The plantless aquarium

Upright driftwood and stones on gravel base

How to approach plantless aquarium design successfully

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

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

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

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

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

entangled driftwood on gravel base
entangled driftwood on gravel base

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with algae in a plantless tank

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

Prevent algae here

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

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

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

Low maintenance floating plants

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

Step two: making your plantless aquarium design look great

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

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

Using rocks as decor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using rocks in your aquarium here

Making the most of driftwood

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

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

Other decorative items

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

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

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

male apistogramma agassizi

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

apistogramma cacatouides - double red
apistogramma cacatouides – double red

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

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

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

Choosing the correct species

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

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

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

See Kribensis here

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

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

My recommendation is that you concentrate on apistogramma.

Planning your dwarf cichlid aquarium

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering live plants

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

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

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

Aquascaping with rocks and driftwood

rams with some dither fish
rams with some dither fish

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

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

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

Feeding and care of dwarf cichlids

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

Dwarf cichlid behaviour

male apistogramma agassizi
male apistogramma are very territorial with other males

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

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

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

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

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

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

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

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

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

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

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

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

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

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

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

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

The Walstad Method

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

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

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

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

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The high-tech tank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How and where to buy fish

buying new fish from an aquarium can be a fascinating experience

How and where to buy fish

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

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

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

See also beginners starter fish groups

and common beginner mistakes

and starting a beginners fish tank

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

Top 8 sources for new fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing the right fish to buy

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

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

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

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

Preparing your aquarium for new fish

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon biotope aquarium

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

Introduction To The Amazon Biotope Aquarium: Recreating The Amazon River

amazon biotope with bolivian rums and rummy nose tetras
amazon biotope aquarium-Bolivian rams and rummy nose tetras

One of the more popular options when it comes to biotope selection is the Amazon biotope aquarium. This is a setup that is designed from the ground up to emulate the conditions of the Amazon River, and, if done right, will give you a unique insight into the ecology of this fascinating part of the world.

While keeping a biotope aquarium of a tropical river with such diversity may seem like an expert-level challenge, the truth is that beginners looking to set up their first Amazon biotope aquarium have little to fear if they do adequate research and make the right choices. If approached correctly, the Amazon River can be a very accessible biotope choice.

Also Malawi biotope here

Getting started on your amazon biotope aquarium

Despite its apparent complexity, the Amazon River environment can be relatively simple to replicate. The key is making practical choices concerning the accuracy of your biotope aquarium: The Amazon River is full of undesirable predators, leeches, and parasites among many other qualities that are detrimental to the aquarium environment, so you will need to make some compromises.

These issues do not stop at aquatic predators, but go on to include dark, muddy water conditions that offer very little visibility and a thick soil bottom that would be impossible to clean. That will not only make your tank plant-less and barren due to the lack of light penetrating the water, but will also make it difficult for to you enjoy seeing your fish at all. In general, you are best advised to avoid trying to create a 100% faithful biotope aquarium.

amazon biotope with angels and roots
amazon biotope with angels and roots

You can, however, make great strides forward in your plans to keep an Amazon biotope aquarium if you combine some effective aquascaping with common sense ecological accuracy. The best way to do this is to scan the Internet for images of Amazon biotopes that you like the look of and then work towards your own expression of that example. Once you have a clear idea in mind, there are three basic methods to approaching your biotope aquarium:

• Find the fish that you like, determine what part of the Amazon River they are from, and then create the biotope to suit them;
• Choose a specific part of the Amazon River to replicate and fill your tank exclusively with fish from that area;
• Begin with the plants, driftwood, and substrate and then build your tank upwards from there.

Either one of these methods can produce a successful Amazon River biotope aquarium if handled correctly. You need only choose which elements you are most comfortable starting with.

Types of amazon biotopes

Since the Amazon River is so large, there are a number of options from which you can choose when it comes to your specific type of tank. Some biotope options will be very different from others, and more ideally suited to certain species that would naturally live there. A short list of options include:

• Whitewater Stream—This environment features water with a slightly muddy appearance. Whitewater tanks look their best with driftwood and dead branches added in, as well as a dark sand substrate.

• Blackwater Stream—Waters that originate deep within the rainforest and contain a high level of dissolved leaf litter are usually referred to as blackwater streams. This water is more acidic due to the dissolved leaf litter that you will need to add, or even use as a substrate.

• Oxbow Lake—This refers to the many crescent-shaped lakes that form when the Amazon River changes course. These lakes tend to be both muddy and filled with accumulated leaf litter and debris. For this reason, mud is an ideal substrate, and Oxbow biotope keepers will want to keep filtration to a minimum.

How to simulate amazon river water

The acidity of your Amazon biotope aquarium will vary depending on which of the three above choices you choose for your tank. For example, a whitewater river environment will require water with a pH level between 6,3 and 7,0, while a blackwater biotope will be more acidic—between 4,5 and 6,5, and the Oxbow Lake water has a pH between 5,4 and 6,8.

The temperatures of the various forms of the Amazon biotope aquarium tend to be less varied, with 24-28° C being the norm. Water hardness should be kept reasonably low, as most of the dissolved materials in Amazon waters are not mineral, but organic: a dH level between 3-8 should be ideal.

When it comes to attaining the signature colouration of Amazon water and keeping the fish as comfortable as they would be in the wild, it is necessary to mix peat with your reverse osmosis-filtered water as well as some leaves to give it substance. Examples of leaves that will help create the tannic water commonly seen in the Amazon are:

indian almond leaves
indian almond leaves

• Indian almond leaves,
• Oak leaves,
• Copper beach leaves.

The idea is to stain the water using these leaves in order to give it the unique brown appearance that every Amazon biotope should have to some degree. The other main element of your biotope water will be peat.

Peat is widely available from aquarium supply stores and fish shops and is necessary for gaining the correct level of dissolved organic matter in the water and reproducing the Amazon River environment correctly. In order to maximize the benefits of peat, it is recommended that you do not use with activated carbon filtration or with waterborne fish medicine.

Peat is a unique element of the Amazon river environment and one part of your biotope that cannot be skipped. Your Amazon biotope aquarium tank should be cycled with peat present, and topped off if the water gets too clear after changing later on.

Populating your amazon biotope aquarium

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

The Amazon River is home to an enormous number of different species, and some of them are better suited to certain tanks than others. Naturally, you will want to choose species that do not prey on one another and that can live in relative peace and harmony in your tank—this can be tricky when it comes to Amazon fish.

One of the main aspects that you will want to take into consideration is the size of your tank. If you plan on keeping a small tank, then basing your Amazon biotope aquarium on a population of tetras or dwarf cichlids would be a great idea, while larger tanks can afford to support more exotic options.

More on tetras here

More on dwarf cichlids here

If you have a large enough tank, you can populate your tank with Angelfish, Silver Dollars, or even piranhas. Care must be taken with larger community tanks keeping these kinds of fish, as most of them are very aggressive. Often, aquarists will stick to a single species in order to minimize violence between fish—and even then the tank is not guaranteed to be 100% violence-free.

Considering plants for your tank

Plants, too, must be considered in light of the unique water conditions that the Amazon River provides. The main issue here is that the standard water conditions of the Amazon offer very little light penetration. Some flexibility on your plant choices here can help a great deal in the long run. Some plants that would be at home in this biotope would be:

• Echinodorus (Amazon Sword, Dwarf Sword, etc.);
• Hair Grass;
• Cabomba;
• Myriophyllum.

One of the major concerns for plants in an Amazon biotope aquarium is access to light. If your water features a high level of dissolved organic material like it should, your plants might not have adequate access to regular aquarium lights, requiring you to get more powerful ones for them. Cabomba and Myriophyllum plants, in particular, can present problems from this point of view.

