Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Difficult to beat the beauty of a male pearl gourami

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

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

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

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

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

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

Buy the right camera to take pictures of your fish

Digital camera with optical zoom
Digital camera with optical zoom

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

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

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

Lighting techniques to help take good quality tropical fish pictures

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

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

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

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

Composition of your aquarium scene

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

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

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

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

Taking close up shots of your fish

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

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

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

Tips on obtaining better tropical fish pictures

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

Use of a special photographic aquarium

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

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

Use of coloured backgrounds for photographing your fish

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

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

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

Foreground plants and specimen plants

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

Foreground plants and specimen plants

More about aquascaping basics here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

These are plants that stand out as individual plants. They occupy the middle to front of the aquarium. They usually have large leaves and visible stems. Only a few are needed or even a single large dominating plant is a possibility. Here is a range of easy to care for foreground plants.

cryptocoryne-beckettii
cryptocoryne-beckettii

Cryptocoryne Becketti

Long slim pointed leaves with a serrated edge. The plant can turn from green to red in brighter light. Use of fertiliser and brighter light helps this plant grow faster but is not necessary.

Plant separately in individual pots. It does not like its roots touching the cold aquarium bottom.

It gows 6″ to 8″ and requires low to medium lighting with a temperature range of 75-82F. It is a nice low maintenance plant once established.

Cryptocoryne Undulata

cryptocoryne-undulata
cryptocoryne-undulata

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves grow upwards from short thin stems.
Leaves tend to turn red or brown when kept in bright lighting which can be quite attractive depending on your own personal preference. In moderate to low lighting the leaves remain green.
It grows between 4″-8″ and is flexible in terms of the lighting conditions provided.
It does best in temperatures between 72F-82F and a ph 6-8
It is an easy to care for plant

Cryptocoryne Wendtii

It has medium to long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This is the most popular and most recommended of the crypt plants. They grow between 4″-6″ but there are also larger sub-varieties of Wendtii.
It likes a water temperature of 72-82F and a ph between 6-8. It likes low to moderate lighting
This is the easiest to keep of the crypts.

cryptocoryne-willisi
cryptocoryne-willisi

Cryptocoryne Willisi

It has long slim pointed leaves with wavy edges. The leaves gow up from thin short stems and are green in colour.
This plant likes medium to bright light.
It grows to 6″ in height. Ph of 6.5 -7.2 . Temperature range 72-81F
It is one of the toughest Cryptocoryne species.

Echinodorus Tenellus

It has a grass like appearance with nice long slim green leaves. Under water grass that will cover most of the foreground area. Place larger plants within the middle of it.
Will grow and spread quickly once established. It prefers soft water with a ph of about 5.5-7.5
It grows to 3.5″ and likes bright lighting. Keep the temperature between 62F-80F

Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae
Lilaeopsis-novae-zelandiae

Lilaeopsis novae zelandiae

This is a grass like plant with long thin green leaves that bunch together. It propogates off runners. Just take cuttings when the mini plants develop roots.
Needs bright lighting. Grows between 3″-5″ high. Keep at temperatures between 64F-82F. It has a pH range 6.8-7.5

Giant Sagittaria

Long but wide green leaves that fan out from the base and no stem. Can also be placed in a coldwater aquarium.
Grows to 8″ tall. It needs bright lighting. Teperature range of 61F-79F

More unusual foreground plants

Anubias-barteri-nana
Anubias-barteri-nana

Dwarf Anubias

A short plant with green privet shaped leaves. It is good for low lit aquariums. Temperature range of 72-82F. ph range of 6.0 – 9.0. Grows from 3-4 inches tall. Can be attached to bogwood or rocks away from the aquarium floor. It develops a good root system.

Java Fern

This is a popular plant and for good reason. It is a relatively easy to care for plant that survives in most aquarium conditions. The leaves are bitter tasting to most fish and is usually left alone. It likes low lighting conditions. It will grow to 10inches tall. Temperature range of 68-79F. Ph between 6-8 ph. It prefers not to be planted but to have its roots attched to a rock or a piece of bogwood. The plant has long wide pointed leaves.

Radicans Swordplant

radicans-sword
radicans-sword

Quite a large plant. Can grow up to 24 inches. So you need a larger taller aquarium. It has long stems and round leaves. It likes bright light and a temperature range between 64-82F. PH 6.5-7.5. An easy to care for plant.

