Friday, December 29, 2006

Rummy Nose Tetra

Common name: Rummy Nose Tetra
Scientific name: Hemigrammus bleheri (false), H. rhodostomus (true), Petitella georgiae (false)
Geographic location: South America
Size: Up to 6.5cm (2.5 inches)
Temperament: Passive
Conditions: 72F-82F, pH 5.5-7.0
Skill level: Intermediate
Minimum tank size: 20 gallons

The true Rummy Nose Tetra (H. rhodostomus) is often confused with two other species: H. blehri and Petitella georgiae. All three are sold under the same common name and the differences are not easily observed. Unless you are searching for a particular species for some reason (and I can't see why most hobbyists would) all three look similar and behave similarly. For those of you looking to distinguish them, H. bleheri have sharper white markings on the tail and the mouth is red, and H. rhodostomus has a black stripe that enters the body from the tail. All three have gorgeous red noses and heads, which is where they get their common name. This red marking is highly dependent on water quality and stress levels.

The Rummy Nose Tetra comes from dark rivers in the South American rain forest and does best in aquariums that mimic this habitat. It is a skittish fish and is easily scared and stressed. It should be kept in groups of 5 or more since it is a naturally schooling tetra (and one of the best schooling fish I've kept). There should be plenty of hiding places and cover to prevent unnecessary stress. Use of "dither" fish is also recommended, as keeping these fish alone in an aquarium often results in the school hiding or darting nervously around the tank. Having some less skittish species helps to reassure the Rummy Nose Tetras.

These tetras are fairly hard to keep and are very sensitive to water quality and stress. They are like a barometer for the aquarium: when their noses are a healthy red, everything is going well, but when the red fades, there is something wrong. They must be adjusted slowly to new tanks and the water must be changed weekly.

If you are looking for an active, colorful, schooling fish for a planted community aquarium, the Rummy Nose Tetra can be a perfect choice.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Post-Holiday Updates

Well it's been a while since my last post, and I apologize but I've been very busy with Christmas and vacation and all. I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season. I'm just now getting back to normal life and I expect to have a brand new Aquascape Analysis ready for this Monday as well as possibly some new pictures of my aquariums this weekend. I got some exciting gifts for Christmas, one of which is a new Canon Rebel XTI digital camera! That means I can finally take good photos of my own aquariums and the fish and plants inside. Now if only they weren't looking particularly bad due to vacation neglect...

I also received Amano's Nature Aquarium World books and am busily reading through them and gathering ideas and inspirations. They are truly great books, with plenty of high quality photographs and even some set up instructions. I highly recommend them for any level aquascaper.

Stay tuned!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Aquascape Analysis #2: ADA Europe Tank 191

For the second aquascape analysis, I decided to pick another Amano aquarium, but a much different layout. The first aquascape analysis had lots of stem plants and driftwood and moss. This one is a different concept, with grasses, moss, and rocks. Whereas the first aquarium could be considered a "forest" type aquarium, this one is more of a "meadow" type aquarium. It comes from the ADA Europe galleries, which I highly recommend if you want to see some more of Amano's work. Click on any of the following pictures for a larger version.

Although the fish somewhat steal the show here (lest we forget what aquariums were originally invented for!) this aquarium is still a classic aquascape. It has a very sunny, grassy appearance that is relaxing and very enjoyable.

First, let's look at the profile. As you can see, the tall grass in the back creates the overall profile of the plants, but it drops off completely towards the middle of the aquarium. This is a "V" type profile and creates negative space (more on this later) and also visual interest, eliminating the "wall of plants" effect.

The focal point of the aquarium is actually the rock in the middle, behind the fish. Clever timing has placed the school of fish right over this focal point, further enhancing it. Notice it is not dead center in the aquarium, but off to the left, adhering to the Golden Rule of Aquascaping.

Like in other aquascapes, the hardscape is used to influence to flow. Here, the two rocks on either side of the focal point act as "stepping stones" for the viewer's gaze, guiding it to the left and then to the right. The patches of moss and riccia (blue) act as secondary focal points, pulling the eyes away from the focal point in the middle.

Finally, the composition of the foreground (green),
midground (yellow), and background (yellow) are what really makes this aquascape special. As you can see, the foreground divides the midground and reaches to the back of the aquarium (behind the fish). The background is also bisected, but by a negative space (red). This creates a sort of pathway in the middle to the back of the aquarium, adding depth and also visual interest. It also makes the aquarium seem longer. As you can see as well (it may be more apparent in the non-altered version above), the different areas of the aquarium are separated very gradually, creating a messy, wild look. This is the one of the most significant features of the aquarium. It gives it a soft, wild, natural look by avoiding harsh borders.