Another concern when it comes to aquarium plants in this environment is the number of plants to keep. That level of dissolved organic material in the water will make algae control a challenge—keeping lots of plants will help balance your tank and keep it relatively clear. Again, if you choose to be flexible in your plant choices, you can benefit from a healthier aquarium even if it is not 100% faithful.

Aquascaping and driftwood

mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope
mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope

While you may have all the information you need to begin your new Amazon aquarium, creating a natural-looking Amazon river environment requires that you take the time to plan your tank out carefully and find the right décor for it.

Driftwood is an essential element of a faithful Amazon biotope aquarium tank. If you have a larger tank and would like to keep one or two panaque catfish, you may even need to provide driftwood as food for the fish. Trying to source natural driftwood from the actual Amazon River is a futile task for most aquarists in the world—instead, you will have to find suitable wood from other sources.

In general, clean bog hardwood that has been carefully dried out can be used in your aquarium. You will want to introduce the wood before the plants and fish in order to compensate for any water quality issues that may occur.

Putting together your tank with all of these separate elements will take some planning and forethought. If you have taken the time to look at other aquarists’ Amazon biotopes, you might have a good idea of where you want to go with yours. Another option it to find genuine photographs of the Amazon river and to use the materials at hand to replicate the aquascape to the best of your ability. Both of these are equally suitable methods of making an ideal Amazon biotope aquarium.

When you have completed your aquarium it is worthwhile going back to the original images to see how closely you have replicated the original biotope image. Perhaps you have surpassed the original and can relax. Or, perhaps you have forgotten some element that would add the finishing touches. When all is complete you can then sit back and enjoy your small simulation of the amazon river. After all this is what all the effort is all about.

Review: Ultimate Secrets to Saltwater Aquarium Fish and Corals

well designed marine aquarium

Review: Ultimate Secrets to Saltwater Aquarium Fish and Corals

by Andrej Brummer

The ultimate investment in knowledge for every aquarium owner

Successful marine aquarium by Andrej Brummer
Successful marine aquarium by Andrej Brummer

With no previous experience of owning a marine aquarium, I was daunted by the responsibility of keeping marine creatures alive and healthy, when I had no idea what equipment to buy, which fish to choose or how to stock the tank. Ultimate Secrets is a fantastic investment, whatever your level of experience, whether you are nervous about setting up your first aquarium, if you own an aquarium and can’t figure out why things go wrong, or if you have years of experience and want a comprehensive reference book on hand to help you deal with unexpected issues.
This book will help you look after your marine aquarium correctly so you build a healthy and compatible aquatic community of fish and invertebrates into beautiful and entertaining part of the ocean in your own home. It is easy to navigate and has a simple conversational style with extremely informative explanations, so you will find it easy to follow the instructions and understand exactly what you are doing.

 

 

 

selection of clownfish
selection of clownfish

I will be keeping Ultimate Secrets next to my aquarium so I am ready to deal with any eventuality. I showed my copy to a friend who has owned an aquarium for years, and he also found the information valuable and inspiring.
The author, Andrej Brummer has an inspiring passion for marine creatures and their environment. Brummer has shown me that saltwater aquarium owners are creating a safe nurturing ecosystem for marine creatures whose natural habitat is becoming endangered. He has channelled his knowledge and experience as a scientist and expert aquarist into this comprehensive guide, so you will know how to care for all the marine inhabitants including fish, coral, plankton and healthy bacteria.
Brummer divides his extensive material into short informative chapters covering everything from the basics, such as buying equipment, stocking your aquarium and feeding your marine family, to expert advice on filtration lighting, rockscaping, making marine organisms work for you and even how to perform surgery if necessary! Ultimate Secrets has several colourful charts, including one that identifies 16 popular saltwater aquarium species so you can build up a compatible marine community, according to their feeding habits and their activity levels.

Review by Kirsten Ehrlich Davies.

The only shortcoming of the book is there is no information on breeding marine fish. Perhaps because of the complexity of the subject Brummer thought that it needed a whole book dedicated to the topic. We await the sequel.

Brummer is the aquarists version of Steven Seagal. If you click on the correct picture you get the chance to buy a kick ass book. If you click on the wrong picture you will just get your ass kicked.

Steven seagal
Steven seagal
andrej brummer
andrej brummer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi, I’m Andrej Brummer, the #SaltwaterScientist

I am a biological scientist who has had a life-long interest in the world of marine organisms. Growing up on the sea shores of New Zealand and Australia I learned a healthy respect for ocean conservation and sustainable aquarium keeping, but I do still eat seafood however

In my formative years I will admit, I killed many a fish and a few corals in aquariums before I learned what it took to keep captive marine life thriving through trial, error and scientific training.

I enjoy raving about Tangs, LPS corals and how to be a sustainable saltwater aquarium hobbyist to anyone that will listen.

Now I am proud to say I have advised and educated over 3000 saltwater aquarium hobbyists through my best selling ebook.

Set up your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up

Your first saltwater tank set up

well designed marine aquarium
well designed marine aquarium

If you have already enjoyed the success of keeping your own tropical freshwater aquarium and would like to move onto a more beautiful but complex aquaria, your next step may be to attempt your first tropical marine tank. A saltwater tank setup tends to require a bit more investment on your part, both financially and in terms of setting up the complete marine aquarium , but the fascinating end result is worth it.

While at first glance, it may seem that keeping a saltwater aquarium should be the same as keeping a freshwater one, but with added salt. However, there are some key differences that you will need to pay attention to in order to get your tank set up properly. One of the first that should be taken into account before you start buying any marine tank equipment is the type of set up you would like to keep.

See also beginners saltwater tank step by step
 
and live rock and live sand
 
and beginners saltwater fish
 

Three types of tropical saltwater tank setups

Fish only marine aquarium
Fish only marine aquarium is quite lively and active

Your first tropical marine tank will fall into one of three broad categories:

• Fish only tank

• Fish only with live rock (FOWLR) tank

• Complete reef tank (as above but with corals and invertebrates)

There are a wide variety of advantages and disadvantages to keeping each type of these saltwater tank setups. For your first tropical marine tank, however, it is important to keep things as simple as possible so that you can get acquainted with the specifics of keeping saltwater fish before moving on to more complicated setups involving corals and invertebrates.

Of the three choices above, the easiest option is the fish only with live rock tank. Intuitively you might think a fish only tank would be simpler to keep. Not so, the truth is that maintaining the correct water quality and filtration without live rock will require more work on your part. Live rock provides vital biological processes that eat up a lot of waste matter from the fish, purifying the water.

marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish
marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish

Reef tanks, too require a lot of hard work and monitoring in order to get running smoothly and maintaining, and are often some of the most expensive tanks to keep. They tend to require more equipment and more expensive livestock than tanks that focus solely on fish and live rock.

If you have decided to keep a fish and live rock tank and are ready to begin purchasing equipment and setting up, the list and guide below will help you get everything you need to begin.

What you need for your first tropical marine tank

As mentioned above, the technical requirements of maintaining your marine tank will be a bit more complex than those of a freshwater tank. You will need to collect the following equipment in order to get started:

• Aquarium As always, a larger tank is generally easier to keep and will make sudden changes in water quality less of a danger for your fish. At least 100 litres is recommended for your first tropical marine tank.

live rock is great for biological filtration
live rock is great for biological filtration

• Substrate There are three main options to choose from here: a shallow sand bed, a deep sand bed, or a bare bottom tank. A shallow sand bed is often ideal for first-time saltwater aquarists.

• Live Rock Getting about one 1 kilogram per 7.5 litres of high-quality live rock is important for your tank’s biological filtration.

• Saltwater Mix There are many brands of saltwater mix available both online and at your local aquarium shop.

• Refractometer This measures your water’s salt content, and is often included as part of high quality saltwater testing kits. Hydrometers also work, but tend to be less accurate.