Red Tiger Lotus

This is a stunning and dominating plant with variegated red, orangey or yellow leaves. The leaves are wide, round and crinkly. It can grow to 12-20 inches tall. It needs bright light and a temperature between 72-82 and a ph of between 6.5-7.5. Relatively easy to care for but will need to be pruned occasionally.

Java Moss

This not a plant but is a moss that grows in the shape of a bush. It can be pruned and trimmed to the right shape and size. It is not fussy over lighting conditions. It is a tough and undemanding plant that grows slowly and doesn’t need much attention. Fool proof plant. Temperature range of 68F-86F. Ph 5-8 or more.

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Find out about how to maintain a tank here

Find out about aquascaping here

Perhaps you have an old aquarium that hasn’t been used in a while and you want to spruce it up and make it usable once again. Or you could have an aquarium that is in use, but you have had it for a long time and you might be feeling a bit bored with it, even if your fish aren’t. After all, every once in a while we need to change the décor of our home, right? An aquarium is like a tiny room in our house that needs sprucing up every once in a while. There are a number of ways to spruce up an old aquarium for your pleasure and for the current or new occupants.

Give your aquarium a good clean

It’s best to start with a thorough cleaning of your aquarium. While you likely clean your tank weekly, as recommended, sometimes an aquarium needs some spring cleaning, aka. a complete overhaul. Before you decide to spruce up the old aquarium, start by cleaning it thoroughly. In fact, you can alter the appearance of your aquarium simply by making everything bright and clean once again.

Changing the water

The first thing you will need to do is change the water in the tank. To do this, you will need to syphon off at least half the water in the aquarium and add “aged water” to the tank to replace the water you removed. What is “aged water”? This is water that you have poured from your home faucet into a never-used or sterilized container, such as a bucket.

The key to aging this water is to allow it to sit and reach room temperature. You can allow it to sit and aerate long enough to de-chlorinate, which takes about 24 hours, or you can use a de-chlorination tablet or solution from your local pet store. You should also ensure your water is at the correct pH level, between 6.5 and 7.5. If your water is outside of this range, use a product from your pet store to adjust the pH of the water.

Cleaning the gravel bed

All kinds of debris gets buried in the gravel bed of your aquarium, including fish waste, uneaten food, and parts of plants that are dead and decomposing. These need to be removed by syphoning them from the tank. For this reason, it is ideal to do this at the same time you are removing old water from the tank.

Remove any accessories you have in your aquarium before you begin. Live plants can also be removed and placed in a dish of water. Place one end of the syphon in a bucket and place the other end in the tank. As you syphon the debris, use the end of the syphon hose or your fingers to gently stir up the debris, but not so much that it spreads throughout the whole aquarium. Remove as much debris as you can.

Scraping and cleaning the tank

After about half the water and as much debris as possible is removed from the aquarium, you can clean the sides of the tank and the accessories that were in it. Scrape any algae and other material off the sides of the tank and wipe it clean with paper towel. Use a brush or abrasive pad to clean accessories. Never use soap or chemicals when cleaning any part of your tank. It is also important not to change or clean the filter at this time. Good bacteria live in your aquarium and in the filter. Since you have probably cleaned much of it out of the aquarium, you need what is in the filter, so wait two to three weeks before cleaning or changing the filter.

Tank accessories

Once your tank is clean the real fun can begin. Changing the accessories in your tank, or simply adding new ones, is perhaps the easiest way to spruce up your old aquarium, but there are other ways to make it look grand and provide you with a much-needed change. Here are a few suggestions:

Get some live plants:

If you have only synthetic plants in your aquarium, you can choose to replace or augment those with live plants. If you are unsure about using live plants, just start with one or two. They will help oxygenate the water and create a more natural environment for your fish. They also look beautiful. You might have to trim them back as they grow and they will need a full spectrum light on the tank, but otherwise they are very low maintenance.

Change the color of the gravel:

This is a bigger job that requires the removal of the old gravel, but changing the color of the gravel will really add some new zing to your aquarium.

Go with a theme:

You can choose new accessories for your aquarium based on a specific theme. You are only limited by your imagination, so check out the many different types of accessories and themes at your local pet store and online. Choose from sunken ruins, Easter Island, Super Mario, a bathroom scene, Sponge Bob Square Pants, an underwater volcano, or any one of a number of others. Make up your own scene for a more personalized aquarium.

