The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

If you have previously kept a Malawi cichlid tank and want a change or are considering setting up a new one, then you may consider setting up a peacock cichlid aquarium. Rather than having a wide range of species from lake Malawi, concentrating on just peacocks will give you an aquarium full of colour. The most remarkable fish from lake Malawi are the Aulonocara species, commonly known as peacock cichlids. There are 22 different peacock species known at present – all with brilliant colours. Add to that the fact that most peacocks are less aggressive than mbunas and you have your recipe for a successful and colourful aquarium.

Types of peacock cichlid aquariums

There are three basic choices when it comes to setting up a peacock cichlid aquarium. Each of the following three choices comes with specific advantages and drawbacks:

  • All-male tank
  • Mixed species breeding colony
  • Single species breeding colony
all blue male peacock cichlid from lake malawi
all blue male peacock cichlid from lake malawi

Understanding which of these three options suits you best requires you to identify your main goal with the tank itself. If brightly coloured fish is your only consideration, then an all-male tank would be ideal, provided that your tank is large enough for them to create several distinct territories. An all male tank means choosing male peacocks from several species. An all-male tank precludes your fish breeding. To breed your fish you will need to set up separate female breeding tanks but be sure not to confuse which female you use for breeding because the females of the different peacock cichlids look pretty much the same. The all male aquarium is a display aquarium.
 

Single species and mixed species peacock cichlid aquariums

While an all-male tank is certainly the simplest and most colourful option, breeding is one of the most fascinating behaviours that peacock cichlids engage in, and creating the right environment for them to do so, will be hugely rewarding. A single species tank is the simpler of the two, since you will not have to deal with inter-species aggression or interbreeding. You can also get away with a smaller aquarium, but it will be less interesting. And you have the further problem of choosing which single species to include in your aquarium.

male aulonocara jacobfreibergi - yellow jake
male yellow peacock cichlid aulonocara jacobfreibergi – yellow jake

Just like the peacocks they are named after, you will find that the females of any of these species are less colourful than the males. While it may be tempting to add more males than females to your setup, this is unnatural for a peacock cichlid colony and will result in stress and territorial disputes. The ideal distribution is one or two males with a larger group of females, perhaps 5 or more females.

One of the benefits of a single species breeding tank is that you can turn it into a breeding colony that lets you examine and observe the entire life cycle of your fish, their fry, and later descendants as well. By keeping a single species of peacock cichlid in your tank and taking good care of them, they will be able to raise some fry naturally without requiring you to set up separate breeding tanks and raising the fry yourself. However, to maximise the spawn you will need to remove the fry or brooding male to another tank.

The mixed peacock tank allows you to create a biotope of lake Malawi. Mixed species tanks, however, are not likely to make efficient breeding colonies because of interspecies competition. Your choice of species for this kind of tank will have to be carefully chosen in order to minimize stress, aggression, and the risk of interbreeding.

Choosing aulonocara peacock cichlid species for a mixed tank

aulonocara rubenscens red peacock cichlid male and female
aulonocara rubenscens red peacock cichlid male and female

If you would like to enjoy the multiple colours and differing behaviours of peacock cichlids in a mixed species tank, you will have to choose species that can get along together. Luckily peacocks are less aggressive than mbunas so you have a head start. The males are usually only aggressive when defending their own territory. The key to choosing your selection of peacock cichlids is in choosing species with a wide variety of colouration: Different species with similar colouration will see one another as breeding rivals, which will cause fights and interbreeding.

Size can also play a role in interspecies aggression between these fish. Species such as the peaceful Long Nose Peacock (Aulonocara Rostratum) are significantly larger than most other members of their species, for example. A fish of this size is unlikely to view a much smaller specimen such as a Ruby Red Peacock (Aulonocara Rubescens) as a threat. In fact a single, large male may become, “king of the tank” and settle disputes between the other fish as well.

male yellow peacock cichlid
male yellow peacock cichlid – aulonocara hansbaenschi

Varying the fish sizes can also help ensure that interbreeding does not occur. Females of all the Peacock cichlid species tend to look similar and may mate with dominant males of other species to create hybrid fish. Hybrids are generally undesirable and should be avoided if you would like to maximize the colouration and good health of your fish. A mixed tank featuring fish with greatly varying colours and body size will help reduce the risk of interbreeding. For example where the female of one species is brown and the female of the other species is silver then interbreeding should not occur.

When choosing which species to place in your aquarium you should remember that each species has several colour variations depending on which part of lake malawi they come from. Having different colour variations of the same species will result in interbreeding.

Breeding peacock cichlids

Click here for in depth article on breeding peacock cichlids

Peacock cichlid care

male orangle blotch peacock cichlid
dominant male orange blotch peacock cichlid

Once you have spent some time researching which fish and set up you want, you will want to spend some time researching the aquascape that your fish will be living in. The more accurate and natural-looking the environment for your fish, the less stressed will be your fish in the long run. For peacocks, there are two basic choices of aquarium layout either a sandy area or a rocky area with caves. In a larger tank you can of course have both.

Making the environment work requires researching into the origins of your specific species. For a single-species tank, obviously, you should attempt to replicate the original environment as close as possible. For a mixed species tank, however, you may need to provide a kind of hybrid zone for the separate territories of your fish.

“Jakes” of the species Aulonocara jacobfreibergi, for example, are primarily cave-dwelling fish that prefer rocky aquariums with lots of hiding spaces. Mixing this species with a sand-dwelling northern peacock ,such as Aulonocara stuartgrantii, might be a poor compromise, unless you have a large enough tank to provide two large zones within the tank for each of them to inhabit. In fact, it is recommended that any mixed species tank be as large as possible for this reason.

male aulonocara ngara - flametail red peacock
male aulonocara ngara – flametail red peacock

If you have followed the above guidelines, you should have a successful peacock aquarium. The various species of peacock will peacefully live together in the aquarium without stress. This will enable the male peacocks to display their best colours with fins proudly spread. When this has been done properly, you will have an aquarium that will rival a typical marine aquarium for its beauty and colour. The reds of the rubens peacock, the blues of the stuartgrantii peacock and the yellows of the baenschi peacock will give a brilliant contrast of colours. Sit back and enjoy your fish with a sense of pride.

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks
Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

Now more than ever, is a good time to set up a natural biotope of Lake Malawi. For instance, there is a lot of information on the behaviour and environment of most species inhabiting Lake Malawi. Which means we can recreate conditions in the aquarium, that are very close to those found in Lake Malawi.

Another reason is that with the discovery of oil in Lake Malawi, the ongoing destruction of the habitat in and around the lake is increasing. This is causing the near extinction of many species of fish and plants. How does setting up a Malawi Biotope aquarium help this, you may ask? In conservation, it is only species that people are aware of that get saved. And so if many aquarists set up a Lake Malawi biotope then what better way of showing what beauty will be destroyed by showing off their aquariums. The press can be invited to see the natural beauty of fish from Lake Malawi and told about which species are facing extinction in order to raise awareness and save the lake.

A final reason is that the fish can be observed in something that approximates their natural environment. The fish will of course be happier and you, the observer, will get to see the full range of natural behaviours and interactions between the fish and their environment. The fish will naturally try to inhabit the same niche in the biotope aquarium that they would normally inhabit in the wild, instead of being forced to lump it with other species that they would normally avoid.

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

Recreating a Lake Malawi Biotope that is absolutely accurate down to the`smallest detail is an impossible task. But we can go a long way to recreating something that very closely resembles the lake. We can also very closely recreate the same water parameters, lighting, rocks and sandy base. Recreating the muddy parts of the lake would requre a very large aquarium, such as a public aquarium. So is not really feasible in the home aquarium. Luckily there are lots of sections of lake Malawi that are just rocks and sand, just rocks mostly or just sand mostly. These we can recreate in the aquarium.

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

There are possibly two approaches to recreating the biotope. The first way is to base it around the fish species in your possession or that you intend to buy. Then it would be a matter of researching to find out which environment your fish live in and if they are compatible. Then you would have to recreate a biotope that best accommodates your particular set of fish.

The second approach is to have a look at many pictures of lake Malawi in order to choose a scene that you particularly like. Then recreating that scene in the aquarium. Once that scene has been created then it would be a matter of finding which species would comfortably fit in your biotope and going out to buy them.

If you have species that inhabit different environments within the lake, then you need a very large aquarium to try and accommodate them all. Lake Malawi divides into two areas mostly with an open sandy region broken up with a few scattered rocks and a dense rocky area with many hiding places consisting of caves and crevices.

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

The base is going to be a layer of sand of about 3 inches in depth. Most normal sands are fine, even crushed coral sand should be fine. However, wash well because sand creates more cloudiness than gravel.

Your rock choices are limestone and sandstone. The sand comes from the sandstone in the lake. Limestone is present in the lake also and gives the lake its ph and hardness. The sandstone can be the golden type or a grey type. Choose types of various sizes with smoothed edges. Algae will also grow quite well on these types of stone.

Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

Plants and other creatures

planted rocky malawi aquarium
Atypical planted rocky malawi aquarium with sand substrate

Besides the fish there will be algae and small insects and invertebrates. Since many species from lake Malawi feed off snails then including snails in the aquarium is a good idea. Try apple snails that are native to lake Malawi or snails that are similar to those of lake Malawi such as snails of the genus bulinas. Obtain snails that look and behave similarly that can live in hard water.

Most mbuna species feed off the algae growing on the rocks and the micro organisms growing in the algae. In the sand will be worms and other insects that the Auloconara species(peacock) feed off. Trying to find suitable creatures that will live, grow and reproduce in the sand is a difficult task. You risk the creatures dying and polluting the sand and the aquarium. In the wild it would be these creatures that would dig through the sand that prevents the sand in the wild from compacting the way it does in the aquarium.

Insects found in lake Malawi include water bears, daphnia, cyclops. Create a separate culture of these and feed the fish. These will be native food for your Malawi fish.

There are few plants in lake Malawi so you do not have to have any plants in the aquarium. But valisneria and hornwort are a possibility that do occur in lake Malawi. Plant singly and sparsely.

