Top Aquarium & Fish Articles This Month – April 2014

It’s been a great month for Aquarium and Fish Content Across the Internet. Check out some of our favorites below and please feel free to post some of your favorites!

1. 6 Ways to Help Prevent Aquarium Leaks – Saltwatersmarts.com

http://www.saltwatersmarts.com/6-steps-prevent-aquarium-leaks-1316/

We really liked this article – quick and to the point and it addresses one of the most fundamental things you have to think about BEFORE getting your tank up and running. There’s nothing scarier than a leaky aquarium: follow SaltwaterSmarts’ advice and keep that floor dry! On a related note – we have an article on moving your aquarium which discusses some similar items.

2. Aquarium Myths and Misconceptions – That Fish Blog

http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2014/04/02/aquarium-myths-misconceptions/

Our Aquatics and Fish Master Dave Acland is fed up with bad fish advice. From the classic ‘Inch per gallon’ rule to the idea that smaller fish tanks are better for new aquarists – Dave’s here to dispel these classic myths and misconceptions. Take a read.

3. Gravel & Substrate vs. Bare-Bottomed Tanks – That Fish Blog

http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2014/04/07/gravel-substrate-versus-bare-bottom-tanks/

Lots of great reasons to go with gravel or bare-bottomed tanks – and Marine Biologist Eileen Daub goes through each one of them. Be sure to have a read before your set up your next tank!

4. Top Filters for Goldfish Tanks – That Fish Blog

http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2014/03/25/best-aquarium-filters-for-goldfish/

So, Zoologist Frank Indiviglio has kept lots of Goldfish in his day – OK..maybe thousands. This article runs down what he considers to be the best choices for goldfish tank filtration. Hint – Frank’s a little old school and he LOVES his undergravel filter for these guys. Find out why.

5. NextReef Showcases Use of 3D Printing in the Industry – ReefBuilders.com

http://reefbuilders.com/2014/04/02/nextreef-printing-sumps-showcasing-3d-printer-industry/

Anyone with a reef tank LOVES them some new technology. Reefbuilders discusses how NextReef is looking into using 3D Printers for making customizable sumps and other aquarium pieces and parts. Talk about customizing your system!

Let us know what you think – and please send us any articles you think should be included in the monthly run-down.

Backyard Ponds: A Quick Springtime Maintenance And Care Guide

Spring Pond Care

Garden PondSpring is finally here in the northeast, and it is time to give your pond some attention after a long cold winter.  Here is a quick to-do list to help you make sure that your pond is in good shape, and will give you a summer of trouble free enjoyment.

Inspect Your Pond

Freezing, thawing, heavy snow (and pets and kids) can cause rocks and landscape to shift.  Check the perimeter of your pond for any changes to your pond boundary, looking for any potential hazards or areas that may have weakened that could cause a leak.  This is especially important if your pond has a stream or waterfall.

Prepare Your Equipment

Whether you bring your equipment inside, or leave it outdoors, make sure that you look over all your plumbing and filter equipment.  Check for cracks or other damage, worn parts, pull everything apart and make sure that nothing is hiding inside your pumps or filters that could cause a problem on start-up, replace Filter Media as necessary.  Inspect your nets and maintenance equipment, so that everything is ready when you need it.

If your pond includes an Ultraviolet Sterilizer or Clarifier, check the quarts sleeve, make sure it is in good shape and clean.  Make sure that all the seals are in good shape, so there are no leaks.  Replace your U.V. Sterilizer Bulb.  Even if your U.V. is still functional, it may not be producing quality good light.  Bulbs degrade over time, light spectrums shift, and efficiency is reduced.  Replacing your U.V. bulb every spring will ensure that it is working at peak performance when the hot weather comes, and your need it most.

Clean Out The Mess

Evaluate how much cleaning really needs to be done, Don’t overdo it!  Especially if you have fish, you don’t want to do too much, it will completely disrupt the biological system in your pond.  In most cases netting out as much debris as possible, cleaning out the filters and stirring up and pumping out some of the dirty water is all that is needed.  If there is a considerable amount of debris, and the water is dark and organic laden, more extreme cleaning may be warranted.  In these cases it is advisable to use a kiddie pool, or some other safe container to temporarily house your fish during cleaning.   Pump water from your pond into the pool, and then transfer the fish once the water level is low enough to easily catch them.  Drain the pond as much as needed (completely drain id needed), and use a hose to wash the pond from the top down, pumping the dirty waste out with a submersible pump and large diameter Flexible Tubing.

pond lillyThis is a good time to do some maintenance on your pond plants if you have any.  Trim off any remaining dead or damaged foliage, evaluate whether you need to split or move anything to a larger pot, it is much easier to do this now with a lower water level.  Using a 5 gallon bucket will make it much easier to gather plant debris or potting material.