Use a 3D background:

3D aquarium backgrounds offer an added dimension of scenery for both you and your fish. These backgrounds don’t just offer a pretty 3D picture on a 2D surface; they offer a vertical 3D surface that is textured and can even provide crevices, ledges, and rocks fish can explore and hide in. A 3D background definitely provides your fish with a more natural-looking environment, making them feel right at home.
Add different fish: Finally, to spruce up your old aquarium, you can add new fish. Of course, you have to have the space for these fish and you need to be sure the new species can comfortably live with the fish you already have, but as long as these factors allow for it, new colors and types of fish can be a welcome change.

Change the lighting:

You can go with a brighter light to bring life to a dark aquarium. Or get a day glo type bulb to reveal more natural colours. There are even bulbs that bring out reds or blues more. If you have red fish or blue fish that you would like to bring out the colours, then bulbs like this will add sparkle to your aquarium.

Sprucing up an old aquarium can be a fun, creative project. You can do it on your own or involve the whole family. Just remember that the happiness and wellbeing of your fish come first. As long as this is your first priority, use your imagination and have fun creating an aquarium that will not only look great, but will become a conversation piece for anyone who visits your home.

Selecting midground plants for your aquarium

Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background
Good midground plants will stand out from the background

What is a midground plant?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about background plants here

A midground plant is a plant that acts as a filler in the mid area of the aquarium. Usually planted as individual plants. Midground plants should have distinctive large leaves and colour. They should be short plants to not block out the background. A good midground plant will stand out against the background without dominating the scene. Midground plants create the ‘body’ of the aquascape, whereas background plants create the skeleton of the aquascape.

I will list below recommended midground plants for your aquarium that are easy to care for.

Anubias barteri known as broadleaf anubias

Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant
Anubias barteri makes an excellent midground plant

This is a slow growing plant that has tough, firm dark leaves and is recommended for an aquarium with fish that destroy plants. It should be planted singly in the midground. They prefer a heated substrate. Needs moderate to bright lighting. Temperature range of 72F-82F. ph of 5.5 to 8 and moderately soft water.

Giant Bacopa

This is a fast growing plant that likes bright light and can be kept in hard watere. It is a stemmed plant with medium spade shaped leaves all along its stems. Can be propogated by taking cuttings. Leaves can turn red under very bright light. It can tolerate lower light levels. Temperature range 68F-82F. Water ph 6.5-7.7.

Japanese Cress

Healthy specimen of japanese watercress
Healthy specimen of japanese watercress

An unusual plant with a disorganised growth pattern. It is not strictly tropical so should only be used in the unheated aquarium. It is hardy except that it can be affected by medications and chemicals. It does prefer bright light. Temperature range is 61F-72F. Water ph 6.5-7.8.

Stargrass

This plant can grow tall and should be trimmed down. The leaves are long and slender and grow out in groups of 5,6,7 leaves giving it a star like shape. They do better with a little fertiliser occasionally and good lighting. Temperature range is 72F-80F. Water ph 5-7 and low hardness is preferred.

Water pennywort

The leaves of this plant are large and round with lace like edging. The leaves grow all along winding and branching stems. This plant will try to reach the water surface, where it will grow leaves that block out the light to the aquarium below. So, trim back before the plant reaches the surface. It prefers bright light. Temperature range is 68F-82F. Water ph range is 6-8.

Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light
Green ludwigia makes an excellent midground plant but needs good light

Green ludwigia (ludwigia palustris)

This is an easy to care for plant. There are various varieties of this plant. The best, recommended variety has bright solid green leaves which are medium/small in size. It prefers bright light. Temperature range 64F-80F. Water ph range is 6.5-7.5 with moderate hardness.

 

Background plants for your aquarium

aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

Which background plants for your aquarium?

More about aquascaping basics here

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

How to recognise good background aquarium plants

What is meant by ‘background plant’? This refers to plants that will be placed along the back and sides of your aquarium. These type of plants usually grow tall and cover most of the rear of the aquarium. And finally they usually provide a good background contrast to foreground plants. This is achieved by having bushy growth or fine leaves. Listed below are the best background plants in terms of beauty and ease of care.

Magenta Water Hedge (Alternanthera Reineckii)

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

This is a plant that will contrast well against other green plants because of its red/purple coloured leaves.

Because it is a little short it has to be planted in groups to form an effective background or as a space filler between taller plants. There is a taller variety that does make an ideal background plant.

