to tank volume, but one of the most common is through measuring the total length of your fish and comparing that to the volume of tank. One safe option is to measure 1 cm of fish for every 2 liters of water. Thus, a 60 liter tank (16 gallons) could reliably support 30 cm (12 inches) of fish.

Stop buying every fish that takes your fancy. If you buy more fish, you must first buy another aquarium.
Also check the adult size of the young fish you buy. When your fish start to grow they can become overcrowded.

Number five: choosing incompatible fish

Suggested compatible fish

Appropriate research into the needs and behaviors of your fish is key to maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for them. Certain species require very different water conditions, and others will behave aggressively. It helps to have the advice of an experienced aquarist on hand when choosing your fish so that you can enjoy a colorful, rewarding selection of fish.

While there are numerous guides available for choosing your first group of fish, and many helpful suggestions can be found online, even the most studied of newcomers can make mistakes. Taking fish behavior, ideal water conditions, and favorite position in the tank (bottom-dwellers, surface feeders, etc.) into consideration is best done with the help of a mentor.

Number six: overfeeding

Easily the most common mistake made by new fish owners, overfeeding can have disastrous consequences on the condition of your tank. Fish are opportunistic eaters that will generally consume whatever food is present—just because they eat does not mean they needed to be fed.

When starting out, feed your fish once per day, taking care to test the water before feeding and, if necessary, withhold their food for a day or two. You are not starving your fish, but making sure that their waste is effectively processed before you introduce more food. Give them only enough food for them to finish in five minutes, and they should be fine.

Number seven: infrequent water changes

Many new aquarium owners, having learned about the nitrogen cycle and taken the time to set up their tank properly, make the mistake of believing that this chemical cycle will take care of all waste in the tank. While it does convert harmful ammonia into nitrate, it does not protect against high levels of nitrate which can irritate fish—you still need to perform water changes and hover your substrate every week.

Also do not change more than 25% of the water at any one time.

Number eight: insufficient filtration

Your filter could be the single most important piece of equipment in your tank. Not only does it separate debris from your water, but most of the beneficial bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle inhabit the filter medium. For this reason, you should err on the side of over-sizing your filter.

For the best results, purchase a filter that can turn the volume of your aquarium 4 or 5 times per hour. This is slightly more than commonly recommended, and ensures that you have enough power to keep your water in prime condition. Remember, too much filtration is never a problem, but insufficient filtration is a constant frustration.

Number nine: not adhering to a maintenance schedule

Suggested maintenance schedule

This mistake is often the root cause of mistake number seven. Fish keeping is not a set-and-forget hobby—you need to apply yourself to keeping your fish healthy on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will need to dedicate between one and three hours per week to cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing your water changes.

Doing this effectively requires that you introduce this into your weekly schedule. Newcomers to the hobby who attempt to rely on their intuition will suffer disastrous consequences eventually. Keeping track of your maintenance schedule is key to success, and easy to organize: simply set up a reminder program in a calendar application on your computer or smart phone for reliable reminders.

Change 10% of the water every week should be fine for most fish. Rinse the filter out in aquarium water when the flow starts to slow down.

Number ten: not including live plants

Suggested beginners plants

While newcomers to the aquarium hobby often like the look of live plants, they frequently omit these important and helpful aquarium guests, thinking that they require too much maintenance. In reality, live plants reduce maintenance needs by passively out-competing algae for nutrients in the tank and oxygenating the water efficiently.

If you want to ensure the greatest conditions possible for your first aquarium, invest in some hardy live plants and let them perform some of the work for you. You will be glad you did!

Even if you have a good filter removing the fishes waste products. Over time nitrates will build up. When you do water changes you dilute the nitrate however you do not remove it entirely. Plants remove nitrate so helping to remove the low level waste of nitrates.

Plants also help to remove some toxins from the water. Plants help prevent algae by absorbing fertiliser from the water before algae can absorb it.

Don’t buy snails to clean algae, they will just eat your plants and poop everywhere.
Also, don’t leave your aquarium by a sunny window. You will just get a tank full of green water, even with plants. And don’t leave your aquarium light on all the time. 8-10 hours a day is sufficient.

Conclusion

The decision to keep your first aquarium can be an exciting one, and it is easy to rush into things, but the best results come to the aquarists who focus patiently on providing the best environment for their fish. Address these ten common mistakes to enjoy the best chance of success for your first fish tank.

 

10 Different starter fish groups for beginners

rosy barb males

10 different starter fish groups for a beginner’s community tank

20 most popular fish here

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Nearly everyone in the fish keeping hobby starts off with a community tank. These offer the best combination of bright colors and fascinating inter-species behavior, and are easily maintained by beginners if the right fish are chosen from outset.

When it comes to selecting fish for a community tank, it is important to take the experience of the aquarist into consideration. Highly experienced aquarists with years of practical fish keeping knowledge will be able to maintain more exotic combinations of fish than beginners can. If you are just beginning your first community tank, the lists below may help you get on the right path from the start.

It is not just a matter of selecting any fish from a list of community fish one by one. Individually each fish might make a good beginner fish. However, it is when you buy several different beginner fish that problems might arise. So, you must buy beginner fish that will create a community of compatible fish.

Choosing compatible fish

male pearl gourami with red breast
male pearl gourami with red breast

Your choice of fish has to be determined based on their compatibility with one another. This means taking two major factors into account: the behavior of the fish, and the environment in which it will thrive. Two fish that require very different water conditions will never be compatible—you need to make sure that your fish can physically complement one another.

The behavior of your fish is another important element: aggressive fish are generally off-limits for beginners, since any environmental stress will invariably cause the fish to lash out and attack its neighbors. Your first fish need to be peaceful, hardy, and willing to adapt to a wide variety of situations.

