Saltwater fish food

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

Hungry saltwater fish eating

Feeding saltwater fish

Different fish have different diets

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

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

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

Saltwater fish love marine algae
Saltwater fish love marine algae

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

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

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

tropical marine fish feeding frenzy
tropical marine fish feeding frenzy

Various recommended saltwater fish foods

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

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

Other foods for saltwater fish foods

frozen mysis shrimp
frozen mysis shrimp

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

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

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

Make your own saltwater fish food

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

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

Growing Brine shrimp or other shrimp in a hatchery

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

 

 

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

aquarium-vacuum

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

List of recommended Saltwater fish for beginners.

Setting up a saltwater tank step by step guide.

The importance of live rock and live sand in maintaining a healthy saltwater aquarium.

Daily tasks in saltwater aquarium maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly tasks for saltwater aquarium maintenance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Common livebearer illnesses: how to recognise and treat them

pineapple male swordtail

Common livebearer illnesses

livebearers facts and info

How to maintain healthy livebearers

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

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

Here are some common sense tips:

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

Common illnesses that affect livebearers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fish coloration

various tropical fish colours

Coloration in fish

How do fish colours come about?

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

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

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

regal angelfish fish coloration
regal angelfish fish coloration

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

Why do fish have colour?

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

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

yellow box fish
yellow box fish from Maldives

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

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

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

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

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

Fish anatomy

fish anatomy

River fish are usually streamlined

Anatomy of fish

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

Mouth Anatomy of fish

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

Fish scales

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

Fins of fish

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

The single (unpaired) fins are:

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

The doubled fins

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

Swim Bladder

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

Fish Senses

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

Sense of taste in fish

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

Sense of smell in fish

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

Sense of hearing in fish

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

Sense of sight in fish

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

Sense of touch in fish

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

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

guppies and platies in a community tank

Feeding guppies, mollies, platies and other livebearers

Make your own fish food

Raising live food

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

Dried food forms a livebearers staple diet

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

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

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

Types of dried foods for livebearers

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

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

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

Feed live food to keep your livebearers healthy

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

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

Where can you obtain live food?

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

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

Vegetable items to feed livebearers

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

Variety in feeding keeps your livebearers healthy and breeding

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

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

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

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

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

    A marine water test kit

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

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

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

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

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

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

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

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

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

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

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

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

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

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

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

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

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

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

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

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

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

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

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

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

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

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

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

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

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

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

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fish adaptation in the wild

Nothobranchius rachovi. Killifish have adapted to extreme conditions.

Fish adaption in the wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adaptation to life in rivers

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

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

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

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

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

Adaptation to life in ponds

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

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle
The texture of good quality water is subtle

On a very basic level water is 99.98% H2O in a liquid that your fish swim, eat, breathe and excrete into. What about the other .02%? Is it important? Of course it is. It is these minute quantities of dissolved gases and dissolved solids that makes all the difference in whether the water is hospitable or poisonous to the fish. It is this 0.02% of dissolved substances that make sea water, river water and lake water different from each other. Note that seawater has a much higher level of dissolved salts of around 3.5%. It only takes minute quantities of the common gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide or insufficient oxygen to poison or drown fish. Likewise it only takes a small amount of pollution or the wrong type of chemical to be dissolved in the water to poison and kill fish. But when conditions are just right or within reason then your fish will thrive without much care from you.

Creating a generic biotope for your fish to live in

The most common elements of an aquarium biotope
The most common elements of a biotope

As a fish keeper is is your responsibility to recreate a reasonable biotope for your fish that is as close as possible to the fish’s natural environment as you can.

Water has dissolved gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia and chlorine. Some of these gases are poisonous while others are necessary for fish to breathe. Water also contains dissolved minerals that determine the general hardness of your water. Some fish thrive in very hard water with a high ph, while other fish prefer much softer water with a lower ph. Organic matter can also dissolve in the water, usually darkening the water and acidifying it.

A biotope should include a substrate, plants and a source of light with the temperature of the water kept within a suitable range for the plants and fish. The choice of subrate includes gravel, sand, and even soil. Soil is usually topped with gravel. Other less essential features you might want to include in your fish’s biotope could include rocks, roots and branches.

The Lake Malawi Biotope explained here

The Amazon Biotope explained here

Is tap water safe for fish?