• Protein Skimmer Your marine tank will need a protein skimmer. While it is possible to run a tank without one, you will have to work much more in order to avoid problems with algae and fish waste— you are better off starting with a skimmer that will take care of this for you.

• UV Steriliser This useful device uses high-frequency ultraviolet light to kill free-floating bacteria in your water. This makes it a type of filter, but one that uses light instead of mechanical or biological means to keep your water clean and healthy.

• Multiple Power Heads These devices provide water flow, which is very important in saltwater tanks. Turbulent flow, on the order of 10-20 times the tank volume, will help guarantee a clean, healthy tank by preventing detritus from accumulating.

• Reverse Osmosis Water Filter A water filter of this kind of necessary for preparing tap water. It removes minerals from tap water. So when you add sea salt to this water you will get pure sea water.

• Heater And Thermometer Some saltwater aquarists choose to purchase two smaller heaters instead of one large one, in order to avoid crisis should a heater malfunction.

• Test Kits Be sure to stock up on test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates. These will be very useful during the initial cycling of the tank.

• Lights Thankfully, FOWLR tanks do not have very strict lighting requirements like reef tanks do. A mix of white and blue actinic lights should be sufficient for most fish and live rock setups.

• Quarantine tank You may need to setup a small, bare quarantine tank for your fish, as saltwater organisms may have a hard time getting comfortable in captivity, and can easily get sick.

Choosing fish for your tropical marine tank

clown-fish
clown fish is a good marine beginner’s fish

While keeping your marine tank opens the possibility of keeping a wide variety of exotic fish and invertebrates, you will want to start with simple and inexpensive saltwater fish in the beginning. While the accidental loss of a fish is always a tragedy, that tragedy could be more pronounced if you just lost a rare exotic fish that cost more than £100!

The best fish to begin with are simple, hardy species that can help you get used to caring for the saltwater environment, such as:

• Clownfish (though these do prefer to live in coral)

• Blennies

• Damselfish

• Gobies

Putting your first tropical marine tank together

After you have gathered all of the equipment that you need, you can begin preparing your marine tank for activity. The first thing you will want to do is wash out your aquarium— be sure not to use any soap, as the residue will be harmful for your fish.

Painting your aquarium background black or deep blue makes fish colours stand out beautifully. However you might prefer a stick on background. When the tank is suitably prepared, you can begin adding pre-mixed saltwater to it.

Fill a standard 20 litre bucket with filtered water that is free from chlorine and chloramine, add the salt mixture slowly, referring to the instructions on the packet it came in. Stir well and refer to your refractometer frequently. Once you have a specific gravity reading of 1.021 and 1.024, you can add the water to your aquarium, repeating as necessary until the tank is filled.

Once the tank is full, you can activate your equipment and let the tank begin the cycling process. After a day or two of water circulation, you can add your live rock to the tank.

Curing live rock

Fish swimming amongst live rock
Fish swimming amongst live rock

The greatest expense of your marine tank will probably be live rock. High quality specimens can get costly, but offer excellent biological filtration. Before you can enjoy these benefits, however, you will need to cure the live rock for some time; between a week or two months depending on the condition of the rock.

To cure live rock, drain some of the aquarium water and place the live rock inside the tank, preferably in the centre and with your power heads pointed directly at it. Every few days, you will need to turn off the power to the tank and clean the live rock with an old toothbrush to remove debris and dead organisms. After each cleaning, siphon the debris and refill the tank with pre-mixed saltwater.

This process needs to be repeated every few days until the water has no ammonia readings, no nitrite readings, and a smell somewhat like the ocean. When the tank is cycled, you are ready to add sand.

Adding sand to your tank

The best way to properly add your sand substrate to the tank is by draining some of the saltwater into a 20 litre bucket and emptying your sand into the bucket. Stir the resulting mixture until you see dust and dirt rising. Siphon off this dust and dirt before it settles. Repeat this process until there is not dust and dirt.

Once the sand is cleaned, you can ladle it into your aquarium. If any sand gets caught on your live rock, use a power head to blow it off so that your rock maintains uninterrupted contact with the water. In a few days, if all goes well, you should be ready to starting adding fish to your tank.

Finishing your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Complete saltwater tank setup

After letting your tank circulate for a few days, you should begin to see consistent water quality readings such as:

• A temperature of 24-27°C;
• Specific gravity between 1.020 and 1.024;
• pH between 8.0 and 8.4;
• Ammonia and nitrite readings of 0;
• Nitrite readings of less than 20 ppm;
• Carbonate hardness between 7-10 dKH.

Once this happens, you are ready to begin adding fish to your tank. It is highly recommended to use some of your water to make a small quarantine tank for them to get used to first, reducing the risk of disease.

Add your fish slowly, one at a time so that the tank can adjust to the increased biological load. Your fish will be stressed out at first, but should begin acting normally and feeling comfortable after a few days. At that point, you can test the water and, conditions permitting, add your next fish. In a short time, you will have a fully stocked saltwater aquarium. Now you can sit back and enjoy your small piece of the ocean. But remember you still need to keep monitoring your water quality and topping up your aquarium with newly made seawater regularly.

 

Alternative coldwater aquarium fish

round tailed paradise fish

Choosing alternative cold water aquarium fish

round tailed paradise fish
round tailed paradise fish a true coldwater fish from China

Making a coldwater aquarium beautiful used to be a problem because there weren’t enough coldwater aquarium fish to choose from. However, with the better availability of temperate fish and exotic species this is no longer an issue. Here you can choose from the best cold water aquarium fish species listed below. With the wide range of coldwater aquarium fish available these days, you can make your coldwater tank look just as enticing and beautiful as a tropical aquarium. There is no need to immediately associate coldwater tanks with dull, uninteresting fish—even if you have to do some searching for them, there are a number of excellent species available for these tanks.

With the right choices, you can have a coldwater tank that looks just as good as a tropical one. The truth is that a home aquarium is not actually a coldwater tank but rather a temperate water tank with temperatures the equal of most warm temperate waters.

Some alternative cold water aquarium fish species and how to choose

rainbow shiner group
The beautiful and very active rainbow shiner is a coldwater aquarium fish

Your choice of fish should show the same bright assortment of colours that makes tropical fish keeping such an attractive hobby. One of the best ways to approach your coldwater tank is by holding it to the same standards as you would a tropical one, but without buying into cliché fish choices such as goldfish.
 
If you spend some time looking for the right combination of coldwater fish in terms of colour, size, temperemant and water conditions, you can create a very impressive tank. Keeping various species from different parts of the world such as Chinese gobies and American red shiners together can help create a varied and lively atmosphere in your tank.

Coldwater Aquarium fish species worth considering include:

• White Cloud Mountain Minnows
• Golden Barbs,
• Whip Tail Catfish,
• Empire Gobies,
• Argentinean Pearl,
• Japanese Medaka – Rice Fish,
• One Sided Livebearer,

white cloud mountain minnow pair
white cloud mountain minnow male and female

• Rainbow Shiners,
• Emerald Shiners,
• Macropodus Ocellatus, (Round tailed paradise fish)
• Black Bullhead Catfish,
• Bloodfins,
• Banded Charcidium,
• Common Loaches,
• Two-Spot Barbs,
• Bengal Danios,
• Red-Tailed Goodeids,
• Sunset Platies,
• Pygmy Sunfish,
• Mudminnows,
• Chinese gobies – rhinogobius (eg rhinogobius zhoui or r. rubromaculatus)
• rosy barbs

rosy barb males
rosy barb males

• odessa barbs
There are quite a few different elements to take into consideration with these alternatives. Any one of them is more interesting and exotic than keeping a stereotypical goldfish tank, but the right combination can really shine. Some of these, such as the White Cloud Mountain Minnow, are very popular as alternative coldwater aquarium fish, while others are more unusual choices.
Barbs are a great choice because of their colour assortments and generally good community behaviour and activity levels. The two-spot and golden barbs can grow very colourful when properly taken care of and offer a uniquely exotic appeal to any tank they are a part of. Sunset platies are a great choice as well—people rarely expect to see any species of platy in a coldwater tank.
The two species of catfish presented above make fine additions to larger tanks: the whip tail does best in a small group of similar individuals, and the black bullhead is large; with a dominating presence in any tank.

