Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Amano's Ideal Light Levels Revealed

I've just stumbled upon this very interesting article on what the ideal level of light for an aquarium is according to the aquascapes of Takashi Amano. World-renowned aquascaper and founder of the Aqua Design Amano (ADA) contest and sponsoring company, Amano has published several books of his aquascapes and given light levels along with almost every aquascape. Using this information, John Fitch has not only discovered that Amano uses more light per gallon on smaller tanks, but has also developed a calculator to determine, using the data from Amano's tanks, roughly what light level Amano would be likely use on your aquarium. The calculator can be found in the article, which is called "Lighting as a Function of Tank Size in the Aquaria of Takashi Amano."

This is further evidence against the Watts per Gallon rule, which was always just a rough guide. In other words, 40 watts over a 10 gallon tank may seem like a lot of light (4WPG), but in fact, it should have closer to 65 watts. The reason for this is due to surface area, but exactly why I haven't quite gotten a handle on yet, so I'll do more research and report back when I have a better idea. All I know is that smaller tanks demand more light per volume and larger tanks demand less. The WPG rule holds for the most part in medium sized tanks (about 29 gallons to 55 gallons), but below and above that, it's better to go by something like this tool, or do your own calculations using surface area (-gulp-). Personally, I like the tool...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shrimp in the Freshwater Aquarium

Crystal Red Shrimp

Keeping freshwater shrimp can be extremely rewarding. If you're bored of fish, or want something other than fish in your aquarium that requires less maintenance, shrimp are a great option. In fact, many people keep tanks of just shrimp! There is just as much variety in the types of shrimp you can keep as the types of fish available. They come in all sizes and colors, range from very easy to keep to quite difficult, and are both easy to breed and nearly impossible in a freshwater aquarium. However, there are a few important things to consider when thinking about adding shrimp in general to an aquarium.

Blue Tiger Shrimp

First, you must consider your existing tankmates (should you have any). Shrimp come in all shapes and sizes, but in general are on the smaller side (around an inch or two). This makes them tasty snacks for larger fish. If you have any large fish, like Oscars or other cichlids, you may want to avoid wasting your money. Also, certain fish eat shrimp in the wild and will quickly consume any you may buy for your aquarium. These shrimp eating fish include loaches, puffers, and some gouramis. Mixing shrimp with fish is also not always a good investment due to the fact that if you buy a type of shrimp that does breed easily, baby shrimp will most likely be quickly snapped up. Therefore, your population will not replenish itself and the larger shrimp will die of old age.

Amano Shrimp

Second, the aquarium is filled with hazards for shrimp that don't exist in the wild, namely filter intakes. Most are shielded somewhat, and this does the job for most adult shrimp unless the filter is particularly strong. However, baby shrimp will be sucked into the filter and, depending upon what type of filter you have, either lead very boring lives stuck in a canister filter or be smashed to death in the impeller. To prevent this, you can either put a piece of stocking over the end of the intake and secure it with a rubber band or plastic tie; cut a hole in a sponge like the types you buy for filter media and stick this over the intake, or switch to air-driven sponge filters. The stocking and sponge options will qu
ickly clog with debris and need to be taken out and cleaned every week or two, so they are quite intensive. The sponge on the other hand is guaranteed not to bubble anything to death, but it will disperse CO2 if you are using it in your aquarium, and they tend to be quite large and ugly (not to mention take up valuable space inside the aquarium).

Cherry Shrimp

Third, make sure the type of shrimp you want matches your aquarium. Neocaridina japonica, or Amano shrimp, grow to be up to 2 inches long and eat algae, but the eggs will not hatch in freshwater. These are best suited for aquariums with fish. Crystal red shrimp can be upwards of $50 per shrimp for a good pattern and are very sensitive to water conditions, but will breed quickly if conditions
are right. You wouldn't want to put those in with fish unless you like to give your fish very expensive snacks. Do a little research on the type of shrimp you are interested in and make sure it works with your current or planned setup.

Tiger Shrimp

Finally, shrimp should only be put in a mature tank as t
hey are very sensitive to ammonia and nitrates. They are much more picky about water parameters. I've found that adding certain fertilizers containing trace elements will kill off my Cherry shrimp, but not my Amano shrimp (most likely due to the copper or other heavy metals in the fertilizer). A tank should not be medicated when shrimp are in it. They are often much more sensitive to medications than fish: copper being the most lethal. Even foods should be examined to make sure they do not contain copper.

Overall, shrimp are an excellent addition to an aquarium, and will add color, fun, and help clean the tank!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dogs Enjoy Aquariums Too!