An additional consideration to take into account is the part of the aquarium that your fish prefer to inhabit. Ideally, you would like some fish to rest around the bottom of the aquarium, some of them in the middle area, and others around the surface. Selecting your fish based on these criteria will help ensure that they live peacefully with one another. Fish in different zones will mostly keep out of each other’s way.

10 ideal community fish set ups for beginners

fish tank set up
typical aquarium with fish and plants
  • The livebearer tank – Beginners would do well to start off with livebearers such as platies, mollies and swortails. Buy 1 male with 3 females of each type of fish. Avoid guppies that are usually a little delicate because of extensive in-breeding. Also, buy a group of 6 dwarf corydoras to inhabit the tank floor. This aquarium will provide you with a colourful, lively and interesting group of fish that are hardy. As long as you perform reasonable maintenance this beginner tank should be a success.

Essential facts about livebearers

  • The danio starter tank—Schooling fish like danios make an excellent starting point for a community tank. You will have to keep between six to ten of them, but you can then enjoy their excellent coloration and fascinating behavior properly. Zebras danios and pearl danios are the best species to choose from, but other danios make good beginner fish too. To complement the danio school, a smaller school of Corydoras catfish and a couple of kribensis cichlids will offer you a simple and beautiful community tank set up.
  • Watching a large shoal of cardinal tetras is an enchanting experience
    Watching a large shoal of cardinal tetras is enchanting

    The two-school variety tank—If you have a larger tank, between 120 liters and 200 liters in size, you can keep two separate schools of six to ten fish each. Try combining a school of giant danios with another school of gold barbs along with six bottom-feeding Corydoras and one algae-eating bristlenose pleco. Add one male and two female swordtails if you have the room for them.

  • The novice’s nano tank—A small tank , ideal for beginners starting out with a tank between 40 and 80 liters in volume, this tank focuses on small fish: two schools of six zebra danios, small tetras, or white clouds, along with one male swordtail and two female ones, six Corydoras, and a Peckoltia catfish.
  • The Asian Riverbed—If you can install a reasonably powerful current in your 120 to 200 liter aquarium, you can enjoy this South-East Asian biotope easily: 15 zebra danios, 10 tiger barbs, 4 tinfoil barbs, and a single red tail shark. Be sure to add in plenty of sturdy plant species that will thrive without extra carbon dioxide or fertilizers to enjoy this tank at its best.
  • male and female honey gouramis
    male and female honey gouramis

    The Gourami Aquarium—If you have between 120 and 200 liters of volume to fill, you can base your tank on two schools of six gourami fish: one male and three female pearl gouramis and the one male with three female dwarf gouramis. Add a few kribensis to populate the lower range of the tank. Add six corydoras to complete the tank.

  • The Malawi Tank—Malawi cichlids can be great fish for beginners, because they are quite hardy. They are territorial at first but eventually once they establish a pecking order, aggression quietens down. But the beginner must have a very strong filtration system for this aquarium. This combination of fish is ideal for a plant-free tank between 120 liters and 200 liters. Six red zebras, six Labeotropheus trewavasae, and six Pseudotropheus socolofi will go together perfectly. Keeping the tank stocked to the limit will actually help reduce aggression. You can add a Cuckoo catfish or two if necessary.

The perfect Malawi tank

  • The small Amazon tank—With 100 liters of tank volume, you can keep a beautiful Amazon-themed tank. The star of the show will be a single angelfish, supported by six hatchet fish and a school of six bottom-dwelling Corydoras catfish. Be sure to include plenty of driftwood in the tank to give it the proper rainforest feel.
  • The large Amazon tank—While not strictly an Amazon biotope, this stretch of the imagination is a perfectly viable option for a beginning aquarist with 200 liters of volume to fill: eight neon tetras, eight cherry barbs, eight panda corydoras, three Oto fish, four zebra loaches, one pearl gourami and a single bristlenose pleco to round out the bunch.

Amazon biotope aquarium

  • amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams
    amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

    The tiny apartment tank—If size is an issue and you don’t have more than 40 liters to work with try this rewarding and simple tank set up: two platys, male and female, along with six neon tetras and six cherry barbs. Small tanks require great care, since changes in water conditions can affect your fish very quickly.

The nano fish tank

With any of these tanks, you should be able to enjoy a peaceful, colorful, and highly rewarding initial foray into the community tank experience. Many of the theme tanks can be easily refitted into a full-scale biotope with minimal adjustments, giving you room to improve later on as well!

 

The 20 most popular fish and how to feed them

The 20 most popular fish and their favorite foods

Suggested beginner fish groups

Fish foods

daphnia swarm
a swarm of daphnia

Fish are just like any other pet when it comes feeding—they need to be fed regularly, and different specimens will assuredly have different tastes and preferences. Your choice of fish food will readily affect the health and wellbeing of your fish, so you want to make sure that you make the correct choice concerning your particular species of fish.

It should be noted that in some cases, certain combinations of fish foods will help encourage breeding. That is normal day to day feeding needs to be enhanced when you need to prepare your fish for breeding. In most cases, live foods such as brine shrimp are best, since their presence gives some fish species a cue that the environment is ripe for breeding. In the list that follows below, you will see breeding options added on where appropriate.

Food options and feeding for the most popular fish.

There are two broad categories when it comes to fish food: processed foods and live foods. Of these two choices, live foods such as brine shrimp and bloodworms are generally superior, but often require cultivation. Processed foods, on the other hand, are inexpensive and easily obtained at any aquarium supply store. Among the processed choices, there are further options, including:

  • Fresh foods
  • Frozen and freeze-dried foods
  • Canned flakes or pellets
  • Sinking Food Tablets

Flake food is generally the most popular of these options, but the list below will show that certain species have much to offer the enterprising aquarist who invests in a supply of specialty foods.