Is tap water safe for fish
Is tap water safe for fish

Tap water direct from the tap is not suitable for use in an aquarium. The main problem is chorine which water companies put in the water to kill off any potential bacteria in the water. To remedy this you need to leave your tap water standing in a container for at least 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. This can be achieved by using buckets of water or water barrels to store the water.

Another danger to your fish is from dissolved copper which can come from copper pipes. Water that comes into contact with copper will slowly absorb the copper. This problem is worse for new copper pipes. But this can be remedied by running your tap water for a few minutes until uncontaminated water starts to come through. Copper is poisonous and even copper coins left in your aquarium will slowly dissolve and kill your fish.

If you are going to be serious about the quality of your fish’s water then you should buy a water test kit. A good test kit will test ph, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as well as general hardness.

If you are a new fish keeper who wants the best chance of keeping your fish healthy and alive then test your tap water before you buy any fish. When you know the ph and hardness of your water then you can buy fish that prefer the water from your tap. Adjusting your water to suit fish that like a different type of water is best left to the advanced aquarist who don’t mind the extra effort. Some fish when kept in the wrong type of water will simply die after a few weeks and certainly won’t thrive.

If you are a more experienced aquarist then you can start adjusting the ph and hardness of your tap water so that you can keep the more delicate species of fish. To soften your water you can buy a reverse osmosis device that will remove the minerals from your water. Such water is usually too soft and must be mixed with unfiltered tap water to achieve the correct level of hardness. You can also use rainwater collected from a safe source.

To adjust the ph of your water you can either use a muslin bag containing peat moss to acidify your water or you can use calcium carbonate sand to alkalinify it instead. In order to reach the correct ph level.

All these procedures are complicated and time consuming and even prone to error. Messing with your tap water usually means you will have to monitor changes in your water conditions to maintain it. To make this complicated process a little easier it is best to prepare large batches of water in say a 200 litre barrel all in one go and then draw off water as needed.

I recommend that you don’t bother with all this messing around and just buy fish that can do well in the water that comes from your tap. There is usually quite a variety of fish that will suit your water conditions but you may have to avoid a particular species of fish that you might be keen on.

What water conditions are best for fish?

Normally the ph used in most freshwater aquaria ranges between 6.0ph and 8.3 ph. However Lake Tanganyika fish like an even higher ph, even as high as 9.0ph. And they also like hard water. Ph nearly always varies together with hardness. High ph above 8.0 usually means very hard water, while low ph of 6.4 or less coincides with soft water. Some amazonian fish like water that is of a ph less than 6ph and have very soft water.

Most of the commonly available fish in your aquarium prefer an average ph around 7ph and a medium level of water hardness. Not only that but such species can also tolerate a wider variation away from this medium than other more exotic species. Tank bred fish that have been bred in aquaria for several generations are overall more adaptable to variations in aquarium conditions compared to their wild caught counterparts.

Most average species will live in a wide range of possible water condititions. However, when it comes to breeding the ph and hardness must more closely resemble the fish’s conditions in the wild. Only then will some fish be capable of breeding and their eggs hatching.
Water hardness

This is a measure of the amount of dissolved minerals in your fish’s water. The most common minerals are calcium, magnesium and sodium.

These dissolved minerals are also essential for the health of your fish and plants.
Most cyprinids, tetras, rasboras and similar river fish like soft water. Most livebearers, Malawi fish and Tangayikan fish prefer quite hard water.

Plants also show a similar type of preference for different levels of hardness depending on the plant species.

Iron for fish health

Plants require minute levels of dissolved iron for optimum health as do fish. Fish acquite iron from their diet while plants will absorb it directly from the water. Pure iron quickly rusts in water making it unusable for the plants and animals. Feeding fish iron rich fish food will not only provide iron for the fish but allow the fish to provide manure that is rich in iron for the plants use.

Dissolved oxygen in water that fish breathe

Dissolved oxygen is essential for fish to breathe. The main source of oxygen in an aquarium is through the surface of the water. So a large surface area of water is essential to allow sufficient oxygen to dissolve into the water to replace the amount of oxygen that the fish breathe in through their gills. Also excess carbon dioxide that the fish release into the water from their gills has to be released from the water through the surface of the water. Plants also give off oxygen when they are in bright light, but will release a small quantity of carbon dioxide at night.