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums
Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums

Mbunas are perfect for the rocky parts of the biotope. One or two species will quickly set up home and create territories within the rocky structures, each fish with its own little cave or crevice. Aulonocara species like open waters above sand but not too far from rocks. One or two species will be great for the open, sandy areas. They feed off insects that they can find in the sand. The aggressive mbunas will only rarely venture out from their rocky area while the Aulonocara will avoid the rocks.

In a large enough aquaria with distinct areas the two groups of fish will approach each other and there will be aggression but the fish usually retire to their own habitat.

If your aquarium is not too large then you will have to settle for one group or the other. If you settle for auloconara then you shouldn’t have a large rocky formation. A smaller rocky set up is better for them. Aulonocara do like to swim in open spaces. However, aggression between the fish means that they too need hiding places.

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

You can buy Malawi salts to recreate the exact water found in the lake. However, don’t just add it to tap water. Tap water already has some hardness and minerals which you will have to take into account. SInce you are creating a biotope you should use a reverse osmosis filter to remove all minerals from your tap water then add your Malawi salts to get the correct hardness and ph. For tap water you will obviously have to reduce the amounts of Malawi salt per litre. This is best done by testing your water after adding a half dose to tap water. If it comes out too hard reduce the amount of salt used. If not hard enough increase the amount of salts.

You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there. This is where most aquarists depart from the strict biotope by having pristine water.

The ecosystem however needs some way to operate the nitrogen cycle without plants. This means that you will have to have powerful biological filters that have a high turnover of water and a filter media with a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to grow on.

Water changes are also a necessity. While some may consider this as cheating, you may want to consider the real lake Malawi. There is an inflow of fresh water from the Ruhuhu river. And the lake is vast giving a lot of scope for de-nitrification.

If you have followed these guidelines, the end result should be a pleasant aquarium full of colourful fish. It should look like a piece of lake Malawi. So, sit back and enjoy your hard work.

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.

Breeding tropical marine fish

pair of clownfish breeding

How to start breeding tropical marine fish

pair of clownfish breeding
pair of clownfish breeding

If you have been successfully keeping saltwater fish in a marine tank for a while then perhaps you would like to move on to breeding your fish.
Many keepers of saltwater aquariums are content to just keep fish. For the brave few I will outline the basic steps that you need to be take in order to ensure a healthy brood. I will assume that you are familiar with the basics of marine aquarium care.

Feeding saltwater fish here

Saltwater aquarium maintenance here

Marine corals here

Equipment and food for breeding marine fish

Besides having a male and female fish, you will need to do some preparation for your fish if you would like to enjoy successful breeding:

• Breeding tank—You will want to setup a separate bare-bottom breeding tank that your fish larvae can comfortably live in until they become adults. It may help to have several tanks ready, depending on the size of the brood you plan on keeping. Large filtration is out of the question, but a simple air stone can help keep the water moving.

• Live food cultures—Fish fry will thrive if they given a continuous supply of live food. You will want to begin preparing your live food cultures before breeding starts so that you do not have to rush after your fish have bred. It is recommended to culture both rotifers and baby brine shrimp as the best two starter foods.

Many saltwater fish will begin their lives in a larval state, which often requires the set up of complex larval rearing systems in which multiple breeding tanks are connected to the main tank through a sump and constantly fed rotifers and live food cultures. If you are breeding your first tropical marine fish, it is advisable to choose fish that you can raise in a simple breeding tank without having to worry about the larval phase.

Selecting which marine fish to begin breeding

Since some marine fish require such a complex breeding set up, you, as a beginner, should focus on breeding easier species of saltwater fish that are simpler to breed. Avoid breeding fish that have a “pelagic larval phase”. The following list of fish have fry without a protracted larval phase.

male banggai cardinalfish brooding a mouthfull of young fish
male banggai cardinalfish brooding a mouthfull of young fish

• Banggai cardinals,
• Clownfish,
• Bristletail filefish,
• Green wolf eels,
• Neon gobies,
• Dottyback fish.

If you have a healthy pair of any of the above species in your tank, you can reasonably expect them to breed at some point. Most saltwater species will breed on their own when kept in excellent water conditions. However, certain species may take a long time to form a sexual pair.

If your fish are just not breeding despite keeping excellent water conditions with lots of hiding places then try moving your pair of fish into a low-light spawning tank. Orchid dottybacks, for instance, will breed readily when paired off in a small, covered tank with some decoration.

What to do when spawning begins

Generally, your job will begin when the eggs hatch. Up until then, one of the parent fish will usually defend their eggs, and will generally do a good job of it. Once the eggs hatch into larvae, however, you need to get them into a separate tank and get them fed.

Collecting your larvae from the main tank can seem like a difficult task, but one important tip can help: fish larvae tend to be attracted to light. To collect your larvae, follow these steps:

• Turn off the lights and water flow in your tank,
• Shine a small flashlight at the corner closest to the larvae,
• Let them accumulate in the light for a minute or two,
• Use a dip cup or siphon to collect them and deposit them in their own tank.

Raising the larvae of marine fish

Feeding the fry is the main stumbling block in reproducing marine fish. Many aquarists fail at this stage or lose all but a few of the fry. There is definitely money to be made for the aquarist who can successfully feed and raise a whole brood to a saleable size regularly.

Your fish larvae will need to be fed frequently and in large quantities. In the sea they would be surrounded by a rich variety of live plankton. Larval fish are voracious eaters and their appetite will surprise you. Moreover, their waste and waste of their live food will make frequent water changes necessary.

It is important to remember that your marine fish fry, being so small, will be unable to catch all of the food in the tank, and you will inevitably lose some food to waste and even some fish to starvation. These larvae need to have food within several millimetres of themselves in order to catch anything, which means saturating your tank with rotifers or plankton. Moreover these rotifers must be fed too. The rotifers must be fed with nutritious live algae. Ultimately this nutrition passes to the larvae via the rotifers. Algae can be raised with a light source and nutrient rich saltwater.

In fact, you may find that you are quickly running out of food to feed your fish, which leads to a very important rule: Never raise more fish than you can feed. You may have to cull some of the less fit members of the brood in order to realise this goal, but it will save the rest of them and ensure the health of the rest. A healthy minimum concentration would be 10-15 rotifers per millilitre of aquarium water in order to simulate the plankton they would find in the wild. A good system is to have and feed the rotifers in the same tank as the larvae. This, though, puts a heavier burden on the raising tanks oxygen demands and ammonia levels.

With frequent water changes, a well-oxygenated tank and lots of food, you should start seeing growth in your fish. The water changes will be very important since both your fish and your rotifers will cause ammonia levels to climb, and your filtration will be limited to fluidised sand filters, trickle filters and protein skimming – anything that uses greater flow will suck up the larvae.

Caring for your fish larvae

When breeding tropical marine fish, you will need to take care against bacterial infection. Siphoning out the waste properly twice a day should help reduce the risk of harmful bacterial colonies developing on decomposing organic waste. Your fish larvae have brand new immune systems that will not protect them from infection.

Protein skimming, again, can help greatly here by removing organic material and bacteria from the water column. A UV steriliser is also a very good idea for your breeding tank. If any of your larvae get sick, they need to be culled immediately to protect the rest of the brood.

aquarium bred two month old clownfish
aquarium bred two month old clownfish

Once your fish are large enough, you can begin feeding them baby brine shrimp as they gradually mature into juvenile fish and become ready to be weaned onto a diet of dried foods. While rotifers are ideal for the very beginning, eventually your fish will grow too large to be effectively fed by these tiny organisms.

One last important thing to consider: Since your larvae respond to light by moving towards it, any light source outside the glass of your aquarium will attract them. The result of this is that it will cause your larvae to bump their heads against the aquarium glass until they die. This behaviour also occurs if the larvae have run out of food. To prevent this you will need to cover your aquarium’s bottom and sides with a dark material.

If you have followed these instructions and researched the needs of your individual species, you will be well on your way to successfully breeding tropical marine fish for the first time!

15 best plants for beginners

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Best plants for beginners to avoid plant failures

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium
Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Here is a list of 15 hardy tropical freshwater plants that are the best plants for beginners. These plants don’t need much attention to grow. No special lighting, no Co2 and no fertiliser. Just tough plants that will grow in normal temperatures and most ph and hardness water conditions. Plants that need no maintenance except to trim them when they get bigger.

See also succeed with aquarium plants

and healthy aquarium plants

and aquascaping for beginners

Java moss

Java moss can grow in low lighting levels. It grows profusely. It likes a wide temperature range from 59F-82F. It can live in a wide range of ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.

java moss
java moss

It is not strictly a plant but it does much the same thing. It Doesn’t require gravel or sand. Spread it thinly over rocks and driftwood. It will attach itself. It can be made to float and hang down by attaching it to a piece of cork. Once it starts growing well then start pruning it heavily. It is great for fry to hide in and pick off infusoria growing on it. It is tough and difficult to kill. It may need cleaning sometimes by running under a tap. Algae may grow into it and be difficult to remove.

Java moss is like having all the benefits of plants without actually growing plants. No need for fertilisers, special lighting or other bits of plant maintenance. It is great for aquarists who don’t care for plants but recognise the benefits.

Java fern

java fern
java fern

Java ferns prefers low lighting conditions. It grows slowly but is very hardy and doesn’t need looking after. It can cope with a temperature range from 64F-86F. It is not fussy with ph or hardness.
Don’t bury the roots of the Java fern in the gravel. Algae may grow on the leaves and needs to be removed occasionally. If it is damaged it repairs itself quickly. If it is cut or broken, each piece will grow into a separate plant. It absorbs nitrates well. If co2 and fertiliser is used it can grow more quickly, if you want.

Amazon sword

Amazon swords are easy to care for. It likes neutral ph 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to moderately hard water. Its temperature range is 72-82F.
It can grow large and so it is best in a 36 inch tank or bigger. Plant it in a loose gravel. It needs time to root well.

amazon sword
amazon sword

Great for angel fish and discus to spawn on. It can grow faster if iron rich fertiliser is used. Remove damaged leaves and remove any algae on leaves. It can be propogated off runners. Plantlets will grow at the end of the runners. When the plantlets develop roots then you can remove them and plant them. Plecos will eat and damage amazons.