The favorite foods of the 20 most popular freshwater aquarium fish

  • Angelfish—This tall community-friendly fish is not a fussy eater. Angelfish will gladly live off of a variety of commercially available flake foods and freeze-dried options. For the best results, supplement its diet with some fresh bloodworms, brine shrimp, or even leftover vegetables like peas.

    Blue and pink marble plakat style betta
    Blue and pink marble plakat style betta
  • Bettas—These extremely popular fish are easy to take care of. They will accept canned flake and freeze-dried foods, but they do their best with small fresh worms. Specialized Betta foods are widely available at pet stores, and breeding can be encouraged using live foods.
  • Barbs—The barb family of fish consists of numerous species that share, among other attributes, a major appetite for just about anything they can fit in their mouths. Barbs love flake, they love frozen foods, they love worms, and they love your aquarium plants. Make sure your barbs are getting a dose of vegetable fiber so they’ll leave your plants alone.
  • Guppies—Live-bearing fish that are commonly seen in a wide variety of community tanks, guppies have a great appetite for small live foods. They will also eat frozen worms and flakes, and have a particular fondness for variety. Try feeding them the occasional slice of zucchini or other vegetables.
  • dalmation molly male
    pedigree dalmation molly

    Black Molly—These beautiful black fish are useful algae-eaters for your tank. However, they will need to supplement that food source with flake food or blanched vegetables. The black molly feeds at the surface of the tank, so make sure your food floats, or the fish may not find it.

  • Serpae Tetras—These small and very popular fish are known to nip away at their neighbors fins. They are not picky eaters, but extra care should be taken to make sure that their tank mates also get to eat. These fast-moving fish can quickly consume more than their fair share of food, leaving slower fish unfed.
  • Rummynose Tetras—Your red Rummynose tetras will survive on a diet that consists of commercially prepared flake foods without issue. They are perfectly fine with dry and frozen foods, but prefer live brine shrimp, mosquito larvae, and brown worms.
  • Rosy Tetras—The abundantly seen Rosy Tetra prefers a diet that consists of flakes and worms. These fish will eat very small fish if given the chance, so care should be taken if you choose to combine them with juveniles or fry.

Pristella_tetra

  • Black Tetras—Very popular fish for beginners, Tetras are not picky about what they eat, and will even breed on a diet of dry flake food. Your black tetras will be perfectly happy with anything even remotely resembling fish food. Give them a good quality flake-and-vegetable diet to ensure their best health.
  • Blue Gourami—This species of fish, like most of its Gourami cousins, will exhibit its best coloring and behavior when given a diet of small live foods with leftover vegetable matter such as zucchini or peas. They will eat flake and freeze-dried foods, as well, but higher quality options are recommended.
  • Kribensis—These undemanding fish are perfect for beginners. They are tolerant of most water conditions and food sources. They will eat nearly anything, but offer the best results when fed a combination of flake food and frozen bloodworms or brine shrimp. Being middle to bottom feeders, you can try sinking pellets.
  • Discus—These cichlids are peaceful, tall fish that are very popular for larger community tanks. They will accept flake food, but should be given more in order to encourage the best health: frozen or live worms, shrimp meat, and Spirulina to enhance their coloration. Discus fish will happily eat chopped up beef heart.
  • oscar2
    Oscars are popular but can grow very large and eat a lot of meaty foods

    Oscars—The oscar is an intelligent fish that will learn to recognize its owner. It is also a characteristically aggressive fish, and it will eat its tank mates if given the opportunity. Naturally, this fish does best with a meat-based diet. Live worms are ideal, but frozen ones are acceptable as well. Do not feed your oscar guppies or other fish.

  • Catfish—Corydoras and related species of catfish are bottom-dwellers that will gladly eat any food that falls to the bottom of your tank. In order to make sure that enough food reaches your catfish, purchase some sinking tablets. Corydoras will only breed if worms, with blackworms being a particular favorite.
  • Zebra danios—This very popular fish prefers a diet consisting of a wide variety of small live food choices: bloodworms, brine shrimp, Tubifex worms, and insect larvae are favorites. They will also accept frozen and flake foods, but you should take care to supplement the diet of this fish with romaine lettuce or other green leafy vegetables.
  • Frontosa cichlids—Possibly the most popular fish from Lake Tanganyika, the frontosa cichlid likes meat. Some specimens will ignore flake food, requiring you to provide a steady, varied diet of krill, worms, or daphnia. This fish is one of the few that can be trained to eat directly out your hand.
  • Jack Dempseys—These aggressive fish are popular pets since, like Oscars, they will identify and develop a relationship with their owner. They are not picky eaters, and will gladly thrive off of a diet of flake foods or just about anything else.
  • white cloud mountain minnow pair
    white cloud mountain minnow male and female

    White Cloud—This popular beginner’s species is very happy to live on a diet of canned flake foods. Supplementing that diet with live foods such as brine shrimp or even frozen bloodworms can help: extra nutritional options like these will intensify its colors.

  • Platies—The live-bearing platy comes in an enormous variety of colors, sizes, and finnage types. These community-friendly fish will are content with commercially-prepared flake food, but will thrive if given an extra boost of vegetable matter in their diet. With a vegetable-heavy diet and some aquarium plants, they will readily breed.
  • Goldfish—Last, but not least, the ever-popular goldfish is happiest when presented with live worms, but will feel perfectly fine when provided with flake and sinking pellet foods. The key with goldfish is recognizing that they look for food either at the surface of the tank or at the bottom. Choose a food that sinks or floats to make feeding easy.