Allow space between each stem so that each plant will obtain enough nutrients from the substrate and also they don’t block each other’s access to light. It does need good lighting or it will not thrive. Push fertiliser tablets near its roots because they do like a lot of nutrients. The water hedge prefers neutral to slightly acidic and soft water with a temperature range of 72F-80F. Hardiness is average.

Green Cabomba

fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds
fast growing green cabomba with bushy fronds

This is a plant that needs strong lighting and fertilisers tablets near its roots or it tends to disintegrate. It is better to keep the aquarium water well filtered because the fine frond like leaves collect debris. Plant cabomba in groups. Easy to propogate by taking cuttings from the top. Prune when it grows too long. Temperature range is 60F-80F. It prefers water that is around neutral in ph with a moderate hardness. It is medium in difficulty to care for.

Onion Plant

This plant sometimes known as the aquatic onion plant resembles an onion plant but is unrelated. It grows long slender but thick leaves that don’t branch. It has a bulb above its root system. The leaves tend to spiral slightly as it grows. It is a tough low maintenance plant. It is good with cichlids and goldfish. It needs moderate lighting. Temperature range of 64F-80F and can handle a wide range of water conditions around neutral ph and moderate hardness.

Cryptocoryne Balansae

cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves
cryptocoryne balansae variety crinkly leaves

This plant has long slender crinkly leaves with pointed tips. It can grow well in hard water and can be grown under different brightness. However it will grow faster in bright light. It propogates by sending out runners with plantlets that grow on the runners. It is a hardy plant and easy to care for. Plant in groups for a nice effect. One of the best background plants. Temperature range 73F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph between 6-8ph and a moderate hardness level.

Broadleaf Amazon sword plant

This is a good beginners plant and makes a good background plant but does need to be kept pruned because it grows large. It needs a reasonably bright light. It can cope with a temperature range between 68F and 82F. Does benefit from the occasional fertiliser tablet. It does not care much about its water chemistry as long as extreme conditions are avoided.

Ruffled Amazon sword plant

This is another easy to keep amazon sword variety. It is more bushy than the broad leafed amazon and its broad leaves have an attractive crinkle to them. It needs the occasional fertiliser tablet and some good lighting to thrive. Temperature range of 72F-82F and likes a wide range of ph and hardness with slightly acid being preferred.

Spadeleaf plant

The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant
The spade leaf is an easy to care for background plant

This is a very broad leafed plant. It is easy to look after and grows quickly when supplied with bright light and tablet fertilisers. It can become quite bushy because of its fast growth. It likes a temperature range of 50F-82F. It likes a wide range of ph and water hardness.

Water wisteria

Water wisteria is an easy to keep plant with finely branched leaves. Use a table fertiliser near its roots and a bright light to ensure good growth. Water wisteria likes a temperature range of 73F-82F. Likes average water conditions around 7 ph but is not too fussy.

Dwarf Hygrophila

This is a popular aquarium plant and for good reason. It is low maintenance and very hardy. It will grow under nearly all aquarium conditions. Plant in groups of five in the background to create a bushy background. It does grow rather quickly. It does prefer bright light but can get by in moderate lighting. The preferred temperature range is 64F-86F. Ph range 5.0ph – 8.0ph.

Green myriophyllum

The green myrio is a great beginners background plant
The green myrio is a great beginners background plant

A great looking background plant that creates a fine leaved layer of green bushes all along the back of the aquarium. Keep the aquarium well filtered because debris in the water will collect in the plants fine leaves. Temperature range between 59F-77F.

Dwarf Rotala

Dwarf rotala is a stem plant with leaves that grow all along single stems. In bright light the leaves take on a reddish colour over the green. This plant grows quickly when kept in brightly lit aquariums. It is an easy to care for plant. Temperature range is 68F-84F. Ph 5.5-7.5.

Straight vallisneria

The vallisneria is a tough, easy to care for plant. It reproduces by sending out runners on which plantlets sprout out. Each plantlet can be cut off when the plantlet has grown roots. It will grow quickly in the right conditions. Because of this it needs to be thinned out by separating out the leaves of the plant. vallisneria grows best in bright light but it will tolerate low lighting conditions. It is best planted in thickets surrounding the back and sides of the aquarium. Temperature range of 59F-86F. ph range is ph6-ph8.5.