Refill the pond and use a conditioner if you are using a chlorinated water source.  Make sure that you slowly acclimate your fish back into your pond if you did a very large or complete water change.  Do this by adding some of the new pond water to the pool that has your fish, and putting some of the water from the pool back into the pond.  Do this slowly over a period of time until the pool water has been completely mixed with the new pond water, do this slowly, especially if there is a big temperature difference.  Once acclimated, put your fish back into pond.

 

Spring Pond Treatments

There are a few things that you can do for your pond during your spring start-up to ensure that your ponds biological system gets a good start.  Use of biological supplements like Pure Aquatic Sludge Clear, will help to break down organic waste and muck that has accumulated in your pond over the winter, and get your pond headed in the right direction.  Using a live nitrifying bacteria like Microbe-Lift PL will help re-establish your biological filter, this is especially beneficial if you have completely shut down your pond for the winter and stored your filter indoors.

This is also a good time to start Barley Straw Treatments for algae control, these take time to establish, so adding them now will make sure they are active for warmer weather.

 

Spring Fish Care

You need to be careful with your fish as they become active in the spring.  Your fishes metabolism is controlled by the water temperature, and you should not feed your fish until water temperatures have stabilized above 40 degrees, your fish will have trouble digesting food in cold temperatures.  Use a Spring and Fall Formula fish food that is easily digested until your ponds temperatures have stabilized above 60 degrees.

 

Hopefully this will get your pond headed in the right direction, and all you have to do this summer is sit back and enjoy!

Until next blog.

Dave

 

 

Aquarium Gravel and Substrate vs Bare-Bottom tanks: Pros and Cons

One of the first purchases most aquarists will make for a new aquarium, be it freshwater, saltwater, reef, discus, goldfish, cichlid or any other – is the gravel and substrate. It could be sand, crushed coral, Fluorite, neon pink pebbles, glass marbles or countless other materials  but it all tends to be the very first thing to go into an empty aquariums. But….why? Do you really need it? Are there alternatives? Much like the eternal home decorating debate of hardwood-versus-carpets, the battle brews among aquarists over what covers the bottom of their aquariums, a layer of substrate or nothing at all.

 

So why has substrate become such an integral part of the aquarium culture, and why are some aquarists now looking past it in favor of the bare glass or acrylic bottom of their aquariums? Much of it has to do with our understanding of the aquarium ecosystem now over what we knew years or even decades ago. Even as recently as five or ten years ago, undergravel filters were thought as indispensable for all types of aquariums and as such, gravel was thought vital to their function. We’ve come a long way with filtration technology since then, and we’ve also come a long way with understanding how the water chemistry in our aquariums functions. Alternatives and advancements have made the old undergravel systems nearly obsolete and the aquarium gravel that went on top of them is become more of an Option instead of a Requirement.

 

That said, how do you make the choice? Like so many other parts of our hobby, it comes down to personal preference and your goals. Bare-bottom tanks are becoming more common and have their benefits of substrated tank and vice versa; substrate is still a better choice than going bare for some other types of tanks. Weigh your options carefully before you choose which one is right for you. We’ll go over a head-to-head comparison in the major factors to consider to help you make your decision.

Cleaning a Fish Tank

 

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

The ever-iconic Gravel Vacuum

An aquarium that is easy to clean and easy to care for is the dream of most aquarists. Bare-bottom tanks win this category easily. Ever wrestle with starting the siphon on a gravel vacuum, then have it clog up repeatedly with gravel when you are cleaning? With a bare-bottom tank, a gravel vacuum isn’t needed; you can just use tubing to vacuum up any waste sitting on the bottom of the tank and water pumps or powerheads can be used to circulate the water underneath and behind the rockwork more efficiently. It can be a lot easier to scrub algae off of the glass bottom and sides without having to worry about missing some at the gravel line or getting bits of sand stuck in your scrubber as well. For tanks like reef aquariums with lots of rockwork, debris and detritus can get stuck under the rocks or in the back where your vacuum cant reach as well, causing the nitrate levels and algae blooms to increase. While not as vital in, say, a freshwater community tank, nitrate and algae can spell Doom (and Headaches) in a reef tank.

