Aquarium Clean-Up Crew: How Many Snails Do You Need?

Hiring staff for any job can be tricky. You need to make sure you have the right number of qualified employees to handle the job, not just a lot of employees on your payroll that eat into your bottom line or ignore the job you’ve given them. Choosing a clean-up crew for your saltwater aquarium is similar; you need to make sure you have the right snails and crabs and other cleaners for the tank without too many that can deplete your resources or just not even do the “right” work at all. “How many snails do I need?” is only part of the question; making sure you are getting the ones best suited to the job is just as important.

 

 

The White-speckled Hermit Crab. Cute, but NOT an algae eater!

The White-speckled Hermit Crab. Cute, but NOT an algae eater!

Job Description and Qualifications

 

Hiring an employee without knowing their qualifications or describing the job doesn’t make much sense, whether it is renovations on your home or clean-up within your aquarium. Not all snails eat algae. Not all snails that eat algae eat the same kind of algae. Not all “algae” is even algae at all. And snails may not even be the best (or only) cleaners for the job; “detritivores” that eat the leftover food and waste (“detritus”) are also necessary for keeping a tank clean and healthy. The first step to choosing a clean-up crew is to identify what the problem is that you’d like them to help you solve. Algae is normal in any aquarium and having a basic clean-up and scavenger crew is a good idea but beyond that, if you have a specific problem like a cyanobacteria bloom, hair algae, green water or other issues, you may need a solution beyond a few snails. You may be seeing a symptom of a larger problem like poor water flow or lighting quality and unless that problem is addressed, it will keep coming back no matter how many snails or other clean-up crews you throw at it.

 

What are the working conditions?

 

It takes a different kind of person to paint the walls of a house than it does to paint the cables at the top of the Golden Gate Bridge. It also takes a different kind of critter to clean up a nano-reef than it does a rock-filled bare-bottom aquarium or a deep sand bed. Some hermit crabs can have difficulty reaching into small crevices and some snails can’t flip themselves over if they tumble off of the glass or rockwork. Some snails, starfish and other animals popular in aquariums also eat other snails or invertebrates and corals. Are the animals you are choosing suitable for the environment you have?

 

It’s all in the job security

Some of the most popular saltwater clean-up crew snails

Some of the most popular saltwater clean-up crew snails

Contrary to popular belief, snails and hermit crabs are not disposable or short-lived or robotic lawnmowers that feed on nothing but salt and sunlight. If they have plenty of food and proper care, they can live for a long time. If they run out of the right food, they won’t survive so overloading a tank with cleaners to keep it spotless is only going to end up with losses. When snails and other cleaners die and decompose, they affect water quality. When water quality goes down, algae will bloom. When algae blooms, you’ll need to add more cleaners. Starting to see where this cycle goes wrong? Avoid the urge to overload on a massive cleanup crew and start with a basic foundation. Once you can observe where they need the help, supplement with some helpers for that purpose (like aerating the substrate, cleaning the glass, targeting hair algae or other trouble areas).

 

The magic number is…

 

Just like the old “inch-per-gallon” rule that is still floating around for fish, there are some stocking guidelines for clean-up crews. Some of the most common include a snail per gallon or a hermit crab per five gallons but again, this only works if that snail or hermit crab is suitable. To help you out in making some selections, we have basic Algae Packs with recommended tank sizes. You can start with the one closest to your tank size and give it some time. You can always supplement later or get a specialty algae pack to target a specific need like detritus or hair and buble algae. Remember, hiring is always an ongoing process!

 

You're hired!

You’re hired!

 

Lionfish Banned in Florida

lionfish-invasionFlorida has stepped up its game in recent months, in an effort to combat their serious problem with invasive lionfish.  Some of which has a direct impact on the aquarium hobby in the state of Florida.  In what seems like a very short amount of time, the problem has gone from rumors and possible sightings, to a full out invasion.  Lionfish populations have exploded and now are affecting the entire state of Florida, and neighboring areas of the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and The U.S. East Coast.

This story has been one of particular interest for us here at That Fish Blog, and we have covered the topic in detail in past entries from 20072008 ,2010  again in 2013

 

Lionfish_Website_map_collage

It has only taken about 30 years for these predators to establish themselves, and spread like wildfire.