It is best not to rely on the quantity of oxygen that plants produce during the day to supplement the amount from the surface because this source of oxygen stops at night. If you see your fish gasping for air very early morning this is a sign that there is not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the water in the night so you will have to reduce the number of fish in the aquarium. This can also be a sign you have too many plants.

Fish waste in water

One lethal cause of fish deaths is ammonia poisoning which burns the skin and gills of the fish while also displacing oxygen in the water. Ammonia comes from fish waste and from decaying fish food and other decaying organic matter. In a new aquarium there will be no ammonia but this will build up over the fish few weeks. If you are new to fish keeping you will see your fish as being fine for the first week and may not realised that the fish are slowly but surely poisoning themselves in their own waste matter.

To overcome this you need some way to remove the ammonia as it gets created. You will have to for the first 6 weeks have to do daily water changes, use a filter and make sure that you under stock your tank until it is mature. Also avoid any uneaten fish food being left in the tank that will quickly rot and cause an ammonia spike.

A filter is not just for removing particles from the water but also for providing a base for the growth of bacteria that digest ammonia converting it into nitrite which is also poisonous. Later on another set of bacteria develops that will digest the nitrite converting it into nitrate which is much less harmful. This process takes between 4-6 weeks from new. So partial water changes are needed daily until the filter matures.

This is better explained in cycling your aquarium

Plants take up nitrate but usually not enough so you will need to keep doing partial water changes, perhaps once a week. 10% of the water changed is a reasonable amount of water change.

During this filter maturation period you should test your water daily with a test kit and if the ammonia or nitrite reading becomes particularly high then you will have to do another partial water change to bring it down to acceptable levels.

How to buy livebearers

blue lace leopard skin guppy male

Where and how to buy livebearers

Here are the main sources of livebearers

Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish
Your local aquarium pet store is a good source of fish

You can of course go to one of the large pet chain stores where you will be able to buy some off the shelf guppies, platies or mollies and sometimes swordtails. However don’t expect any fancy variety or high pedigree fish. If you are a beginner just starting out then this is not a bad place to start out. You will however have to be more careful with the health of the fish you buy here because these are not cared for by experts in fish keeping but by shop staff who may not have experience in looking after fish at all.

There are smaller specialised aquarium shops that will carry a greater variety of livebearer and occasionally will stock the excess brood of a professional breeder. You might be able to pick up some near pedigree stock.

Aquarium clubs are a much better place to buy more specialised forms and rare species of livebearer. You will also be able to buy wild strains of newly imported fish that are not available anywhere else. The American livebearer association or the British livebearer association are the obvious clubs to join. Other local clubs are less likely to have livebearers that you might particularly want.

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

You can also browse aquarist magazines in the classified section to see if the livebearer you are after has come up for sale.

Before buying your fish, it is best to inspect it first. Be prepared by taking with you several plastic bags and a polystyrene carrier box to take your fish home comfortably without much heat loss. Before you set off to buy you must have your home aquarium all set up.

Now, with the spread of the internet you can also buy fish from an online source. There are several good options available to you. Ebay, craigslist, gumtree, and others have a good fish for sale section. Aquarist classifieds has several specialised fish for sale sections that are also sorted by area.

There are also online firms that do mail order tropical fish. They deliver tropical fish to your door overnight no matter where you live in the country. But sometimes when the weather is particularly cold they might not deliver. Another drawback to this is that you cannot inspect the fish before hand. Home delivery of fish relies on mutual trust from the buyer and seller. The advantages are that you can pick exactly the fish you want with you having a wide choice. Also you do not have to make wasted journeys looking for your fish. The cost of delivery can be reduced by buying several fish at the same time.

In the winter some firms will deliver fish but will include special heat packs that maintain the temperature of the water for 24 hours until they can safely reach you. These are expensive and you the purchaser will have to pay extra for this delivery method.

Always buy healthy livebearers

How do you recognise a healthy livebearer? Once you have picked out the fish you are interested in, take a good long look at it in the aquarium. Also, look at other tankmates that share the same tank as well. Examine the body for any white or grey fuzzy patches. Examine the fins for any splits or frayed edges. Check for any abnormal swelling of the eyes or swelling of the abdomen. Check for any scales that stick out pine cone like. Look at the gills they should not be red in colour. check the belly of the fish. If it is concave or the head of the fish looks too big for the body. This is a sign of a poor upbringing. If any of the previous symptoms are present in the fish you are considering then do not buy the fish.

