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.

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

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

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

Reducing start-up costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making choices that save money over time

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

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

Plantless aquarium here

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

Live food rearing here

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

Common cost-saving mistakes

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

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

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

Raising the fry

kribensis mother guarding newly free swimming fry

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

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

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

See also breeding egg layers

and breeding livebearers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to feed your fry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culling your fry for a healthy brood

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

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

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

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

Life stages: caring for your fry through to adulthood

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

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

5 week old kribensis fry
5 week old kribensis fry

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

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

Guide to aquarium filters

various filters

Your guide to aquarium filter types: what kind of filtration is best and why

different types of filter
Aquarium filter types: canister, power, sponge, internal filters

 

Without a doubt, aquarium filters represent one of the most important elements of a properly functioning fish tank. Without proper filtration, your fish cannot possibly survive in the tank habitat you introduce them to.

The process of keeping the water clean and free of waste is so important that the aquarium industry has developed numerous solutions to approach the issue of filtration. A quick look at your local fish shop will show a wide variety of filters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Understanding your aquarium filter types

Your aquarium water needs to be filtered in three ways to offer your fish a pleasant environment in which they can thrive. These three filtration methods are defined as follows:

• Mechanical Filtration. This refers to the physical act of pulling unwanted matter out of the water and leaving it in the filter, to be disposed of when you clean the filter. Dead plant leaves and foreign particles are commonly filtered mechanically. Vacuuming your tank regularly is also a form of mechanical filtration.

• Chemical Filtration. Chemical filters remove toxic chemicals by attracting them chemically to a filter medium as the water is pushed through them. Carbon is a very common filter medium for chemical filters because the majority of toxins will attach to carbon.

• Biological Filtration. Biological filtration takes place on the filter medium when beneficial bacteria consume poisonous waste products, saving your tank from becoming toxic.

Biological filtration cycling explained here

Also in saltwater aquariums live rock and live sand biological filtration

What are the various aquarium filter types?

Since there are so many different filtration options available, beginning aquarists can easily feel overwhelmed by the number of different products available. The differences between these filters may seem quite complicated, but the following list of filter types described below will help make the subject much more accessible:

sponge filter
Typical air powered sponge filter

• Sponge Filters. The sponge filter is one of the most basic types available on the market. It is distinguished by its lack of complex mechanical, chemical, or biological components and makes an acceptable, inexpensive filtration solution for small tanks, hospital tanks, and spawning tanks.

The sponge filter operates by using an air pump to pull water through the sponge material where unwanted particles are caught and beneficial bacteria consume ammonia and nitrite. Despite its simplicity the sponge filter provides excellent biological filtration

• External Filters. External filters are very common for aquarium hobbyists because of their excellent combination of effective mechanical, chemical and biological filtration as well as their price. External filters are usually grouped into hanging filters (HOB) for medium-sized tanks and external canister filters for larger tanks.

Both of these filters draw water into a canister filled with filtering material that provide mechanical, chemical filtration and biological filtration.

Larger external canister filters also pressurize the water when inside the canister. Because the water is pressurized and there is no air-to-water contact occurring within the canister, biological filtration is not as effective.

• Internal Canister Filters. Aquarium filters that sit directly on the glass of the inside of your tank are called internal canister filters. These filters combine excellent mechanical, biological and chemical filtration with very quiet usage, being completely submerged.

The drawback to these types of filters is that they take up space inside the tank. If you are short on space or would like to keep your tank interior pristine and natural, you may want to look at other filters.

undergravel filter operation
Details of how an undergravel filter works

Undergravel Filters. These filters are installed underneath the gravel substrate of your tank and pull water through the gravel and into uplift tubes where it is again deposited into the tank. These filters use your gravel as a mechanical filter, but leave out the chemical element.

Undergravel filters are generally not recommended for a number of reasons: Biological filtration is limited to whatever bacteria live on your substrate, mechanical filtration continually builds up a mass of decaying matter under your gravel, chemical filtration is not present, and any plants you may keep will have to deal with having their nutrients siphoned off.

Chemical Filters. Aquarium filters that base their entire filtration process on chemical means often use activated carbon as their primary filter medium. There are other materials on the market, but carbon remains by far the most popular, and for good reason.

A chemical filter that uses activated carbon can remove a great deal of unwanted chemicals from your water simply by letting the water pass through the carbon. For this reason, many external and canister filters include a small chemical filter that uses carbon.

• Fluidised Bed Filters. Fluidised bed filters are cylindrical filters that hang off of the back of your fish tank. They connect to a water pump that forces water through the bed of small, heavy particles— often sand or silica chips.