In a unanimous vote by the commissioners of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the State has adopted several measures to help fight against the invasive fish.

  1. Complete import ban of all Pterios genus Lionfish into the state of Florida.  No more mail order lionfish, and no more imported lionfish in Florida pet stores.
  2. Divers are authorized to use rebreathers, in the capture and harvest of Lionfish.  This enables divers to dive longer, deeper and quieter while hunting lionfish.  Use of rebreathers is otherwise prohibited for spear fishing in Florida.
  3. Authorizes the Executive Director to issue permits for spear fishing tournament in waters that would otherwise be off limits to spear fishing.

0630_Lionfish1These new regulations will go into Effect on Aug 1, 2014.  Already in place in the state of Florida are regulations that promote and encourage fisherman to hunt and remove Lionfish, which is the only viable option for hoping to control their growth.  There are no minimum size limits, closed seasons or bag limits for recreational or commercial harvest, and a recreational fishing license is not required to harvest lionfish when using dip nets, pole spears, Hawaiian slings or any spearing device designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish.

Reporting Lionfish sightings is now easier than ever, there is an app for that!  Anglers can report lionfish sightings by downloading the new Report Florida Lionfish app on a smart device or by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Recreational Regulations” (under “Saltwater”) and then “Lionfish.”

Try a new adventure, and get involved with efforts to remove lionfish.  Fishing Tournaments, charter fishing, or just recreational fishing is both fun and can serve a good purpose as well.

Thanks for reading,

Dave

Algae Eaters and Plecos for Small Freshwater Aquariums

Finding the perfect new addition to an aquarium is often like finding the Holy Grail to many aquarists. We all want the perfect little helper to keep the tank clean so there’s less work for us to do (and so our tank is cleaner and healthier, of course) but many “algae eaters” get too large for smaller aquariums and many others like the group of fish known as “plecos” don’t even eat algae at all. So what are the best plecos and algae eaters for small freshwater aquariums? Here are a few of our favorites that are some of the best choices for smaller community aquariums:

 

Bushynose & Bristlenose Plecos (genus Ancistrus)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

Starlight Bristlenose Pleco (Ancistrus dolichopterus L183)

  • PROS: Lots of variety in color and pattern, small size, vegetation-heavy diet (including algae), community-friendly.
  • CONS: Some species grow larger than others, needs meaty foods as well, underfed fish may eat live plants.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A community algae-eater and bottom-feeder.

 

Plecos from the genus Ancistrus usually have “Bristlenose” or “Bushynose” somewhere in their common names, a nickname that comes from the whisker-like frills that develop on most adults. They are usually more prominent in adult males but some females may get them too in some species. Different species in this group have different requirements, but they are generally among the smallest plecos. While they eat some meatier foods as well, most appear to eat mostly vegetation.

 

 

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

Clown Pleco (Panaque maccus L104)

  • PROS: Small size, easy-going temperament, fairly wide-spread diet.
  • CONS: Need driftwood for grazing, not primarily an algae-eater.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general clean-up bottom-feeder for community aquariums.

The Clown Pleco is a popular small pleco. As with other Panaque plecos, these fish are omnivores and feed about equally on plants matter and meatier foods. Panaque plecos are also unique in that they actually feed on driftwood as well; make sure you have driftwood décor in your tank for these fish to graze on.

 

 

 

Hillstream Loaches

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

Reticulated Hillstream Sucker (Sewellia lineolata)

  • PROS: Eats algae, can be kept in groups, unique and unusual appearance.
  • CONS: Needs high flow and pristine water, vulnerable to aggressive tankmates and poor water chemistry.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A unique addition to a suitable community aquarium where it incidentally may help eat algae but isn’t the primary algae-eater.

Hillstream Loaches have flattened guitar-shaped bodies and are often mistaken for plecos. They cling to rocks in the fast-moving mountain stream where they come from much like plecos cling to surfaces. Hillstream Loaches need well-oxygenated and well-filtered tanks and don’t do well with nippy tankmates or in tank with less-than-pristine water quality. They do eat some algae however, as well as other detritus and leftover sinking foods.

 

 

Otocinclus Catfish

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish (Otocinclus sp.)

  • PROS: Small size, safe for planted tanks, primarily algae-eaters.
  • CONS: Can be sensitive to stress, can starve if they can’t find enough to eat.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating housekeepers in planted community aquariums.