Argentinian pearlfish male
Argentinian pearlfish male

Argentinean Pearls, especially the males, tend to feature bright, ornate spotted colouring that looks fantastic in a variety of environments. If you want to give your tank a tropical look with coldwater fish, these are a great choice, especially when combined with other coldwater fish with bright colouration and ornate markings like theirs.
As always, fish compatibility needs to be taken into consideration when making your choices: Barbs and gobies tend to do well in a variety of community tanks, and catfish will spend most of their time in the lower depths of the water avoiding other fish. Sunset platies, as an additional example, should be kept at a ratio of two females to each male in order to minimize harassment.

Coldwater fish in a coldwater tank: is a chiller necessary?

Naturally, one of the advantages to the coldwater tank setup is the fact that you do not need to keep a heater. However, some aquarists from hotter climates who keep coldwater tanks insist on the use of a chiller to prevent their tanks overheating.

Advantages of the coldwater aquarium

Round tailed paradise fish
Round tailed paradise fish

The fish mentioned above will do well in an unheated tank, temperate water temperature, eliminating the need to buy a heater, for the most part. For most aquarists, the primary appeal of these species and of this tank type is the fact that there is no need to keep an expensive temperature control tool on twenty four hours a day, and all of these species will thrive in temperate waters kept anywhere within the normal range of room temperature.
As an added benefit, these fish tend to be very tolerant of temperature changes, so if you live in an area with cold winters and hot summers, you may still find that your fish are capable of thriving without your intervention. This saves time, money, and electricity while providing you with all the benefits you would otherwise have with a heated tropical tank. This actually better mimics the fishes natural environment with warm days and cool nights and seasonal temperature changes.
Not having to heat your aquariums saves you having to buy a heater and pay for higher electricity bills and not worrying about a broken heater or power outs. Another advantage is that you can expand quite easily. A breeding tank set up is no problem. Any water tight container and a filter and your away. Also growing-on, breeder tanks can be set up as they are needed in the same way.

Rhinogobius Zhoui male
Rhinogobius Zhoui male

Also not having a heated tank means that you can have an open topped aquarium(no hood) because there is less evaporation. However care still has to be taken with jumpers. Perhaps a glass cover should be employed to prevent fish committing suicide. With an open top and temperate temperatures, the aquarist can then consider mini water lilies and floating plants.
One thing you have to consider is the aquarium plants. Most plants do okay at lower temperatures however some will not. A little bit of care in the selection of your plants will let you avoid plants that don’t thrive. On the other hand you can obtain plants from the coldwater and pond section of your local aquarist.

Where to buy coldwater fish

Often, the best way to purchase coldwater fish is online. Local aquarium stores and fish shops will often provide several species of coldwater fish alongside their more popular tropical ones, but the selection is often limited. In order to get your coldwater aquarium looking colourful and bright, you will need to do some searching to find the right fish.
Local classifieds in which you can find nearby fish breeders can also be of great help. Often, you can find rare or exotic species being raised only a short distance from your home. This gives you an easy opportunity to get your hands on some good alternative species that can give your tank the special, unique appeal that you are looking for.

One note of caution : Many fish stores keep these temperate fish at tropical temperatures. It might be a mistake to put these fish into a cooler aquarium overnight. Acclimatise them to the cooler temperatures slowly over time.

Nano fish in a nano aquarium

litretank15

The Nano Fish Aquarium: Benefits, Drawbacks, And Guidelines For Use

15 litre nano tank
15 litre nano tank

Nano aquariums are increasingly popular because you can keep them anywhere and cost less than larger aquariums. There are a number of reasons why newcomers and experienced aquarists alike may find themselves interested in purchasing and keeping a nano fish aquarium. It is like the aquarium keeper’s version of bonsai. The small size of these aquariums, generally 56 litres or less, make them ideal for a variety of environments where keeping a large fish tank is out of the question.

These nano aquariums are a very attractive choice for people who would like to keep a small number of fish in their bedroom. Other possible locations include offices and other commercial settings where the presence of a small fish tank can add a pleasant, lively atmosphere. In these situations, it may not be possible to dedicate much space to the fish tank, making the nano fish aquarium a very convenient option.

Some experienced aquarists claim that nano aquariums do not represent a healthy habitat for fish. And that can be true if extra care is not taken to maintain the tank’s health. The truth is that if they are set up and cared for properly, they can harbour an ideal environment. These smaller tanks offer a number of advantages that makes fishkeeping a hobby that is available for everyone.

Benefits of Nano Fish Tanks

chili rasbora
chili rasbora

• Nano aquariums tend to be much less expensive than their larger counterparts, allowing nearly anyone to keep them.

• Their small size ensures that you can find space for them anywhere, and in many cases it is possible to keep several of them without issue.

• Aquariums are often excluded from the, “no pets” rules common to small flats and college dormitories. A nano fish aquarium can be a convenient way to circumvent those rules.

• With their small size they are lighter and can be placed almost anywhere. Nano aquariums do not require dedicated stands.  Nano tanks can be placed on an office desk with ease.
These can serve to make these tanks very attractive for many beginning aquarists, but the pros must be balanced with the cons of keeping such a small tank, as well.

ember tetra
ember tetra

Drawbacks To Keeping A Nano Fish Tank

• Very small aquariums are more susceptible to dramatic changes in water quality due to the much lower volume of water present.

• If a problem with water quality develops, it can turn fatal for the fish very quickly— sometimes within hours.

• Since nano fish tanks are more sensitive to changes in temperature and water chemistry, they require a stricter approach to monitoring water conditions and performing water changes.

• Your fish choices are somewhat limited by the smaller space afforded by a nano fish aquarium. Only small, non-territorial fish should be included in a tank of this size.

jelly bean tetra
jelly bean tetra

Choosing Fish For Your Nano Fish Aquarium

As with any aquarium, you should base your decisions around which fish you would like to keep. It is necessary to select small, peaceful fish who will get along with one another, since it is unlikely that there will be enough room for territorial fish to feel comfortable in. Also smaller fish because of their small size tend to be shoaling fish which you might want to avoid.
There are quite a few species of fish that are small enough to be kept happily in a nano fish aquarium. However, it is necessary to consider the combinations of species carefully in order to be sure that they are all compatible with one another—especially when sharing such a tiny space.
You must take into account that most smaller species are shoaling fish. If you want several different species rather than a shoal of 1 species then you need to find non-shoaling fish.

pygmy sunfish
pygmy sunfish

This is a recommended list of small tropical fish that you should choose from:

best nano aquarium fish

• Dwarf rasbora,
• Chili rasbora,
• Tetras (glowlight, rosy, red phantom, jelly bean, or neon),
Splendid Dwarf Gourami,
• Threadfin Rainbow Fish,
• Lamp Eye,
• Clown Killifish,
• Dwarf Croaking Gourami,

norman's lamp eye fish
norman’s lamp eye fish

• Dwarf Driftwood Catfish,
• Dwarf Ornate Bagrid,
• Dwarf Corydoras,
• Aspidoras Pauciradiatus,
• Marbled Otocinclus,
• Upside Down Catfish,
• Carnegies livebearer,
• Slender Pygmy Swordtail,
• Pygmy Sunfish.