Overall, this aquarium is a "meadow" type aquascape and as such has mainly grassy, mossy plants and makes use of rocks for the hardscape, following what you would expect to see in a meadow in nature. The edges are soft and the effect is slightly messy, but by no means haphazard.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Beginner's Guide to Planted Aquarium Supplies and Equipment

I've decided to try to take a stab at an idea suggested by a visitor and create a shopping list of essential supplies and equipment needed to start and maintain a planted aquarium. As I thought about exactly what was needed, I realized that the supplies and equipment needed depends greatly on one thing: the amount of light in the aquarium. As I've mentioned before, the light in the aquarium is the engine driving the mini-ecosystem. The more light you have, the more equipment and supplies you'll need to keep that ecosystem running smoothly.

All planted aquariums need light, obviously. So the number one item on the list is a light. Lights come in all shapes and sizes and powers (see a guide to making your own cheap high powered lights). How much light you have on your aquarium will determine the rest of the list.

For low light aquariums (1.5-2 watts per gallon unless you have a very small or very large aquarium, then read this post on light in the aquarium) the equipment and supplies needed are minimal. Most are required for any aquarium:
  • Light (at least 1.5 watts per gallon)
  • Filter (biological and mechanical, the plants will take care of chemical)
  • Heater
  • Substrate (can be plain gravel, though not ideal)
That's really all you need. In a bare-bones setup like this, you won't grow fancy plants or even grow things particularly well, but low light plants should survive just fine. As you can see, as long as you have an aquarium with fish already, you will likely only need a better light.

For medium light
aquariums (2-3 watts per gallon) you will start to need to supplement your plants for them to grow healthy:
  • Trace element fertilizer (such as Seachem Flourish or CSM+B)
For high light aquariums (3+ watts per gallon) you must add the following items otherwise your aquarium will quickly become an algae farm:
  • CO2 system or Flourish Excel
  • Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous fertilizers.
As you increase the amount of light on your aquarium, you increase the demands in terms of fertilizers. Once you get into the high light category, you really need to add fertilizers otherwise the plants will suffer and algae will take over.

It is important to remember, if you add fertilizers or CO2 to a low light aquarium in the proper amounts, you will still see an improvement in growth. There's no rule that says that low light aquariums shouldn't have CO2 or fertilizers. You just have to remember that plants aren't going to grow as quickly and won't need as much fertilization as plants in a high light tank.

As a beginner, I'd recommend starting out with low light and working your way up. Diving straight into a high light aquarium can lead to things quickly spiralling out of control. That, and it's fairly easy to upgrade your aquarium as you go.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Aquascape Analysis #1: ADA Tank 21

This will be the first of many aquascape analysis posts, where beginners and even intermediate aquascapers can learn some of the basics of aquascaping. Each post, I'll take an aquascaped aquarium that I feel is an outstanding example of the art form and perform a detailed analysis of just what makes it so special. This week I'll be analyzing "ADA Tank 21" from the ADA Thailand website galleries. Click on the pictures for larger versions.

This is one of my favorite ADA (Aqua Design Amano) aquascapes because of the colors and the flow. The contrast between the red and the green plants is outstanding, and the light gravel further heightens the contrast. First, let's look at the profile of the scape:

As you can see, this aquascape has a "V" profile, where the plants seem to dip down to some point, creating a valley. This creates interest for the viewer, because their eyes are drawn to this dip. It also creates interest for the viewer. The human mind is curious, and we wonder what's through that dip and behind the tall plants. The variation in height also eliminates the "wall of plants" effect that can occur if all background plants are the same height.

Next, the focal point of this aquascape is clearly the red plant in the middle (I can't quite tell what type of plant it is exactly). It instantly draws the focus and attention of the viewer, acting as a "home base" for their gaze. Note well that this focal point is not in the center of the aquarium, but off to one side, following the Golden Rule of Aquascaping. However, there are also two other points of interest (yellow). From the focal point, the viewer's gaze is drawn to the left and to the right to the two groups of bright green plants on either end of the aquarium. This draws the viewer's eyes in a natural flow around the aquarium and back to the middle.

This flow is further enhanced by the placement of the driftwood. All of the pieces guide the eyes in the direction intended, that is either to the left and the right (or back to the focal point). They essentially act as a road map for the viewer's gaze. Eyes that wander uncontrollably or have no guidance in an aquascape create an uneasy, stressful feeling for the viewer. The driftwood pieces also help to separate the foreground from the background and create a defined midground, but at the same time, soften the boundaries between the areas by transecting them.