Amazon frogbit or duckweed

American frogbit can survive in cold pond water as well as tropical temperatures up to 78F. It likes a ph of 6-7.5 and moderate hard water. It requires low to medium lighting. it grows very fast. It is very low maintenance and very tough.
This is a pure floating plant. It provides good cover for fry. It really soaks up ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and phosphates, helping the nitrogen cycle and controlling algae.

Anubias nana (Anubias barteri nana)

anubias nana
anubias nana

Anubias nana is easy to care for and very hardy. It prefers low to medium lighting. Its temperature is tropical at 72F-82F. The water conditions for Anubias are soft to neutral hardness with a ph 6.0 – 7.6.
It is easily reproduced. It is slow growing but will grow faster with CO2 and extra lighting and fertilisers. It doesnt need to be rooted in gravel. Fish don’t like the taste of anubias.

Anacharis (elodea)

Anacharis is easy to care for. It takes any lighting (low light to bright lighting). It is not really a tropical plant will cope with temperatures up to 75F. The water conditions are not crucial with a preferred ph of 6.5 to 7.5 and soft to hard water but avoid extremes. Elodea can root into the gravel but can also be kept free floating. You can propogate it from cuttings. It is low maintenance and grows well without any help.

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii
Cryptocoryne wendtii

Wendt’s crypt can be kept in low light or bright light. It has a ph range on the acid side of 5ph-7ph and likes soft water. temperature 72F-86F. The plant likes stable water conditions and may take some time to settle. Once settled and never disturbs it becomes a hardy plant.
There are several colour variations with different leaf size and texture. It is easy to propogate. Propoagate by taking cuttings with some roots attached. It can also produce runners with plantlets on the end. Separate the plantlets when they have grown roots. It is generally a slow grower. If there is change in the water conditions it may start to deteriorate.

Dwarf hairgrass

dwarf hair grass
dwarf hair grass

Dwarf hairgrass likes a temperature range 60F-83F. It prefers water on the acid side but is flexible with a ph range of ph5.0-7.5. It likes low to medium lighting.
It is fast growing. It does tend to attract dirt and algae. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets. Cut off plantlets when they grow roots. You can create an underwater lawn with dwarf hairgrass.

Pygmy chain sword

Pygmy chain swords are tropical with a temperature range of 68F-84F.Its preferred water conditions are medium hard and ph 5.5-7.5. ph 5-7.5. It prefers a medium level of lighting. because of its small size it prefers sandy soil.
It propogates by growing runners with plantlets on the end. When the plantlets grow roots then you can separate them. It grows reasonably well and is easy to care for. It might need tablet fertiliser near roots.

Dwarf sagittaria

dwarf sagittaria
dwarf sagittaria

Dwarf sagittaria’s temperature range is 71F – 82F. It prefers its water to be acid but copes with a ph between 5.0 and 7.5ph. It prefers medium lighting but can cope with low lighting levels. It grows fast and is easy to care for.
It can grow in gravel. Use small grained gravel or sand. It may benefit from root fertiliser tablets. If grown out of water before buying, it will change its form in the aquarium. It will shed all of its leaves and develop small grassy leaves from the centre. It may look dead soon after buying but will make a complete recovery.
It propagates by sending runners under the gravel that will pop up as mini plants next to the original plant.

Water wisteria

water wisteria
water wisteria

Water wisteria is quick growing, hardy and very easy to care for. It likes its water between 6.5ph and 7.5ph and soft to medium hard water. It is tropical with a temperature range between 75F-82F.
It is usually rooted but can still grow when floating. It is a relatively small aquarium plant. Fertiliser tablets will help with growth but are not necessary. You can propogate it through plant cuttings. Goldfish and other big plant eaters will eat and kill it.

Hornwort

Hornwort is a floating plant that can also be planted. It is a sub-tropical plant with a temperature range of 50-86F. It doesn’t care about its ph or hardness. It grows in low lighting levels. It is very easy to care for and grows very fast. Some fish will eat it.

Water Sprite

water sprite
water sprite

Water sprite is a floating plant that is easy to grow. It can be planted in the substrate as well. It will grow in almost any water conditions. Its temperature range is 68F-86F. It is quite hardy and grows fast. Lighting is not important and it will grow in low lighting.
Water sprite is helpful in cleaning up ammonia, nitrites and nitrates from the water. It will provide shade to shy fish and fry. . It is a great cover for fry that grow near the surface. Self propogates by growing new plantlets on the body which break off to form new plants. Snails love this and may destroy it. Fish may graze on it too, harming it.

Rotala Rotundifolia

Rotala Rotundifolia is a red plant. It likes medium to bright light. It can grow in low light but will turn green. It grows fast in bright light. It is subtropical with a temperature range of 64F-82FC. It likes slightly acid water but can cope with a ph between 5.0-7.5ph with neutral hardness.
It can be propogated by taking cuttings. It is hardy and easy to care for as long as it is well lit.

Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma
Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma grows fast. It prefers low to medium lighting. And will grow faster with more lighting or even some sunlight. It has a wide temperature range of 64F-86F. Copes with almost any water ph and hardness. It is easy to care for.
Because of its small size it is called dwarf hygro. It is light green in colour. It can be propogated by taking cuttings. Pruning is helpful occasionally to spruce it up and stop it overgrowing. It can be grown on gravel or sand.

Succeed with marine corals

Final complete marine aquarium set up

How to succeed with marine corals in your reef aquarium

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Final complete marine aquarium set up

If you have already set up a successful marine aquarium with a host of saltwater fish, live rock, and perhaps even a few invertebrates, you might be entertaining the possibility of keeping marine corals in your tank as well. While you may have heard that keeping corals in your reef aquarium is a difficult task, it can be a vastly rewarding experience if it is approached correctly. And may not be too big a step up from the set up you already have if your marine aquarium has been running for quite a while.

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

Saltwater fish for beginners

Live rock and live sand

Consider what your set up offers

As always, a larger tank will provide you with a sufficient volume to reduce eventual problems with water quality management. If you are fortunate enough to be the owner of a large tank, you will find that the health of your fish will be easier to manage during the period when you introduce corals to your tank. The larger your tank is, the better you will be able to adapt it to the presence of coral colonies.

If you already have high quality filtration and an adequate lighting set up, you are well on your way to enjoying a successful reef tank. In terms of filtration, you will need a greater amount of water flow throughout your tank than you may currently have, since corals are immobile and will need to draw their nutrients from the water itself as it passes through them.

Your aquarium’s lighting set up will have to closely replicate natural sunlight: a spectrum of blue UV light for 12 hours a day and a full spectrum white light for 8–10 hours a day would be the minimum for ensuring a healthy coral population in your reef aquarium.

Water quality and management

The ideal temperature at which most marine corals will thrive is between 23–25° C, with 25°C representing an optimum temperature for coral tanks. Temperature is very important due to the effect that warm water will have on the level of dissolved oxygen present: Oxygen level will decrease with higher temperatures, causing respiratory problems for your corals.

The most dependable way of keeping your water temperature constant is through the use of a refrigerating chiller with a temperature gauge. While it is possible to maintain the appropriate temperature without a chiller in many circumstances, you may want to use one in order to give your marine corals the best opportunity to thrive.

If you have a quality filtration system in place in an already cycled tank, you will not have to worry too much about ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, but organic compounds could become a problem if they are allowed to break down into harmful waste products. The use of a protein skimmer can be a great help when keeping a coral reef aquarium.

Corals tend to do their best with a pH level between 8.0–8.3. You will want to test your water regularly to ensure that the levels do not change after you introduce corals to your tank, since they can upset this delicate balance of water acidity and harm your entire tank population in the process.

One of the key indicators that aquarists use to determine whether their tank is ready for the introduction of live corals can be seen in the live rock already present: When your live rock begins developing spots of purple, this indicates the presence of coralline algae, which grows as a result of the same conditions necessary for the growth of marine corals.

Choosing and introducing live corals to your tank

Once you have the appropriate conditions ready, you can introduce your corals to the tank. Proper coral choice is important here, since dissimilar species of coral can be very difficult to maintain. Two basic types of corals commonly found in reef aquariums are as follows:

  1. corals, which feature a hard exoskeleton and are also often called hard corals, and;
  2. Soft corals, which do not have an exoskeleton and often inhabit different waters then their stony counterparts.

You may be tempted to mix these two types of corals, but you are recommended to stick with one or the other for your first coral experience. You should thoroughly research the species you would like to incorporate in your tank to make sure they are compatible—coral competition and aggression is not uncommon in reef tanks.

Soft corals are generally easier to care for then stony ones, although not always: preferred choices include any of the following species:

  • Finger leather coral
  • Pulse coral
  • Jasmine polyps
  • Star polyps,
  • Clove polyps
  • Cabbage leather coral

If you would prefer stony varieties, peaceful stony corals such as the popular candy cane coral can make an excellent choice for your first foray into keeping a coral aquarium. Also, whisker coral, also known as Duncan coral, can make a fine addition. Bubble coral is easy to care for but can be aggressive in temperament.

Once you have your tank prepared and have purchased your desired coral fragments, you are ready to attach them to the interior of your tank. Specialized aquarium glue exists for exactly this purpose, and can help make the process much easier than attempting to secure the coral with toothpicks and hoping it sticks.

Coral placement depends on the strength of your tank’s lighting and your corals’ specific needs. Marine corals may need to be gradually acclimated to your tank lights, which can be done by placing them at the bottom of the tank at first and then gradually moving their foundation upwards over the course of a week.

Once you attach the corals to the interior of your tank, you will have to carefully monitor the water conditions in order to make sure that no abrupt changes take place. This, along with regular maintenance, will ensure a long and healthy life for your corals.