There may be other species available to you at your local aquarist or online and you should certainly investigate all possibilities.

pygmy swordtail
pygmy swordtail

As a quick look at this list will clearly show, a great number of these species are of the dwarf- or pygmy- variety. This is an important distinction since the small space effectively limits the size and number of fish you can keep.

Many of these fish, such as neon tetras and dwarf corydoras, are schooling fish. If you plan on keeping a schooling fish in your mini tank, you will have to make room for 6-8 individuals. This means that just one species can quickly fill up your tank space, making it more difficult to express variety in your choices of fish.

Another issue that you are advised to take into account include the hardiness of the species and how social individual members of that species generally act. Shy fish can have a hard time in small tanks unless you opt for a single species tank.

Choosing fish for beauty

two male sparkling gouramis posturing
two male sparkling gouramis posturing

Select the combination of species that you think will offer you the most striking, colourful and beautiful nano tank that you can keep. But take into consideration: the preferred depths of your fish.

Your fish should be selected not only according to their colour, size, and compatibility, but also according to their most comfortable zone of depth. It is a well-known fact that catfish tend to inhabit the aquarium floor, for example. If you combine these fish with other species that prefer the surface or centre of the tank, you should enjoy less conflict in your tank than you would otherwise. When the fish fully occupy the full depth of the aquarium, it adds interest.

How To Take Care Of Your Nano Fish Aquarium Successfully

threadfin rainbowfish male displaying
threadfin rainbow fish male displaying

The secret is to scale down everything in proportion. This includes the fish, mini-species should predominate. Also the viewing distance must be reduced. Mini aquariums can be quite fascinating when viewed from close up. The plants also must be the mini varieties so that you can several different plants with different colours, leaves and textures. Filter speeds have to be scaled down too. However, you need to scale up your monitoring of the water conditions. A test kit is vital and should be checked more often than a large aquarium.

Once you are sure what species of fish you would like to keep, you will need to consider aquarium placement: In general, it is important to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight. An algae bloom could prove to be devastating, so it is best to choose a comfortable indoors area such as the bedroom for your nano fish aquarium and let your aquarium light do its job.

A sponge filter is one of the best options for very small fish tanks, they tend to be small and offer enough filtration to handle the needs of the small volume of water that the tank holds. An air pump is highly recommended as well, although you will want to make sure you do not create too much turbulence in the water.

Water changes for small aquariums should be performed once or even twice a week. The small size of the aquarium means that you can complete your entire water changing procedure in only a minute or two, but skipping a change can have disastrous results, so be sure to remain vigilant and schedule your changes with care.

Plant And Lighting Considerations For Your Nano Fish Aquarium

black line tetra or black neon tetra
blackline tetra black neon tetra

Naturally, you will want to decorate your nano tank, and while live plants may seem like too much trouble to go through for such a small tank, they are can make very beautiful additions that also help keep the nitrogen cycle balanced properly. Java moss is an excellent choice since it is hardy, decorative, and easily cared for. Also floating plants can also add some low maintenance plant life to the mini aquarium.

If you choose to include a live plant in your nano setup, you will need to provide it with an adequate light source. Thankfully, small actinic bulbs are widely available online and in aquarium supply stores. You may not have room for more than a single plant, but it can be a great help in keeping your tiny aquarium healthy.

Buyer’s Beware: Nano Tanks To Be Avoided

Nano aquarists will find a number of nano tanks advertised that are under 5 litres and marketed as, “closed”, “low maintenance” or “no maintenance” aquariums. These products are generally fraudulent they cannot sustain healthy fish for long.

Also avoid tanks that are too small to accommodate a heater or filter. Trying to keep fish alive and healthy without the use of these important tools is asking for trouble.

In general, you should choose tanks and tools from brands that you trust. Low quality nano aquariums will inevitably lead to problems later on. If you choose a trustworthy brand that is known for making professional-quality equipment for your nano fish aquarium, you will rest easier knowing that your fish are in safe hands.

Finally, when you have carefully followed the above steps, you will be ready to sit back and enjoy what might turn out to be a fascinating nano spectacle in your home or office.

Setting up a tropical aquarium: step by step guide

fish tank set up

Setting up a tropical aquarium professionally

This is an easy to follow step by step guide on setting up an aquarium for the beginner aquarist. Following these steps closely will allow you to have a successful aquarium set up at home, even if you don’t have any experience in keeping fish. You will avoid the most common disasters such as dead fish, dying plants and green water.

1. Buy the biggest aquarium with a fitted hood that you can afford. Buy a 15″ high aquarium for larger fish or a 12″ high aquarium for smaller fish
2.Buy a heater-thermostat. Buy a larger wattage than recommended so that the heater doesn’t have to struggle to maintain the temperature
3. Buy a large sponge based internal power filter. Again get one with a higher turnover than recommended
4. Buy a stand or cabinet that will allow easy access to the top of the aquarium
5. Find a location away from direct sunlight near power sockets where the floor will support the weight of the aquarium
6.Use a spirit level to ensure the aquarium is sitting perfectly level
7. Place a sheet of polystyrene between the aquarium and stand or surface the aquarium is to sit on. This will help to spread out any pressure points which may crack the glass
8.Buy a hand pump action aquarium vacuum to assist in the maintenance of the aquarium

9.Buy some aquarium gravel
10. thoroughly wash the gravel until no dirt comes off in the water
11. Line the aquarium with the gravel. Slope the gravel. Higher at the back of the aquarium and lower at the front
12. Buy a flourescent tube with a peak in the red, blue and yellow areas of the spectrum. This will benefit the plants who will absorb the light
13.Buy a test kit that will test for ph, hardness, ammonia and nitrites
14.Fill your aquarium with water and treat the water with an anti chlorine chemical that will remove the chlorine. Or leave the water for standing for seven days so that the chlorine and ammonia will evaporate. Use a plastic sheet on the gravel when pouring in the water to avoid disturbing the gravel.
15. Set up a large barrel in the back yard or garden and fill it with tap water
16. Turn on your heater
17. Check your ph and hardness of your water.
18. Use the ph and hardness figures to guide you in selecting your plants and fish. If you have hard and alkaline water then it is much better to buy fish that thrive in such water such as Malawi fish.
19.Buy some plants and insert them into the gravel or in clay pots if needed.
20. Turn on the filter.
21. Add 2 hardy fish (such as zebra danios or mollies) after 7 days. Don’t feed for two days then feed sparsely to not pollute the aquarium. Any uneaten food must be removed within 5 minutes.
22. Do daily tests of the ammonia and nitrate. Do a water change with water from the water barrel when the ammonia starts to rise. Top up the water barrel as necessary.
23. After another 7 days buy a few more fish. Do half stock at this point. Keep feeding sparsely and clean up all uneaten food. For every litre of water allow 1cm of fish. 150litre tank = 150cm of fish. At this point 75cm total length of all your fish for a 150litre tank for example. But allow for growth. Calculate using the adult size of the individual fish.
24. Keep doing the water tests and do daily water changes of 10-25%.
25. After another 7 days buy some more fish. Stock at 75% at this point which for a 150litre tank is 112cm total length of all fish. keep feeding sparsely. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish.
26. Keep doing the water tests and daily water changes
27. After a month you can fully stock your aquarium but you will still need to test the water and do water changes. This is 150cm of fish for a 150 litre aquarium. 50cm for 50 litre. 100cm for 100 litre aquarium, etc. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish. Start feeding normally but keep a close eye on the ammonia and nitrite levels.
28. As the ammonia and nitrite levels stabilise to 0ppm, which may take up to 6 weeks, then you can cut back on the water changes to once a week or longer.
29. Check your plant growth. Some plants may be thriving while others may be struggling. Remove the struggling plants and buy some more suited to your aquarium.
30.Check for algae growths. If algae has taken hold then reduce the duration of lighting during the day and or cover one side or the back of the aquarium to reduce the light.
31. Siphon through the gravel by churning the mouth of the vacuum into the gravel. The gravel will not be sucked up but accumulated fish waste will be removed.
32. Use tablet fertilisers pushed near the roots of any plants that need it.
33. Swap or sell any fish that don’t settle in. Either they are bullying the other fish, being bullied, they are constantly hiding or have fallen ill.