How to stop your aquarium from getting dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

How Do I Keep My Fish Tank From Getting Dirty?

Related articles

Learn how to clean a fish tank.

Keep your water clear.

Maintain a clean aquarium long term

How to keep your aquarium clean?

various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel
various striated rocks and pebbles on gravel

Fish-keeping is enjoyable and rewarding for people of all ages. However, as with all the other pets, fish need to be cared for with a healthy environment. From harmful chemicals, various toxins to algae, and calcium deposits, they contribute to a dirty and unhealthy aquarium for fish. Thus, a regularly cleaned water tank and proper filtration system is a must to keep the fish and aquarium system healthy as well as beautiful.

Basic maintenance of a tank begins with filtering the water and removing various toxins from it at frequent intervals. As the task to scrape muck and slime from the tank, change water frequently and take other necessary actions requires time, any fish keepers find it to be one of the hardest things to do. But with the right techniques, looking after the aquarium would be a breeze for you.

The 5 essential ways to keep aquarium water clean and healthy for your fish:

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Filtration Systems: As an aquarium is a living biological system, it produces several toxins that must be removed from the tank. A proper filtration system can help in removing the toxins while housing the majority of beneficial bacteria and maintaining a happy and healthy fish aquarium. Thus, having the right filter with enough power, is a must to ensure regular cleaning of the water and keep your aquarium running properly.

From filtering out particles from water, collecting debris and bacteria, filtration systems are a must, without which it would be hard work to keep tropical fish as a pet. However, as the market is full of a variety of aquarium filtration system pumps that remove toxins and impurities in water, it has become a daunting task to choose the most suitable filter. It is a must to buy a filtration system that utilize mechanical, biological and chemical filtration processes.

Regular Siphoning: As with time, fish waste, uneaten food, plant waste, and other debris build up on the substrate, rocks, plants, etc., a siphon helps in removing the dirt from the gravel easily. Make sure to stir the siphon into the gravel to release trapped dirt. The gravel will not be sucked up. It also comes in handy to make routine water changes and ensure that the water is fresh for your fish.

Careful Feeding Regime: Fish-keepers are often confused about the feeding regime that must be followed and the most common mistakes they make is that they feed the fish too much and too often. And when there is uneaten food in water, it rots causing pollution. Therefore, you have to ensure that you do not overfeed your fish or the water quality will suffer as the uneaten food rots and creates toxic waste. You must feed fish in small amounts of food, once or twice a day. The fish must consume all the food you feed within a few minutes. As long as they eat it all within a short time then you should be fine.

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

Cleaning and Controlling Algae: Algae grows in a healthy water tank and once it begins to grow, it does so very rapidly and there is no way to prevent it or remove it completely. However, you can control it with the right techniques. It is a good practice to keep a check the water quality and reduce nitrate, phosphate and iron levels, by adding water without these chemicals, as these nutrients are a source of algae. If any algae has grown on the glass of your water tank, you can use a magnetic algae scraper to get rid of it.
One of the most effective ways to remove phosphate and other fertilising chemicals is by using a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit or tap water filter. But do not remove all the minerals from your water because aquarium plants and fish need trace elements. Also, if your aquarium is getting too much light, you can decrease the amount of light by either reducing the amount of time for your lighting is used or exchanging the bulbs for a lower wattage.

Partial Water Changes: Regular water changes keep your fish happy and healthy. So, it is recommended to change 10 to 20 per cent of water once a week, depending on the number and type of fish, feeding schedule, volume of water and filtration system. You can change water at the same time that you vacuum the gravel, which can be done by using siphon gravel cleaner with a hose attached.

Proper aquarium maintenance will keep your water tank healthy. With the right techniques to change water and clean the tank, you should never need to completely empty the water.
Depending on the maintenance requirement of your tank, you can take some steps to clean it daily and on a weekly basis. Listed below are those steps:

Daily aquarium cleaning tasks

  • Just like any other pet, fish need to be looked after on a daily basis.
  • It is essential to feed them the right quantity of food, ensuring they the food is consumed immediately.
  • You must also ensure that the filter, lights and heater are working properly.
  • Take a few minutes every day to observe if the fish are swimming normally. Also, look at their skin and take note of sign of disease, if any.
  • Check the water and ensure that it does not have a foul odor, is clean and nothing is floating around.

Weekly aquarium cleaning tasks

Besides keeping an eye on fish and water tank at regular intervals, there are certain steps that must be taken on a weekly basis to make sure that the water tank is clean and healthy for the fish.

  • Remove Dead Leaves: Your fish tank may be a home to a number of plants. Thus, it is your responsibility to remove any dead leaves from it and trim excess growth of the plants, ensuring that the water tank is clean for your fish.
  • Clean Off Algae: You can use a algae scraper or magnet to remove algae from the sides of the aquarium.
  • Clean Aquarium Glass: Using a clean cloth and water spray, remove dirt from the water tank’s front and side glass. No soap or chemicals!
  • Water Replacement: Every week, siphon nearly 10 to 20 per cent of water by using a siphon hose and replace with dechlorinated water.

You should set up a consistent maintenance schedule every week to ensure that the aquarium stays clean and healthy for your fish to live in!

You can now sit back and enjoy your fish without being distracted by a dirty tank!

Why do my fish keep dying?

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

Why do my fish keep dying?