 

There are a few very similar species that are commonly grouped together as Otocinclus Catfish (“Oto Cats”) or “Dwarf Suckermouth Catfish”. Most are brownish-grey in color with a black stripe but some like the Zebra Oto (Otocinclus cocama) have a more ornate pattern. These fish stay under two inches in length and are great for eating algae off of plants without harming the plants. They can be a bit finicky and sensitive though so only keep in a stable, healthy aquarium. They are also best kept in groups so plan tankspace accordingly.

 

 

Rubbernose Plecos (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

Spotted Rubbernose Pleco (Chaetostoma sp.)

  • PROS: Moderately small adult size, eats some algae, community temperament.
  • CONS: Not a primary algae-eater, can be bulky for very small tanks.
  • BEST SUITED AS: A general bottom-feeder for community tanks over about 30-45 gallons.

 

Like the Clown Pleco, Rubbernose Plecos are some of the most common smaller plecos available. They also have a very familiar pleco-like appearance that many novice aquarists associate with algae control. They are not exclusive algae-eaters however; this is another omnivore that needs about equal parts meaty food and plant matter. These fish are pretty middle-of-the-road overall: moderate adult sizes, eats diet for about half their diet, neutral coloration, moderate temperament.

 

 

Freshwater Nerite Snails

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

Freshwater Nerite Snails (Neritina sp.)

  • PROS: Colorful shells, safe for plants, small size.
  • CONS: Limited availability, may reproduce, may be vulnerable to predators.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eating grazers for small planted aquariums.

 

Nerite Snails are popular for saltwater aquariums but some species are found in freshwater as well. These snails are much smaller than some of the other less-suitable and more invasive freshwater snails like Apple Snails or Trapdoor Snails. They mainly eat smaller algaes like the ones that cause spots on glass but usually won’t harm plants. These snails also appear to bred less frequently in most aquariums than the more common Apple Snails. Make sure the ones you get are from freshwater; a saltwater Nerite will not survive being moved to a freshwater tank.

 

Freshwater Shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

Several freshwater shrimp (Caridina sp.)

  • PROS: Safe for plants, small size, can be kept in groups.
  • CONS: Limited availability, vulnerable to predators, very small.
  • BEST SUITED AS: Algae-eaters for planted nano tanks with peaceful or no other tankmates.

Small freshwater shrimp like the popular Cherry Shrimp and Amano Shrimp can be ideal grazers, especially for nano tanks (under 1-2 gallons). Some are clear, some are colored or have colored markings and they can be kept in groups. However, most of these shrimp are very small; you may not see them often and can’t be kept with anything remotely predatory.      

 

 

 

As always, the best algae-eater for your tank depends on its tankmates, the size of the tank, the water parameters and other such factors but hopefully this helps give you some alternatives to fish that may be too big or otherwise unsuitable to your needs. If you need more help in making your best choice or have a favorite of your own, feel free to comment below!

Live Feeders: Gut Loading for Aquarium Predators

Live foods are popular for larger predatory fish and even some inverts, and some new or finicky animals may not eat anything else. Unfortunately, they aren’t always the most nutritious in an aquarium setting. It is much easier to get a larger variety out of frozen or prepared foods or enhance them with additives, so how can you make the most out of live foods if it is your only option?

seahorse_orange

Picky fish like seahorses can be tricky to feed

You are what you eat”…and so are your fish

The problem with feeding most live foods is a lack of variety or nutritional content. Common live feeders like ghost shrimp or guppies just don’t have a lot to them and feeders aren’t usually raised or bred with as much care as animals intended to be ornamental. Much of the most nutritious foods in nature are also some of the smallest – microfauna like copepods and the bright red Cyclops, for example - but these critters are far too small for something like the finicky frogfish or lionfish or sharks that may need live foods and they just aren’t practical to raise.

So, instead of feeding that tiny food to the bigger predators, feed it to the food! This method is known as “gut loading” and is commonly used when feeding crickets to reptiles or amphibians but has a lot of practical use for aquarium hobbyists as well. The principle of gut loading is to feed nutritious food to the live feeder, then feeding that live feeder to its predator while the nutrients are in its system. This is making a process known as bioaccumulation work for us instead of against us like we see in effects like the ciguatera poisoning we discussed in the past.