So, set up your aquarium in a planned way so that the plants get acclimatized.
Beginners plants

Also a tank’s bacteria must mature to recycle fish waste so that the fish don’t die. Also make sure you buy fish will that get on with each other.

compatible fish lists here

Never have a newly bought fish die again and have that fish living for a long time.

Cycling your aquarium – explains the process in detail

Let aquarium set up mistakes be a thing of the past.

 

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.

 

Succeed with aquarium plants

planted aquarium

How to succeed with aquarium plants: a guide to aquarium plant care

While the beginning aquarist spends a great deal of time learning how to tend to fish and give them an environment in which they can thrive, aquarium plant care is, by comparison, a subject that is rarely given the full attention it deserves. Keeping your plants happy is just as important as keeping your fish happy, though, since the two will live in coexistence in the closed ecosystem that your fish tank provides.

You can’t just place plants in your aquarium and expect them to thrive or even stay alive. You must pay attention to the lighting, water conditions and the fertilisation needs of the plants.

Choosing the right plants for your aquarium

See also best beginners plants

and Aquascaping for beginners

and keeping plants healthy

The most important aspect of aquarium plant care is: choosing the right plants for your aquarium. The right choice here can make the rest of your live plant experience a pleasure by providing a beautiful environment for your tank while controlling algae and absorbing unwanted ammonia and nitrates.

There are scores of plant species that, though undoubtedly beautiful, are very sensitive to water conditions, require specialized CO2 systems, or need extra lights in order to flourish. At the same time however, there are plenty of hardy, attractive plants that provide all the benefits that you expect from aquarium plants without the extra hassle.

A list of some of the best options for your first aquarium plants for the beginner are as follows:

• Java Moss. This unassuming plant is one of the most popular aquarium plants worldwide for a number of reasons. It thrives in a variety of environments, offers lots of convenient hiding places for fish and their fry, and offers simple, beautiful decoration for aquarium owners.

It can be tied to rocks or driftwood with fishing line, or left to float naturally through the tank. Java moss requires very little maintenance; only some occasional trimming when it gets too thick.

• Amazon Sword. This plant can reach a great size, even under low lighting. Evidently, this plant is ideal for large tanks, and may require fertilizer tablets because of the fact that it is a root-feeding plant.

• Java Fern. This plant can survive in nearly any aquarium, and is very forgiving when it comes to water quality and light. Even goldfish that regularly eat aquarium plants will generally leave Java fern alone.

• Valisneria. This plant will feel right at home in a variety of aquariums, although some hungry fish might decide to snack on it. Vallisneria spiralis is usually singled out as being one of the best varieties for aquarium plant care beginners.

• Anubias. This is one of the only underwater plants that actually prefers low lighting, and to make it even more attractive to aquarium owners, herbivore fish tend to leave it alone.

While many other specialty plants can provide a fun and challenging experience for live plant enthusiasts, any of the plants listed above make an excellent introduction to the world of aquarium plant care.

Lighting for your aquarium plants

Once you have chosen which species of plants you would like to keep in your tank, you must consider your lighting setup in order to give the plants the correct environment in which they can thrive. In general, your aquarium plants will do best with day and night cycles of 12 hours each.

The duration of the lighting period is important, but you must also examine the type of light that you use in your aquarium. Lights designed for aquarium plant care are notably different than average fluorescent lights, and you will need to make sure that yours carry a suitable Kelvin rating, among other characteristics.

• The Kelvin rating refers to the spectrum of light that the bulb emits, commonly referred to as the, “temperature” of the light.

• Most plants reject green and yellow light while absorbing red and blue light, as well as light on the ultraviolet scale. In terms of the Kelvin rating, this means that you should provide full-spectrum lighting between 5500 K and 7500 K for most tropical plants, including as the ones listed above.

• LED lights often offer the best combination of low power consumption with light intensity, ease of installation, and price. Make sure to purchase quality LED lights, however, as the market is full of low-quality options not suitable for aquarium plant care.

Following these guidelines will help ensure that your plants grow large and healthy, although providing them with ample light will make your plants hungry for the nutrients they need to thrive.

Feeding your plants: fertilizing your substrate

Once you have developed your lighting setup properly, it is time to consider the fertilizer and nutrients that your plants will need. Many waterborne fertilizers will provide the boost that you need to get your plants strong and healthy quickly— especially in the beginning stages of aquarium plant care.

You should be aware that many of these store bought fertilizers, while very good for plants, contain nitrates and other ingredients that are poisonous for your fish. Most fish can tolerate small amounts, but over exposure to fertilizer will kill them, so use these fertilizers with care.

But better still use a substrate fertilizer for rooted plants like the Amazon Sword. They come in tablet form. These tablets need to be pushed into the substrate directly to the root base of the plant. In this way they directly feed the plant rather than into the water in general.

Choosing between gravel or soil

While soil is a much more natural substrate for aquarium plant care, it is notably more complex to keep in optimal condition. Soils are generally reserved for experienced aquatic gardeners who wish to grow particularly difficult underwater plants.

If you introduce soil into your tank it can affect the water quality for your fish.
Therefore, gravel is generally recommended as the safest option. You can always add soil in separate pots if you wish to experiment later on.

The benefits of potting your plants

One of the key benefits to be realised by potting your plants, apart from being able to use soil without disturbing your tank’s existing substrate, is that your pots will also protect the plants. Potted plants have a secure location from which they can grow, and this can help keep them alive when nosey fish want to dig around their roots.

While gravel may be an acceptable substrate for beginning aquarium plant care, you may find that some of your more active fish seem intent on overturning the rocks and digging into the roots of your plants, harming or possibly killing them in the process. Potted plants combat this behaviour by offering your fish very little space in which they can satisfy their curiosity or hunger.

Reproducing aquarium plants for fun and profit

If you give enough space, nutrients, and lights to your plants, you may find that they begin to propagate and reproduce. A vast majority of these plants reproduce asexually, meaning that, if the conditions are healthy, they will simply begin sprouting new individual plants without your intervention at all.

Some species of plant, however, may need your help reproducing, and often it is worthwhile to expend the effort— aquarium pants, just like fish, can be bred and sold for profit. Seeded plants like lilies are notably more complicated to breed, and tend to command higher prices than their asexual cousins:

• A plant cutting is exactly what it sounds like: a segment of the parent plants’ stem, cut and replanted into the substrate of the aquarium or pot. In most cases, these cuttings will grow their own roots and turn into full-fledged individual plants over time.

• Plants that have seeds will need to be sexed and paired in order to propagate successfully. The two parent plants will need to be flowering above the surface and then have their pollen transferred from one to the other. If pollination is successful, seeds will be produced and those need to planted in damp soil as quickly as possible.

Over time, you should be able to grow a healthy collection of extra plants using these aquarium plant care methods, and you can then begin to sell to or swap with other local aquarists either through the help of your local fish store or directly using an Internet classifieds website to find customers.

Rocks for your aquarium

planted rocky malawi aquarium

How to select the right rocks for your aquarium

While many aquarists around the world have no problem discovering their favourite varieties of fish, finding them, and then creating the perfect underwater environment for their fishkeeping hobby, determining how to select the right rocks for your aquarium can be a different story altogether. Many beginning aquarists are surprised to learn how important rocks can be in a marine environment.

Why are rocks important for your aquarium?