The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough
The corkscrew vallisneria is prettier than the straight version but not as tough

Corkscrew vallisneria

The corkscrew vallisneria is similar in appearance to the straight version but with spiral leaves. It is not as hardy as the straight leaved version and needs moderate to hard water to thrive. And will not do well unless bright lighting is provided. Temperature range of 75F-82F. Ph range is ph6-ph8.

 

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

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

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

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

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filtration System

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

Plants and Plant Types

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

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

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

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

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

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

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

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

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

Different Coloured plants

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

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

Open Spaces for Fish

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

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

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

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

Use of Rocks and Stones

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

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

Get Started!

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

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

14 best fish from Lake Tanganyika

Cyphotilapia frontosa male

14 best fish from lake Tanganyika

I will assume that you know how to set up a typical lake Tanganyika aquarium with the correct hard water and high ph paramaters with typically a sandy substrate and some rocky areas with cave like structures. And that you need over filtration and many small water changes to maintain the Tanganyika aquarium.

Some of the following fish live in deeper waters so like less light and less water movement. While other species live in the shallows and like more light with plenty of water movement.

paracyprichromis nigripinnis - blue neon cichlid
paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

Paracyprichromis nigripinnis – blue neon cichlid

The blue neon cichlid is a very attractive shoaling fish. So there needs to be a group of over 6 fish. It has a salmon coloured body with thin blue lines and blue tinged fins. It is a long dart shaped fish.
It is a shy fish and prefers subdued lighting and rocky caves. the rock structure should be tall. The males hang upside down underneath rocks. Feed with daphnia, brine shrimp and small grained dried foods. Keep in a species tank or with other shy and peaceful fish.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder where the female will brood from 21-28 days. It is difficult to breed. But once bred, the fry are quite large and will eat baby brine shrimp

Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

Julidochromis ornatus - golden julie
Julidochromis ornatus – golden julie

The golden julie is probably the most beautiful of the julidochromis species. It grows to around 3 inches. Keep in a typical Lake Tanganyika setup with sandy substrate and rock formations at both ends of the tank.
Needs a diet of live food and dried foods. Be careful of large water changes as this disturbs the fish.
Golden julies are cave spawner with both parents tending the spawn and fry. Golden julies form extended families where young fish from previous spawning help guard newer spawnings. The fish mate like typical cichlids forming definite marriages. So it is best to buy 6 or more youngsters and allow themselves to pair off naturally.

Tropheus kiriza

More about tropheus here

These fish are black with a wide belt of yellow around their middle from belly to dorsal fin. They are a maternal mouthbrooder. kiriza’s are aggressive between themselves but do not bother other fish too much. They eat algae and the lifeforms in the algae. So must be fed with mostly vegetable matter such as spirulina. They grow to about 5 inches in length. Aggression may be lessened by having 6 or more Kiriza’s. They like rocky formations and caves above sand. They live near the shore so a lot of water movement is appreciated by them.
Difficult to keep, so buy tank raised specimens and do frequent small water changes and over filter the water. Feed only once or twice a day.

Tropheus duboisi

tropheus kiriza male female spawning
tropheus kiriza male female spawning

The duboisi starts off as a spotty teenager, black in colour with white spots. But when he matures he will have a blue face, black body and a white band. They will grow to 5 inches. Feed spirulina and other vegetable matter and some veggie based dried foods. They are maternal mouthbrooders and the female will hold the eggs and fry for about 21-28 days before releasing them. Feed the fry on baby brine shrimp and microworms.

All tropheus are active and boisterous fish. They should not be kept with timid or smaller fish to reduce aggression. This is the easiest of the tropheus species to keep, but still not for the beginner.

Tropheus bemba

Similar in appearance to kiriza except it has a wide orange band on its black body. Feed in the same way. Spirulina, veggie matter and veggie based dried food. Grows to 6 inches long. Will breed at 2.5 inches. Best kept in larger aquariums. Feed only once or twice a day to prevent bloat.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Tropheus ikola

Similar in colour to the kiriza except the yellow band is a wider band that covers the mid half of the body and the head and body being black.
Difficult to keep – see tropheus kiriza

Cyphotilapia frontosa

Cyphotilapia frontosa male
Cyphotilapia frontosa male

Known as “fronts” by aquarists. They are the kings of the Tanganyika set up growing to 12 inches. They are tameable and will eat from your hand. But you do need a very large aquarium to succeed with them because they are gregarious and you need at least 6 fish for them to be happy. They are female mouthbrooders. They are fairly easy to care for. Keep in an open sandy aquarium with a few rocky shelters. They are gentle giants and can be kept with other not too small fish.