Even my other pets enjoy my aquariums! That's Kaylee, my 9 year old Golden Retreiver. She loves watching the fish in my aquariums. Now I just have to teach her how to do water changes for me...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Golden Rule of Aquascaping

This is the first in a series of posts about the fundamentals of aquascaping. I'm posting these because I've found them very helpful in creating an aesthetically pleasing aquascape. They are by no means the "rules" of aquascaping, just guides.

When you're planning out an aquascape, one of the most important aspects
is where it will draw the viewer's gaze. In fact, a viewer's gaze is what the aquascape is all about. The primary goal of an aquascape is to be pleasing, relaxing, and interesting to look at for the viewer. In order to do so, you need to set a sort of "anchor" for the mind. This is called the focal point. It is the point that draws the gaze of the viewer first, from which they can explore the rest of the tank. A focal point can consist of almost anything, from a red leaved plant to a rock or a piece of driftwood. The only thing it must do is draw attention. You can't have a plant that blends in with every other plant be the focal point, you have to make it stand out in some way. There are a few simple things to remember about a focal point.

First, there should only be one. Having more than one focal point leaves the mind uncomfortable and stressed, looking back and forth from focal point to focal point. Only in extremely large tanks may you have two focal points comfortably.
Second, you should have some sort of focal point in every aquascape. Not having any does the same as having too many:
the viewer's eyes are left wandering back and forth, stressed and uncomfortable. Third, the focal point should be placed in a very particular (and special!) location. This is where we come to the Golden Rule of aquscaping. This Golden Rule dates all the way back to the Greeks. It seems the they came up with a theory that the ratio 1:1.618 was the most pleasing to the human eye. Many people assume that plopping the focal point in the middle is most pleasing, however, this will again keep your eyes wandering left and right. By placing it slightly off center, you are effectively gently guiding the viewer's eyes. You'll see this Golden Rule used in all forms of art, from paintings to architecture. But how do you use this Golden Rule in the aquarium?

It's actually fairly easy. All you need is a measuring tape (or r
uler) and a calculator. Simply measure your tank lengthwise from one end to the other. Then divide that number by 2.618. A 29 gallon tank, as an example, is 30 inches wide. 30 divided by 2.618 is 11.45 inches. Now take your measuring tape again and measure 11.45 inches from one side of the tank (you can measure from either side, but which side to put the focal point on is up to you). At exactly 11.45 inches exists an imaginary line. This is where your focal point should be centered.

The picture above shows an example of how Takashi Amano has used the Golden Rule in his aquascape. As you can see, he has placed a red, tall pant right at the Golden Rule, creating an effective, pleasing focal point. Take a look at the following aquascapes by Amano and see if you can find the focal point and the use of the Golden Rule:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Hygrophila Polysperma "Rosanervig" - Sunset Hygro

Scientific name: Hygrophila polysperma var. Rosanervig
Common name: Sunset Hygro
Geographic location: Asia
Temperature: 68F-84F
pH: 5.0-8.0
Light: Low (1.5WPG) to High (3WPG+)
Growth: Fast
Difficulty: Beginner

Hygrophila polysperma "Rosanervig," or Sunset Hygro as it is more commonly known, is a very versatile and beautiful cultivated variation of H. polysperma. Its leaves have veins of white (thought to be the result of a harmless virus) and turn shades of pink and red under adequate light. An undemanding plant, Sunset Hygro does not require CO2 or high light to grow. However, if these are provided, the plant will grow very rapidly, often requiring weekly trimming. Through frequent trimming the plant can be trained to take on a low, compact, bushy form and thus it can be a midground as well as a background plant. It is a perfect plant for beginners or lower light, low tech aquariums as it can survive in almost any conditions. If well trimmed and trained, it can also make a gorgeous centerpiece in an aquascape.

Sunset Hygro is fairly easy to obtain from other hobbyists but may be harder to buy in local fish stores due to its nuisance weed status. If you do need to get rid of some, please do not dump it into local waterways as it can clog them rapidly and kill off native species. Instead, put it in the trash.

Overall, Sunset Hygro has been one of the easiest plants to grow for me, and although it was a bit troublesome at first to work into an aquascape, through frequent trimming it has taken on a more attractive bushy appearance that blends will in my aquarium.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Siamese Algea Eater - Crossocheilus siamensis

Common name: Siamese Algae Eater
Scientific name: Crossocheilus siamensis
Geographic location: Southeast Asia
Size: Up to 15cm (6 inches)
Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Conditions: 72F-82F, pH 5.8-7.8
Skill level: Intermediate
Minimum tank size: 30 gallons

The Siamese Algae Eater (SAE) is well known to most veteran planted tank hobbyists. Like its name suggests, this fish eats algae, and unlike other fish that may be called algae eaters, this fish does the job. This is one of the trickiest aquarium fish to understand due to confusion and over enthusiasm for its abilities. However, it is fairly easy to care for once they are established in a tank.