 

Aesthetics & Natural Environments

 

IMG_4312

A natural planted freshwater nano-tank

I have to give this one to Substrate. Surprisingly, flat panes of glass or acrylics just aren’t found at the bottom of most environments in the wild. Natural environments have sand, or mud, or pebbles or some other natural material. Besides just plain looking more natural, some animals also need this substrate to live normal lives. Some fish and snails bury themselves in it or find their food in it. Timid animals need it to hide or camoflauge themselves and in some specialized ecosystems, the substrate plays a vital role in the water chemistry. Most live aquarium plants won’t survive without a substrate to root into. Having a substrate also provides many more options in changing the look of the aquarium, whether its a natural substrate or a decorative one.

 

Aquarium Water Chemistry

 

This one is an even draw; both having substrate or having a bare-bottom can negatively and positively affect the water chemistry in an aquarium. Some substrates like crushed coral can buffer the pH and hardness of the water. For a saltwater tank with a target pH around 8.0-8.4, this is a good things. For a tropical tank with a target pH around 6.0-7.0, maybe not so much. A Flouorite substrate for planted freshwater tanks can give the plants some much-needed minerals and nutrients through their roots that a bare-bottomed tank can’t give them.

 

As much as this exchange helps, any waste that can get trapped in the substrate can hurt the tank. If waste becomes trapped, it will decompose and increase nitrate, phosphates, ammonia and other negative levels which can lead to fish illness and algae blooms. As we mentioned before, this waste is much easier to get rid of in a bare-bottomed tank.

 

Microinverts, hitckhikers and other “bonus” tankmates

 

IMG_2091

Our bare-bottomed 700 gallon store display tank

Unexpected new arrivals like bristleworms can be the ban of a saltwater aquarist’s existance, and tiny little nuisance snails or flatworms can harass a freshwater aquarists to tears. Most of these critters live or reproduce to some extent within the substrate and getting rid of the substrate to go bare-bottom will help get rid of them. Unfortunately, it will also get rid of the good critters like copepods and amphipods that can provide a natural food source to some of the pickiest fish and inverts. If you are making your choice to go bare-bottom to get rid of the nuisance critters, weigh the needs of the rest of your tank carefully to see if they can do without the good to get rid of the bad.

 

The (Bare-)Bottom Line

 

Choosing whether to add substrate to your aquarium or stick with the bare tank ultimately rests on you. Most aquariums will survive either way but one choice may be more successful than others. In our store, we have both bare-bottom tanks and tanks with substrate among our display tanks as well as the tanks we sell fish out of. Stocking these tanks is determined by the needs of the fish and the care that they need. Generally, coral-only reef tanks can go bare, planted freshwater tanks can’t; freshwater fish-only tanks might not need it but saltwater fish-only tanks (or fish-only with live rock) will do better with it. If you can’t decide which way will be more successful for you, we’d be happy to help you make the best decision for you and the success of your aquarium.

Aquarium myths & Misconceptions

In the attempt to make aquarium keeping easier, or simply be able to provide some sort of answer to common questions. There have been a number of “rules” or guidelines that have found their way into the hobby, that you may have heard repeated over the years. You may have heard them from other hobbyists, from your LFS, Web Forums and even in published books and magazines.
I want to focus on a few that I feel really need to go away, that were either bad information to begin with, or have become obsolete. These myths and misconceptions have a far greater potential to cause problems for the beginning aquarist, than they are to provide guidance for success.

The Inch Per Gallon Rule

red-oscar

One 6 inch Oscar does not equal 6 1 inch Guppies

How many fish can I put in my aquarium? This is the oldest question in fish keeping, the first person to put fish in an aquarium asked himself this question. People want a number, they need a number, why can’t you give me a number!!!! Somewhere along the line, born out of the need to provide an answer, the Inch per gallon rule was conceived, and I hate it.
Why do I hate it? Because not all fish are created equal, and not all aquariums are created equal. Six one inch guppies do not equal one six inch Oscar. Body type, temperament, compatibility, adult size, diet and many other things should be considered when choosing fish. Slender bodies fishes, deep bodied fishes, schooling fish, colder water fish, all have different space and habitat needs.