Cyprichromis leptosoma

They are a schooling fish that swim in open waters. It is recommended to keep at least 10 in an aquarium. They are an attractive fish with elongated blue bodies and fins and a yellowy orange tail. There are various colour morphs, all of which are attractive. They grow to 3-4 inches long. So, to keep 10 in an aquarium requires a large aquarium. There is a giant morph that grows to 5 inches or over.

Cyprichromis leptosoma male
Cyprichromis leptosoma male

They are a maternal mouthbrooder. But they breed mid water. The female lays some eggs. The male fertilises them and then the female backs up to catch her newly fertilised eggs in her mouth. They fry are released after 3 weeks into a cave or other secluded spot. The few fry are quite large.
They are peaceful and relatively easy to keep and will eat most foods offered to them. They can coexist with cave dwelling tankmates because they live mid-water.
lamprologus ocellatus – shell dweller – small 2″ – breed inside shell
This is called the frogface cichlid because of its bulging eyes and large head. It has a delicate beauty with a bluish silvery sheen on its sides. It is a small fish at just under 2 inches, quite lively but peaceful. It is a candidate for a nano aquarium but with hard water. The frogface makes an ideal Tanganyika community fish. it lives on the sandy floor of the aquarium and requires snails shells for territory and breeding. Always have more shells than frogface cichlids otherwise an individual without a shell will get bullied. The female will lay eggs inside her shell which the male will fertilise. The shells are usually buried in the sand with only the mouth exposed. They eat a mixed diet of small live food and high quality pellet food.

Lamprologus signatus

Lamprologus signatus live and guard their own shells. Breeding occurs in the female’s shell. The eggs hatch and the fry slowly leave the shell when they become free swimming. The adults do not eat the fry. Feed the fry with newly hatched brine shrimp.
They grow larger than their relatives ocellatus up to 3 inches. They have an attractive pattern of many vertical dark bars on their sides.

Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells
Neolamprologus Similis near snail shells

Neolamprologus Similis

Known as the zebra shell dweller. This is another nano species. It is even smaller than ocellatus. They have wonderful breeding behaviour. They breed in the female’s shell but also have extended families where young from previous spawnings will help guard the new fry. Less of a digger than the other shell dwellers.
Zebra shell dwellers can be included in a Tanganyika community aquarium alongside other Neolamprologus such as brichardi, or smaller Julidochromis species and even open water species such as the blue neon cichlid. It is easy to care for and readily breeds. Empty French escargot snail shells are ideal.

Neolamprologus leleupi

Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid
Neolamprologus leleupi lemon cichlid

Commonly called the lemon cichlid. This is a long time favourite of aquarists because of its brilliant yellow colour. Both males and females are equally yellow. The lemon cichlid is a peaceful fish except when spawning. They can be community fish but note that they can grow up to 5 inches and they like good water conditions. They need to be kept in a light sandy aquarium otherwise they will darken and lose their brilliant yellow colouration.
The lemon cichlid is a solitary fish only coming together with the female when it is time to mate. Breeding occurs in caves. Both the male and female guard the young. The fry become quite large and are well guarded by the parents.
The lemon cichlid needs foods rich in carotene so that it can keep its brilliant yellow colour. Also, if not using a proprietory Tanganyikan salt mix for the water then use of iodine containing salt must be added to the water occasionally.

Xenotilapia flavipinnis

Known as the yellow sand cichlid. They swim in groups close to the sand. Keep a group of at least 6 fish together. They grow to 3.5 inches. They are peaceful and make a good community fish with other peaceful fish. They do like good water conditions so provide good filtration and water changes. The yellow sand cichlid heads to rocky areas when breeding. Both fish will mouthbrood. At first the mother takes all the eggs into her mouth. After 8-10 days the eggs are transferred to the father’s mouth. The father holds the fry for a further 10 days and releases the free swimming fry.nd microworms. You can feed the fry on baby brine shrimp a The parents keep protecting the young for a further 3 weeks. The fry will re-enter the male’s mouth when frightened.