Mistakes beginner fishkeepers make

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium
two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

There can be several reasons for the death of your fish; however for beginners the main reason is new tank syndrome. This is a situation where you have bought new fish and placed them in a newly set up aquarium. Your fish start dying and you are unable to explain the cause. This syndrome is usually experienced by new fish owners who have yet to master keeping fish safe, healthy and alive. Here are some things that you should look out for and avoid to explain and prevent new tank deaths

  • Uncycled aquarium & filter
  • Water chemistry problems
  • Diseases
  • Poor diet and overfeeding
  • Over population
  • Wrong type of fish
  • Buying sick fish

Uncycled aquarium & filter

dead catfish on the tank floor
dead catfish on the tank floor

 
Most fish owners will be buying their new pets along with new equipment, such as an aquarium and a filter. They will fill the aquarium with water and then put in the fish and they will think that the work is done. This is a common error by most new fish owners. Even before you introduce your desired fish population, you need to create a nitrifying bacteria bed in your aquarium and filter.

Take note that the same way human bodies have good bacteria that can protect them from harm, so does the aquarium. An aquarium and especially the filter must have good bacteria that can protect them from risks to their health. The bacteria work by neutralizing or converting toxins that are produced by the fish’s droppings and urine such as ammonia and nitrites.

Without good bacteria, these toxins build up in the aquarium. When they reach dangerous levels, the fish will absorb these toxins and cause them to become ill. Since it is often difficult to detect if a fish is sick, new fish owners will only discover it when it is too late and the fish are dead or about to die.

It takes time for the healthy bacteria in the filter to build up, between 4-6 weeks before a healthy population of bacteria develops in the filter capable of fully removing fish waste products. So, what do you do in the mean time? You have to do daily partial water changes to dilute these toxins. Perhaps, remove 5% of the water and top up with (chlorine free) fresh water.

dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap
dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap

This explains a common pattern to newly bought fish that will be fine for up to a week or longer. Then something seems to change and the fish start getting ill. Finally they start to die. And, the few fish that survive start to get better and if all is well the survivors live a long time.

This is all explained by the cycling of the filter and the fish waste product. When the fish first enter a new aquarium with fresh water there is no waste matter in the water. As the fish start to poop and urinate in the water this waste starts to build up. This poisons the fish. Slowly the bacteria in the filter build up and digest this waste cleaning the water, but this takes weeks to establish.

Water chemistry problems

Fish require a delicate balance in the chemicals in the water. Clear water does not necessarily mean an ideal environment for the fish. Ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are some of the chemicals, which when uncontrolled, can cause significant harm to your fish that will eventually lead to death. These toxins are from the waste your fish produce. These are harmful toxins that should be neutralized or kept at a minimum during the course of your taking care of the fish.

Cycling explained in full here

When looking after fish as pets you are not necessarily taking care of the actual fish themselves but rather of the water quality instead. Measuring devices and kits are available to keep a check on the various chemical parameters of the water of your fish tank. You must also have keen observation, noting changes such as the tinge of the water, any discoloration of the gravel in the aquarium or the behaviour of your fish. However, as a beginner, if you rely solely on observation, the toxic levels will already be too high to before you understand that something is wrong. At this point any chance for survival of your fish is slim.

Tap water usually contains chlorine which is lethal to your fish. To remove it leave the water standing for 1-2 days before adding to your aquarium. Alternatively, use dechlorinating medication that removes chlorine immediately from tap water.
Check the ph and hardness. Ph between 6.6 – 7.6 is okay for most fish. Test the hardness level. A moderate level of hardness is ideal for most beginner fish.
Diseases

Don’t buy sick fish! Beginners often buy fish that have illnesses from the pet shop. This is easier said than done. Check the pet shop aquarium if there are any sick or dead fish in there. Check if there are any spots on the fish or markings or fungus like patches. Make sure the fish are active and swim towards food. Don’t buy fish that are sulking or have clamped fins (ie fins held close to the body). Check the fish has bright colouration.

Another cause for fish death is because of disease. As the water quality becomes poorer from elevated levels of toxins, the fish health also becomes poorer with it. When the fish become weaker, they are more vulnerable to disease. A healthy fish will normally be able to resist these illnesses but a weakened fish will succumb to them.

Some examples of these diseases are bacterial infections, fungal infections, internal parasites in the fish’s body, dropsy and other opportunistic diseases. Most new fish owners will attempt to cure these diseases by adding antibiotics, anti-parasitic or anti-bacterial medicine into the water. However, without treating the underlying cause of the disease, which is the toxicity from waste matter, there will still be fatalities, despite the medication. Experienced fish owners are able to nurse a fish back to health where a beginner may or may not succeed.

Poor diet and overfeeding

Most new owners will enjoy feeding their fish. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing their fish swim towards the food and follow the trail wherever you sprinkle the food? It is also fun to see some fish diving towards a food pellet that sinks towards the bottom of the aquarium. Ironically, feeding your fish or rather overfeeding is also one of the main causes of fish death.

Fish should be fed once a or twice day, with the fish eating everything within 5 minutes. But most new owners will feed their fish every chance they get. On top of this over feeding, other members of the family may also be feeding the fish on their own without the owner’s knowledge. Fish food that is uneaten, such as food left floating on the surface of the water or sitting on the aquarium bed will rot and pollute your aquarium, leading to the same problems as fish waste. Rotting food in the aquarium is the second biggest cause of fish deaths after new tank syndrome.

Over population

Another cause of death for fish is the population itself. Despite the care you make on making a balance in the water chemistry, proper feeding schedule and best equipment you can provide, your fish may still die because there are just too many fish in too small an aquarium. But problems may also arise if you have the wrong combination of fish species.

There isn’t a strict rule on the ideal number of fish for a certain size of aquarium. More experienced fish owners recommend a ratio of 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water. Take note that the 1 inch is meant to be measured on each fish’s eventual adult size. The more fish there are, the greater the chance for oxygen deficiency, self pollution and diseases to spread.