Coral maintenance and care

Once your marine corals begin getting accustomed to their new lives inside your reef aquarium, you will need to take care of them in order to ensure lasting success with your reef aquarium. You should be testing your water weekly for pH changes as well as ammonia and nitrite levels, and have a cleaning routine ready that includes both your filtration system and your lights as well.

Some species of corals have more specific feeding and maintenance needs than others, but if you choose to keep varieties of coral that require the weekly addition of coral food, the trace elements you should generally add include calcium, strontium, iron, and magnesium. Other than this, your monthly partial water change schedule should run normally.

Responsible coral harvesting

As a last word on keeping a successful coral aquarium, you should be aware that there are two types of coral suppliers in the aquarium trade: those that are licensed by the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and those that are not. Licensed providers cannot exceed an annual quota of coral sales, and are compelled to source fragments from sustainable areas.

Licensed suppliers also contribute to marine conservation, and you should always purchase your coral fragments (or whole live corals, if your budget permits) from these vendors. Unlicensed coral sellers can do enormous damage to already endangered natural habitats.

If you follow this guide and choose your marine corals carefully, you should be well one your way to enjoying a beautiful and colourful coral display in the comfort of your own home. Remember that some species such as the clown fish live between the fronds of coral. And so will make a lively display. Sit back relax and enjoy the show!

Clean and clear aquarium water

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Clean and clear aquarium water: A guide to water quality and management

Also see: Cure and prevent cloudy or green water

and Why does my aquarium get dirty

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

Water may appear clean and clear but, actually, be absolutely toxic to your fish. You need to be able to create water that is clean and healthy for your fish. Below I will explain how to create clean and clear water and how to maintain this indefinitely by establishing a balanced ecosystem. It can be said that you are not taking care of your fish but rather you are taking care of the water the fish live eat and breathe in.
 
A fully-functioning aquarium is a balanced ecosystem that needs to remain balanced in order to let your fish thrive. Setting up and maintaining this ecosytem is the first and most important step towards taking good care of your fish.

Water composition

In order to understand how to successfully manage your aquarium water, you need to become familiar with the various attributes of water that aquarists generally deal with. The water in your tank will have more in it than simple H20, and frequent testing is the best way to keep all of those additional elements in check. Some of the attributes and chemicals worth paying attention to follow:

  • Temperature – your water needs to have a controlled temperature for your fish to survive. Tropical aquariums are typically heated to a temperature between 23–28° C (74–82° F).
  • pH level – This is the measure of your waters acidity, and is affected by its hardness. Certain fish have pH requirements determined by their natural habitat, but a range somewhere between 6.5–8.2 is the norm.
  • Hardness – The amount of dissolved minerals in your water contribute to its hardness. Soft water generally carries a lower pH level. Most fish are tolerant of moderate hardness between 100–250 mg/l.
  • Chlorine and chloramine – These chemicals are added to municipal reservoirs to keep your tap water clean and safe to drink. They are toxic to fish, however, so you will need to remove them from your water. Chlorine will evaporate on its own if left to sit for a few days, but chloramine requires the use of a water conditioning product to successfully remove.
  • Phosphate and other minerals – These are substances that are usually ignored by most aquarists. But there are times when it is necessary to test for other substances. Such as when algae becomes a persistent problem or plants are not growing.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is toxic to fish and is caused by decomposing waste, and the point of your aquarium filtration system is to remove harmful ammonia by converting it into nitrite and then nitrate. That takes place during the nitrogen cycle, which will be covered in more detail below. The optimal level of ammonia in your water is zero. Anything above .25 mg/l of ammonia means you need to perform a water change.
  • Nitrite – A secondary element of the nitrogen cycle, nitrite is not as toxic as ammonia, but it reduces the ability of your fish to oxygenate their bloodstream. A normal tank should not have more than .5 mg/l of nitrite. If it does, it is time for a water change.
  • Nitrate – The end product of the nitrogen cycle’s chemical conversion. Not as harmful as nitrite or ammonia but still harmful in high doses. Nitrate can be tolerated at levels up to 40 mg/l.

Cycling your aquarium water

See cycling for more info

Since substances like ammonia and nitrite are toxic for your fish, you need to remove them from your water on a continually. Fortunately, once matured, your filter will automatically remove them for you. Your aquarium’s filtration system is designed to host a range of beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite, and nitrite into nitrate; a process called the nitrogen cycle. In order for that to happen, however, you need to set up your aquarium for cycling.

Since fish produce ammonia, they are typically used as the beginning point of the nitrogen cycle. After being added to a tank, very frequent water changes are needed to keep the fish healthy until the bacterial colony which feeds off the ammonia has developed sufficiently. Fishless tank cycling can be achieved using pure ammonia, as well.

Once ammonia is in the tank, bacteria will naturally show up to begin consuming it and converting it into nitrite. This can be speeded up by introducing a working filter from another aquarium, since a colony of bacteria should already be present established there. If this is not an option, then they will develop, on a new filter, slowly over 30-60 days. A secondary layer of bacteria will also appear that will convert the newly created nitrite into nitrate.

The end result of growing these bacterial colonies in your aquarium filter is that your water will essentially be recycling its own waste. However, nitrate still needs to be reduced through partial water changes. Luckily, that is only a weekly task. If you are keeping fish in your tank while cycling, you will need to perform large daily water changes until the ammonia levels fall to near zero.

Setting up a water management routine

Once your tank is properly cycled, you will still need to monitor your tank’s water. Since the nitrogen cycle is taking care of your immediate concerns over waste matter recycling, you can keep your water quality high with minimal effort. The only daily task that is necessary at this point is checking the water temperature.

Weekly tasks include performing a small water change, between 10–25%, as needed according to the nitrate level of the tank. You should also be testing your water every week in order to gauge the nitrate level as well as detect and prevent any possible ammonia, nitrite, or pH problems that may spring up, before they get serious.

Your monthly tasks should include a vacuuming of the tank gravel, a squeezing out of the excess dirt from your filter sponge and a scrubbing to remove any algae present in the tank. Never use tap water on your filter sponge. Squeeze out the sponge using some water from the aquarium. This avoids harming the beneficial bacterial colony growing on it.

Common water quality problems

One of the most evident signs that your aquarium water has a problem is if the smell changes. Aquariums generally have a pleasant lakeside scent to them once they are properly cycled, but excess ammonia and other elements can change that, giving you a warning to test the water and change it quickly.

Most often, bad-smelling water is a sign that there is too much waste in the tank as a result of overfeeding. Your fish should generally eat all of their food in two minutes or less and not leave any to rot. Excess food will rot which releases excess ammonia that will poison your fish. Occasionally your fish will go off their food. Feeding at this time will just result in food being left uneaten and rotting. Remove any uneaten food using a siphon.

A fish that dies in the tank should be removed immediately. A rotting fish will release a lot of ammonia which your filter will not be able to cope with.

Algae is another common result of poor-quality aquarium water. Again, excess nutrients (especially nitrate and phosphate) can allow algae to bloom, turning your water green and presenting problems for your fish. If you are not overfeeding your fish, then algae may bloom because of an excess of yellow light. Also, be sure to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight.

If you pay attention to your water and follow the guidelines mentioned above, you should have a tank full of clean and clear aquarium water for your fish to enjoy.

Aquarium pests

An aquarium blighted by algae

How to control aquarium pests

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

Your aquarium is very similar to a carefully-tended garden in many ways, especially when it comes to unwanted pests that can accumulate, often rapidly, and begin causing damage to your delicate aquatic ecosystem. There are numerous types of aquarium pests and fish parasites that, if left unchecked, can seriously affect the health of your fish and even kill them.

Some of the most common pests that you will find in a typical tropical aquarium are as follows:

  • Algae – This is by far the most common pest, and it comes in many flavours: brown algae, hair algae, bubble algae, slime algae and more. Most of these are easily controlled by addressing your tank’s water quality and level of light exposure. Though not harmful to your fish, it is unsightly.
  • Snails – These small creatures can suddenly appear in your tank, where they will begin to eat your live plants and reproduce rapidly. If left unchecked, they will push your tank’s biological load far past its limit. They also eat fish eggs.
  • Hydra – Tiny freshwater polyps that like to feed on fish fry, Hydra can be very difficult to eliminate from your tank once an infestation begins. They can also irritate larger fish and are generally unwanted even if you do not have fry present.
  • planaria can be a nuisance and are an indicator of a dirty aquarium
    planaria can be a nuisance and are an indicator of a dirty aquarium

    Planaria – These creatures occur as a result of overfeeding or bad water management. Although not harmful to fish, though they may irritate the fish, they are unsightly and are a sign that the aquarium is not well cared for.

  • Floating Plants – If left to grow unchecked, floating plants can become a nuisance and need to be trimmed down to size.

How aquarium pests get introduced to your aquarium

The one major difference between your fish tank and a garden is the fact that your aquarium, at least in theory, is a closed ecosystem. You may be asking yourself how aquarium pests occur in such an environment: Most commonly, they are introduced as eggs, larvae or pupae on rocks, driftwood, and other aquarium decorations that have not been thoroughly cleaned.

The most effective way to prevent most of these pests from invading your aquarium is to carefully clean anything that you introduce to your aquarium. Snail eggs can ride in on live plants, or even with newly bought fish in some circumstances, which makes absolute prevention impossible. Pest control is occasionally still necessary, however. Another sure way is to absolutely avoid adding new objects, plants and fish to the aquarium.

What to do about aquarium pests in your tank

By far the most common pest is unwanted algae, which is relatively simple to control. New aquariums are particularly vulnerable to brown algae, which will usually go away on its own after the aquarium becomes properly established. Regular water changes and a strictly controlled lighting set up will discourage algae from growing, as will the introduction of plants to your tank.

Algae grows as a response to certain wavelengths of light. If your lights are old the wavelength changes, which may encouraging algae growth. If you continue to have problems despite using the correct lighting, it is a sign that your water is saturated with nutrients. A protein skimmer can help remove the organic waste that algae feeds on. A reverse osmosis water filtration system can remove nutrients before they enter the aquarium. Another option for immediate control is blocking out all light entering your aquarium for a few days.