See plantless aquarium

Rocks in Malawi tanks

As you probably are already aware, your aquarium is essentially a miniature ecosystem that requires you to manage a precise chemical balance in which your fish can thrive. Thanks to water’s erosive qualities, the rocks in your aquarium will play a minor, but recognizable role in the “hardness” of your water— that is, the level of dissolved minerals in your water.

“Hard” water contains a higher level of dissolved minerals such as magnesium and calcium than “soft” water does. Obviously, the primary source of these dissolved minerals is the tap in your home, but the rocks that you introduce to your aquarium habitat can change the water hardness over time. Depending on the fish you wish to keep, this can be desirable or dangerous.

Additionally, well-placed and well-chosen rocks offer a beautiful decor that gives the tank a serene sense of beauty. Fish also love them, as the varied texture and landscape gives them lots of places in which they can hide and take shelter, just like their natural habitat would.

Aquascaping is enhanced with the addition of carefully selected rocks of various colours and textures. Make this choice based on the colours of the fish you plan to keep and whether the aquarium is to be planted or not.

Determining which rocks are safe

When it comes to finding out how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, its important to choose safe rocks, as certain types can be poisonous for your fish. There are several methods available to determining which rocks you can use:

• Purchasing aquarium-safe rocks. If you purchase aquarium-safe rocks from a quality pet store or aquarium supply centre, you can be relatively certain that the rocks will not gravely affect the hardness or pH level of your aquarium water.

If you choose to go this route, it is important that you purchase from trusted vendors, as some pet shops have been known to cut back on quality control and put unfit rocks up for sale.

• Testing outdoors rocks and gravel. Many aquarium enthusiasts and fish keepers like to take home interesting-looking rocks from riverbeds or other natural sources and introduce them into their aquariums. This approach requires testing, since outdoor rocks can contain high levels of calcium and other materials that will change the chemical content of your water and affect your fish. Granite, slate and sandstone are relatively inert and have little or no effect on the water chemistry. Also clay, although not strictly a rock, is a good source of rock-like material. Clay pots, pipes and slates can be used adding a nice brown colour to the landscape.

How to test outdoors rocks for aquarium use

If you have found some interesting rocks that you would like to introduce to your aquarium, there are two main ways to test them for use in your aquarium:

• The vinegar test. Vinegar reacts with calcium by fizzing and foaming on contact. If you pour a few drops of vinegar on your rocks and you see that they begin to react in this way, you should not use the rocks in your aquarium. This is an indicator of high levels of calcium. Rocks that do not react with vinegar can generally be used, but a more reliable test may be in order if you would like to be perfectly certain.

• The standing test. If you have some rocks or gravel that you would like to introduce to your aquarium and would like to test them securely, the best way is through the standing test. Let the rocks stand for a week in a bucket of the same water that you use for your aquarium, and then test the water hardness and pH level.

If you see that the water quality has not significantly changed, then you can reasonably expect that the rocks are aquarium-safe. Naturally, longer testing times will provide more detailed results, and help eliminate any doubt about the quality of the rocks or gravel you have found. When figuring out how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, the standing test represents the best way to be absolutely certain, although it takes time.

Also after adding new rocks it is wise to keep an eye on the fish over the following weeks to see if they show any sign of distress. Some rocks may very slowly release poisons into the water over the long term. If the fish do show some signs of distress, try removing the rock and do a 50% water change to see if the distress is relieved.

Freshwater vs. saltwater considerations

As you would expect, there is a marked difference between the types of rocks ideal for freshwater tanks and those that saltwater tanks can safely house. If you are a beginning aquarist determining how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, you need to base your choice of rocks on the type of water you are using.

While freshwater tanks are significantly simpler to manage, saltwater aquarists have additional concerns about maintaining the salinity of their tanks’ water. Given that some rocks can have poisonous effects, and that most will affect the water quality in some way over time, it is important to choose carefully and test your rocks.

An additional option that can help maintain excellent water quality, appropriate salinity, and balance a tanks’ pH level is live rock. Live rock is especially useful in saltwater tanks, but is also recommended for certain freshwater tanks such as the Malawi biotope, where it also helps create a decorative atmosphere in place of plants that may not be present.

What is live rock?

See live rock and live sand

Live rock is a bit of a misnomer, since the material in question is neither a rock nor alive. Live rock is made up of pieces of coral skeleton that have broken off of reefs and are collected for use in home aquariums. These coral skeletons become natural biological filters, helping the nitrogen cycle take place effectively.

In this case, the material that you are introducing to your aquarium is designed to affect the water composition, but in a positive way. Live rock introduces helpful bacteria, algae, and tiny invertebrates that can improve the quality of your aquarium water. Live rocks can raise the salinity and the pH level of your tank water. If you are looking for attractive solutions on how to select the right rocks for your aquarium, live rock is an important element to consider.

As an added benefit to saltwater aquarists, live rock can form the foundation of bright and colourful coral colonies that distinguish saltwater aquariums from their freshwater cousins. Many ambitious saltwater aquarists choose these rocks for their aquariums specifically for those species of bright coral to grow.

Additional considerations for your aquarium rocks: gravel

Since gravel often forms a significant element of any aquarium’s substrate base, it should be given special attention due to the additional concerns over its small size and numerous individual particles. Gravel offers a very natural appearance for your tank. The colour chosen must blend in naturally or pleasantly contrast the rock work. Examples are grey rock work with yellow sand or salmon pink rockwork with grey gravel.

Large-grained gravel allows waste to penetrate the substrate and stick unpleasantly to the bottom of the tank. This, in turn, will affect the water quality and the health and lifespan of your fish. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to use small-grained gravel or even sand. If you insist on using large-grained gravel, you will have to carefully and efficiently clean your tank regularly in order to maintain ideal water conditions.

Get sophisticated with aquarium lighting

Advanced lighting freshwater aquarium

Get sophisticated with your aquarium lighting

aquarium in kitchen
beautiful aquarium in kitchen. Good lighting and lots of angel fish

When considering all of the different elements that go into creating a successful aquarium, it is easy to let things like filters, tanks, and water circulation distract you from paying appropriate attention to aquarium lighting. The truth of the matter, however, is that lighting is an incredibly important element of your tank’s success.

The goal of proper aquarium lighting is no different than the goals of all the other parts of a successful tank: reproducing the natural habitat of the creatures you want to keep. This simple rule is what dictates most of the following tips concerning appropriate lighting for your aquarium habitat.

The importance of the day/night cycle

Many beginning hobbyists who are starting their first tanks make a critical mistake concerning their aquarium lighting: leaving it on. It may seem simple, but your fish feel just as uncomfortable being constantly bombarded with bright lights as you would, and this can make them feel stressed and begin acting unnaturally. It can even affect their health, making the day/night cycle an incredibly important element to reproduce for your tank.

Recreating the day/night cycle is not as difficult as it sounds, but it does take some effort. For one thing, you will almost certainly want to invest in an automatic lighting timer so that you do not have to rely on your memory to switch from day to night every 12 hours.

Another important consideration is the fact that most natural environments are not pitch black at night. Low-intensity lights can help your fish feel natural and happy at night by simulating the effects of moonlight, and offer you a convenient night light so that you can observe nocturnal behaviour without disturbing your fish.

How to reproduce daylight In your aquarium

While moonlight is relatively simple to simulate, reproducing daylight in an aquarium lighting setup is a bit more complex. This is because of the unique characteristics of the light that the sun emanates. Conventional lighting does not carry the same spectrum of wavelengths that sunlight does and can, in fact, be detrimental to a tank by promoting algae growth without offering the necessary ultraviolet benefits.

In order to reproduce daylight, it is necessary to understand the value of light wavelengths for the organisms in your tank. Generally, fish and plants respond best to a combination of ultraviolet light and low-wavelength red light. Combining bulbs that produce these two types of light in a balanced way is key to promoting plant photosynthesis as well as healthy, colourful fish.