Your ideal fish should have scales and skin with bright colours and have no white grey,brown spots on the skin. The skin should not have a cloudy mucous or fluffy patch anywhere. The fins should be held proud and erect, held away from the body. Clamped fins are a bad sign. Frayed fins are a sign of ill health.

Examine the mouth of the fish. The fish should not have white/grey patches around the lips. The mouth should be sharp and clear.

Next observe the fish swimming. The fish should be active not skulking in a corner. It should show signs of wanting to feed when you come near the aquarium. The fish should not be stuck to the floor of the aquarium nor should it be stuck floating at the surface. This is a sign of swim bladder problems. If you see any of the fish in the aquarium with their mouths near the surface gasping for air and gills opening and closing then this is a sign of poor water conditions(but don’t confuse this with fish trying to feed).

Can I buy just a single livebearer?

It is best to buy a group of fish together because livebearers are social animals and develop inter-fish relationships such as dominance and recognise familiar individuals. You can buy a single fish to add to an existing aquarium but be careful of bullying of the newcomer. Swordtail males will fight each other so it is best to buy only 1 male for any individual aquarium.

How many male and female livebearers should I buy?

If you are buying young fish then to guarantee a reasonable group of males and females you should buy 6 or more because there is no way of telling the sexes apart at a young age.

If you buy adult fish then you can distinguish the males from the females.

  1. Males are more colourful than females. Females are dull in colour but may have some colours in the fins.
  2. Males are usually smaller than females of the same age.
  3. Males have a stick like ventral fin, where the females have a normal triangular shaped fin. The males use this fin to fertilise the females. This fin is located near the fish’s vent.
  4. The males have larger dorsal fins than the females.
  5. Males are slim built while females are plump in shape.

Once you learn to tell apart males from females then you are ready to buy a breeding group. Try to buy 2 females for every male.

Best time of the year to buy livebearers

There is a greater abundance of fish for sale during the spring, autumn and christmas time. So these are the best times to buy your fish. When you buy your fish make sure you don’t have a holiday or business trip planned in the weeks after purchase. It is best to be there for the first few weeks while your fish settle in to oversee if there are any problems.

How to bring your newly bought livebearers home

Set up your home aquarium before you start looking for fish. It should ideally be cycled with a mature filter. After you have purchased your prized specimens always head straight home. When you arrive home, immediately place the unopened bags in the aquarium water.

Leave the fish in the bag for at least 15 minutes to give a chance for the water temperature to equalise with that in the tank. After that you can slowly top up the bag with some water from the tank. Wait 5 minutes then top up again with some more water. Keep repeating until the bag is full. Then release the fish into the tank.

If you have bought small fish or baby fish less than an inch long then you can bag them together in large bags, 4 to a bag. You should put adult fish or fish an inch or bigger in size, singly into separate bags. The bags should be filled with 3/4 air and 1/4 water by the person selling you the fish. They should use the water from the aquarium the fish came from.

Quarantining your newly bought livebearers

When you become serious at the hobby and have prized specimens at home that would be a great loss if they died then you must use a quarantine tank to keep your new arrivals away from your established fish. This gives you a chance to see if your new fish have any hidden illnesses or not. Keep your new fish in quarantine for at least 2 weeks, but better still for 4 weeks to be absolutely safe. If the new fish appears well after this time then they can be transferred to the main aquarium.

Have the right livebearer aquarium set up

Most livebearers can live quite well in a community tank. Your community tank can consist of a variety of livebearer species, a single livebearer species or even include some other community fish alongside. The choice is yours.

Use a single species tank if you are line breeding pedigree livebearers. Note that some closely related livebearer species can interbreed and you will end up with unwanted mongrel fish.

When having a community tank you should try to make sure all the fish are of a similar size and similar activity level. This will help to reduce bullying of small fish by bigger fish and active fish stressing out more placid fish. Also the more active fish will always get to the fish effectively starving the less active fish.

You should always include more females than males for all species. A ratio of 2 females to every male is a good starting point. This is because most males will be continually trying to mate with the females. Too much male attention stresses the females.