Snails can be controlled by a variety of means. You can crush the shells yourself and let the fish eat their remains. Or add a snail-eating loach to your tank. You can also buy assassin snails which will hunt down and eat your snails reducing the number of snails. Another way to reduce the snail population is by adding copper to your water, which is a toxic substance for most aquatic invertebrates. Small copper coins can work, although they must be cleaned before introduction to the tank.

When it comes to hydra, the problem can get a bit more complicated. Chemical solutions exist, but can be harmful for live plants, fish and the beneficial bacteria in your filter. A better way to control these creatures is through the introduction of hydra-eating fish like three-spot blue gouramies. If that is not an option, you will have to cook them.

hydra catching daphnia. hydra is a threat to fry
hydra catching daphnia. hydra is a threat to fry

Hydra will die at a temperature greater than 40°C, which is less than what would kill your beneficial bacteria, so if you temporarily remove your fish and raise the heat to this temperature for a few hours, your tank will be free of these aquarium pests. You can then turn the heat back down, vacuum your gravel and perform a 50% water change to clear the tank. Once the water temperature is back to normal, you can re-introduce your fish safely.

Planaria are often much more difficult to contain. They will generally have to be physically removed or starved through decreased feeding. These worms can regenerate when physically damaged, making them particularly problematic in large numbers. Many aquarists find that chemical solutions are the only effective solution when dealing with a planaria infestation. However, some gouramis, guppies betta, mollies and kribensis sometimes eat them.

Controlling your plants’ growth

When it comes to controlling the growth of plants in your tank, you will need to take a more careful approach since these are organisms you want in your tank, but at levels and sizes that your aquarium can support. Plants can be particularly troublesome since an improperly trimmed stem will simply grow back, often bigger than before.

The key to proper plant control is to use specialized aquascaping tools to trim your plants. Aquascaping scissors allow you to use the correct technique when trimming your plants: cut stems should be sliced at a diagonal angle that prevents the plant from simply regenerating the stem. This is very difficult to do with regular scissors, but very easy with a pair designed specifically for aquascaping.

Fish parasites and diseases

Many of the more common aquarium pests take the form of fish parasites that infect your fish and make them sick. These can seriously affect the health of your fish and often need to be addressed using a separate quarantine tank in order to separate the infected fish from the rest of your tank. Common fish parasites include:

  • Ick(ich) – This is a very common problem for fish that are stressed as a result of rapid changes in water quality or temperature. Ick infections make your fish look like it has tiny white grains of sand covering its body. Commercial cures are available in tablet form or liquid form. However, they don’t always work because some strains of ick have become immune. Raising the temperature for a week and dosing the tank with salt usually works.
  • Gill Flukes – These tiny flatworms infect the gills of your fish, and can be identified with symptoms similar to ick but with erratic movement and eye spots on the scales. Flukes cannot be seen with the naked eye. Often encouraged by poor water quality or overcrowded tanks, gill flukes must be treated immediately with anti-parasitic aquarium tablets.
  • Water Lice – If your fish seem to have pale, tiny eight-legged crabs on their bodies, you are looking at fish lice. These aquarium pests need to be physically removed from the fish and the wound treated with an antiseptic such as iodine. Another common solution is bathing freshwater fish in a salt bath of 35 ppt seawater for 5 minutes every day until the parasite falls off.
  • Gill Mites – These microscopic creatures can be identified if your fish is gasping at the water’s surface and has partially opened gill covers showing inflammation or infection. They must be treated with anti-parasitic treatments in tablet form, with water changes in between each treatment.

Hopefully, you will never have to deal with any of these aquarium pests or fish parasites. But, you should always be prepared to put a plan into action as soon as any of these pests are first spotted, before they cause problems to your plants or fish.

Once a problem has been cured, that is not the end of the matter. It is vital that you correct the conditions that caused the problem in the first place. Overfeeding, poor water quality, lighting problems, overcrowding are conditions that must be recognised and corrected so that the problems do not re-occur.

 

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

While aquarists far and wide agree that fishkeeping is a fascinating hobby and trade, it can easily become an expensive one as well. The staggering number of new products always being released is enough to make anyone believe that an aquarium is a major investment. However, if you keep things simple and aren’t afraid of a little bit of DIY work, you can enjoy an amazing fish tank without breaking the bank in the process.

There are two major elements to keeping a tropical tank on a budget: reducing your start-up costs and keeping your tank maintenance low-cost. Making the correct choices in both aspects will ensure that you end up saving significant sums of money in the long run.

Reducing start-up costs

The first opportunities to save money come when you begin collecting supplies to set up your fish tank. Depending on what products you buy and the sources from which you buy them, you can end up earning yourself substantial savings, or spending an unnecessary fortune.

Naturally, getting a smaller tank will decrease all of the associated costs that you will have to deal with afterwards. However, small tanks can be difficult to properly take care of, so you are encouraged to choose a small tank only if you feel like you have enough experience to make it a success, especially if you are on a budget.

Some of the best deals for aquarium equipment can be found through second-hand sources such as classifieds sections and fishkeeping forums. Buying second-hand equipment can vastly reduce your start-up costs, but must be done carefully. Everything has a shelf life, and you can expect to replace used equipment more frequently than you would if it was new.

Creatively sourcing your aquarium supplies can help you save in many ways. For example, you could forego using expensive substrates like black Tahitian moon sand and instead opt for pool filter sand that, while not specifically made for aquarium use, is cheap, clean, and natural enough to use on a budget without risking the health of your fish or affecting your filtration.

Sometimes people will give away a leaky aquarium that is otherwise sound. Such an aquarium can be repaired for just the price of a tube of silicone and a bottle of nail varnish remover. Use a blade to remove the old silicone from the inside of the aquarium. Thoroughly clean the joints. Then spread a thin bead of silicone and reseal the tank. Use a finger along the seam to smooth the silicone and voila a new tank. You can also re-seal any tank that springs a leak.

Another great way to save money on your start-up costs is by making your aquarium setup a DIY project. Many common aquarium appliances can be made using various household and workshop items:

  • Sponge Filters – If you buy a simple power head and a brick of filter sponge, you can use a plastic tube to connect the inlet of a power head with the other end of the tube inserted into the sponge. Point the outlet towards the surface of the water and you have a surprisingly good filter at a fraction of the cost.
  • Sumps and refugiums – Ambitious DIY aquarists can build their own sump with relative ease. If you have spare tank handy and don’t mind doing a small bit of plumbing work, you can enjoy the benefits of a sump without having to pay for one! This is a great option for tanks that are damaged or scratched.
  • Aquarium stands – You can use a solid piece of furniture to place your aquarium on. A table of exactly the right size can be purchased and used. These can be bought second hand and used. Make sure that they are sturdy and level and support the whole of the aquarium base. If needs be place a solid sheet of wood on the base to support the aquarium.
  • home made aquarium lid
    home made aquarium lid

    Aquarium lids – This is an ideal DIY project. If you have some DIY ability this is an ideal first project that will not be costly if you make a mistake. Materials can be bought from your local DIY store. You can also improve your design over time.

Collecting your aquascape decorations locally is another way to save some cash on your setup. Why pay for exotic Amazon driftwood to be delivered to your door if you have a river or a forest nearby? With a little bit of time, some careful selection, and a thorough cleaning and soaking, you can get your entire tank’s decoration done for free. Rocks and stones can be collected in the same way.

Making choices that save money over time

There are lots of ways that you can enjoy tropical fishkeeping on a budget, and a great deal of them rely on reducing the long-term costs of keeping a tank. Putting any of these cost-saving measures into practice with your tropical fish tank will ensure that you keep your expenses low.

  • Make your tank plantless—Live plants are wonderful additions to tropical tanks, but they need lots of light and those lights need lots of energy to run. If you want to save money in the long run, you might want to leave the plants behind.

Plantless aquarium here

  • Use low-maintenance, low light plant varieties and keep them nourished with inexpensive LED lights whenever possible. Incandescent and halide lamps can get costly over time. Buy a few easy varieties that grow fast.
  • Do your own repairs. Most filters have repair kits that are used to replace parts that wear out. The kits are a fraction of the price of a new filter.
  • Condition your water slowly—If you want to avoid conditioning your local tap water with expensive chemical products, let the chlorine naturally evaporate before using it in your tank. You can even try collecting rainwater if your tap water is too hard.
  • Grow your own live food—Fish food is a constant cost that continually adds up over time. If you choose instead to invest some energy in cultivating brine shrimp or daphnia or digging worms from the garden, you can enjoy an effectively unlimited supply of high quality live fish food.

Live food rearing here

  • Make your own dried fish food – There are many fish food recipes based on prawns, spirulina or spinach, flour, eggs, fish and other ingredients mixed in with multivitamins. The recipe is blended together then baked on a low heat to dry. The result can be broken into small pieces and frozen.
  • Insulate your aquarium – Heat loss can result in additional energy costs and make your heater work harder, wearing it down faster in the process. Insulating your aquarium to minimize heat loss will save you money over time—even if it is only partial insulation.
  • Set up a low maintenance Walsted aquarium.
  • Set up a temperate aquarium without a heater.
  • Stock your aquarium by breeding your own fish. To obtain different species just advertise and swap your excess brood. It may take some time, but you will obtain the variety of fish that you want for just the price of the initial adults.
  • Buy young fish and grow them to the size you want. Adults are more expensive to buy and won’t adapt to your aquarium as well as young fish.