The wrong combination of fish can also lead to stress and deaths. If you put together an aggressive fish with a more passive or smaller fish, the passive fish may be bullied. In their natural environment, a passive fish would be able to escape the aggressive fish, but in an aquarium they have no chance for escape. The constant stress will cause death.

Wrong type of fish

Finally, the beginner may have bought a difficult to care for species of fish. Difficult fish may need special water requirements, special dietary needs or some other type of specialised care. You must always ask the pet shop owner if the fish you are buying are beginner community fish to avoid such problems. Only buy more difficult fish when you have more experience.

You should buy popular starter fish such as gold fish, tetras, platies, swordtails and bettas. These are colorful, active and most importantly easy to care for. Avoid buying difficult fish such as saltwater fish.

Recommended compatible fish groups here

Conclusion

Once you have mastered the two main causes of fish death which is new tank syndrome and rotting uneaten food in the aquarium you will have a good chance of keeping your fish alive long term. And, if you follow all the above advice you should hardly ever see a fish death in your tanks. If you follow all this advice, not only will your fish stop dying but you will see your fish in full glowing health.

Fungus – the ever present danger to fish and eggs

This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus

Fungus – the ever present danger – to fish and eggs

This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus
This golden julie from lake tanganyika has fungus

There are many species of aquatic fungus but by far the most common two are saprolegnia and achlya.

Symptoms of fungal attack

Fungus occurs as white, grey and sometimes brown fluffy growths on the skin or fins of fish or on developing eggs from a spawning.

Saltwater fish actually suffer less, than freshwater fish, from fungus because of the salt in a marine environment. However, brackish water fish, even mollies, when kept in insufficiently salty water are the most prone to fungal attacks.

Fungus often starts as a small tuft, and usually spreads when not treated and can kill a fish if the fungus penetrates the internals of the fish. Fish eggs if not treated or infected eggs are not removed can cause all nearby eggs to be infected and killed.

What causes fungus to develop

Fungus and fungal spores thrive in damp environments with decaying organic matter and an aquarium is full of water so is ripe for fungal outbreaks. Fungus sprouts where there is decaying organic matter, dead fish, or unfertilised or dead fish eggs. When fungus grows it releases millions of spores into the water which will quickly infect any fish that has a break in its protective mucous which may occur after rough handling or an attack from another fish or bumping into aquarium rocks.

Parasitic diseases such as ich, body ulcers and infections will damage the protective mucous and allow entry of fungal spores, compounding the fish’s problems.
When fish are kept in poor quality water conditions with water that is full of bacteria, nitrites, ammonia and excessive fish waste then they are much more likely to get infected by fungus.

Fungus treatment for fish eggs

Several eggs from this spawn are starting to get infected
Several eggs from this spawn are starting to get infected

With fish eggs any unfertilised eggs or dead eggs will quickly get infected with fungus. If that egg is not quickly removed then the fungus will spread and infect otherwise healthy eggs. All adjacent eggs may be killed.

Prevention of egg infection by fungus is achieved by adding methylene blue to the water immediately after the eggs have been spawned. Be careful not to overdose because eggs may suffer developmental problems. Also remove any off-white eggs with a pipette before they become heavily infected.

Cichlids actually do a good job in removing dead and unfertilised eggs and keeping the eggs free from dirt as part of their parental care.

Fungus treatment for fish

Treat as soon as possible. use an aquatic antifungal remedy from your local aquarium shop. Place any heavily infected fish in a quarantine tank and treat the fish there. In the main aquarium a dose of salt added to the water should heal slightly infected fish and help to kill of most spores present.

Prevention is better than cure and this is a mostly preventable illness. Remedy the environment of the aquarium that led to the original outbreak. If it was an accident such as a dead fish then a salt dose to the aquarium should be sufficient.

However, if the cause was rotten food then you must keep up good feeding practices of not feeding more than the fish will eat. Observe all the food you place into the aquarium and remove any uneaten food with a siphon. When your aquarium has a nitrite or an ammonia spike then fish will go off their food. If you feed at this time then you will surely cause a disaster.

Make sure your filter is fully cycled. Make sure that the water you add to the aquarium has the chlorine removed before adding. Also, siphon through and disturb the gravel to remove any build up of fish waste. And make sure your filter has not become clogged. If the filter is clogged then squeeze out the excess dirt from the sponge into a bucket of aquarium water.

And finally, keep up good maintenance practices. Then you should never have a problem with fungus again.

 

Catfish, loaches and other bottom feeders

peppered corydoras catfish

Caring for catfish, loaches and other bottom-feeders

peppered corydoras catfish
peppered corydoras catfish

While bottom-feeding fish like catfish can be some of the most fascinating specimens in a tank, they often go underappreciated by the aquarium community in favour of more standard species. This is a shame because catfish and other bottom-feeding fish offer very real benefits for their owners.

Benefits of keeping catfish and bottom-feeders in a community tank

  • They exhibit unique and fascinating behaviour not seen in other types of fish
  • Bottom-feeders are great at cleaning up tank debris and detritus left over by other fish
  • Some species of catfish will eat algae, making it easier to control your tank’s algae problem
  • They make great tank mates with a wide variety of fish, and spend most of their time conveniently out of their neighbours’ business, minimising conflict
  • Catfish are generally very hardy and can adapt to wide variety of water conditions, even poor water conditions.