Tank shape is also important, and is completely ignored in most cases. A tanks surface area (footprint) has much to do with how many fish it can easily hold. Gas exchange only occurs at the water surface, and is where an aquariums dissolved oxygen and carbon dioxide levels are maintained with the atmosphere. A tall narrow column shaped aquarium, will have a smaller surface area than an aquarium that is short, wide and long. Two aquariums can be the same size in volume, but be very different in shape and surface area.
This is a case where I don’t like the simple answer. My advice to people is to try and do a little research into the fish they’re interested in, see what they will get along with, and how big they will be as adults. Make sure you have adequate filtration, and take a conservative approach to stocking, don’t add all the fish at once. Most importantly, test your water quality, especially if you plan on keeping your aquarium near its limit. If at any point you are having trouble keeping your aquarium chemistry stable, do not add more fish, you may already have too many.

Fish will only grow to the size of the aquarium

fat-fish-little-tankThis one really bugs me, and I still hear it stated as fact on a regular basis. This is simply just not true, some fish may grow slower in a small aquarium, or can be kept smaller by limiting food, but this is not way to treat your fish. Often used in conjunction with the inch per gallon rule, to try and justify putting more fish in a small aquarium, by ignoring the adult size of the fish, this myth needs stop being perpetuated. Most fish that reach a large adult size, and going to get quite large in the first 2 years, if your aquarium is too small, don’t buy the fish. There are better choices to be made!

Small fish tanks are better for beginners.

There are a plethora of small aquarium kits on the market, many of the marketed for children, or with the entry level aquarist in mind. Where this has the potential for problems is when people confuse affordability and ease of setup, with the reality of the needs of a small aquarium. The downside of the small aquarium is how quickly problems can arise, conditions can change, and frustration takes over. Some of the things that can cause serious problems in small tanks, are common mistakes made by the beginner. Over feeding, overstocking, poor tank placement, improper heater and risk of contamination are just a few things that can have rapid and unfortunate effects on a small aquarium. Not to say these things are good for larger aquariums, just that they affect larger aquariums more slowly, and allow you a chance to correct issues before the results are disastrous. Be sure to check out our aquarium beginners guide before buying.

The dos and don’ts of cycling your aquarium.

This one could be a topic for a long article all by itself, so I will just hit on a few of bits of bad information that gets passed around to the unsuspecting new aquarist. Again, this is another topic where some simple research will go a long way to understanding the nitrogen cycle, and what to expect in your new aquarium.

Let your aquarium sit for a month before you start adding fish.

This is false; an aquarium is no more ready for fish after a month, than it is after 24 hrs. Once you have the aquarium setup, filters running, and heated to the proper temperature, you can start to add fish right away. 24 hrs is usually sufficient for your new tank to stabilize. Start with just a small number of hardy fish to get your system started.

Using a bacteria supplement will instantly cycle your aquarium and allow you to fully stock your aquarium immediately.

Although many manufactures’ of these products make them out to be a magic bullet, I feel Bacterial supplements should be used to complement the natural cycling process, not replace it. Without supplementation cycling will take 4-6 weeks, this time can be significantly reduced using supplements, but ultimately what is going to provide a stable aquarium is its own biological filter, the bacteria that colonizes and grows in your filter, and on your gravel, rocks and decorations. In a Marine aquarium, starting your aquarium with good cured Liverock will start you with a strong foundation.

Don’t do water changes while your aquarium is cycling.

This is also false. While your aquarium is cycling, toxic ammonia and nitrite levels can occur while the beneficial bacteria that consumes these waste products establishes in your system. You can absolutely perform small water changes to keep levels low enough that you do not reach levels that are toxic to your starter fish. While it is true that the first bacteria to colonize your aquarium are free in the water, especially if you are using bacterial supplements, the vast majority of bacteria that forms your biological filter lives on solid surfaces. Removing water will not affect this bacteria, and will not greatly inhibit your aquariums cycling ability. If you are a couple weeks into cycling your new aquarium, you should not be afraid to do water changes to help manage the high Ammonia or Nitrite levels.

The Best Aquarium Filters for Goldfish

Comet

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by Heptagon

Although goldfish made their debut as pets over 2,000 years ago, their needs are not always understood by those new to fish-keeping.  Because the average pet store goldfish is small and inexpensive, they are sometimes viewed as “beginner’s pets” that need little care.  Add to this the fact that many people remember “Grandma’s goldfish that lived for years in a tiny bowl”, and it’s easy to see why most meet untimely ends (well-cared for goldfishes can live into their 20’s – and sometimes to twice that age!).  Folks who buy a single goldfish usually do not want to be bothered with a filter, but the lack of filtration is by far the main reason for failure with these otherwise hardy fishes.  However, there is a filter that needs no pad or carbon changes, and which becomes more effective with age – custom made for busy, “filter-shy” fish enthusiasts.  Today we’ll take a look at it and other simple options that will lessen your workload and improve your goldfish’s quality of life.