Ultraviolet lights designed for aquarium use are commonly called actinic lights. They provide wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot see, but which are nonetheless necessary for the promotion of healthy plant and fish life without promoting uncontrolled algae growth.

Using light to control algae

well lit marine aquarium
Metal halide lamp lit aquarium

Encouraging the growth and health of aquarium plants without being overwhelmed by algae is a common concern for aquarists. Since both these organisms photosynthesize light in order to grow, your aquarium lighting can just as easily be used by algae as it can by your plants.

Fortunately, well-tended plants with about 12 hours of daily light will tend to outcompete algae for essential water nutrients. This means that if you have large, healthy plants that are receiving enough light to grow, they should keep algae to a minimum all by themselves.

One of the most common lighting issues that leads to algae growth is direct sunlight. If you are supplementing your aquarium lighting setup with direct sunlight, chances are that algae will grow in order to use the excess light, quickly overwhelming your aquarium in the process.

If you find that your tank is a target for constant algae growth, you probably need to reduce the amount of light that it is receiving every day. Some aquarists do this gradually, reducing the 12-hour day to a 10-hour day, and others prefer to cover the whole tank with a thick sheet for several days to create a total black-out. Either method can help control algae growth by limiting their access to light.

Managing the lighting needs of your fish

While light is incredibly important for live plants, and, if properly used, can help to control your algae population, your fish are also very sensitive to aquarium lighting. Different combinations of light temperatures can help fish exhibit more varied and exciting scale colouration. The overabundance of bright light of a single colour can make fish scales turn dull and unattractive.

This is especially true if you are using sand or some other bright, reflective substrate to line the bottom of your tank. Bright light reflecting off the surface of your substrate can spook your fish and make them act unnaturally, hide more often, and dull their scales’ colouration. In this case, a more subdued lighting setup is recommended.

If you have a dark-coloured substrate such as gravel, then you may be able to get away with bright aquarium lighting on the higher end of the Kelvin-temperature scale without spooking your fish. This will help encourage plant growth, inhibit algae, and keep your fish looking bright and healthy.

Using aquarium lighting to encourage breeding

If you are an aquarist who would like to encourage your fish to breed, you may have to alter the light conditions of your tank in order to get your fish to spawn. Some species of fish may even require you to reproduce the lunar cycle using your night lights in order to begin properly breeding with one another.

In general, fish are reluctant to breed if placed in a brightly lit environment. Most fish are conditioned to begin breeding in the morning when lighting is dim, so timing your lighting correctly can make a great difference in encouraging your fish to begin spawning young fry. In this case, slowly raising the intensity of your lighting setup can help create the impression of a rising morning sun.

Types of lights and their benefits

While there are numerous options on the market for aquarium lighting solutions, the three most common choices are as follows:

• Flourescent Lights;

• Metal Halide Lights;

• LED Lights.

Of these three, fluorescent lights are by far the cheapest, and offer the simplest lighting solutions for a wide variety of aquarium habitats. Metal Halide lights are notably more expensive, but make one of the best possible choices for reef aquariums and other tanks that need high quality full-spectrum light. For most aquarium keepers, however, LED lights are the best choice available.

LED lit marine aquarium
beautifully lit LED tropical marine aquarium

LED lights represent some of the newest advances in lighting technology for aquariums: they are inexpensive, do not produce the same overheating problems that other lights do, and often last for years. As an additional benefit, aquarium-specific LED lights produce much less yellow/green spectrum light, which helps to maximize the efficiency of your aquarium lighting set up.

Beginners guide to newly bought fish

The beginning aquarist’s emergency setup: new fish survival guide

Beginners guide to newly bought fish

It seems perfectly reasonable to a newcomer; excited to be entering the world of fishkeeping, purchasing their first batch of fish at the spur of the moment and taking them immediately home to introduce to their brand new aquarium habitat.

Beware, however, as this is a common cause of unnecessary fish death due to what is frequently called New Tank Syndrome. A brand new fish tank is not immediately ready to support your fish, and introducing them immediately can unbalance the delicate ecosystem of your aquarium.

See also cycling a new fish tank

and how to start a fish tank

How to keep your new fish alive

Although the situation described above may seem perfectly reasonable at first, the fact of the matter is that the fish tank environment is a much more subtle one that it may appear at first glance. Simply throwing your fish into a tank of tap water and hoping for the best will not work.

Your fish tank needs some time to become established before it is ready for fish to be introduced; this is performed through a process called fish tank cycling. A properly cycled fish tank is ready for fish to inhabit it because the bacteria necessary to process fish waste matter are present in the filters, providing the correct quality water to support life.

How to cycle your fish tank

A brand new fish tank does not contain all of the elements necessary to sustain your new fish’s life. In order for this to happen, it must be given enough time for the nitrogen cycle to take place: Bacteria will grow in the filter, converting toxic ammonia (broken down from fish waste) into nitrite, and nitrite into less harmful nitrate.

After being left to grow in the filtration system for a few weeks, the bacteria will take care of this job by themselves and let your fish lead long, happy lives. During this time, you are recommended to add fish to the tank one at a time over the weeks so as not to overwhelm the bacterial colony.

If you already brought your fish home

If you have just bought a brand new fish tank, threw in your fish, and are only reading this now, you need to adhere to the following emergency setup guide. This will take some work, but if you are careful about it, you will be able to avoid having any of your fish die.

• Do not over feed the fish. For the first 2 or 3 days do not feed the fish at all. Then start light feeding the fish for a couple of weeks. As the weeks go by and the filter becomes more established, increase feeding to normal amounts.

• Do not add ammonia. You may have read that you need to add ammonia to your fish tank in order to create the correct environment for your fish— you don’t anymore. This is only for a fishless tank cycling in which you let the bacteria grow before adding fish. Now that you have fish in the water, they will start producing ammonia by themselves, and that is precisely the problem.

• Change the water daily. Essentially, the problem you are facing is that your fish are slowly being choked by their own waste. You need to flush out the waste by changing 25% of the water volume every day for the first few weeks. This will keep the ammonia levels suitably low until the bacteria have a chance to grow.

• Use de-chlorinated water. If you filled your fish tank with tap water, chances are that there is chlorine present in the water. Dissolved chlorine is added to tap water in order to prevent bacteria from growing. Also, chlorine irritates and burns the fish. Furthermore, the beneficial bacteria will not grow in chlorinated water.

Thankfully, there is an easy way to de-chlorinate most tap water: simply leave the water out and exposed to air for 24-48 hours and the chlorine will evaporate. Having a large barrel of water standing in the garden to draw from can make this task easier. Most pet stores also carry commercial de-chlorinating chemicals that can do the same thing in a rush. If you already have fish in the tank, you should immediately de-chlorinate your water this way.

Keeping up the emergency setup

You will need to keep a careful eye on your fish and make sure that they look healthy. Changing 25% of the water every day should be enough to remove the waste, but you will also want to check for disease during this time.

Your fish, having just been transplanted into a new habitat, are highly susceptible to a wide range of problems at this point. Check for sick-looking fish with inflamed gills or ones that look like they are struggling for air. If you see that your fish look like they are gasping for air at the surface of the water, then an immediate water change is needed.

Heavy breathing, rapid gasping and wide opening gills are also indicators of toxic water. Fish in water with ammonia, nitrites and chlorine, after a few days, will succumb to illness. It can be useful to set up a temporary “hospital” tank in which you can isolate sick fish so as not to threaten the rest of your population.

During this time, you will want to check the ammonia and nitrite levels in your tank regularly and cut back on feeding your fish too much. More food turns into more waste, which can cause an ammonia spike and create more damage. Once you begin to see readings of zero ammonia and zero nitrite regularly for a week, it is safe to call off the emergency and begin enjoying your new tank normally.