Common cost-saving mistakes

Some beginning aquarists, in an attempt to save cut corners and save money, make a number of grave mistakes that can end up costing them the entire aquarium if left unchecked. A few examples of these are listed below:

  • Buying cheap low quality equipment such as heaters, filters and lighting is a bad mistake. A heater that fails can chill your fish or even get stuck and cook them! A filter that fails will pollute your water.
  • Using sunlight to light your aquarium—A tropical aquarium needs both heat and light, so placing your aquarium in direct sunlight seems like the perfect cost-saving solution right? Not quite! Rather than killing two birds with one stone, this will probably kill your aquarium population by causing an uncontrollable algae bloom.
  • If you don’t buy a heater, tropical fish will slowly die of cold at night or in winter.
  • Insufficient Filtration – Yes, larger filters tend to cost more, but it is always better to err on the safe side and go for a larger filter than to find yourself suffering from insufficient filtration.
  • Not testing the water—Water testing kits are not the kind of product that you want to skip out on in order to save some cash, even if you are an experienced aquarist. Be sure you know your water’s ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels, as well as its hardness and pH before you start adding fish.
  • Do not try to repair a tank with a cracked glass. Finding and fitting a new pane of glass is as difficult and costly as buying a new or second aquarium.
  • Buying cheap fish that are unhealthy. By all means shop around and see if someone is giving away fish or selling at a low price. But always make sure that the fish you are buying are healthy and the other seller’s fish are also healthy. Sick fish don’t just die they also pass illnesses to your other fish.

If you avoid these three common pitfalls and follow the guidelines set out above, you should be able to enjoy significant savings on your tropical fish tank. If you get lucky enough to find good deals on your tank’s necessities, you can end up with a beautiful aquarium at a fraction of the price it looks like it cost!

The plantless aquarium

Upright driftwood and stones on gravel base

How to approach plantless aquarium design successfully

Upright driftwood and stones on gravel base
Upright driftwood and stones on gravel base

Plantless aquarium design can be very enticing both for beginning aquarists and for more experienced ones, but making your plantless aquarium a success depends on a number of key factors that need to be kept in mind during your aquarium set up and thereafter as well. Plantless aquariums are often considered barren-looking by hobbyists in the aquarium trade, but with the right aquascaping approach they can offer their owners a uniquely serene, zen-like sense of beauty.

There are two essential prerequisites to successful plantless aquarium design: handling the technical aspects of healthy water conditions and filtration without the plants’ help, and designing your aquarium with an eye for sublime beauty in such a way that you do not feel the need to hide your aquascape behind plants.This requires maximising the artful use of other aquarium materials. The first order of business is making sure that your technical needs are taken care of.

Step one: compensating for a plantless tank with filters and algae control

The first two issues that you should consider with plantless aquarium design are the important role that plants play in the nitrogen cycle and in algae control. Fortunately, both of these issues can be resolved reasonably well through careful planning. Plants can make some aspects of your aquarium easier to take care of, but in the long run you can enjoy a successful tank without them as well.

entangled driftwood on gravel base
entangled driftwood on gravel base

When it comes to filtration, you want to maximize the ability for beneficial bacteria to grow in your tank since you will not have the benefit of ammonia-absorbing plants to rely on. This could mean increasing the size of your filter, using a rocky gravel substrate, or both. Gravel will provide additional surface area for the necessary bacteria to grow, which can help out immensely.

Gravel must be more carefully chosen to add visual interest. There are various grain sizes of gravel to consider and many colours to choose from. The texturing effect and colour of the gravel compared to the rocks and the fish should provide a stunning contrast.

Sand is also a worthwhile substrate to consider, although maintenance and cleaning is generally easier with gravel. Most fish tend to prefer sand as a more natural substrate and some require it in order to begin breeding and spawning. In either case, your substrate should be rather thin, since you do not have to worry about giving anchor to any plant roots.

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

Also, without the delicate needs of plants to worry about, you can set up your filter for more water flow. This can help ensure that the tank water does get thoroughly filtered without the need for plants, and will help with algae control as well.

Dealing with algae in a plantless tank

Despite all the time you spend on making your plantless aquarium design look great, if you leave your tank near a sunny window for a week you can expect a full-blown algae bloom to occur. In order to protect your tank from algae, you will need to maintain a consistent algae cleaning and light reduction program. Using a UV sterilizer may help here.

Prevent algae here

Even without a UV sterilizer, frequent water changes and careful monitoring of your water’s nutrient levels will be important to avoid encouraging algae growth. You can also invest in algae controlling chemicals, but these should be considered a last resort, as they may affect the fish and may not be necessary in the long term, unless your algae situation really gets out of hand.

large stones on sand make a simple but pleasant design
large stones on sand make a simple but pleasant design

Paying attention to your lighting when planning your plantless aquarium design is important for this reason. Without plants, you have no need for specialized halide lights and indeed this kind of lighting will encourage algae blooms to occur regularly, putting your fish in danger and turning your beautifully serene tank into an unsightly green cesspool. If you notice algae getting out of hand, you can always “black-out” the aquarium for a few days. Then resume lighting at reduced levels and duration.

Low maintenance floating plants

If you wish to forgo the purist approach then the use of floating plants may represent a great way to get the benefits of plants without actually planting anything. Some aquarists may consider this cheating, and no longer call the aquarium a strictly plantless one, but the decision is yours. Considering the advantages and disadvantages of each approach, if you feel satisfied with using floating plants then it is an acceptable and low maintenance way to enjoy your tank.

Step two: making your plantless aquarium design look great

Once your aquarium is functioning smoothly without plants, it is time to consider how you can set up the tank to stop it looking so stark and barren.

The key to aquascaping successfully, is in paying more attention to your tank’s hardscape- the rocks, driftwood, sand or gravel and any ornaments that you use to give your tank its own unique identity. Providing a rocky background can be a great way to bring character to an aquarium. Many aquarists use plants to hide the unattractive equipment of their aquascaping job. In a plantless aquarium this is not an option.

Using rocks as decor

steeped rocks can be an effective way to create height
steeped rocks can be an effective way to create height

Rocks can make an excellent foundation for a plantless aquarium design, and owners of Malawi biotopes have been using them for years to great effect. Most Malawi biotopes are plantless by design because rocks are an integral part of the Malawi lake ecosystem. When setting up your tank using rocks, you will want to use many different shapes and sizes of rock, to mimic a natural looking environment.

Malawi aquarists emphasise height in their use of rocks. Not just selecting tall pieces of rock but actually stacking rocks on top of each other to achieve height. However, care must be taken that such structures are safe. Falling or toppling rocks can crack the glass and even land on fish.

Often, a rock-based plantless aquarium design will feature a very large centrepiece of some kind. A particularly ancient-looking stone of great size can lend an air of gravity to the entire tank and give you that zen-like sense of the sublime that makes plantless aquariums so special. Multiple rock formations can also be very interesting, especially in carefully laid scenic patterns.

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

Rocks, stones and pebbles can be constructed upon sand to make a desert like aquascape reminiscent of a real life desert. Stones and pebbles can also be used to form cave structures, valleys and hill formations. The possibilities are endless.

Using rocks in your aquarium here

Making the most of driftwood

Driftwood is another incredibly popular element of plantless aquarium design. By layering choice branches of driftwood throughout your aquarium, you can achieve a natural beauty that reminds you of the jungle without needing any distracting greenery getting in the way. Amazon biotopes will frequently use driftwood and sometimes are plantless.

The key with layering your driftwood successfully is in finding suitably gnarled pieces of it. Straight driftwood can be used to great effect sometimes, but is better to used gnarled old branches that curve and twist. They can be used throughout the tank in an inspiring way. Rather than going for a centrepiece like you would with rocks, often the best approach for driftwood is to distribute your pieces naturally throughout the tank in order to mimic nature.

Other decorative items

Of course, there is no need to feel like you are limited to choosing between driftwood and rocks. These are just two of the most popular decorative items commonly used to great effect in world-class plantless aquariums. For your own plantless aquarium design, your imagination is the limit. Some aquarists enjoy putting model miniatures in their tanks, and others decorate theirs with hand-blown glass.

If you have an interesting, out-of-the-box idea for your plantless aquarium, you are encouraged to explore that idea. Many beautiful aquaria have been created around this concept: take that idea, put it in a box, fill the box with water and fish and enjoy your own unique plantless aquarium design. Examples being say stonehenge, the parthenon, the pyramids or Atlantis.

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

male apistogramma agassizi

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

apistogramma cacatouides - double red
apistogramma cacatouides – double red

Often, aquarists are quick to dismiss cichlids as being too aggressive and territorial for their tanks that dig up the gravel and plants. However, if the aquarist instead explores the possibilities offered by dwarf cichlids, he will be amply rewarded. Dwarf cichlids, although closely related to their larger cousins, are much easier to care for and are far less aggressive to tankmates and each other than their larger counterparts.

Dwarf cichlid still have the parental instincts of their species, but are much easier to care for, especially in a large tank. If you are looking for a fascinating species of fish to keep, it is worthwhile to consider the benefits and fascinating behaviour that dwarf cichlids can offer.

The advantage of dwarf cichlids, compared to other cichlids, is that you can keep and breed dwarf cichlids in a smaller tank. Also, if you do have a larger aquarium, you get to observe the natural behaviour of a colony of cichlids or even a breeding colony.
 
See also breeding apistos here

Choosing the correct species

The blue ram is a beautiful if difficult fish
The blue ram is a beautiful if difficult fish

There are two major families of Dwarf Cichlids, categorized by their places of origin: South American dwarf cichlids and African dwarf cichlids. These two broad groups of species have different water requirements. So it is best to go for one group or the other. The Africans are better community fish. The South American species might be better suited to a species tank. Once you have made your choice, you can go on to choose particular species.
Apistogramma is the name for a genus of South American fish containing many dwarf species and is a great choice.

Kribensis, from West Africa, is a good beginners fish and quite popular among aquarists but maybe more suited to a community aquarium.

See Kribensis here

Blue Rams are another very popular species of dwarf cichlid from South America. They are as beautiful as they are friendly but can be difficult to keep and to breed. Bolivian rams, a close relative, are more hardy but not as beautiful.

Nanochromus Parilus, another African dwarf cichlid, is a beautiful and hardy species.
Dicrossus Filamentosus, a South American fish commonly known as the “Checkerboard cichlid” for its distinctive scale patterning, makes a great addition to tanks with acidic water.
Laetecara Curviceps, another South American species, is a timid and peaceful species that appreciates planted tanks.

My recommendation is that you concentrate on apistogramma.