Enantiopus kilesa

male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females
male enantiopus kilesa displaying passing females

This is truly a beauty of a fish. Well, the male anyway. He has a blue sheen along his body and a turqoise forehead with a yellow throat that he expands for display. It is a long torpedo shaped fish, growing to 5 inches in the aquarium. But what is more remarkable is that the male builds sand mounds and ditches to impress passing females. Both male and female hover above the sand.
They breed as typical mouthbreeders with the male and female twirling round each with their mouth on the other’s vent area.
So it goes without saying, you need a fine sandy substrate.
They can eat good quality pellets and live or frozen foods. They are not aggressive. You need a large group of at least 8 to see the full range of behaviours. So, you need a 6 foot tank or even bigger. enantiopus is not a difficult fish to keep and breed but it is not a beginners fish either.
Do not overfeed. Feed only once or twice a day. It can be a community fish when kept with other peaceful Tanganyika species.

Lestradea perspicax

This is another peaceful sand loving mouthbrooder. It grows to 5 inches and should be kept in groups of 8 or more. It makes a good community fish with other peaceful Tanganyika species such as neolamprologus, julidochromis and xenotilapia species. Needs to be kept in a 48 inch tank or bigger with lots of sand and some rocky areas.
It is a maternal mouthbrooder. The males dig pits to attract the females. They breed in the pits with the typical mouthbrooder twirling. Not the most attractive fish but makes up for it in the behaviour department.

The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

The aulonocara peacock cichlid aquarium

all male peacock aquarium
all male peacock aquarium

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

Types of peacock cichlid aquariums

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

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

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

Single species and mixed species peacock cichlid aquariums

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing aulonocara peacock cichlid species for a mixed tank

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

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

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

male yellow peacock cichlid
male yellow peacock cichlid – aulonocara hansbaenschi

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

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

Breeding peacock cichlids

Click here for in depth article on breeding peacock cichlids

Peacock cichlid care

male orangle blotch peacock cichlid
dominant male orange blotch peacock cichlid

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

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

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

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

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

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

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

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

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

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

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

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

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

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

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

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

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

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

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

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

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

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

Plants and other creatures

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

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

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

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

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

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

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

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

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

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

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

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

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

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

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

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

15 best plants for beginners

Plants flourishing in a planted aquarium

Best plants for beginners to avoid plant failures

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

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

See also succeed with aquarium plants

and healthy aquarium plants

and aquascaping for beginners

Java moss

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

java moss
java moss

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

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

Java fern

java fern
java fern

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

Amazon sword

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

amazon sword
amazon sword

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

Amazon frogbit or duckweed

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

Anubias nana (Anubias barteri nana)

anubias nana
anubias nana

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

Anacharis (elodea)

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

Cryptocoryne wendtii

Cryptocoryne wendtii
Cryptocoryne wendtii

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

Dwarf hairgrass

dwarf hair grass
dwarf hair grass

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

Pygmy chain sword

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

Dwarf sagittaria

dwarf sagittaria
dwarf sagittaria

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

Water wisteria

water wisteria
water wisteria

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

Hornwort

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

Water Sprite

water sprite
water sprite

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

Rotala Rotundifolia

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

Hygrophila Polysperma

Hygrophila Polysperma
Hygrophila Polysperma

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

Tropical fish keeping on a budget

home made sponge filter

Tropical fishkeeping on a budget

home made sponge filter
home made sponge filter

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

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

Reducing start-up costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making choices that save money over time

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

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

Plantless aquarium here

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

Live food rearing here

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

Common cost-saving mistakes

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

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

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

The plantless aquarium

Upright driftwood and stones on gravel base

How to approach plantless aquarium design successfully

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

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

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

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

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

entangled driftwood on gravel base
entangled driftwood on gravel base

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with algae in a plantless tank

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

Prevent algae here

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

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

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

Low maintenance floating plants

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

Step two: making your plantless aquarium design look great

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

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

Using rocks as decor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using rocks in your aquarium here

Making the most of driftwood

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

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

Other decorative items

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

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

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

male apistogramma agassizi

The dwarf cichlid aquarium

apistogramma cacatouides - double red
apistogramma cacatouides – double red

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

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

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

Choosing the correct species

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

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

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

See Kribensis here

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

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

My recommendation is that you concentrate on apistogramma.

Planning your dwarf cichlid aquarium

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

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

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

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

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

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

Considering live plants

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

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

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

Aquascaping with rocks and driftwood

rams with some dither fish
rams with some dither fish

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

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

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

Feeding and care of dwarf cichlids

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

Dwarf cichlid behaviour

male apistogramma agassizi
male apistogramma are very territorial with other males

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

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

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.