Choosing bottom-feeders for your tank

school of sterbai corydoras catfish
school of sterbai corydoras catfish

There are a huge number of different types of catfish and other bottom-feeding species that you can introduce to your tank. Different choices will work better depending on the size of the tank, the type of substrate you use, and the other fish you keep. Since some species of catfish can grow very large while other catfish are schooling fish, it is important to be sure you choose a species that will not overwhelm your aquarium.
 
By far the most popular bottom-feeding fish are plecostomus catfish, corydoras catfish and loaches. Both catfish are total scavengers who will eat just about anything including all the algae in your tank, keeping it pristinely clean without requiring any maintenance work. The main difference is that corydoras rarely grow more than a few inches long, while plecostomus can grow up to 2 feet (60 cm) long, quickly overwhelming the tank!
 
More about corydoras here

If you have a tank that can support a plecostomus catfish, however, you can consider all of your algae problems history, since its voracious appetite and constant feeding will keep your tank clean for as long as the fish lives. Another great benefit that plecostomus offers is a long life span: twenty to thirty years in some cases!

If you favour novelty in your tank, there are some species of catfish that offer this: the kryptopterus catfish, also known as the glass catfish, has transparent skin that actually allows you to see straight through it: bones, organs and all! This fish is not for everyone—they are very delicate and will generally only eat live food, but offer an immensely gratifying and eye-catching aquarium display.

Loaches are also very popular, and are highly desired thanks to their distinctive colouration and personalities. Loaches do their best in small groups where you can enjoy observing their complex social behaviour. They are active fish, and will constantly be turning over your sand or gravel substrate looking for debris to eat. They tend to be peaceful and do well in community tanks.
 
More about kuhli loaches here

Introducing bottom-dwelling fish to your tank

If you would like to add bottom-dwelling catfish or loaches to your tank, you should carefully consider their compatibility with your tank and your current fish. While catfish and loaches tend to be very peaceful fish, they can get aggressive if bullied, and large, carnivorous catfish may eat small fish up to half their size.

You will want to identify whether the catfish or loach you would like to introduce likes to be kept in a school or alone. Zebra plecostomus, for example, is a very popular and beautiful fish, but one that prefers to be the only bottom-feeder in a tank.

Being bottom-dwelling fish, your catfish and loaches will enjoy soft substrates that they can easily sift through—high quality sand or small, polished gravel works best. Keeping some flat-lying rocks for them to sit on can be a great aquascaping move, as well, especially if you keep a small school of bottom-dwellers.

Caring for catfish and loaches

While bottom-feeders will happily clean your tank of algae and eat just about any debris that may make its way to their habitat at the bottom of the tank. This may not be sufficient food for them. So these fish need to be fed, too. And, you should be careful to monitor their health and appetite closely because they are easily neglected by their owners.

Catfish of the corydoras family are often called armoured catfish because they feature hard exterior scales that function like a suit of armour. With these fish, starvation can often go unnoticed since the hard plates will not shrink noticeably, but the fish inside the scales will.

Another important element of care for catfish, loaches, and other bottom-feeding fish is their sensitivity to medication. Although most of these fish are very tolerant of poor water conditions, they are extremely sensitive to the side effects of medication. If you need to use medicine in your aquarium, it is best to move your catfish or loaches to a quarantine tank temporarily.

If you follow the above guidelines and take good care of your bottom-dwelling fish, you should have a beautifully clean, algae-free tank thanks to the nature’s bin men and cleaners of the aquatic world. So throw away your algae scrubber!

 

Keeping aquarium plants healthy

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium

See also best plants for beginners

and succeed with plants

and aquascaping for beginners

healthy but overgrown aquarium plants
healthy but overgrown aquarium plants need trimming

Healthy plants AND healthy fish

Keeping aquarium plants healthy is vital. However, most aquarists put the welfare of their fish first and are not willing to promote the health of their plants, if it may affect their fish. I will explain how you can do both. And, the two are not mutually exclusive. Healthy plants can promote health in your fish.

If your planted aquarium is not regularly maintained, it can quickly become a jungle. Quick growing plants will out grow smaller and slower growing species. The larger plants will hog the light resulting in the smaller plants not getting enough light. Fish waste and plant sheddings will accumulate, polluting the water. Fortunately, maintenance is not time-consuming if carried out every week. If you do half an hour a week maintenance then your aquarium plants will be kept in tip top condition. To the right is what an otherwise healthy planted aquarium looks like when trimming and maintenance has been neglected. With a bit of trimming and relocating of plants this could look like a cracking aquarium and you could actually get to see the fish.

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium
Healthy aquarium plants can add to the look of your aquarium

But it is not just the welfare of the plants you need to also take care of the lighting, filtration, water quality and the fish. All these factors also affect the plants.
Every aquarium is different so I will give a general guideline which you will have to adapt to your specific set of plants and aquarium.

Relocating aquarium plants

Plants will naturally grow and spread with new offshoots. Some will grow so much that they crowd out other smaller or slow growing species. Also, you might do a spring clean or fancy a change of scenery. All this means that you will have to relocate some plants.
You can’t just uproot a plant and plant it somewhere else. You have to consider its root system which might be quite extensive if the plant is well established.

When removing a plant take out as much of the root system as possible, avoid ripping roots. Try to take out all the surrounding substrate with the roots intact if you can. If this is not possible, then use your fingers to gently tease out the roots without disturbing the gravel too much.

Once you have extracted the plant then knock off any attached gravel or dirt. Then, trim any long roots to just a few centimetres. Long stringy roots are not easily replanted and are easily damaged. Once replanted the plant will grow new roots and become re-established much quicker.

When you replant, create a hollow in the gravel. Put the roots into the hollow. Put a fertiliser tablet underneath or on the roots, then pack the gravel around the roots. The fertiliser tablet will speed up the plant’s recovery.