Here we can see the three seperate areas of the aquascape. The foreground (in green) is low and consists of moss covered rocks. The midground (blue) consists of driftwood and Java Ferns that add contrast to the fluffy moss foreground. The background (yellow) is the "meat" of this aquascape, with vibrant stem plants making up the entire background. Each area contrasts with the other areas, defining them for the viewer without sudden boundaries. This is done through colors and leaf shape/general plant appearance. This helps to create depth in the aquascape.

The name of the game in this excellent aquascape is contrast and the aquascaper uses colors, plant types and leaf shapes, and flow to help define areas, create depth, and guide the viewer's gaze.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Holiday Aquarium Gift Guide #1

To get into the holiday season, and to help out those who have an freshwater planted aquarium addicted among their friends or family, I've decided to being a series of posts on gifts that all aquarium lovers will enjoy. Be sure to mark these on your wishlist if you are an aquarium ethusiast yourself!

Takashi Amano's Nature Aquarium World Series

All three of these books are showcases of Amano's greatest live freshwater plant aquascapes, and each one is a work of art. These are perfect coffee table books and offer ideas and inspiration for an intermediate to advanced fishkeeper and aquascaper. Book 1 contains Amano's earlier work, with every size aquarium. Books 2 and 3 are a sequence, with Book 2 starting off with miniature planted aquariums and working its way up to medium sized planted aquariums. Book 3 is all larger planted aquariums. Although you won't find much advice or information on how to create a better freshwater aquascape in the text, the photographs are priceless and well worth it even just to look at.

Also By Takashi Amano

A Nature Aquarium World for the beginner and intermediate freshwater aquascaper, Aquarium Plant Paradise offers more in depth information on set-up and design of the tanks featured. Once again, the pictures are priceless. The translation is a little rough from Japanese, but it is more than made up for in the quality of the planted tanks.

Coming next...the best places to buy a gift certificate for an aquascaper!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Aquarium Beginner's Guides

According to last month's poll, 83% of you wanted to see more beginner's guides. Now my question to you is, what kind of beginner's guides do you want to see? What do you need help with? What aspect of fish keeping or aquascaping mystifies you? I'm not going to put this into a poll only because I want some open ended answers; you can leave yours as a comment to this post! Hopefully I can get some good ideas and write some guides that are valuable to those starting out or those who just want a better understanding of the hobby.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ceratopteris thalictroides "Watersprite"

Scientific name: Ceratopteris thalictroides
Common name: Watersprite

Geographic location: Tropics worldwide

Temperature: 68F-84F

pH: 5.0-8.0
Light: Low (1.5WPG) to High (3WPG+)
: Very Fast
Difficulty: Beginner

Watersprite is one of the easiest aquarium plants to grow, once it becomes established. It can grow both as a floating plant or rooted in the substrate. If grown floating, it will grow rapidly and spread to cover the entire surface. However, unlike other floating plants, it's easy to get rid of or thin out. It's very easy to spread as it grows tiny plantlets on exisitng leaves that can be separated and planted or floated, and any broken leaves that float to the surface will sprout and grow. It's often used in its floating role as a nutrient sponge for tanks that have just been set up or are having algae issues. Adding some to a tank will quickly outcompete most algae.

When grown in the substrate, watersprite will quickly grow to the surface. It grows like a fern; all the leaves emerge from the base and unfurl upwards. For this reason, it can take up a lot of space in an aquarium. It also can grow up to 30 inches tall, so it will quickly reach the surface of most tanks. Light is rarely an issue, as it can grow with less than 1.5 WPG, albiet slowly.

Trimming watersprite and keeping it under control is probably the most difficult part of growing this plant. It can't really be trimmed per se. If you cut off a leaf, a larger one will just grow back in its place. Instead, it's better to remove the entire plant, cut off a few leaves and let them float and sprout roots. Then, plant these smaller plants where the old plant used to be.

CO2 and fertilizers are rarely needed for healthy growth, but adding them will increase growth rates substantially. Unfortunately, certain snails love to eat watersprite, however these snails also eat all kinds of other aquarium plants and shouldn't be kept in a planted aquarium if possible. Most common planted tank snails will not eat watersprite, nor any other plant.

Its versatility, utility, and ease of care make watersprite an ideal plant for the beginner or for a planted aquarium that has just been set up. Be prepared to be giving away baby plants left and right though!

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