Livebearers generally prefer hard alkaline water of ph higher than 7.5. Some species even benefit with some sea salt added to the water. The main species of livebearers prefer temperatures between 74-80f. However the sunset platy a close relative of the common platy prefers lower temperatures between 70f and 75f. Goodeids also prefer lower temperatures similar to sunset platies.

Compatible fish for a livebearer community tank

Most small tetras are compatible with guppies, mollies and platies or other similar livebearer species.

Small corydoras catfish are ideal for most livebearer tanks because the corys stay along the bottom avoiding the livebearers who mostly live along the top of the aquarium.

Most dwarf cichlids make ideal companions because they also occupy the bottom of the aquarium and are not overly aggressive. The presence of livebearers in a dwarf cichlid tank actually gives the dwarf cichlids more confidence to come out more rather than hiding in plants and caves.

Barbs, rasboras and danios are a little more active and occupy the same space as livebearers but can still make good companions for medium to large livebearers such as swordtails and sailfin mollies.

Even for a livebearer single species tank, the addition of a few corydoras catfish can liven your aquarium by having some activity in the lower half of the tank which is usually deserted in a livebearer aquarium set up.

Setting up a Community tank here

Suggested starter groups here

Essential facts about Livebearers here.

Maintain a healthy Livebearer aquarium here.

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Difficult to beat the beauty of a male pearl gourami

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the right camera to take pictures of your fish

Digital camera with optical zoom
Digital camera with optical zoom

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

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

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

Lighting techniques to help take good quality tropical fish pictures

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

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

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

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

Composition of your aquarium scene

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

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

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

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

Taking close up shots of your fish

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

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

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

Tips on obtaining better tropical fish pictures

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

Use of a special photographic aquarium

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

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

Use of coloured backgrounds for photographing your fish

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

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

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

Livebearers – essential facts

Lovely delta tailed golden guppy male

Introduction to livebearers

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

(Livebearers – the essential facts that you should know)

More about breeding livebearers here

More about keeping healthy livebearers here

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

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

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

goodied livebearer xenotoca eisini male
goodied livebearer xenotoca eisini male

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

More about Goodeids here

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

Where are livebearers found in the wild?

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

male and female halfbeaks fighting
male and female halfbeaks fighting

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

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

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

Livebearers’ early history

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

Livebearer social and reproductive behaviour

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

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

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

Courtship behaviour of livebearers

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

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

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

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

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

Reproduction in livebearers

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

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

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

 

How fish behave in the wild

Watching a large shoal of cardinal tetras is an enchanting experience

Fish Behaviour in the wild

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

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

Young fish tend to congregate in the shallows for 3 reasons

      1. Food is more abundant in the shallows

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

      3. Large fish avoid the shallows

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

How do Fish sleep?

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

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

Fish feeding behaviour

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

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

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

Teeth of fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coordination of swimming in fish

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

  1. How fish school

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

  1. How fish shoal

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

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

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

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

Fish aggression

Fish will fight over food, territory and mates.

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

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

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

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

Suggestion list of compatible fish groups for your aquarium

fish tank set up

How to set up your tank fish from top to bottom

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

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

2 foot 50litre tank

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

Small amazonian biotope

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

More on amazon biotope here


Small slice of an Asian stream in your living room

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

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

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Dwarf Cichlid Breeding set up

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

More on dwarf cichlids here

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pedigree red guppies
pedigree red guppies

Livebearer community set up

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

 
More on livebearers here
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30 inch 76liter tank

Amazonian biotope aquarium

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

More on the Amazon biotope here

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

Slice of an asian stream

Surface fish
3 glass catfish
midwater fish
6 harlequin rasbora
Bottom dwellers
5 kuhli loaches
1 siamese algae eater
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Amazon dwarf cichlid aquarium

Surface fish
6 cardinal tetras
midwater fish
mated pair(1 male+1 female) of blue rams or bolivian rams
Bottom dwellers
6 pygmy corydoras
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4 foot 110 litre tank

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

Large gourami Asian biotope

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

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

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kribensis breeding pair
kribensis male and female breeding pair

Non-rift valley African community tank

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

More on kribensis here
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Convict community

Surface fish
6 guppies
midwater fish
5 bleeding heart tetras
Bottom dwellers
5 convict cichlids
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all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

Malawi Community

Surface fish

3 Mollies

midwater fish
6 peacocks (jacobfreibergi) 2 males 4 females

Bottom dwellers

6 yellow labs

More on Malawis here