These filters can be expensive, but they offer a very useful combination of mechanical and biological filtration while remaining generally low maintenance.

Many of these filters will provide successful levels of filtering according to their type, while sacrificing their efficiency towards the other two filtering methods. In order to realise all three filtration methods for the best quality water, you will probably want to combine two filters.

The benefits of combining filters

While a great deal of aquarium filters promise effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, many aquarists prefer to use two types of filters that only perform a single filtration task each. Combining filters can provide distinct benefits that even a large all-in-one canister filter cannot meet.

One benefit of combined filtering is that of redundancy— if one of your filters breaks down, you will still have some filtering going on through the other filter. Since these devices are so critical for the continued survival of your fish, it pays to keep a backup running.

Another benefit is that dedicated filters perform their jobs better than mixed ones. A single mechanical filter that does not provide chemical filtration has access to more water and space for its filtration job than it would if it had to do double duty. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to purchase multiple dedicated aquarium filters.

Choosing aquarium filter media

So far, this article has covered the various types of aquarium filters available on the market and categorized them by the way they function. There is another important way to categorize these devices, however, and it is by the medium that they use to filter water.

Mechanical filters have the widest range of filter media options, generally categorized by the size of the particles they can capture:

• Fluval Prefilter Media. Essentially a coarse, sponge-like material, this is called prefilter media because it is designed to catch large debris before it makes its way to a finer mechanical filter.

• Filter Pads & Foam. This medium-grade sponge material will clean most visible debris from your water without issue, and do not need to be replaced as often as finer filter media.

• Filter Floss. This fine material requires higher maintenance in the form of more frequent cleaning, but leaves your water much cleaner in the process.

• Micron Filter Pads. The very finest filter media available, these pads can filter material that is only fractions of the width of a human hair in length. These filters require frequent replacement, but can make your water crystal clear and even parasite free in the process.

Other considerations for aquarium filters: noise

The filter you choose could make a big difference not just for the lives of your fish, but yours as well: certain filters will produce different levels of noise. Controlling that noise can be difficult with certain types of filter.

Large external filters are usually the most common culprits of unwanted aquarium noise. Those that pressurize the aquarium water will often have to make some commotion in the process.

In general, any aquarium filters that rely on air pumps are usually quite noisy. High quality filters tend to be much quieter than their less expensive counterparts, and many self contained external filters are reasonably quiet.

The quietest filters are those where the main pump is fully submerged in the water such as the internal canister filter which can be almost silent.

 

Aquarium maintenance: long term

aquarium-vacuum

Making your aquarium last: tips for long term aquarium maintenance

syphoning aquarium
syphoning aquarium[
For most aspiring fish keeping enthusiasts and beginner aquarists, just getting the aquarium to function well enough to keep your fish alive and happy in the first place is enough of a challenge, but this article will focus on how to keep it that way by applying a long term aquarium maintenance routine.

No matter how much care and effort you put into setting up your aquarium perfectly for the introduction of your first batch of fish, over time you will notice that the environment changes. Gradually, you may come to realize that the bright and colourful tank that you once enjoyed has lost its original lustre.

Applying a regular long term aquarium maintenance routine will help to ensure that your tank looks like new even years after you began keeping fish in it. Key to this is assigning some monthly and annual tasks that will keep your tank fresh and lively.

See also low maintentance fish keeping

Weekly tasks

. Check your fish for signs of distress, usually if they are breathing heavier than normal or are scratching themselves on objects. Check for any spots, marks, red blemishes or fungus. Also check that all the fish are present. Sick or dead fish may be hiding. Take the appropriate action.

. For the keener aquarist, do a 10% partial water change with aged water. Check your water parameters such as ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, ph and hardness.

. Vacuum any accumulated fish waste on the gravel surface.

See also keep your livebearers healthy

Monthly tasks for a healthy aquarium

While aquarists should be well aware of the importance of daily tasks such as maintaining the proper temperature and feeding the fish, the constantly changing conditions of an active fish tank make some monthly tasks necessary to keep the aquarium in like-new condition. Scheduling these tasks and adhering to them over time will help keep your aquarium in excellent shape.

• Partial water changes. One of the most critical elements of long term aquarium maintenance is frequent water changing. Generally, a 25% water change monthly will help maintain the proper water quality for a tank, but 10% weekly can sometimes be even more effective.

Water changes should be accompanied by a test of the water quality in order to make sure that you have not upset the necessary balance of nutrients that your fish need to survive.