Plant diseases

It is rare for plants to actually suffer from disease such as bacterial infections or viruses. Except for crypts there are no common aquarium plant diseases. When your plants start displaying symptoms of ill-health these are almost certainly caused by environmental harm or nutritional deficiencies.

If you spot any symptoms early then the remedy is usually quite simple with the plant making a quick and complete recovery.

Cryptocoryne rot is a condition that only affects crypt plants. It looks like small holes in the leaves or the leaf edges. It is not certain what the cause is but it can be set off by a change of environment such as high nitrates, lack of water changes and lack of lighting. Crypts usually recover quickly once you have found the cause and fixed the problem. However, if left the plant can completely break down and die.

Aquarium plant poisoning

This is usually caused by adding medications to cure fish ailments. But could also come from recently added ornaments or rocks. After medicating your fish, use a chemical filter with activated carbon, for example, to remove all chemical residues to reduce any harm from the medication. Saying this, most medications are harmless or only slightly harmful.

But this is not the case with algicides which can harm plants. If at all possible it is better to cure your algae problem without using chemicals.

Another possible harmful substance is hydrogen sulphide that may form in the gravel or sand where anaerobic conditions allow food to rot to give off this poisonous gas. One last possible source of poisoning is from over use of fertiliser, which is beneficial in normal doses but can become a poison with over use.

Snail damage to aquarium plants

Snails in small numbers are unsightly and a nuisance. But, in large numbers they can take a toll on your plants by chewing away little by little every day. They are usually introduced to your aquarium as eggs attached to the under side of plant leaves. The eggs look like blobs of jelly and are difficult to see especially when the plant is in water.

Once snails get established in the aquarium it is impossible to completely eradicate them by hand. You could try adding snail eating fish or even assassin snails that chase and eat snails. This will help keep the numbers down.

You have to eradicate snails from plants before placing the plants in the aquarium by dipping the plants in an anti snail solution that will kill off the snails. Then wash off any chemicals before placing the plant in the aquarium. It is not recommended to add chemicals to the aquarium because the chemicals can harm the plants and fish.

Fish harming the plants

healthy plants and fish
healthy plants make fish feel more relaxed

Unless you keep plant eating fish then it is unlikely that your fish are causing much damage to your plants. The only exception is with cichlids and other large fish that can tug at the plants and uproot them. What may look like fish bites out of your plants is usually some other cause.

Algae

Algae occurs naturally in all aquariums that have some light and some nutrients. If you keep plants you will also get algae. Small amounts of algae growing slowly on rocks, driftwood and large plant leaves are of little consequence to your plants or your aquarium. Indeed, your fish may enjoy a nibble from time to time. And, the algae helps in the removal of fish waste products.

However, when conditions in the aquarium, such as excess light, wrong type of light or excess nutrients occur then an algae bloom is a real danger. The pea soup effect which is unsightly, will be disastrous for your plants, preventing light getting to your plants. An algae bloom can also release dangerous gases into the water.

Green water, caused by algae bloom, cannot be filtered out, and even if you used a filter with a very fine media, that filter would quickly become choked. Also if you try to remove the algae by changing the water, you will make matters worse. New tap water has dissolved nutrients that will feed the algae.

Treatment of algae in the aquarium

Reduce the lighting quantity and duration of the lighting and make sure no sunlight reaches the aquarium. Remove excess waste matter on a daily basis using a siphon. When feeding make sure that your fish eat all the food fed to them. Any uneaten food will rot and create waste products that feed algae.

The problem of blue-green algea

This is like a slime that covers just about every surface in the aquarium. Although typically bluey-green can also be greenish-brown or even black. Algae eating fish will not eat it. You can siphon off most of it using a siphon pump but it will re-occur. The solution is to reduce any fertiliser and any nutrients getting into your aquarium from fish waste and uneaten foods.

Blanket weed problems

This fibrous, hair like, algae grows on surfaces. it will cover plants and decor and is hard to remove. It is caused by an excess of light, especially sunlight, and excess of organic matter in the water. Chemicals are largely uneffective against it. The only solution is to remove as much of the algae as possible by hand. Then thoroughly clean the gravel with a siphon to remove excess organic waste.

For algae – prevention is better than cure

Although a small algae bloom is almost inevitable in a new aquarium, the problem is largely avoidable. Here is a list of preventative measures that if you follow will prevent algae ever getting a foothold.

  1. Have a few algae eating fish. Small species such as otocinclus is ideal.
  2. Avoid an excess of fertiliser. Using fertiliser tablets on a plants roots is better than pouring liquid fertiliser into the water. Ferilisers with phosphates are the worst culprit, so use a fertiliser without phosphates.
  3. Avoid direct sunlight. Even well maintained aquariums can attract algae when placed in direct sunlight.
  4. Lighting should be on for less than 12 hours per day.
  5. Make sure you use the correct type of bulb with the correct wattage for your aquarium. In other words, buy a bulb that gives off the correct wavelength of light and is of the right brightness for your size of aquarium.
  6. Clean the gravel properly and regularly by sifting through the gravel with a siphon removing accumulated fish waste. Do not remove the gravel to wash under the tap.
  7. Do regular water changes to dilute the excess of nitrates and phosphates that accumulate in the aquarium.

Finally, alleopathy can stop certain plants growing together

Certain plants release chemicals that are harmful to certain other plants. So that when one type of plant is in an aquarium, it is impossible to grow another incompatible species of plant in the same aquarium. Even, when the aquarium conditions are perfect for the incompatible plant it just will not grow until you remove the first plant. Not much is known about this process, so there isn’t a guide to tell you which plants are incompatible with other plants.