First, you need to learn how to tell a true SAE from the many similar imitations that are often sold. The Flying Fox is just one look-alike that does not eat algae to the same extent an SAE does. True SAE's have a black band down their middle, but this black band has rough edges. The stripe also extends onto the tail, which is almost clear otherwise. There is also only one stripe. The rest of the fish is a brownish-beige. Any other stripes, markings, or color on the fins and it is not a true SAE.

SAEs do eat algae, mostly hair algae. However, if there is not enough algae in your tank to satisfy the SAE, it will quickly turn its attention to any other fine leaved plants. I have had my SAE strip moss, Rotala wallichi, and Mayaca fluvalitis. I've finally learned that I simply cannot keep any fine-leaved plants in the same tank or they will be eaten.

The SAE is not a cure-all for algae. It won't eat tons of algae, so you have to help fix the problem yourself as well. Also, it won't eat all types of algae. Green spot algae and blue green algae are not on the menu. These fish also eat less and less algae as they grow larger, and they do grow large. They can top out at almost 6 inches, so a large tank is a must, especially if you have more than one. They can also get aggressive towards other fish as they get larger. They tend to like to chase and harass other fish, however I've observed mine trying to school with similar looking fish (with a black band down their middle) like my otocinclus cats and Boesmani rainbows. Perhaps some of this aggression is mistaken for attempted schooling, as I have not seen any aggression so far from my SAE.

As an interesting fact, SAEs do not have a swim bladder like other fish to control their buoyancy. Instead, they must remain swimming or they sink to the bottom. You'll often observe an SAE resting on a leaf or piece of driftwood for this reason.

Bottom line: Make sure you get the right fish, bring a book if you have to. Don't put it in with fine leaved plants or they will be eaten. Finally, have a large enough tank with other semi-aggressive fish as it may beat up on extremely shy fish.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Humane Options for Aquarium Fish Disposal

We all make mistakes when selecting fish for our aquariums. Sometimes we simply buy too many fish for the aquarium's biological filter to handle. Perhaps a fish that we buy may be small now, but will get much larger later. Whatever reason, getting rid of an unwanted fish often leads to inhumane methods (flushing a fish down the toilet comes to mind). Sometimes, people just force the fish to die by neglecting the aquarium. There are awful, inhumane ways to get rid of fish (and yes, fish do feel pain) and then there are humane alternatives.

When you're stuck with an unwanted fish, think about these alternatives before doing anything drastic and barbaric. Some alternative options even put cash back in your pocket!

  • See if your local fish store will take the fish for store credit. Most local independent fish stores will do this if you ask in an effort to reduce mistreatment of fish. It also puts money (OK, well credit) back in your pocket. It may not be much, as the shop owner has to sell the fish for a profit, but it's better than $0 you would get if you killed the fish.
  • Take the fish to an aquarium society meeting to be auctioned off. Almost all major cities have an aquarium club or society, and you can even find larger regional clubs as well. Do a quick search online or ask at your local fish store. Chances are, there's one near you. These aquarium society meetings often hold auctions where those who attend bring all sorts of equipment, livestock, and plants to sell. Usually, half of the proceeds go to the club, but again, you get some money back in your pocket. Who knows, you may even get a great deal on a new tank to hold your fish!
  • Donate the fish to a school, hospital, or library. Many schools and libraries have fish tanks for educational purposes, and hospitals have them for relaxation. Often, they don't have much to spend on fish, so they will gladly accept an appropriate fish. Just make sure that they understand the requirements of the fish and that it is in fact a good match for the tank as they may gladly accept the fish only to discover that they cannot keep it for one reason or another.
  • Sell the fish online. eBay doesn't allow the sale of livestock, but there are specialty auction websites, like Aquabid, that specialize in aquarium supplies and live merchandise. Simply set up an account, post the auction, and gather the necessary shipping supplies. It may take a few times for the fish to sell depending on the type and desirability. Be sure to properly package and ship the fish as well. Breather bags, insulation, and cardboard boxes are just some of the required packing supplies needed. Shipping a fish poorly is guaranteeing it's death.
  • Give the fish away online. Many fish and aquarium forums have a special area for members to post items for sale or trade. You can either sell the fish here, or give it away for the cost of shipping. Just like above, however, you need the appropriate packing supplies.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Boston Aquatics

Boston Aquatics is the second arm of my planted tank obsession (Aquatic Eden being the first) and is basically a self-run business to sell my trimmings to other hobbyists at discount prices (plants for sale are located at the bottom of the page). It's run through Aquabid, an aquarium auction site. I usually offer a few plants for auction each week and some of the slower growing plants show up from time to time. I usually have these:

Every Week:

Hygrophila polysperma
var Rosanervig "Sunset"
Hemianthus micranthemoides "Pearlweed"

Heteranthera zosterifolia "Star grass"

Rotala rotundifolia
Limnophila aromatica
Micranthemum umbrosum
"Baby's Tears"
Java Fern
Christmas Moss
Glossostigma elatinoides
Blyxa japonica
Ambulia sessiflora
Hemianthus callitrichoides

So if you are looking to buy aquatic plants online, check out Boston Aquatics!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

10 Items a Planted Aquarium Keeper Can't Live Without

There are certain items that I've found are extremely useful if not essential for maintaining a successful planted aquarium. Here are the top ten that I wouldn't be able to live without:

1. Python No Spill Clean N' Fill - ($28.99) This is a lifesaver when it comes to doing weekly water changes on three tanks. I've never had to live without it and I hope I never will. This handy tool allows you to use your faucet as a vacuum to draw water out of your aquariums and then fill them back up with a flip of a switch.

2. Mag-Float - ($5.99-109.99) This powerful magnet makes it really easy to clean off algae on the glass of your aquarium. It's designed not to scratch the glass and can be bought for acrylic aquariums as well. A few simple strokes with one of these and green spot algae is wiped away. A quick fix so you can see your plants and fish!

3. Aquatic Forceps - ($1.99-4.99) Extremely helpful when planting tiny plants in deeper aquariums, and even for grabbing things when fingers are too clumsy. If you are planting any sort of ground cover or small stemmed plants, these can prevent much frustration and ripping out of one's own hair.

4. UV Sterilizer - ($30.00+) Although many will argue with me that a UV sterilizer is not necessary, it sure does help a lot. After trying to combat my first outbreak of green water by myself with blackouts which killed half my plants, I invested in a cheap UV sterilizer and it has made the difference between having crystal clear water and pea soup. Even if you don't have green water, it cleans up the water so well the water is extremely clear.

5. Fertilizers - (prices vary) A good set of fertilizers (nitrogen, potassium, phosphate, and trace elements) is vital for keeping healthy plants. There are a number of different sources of fertilizers, but the two best are Seachem Flourish and Greg Watson. Seachem fertilizers come ready to use in a bottle but are far more expensive while Greg Watson's fertilizers come in dry powders at must be measured yourself but they are very inexpensive.

6. Water Conditioner - (prices vary, under $10.00) A decent water conditioner will make the difference between healthy fish and dead fish. A staple even in fish only aquariums, you may already have a water conditioner. However, some are better than others and some remove more impurities than others. Generally, Tetra Aquasafe, Kordon NovAqua, and Seachem Prime are the top of the line conditioners.

7. pH Test Kit - (prices vary, under $10.00) You may already have one of these if you keep a fish only aquarium, but it will be invaluable in a planted aquarium. pH allows you to roughly determine CO2 levels and keep them within an acceptable level. Also, some plants prefer acidic or alkaline water, so frequent pH testing will become habit. Dip strip test kits are fairly accurate and generally alright, but are not accurate enough for extremely precise measurements.

8. Nitrite/Nitrate Test Kit - (prices vary, under $10.00) Somewhat more important than a pH test kit in a planted aquarium is a nitrate/nitrite test kit. Nitrite is poisonous to fauna and is converted into nitrate by bacteria. However, if something goes wrong, having a test kit to measure levels of nitrate/nitrite may be the only way to prevent all of your fish from dying if you act quickly. It is also important because nitrate is one of the three major fertilizers for plants, and maintaining a steady level keeps growth regular and plants from stunting.

9. Aquatic Tissue Scissors - ($2.99-5.99) When it comes time to trim plants, you'll need a pair of sharp, precise scissors to make clean cuts to prevent damage to your plants. You'll also need scissors that won't rust when exposed to water frequently. These aquatic tissue scissors are perfect for the job, making trimming quick and painless for your plants.

10. Planted Aquarium Substrate - ($15.00-$40.00) Last but not least, a good planted aquarium substrate makes an enormous difference in a planted tank. If you've ever tried planting some plants in regular aquarium gravel or struggled to get fine-rooted pants to grow, you'll understand. These substrates are specially made to make it easier to grow plants. They are often more fine, allowing better root growth and many contain fertilizers as well. Each brand has its own positives and negatives, but I've never been unhappy with my Eco-Complete from Caribsea. Most substrates are black or dark brown too, which brings out the colors of your fish and plants better than a white or artificial color often found in regular aquarium gravel.

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