• Gravel churning. If you use a gravel substrate to line the bottom of your aquarium, you should use an aquarium vacuum to clean up the rot and waste that can easily collect underneath the gravel at least once a month. You need to really dig up and disturb the gravel so that the vacuum can suck up accumulated waste.

If you are using an under-gravel filter, it is necessary to clean the gravel when you do your water changes in order to prevent waste from collecting in between the gravel and preventing effective water flow.

• Cleaning algae and dirt from the glass. Every healthy aquarium will feature algae inside of it. This is an inescapable sign of a healthy underwater environment, making regular monthly cleanings necessary.

Controlling algae as part of a long term aquarium maintenance routine is important because algae grows incredibly rapidly and can overwhelm your tank if left unchecked. One of the best ways to control algae growth is to use a specialized algae scraper once a month along the interior of the tank and on any decorations that have been consumed by algae growth. Or better still reduce the wattage of your lighting.

• Plant pruning. Any aquarium that features live plants will eventually end up with dead leaves and plant matter decaying inside the tank. This waste can quickly build up and stress the environment for your fish, so your plants should be pruned at least once a month and dead plants removed as soon as they are discovered.

• Equipment checks. Always schedule a monthly equipment check so that you can be sure that every part of your tank is functioning properly. Over time, you may notice that your tank heater does not provide as much heat as it used to, or that your air pump valves need replacement.

Catching faulty equipment before its too late can be the only way to skirt disaster, which is why effective long term aquarium maintenance is necessary. If you can catch and replace defective equipment before it affects the livelihood of your fish, you stand a good chance of keeping your aquarium in excellant condition for years to come.

• Filter cleaning. Although you spent time and energy cycling your tank so that beneficial bacteria could grow on your sponge filter, you should regularly clean off the filter so that water flow does not get obstructed. If you have this kind of filter, it is easy to clean without losing all of the helpful bacteria.

Removing your sponge filter and rinsing it in the same water you use in your tank is the best way to remove unwanted particles without harming the bacteria on the sponge. This is vastly preferable to replacing the sponge or wiping it perfectly clean, since that would require you to cycle your tank again afterwards from scratch.

The best thing to do is to schedule your filter cleaning several days apart from your tank cleaning so that there are enough beneficial bacteria present to keep your fish happy in the process. If you have a large tank with several filters, stagger your filter cleaning so that there is enough time for bacteria to grow back on the freshly cleaned filter before you clean the next one.

See also how to clean a tank

Annual maintenance tasks for long term aquarium maintenance

Keeping your aquarium freshly cleaned on a monthly basis can help reduce the chance of having to replace major elements of your aquarium on an annual basis, but it is important, nonetheless, to give your entire aquarium a quality once-over in order to be certain that the environment is ideal.

The following list of tasks should be exercised at least once a year, although many experienced aquarists suggest that a bi-annual check once every six months is even better for effective long term aquarium maintenance, depending on the complexity of your tank and its bio-load.

• Change your light bulbs. While it may seem like your aquarium lighting setup is working perfectly fine, you may want to change your lights at least once a year. Even if the lamps appear to be working just as well as the first day you bought them, they may not be providing the same ultraviolet frequencies as before, hindering your aquarium’s reproduction of natural daylight.

• Check your pumps and filter mechanisms. While you should be cleaning the actual filter media of your tank once a month, the mechanical elements responsible for water flow also need some regular attention. A specialised tubing brush can help you wipe away any debris that may have gotten into the motor or impeller of your setup.

Some pumps may require annual lubrication in order to work properly. If you discover that any of these parts are cracked, damaged, or otherwise working improperly, they should be replaced as soon as possible. Effective long term aquarium maintenance requires that these parts are kept in pristine working order.

• Examine your fish. Your aquarium is nothing without your fish, so it is important to give them a close visual inspection at least once a year, though preferably even more frequently. Look especially for signs of sickness in your fish. You may want to set up a hospital tank for your ill fish so that they do not infect the rest of the community.

This could also be a convenient time to exchange some fish. Unwanted residents of your tank can be sold off and replaced with different, more interesting fish that can give you a new appreciation for your aquarium.

• Close search for rot and decay. If you have been properly taking care of your monthly long term aquarium maintenance tasks, you should not have any major problems with dead plant matter or decayed fish food in your tank. However, it is important to regularly give your tank an especially close look in order to be sure.

Dead fish, of course, should be immediately removed as soon as they are discovered. The same, however, goes for any decaying or rotting material in your tank. Any of these can seriously affect the water quality if left in the tank, and lead to sick or dying fish, as well as greater long term aquarium maintenance complications later on.