Planning your dwarf cichlid aquarium

male and female cacatuoides having a confrontation
male and female cacatuoides having a confrontation

The first consideration for your dwarf cichlids will be getting the right water quality for them to thrive in. South American dwarf cichlids require reasonably acid water that is quite soft and relatively free from minerals. This means that reverse osmosis filtering is most likely necessary, unless your region’s tap water is particularly soft. The use of peat to slightly darken your water is also highly recommended.

The size of these fish allow aquarists to successfully keep them in nano tanks. A trio of dwarf cichlids will happily inhabit a 56-litre tank, for example. If you have a large tank of say more than 200 litres at your disposal then you can keep multiple species in the same tank. You can then observe some natural and interesting behaviours and interactions in the dwarf cichlid aquarium such as females herding their broods and competing for male attention within their respective territories.

In a large tank such as this, it is recommended that you keep only a few males and a higher number of females. Each of the males will carve out a large territory, and the females will keep a smaller territory within those of the males’ territory. With a suitably large and correctly aquascaped tank, fascinating mating behaviour can be observed and breeding can occur.

male and female cacatuoides having a confrontation
apistogramma female guarding some fry

If you plan on breeding your dwarf cichlids, you will need to plan your breeding and spawning spaces carefully. Clay pots or rocky cave structures that are just large enough for the female to enter are ideal. Females will breed inside of these hideouts. Each female should also have adequate space within their respective territories: even good-natured dwarf cichlids can get protective of their fry.

Considering live plants

Your aquarium will benefit from the addition of plants. Most species of dwarf cichlid need plants in order to thrive. Your choice between African and South American species will influence the types of plants that you choose, since then pH level of your tank will need to accommodate the fish:

South American dwarf cichlids prefer lower pH levels, and will do best with Java moss, Java ferns, Amazon swords, Vallisneria, or Rotella.
African dwarf cichlids require higher pH levels. This would suggest plant choices such as Java ferns, Vallisneria, and Anubias.

Your dwarf cichlids will use plants as an important part of their lives, particularly if certain specimens become markers of territory between individual fish. If you are worried about the plants’ safety, dwarf cichlids do not uproot plants the way larger cichlids do, so you can rest assured that your plants and fish will thrive healthily together.

Aquascaping with rocks and driftwood

rams with some dither fish
rams with some dither fish

Dwarf cichlids are very sensitive to their surroundings. They will behave more naturally in aquascapes that resemble their natural habitat. For African species, this means that rocks will be a necessity that cannot be overlooked. South American species will need tastefully arranged driftwood, caves and some flat stones to interact with.

Since cichlids are territorial, individuals and pairs of fish are likely to use these aquascaping elements as markers that define their personal space and breeding grounds. South American species will generally find a shaded cave structure as a spawning site. It is important to use your driftwood to create some shadows in a convenient area of the tank. Also use the wood to block the line of sight between cave entrances. Dwarf cichlids will also seek out cave formations to hide in, so it’s helpful to provide some.

You can often help your dwarf cichlids establish acceptable territories by arranging your aquascape in such a way as to make certain zones purposefully theirs. If you know that your cichlid is a cave-dwelling variety, for instance, then keeping multiple small cave formations all over the aquarium will allow them to defend defined territories.

Feeding and care of dwarf cichlids

Most of the species should be fed on a variety of live food. Some of the hardier species may take to dried foods but still include live foods in the diet. Also frequent water changes are compulsory to keep the fish happy, at their best and breeding. Some of the species’ eggs and fry are susceptible to illness if the water is not pristine.

Dwarf cichlid behaviour

male apistogramma agassizi
male apistogramma are very territorial with other males

Keeping dwarf cichlids such as the popular Apistogramma species can be highly rewarding in a large, well-planned tank. The right combinations of dwarf cichlids will encourage one another towards constructive social behaviour and provide you with a tank that is as fascinating as it is beautiful.

One of the best ways to encourage dwarf cichlids to be more active and social is through the use of dither fish: active and energetic fish such as small rasboras that swim throughout the tank will encourage the dwarf cichlids to come out of hiding. The presence of dither fish can help reassure dwarf cichlids that there are no large predators about and increase peaceful tank sociability. They also give the young mothers something to defend the brood against.

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.

 

Raising the fry

kribensis mother guarding newly free swimming fry

Raising the fry – hints and tips to grow many healthy fish

kribensis mother guarding newly free swimming fry
kribensis mother guarding newly free swimming fry

If you have successfully gotten your fish to breed and now have a large batch of eggs or even a population of tiny fry living in your tank, it could be time to brush up your fry-parenting skills. You may need to adjust your approach depending on the exact nature of your specific species of fish, but the basics of caring for fry are largely universal in nature.

See also breeding egg layers

and breeding livebearers

Newborn fry are very small and delicate creatures, and you will have to concern yourself with their health and safety if you want to see them grow into healthy adult fish. There are a few basic requirements needed for just about any species of fry to successfully grow:

Clean water-Your fry might need you to perform water changes much more frequently than you are used to. They are much more sensitive to changes in water conditions than their parents are. Small frequent water changes are best. The fry also grow faster when in clean water. Betta fry are notoriously slow growers when less water changes take place.

. Filtration- Your spawning tank should have a high quality sponge filter or two. Don’t be afraid to have several sponge filters in the same tank. Sponge filters usually have microscopic life attached to them that are growing on the filtered waste matter. Fry will pick off and eat these micro organisms adding to their diet. The slow flow rates from the sponge filters are much safer for fry than faster powered filters.

Separate tanks-Fry are a quick snack to most fish. Even some cichlids that protect their young on occasion will eat their own fry. You will need to keep your fry safe in a separate tank or you will have to remove all adult fish from the breeding tank. Have several containers ready for when the fry grow. Also, some fry will grow faster than others, and the larger ones may eat the smaller ones.

free swimming killifish fry hover near the water's surface
free swimming killifish fry hover near the water’s surface

• Closely covered tanks-Some species where the fry live at the surface of the water or breathe in oxygen from the surface such as anabantids are harmed by draughts. A tightly fitting lid will prevent cold draughts from harming these fry.

• Microscopic and tiny live food-Fry usually need to eat live food. The main choices are explored below. Determining the right food for your fry is critical.

• Anti-fungal and anti-bacterial chemicals—Fungal and bacterial infections can destroy good batches of eggs and fry. Methylene Blue and Malachite Green are two good options that can help protect your spawn and fry from sickness and infection. Add as soon as the eggs are laid in not too heavy doses. Perhaps half normal dosage is good. Malachite is copper based so care has to be taken with copper sensitive species. Methylene blue will harm live plants.

What to feed your fry

You are limited to a select few choices for feeding fry. These include infusoria, baby brineshrimp and microworms, which are the most common choices. Generally, the best option is to raise your own live food when possible. Most species’ fry will only eat live food.

These foods need to be ready before your fry become free swimming and start eating. They also need to be staggered. You will need to have a fresh batch started on a daily basis.

Each option represents certain advantages and disadvantages, especially for certain species. For instance, Anabantid fry will be too small to eat baby brine shrimp, requiring you to feed them the tiniest possible food: infusoria. Other species, such as Angelfish, can often be started on larger food sources such as baby brineshrimp and infusoria. But sometimes large species create tiny fry. Also as the fry grow, some will grow faster than others. Some of the fry will only be able to eat infusoria while the larger fry will need baby brineshrimp

Since infusoria are the smallest possible fry food, it may seem reasonable to simply start there and then move on to other foods when the fry have grown large enough. While it is a reasonable plan, infusoria do come with a drawback: being microscopic, you cannot really be sure that your fry are eating. Only after the fry have finished feeding will you be able to see the fry bellies fill up and colour up from eating infusoria all day.

Baby brine shrimp represents one of the best choices for feeding those species of fry large enough to eat them. They are easy to raise and offer the most complete nutrition for your baby fry. These tiny shrimp will live for up to five days in freshwater, giving your fry enough time to catch and eat them while they grow. The great advantage of baby brine shrimp is that they do not add infections to the aquarium.

Frequent feeding will help your fry grow more quickly; some aquarists suggest small meals 3-6 times per day. Fry tend to have shorter intestinal tracts than their adult counterparts and so are more carnivorous as well. They don’t eat algae but do eat the creatures that eat the algae. If you find yourself in a pinch and need to feed your fry quickly without having access to brine shrimp or infusoria, you can use hard boiled egg yolk. Squeeze through a cloth into the aquarium to create a cloud of fine particles. The biggest drawback is that egg yolk quickly rots and pollutes the aquarium. You must siphon off carefully all uneaten egg particles.

Culling your fry for a healthy brood

One of the critical steps of raising a successful batch of fry is culling the weak and deformed fry early on. Unless you have an exceptionally large aquarium for all of the fry to grow in, you will need to cull the brood. Culling consists of removing all but the strongest individuals from the tank in order to maximize their chances of success at the expense of their weaker brethren. If you don’t cull then overcrowding will do the culling for you, with perhaps all the fry dying through lack of space.

Very few aquarists are equipped to deal with the hundreds of new fish that an average spawn can produce, and indeed most natural habitats cannot support such large populations either. As a result, culling takes place, either by your hand or by the nature’s hand leaving only the strongest members of the brood alive.

Generally, you want to perform your first culling as soon as the fish become free swimming in order to remove any deformed fish that obviously have no chance of survival and leave as much space and food as possible to the stronger ones. Later on, as certain individuals do well and other ones begin trailing behind, you will need to continue culling. Any fry that have not developed all their fins properly, have deformed spines, are not completely symmetrical, have swim bladder problems and are stuck to the bottom or float must be culled.

The most natural way to cull fry is to feed them to other fish. This is exactly what would happen in the wild and is the reason most fish produce hundreds of offspring in the first place. Some aquarists prefer freezing or other humane methods of culling, but the result is the same—just don’t flush them down the toilet.

Life stages: caring for your fry through to adulthood

Many fry will go through specific life stages on their way to adulthood. In the case of Malawi cichlids, for example, you will find that fry are first born with rather large yolk sac attached to the body. These types of fish will spend about 21 days or more, living off of the yolk sac while inside the mother’s mouth.