 

Goldfish Do Not Stay Small!

When considering a goldfish, it’s important to realize the potential size your pet will reach.  Goldfish are available in a wide variety of colors, 4 tail-shapes, 3 body-shapes and 3 eye-types, but are all of the same species, Carassius auratus auratus.  Those known as comets – the basic pet store or “non-fancy” goldfish – can easily reach 8-12 inches in length.  Sixteen-inch long individuals have been recorded; in fact, I have seen several feral goldfishes near that size in the Bronx River, mixed in with breeding aggregations of carp (I must check if hybridization is possible…).  Fantails, moors and other strains tend to be shorter in length than comets, but they get quite hefty.

Veil Tail

Uploaded to Wikipedia commons by Bechstein

 

True, improperly-kept goldfishes will become stunted, and may survive in that state for several years, but this is not to be encouraged – and certainly not a lesson to be teaching the children for whom single goldfishes are often purchased.  When fully-grown, your pet will need a 20 gallon aquarium in which to live; plan on a 30 gallon for a pair.

 

The Ultimate Goldfish Filter

Although now largely-ignored by hobbyists, (perhaps they are “too simple”!), undergravel filters were once considered indispensable by serious aquarists, and are still relied-upon by many public aquariums today.  In zoos and at home, I’ve used these highly-effective filters in aquariums housing creatures ranging from seahorses to alligator snapping turtles, always with great results.

 

t204151gWhen considering undergravel filters, it’s important to bear in mind that biological filtration – the breakdown (by aerobic bacteria) of ammonia to nitrites and nitrates – is the most important function of a filter (please see article below).  And it is at this aspect of filtration that undergravels excel.  Simply-put, an undergravel filter turns your aquarium’s substrate into a giant, living, biological filtration unit.  What’s more, the filter plate does not take up important living space and, being hidden below the gravel, allows for the creation of pleasing aquascapes.  Best of all, there are no cartridges or filter mediums to clean or replace! 

 

Water Changes

Regular partial water changes are essential to maintaining water quality and fish health…regardless of tank size, filtration method, or fish species.  When doing partial water changes, be sure to use a manual or battery-operated gravel washer.  In this way, you will remove debris trapped in the substrate along with the water…that’s all the maintenance your undergravel filter will need!

 

Black Moor

Uploaded to Wikipedia Commons by ﻯναოթ€ռ

Currents

Undergravel filters have another characteristic that suits them well for use with goldfish.  Goldfish evolved in slow-moving waters, and they cannot abide fast currents; fantails, lionheads and other round-bellied varieties are especially-weak swimmers.  Yet they produce a good deal of waste, and do best in aquariums equipped with powerful filters (which usually put out strong outflow currents).  Undergravel filters discharge clean water through two tubes that reach to the water’s surface…even when very powerful air pumps are used, outflow currents remain mild.  You can check out a wide variety of air pump styles and sizes here; please post below if you need assistance in choosing a pump.

 

Increasing Your Filter’s Efficiency

Power heads can be used in place of air pumps if you need to increase water flow through the gravel bed.  You can also set up a reverse-flow system, which will lessen the amount of detritus that becomes trapped in the substrate; please post below for details.

 

Commercially-available aerobic bacteria (i.e. Nutrafin Cycle) can be used to jump-start your filter or to boost the beneficial bacteria populations that have developed naturally.

 

Other Goldfish Filters

From simple corner filters to state-of-the art canisters, there is a huge array of other filtering options for goldfish owners.  Please share your thoughts and experiences by posting below.

Hi, my name is Frank Indiviglio.  I’m a zoologist and book author, recently retired from a career spent at several zoos, aquariums, and museums, including over 20 years with the Bronx Zoo.

Please check out my posts on Twitter and Facebook.   Each day, I highlight breaking research, conservation news and interesting stories concerning just about every type of animal imaginable.  I look forward to hearing about your interests and experiences as well, and will use them in articles when possible.

 

Please also post your questions and comments below…I’ll be sure to respond quickly.  Thanks, until next time, Frank.

 

Further Reading

Aquarium Filtration: Understanding the Nitrogen Cycle

Making the Most of Undergravel Filters