For example, many planktonic foods are very nutritious but too small for a fish like a frogfish. Frogfish will often hunt down and eat ghost shrimp which are very common (but not especially nutritious) feeder shrimp. So, if we feed the plankton to the ghost shrimp, then feed the ghost shrimp to the frogfish, the frogfish eats the plankton.

Gut Loading:  How to pack it in

p53494

Specimen containers make ideal holding areas for gut loading

With a name like “gut loading”, images of stuffing a guppy like a Thanksgiving Day turkey may come to mind but in reality, its much easier. Just feed the live feeder before it becomes food. For smaller feeders like guppies, ghost shrimp, or even crickets or mealworms, it is usually easiest to put the feeder in a smaller separate container from wherever it is being housed. In our store, we will put ghost shrimp in one of the small specimen containers we use in catching your fish. This keeps the system where the rest of the feeders are being kept cleaner and concentrates the nutritious foods you are using for the gut loading to where the feeders are sure to find it. Then, let the feeders feed. For transparent feeders like ghost shrimp, it is easy to see when their guts are full of the food you are using. For others, monitor how much they are eating. Usually anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes is plenty of time; after all, we don’t need the feeder to digest the food, just get it into their guts. Once they’ve eaten their fill, off to become a meal they go!

p53357

Cyclops are tiny, nutritious crustaceans perfect for gut loading

Depending on the predator you are trying to feed in the end, you can gut load with zooplankton like Cyclop-eeze, phytoplankton like Spirulina, nutritional supplements like garlic or vitamins or even some medications (best with the fish only and not inverts). The foods you are using for the gut loading can be fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, flakes or in a liquid suspension. Experiment and see what works best for your predators or give them a nutritious snack as a treat!

Top Aquarium & Fish Articles This Month – May 2014

It’s FINALLY starting to warm up around here as May has arrived, but the great content hasn’t slowed down one bit. Below, are some of the top blogs, aquarium content, and general cool fish stuff we’ve seen over the last month. Please let us know what you think – or shoot us an email at marinebioblog@thatpetplace.com for items you’d like to see next month!

1. Diving in Cuba and Enjoying a Lionfish Barbeque – Reefbuilders.com

http://reefbuilders.com/2014/05/13/diving-in-cuba-and-enjoying-a-lionfish-barbecue-with-collectors-of-gramma-dejongi//

There were two really cool things about this article. One, that the author got to actually dive in Cuba – we Americans are not allowed to partake in this, and 2. that it highlights the lionfish expansion epidemic we’ve been talking about for years. The author actually partakes in some tasty Lionfish dinner. The article also references an amazing animated image (shown below) showing the expansion of the Lionfish throughout the Atlantic and Caribbean – courtesy of Reef.org
Lionfish Expansion from Reefs.org

2. Aquarium 101 – Starting a Siphon – That Fish Blog

http://blogs.thatpetplace.com/thatfishblog/2014/05/06/aquarium-101-starting-siphon/

Ahh the siphon! We speak to new aquarists ALL THE TIME here – and we’re always recommending water changes as basic aquarium maintenance 101. We are also BIG fans of fish acclimation. So logically, why wouldn’t we write a guide on how to actually get a siphon started? Our fish experts put their heads together for this one, including some cool animated .gifs.

3. Choosing an Aquarium Light Guides – That Fish Place

http://www.thatpetplace.com/aquarium-lighting-charts

Aquarium Lighting Charts at That Fish Place - That Pet Place

New Lighting Charts

Each day, we get lots of questions from aquarists of all types and skill levels. These lighting charts are designed to show aquarists precisely which options they have for any freshwater fish tank, freshwater planted tank, reef aquarium, or saltwater fish only. You can match your tank’s dimensions to light fixtures your tank could support; while achieving the output you require. Simple, cut and dry charts to choose a light fixture for your tank.

4. Blennies That Eat Algae – Fish Channel

http://www.fishchannel.com/saltwater-fish/blennies-that-eat-algae.aspx

I love this topic, and frankly, I wish we would’ve written this article. EVERY aquarist is constantly on the lookout for organic ways to take out the ever-present algae buildup. This short write-up gives you a sense of which Blennies are algae gobblers. As if you needed another excuse to add an adorable Blenny..

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