Malawi cichlids are mouthbrooders whose fry will generally be large enough to begin eating dried food as well as live food after birth. Livebearers are about as large as Malawi fry and the same goes for them. The dried food may need to be ground into a powder first however. Most other species need live food: Tetras, for example, are egg scatterers whose fry will slowly consume their own yolk before becoming free-swimming fry, at which point you can begin to feed them baby brine shrimp for the larger species but usually infusoria if they are too small.

5 week old kribensis fry
5 week old kribensis fry

For most species it will take at least 1 month before the fry actually look like miniature versions of the adult. And it takes even longer before they take on adult colours. In many species the male and female young will look like the adult female until quite late into development. At this stage the fry are reasonably hardy and can be cared for like the adults.

After some time, you should notice your fry getting significantly larger and livelier, and it may soon become time to introduce them to a new tank. A common indicator that your fry are ready to move to a new tank can be seen in their colouring. Fish that already exhibit their adult coloration and have begun behaving more socially can often be safely moved to a community tank. To be on the safe side make sure that the juveniles are bigger than the biggest mouth of the fish in the community tank, including the catfish. Remember the rule no matter what fish you have; if a fish can fit in the mouth of another fish, sooner or later it will be eaten.

How and where to buy fish

buying new fish from an aquarium can be a fascinating experience

How and where to buy fish

buying new fish from an aquarium can be a fascinating experience
buying fish from an aquatic store is a fascinating experience

When it comes to stocking your aquarium with colourful and fascinating fish, there are lots of options available to the enterprising aquarist. It should be clear, however, that some options are better than others. Experienced fish keeping enthusiasts learn where the best sources of buying fish are.

Buying fish may seem like a simple task to the novice aquarist, but selecting and purchasing healthy fish and the right fish is a sophisticated process. It is recommended that you research the species you are interested in, and perhaps select two or three alternative options just in case your first choice is not available. Be sure you know whether your desired fish is hardy or delicate species, and make sure that the fish have been well taken care of before buying and bringing them home.

See also beginners starter fish groups

and common beginner mistakes

and starting a beginners fish tank

Your research should bear fruit in terms of finding great deals on quality fish you want to keep. Choosing your sources carefully can make all of the difference when it comes to ensuring the future health of your fish. In general, aquarists can purchase fish from one or more of the following sources:

Top 8 sources for new fish

fancy species of betta are only obtainable from private breeders
fancy species are only obtainable from private breeders

• Local breeders This is a great option if you have discovered a professional breeder in your area. Often, these breeders are highly specialized and can offer rare or exotic fish that you can not find anywhere else. These breeders may even have access to wild sourced imported fish.

Local hobbyists Hobbyists occasionally have surplus fish for sale, and this can eliminate the risks associated with shipping fish. He may even have some knowledge and advice to give about the fish he is selling to you, since the hobbyist has experience raising them.

• Online mail order delivery The Internet can provide some very attractive deals on hard to find fish. But there are some important considerations to keep in mind. Delivery charges and the company’s dead-on-arrival and returns policies. Make sure that you do not get stuck paying for a dead fish, especially if it is an expensive specimen. They may require you to take photographs of the dead fish in the closed plastic bag within 24 hours for a refund. This can be expensive because of the delivery charges. This can be offset by buying several fish at once.

• Out of town aquarium shops Purchasing fish from an out of town store can be a good idea, although it is recommended that you get a recommendation before jumping in the car and driving for hours. Usually the quality of the fish and information from staff is of a high standard. Ring the store up before you go and enquire about what is in stock.

Pet shops Pet shops only feature common, popular species of common tropical fish. For a beginner aquarist this may be ideal. However, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the pet shop’s aquariums and the health of the fish. Not all of these stores have the same standards or care for the fish they are selling.

Local aquarium shops Being more specifically focused on the aquarium trade and industry, aquarium shops frequently offer better options for their customers. Again, certain stores will have higher standards of quality then others, so make sure to pay attention to their conditions. But most are of a good standard. Being local you can pop back in for a browse and a chat. If the store is a good one then it is worthwhile building a relationship with the staff and owner.

Large chain department stores Generally, these stores are not a recommended source of fish for your aquarium. For them, the aquarium department is just one small part of a corporate culture that places little value on providing quality specimens for enthusiasts.

internet classified adverts is a good source for fish
internet classified adverting is a good source for fish

• Local classifieds Your local classifieds can make an interesting browse if you are looking for bargains or unwanted fish. But if you are looking for a specific species, your chances are low of finding it. If you find a fish for sale that you didn’t think of then do your research before you buy a fish on impulse.

With all of these options, one of the most important factors in your fish purchase is the level of expertise of the seller. A quality online mail order delivery company, for instance, will know that shipping tropical fish in winter is dangerous and likely to result in dead fish. Consequently, they will only offer coldwater fish that they can be sure will not die in-transit during the cold winter months. More recently, though, they have developed heat packs which help keep the fish warm in transit. But there are extra costs for this option.

On the other hand, you could find good, healthy fish at a large chain department store if you are lucky enough to meet a staff member with real experience keeping an aquarium. It is rare, but an individual with expertise will be able to help you find what you are looking for.

Research, pick up the phone and exercising caution in who you choose to deal with is the best way to make the right purchase.

Choosing the right fish to buy

Once you have found a source for your fish, or even two or three that you are considering purchasing from, you need to make sure that your fish can arrive in your tank safely and lead happy lives. This requires some diligence on your part, as you will need to look for fish that are compatible both with each other and with the environment of your aquarium.

When you are looking for new fish to buy, it is important to select healthy fish that have been established in their environment for at least a week before moving again. If you are buying in person, you can ask the seller to give you a specific fish: choose the ones that are brightly coloured, active, have a healthy appetite, with no obvious swelling, discoloration, patches, growths or injuries. Avoid fish with clamped fins that hide or stay at the bottom or top of the tank.

It is also important to look at your fish’s tank and tank mates when buying. If your fish is the only healthy specimen in a dirty tank full of lethargic, diseased, or dying fish, it will only be a matter of time before your fish goes the same way.

If you are purchasing your fish online or in any other situation in which you will not get a chance to personally inspect the fish before purchase, you should ask, at least, for photographs of the individual fish. This can help prevent unwanted surprises when the fish arrives at your door.

Preparing your aquarium for new fish

Transport, whether through the mail or in the safe hands of an experienced aquarist, is always stressful for fish. Your aquarium should be cycled and ready for the introduction of new fish. This means not only having adequate water conditions that are, hopefully, as close as possible to what the fish was used to in his previous home, but also being ready for the increased biological load.

In other words, you should be thinking in the long-term for your fish. Can your aquarium take the addition of another fish without affecting its other residents? Will this fish grow in size, and if it does, will you still be able to maintain it there? A knowledgeable seller can often help with these questions, but you are highly encouraged to do your own independent research.

Another important thing to keep in mind is the level of compatibility between your current fish and the new addition. Males may end up fighting each other, and certain species may exhibit aggressive behaviour if certain conditions are not met, especially when it comes to the presence of female fish in the same habitat.

After all this, it is also a good idea to ask what your new fish has been fed on. In many cases, you can help your new fish adjust to the shock of moving. To get the fish eating as soon as possible by providing the same food, at least initially.

It is always a good idea to keep on eye on the new fish closely for the first few days, until you see the fish settled.

Review of koi fish for beginners

beautiful koi pond
kohaku champion koi
kohaku champion koi

The recent eBook on koi fish released by Adam Short is nothing short of amazing. It delivers everything a beginner needs to select, buy and maintain these fascinating fish. This “must have” eBook is comprehensive, accurate and written in easy to understand language.
The eBook starts with a short, fascinating history complete with images. From the early cultivation of koi breeds up to today’s newcomers, it is clear there is an ornamental koi suitable for even the most discerning tastes. Raising koi is an art and new varieties are always being developed. Even a beginner can learn how to breed them, and the adventurous may even develop their own unique variety. All the information is in this eBook – just bring your imagination.

Adam Short’s goal is to turn koi beginners into experts. This book succeeds. Adam Short gives you all his expert knowledge. You will gain expertise in the care, breeding, developing champions and learning the “koi” language by the time you have finished the book.

From nose to tail, the beginner also learns about the parts of the fish and their internal systems. Keeping premium koi in prime condition discourages pathogens, parasites and cuts costs. Readers learn the differences between goldfish and koi, how to choose the proper fish for a particular environment and a range of other considerations crucial for the beginner.

Koi Fish for Beginner also has an exhaustive section on koi fish varieties. You can scan through the vivid photos, learn about the basic and more developed varieties and start to envision which of these magnificent fish you want in your own pond.

beautiful koi pond
beautiful koi pond

This extraordinary eBook does not stop there. It also has step-by-step instructions for construction of a koi pond including design, filtration, landscaping and maintenance. As well, there is a comprehensive section on choosing and caring for your fish and what to avoid saving you time, money and disappointment. The bottom line is that this buying and construction guide makes it easy to set up a beautiful pond of koi set up in no time, and without the risk of losing your prized fish.

 

To top it all off, Adam Short offers three bonuses to those who are eager to delve more deeply. Koi Fish for Beginners has an in-depth section on breeding koi. From egg to fry and on to maturity, these images and step-by-step instructions can help you realize your dreams of raising your own fish instead of paying the pet store or breeder.

 

showa sanshoku champion koi
showa sanshoku champion koi

The second bonus provides insight into how to create a koi collection and what makes particular koi fish desirable. You will learn how to sell your koi to other enthusiasts and how to show your prized fish in competitions.

The glossary of Japanese words and pronunciation for Koi varieties is the final bonus and the crowning glory of this eBook. The sheer volumes of koi varieties make this glossary an absolute necessity for the beginner.

Nothing matches the scope and ease of this publication, plus you are privy to free updates and insider information when you take part in Adam Short’s koi community. Beginners interested in keeping koi and becoming experts will not find a better book on the market.